Common methods fraudsters are using to separate you from your dollars and what you can do to Be Fraud Smart.
Current Frauds & Scams
Stay A Step Ahead
Since 1914, the Federal Trade Commission (commonly known as the FTC) has worked to educate, inform, and protect consumers from deceptive and unfair business practices.
Visiting the FTC’s Scam Alert site is a smart way to stay one step ahead of fraudsters, thanks to the latest info and practical tips from the nation’s consumer protection agency.
Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of the fears surrounding the Coronavirus. Below are a few tips to help keep you safe from scams.
Remember, don’t let fear cloud your judgment when accessing links from emails and social media and never give your social security number, account or credit card numbers to someone contacting you.
CARES Act stimulus checks from the government. Consumers are not going to need to sign up for the stimulus checks. You will never have to pay fees or anything upfront. Scammers are asking victims to provide PayPal, bank account or other financial information so make sure you do not give anyone this information.
Be careful when it comes to donations. Make sure to be cautious and check the credibility of charities or crowdfunding sites raising money for Coronavirus victims. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation.
Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are trying to get you to buy products that aren’t proven to treat or prevent the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores. At this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the Coronavirus.
For the latest updates visit the FTC Cornonavirus webpage.
Out of the blue, you get a call or email from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Or at least, a fraudster claiming to be the IRS and that you owe them money that must be paid immediately, typically through a wire transfer from your bank or something even more unusual, like gift cards.
This is a scary scam and for good reason. Victims are often threatened with jail time or with having their driver’s license revoked. The fraudster may even know the last four digits of your social security number, which might add extra pressure, or have another fraudster call you, claiming to be the police.
The best way to avoid this scam is to know what the IRS will NOT do:
- The IRS will never call you and demand an immediate payment over the phone and they’ll never require a certain type of payment (like a credit card). These are merely techniques fraudsters use to scare people into taking immediate action.
- Additionally, the IRS will never ask for your credit card number over the phone or demand a payment without providing you a way to appeal the charge.
If you get one of these emails or calls and you’re not certain if you should ignore it, simply call the IRS – the real IRS – and ask for yourself.
Fraudsters search for victims on online dating sites and they often play the long game, cultivating relationships over a period of time in order to solidify a victim’s trust. According to the FBI, romance and similar confidence scams cost consumers more money than any other kind of Internet fraud.
It’s important to remember that when you’re talking to a stranger on an online dating site… you’re talking to a stranger. When “meeting” someone online, Google them. See if you can determine their authenticity. You can also copy the images someone has posted on their dating profile and run them through a reverse-image search engine, such as Google Images. If the images come up associated with a person who has another name or lives in a different city, you have good reason to suspect that the images were stolen from someone else’s profile.
Additionally, never give any personal information to anyone online before confirming who they really are, be wary of anyone who is reluctant to meet you in person, and when meeting someone in person for the first time, choose a public location that’s filled with people.
A company emails you and asks you to click on a link that leads to their website. Sounds innocent enough, right? But fraudsters often send emails to large lists of people, posing as reputable companies. Here’s how it works…
You get an email that instructs you to click, which takes you to a fake website designed to mimic a real website. Then you’re asked to submit your password, credit card number, social security number, or other compromising information.
This scam is called Phishing. And fraudsters love to go phishing.
Be extremely careful when clicking links in any email. Even emails that appear like they were sent from a company or organization you know might be fake. Check for poor spelling, bad grammar, and over-urgency, as all may be signs of phishing. And don’t ever click a link you’re even slightly unsure of.
Vhishing is the voice counterpart to phishing. Typically, attackers use a technique called caller ID spoofing to make it look like calls are coming from a legitimate or known phone number. Because people typically trust the caller ID, spoofing phone numbers can cause big problems.
With online phishing attacks, fraudsters direct consumers to phony websites. With Vishing, a recorded message will typically tell users to call a toll-free number. The caller is then asked to share their credit card number or other personal information. Don’t do it!
You get a letter or email from a fraudster who claims to be a lawyer of legal official, telling you that a person sharing your family name has died and that they have been unable to identify any of the deceased person’s relatives. As a result, the money will go to the government, so the lawyer suggests that because you share the same family name, he could pay the inheritance to you.
All you have to do is split the money with the lawyer.
Of course, there is no inheritance, and if you respond to the fraudsters, they’ll ask you to pay various fees, like taxes and legal fees. Every time you make a payment, the fraudsters will come up with a reason why the inheritance can’t be paid out unless you make another payment, as well as providing “reasons” why the fees can’t be taken from your inheritance and must to be paid upfront.
Don’t respond to an email or letter informing you that someone you may be related to has died without leaving a will and don’t pay fees to “research specialists” who offer to sell you an estate report that includes information on the inheritance and how you can claim it.
Odds are, most of us have gotten an email from a “Prince” at some point in our lives. While it may seem funny to think of falling for it, investment scams have gotten more and more difficult to spot over time. Here are a few of the most common…
- Pension Scam. You worked hard for your pension. Fraudsters who know this and want to get to your pension before you may try to entice you with an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) loan that lets you get around the tax laws and access to your money now. All you have to do is sell investments in your locked-up retirement account and use those profits to buy shares in a certain company. In return, you’ll get the majority of the money you invested loaned back to you while the fraudster keeps the rest as a fee. Sure, you’re told you’ll get cash and pay no taxes, but the investment you buy may be worthless, you may never see the loan, and you could lose your retirement savings.
- The Bereavement Scam. Because many Baby Boomers are seniors, fraudsters know they’re especially vulnerable during the passing of a loved one. In a Bereavement Scam, fraudsters scan obituaries in order to contact relatives and make false claims about money owed, often applying a lot of pressure, as fraudsters are known to do. Don’t fall for it. At the very least, verify the authenticity of all people and claims before taking any other action.
- Exempt Securities Scam. One day, you get an unsolicited call or email that offers you the chance to invest in a company that is about to go public. Sure, this type of opportunity is typically only available to the wealthy but (lucky you!) an exception is being made… if you’ve got the money. Don’t fall for it and don’t feel pressured without performing an appropriate amount of due-diligence.
- Offshore Investing Scam. The promise here is to avoid or lower your taxes if you send your money “offshore” to another country. You should be very careful when anyone suggests a scheme to avoid taxes because it might mean breaking the law. Even if it’s legal, you could end up with unexpected interest back taxes, or other penalties from Uncle Sam.
You get a call or letter informing you that you can win millions in a foreign lottery. Is this your lucky day? Nope, it’s most likely a scam that’s hoping to lure you in with the promise of a big prize. Most lottery scams are perpetrated by con artists in other countries, sometimes using U.S. addresses to disguise their real locations.
Your chances of recovering money from foreign crooks in a lottery scam may be even worse than your odds of winning an actual lottery. Differences in legal systems, difficulties of conducting investigations in other countries, expenses and other complications involved in pursuing cross-border fraud make the chances of getting your money back extremely slim.
Remember that it’s illegal to use the mail or telephone to play lotteries across state lines or national borders, which means you’ll never get a real invitation to play from another state or country. And if you’re told you’ve won a contest you never even entered, you can be sure if it’s too good to be true.
Common Red Flags
Example: You just received notice (via phone, email, or letter) that you have been approved for a loan that can help you rebuild your credit. The loan proceeds will be sent to you in the form of a check. You are told to cash the check when you receive it and then send in a large initial payment using a money order or gift card. By the time your financial institution notifies you that the loan proceeds check did not clear, you’ve already made your first large initial payment.
Example: Beware of Facebook imposters. Fraudsters sometimes create false social media profiles of people you know and trust and then make an urgent request for money. Be sure to always ensure that the social media profile of friends and family are who they say they are.
Rule of Thumb: If checks and information is coming from different companies or is inconsistent, stop all communication and/or negotiations immediately.
Rule of Thumb: If you are ever asked to send someone money using Western Union, Money Gram or gift cards… don’t because it is going to be a scam every time!
Example: A fraudster tries to convince you that you need to provide your online banking login credentials. Legitimate companies will never need to “pretend” to be you to complete a transaction. Never share your online banking passwords with anyone that is not a joint-owner on your account.
Rule of Thumb: If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and stop all correspondence.
Always conduct buy/sell transactions face to face and always in cash or cashier’s check.
NOTE: Most cities have a designated “safe zone” where good lighting and 24 hour surveilance cameras can provide an added level of comfort to buy/sell transactions, custody exchanges, etc.
Rule of Thumb: Never make financial commitments when you’re feeling confused or powerless. High pressure sales are all about manipulation. If you start to feel overwhelmed, anxious, rushed or like you just can’t think clearly, come to your own rescue. Walk out of the room. Hang up. Call a friend.
NOTE: The IRS Scam detailed on this page is an excellent example of how fraudsters use scare tactics.
Example: You’ve won the lottery or you are a sweepstakes winner. The company does not want the announcement of the winner to go public yet. The taxes need to be paid in advance of receiving the balance of your winnings in a lump sum. You are told that you will receive a check which you can use to pay the taxes. You are instructed to deposit the check and then send a Money Order or Money Gram back to the company to cover the taxes.