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Top identity theft scams on the rise
Did you know that in 2020 alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly five million fraud reports from consumers? And while we hate to be the bearer of (more) bad news, that statistic does not include those consumers who may not have realized they had experienced fraud, meaning the number is probably even higher. One of the top categories of reported fraud is identity theft, which is becoming more of an issue as we venture further into the digital age. So how do you avoid becoming an identify theft scam’s next victim? In this case, information is power—so read on to learn how to recognize some common identity theft scans.
Prizes, lotteries, and contests
We’ve all gotten those spam texts that congratulate us for entering a contest we don’t remember signing up for, complete with a link to click on to claim our prize. Read carefully: never click on strange links.
Even if you just click on one of these fraudulent links without entering additional information, many of these website and services have the ability to gain valuable information that is stored elsewhere—like on your Google Chrome account or from your Facebook app. If you do click on a link by mistake, exit ASAP and monitor your credit and other activity to ensure your personal info stays safe.
It’s hard to keep up with all your passwords—between social media, email, job-related resources, and even your home alarm keycode, you probably feel the need to keep your passwords simple and easy to remember. But you should know that using these simpler passwords makes it easier for scammers to gain your personal info—especially if you don’t change your password often.
Create passwords that don’t include your birthday, kids’ names, favorite pet, or your mother’s maiden name—this is all info that anyone can look up online. Instead, create passwords that are difficult to guess and include a lot of variables, like capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Bonus: you can use an online password storage system to help you out… just be sure to change your password to whatever service you use.
Unsolicited calls or emails
Raise your hand if you have gotten at least three calls today about your car’s supposed warranty expiring. The rate of spam calls has risen dramatically over the last few years, and while many of us know better than to trust the person talking about a nonexistent warranty, you should also know that many spam callers are working smarter to get you to take their call.
For instance, many spammers now use a local number that will increase the odds of you answering the call. Spammers also use email to personalize messages to you that seem legit enough to stay under the radar of your system’s spam filter. Use your common sense for these—if you didn’t purchase a “car warranty,” it can’t have expired. Send those calls to voicemail and then block the number or hit the “mark as spam” button and delete any weird emails you receive.
You’re on LinkedIn when you get a private message asking you to consider a job opportunity. The person’s profile seems legit, Googling the company yields some results, but something about the message doesn’t ring true. Before you can answer, the person messages again, telling you that you must decide quickly. This is a red flag situation—legitimate potential employers will not ask you to decide on a job online within a matter of seconds.
These high-pressure tactics are also used by some spam callers who try to convince you that your social security number has been compromised or that you are under arrest and the police are on the way. If you’re not sure about the legitimacy of a caller or messenger, ask for their info to call them back (which they will probably not give) and do some research on your own. If it feels wrong, trust your instincts.
Ignoring data breaches
As much as we wish it didn’t happen, data systems can fail, sometimes leaving your information vulnerable. When this happens, the company who was breached will contact you or post a public announcement, but it’s up to you to update and secure your information, usually by changing a password. Even reputable businesses can experience data breaches, so don’t think you don’t have to take a threat seriously just because you feel confident in the business.
While you may not think that a data breach from your favorite pizza place matters, consider how many times you have ordered online from this restaurant, and whether your credit card info may be stored in their data. Small issues can turn into big ones when it comes to strangers having access to your finances.
Scams designed for kids
It seems especially wrong to scam a child, but, unfortunately, it’s been known to happen. Even older kids don’t always understand that a nice person asking them for personal information may have bad intentions, so it’s important to talk to your kids about what kind of info they should share with strangers.
If your child enjoys playing online games where purchases can be made, lock down the accounts as much as possible to avoid being defrauded by another player. Even features like the chatrooms available on many games can be used as avenues to gain personal info, so monitor your kids’ chats (or turn the feature off) to make sure they are not oversharing.
It may seem like identity theft is inevitable—but it doesn’t have to be. You can take steps to ensure the safety of you and those around you by implementing some simple safeguards. Change your passwords often, don’t answer sketchy calls, always double check that your emails are from a legitimate source, and get into the habit of treating your personal information like the invaluable resource it is. Not saving passwords on websites might seem unnecessary now, but the potential of undoing a web of financial fraud makes these extra steps worth it.
Are you high risk for identity theft?
Young adults ages 18-24 are most at risk for identity theft and often targeted by people they know. But, it’s vital to understand and recognize that identity theft can happen to anyone—even you! Identity theft may not seem like a big deal until it happens to you. It can damage your credit report and financial history as a young adult. Knowing this, it’s crucial to safeguard your financial information—but what does that mean? Here are five ways you can keep yourself from being at risk for identity theft:
Don’t leave out credit or debit cards
It’s as simple as it sounds—don’t leave your credit or debit cards lying out, whether you’re at home or in public. For example, you’re at a restaurant and pay for the check. You leave the table for a few minutes to run to the bathroom—in that short period, someone could easily and quickly snap a photo of your credit or debit card and use that information to their advantage. You’d never know, either, until you check your bank account, your account is drained, and there are dozens of unfamiliar charges. An easy way to combat that is by putting your credit or debit card in your wallet as soon as you’re finished using it.
Don’t leave your wallet in an unlocked room or office
You may think your office is one of the safest places to leave your wallet, and that could be the case—but only if your office is locked. Anyone could walk by while you’re gone and grab your wallet that contains sensitive information, from your credit and debit card numbers, driver’s license number, and more. It seems tedious, but if you’re leaving your office, even for just a second, be sure to lock the door if you can. If you can’t, bring your wallet with you.
Safeguard personal documents
Lock up and protect any documents that contain personal information like bank account, Social Security, and personal identification (PIN) numbers. Your best bet is to store them in a safe deposit box at your financial institution or credit union. If you have copies of those documents or want to keep the original documents with you, purchase a fireproof safe for at-home storage. You can purchase a fireproof safe with a locking mechanism for less than $50. Not only does it protect you from identify theft, but it also safeguards those documents in the event of an emergency, like fires or floods. And, be sure to shred receipts, credit card offers, and bank statements at least once per month.
Keep your guard up
Never provide financial information over the phone, via text, or email. One scam on the rise, called spoofing, allows fraudsters to fake the number they’re calling from by making a fake number appear on your caller ID. It can be easy to fall for, as the number could appear to be your bank’s phone number. They may say there’s a charge on your account you need to verify, or you may receive a fake text message. Remember, financial institutions (or any legitimate organization) will never ask for your Social Security number, card number, PIN, CVV, or expiration date.
Monitor your accounts
In addition to protecting your information, it’s necessary to monitor it, too. Checking your bank account or credit card activity often can help you recognize identity theft sooner. If you notice any suspicious activity, it’s a good idea to freeze or lock your debit or credit card so no one can use it, and contact your credit union or financial institution immediately. They can ensure you aren’t penalized for these transactions, help you get your money back, and ensure your card is replaced promptly. You should also periodically check your credit report to ensure no one opened any new accounts in your name. As a Georgia resident, you can request free copies of your credit reports through each of the three credit bureaus for free up to three times per year.
It may seem scary, but protecting yourself from identity theft is a necessary measure in today’s world. Your financial history is crucial in nearly every aspect of your life, and it’s critical to ensure no one gains access to personal information to potentially damage that. By implementing these measures, you’re taking control of your finances and preventing yourself from becoming someone’s next target.
New scam alert: spoofing
A unique type of technology now enables fraudsters to fake the number they are calling from by making a false number appear on your caller ID. It’s extremely effective, because the number displayed appears to be your bank’s correct contact number.
This scam is called number spoofing. Using specialized technology, the number appears on the victim’s caller ID display. The fraudsters may call to say there is a charge you need to verify or you might receive a text saying someone from Georgia’s Own will contact you. If you receive either of these, you need to call our numbers to confirm if we called you or sent you a text.
Here is what you need to know:
- Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof any number so it looks like they are calling from a particular company, even when they’re not.
- Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call and it’s to a phone number you know is correct. Georgia’s Own would never ask members to verify your full SS#, full card number, card expiration date, CVV or PIN number.
- If you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator or any other key to take your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.
The best advice to beat the scam is simple – never assume that someone is who they purport to be just because the number displayed on your caller ID matches that of an organization you know. Always be suspicious if you’re asked for your four-digit PIN or full online banking passwords. Same goes for transferring or withdrawing money or giving your card to a courier. Remember, your Credit Union will never ask you to do any of these things.
Fraud alerts: COVID-19 scams to look out for
With so much uncertainty in our world right now, the presence of COVID-19-related fraud and scams is an unfortunate reality. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be vigilant about your protected information and, as your financial institution, we’re committed not only to providing the utmost security for your accounts, but also to increasing awareness around common schemes. We’ll keep an updated list of known scam attempts and tips to stay safe, so check back often to remain in the know. And remember: we will never call you and ask for your account information, social security numbers, or other sensitive material.
The FTC is a great resource for consumers during this time. See below for their recommended best practices and visit their website to learn more.
- Don’t respond to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government. Here’s what you need to know.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time.
- Be wary of ads for test kits. The FDA recently announced approval for one home test kit, which requires a doctor’s order. However, most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
Be on the lookout for some of these trending scams being reported from the FTC. This blog post is a great way to stay in touch with what other consumers have seen as well.
- The top complaint categories relate to travel and vacations, online shopping, bogus text messages, and all kinds of imposters.
- While reports of robocalls are way down overall, we’re now hearing about callers invoking the COVID-19 pandemic to pretend to be from the government, or making illegal medical or health care pitches, among other topics.
- If you’re getting calls, emails, or texts, or you’re seeing ads or offers online, keep a few things in mind: First, the government will never call out of the blue to ask for money or your personal information (like Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers). And second, anyone who tells you to pay by Western Union or MoneyGram, or by putting money on a gift card, is a scammer. The government and legit businesses will never tell you to pay that way.
- The big states have, not unexpectedly, the biggest number of reports. You can check out how many people are reporting what in Georgia.
Below are some additional tips from the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud. If you believe you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling their hotline at 866.720.5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
- Be cautious of unsolicited healthcare fraud schemes of testing and treatment through emails, phone calls, or in person. The U.S. have medical professionals and scientist working hard to find a cure, approved treatment, and vaccine for COVID-19. Learn more about what to avoid
- Be the lookout for an increase in cryptocurrency fraud schemes including but not limited to blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments or equipment, or investment scams. Read more on how to report these scams
- Be wary of unsolicited telephone calls and e-mails from individuals claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees. Remember, the IRS’s first form of communications is by mail—not by phone. Learn more about fraudulent schemes related to IRS
Scams on the rise during COVID-19
During national or global disasters, many criminals use this as an opportunity to prey on people when they’re the most vulnerable. As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, scams are on the rise, too. It’s critical to be vigilant and make yourself and your family members aware of these schemes, so you and your loved ones don’t fall victim to fraud.
With unemployment rapidly increasing, this leaves many people desperate for any job they can find. Unfortunately, this is the perfect opportunity for criminals to use this to their advantage. Fraudsters are posting work-from-home jobs that promise easy money with no effort—your first red flag. These scammers often communicate through web-based services, like Gmail or Yahoo.
Their ultimate goal is to use you as a money mule—allowing others to use your bank account or conduct financial transactions on your behalf. Not only is this illegal, but this also puts you in financial jeopardy. These criminals could have access to your bank account and completely drain it. If a job posting seems too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your gut—if someone who claims to be an employer is asking you to transfer money or is asking you to open bank accounts in your name for their business, contact authorities immediately.
People claiming to be overseas and needing help
Watch out for people claiming to be overseas and needing help. Criminals are pretending to be a member of the military or a U.S. citizen working or quarantined abroad, asking potential victims to send money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling the coronavirus. Fraudsters are also claiming to work for a medical equipment business or charity asking people to send money on their behalf. These requests are typically seen in the form of emails, phone calls, or private messages. If someone you don’t know is contacting you for money, chances are, it’s not legitimate.
Criminals making these claims cause serious damage. Not only does it harm you and your family, but it also harms people who need financial help and organizations that heavily rely on monetary donations. When donating, never pay with cash, gift card, or by wiring money.
Relief payment scams and phony emails
As relief payments roll out, many scammers are taking advantage of this opportunity as well. The most important thing to know is that you do not have to do anything to receive your stimulus payment. As long as you filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, you’ll receive a payment. So, if someone claims you must “sign up” to receive your relief payment, or calls asking for personal information, like your social security number or bank information, that person is a scammer.
Also, watch out for phishing emails from people claiming to work for the government. People will claim to be from the CDC or WHO offering information pertaining to the coronavirus. Don’t click links from sources you don’t know. Visit coronavirus.gov or usa.gov/coronavirus for official, reliable information.
What to do if you think someone is trying to commit fraud
If you believe a fraudster is trying to scam you, it’s important to act quickly. Gather evidence, whether it’s emails, receipts, or phone numbers, and report the scam to the appropriate authorities. Afterwards, be sure your accounts are secure and watch for any fraudulent activity. More than ever, it’s especially important to be observant, so you or your family members don’t become victims of these crimes.
Avoid the sucker punch: six scams on the rise
Scams have been around for, well…forever. Whether it’s for information, money, or power, unsuspecting people have been duped time and time again.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there have been more than 1.4 million reports of fraud in 2018. Twenty-five percent of those reports included a combined financial loss of $1.48 billion, a 38% increase over 2017.
How do scammers get away with cheating so many innocent people out of their money? Sometimes they don’t, but given the statistics, they score more often than you might think—a lot more. With advances in technology, the volume of personal information people are willing to divulge, and a little evil-minded creativity, scammers are getting smarter every day. If you’ve ever been a victim, you know how easy it is to fall prey, especially when you’re caught off guard.
Fraudsters concoct new ways of deceiving people daily, so it’s nearly impossible to cover them all. Here are six scams that have gained popularity and are making the rounds lately:
1. Facebook questions scam
Have you ever answered the random surveys on Facebook? Who was your first roommate in college? What was your first car? What’s your favorite food? How about “answer these 20 questions about yourself and then tag another person to do the same?” It may seem harmless, but you’re giving away a ton of private information that could jeopardize your account security. If scammers manage to get one or two of your questions and answers, they can easily reset the password to your social media accounts, bank account, Amazon account, Venmo or Paypal account, and more. In the meantime, keep scrolling when you see those question and answer posts.
2. The grandparent scam
Although this isn’t a new scam, reports of it have been on the rise lately.
A scammer has a child about the same age as the victim’s grandchild, call the grandparent in tears. “Hi Grandma, this is Johnny. Please don’t call my parents. I need you to bail me out of jail, and then I’ll explain.” Or it could be, “I got into a fight, and I’m at the hospital. I know I sound a little different, but that’s because my nose is broken…I have a terrible cold, or I’m really upset.” Whatever the excuse, they need money—and quick! A grandparent might offer a credit card number over the phone or wire cash with all intentions of getting the details later.
Seniors are especially vulnerable, so you need to impress upon them that any time a family member supposedly calls asking for money, they should be skeptical. How can they make sure it’s a real emergency? Hang up and call the grandchild back on their cell phone, call the courthouse if they’re asking for bail money, call the hospital if they need money to pay a bill, or call someone who can confirm their whereabouts. This scam is all about creating panic, so the victim simply reacts without trying to make sense of the situation.
3. Fortnite scam
With its 125 million players, Fortnite: Battle Royale might be the most popular video game in the world, but some of those players are there for a different kind of challenge.
V-bucks are the game’s currency, and oftentimes, scammers will offer players discounted or free V-bucks. The more V-bucks you have, the quicker you can elevate your game, and someone’s offering a deal? Heck, yeah! Just follow the simple instructions, and you’ll be advancing your “Battle Pass” standing in no time.
Most scammers will send you to a website where you share a code from your Fortnite account, which, in turn, will allow them access to your payment information. That third-party site will also lure you with tempting pop-up ads, too, which inevitably lead to downloaded malware. Stay focused on the game, play by the rules, and don’t share any personal information—it’s the only chance you have to be the last one standing!
4. Disaster relief scam
Sadly, in the wake of a disaster, fraudsters come out of the woodwork. They’ll create bogus charities, solicit donations from caring and genuinely concerned people who want to help, and then RUN!
Meanwhile, not only does the donor lose, but the cause it was intended for loses too. Take, for example, Hurricane Dorian, the category five storm that pummeled the Bahamas in September. The Tampa Bay Times reported that scammers posed as a popular television meteorologist and solicited donations that funded a phony Bahamas hurricane relief site.
How do you trust that you’re making a donation to a legitimate charity and that the money will benefit people in need? The most secure way is to do your research and verify the specific organization through Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar, or the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance. Never contribute by way of a social media platform. Instead, go directly to the charity’s website.
5. Airbnb scam
This Airbnb scam was active in 2017, but it seems to be rearing its ugly head again.
Most of us can agree that reserving an Airbnb is a relatively simple process. It can be significantly less expensive, more convenient, and just as comfy as a hotel room. It’s a fantastic alternative until you arrive at a house that’s already booked by someone else, or even worse, it doesn’t exist! How’s that for a dream vacation? Scammers are creating fake listings on the popular site and directing renters to a fraudulent third-party website to make their payment.
How do you avoid being caught up in this nightmare? You should never communicate outside of the Airbnb platform and never pay cash. Instead, use your verified bank account or credit card. Read the reviews and make sure they all sound like they’re describing the same place, and engage with the landlord through the Airbnb messaging system before you rent.
There’s also the reverse Google image verification. Once you find a place that looks like a viable option, make sure the images you see are the real deal. Right-click on an image, copy its URL and paste it in the search box at images.google.com. Hopefully, you’ll see the property that you expect.
6. Netflix scam
Netflix has 51 million paid subscribers around the world, which makes for a perfect place to phish for some chillin’ couch potatoes. Imagine this: You’re sitting down to watch the newest season of The Crown when you get an email that says your monthly payment couldn’t be processed and your account is scheduled to be suspended TODAY. The email looks official, but the logo is a little smaller than usual, and when you hoover over the “Click Here” link, you see ad oddly long URL.
If you clicked the link, you’d be directed to a page that looks like the Netflix website, where you can enter your credit card information. Submit it, and where does that information go? Straight into the scammer’s hands.
If you step back for a minute, you might notice that the name in the “To” line isn’t yours. The “From” line might include the word Netflix, but also a much longer URL. The subject line says “RE [Alert],” along with too much other random information. It’s a scam.
It may be quicker and easier to follow the link, but you run a significant risk of fraud for the few keystrokes you save. Instead, go to the company’s site, enter your username and password, and update your information within the safety of their system.
The Federal Trade Commission’s website includes an ongoing and cumulative list of scams and fraudulent activity. To file a complaint and open an investigation, click here.