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Can You Spot a Scammer?

Nov 1, 2021

As we head into 2021’s holiday season, it’s important to build a heavy-duty defense against fraud. With COVID-19 and other uncertainties affecting our emotions, scammers have become more brazen and cunning as ever. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that consumers lost more than $3.3 billion due to fraud in 2020. That’s almost twice the amount lost in 2019. Of those losses, nearly $1.2 billion went to impostor scams. And identity theft reports have nearly doubled in the past couple of years. 2021 is on track to be just as bad, with impostors using new tricks to steal your identity and your money.

Beware of Scams

Phishing scams can cause real turmoil for victims who are forced to straighten out criminal activity with the government and financial institutions. These and other kinds of fraud can be avoided — if you know the signs. Let’s start with these common scams:

Impostors. Scammers have become more daring than ever, even going so far as to impersonate FTC Chair Lina M. Khan in a new phishing email scheme: An email purporting to be from her promises coronavirus relief funds and tells targets to send personal information. Note: The FTC is not distributing relief money. Beware of this and other phishing scams related to COVID-19 that have become rampant this year.
Simulated Emails. The majority of scams still take place by email. Wily fraudsters are scamming folks at work with subject lines like, “Changes to your health benefits” or “Your Amazon Prime Membership has been declined” or “Important Security Upgrade Required.” These and other shifty scams arrive in email in-boxes every day — especially to work accounts.
Phony Social Media Contacts. LinkedIn phishing messages make up nearly half of all social media phishing attempts. Beware emails that seem to be from LinkedIn containing account reset requests. Desperate unemployed people make easy targets for criminals promising jobs. To combat this, simply log in to your social media accounts directly to read and respond. Be sure to search company and individual names, along with the words “scam” or “fraud.”

Best Practices to Keep You Safe

Scammers take advantage of the vulnerabilities that arise out of uncertain times. When most employers were forced to shift last year from onsite to remote work, those circumstances caused some security gaps that fraudsters exploited. Follow these guidelines to avoid their scams:

Control How You Pay. Do they request that you pay by cash, gift card or wiring money? That’s a big tipoff that it’s from a scammer. Always pay by credit card or check. And always review your statements to ensure that you were charged the right amount.
Don’t Be a Pawn in Their Con. If you’re contacted by someone who tries to rush you into donating, hang up: It’s probably a scammer. Donate to charities in your own time. They may call to say “Thank you” for a donation you don’t remember making. Hang up and check your accounts. They might claim to be from a well-known charity. Don’t trust your phone’s caller ID, because scammers can fake that identity . Call the real charity if you’re interested in making a donation, but look up that charity’s number yourself.
Examine Their Promises. Fraudsters can claim that your donation is tax-deductible. Hang up and confirm that status by looking at the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search. No matter how important that deduction is to you, you should check on this. If the scammer lies about having tax-exempt status, they’ll lie about other things, too.
Use Crowdfunding Caution. Crowdfunding accomplishes a lot of good, but it also attracts scammers. The worst is that you’ll face nearly impossible odds when you try to recoup your losses. So when it comes to online crowdfunding campaigns, be sure to donate only to people you actually know.

Wise Charitable Giving

There’s something extra-rotten about a criminal who preys on the kind hearts of people during the holiday season. Try these tips to help your cash go to the truly needy.

Let Experts Help. The FTC recommends a few sites to help you find worthy charities. Sites like Charity Navigator also have a link to their list of charities that should raise concerns. The list may not be exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start.
Post-Disaster Scams. Calls, texts or emails may ask for donations to help victims of recent disasters, such as hurricanes, floods or wildfires. Those contacts may look convincingly like a legitimate charity, down to faking a real charity’s name and branding. Never respond directly: Search for legitimate charities yourself.

Criminals count on your common courtesy. Just remember: It’s your phone, your email and your computer. When you control these conversations — by hanging up, even if you feel it’s rude — you are defending yourself and those you care about from the damage these criminals can inflict.

If you are think you have been scammed or have any questions about how to keep your accounts safe please call us at 800-634-6632.