How To Spot a Scam
Question: What are two things you have that criminals want?
Answer: Money and your identity
Scammers are constantly coming up with new schemes to try and steal innocent people’s money and identity. They also know people are most vulnerable when they are scared and desperate. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to educate yourself on signs of a scam. If you know what to look out for you can save yourself a lot of time, money, and headaches.
5 Signs of a Scam
- Scammer contacts you first
They initiated the call or email and it appeared unexpectedly. Do you truly know who is at the other end of the phone or email chain? Email addresses and phone numbers can be created and although it may look like it is coming from a trusted source, they could be fake. Caller ID, once a vital tool, is no longer accurate.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Individuals who contact you saying you won a large sum of money, a new car, vacation trip, are most likely scammers. Did you even enter a contest to win this trip or play the lottery to win an absurd amount of money? Are you being asked to invest in a project or business venture that promises large windfalls of cash? No one gives away money or large gifts easily, for no reason and to perfect strangers. If it sounds too good to be true, walk away.
- They press you to give up personal information
You should be on alert anytime someone asks you for your personal, sensitive information such as, bank accounts, PIN numbers, social security numbers, login, and password credentials. That information should be guarded and not freely given out, especially to someone you do not know. We will never call, text, or email you asking for your account information, username, or password. If you initiate the call to us, you may be asked to verify confidential information, but never the other way around.
- You need to pay a fee to collect the prize
If someone contacts you by email or phone and offers you a prize, job opportunity, debt relief, etc., but you need to pay them first before you receive the offer, it most likely is a scam. No one reputable is going to force you to pay up front to collect your winnings.
- They want gift cards or for you to wire money
Just as in #4, if someone contacts you by email or phone and offers you a prize, job opportunity, debt relief, etc., but you need to pay them first before you receive the offer, it most likely is a scam. If someone contacts you claiming they overpaid you and you can pay them back by sending gift cards or wiring money to them, do not do it. That is not a reputable practice and if requested, is most likely someone trying to scam you.
What should you do if you have been scammed?
- If you shared your password with the scammer, immediately change it on every account that uses this password. Remember to use a unique password or passphrase for each account!
- Get rid of malware by updating or installing legitimate security software. Scan your computer and delete anything the software says is a problem.
- If the affected computer is connected to your network, check the entire network for any intrusions.
- Do not be afraid to ask a trusted, security professional for help.
- Call your bank or credit card company if you purchased any fake services. Keep an eye on your account for any unauthorized charges.
- If you paid a scammer with gift cards, tell the company that issued the card right away. Keep the physical card and any receipts.
- If you lost money, report it to your local law enforcement.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Federal Trade Commission Report Fraud
- FTC’s Consumer Response Center 877.382.4357
Current Scams to Watch Out For
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Voice Scams
- AI scam calls are set up through voice cloning. Once a fraudster finds an audio clip of someone’s voice online, they can easily upload it to an online program that replicates the voice.
- Since AI has become more popular, the online programs have improved, become more accessible, and are relatively cheap to use. These programs allow the fraudster the ability to find a few second audio video from Tik Tok, Snapchat, or another social media site and then mimic the voice of your child, grandchild, spouse, or other loved one.
- They just need to load that voice clip into these voice cloning programs, type whatever they want to be said and then it would play your loved one’s voice saying just that.
- Even if you ask questions to the caller, AI could create answers that would make sense to you.
- The fraudster will call you, probably spoofing the number so it shows as your loved one’s phone number on your caller ID.
- They will pretend to be your loved one and claim to be injured or in serious trouble and in need of money.
- Prior to AI voice cloning, the wrong voice could be a dead giveaway that this is not your family or friend, but now with AI voice cloning tools, hearing your loved one’s voice on the other end of the phone, and seeing their number on the caller ID is very convincing. It motivates us to act on whatever request they have, which is usually money.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Written Message Scams
- We have heard about fraudsters attempting to contact us via email, text, and even unsolicited messages on social media.
- Many of these message scams originate from organized crime groups out of Russia, Nigeria, and North Korea where English is usually not their first language.
- Some of these fraud messages are easy to pick out because of their poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Now with AI, the fraudsters can convert these phishing messages into English and make them much more compelling and difficult to spot.
- Some of the red flags we are used to seeing in emails and messages will not be there so we must be extra vigilant and pay attention before clicking or opening anything unsolicited.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) Fake Advertisement Scams
- With the rise of interest in AI, cybercriminals are now advertising AI tools on various search engines and social media sites.
- They are targeting those tech savvy individuals who are interested in utilizing AI.
- Some ads take you to fake sites and download malware to your computer when you click on the link.
- Other ads may take you to the real software but manage to download the malicious code through a ‘backdoor’, so it makes it difficult to know you were hacked.
- The cybercriminals can then get access to your online accounts, use your information to scam others, or steal your information and sell it to other hackers on the dark web.
Tech Support Scams
- These scams usually start with a phone call, pop-up, or email telling you there is a problem with your computer.
- Scammers may pretend to be from well-known tech companies such as Apple or Microsoft.
- They may also try and spoof the IT staff of your business and drop names of people in your company to make them appear more authentic and trustworthy.
- Scammers will use technical terms to try and convince you that your computer has serious issues.
- They may ask you to open some files or run a scan on your computer. The scammer tells you those files and scan results show a problem.
- The tech support scammers may then:
- Ask you to share your screen or give them remote access to your computer – this allows the scammer to access all information stored on your computer, and on any network connected to it.
- Try to enroll you in a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program.
- Install malware that gives the scammer access to your computer and sensitive data, like usernames and passwords.
- Ask for your credit card information so they can bill you for software or repair services that are fraudulent or available elsewhere for free.
- Direct you to spoofed websites and ask you to enter your credit card, bank account, and other personal information.
- These scammers want to get your money, personal/business information, and access to sensitive files.
- If you get a pop-up message to call tech support, ignore it. Some pop-up messages about computer issues are legitimate, but do not call a number or click on a link that appears in a pop-up message warning you of a computer problem.
- If a caller says your computer has a problem, hang up. You can also ask them for their callback information and say you need to confirm information prior to speaking with them.
- A tech support call you do not expect is a scam – even if the phone number is local or looks legitimate. The scammers use fake caller ID information to look like local businesses or trusted companies.
Gift Card Scams
- Someone might call and ask you to pay for something by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers off the back of the card.
- If you are asked to do this, you are being scammed.
- No bona fide business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card.
- These scammers ask for gift cards because they are easy to find and purchase.
- Gift cards also have less protections for the buyers, so they are practically cash. Once the gift card is used, your money is gone.
- Scammers will tell you various stories of why they need the gift cards.
- They will tell you it is urgent and try to pressure you into acting quickly.
- The caller may even tell you what gift cards to get and what stores to go to.
- Some scammers will tell you to go to different stores rather than buy several gift cards all at once so the cashier does not become suspicious.
- Often scammers will stay on the phone with you while you are traveling from store to store and buying the gift cards to ensure you are doing as instructed.
- The caller will ask you for the numbers on the back of the gift cards and the corresponding PIN. Once they have the number and PIN, they have your money.
- A utility company, the IRS, Social Security Administration, and any other reputable company will never request services or bills be paid in gift cards.
- Remember: gift cards are for gifts, not payments!
- You will receive a call, email, or text from someone claiming to be an IRS agent.
- They will spoof the phone number so your caller ID may show a description of the IRS.
- Scammer may claim you owe the IRS back taxes or there is a problem with your tax return.
- They will play on your fears and threaten to sue, arrest, take your driver’s license or deport you.
- The goal, just like any scam, is to get you to pay them and they want the money fast.
- Scammers will insist payment in gift cards, wire transfers, or cashier checks.
- The truth is the first contact the IRS will have with you will always be a letter in the mail. They will not send an email, text, or phone call.
- The IRS will never insist payment comes in the form of a prepaid debit card, gift card, wire transfer or cashier’s check.
Medicare and Health Insurance Scams
- Caller may claim to be a Medicare representative and ask you to sign up for a new card or policy.
- The caller may spoof the number of a well-known government agency to get you to answer the phone and when you do, the fraudster will start out with a pleasant conversation to get you to lower your guard.
- They may claim they need you to confirm the numbers on your Medicare card to activate it, or there is an error, and it needs to be replaced.
- Scammers may claim you were sent an old paper card and now they offer new plastic cards.
- Scammers may try to assist you with navigating healthcare insurance websites but then charge you a fee for their help.
- Callers may try and sell you fake health care coverage at discounted rates or attempt to sell you coverage that turns out to not be insurance but instead a medical discount card that is not accepted by healthcare providers.
Check Washing Scams
- Check washing is a form of fraud in which criminals erase a check’s legitimate information usually using chemicals and then rewrite the amount of the check and the name of the payee.
- Criminals can steal checks from businesses, directly from the blue collection boxes, and by canvasing our neighborhoods looking for outgoing mail left in personal mailboxes.
- Once criminals have their hands on checks, they use chemicals such as nail polish remover, bleach, or paint thinner to dissolve the ink, with the goal of removing the payee and dollar amount information. They keep the signature intact by placing a sticker or tape over that area of the check.
- What can you do to reduce your risk of being a check washing victim? Deposit mail at a post office and never leave mail in your mailbox overnight. If you're going on vacation, hold your mail at the post office or have it picked up daily by a trusted friend or relative.
- Use online or mobile banking to view your accounts or checks that have posted, pay bills online or review your monthly bank statements regularly.
- Also, avoid inks that can be easily erased like blue ball point ink pens and permanent markers. Experts say gel pens with black ink provide the best protection against check washing.
- Many people are unfamiliar with how cryptocurrency works, which makes it an attractive tool for scammers.
- Social media is a popular method for scammers to make attempts to reach out to you initially, using an ad, post or message through a popular social media platform.
- Most crypto fraud losses that begin on social media are investment scams, whereby scammers claim they can quickly and easily get huge returns for you as an investor.
- You are told to access an investment website or app to track the growth of your crypto, but it's all fake.
- When you get started, you have to make a small "test" withdrawal, just enough to convince you that it's safe.
- But when you are ready to cash out, you have to send more crypto for (fake) fees and you don't get any of your money back.
- Cryptocurrency is used as part of romance scams too (which are described below).
- A scammer reaches out to you initially because they are interested in forming a relationship, but as time goes on, they begin offering tips on crypto investing and help with your crypto investments with promises of big returns or guaranteed profits. They may also request that you send them crypto so they can help you.
- Remember that no cryptocurrency investment is ever guaranteed to make money. If you are told that, it's a scam!
Lottery and Prize Scams
- You receive a phone call, email or letter saying you could win millions in a foreign lottery. These scammers are preying on your excitement to react first and think later.
- You are told you are invited to join in, but it is a secret and not an open invitation to just anyone.
- The lottery may exist, but your invite is not coming from someone legally associated with that country’s lottery. You are sending money for tickets you probably will not get and if you do, will not be valid. Even if you “win”, there is no way to collect the winnings.
- They may ask you to pool your money with other people, so you have a better chance of winning.
- Scammers will ask you to pay to participate and send the money via wire transfers.
- You will have a better chance of winning this fake lottery than recovering any money lost to these scammers.
- These scammers are professional and may state they are calling and residing in the U.S. but, be in various countries around the world.
- Wires are a favorite of scam artists because they are quick.
- Once the wire is picked up by the scammer, there is very little that can be done to get the money back.
- Be cautious when anyone asks you to send a wire transfer immediately – that is a red flag.
- If you do not know the person you are wiring money to, or you have not known them long, do not send a wire.
- Scammers may say they are calling from the IRS and threaten you with arrest if you do not pay them. Hang up and call the IRS directly.
- Scammers may get you involved in a scheme and send you check, ask you to cash it and then wire the funds to them. You wire the money; the check is returned as fake and now you are out your hard-earned money.
- These con-artists may impersonate your family and close friends. They will state they are stranded somewhere or in serious trouble. Never wire money without getting the whole story and never wire money overseas without confirming the receiver and reason are valid.
- Scammers target senior citizens assuming they have higher account balances, less knowledgeable about technology and tend to be more trusting.
- Scammers know they can play on their victim’s heart and emotions when using family situations.
- Scammers will call someone claiming to be their close relative or someone in law enforcement and ask to wire money or send them gift cards to help them out of a terrible situation.
- Stories usually involve the relative in the hospital and needing money to pay the ambulance or medical bill or they may have been arrested and need bail money and money to pay a lawyer.
- The victim in these scams is urged not to tell anyone because the relative is afraid of getting in further trouble with their parents.
- Large amounts of money are sent and this “relative” is never heard from again.
- Scammers may make these phone calls late at night or early in the morning to confuse the victim.
- Never send money to anyone without taking the time to get the facts.
- Ask your “relative” questions that only he or she would know to confirm you are speaking to the right person.
- Use a phone number you have for your family member to contact them directly.
- Criminal adopts a fake identity online, usually through dating or social media sites, with the purpose of gaining the victim’s trust and money.
- Scammer will reach out to the victim and claim they are interested in forming a relationship.
- The scammer will state they are a U.S. citizen but stationed abroad due to work.
- Their occupations are usually in military or construction.
- They establish a relationship very quickly and make declarations of love to gain the victim’s trust.
- Scammer will then ask you for money for medical bills, legal fees, family emergencies. Once you send them money, the requests for more will not stop.
- They may even ask you to send money so they could come to the U.S. to meet you in person.
- Their emails and texts have spelling and grammar errors even though they state they were born in the U.S. and English is their first language.
- They prefer communicating by text and email and make excuses as to why they cannot talk over the phone or via video chat.
- They ask you for your bank account information so they can deposit money and pay you back.
- These scammers are not looking for their soulmate – they are looking to take all your money.
Mortgage Closing Scams
- Scammers will send fake emails or texts to homebuyers posing as their real estate agent, title company or some other official involved in the home buying process.
- These fake emails and texts will have updated wiring instructions – they may state they gave you the incorrect information to begin with or there was a last-minute change at their bank.
- The goal is to have you wire your closing costs into an account the scammer owns.
- Their emails and texts will look like they are coming from someone you trust.
- You are already stressed with the normal home buying process so when you receive an urgent email regarding closing costs and urging you to act quickly, you panic and wire the money immediately.
- You just wired money directly into the hands of scammers with little to no chance of getting it back.
- Keep a list of trusted contacts involved in your mortgage process.
- Avoid using phone numbers in emails or clicking on links you receive.
- Be cautious of urgent emails and last-minute changes to closing process. Do not follow up on any emails with wiring instructions, even if it looks legitimate.
- Contact a trusted representative over the phone to confirm information and use only phone numbers you know and trust.
Debt Collection/Debt Relief Scams
- Scammers call you claiming to be a debt collector or from a debt relief agency.
- They are claiming you need to pay for debts that you do not owe or may have been previously paid off.
- Ask the caller their name, company that they work for, phone number and address – if they refuse to provide these details that is a red flag.
- Legitimate debt collectors will never threaten you with criminal charges.
- Scammers may also call to claim they can help you reduce or eliminate your debts with an offer that is too good to be true.
- An unsolicited call offering to help you eliminate debt is a red flag and it is a good chance they are a scammer.
- A legitimate company will never ask you to pay upfront nor would they guarantee all your debt would be forgiven. Something like that could not be guaranteed.