Common Scams: How to Protect Yourself
By: Laura Westfall
Fraud is a generic and nonspecific term that refers to any unauthorized transaction that is the result of someone performing a transaction without your consent, and that you didn’t participate in. A common example of fraud would be when you have a charge on your existing credit or debit card with a merchant that you don’t have a relationship with and that you didn’t authorize. Your debit or credit card doesn’t contain your personal identifying information such as your social security number or your date of birth, so canceling the card and sending you a new card will quickly address this type of fraud.
Identity theft is very different, and it means that the transaction required someone to use your personal information such as your social security number, driver’s license, or your date of birth in order to complete the transaction. Some examples of identity theft are; opening a bank account in your name, taking a loan out in your name, or even renting an apartment using your personal information. If you suspect you are the victim of identity theft, here are a few of the way you can take several actions to protect yourself; freeze access to your credit reports, filing a police report, and reviewing your credit report.
Fortunately, identity theft happens less often than other types of fraud. Most often the fraud that consumers experience is when a scammer uses your payment card information to make unauthorized charges on your account. Scammers get access to your information by either accessing a merchant who doesn’t keep your information secure, using skimming devices to steal your card information, or by using more creative methods to trick you into providing it to them.
Here are a few examples of common tactics that scammers use to trick consumers into releasing private information.
- Romance scams
- Microsoft virus scams
- Fake IRS or fake SSA scams
- Arrest/Jail scams
- Donation scams
- Money back scams
- Cash back check scams
Romance Scam- this scam can start a few different ways; either you receive an unsolicited email, a response to a personal ad you’ve placed, or someone sends you a message online through a social network that you use. These scammers typically initiate a conversation with you that quickly turns into a declaration of love. Shortly afterwards they have a financial emergency of some kind and they start asking you for money. If you send them money once, they will come back with another emergency and will always need more money. How can you spot this? They usually tell you they are out of the country or otherwise unavailable to meet you, most of them won’t use your first name, (they prefer to use words like “honey, darling, or love”), communicate with you using emails or texts, and all message have strong grammatical errors. They don’t usually talk with you by phone.
Microsoft virus scam – this scam usually begins when you receive a pop – up when you’re shopping online that tells you your computer has a virus and you need to call them to have it removed. Other ways they may contact you is by phone or email. In all these scams they tell you “its been reported” that your computer is compromised with viruses, and you need to pay them to fix your computer. Sometimes they even ask you for access to your computer and will guide you through the steps to allow them to access your computer. Once you give them access to your computer, they may steal all your files, and they usually ask you to pay them for it.
Fake IRS or fake SSA scams – this scam involves using auto dialers to call consumers with a pre-recorded message stating that your SSN or your benefits have been suspended or deactivated due to suspicious activity. They tell you to call them back at a different number to sort it all out. Of course, the number they ask you to call back isn’t the real contact number for organization they pretend to be calling from, and once you call them back, they use various methods to trick you into sending them money or releasing your private information.
Arrest/Jail scam – in this scam the fraudsters call you stating that you owe money for things like taxes, or some other type of debt. They tell you if you don’t pay it while on the phone with them, or by wiring them money right away, you will be arrested. These callers can become verbally abusive with strong language and use words to threaten and intimidate callers to send them money. They will usually direct you to either buy and send them gift cards, or to wire them money directly using western union. And once your money is gone, you can’t get it back.
Donation scams- in this scam the fraudsters call you soliciting donations in the name of various organizations that they say help others. Of course, you are nice and want to provide aid to people that are in less fortunate situations then yourself. But some of these callers may be from an agency that uses an extremely small portion of your donation to help others or may be calling to steal your personal information. Since they contacted you, there is no way for you to know if they are who they represent themselves to be.
Money back scams- in these scams you will receive a call or an email, stating that you are owed a refund from an organization. They ask that you give them your payment card or bank account information, and other personal information in order to send you the refund that is owed to you. Sometimes they say they are calling from the Internal Revenue Service. Once you provide them with your information, they use it to make charges in your account or steal your identity.
Cash back check scams- this usually happens when you place an item for sale online, and a buyer contacts you to purchase it. They will tell you that they have a check to send you to buy the item, and may choose to overnight a check to you. Once you receive the check its for more than the purchase amount, and they ask you to wire them the difference using western union or another money transfer service. Once you deposit the check into your account, the bank provides you a provisional credit in your account, assuming the check will be paid by the other bank. You then withdraw the excess money and wire it back to the “buyer”, only to later be notified that the check you deposited was counterfeit and you’re out all the money, including the money to wired to the scammer.
How can you protect your information?
- Be cautious if you receive a call from someone who is asking you for your personal information or trying to sell you something. Instead you can take down the contact information from the caller and tell them you will call them back. This will give you time to look up the published contact information for the company and see if they are who they say they are.
- Consider a locking mailbox or signing up for electronic statements. This helps to keep your information out of the mailbox where it can be easily stolen, and you can feel good about reducing paper waste.
- Review your credit report regularly or consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. If you’re not tech savvy, ask a family member for help.
- Shred your personal information. Crooks know that some people think the home garbage can is a safe place to dispose of statements and personal records and have been known to dig through garbage cans to locate private information that others have discarded.
- Add a personal code word on your accounts that must be used when making transactions or inquiries by phone. Choose a word that only you would know. This adds an additional layer of security in the event someone tries to access your account.
If you suspect that someone has scammed you, or if you’re just not sure, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The longer someone has access to your personal information the more damage they can do.
If you learn someone has accessed your personal information you should notify your financial institution right away. This will allow them to take extra precautions to make sure your account information is kept safe.
For additional information on privacy, identity theft, online security and scams, you can visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/