Worst scams of 2017: 10 tricks fraudsters are using to dupe you out of your money
Summertime means sunshine, sunscreen — and scams. Alas, as you focus on taking a much-deserved break, you may be less likely to notice details like fraudulent credit card charges from your two-week vacation in the Bahamas.
Criminals are constantly changing their game to trip you up. While you may be hearing from fewer Nigerian princes looking to share their wealth these days, as Mike Snyder, Federal Communications Commission media relations representative, told Mic: financial fraud is alive and well, and mobile phone scams in particular are a major way fraudsters are tricking people in 2017.
Telemarketing, robocalls and caller ID spoofing are among the top complaints fielded by the FCC. There are also a host of fraudulent calls about the IRS, warranties and insurance (especially auto warranties), vacation deals, student loans, credit card loans, threats of legal action and health care scams, Snyder added in an email.
Scam calls by mobile phone have quadrupled since 2015, according to a new report by telecommunications privacy solutions company First Orion. More than half of the First Orion survey participants said they received a scam call within the past month and nearly 79% said they received a scam call in 2017 versus 69% in 2015. Not sure what to do — beyond ignoring your phone when it rings? A little bit of warning can go a long way.
Just like how knowing what a card skimmer looks like can help prevent you from getting duped by a thief, knowing what scams are out there will keep you from becoming a victim. Here are 10 signature scams to look out for right now.
1. The phony iCloud breach
The scam: Scammers reach people by phone, saying their data was hacked or breached through iCloud, Apple’s online data storage service. The scam is so effective because it sounds plausible, what with all the reports of data breaches, Business Insider notes. The initial call is a robocall, which offers to connect the prospective victim to a live person who can “help.” The individual on the phone says they can fix the problem if provided personal information (which could possibly include your Apple ID password, credit card information). The scammers will use flattery and may even an offer of a free iTunes gift card to poach your information, Apple says.
What you should do: Never share your Apple ID or temporary verification codes with anyone, Apple advises. And using two-factor identification will add an extra layer of protection to your account. If you receive an unsolicited call, hang up immediately and contact Apple directly.
2. The shady taxi lost-and-found service
The scam: You are in a hurry and forget your bag or phone in the cab. What do you do? Use a helpful service, like Yellowcabnyc.com, to locate your missing item. Sounds legit, considering it has all the vital keywords like NYC and yellow cab, right? Unfortunately, this “service” offers to locate your lost item for $47, which of course goes directly into the scammer’s pocket and your item is seemingly never retrieved, the New York Post reported.
What you should do: If you lose something in a cab, call the cab company’s garage directly first, according to the City of New York government website. If you don’t recall the name of the cab company, you can complete this form. Additionally, you can call the lost property police precincts in each borough to see if your lost item was recovered. Not in New York City? You can still apply this advice no matter where you are, just by starting with the cab company’s office.
3. Airline ticket giveaway
The scam: If you put off booking that airline ticket for summer until now, you are probably thirsting for a last-minute deal. Then you happen to see an email or post on Facebook or Craigslist offering one. All you need to do is wire cash for the ticket to a Western Union account and you are given the ticket confirmation number. Unfortunately when it’s time to travel, you find out the “ticket” you purchased doesn’t exist.
Scammers steal credit card information and purchase airline tickets, Scam Detector says. They cancel the trip for credit but retain the ticket’s confirmation number. Then they sell the ticket at a “discounted” rate on a site like Craigslist, Kijiji, Oodle or Gumtree and make the sale look legit because they provide the confirmation number.
What you should do: If you purchase an airline ticket online, make sure you go directly through the airline site or a reputable site like Expedia or Kayak. While some deals may be tempting, they are most likely too good to be true. If you purchase a fraudulent ticket, share what happened to you on social media and contact the Federal Trade Commission.
4. The bogus government grant
The scam: Score! You receive a phone call that you’ve been awarded a healthy government grant because you paid your taxes on time. All you need to do is provide your checking account information so the money can be automatically transferred to your account, but also to cover a one-time processing fee. The caller may say they are from the “Federal Grants Administration” so the call sounds legitimate, but the scam is to obtain access to your bank account.
The hallmark of this scam is that scammers usually read from a script, congratulating you for your eligibility and confirming that your processing fee can be refunded if you aren’t completely satisfied, according to the FTC. Also, the phone number will not have a caller ID, although the call may appear to be coming from Washington, D.C. Additionally, know you’ll never have to pay money for a “free” government grant.
What you should do: Hang up and report the call to the Federal Trade Commission.
5. The imaginary vacation rental
The scam: The vacation rental house looks perfect online and the price is right — but is it? Fake vacation rentals and time-share offers account for about 8% of reports to the Better Business Bureau scam tracker in 2017. Scammers may hijack an actual vacation rental ad, posing as the agent to grab your money for the rental or will fabricate a fake ad, designing a property that doesn’t even exist, the FTC says.
What you should do: Before you pay for a vacation rental, be wary of someone asking you to wire the cash to them, the FTC advises. Also, anyone who cannot connect personally because they are out of the country or demands the security deposit up front should be a red flag. Also, if the listing seems too good to be true, it probably is, the BBB says.
6. The tax bill you don’t actually owe
The scam: About 5% of the scams reported to the BBB are criminals posing as IRS agents, threatening criminal prosecution for being remiss on paying your taxes. The “agent” claims they can waive arrest if you pay a hefty fine through a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer, the IRS says. The latest version of this scam includes the scammer telling the potential victim that two certified letters were mailed to the victim but were returned as being undeliverable.
What you should do: Know that the IRS will never ask for credit or debit information over the phone or demand immediate payment without the opportunity to appeal the amount, the IRS advises. Also, hang up the phone if you are contacted by someone posing as an IRS agent, the BBB says.
7. The jury duty scam
The scam: While missing your jury summons by mail could happen, you wouldn’t be harassed by someone on the phone if you do miss your notice. Scammers typically pose as a U.S. marshall or the local police, AARP says, claiming you may be arrested because you missed jury duty. Supposedly in order to confirm the call, the caller will ask for your Social Security number and any other ID and will then offer to wipe clean the warrant for your arrest if you pay a fine — in the form of a prepaid debit or gift card.
What you should do: Federal courts will never ask for personal information by phone, the United States Courts says, and will not ask for Social Security or credit card numbers. Should you receive this call, hang up immediately and contact the agency the caller claims to be calling from, typically a government agency, Sheryl Presley, Oklahoma City Police Triad coordinator told AOL says.
8. The ransom call
The scam: Typically delivered under the cloak of night, the kidnapping scam plays on your fears that a loved one was kidnapped but would be returned safely as long as a ransom is paid. Scammers reach out by phone, email or Facebook message, claiming if you don’t pay up in the hour, your loved one dies, Men’s Health reports. The reason scammers get away with this is because they pick the right hour to deliver the scary message, usually in the middle of the night, so you are too disoriented to challenge or question the call.
What you should do: First reach out to the “kidnapped victim” before you jump to any conclusions, Men’s Health suggests. Even though you may annoy your buddy with a call at 2 a.m. to make sure they’re safe, shelling out thousands of dollars in “ransom” is far more annoying. Keep in mind, the scammers may have scanned your social media to identify a connection who posted about traveling or being on vacation, CBS Boston notes. This will make it harder to verify the whereabouts of your loved one. Call 911 in the event you receive a call like this and get police involved.
9. Fraudulent telemarketing calls
The scam: Just when you thought your mobile phone was safe, scammers target you with fake telemarketing calls. You first receive an email saying telemarketers may be calling your mobile phone, playing off the rumors of a 411 mobile directory, the FCC says. The idea behind the scam is if your number is listed on the 411 service, its open to telemarketing calls — which is completely untrue and would be illegal.
What you should do: Never share any personal information or data by phone with a telemarketer. Most telemarketing calls placed to your mobile phone are illegal and should be reported to the FTC. Another trick: Block the caller on your phone so at the very least they’ll have to call from another number to reach you again.
10. The “spear phishing” email
The scam: While phishing accounts for 34% of the BBB’s complaints this year, “spear phishing” is on the rise. Phishing is when a business emails you and asks to “verify” your personal information, like your Social Security number, credit card numbers or passwords. “Spear phishing” gives the scam a more personal flavor, as it appears to come from someone you know and sounds more personal, USA Today says. This approach is far more dangerous because your guard may not be up, making you more likely to fall for this scam.
What should you do: As with any scam, be cautious of any emails asking for you to click on a link, USA Today advises. Also, legitimate companies aren’t going to ask for your password, and if a “friend” sends the email, reach out separately and ask if the friend really sent that message — sometimes tiny differences in an email address are hard to spot. Also, fraudulent emails are typically fraught with typos. Be wary of links that take you to a URL that begins with “http” rather than “https,” which is more secure.
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