I’ve written about scams before and will continue to do so from time to time. Sadly, there is always plenty of new material.
The first article I wrote concentrates on online phishing scams and includes ways of recognizing a scam email. The second was broader because scams occur in all types of communications, not just online. Consequently, that article has a broader set of ways to recognize scams
There are really only two types of scams and all of us should be on the lookout for both types. One type tries to get personal data, the other type tries to get money directly. Both types are trying to get the recipient to do something. The best advice is to never do anything as a result of a communication that asks for data or money, even if it appears to be from a trusted supplier like a credit card or even from a family member. Hang up the phone, delete the email without clicking any links and contact the supplier or family member directly. Don’t hesitate to ask local police about anything that seems suspicious. They are always on the lookout for scams and can offer good advice—before you do something that may cost you.
That said, it is useful to have a sense of what the scammers are doing at the moment. Here’s some of what’s been going around recently:
Fake Equifax Settlement Site. I’ve already written about the legitimate settlement offer if for consumers whose data was swept up in the 2017 breach. Almost immediately after Equifax’s settlement with the FTC was announced fake websites began to spring up. Some of them apparently look amateurish but the real tipoff is that they are reaching out to the consumer to get money. There is never a fee for applying for a settlement. Here’s a good article from CBS that has a lot of information about the settlement and the link to the legitimate settlement page.
Cashier’s Checks Scams. Long thought to be a gold standard for safety, there are now many authentic-looking fake cashier’s checks. They are used on sites like Craigslist and in other transactions where the parties don’t know one another. It can take a week or more for banks to verify a cashier’s check and the payee is liable for money spent from the funds. If you have any doubt about a cashier’s check—and that should apply to any check from an unknown person—the first recommendation is to take it to the issuing bank. Know that cashier’s checks have become so good that even the bank may have a hard time detecting the fake. Besides, the bank may be far away. Do not try to call the number on the check; that’s fake too. Look up the number yourself. Never remit part of an overpayment—that’s a favorite technique. Here’s a good article on how to spot a fraud and how to protect yourself when accepting cashier’s checks.
Family Emergency Scams. The so-called Grandparent Scam is the version most often seen on the Cape. One resident recently lost $8,000 to a scammer who said her grandson was being held in a Canadian jail and needed bail money. The victim was only prevented from sending additional funds when the bank reported the large request to the police. Always verify the request independently with other family members, no matter what the caller says.
Online Dating Scams. These scams occur both on websites and dating apps. They involve getting acquainted and building trust online. Then the scammer asks for money in a variety of emotional ways like being unable to afford to visit. This type of scam so often affects older consumers that the AARP has a good article on how to recognize and avoid it. The AARP has a fraud network and a free scam alert newsletter that may be worth signing up for.
And finally, a warning of things to come. There are ways of faking most types of communications and the use of Artificial Intelligence has made many of the fakes hard to distinguish from the real item.
Fake Voices. Voice imitations have been pretty good for some time now. Recently they have become excellent, hard for even the owner of the voice to identify. According to the Wall Street Journal a business office in Britain was contacted in March by phone by what seemed to be the German CEO of the company. An employee in the finance department was ordered to transfer $243,000 to a Hungarian supplier. The funds were actually transferred to Mexico and, as of now, have not been recovered. The scammers who were able to fake the voice with great realism have not been identified.
This was a business fraud, but as any technology gets better it invariably gets less expensive. Consumers have already been fooled by voices that purport to be family members in family emergency scams. Unfortunately, we should expect more voice scams so double- or triple-check any communication that asks you to take any action.
The best any of us can do is to be well aware of techniques used by scammers and to never, ever take any action based on an incoming message. Each one of has to be our own first line of defense against scammers.