Consumer fraud now tops more than $1.9 billion per year, according to AARP.1 From charity cheating to phishing fraud, government impostors and online seller scams, it's easier than ever for consumers to get tricked into sharing their personal or financial information.
But it is not all bad news. With the right approach, consumers can improve their chances of recognizing fraud and reducing risk, no matter what form it takes. Here are four common scam scenarios—and four-key tips—to help you avoid compromises and keep your data safe.
Scammers improve their techniques to maximize their chances of convincing consumers to provide financial or personal data. Despite changing conditions, these four fraud scenarios remain common:
These scams often occur after natural disasters or in response to emerging social issues. For example, legitimate charity drives are common after California's wildfire season each year. Scammers leverage the disaster’s newsworthiness to create fake charities that take money but never provide aid to those affected.
This is a growing problem, according to the FBI.2 The National Center for Disaster Fraud received more than 400 fraud complaints related to fake charities after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In one case, a fraudster generated more than $650,000 in four years by creating a charity and funneling donations into his pocket.
What to do
Double-check — When it comes to giving out personal information, donating money or selling items online, always verify the sources. Remember, it doesn’t hurt to ask questions. Find out how long the charity has been registered, where the donations go and what help they've offered to affected parties. The more information and sources you can find to verify the charity, the better.
Phishing scams—emails that appear legitimate and ask consumers for their personal or financial information—are becoming more common. In recent survey data, phishing attempts grew 65 percent in 2019 and, consumers opened 30 percent of the emails.3 Unsuspecting victims are also subject to “spear phishing,” where emails or other digital communications are tailored to information from their social network profiles. These communications often request individuals to open a link or attachment that contains malware or a virus. Don’t take the bait. Many of these messages are well-written, feature official company logos and warn of dire consequences if users don't act immediately.
What to do
Be critical — Don't take anything at face value. Phishing scams are often full of "DO NOW," "URGENT" and "RESPONSE REQUIRED" messaging that makes you feel pressured to act immediately. Do not respond, open any attachment or click any links in your email. If you’re unsure about the authenticity of an email, delete the email or open a new browser and go to the company’s official website to confirm the information you've received. Remember, CB&T or FDIC emails never request your sensitive information like bank account, credit and debit card, or Social Security numbers, or passwords.
People searching for alternative revenue streams in this current economic environment means swindling efforts continue unabated. Recently, “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19—especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus—have been on the rise. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans have lost $77.4 million4 due to COVID-19 fraud since the beginning of the year.
What to do
Do your research — If the opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is. Fraudsters use different means to lure victims into scams, including glamorous promotional videos, social media, email, phone conversations and more. If you are interested in an investment opportunity, review it with someone you trust or a financial professional. They will be able to help you identify fraud and evaluate the best opportunities for your situation.
Submit complaints, tips or referrals about suspected securities fraud or wrongdoing online at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website.
Online seller or "overpayment" scams are increasingly targeting seniors. As noted in Forbes, 82 percent of seniors now use online banking more frequently, and 91 percent are more comfortable with online communication.5
Scammers take advantage of sellers by overpaying. They agree to buy items and send checks or money orders for substantially more than the agreed-upon price. They then ask sellers to forward the excess balance to someone else by wire transfer. Sellers deposit the money, send the balance difference and are then told by their bank that the original check or money order was fake, leaving them out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
What to do
Proceed with caution— Some buyers may ask to pay with a payment app or check. Continue the transaction only with those you trust. Additionally, whenever possible, buy or sell from a website that offers protections to all parties involved. If a buyer or seller tries to persuade you to go outside the site’s usual process or payment methods, that’s a red flag.
Scammers are doing everything they can to grab your personal information, solicit fake donations and even overpay for purchases to compromise your finances. Don't fall for their tricks. Always ask questions, think critically, get confirmation and double-check everything to stop them in their tracks. [cite::171::cite] [cite::172::cite]
1 AARP - Consumer Fraud Complaints Hit Record High
2 FBI - Bogus Charity Operator Sentenced
3 Retruster - 2019 Phishing Statistics and Email Fraud Statistics
4 CNBC - Americans lost $77 million to Covid-19 fraud — and that’s just the ‘tip of the iceberg’
5 Forbes - Seniors Beware: Scam Artists Want Your Money