Life gets busy! Our brains can quickly become flooded with to-do lists as we juggle work, kids, appointments and more leaving us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. It is during times like these that we are less likely to notice when things are not quite right. We are run down and rushed so our radar for detecting atypical activity or recognizing moments when we should be paying special attention is not operating at maximum capacity or even at all. Unfortunately, these moments become prime time for fraudsters, and they will have no problem taking advantage of it.
Did You Know?
- Identify fraud cost Americans a total of about $56 billion last year, with about 49 million consumers being affected.
- Of those $56 billion losses last year, $43 billion came from identity theft scams, according to the 2021 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy and Research.
- Frauds aimed at older adults are becoming more creative and are tied to whatever is currently trending such as Zoom, COVID-19 vaccines and online shopping.
- According to American risk- management specialist RSA, almost half (48%) of all fraud involves accounts that are less than 24 hours old.
- From January 2020 to early January 2021, the Federal Trade Commission released that consumers reported over 275,000 complaints resulting in more than $210 million in COVID-19-related fraud loss.
- Since October 2020, consumers have reported losing more than $80 million to cryptocurrency investment scams, according to a new data analysis from the Federal Trade Commission.
Account takeover is another way of saying identity theft. Criminals pose as you to gain access to your accounts, and then use that access to make unauthorized transactions. When they do this, they can also change your account details and log on information to lock you out and cover their tracks, and then go on to sell access to your account to other fraudsters. Sometimes scammers will send fake text messages claiming there is trouble with your internet account, credit card, shopping order or bank account. They will try to get you to click on links to provide personal information. Once fraudsters have your personal information and stolen credentials, they can open new accounts in your name.
Don’t click on links in emails and texts that you haven’t solicited. Call your bank or credit card company directly to check for any problems. Keep your PC protected with security software. Use biometric security such as Touch ID on Apple’s iPhones or fingerprint locks on Android phones. Shred documents that contain personal information. Check the authenticity of any website you visit. Be careful of what you post on social media, as fraudsters can create fake profiles.
Scammers impersonate people and agencies to obtain your personal information. This can happen in the form of unsolicited calls, emails or texts.
Avoid picking up calls from unfamiliar numbers. If you do get a call from a government agency, call or email them through contact information listed on their website. Don’t reply directly to whatever email or text you’ve received. Keep in mind, the U.S. government will never ask you to pay for information or services upfront. They also typically don’t call, text or email asking you for your personal information. Another red flag is if the caller or message claims they need your information right away or if you’ll lose money if immediate action is not taken.
Phishing and Pharming Emails
Scammers obtain your personal information like Social Security number and/or date of birth, and then use it to apply for credit cards, loans, and other financial accounts. Usually, the victim receives an email with links to a website that looks just like the real one, but the website and email are fake. There is typically a request to update information and once the victim puts in their information, the fraudster has what they need. Zoom phishing has gotten a lot of attention since the pandemic. You receive an email, text or social media message with the Zoom logo telling you to click on a link because your account has been suspended or you missed a meeting. Once you click, the criminals download malicious software onto your computer and grab your personal information.
Again, avoid clicking on links. Go directly to the provider’s website and contact them directly to inquire.
COVID-19 Vaccination Card Scams
Many people who received a COVID-19 vaccine posted selfies on social media showing off their vaccination card. Scammers now have your full name, birth date and information about where you got your shot to engage in identity theft, open cards in your name and more.
If you must take a selfie, use a generic vaccine sticker or add a “Got My Vaccine” profile picture frame on social media.
Internet Merchandise Scams
Scammers are getting very good at mimicking real retail websites. They create fake sites that look and feel like the authentic one. Then they create an online ad with a great price. Once you click, it’s over.
Never click on an ad to go to a retailer’s website. Bookmark the URLs of trusted shopping websites you visit frequently. For new sites, check online reviews and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Online Romance Scams
Scammers are taking advantage of many in online groups, through online games like Words With Friends and others that people have turned to during the pandemic. Once they have them engaged, the scammers coax the unsuspecting victim onto communication apps that are not monitored such as Google Hangouts or Facebook Messenger. Then, when the timing is right, they ask for money due to an emergency.
Never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. Never send images or videos that could be used later to blackmail you.
Medicare Card Scams
Emails, calls and knocks on doors are happening from scammers claiming to be from Medicare, offering services related to the pandemic if you “verify your Medicare ID number. Offers include new cards that contain microchips. Some of these scammers even ask for payment to move you up in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Medicare will never contact you without permission for your Medicare number or other personal information. You should not be giving this information out.
Smartphone Cash Tool Payment Scams
Cash tools such as Venmo, Zelle and PayPal allow you to transfer money directly to another person, which is convenient but has led to many scams. One way that fraudsters use this platform is by sending a couple hundred dollars to you via one of these platforms, then sends a follow up message requesting the money back, claiming it was an accident. However, the original couple hundred dollars was made with a stolen debit card. That money will eventually be taken from your account.
Disable or block incoming requests on your app and only use it for sending money. Enable it only when someone you trust is about to send you cash. Ignore requests to return “accidental deposits.”
Fake Prizes, Sweepstakes, Free Gifts and Lottery Scams
You receive an email or text claiming you’ve won a prize, lottery or gift. All you have to do is pay a small fee to claim it or cover “handling costs.” Of course, there is no prize.
Ignore texts and emails claiming you have won a prize, lottery or gift.
Most crypto scams can appear as emails trying to blackmail someone, online referral schemes, or fake business/investment opportunities. A scammer wants you to send money, or make a payment, with Bitcoin or another type of cryptocurrency. Once you do, your money is gone, and there’s generally no way to get it back.
If you see a cryptocurrency scam, report it immediately to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Ways to Guard Against Scammers
- Ensure all websites you visit have a URL that starts with “https,” which indicates that the site is private and secure.
- Do not pay with a gift card, cash, or wiring money as these methods are hard to trace or refund, and according to the Federal Trade Commission, are typically how scammers prefer to make people pay.
- Don’t click on any links inside emails or text messages sent to you regarding goods purchased or in route. Go directly to the source’s website to track or inquire.
- Scan all emails for viruses prior to opening.
- Secure your bank accounts and cards with strong passwords. Change the passwords regularly. Whenever you have the option of multi-factor authentication, use it.
- Do your research.
- Never send money to someone you don’t know.
- When online shopping, never shop via ads sent to you. Go directly to the vendor’s primary, authentic website.
- Check your credit report and credit card statements regularly for unusual activity.
- Consider using Paypal for purchases since your payment details won’t be exposed to the merchant.
Scams and identity theft/fraud are on the rise. Criminals are finding more and more creative ways to gain access to personal information and funds. Protect yourself by staying apprised of the latest scams.
Sources: CNBC/ Consumerreports.org/ AARP.org/ Forbes/ Securitymagazine.com
© Geier Asset Management, Inc. June 2021. Gregory Palacorolla, CFP ® is Director of Wealth Management for Geier Asset Management, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. The articles & opinions expressed in this material were gathered from a variety of sources, but are reviewed by Geier Asset Management, Inc. prior to its dissemination. All sources are believed to be reliable but do not constitute specific investment advice. The views expressed are those of the firm as of June 2021 and are subject to change. These opinions are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of results, or investment advice. Any advice given is general in nature and investors must consider their own individual circumstances. In all cases, please contact your investment professional before making any investment choices. Geier Asset Management, Inc. is not responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.