“Tis the season to be jolly and merry, but it is also the time to be skeptical when approached with offers that tug at the heart or seem to good to be true. More often than not, these unsolicited come-ons can be an introduction via phone, mail, email, or online search engine to a con man’s operating center. In most cases, the crooks will be overseas, far from your legal jurisdiction where trying to recover lost funds will be an exercise in utter futility. The best advice is to be wary at all times. Stay vigilant!
The experts in fraud prevention have been inundated this year with cyber-crime activities, along with the other traditional forms of criminal intent. The primary focus of online scams gas been the theft of your personal identity information, sometimes referred to as “phishing”. Once obtained, this information can be sold to the highest bidder or, as the experts warn, used “to obtain credit cards, fake mortgages, loans, and cash advances. Once an identity theft occurs, it is a very difficult task to undo the damage. It often costs upwards of $10,000 in legal fees just to clean up the mess created by these criminals.”
You may already be at risk. As we reported in a previous article, “In 2014, JP Morgan Chase, our nation’s Number One bank in asset size, was breached. Names, addresses, and emails were accessed for 83 million accounts. From 2007 forward, another 17 million accounts were compromised from the likes of E*Trade Financial Corp, Scotttrade Inc., TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, Fidelity Investments, and News Corp’s Dow Jones unit, which publishes The Wall Street Journal.” These thefts occurred over the past few years, but law enforcement officials estimate that private data for “100 million consumers has been stolen this year in the United States alone.” Again, be wary and ever vigilant!
The criminal element in our society is also very adept at coming at you with a variety of schemes, each designed to gain your trust, then fleece your financial accounts for all that they are worth. These scams may hit you for as little as $200, but some can stick you for well over $3,000 and counting. If the crook is not successful the first time around, then he may make a second pass at you with another of his favorite scams. According to the crime fighters out there and in order to prepare you for the worst, here is a list of their “Top Ten” con games for year, and it is by no means a complete list:
#1 — Tech Support Scams
Unless you are an IT professional, you are more than likely all thumbs when it comes to fixing your computer. Crooks use this sense of vulnerability to trick you into using their remote repair services. Most of these cons arise from India, using U.S. telephone or email addresses. They may cold call you to warn of a MicroSoft problem or have previously attached malware on your PC that claims that you are infected with numerous viruses. The goal is to load more malware on your device when you give them access to it or to get your credit card info when you pay them.
Experts’ Advice: “Never give anyone remote access to your computer. Instead, hire a local computer repair service whenever necessary.”
#2 — Fake/Counterfeit Merchandise Scams
If the deal looks too good, then beware. These thieves work predominantly out of China by setting up “clone” online websites that look just like real brand name products or they offer brand names at incredible discounts. The goal again is to get your credit card info, then sell that or buy real products for themselves. If you do receive something for your effort, it will most likely be a cheap counterfeit.
Experts’ Advice: “To verify the identity of a website in question, always contact the brand company using the phone number on the company’s official Contact Us or similar page.”
#3 — Pets-for-Sale Scams
Do you want that little doggie in the window for Christmas? Fake websites are common that claim to be animal rescue services, special adoption companies, or rare breed nurseries. They may even promise free puppies, if you will only pay special handling and shipping fees. In this case, the mode of payment is usually a wire transfer, Western Union cash, or Moneygram that cannot be reversed. Beware of these Pets-for-Sale scenarios.
Experts’ Advice: “Avoid paying for a pet using any type of cash transfer method.”
#4 — Grant Scams
In this scam, the con artist contacts you, impersonating a government official that has the power to bestow special grant monies to you and only you, if you will comply with a few details. These crooks, operating out of India or Pakistan, have already acquired mailing lists from loan companies that alert them to people that are in need. For a small processing fee, they can send major bucks to your bank account. The scam starts out with small advances for processing fees, no credit cards accepted. Once they have your bank account information, watch out for trouble.
Experts’ Advice: “Block callers who offer access to grant monies for a fee.”
#5 — Collection Agency Scams
Are you behind in some of your credit accounts? Scammers in this arena are some of the most brazen, representing themselves as from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the IRS, but more than likely a fake collection agency. Their goal is to intimidate you and steal your money with high-pressure cold calls that never seem to end. Payments must follow the Western Union/cash route, and, if they get you once, you can expect them to return at a later date, threatening lawsuits and fines to get what they want – your money.
Experts’ Advice: “Unless you have bad debts and owe money to collection agencies who have purchased them, block all collection calls.”
#6 — House/Vacation/Timeshare Property Rental/Resale Scams
There is an entire genre of con games that deal with the travel industry, but the more prevalent scams deal with our desire to enjoy a vacation. Properties will be listed on a service like the Craigslist, complete with pictures and a rental deal that is well below the average for the area. Non-refundable cash payments are a warning sign. The reverse can happen if you have bought a timeshare. Crooks will call you claiming to have a renter or buyer, but all they need are some upfront fees to make the deal happen. Not!
Experts’ Advice: “Always pay rent using a check or a credit card. Never pay upfront fees to anyone promising to sell or rent your timeshare or refer you to buyers or renters.”
#7 — Payday Loan Scams
Beware of ever dealing with companies that will make payday loans. In order to raise more money, these firms sell your information to affiliated loan companies or advertising agencies. Sooner or later, a scamming group will get hold of your information and make a loan offer to you that you cannot refuse. All you need do is send along an upfront processing fee, along with your bank account information, which they say is needed for the loan transfer. No loan will ever come, and you will be vulnerable to direct account theft, as well.
Experts’ Advice: “Never pay any upfront fees to anyone promising a loan over the phone.”
#8 — Dating and Relationship Scams
One is a lonely number, and, after all, we all desire love and to have someone to share our lives with, but beware of online dating service scams. Crooks pervade these sites. Be wary when someone falls completely for you at once and even sends along a small gift. It is an investment for future thefts. These scammers are adept at manipulating your feelings. Ask for career information and other personal data that you can check against other information sources. If it is a scammer, they will eventually ask you for money, but only after they know that they have you in their clutches.
Experts’ Advice: “Online dating is also a playground for liars and scammers. Take a good long look at the profiles. Ask for personal information that you can verify. If there is real interest, there should be no problem.”
#9 — Work from Home – Inspecting and Shipping Merchandise
Who does not want to earn a few extra bucks working online at home? There are tons of websites that freely post ads from both real and not-so-real employers. The con man’s pitch is for you to be an intermediary, either for shipped packages or as a payroll agent. You will be shipping goods oversea that have been stolen using stolen credit card information. You will be sent a check that is to pay you, with the balance to be wired to other parties. The check will bounce.
Experts’ Advice: “Never agree to receive and ship packages from home. Additionally, never refund money from a paycheck as a bank transfer. Instead, ask the company to re-issue the check for the correct amount.”
#10 — Fraudulent/Fake Check Scams
This last scam uses part of the previous one to be successful. The crooks invent clever stories, like a modeling camera shoot in Italy, and then send you a check for too much money. They will ask you to wire the difference back to them. Their check will bounce.
Experts’ Advice: “Never accept checks with amounts over the agreed upon price. Never agree to send money back. Ask the bank if the check has cleared before releasing anything to an alleged buyer.”
There is no doubt that con artists plan ahead, are well organized, and up to date on the latest things that the public desires. If we want something bad enough, they will have devised a clever scheme to leverage our own greed to their financial advantage. As noted, the list above is not all-inclusive, but it will serve as a warning for just how devious these crooks can be.
Be wary of any attempt to obtain your personal identification data. Be sure to protect your web access devices and prevent pop-ups, the source for most malware attacks. Change your account passwords frequently and withhold your trust until you are sure you are dealing with a reputable person or website. If you are up for more protection, there are services that, for a small monthly fee, will safeguard your information and provide insurance coverage in case of losses.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed, so stay skeptical and vigilant at all times!