As consumers learn more about avoiding scams, criminals learn more about creating them. Last year in the U.S. over 50,500 scams were reported to the Better Business Bureau, and at the time of this article, over 9,600 scams have already been reported in 2019.
Fraud can come in many different forms and affect people of all ages and businesses of any size, so it’s important to be aware of common threats and understand what you can do to mitigate your risk.
2019 Scam Trends
Phishing methods are continuously evolving and increasing in sophistication. We’re starting the list with phishing, because phishing is one of the forms that many of the scams in this article can come in.
Phishing is when you get emails (or texts or calls) that look like they’re from a company or person you know, but they’re actually from cybercriminals. These emails try to entice you to click on a link where you will be prompted to enter personal information like passwords or bank account information.
These emails often address you by name and include sophisticated web design features that make them appear legitimate even to skeptical recipients.
These elaborate scams target job-seeking individuals with ads for high-paying, remote positions. The scammers may even go as far as to conduct fake video interviews. To get the job, the candidate must fill out fake employment forms with personal information, and they may be asked to purchase training materials that they will be reimbursed for later. Another trick scammers may use to steal information is to require a fake “credit report” as part of the application process. Once the criminal has stolen the victim’s personal information and money, all communication ceases.
In another tactic involving fake checks, the scammer writes a fake check for more than was required, and the scam target is told that they were overpaid and need to pay back the difference either by wiring money or sending prepaid cards to the scammer.
Online Purchase Fraud
Online purchase scams occur when a user pays online for goods or services that are never delivered. Pets are the most common products offered in these schemes, followed by automobile products, clothing, and cosmetics.
On the flip side, the criminal may pose as a buyer, purposefully overpaying for a product from Craigslist or eBay using the same fake check method described above.
Home Improvement Scams
Either in online/email ads or by going door-to-door, fake contractors offer assessments or repairs for a small fee. If the work is agreed to, the scammer will either take payments without returning, do shoddy work, or claim that they found bigger issues and need to raise the price. These types of scams may increase after storms or other natural disasters when many homes are in need of repairs.
Advance Fee Loan Fraud
In this scam, fraudulent companies offer “guaranteed” loans so long as the processing fees, taxes, or other upfront fees are paid in advance. Once the advance fees have been paid by the applicant, contact ceases and the loan never comes through.
Social Security Scams
Scammers are using new technologies to make phone calls look like they’re coming from a different number than they really are. In the Social Security scam, people get calls that actually look like they’re from the Social Security Administration’s customer service number. When the call is answered, victims are harassed and threatened with losing their benefits if they do not provide certain information.
Tech Support Fraud
These scams may come in the form of phishing emails or pop-up messages on websites or apps on your computer or smartphone. The message may say that your computer, phone, or tablet needs a routine update or is infected with a virus. You’ll be prompted to download software to resolve the issue, but the software will actually infect your device with malware to steal your personal information.
Tips to Avoid Scams in 2019
- Avoid clicking on links in emails or texts from senders you don’t know. The American Bankers Association recommends these tips for verifying the authenticity of emails and avoiding phishing scams.
- Before making payments or providing personal information to a person or company you are unfamiliar with, do some research. Investigate the company, individual, or online profile you think you are interacting with by searching for them on Google or reading consumer reviews.
- If you’ve verified that the company is real, but you’re having trouble determining if the communications are really from that company, call the company directly using a number listed on their website.
- Slow down, and remember that no authentic employer, salesperson, loan officer, contractor, company, or Social Security Administration employee, etc. will ever threaten you in attempt to force you to pay or provide personal information. If you feel threatened or harassed, that is a red flag.
- Just because funds were credited to your account doesn’t mean the check cleared, so when depositing a check that is not from someone you know well, wait at least 2 weeks for the check to clear before spending any of it.
- Be wary if someone asks you to pay them using pre-paid cards. Sometimes scammers use this method to make it harder to track the funds once the scam is realized.
- The FTC recommends hanging up on prerecorded phone calls.
- Report scam attempts to the BBB.
- If you believe your financial information may have been compromised, contact your bank immediately. Click here for PVNB Debit Card Support Numbers.
For more information on scam trends, check out the 2018 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report.