October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and with all the recent hackings of major entities like MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, and the Clark County School District, it feels appropriate to discuss what you can do to keep your personal information and finances safe. Thieves are becoming increasingly clever, constantly adapting new technology and exploiting the headlines to take advantage of us. We must stay on top of these scams. To help, we've compiled some top or emerging scams to be aware of and tips on staying safe. We want to keep your Halloween season fun and not let it become truly scary.
Impersonating Your Bank Scam
Scam version #1: Someone calls from your bank, claiming someone is trying to access your account or they've noticed suspicious activity. They ask for your personal information, like your account number, and will walk you through transferring your money into another account for "safety" against the supposed suspicious activity. In reality, you are transferring your money into their account.
Scam version #2: Someone calls or texts from your bank to warn you about a problem with your account. The caller will email or text you a "one-time passcode" for logging in and ask you to give it to them for verification. In reality, the scammer was trying to log in as you and needs that one-time passcode from the bank to complete the login process.
To stay safe: Know that your bank will never make unsolicited calls to you. If someone is calling claiming to be your bank and you haven't made any recent actions like applying for a new credit card, be very suspicious. If you are ever in doubt, hang up and call your bank directly using the number from your statement or on the back of your card. Never call back the same number that called you, as numbers can be spoofed to look like the real thing. And never share your one-time passcode with anyone.
Student Loan Forgiveness Scam
Scam: You get a phone call or see a website claiming to be a way to apply for the Biden administration's student loan forgiveness plan. They ask for your Social Security number and bank information. Sometimes, they try to charge you a fee for their assistance or an "application fee." In reality, they are just taking your money and your personal information.
To stay safe: If you have student loans and are interested in applying for this program, keep abreast of the latest news. It is still tied up in the courts, so if anyone gets in touch with you claiming to be able to help you apply for it, you'll know it's a scam. When/if it comes to fruition, know that it will not cost anything to apply for it. The U.S. Department of Education will not contact you by phone. Visit the Department of Education's website to avoid scams and stay on top of the latest news.
Package Delivery Scam
Scam: You receive a text or phone call from a delivery driver who can't find your house, an email about rescheduling a drop-off, or a "package delivery attempt" sticker on your door. If you say you didn't order anything, they might claim it's a gift. In reality, they are either trying to get your personal information or get you to click on a link that will install malware to harvest your passwords and account info.
To stay safe: Contact the delivery service using a verified phone number, and don't click on any links.
Scam Version #1: You are asked to go through the interview process, where they collect personal information from your employment forms or tell you to buy equipment or training to get the job.
Scam Version #2: They promise guaranteed or easy income if you purchase their program.
Scam Version #3: A fake employer sends a large paycheck and asks you to send the "extra" back. You send the money only to find out after that the original paycheck was fraudulent; you not only don't have the original paycheck amount in your account, but you are also out the amount you refunded back to the fake employer.
Scam Version #4: The job requires receiving and sending money to accounts or receiving and reshipping packages. In reality, this isn't legitimate and is part of an illegal operation.
To stay safe: Be wary of jobs that require you to pay money upfront, job postings or emails full of spelling/grammar errors, postings with vague job descriptions and requirements, and postings that appear on job boards but not the company's website. For any job opportunity, do your due diligence and research the company. If, after your research, you're still unsure, call the company to verify the job posting is legitimate before giving any personal information.
Scam Verson #1: A relative calls you with an emergency. They are in urgent need of money because they have been arrested or are injured. Or someone calls on their behalf, like a police officer or lawyer. In reality, it's a scammer trying to get your money.
Scam Version #2 (extreme version!): With the rise in AI technology, there have been cases lately of scammers digitally producing the voice of a person's relative. They then call them, either pretending to be them or pretending that their relative has been kidnapped, and demand an immediate ransom.
To stay safe: Be wary of any call from someone who needs money immediately. Scammers love creating a sense of urgency as it prevents you from stepping back and finding out the facts. If someone claims to be your relative (or in the extreme version where someone claims to have kidnapped them), call that relative directly to verify. Likewise, if they claim to be someone like a police officer, call the local police to verify.
Online Dating Scam
Scam: You start receiving romantic interest from someone you don't know online. Once a relationship develops, they start asking for money for any number of reasons, like a medical emergency, car repairs, family assistance, etc. They have no intention of having a romantic relationship; they are gaining your trust and compassion to get your money.
To stay safe: Be suspicious if someone you've never met in person professes their love, makes excuses not to meet in person, or tries to guilt you into sending them money. Avoid sending money or personal information to someone you haven't met.
Check Washing Scam
Scam: You write a check to pay a bill and put the payment in your mailbox. Thieves steal the check from your mailbox and bathe it in household chemicals to erase the original name and dollar amount, leaving blank spaces that they fill in with their name and a dollar amount they choose.
To stay safe: Consider paying bills online through the company's secure payment portal. If you want to write a check, it is recommended that you deposit that outgoing mail in an official blue collection box before the day's last pickup (not after). Avoid leaving mail in your mailbox overnight.
Scam Version #1: You see prizes, contests, giveaways, or early investment opportunities. You might even see sponsorships by celebrities and websites that appear to be popular cryptocurrency websites. They are trying to lure you into sending them money and sharing login information.
Scam Version #2: You've already lost money in a cryptocurrency scam and see a website claiming to "get your crypto cash back," including one that looks like it's from the U.S. Department of State. You enter your contact information, and they contact you asking for your personal ID information, including account numbers and passwords, plus an advance fee for their services. In reality, you will get nothing, and they will have all your personal information.
To stay safe: Don't let your fear of missing out on investment opportunities cloud your judgment and take away your patience to do in-depth research before investing. Always check the URLs of websites, don't be quick to enter your information, and make sure you know who you are buying from. If you've already lost money on a scam, know that the government doesn't insure crypto investments like bank accounts. If you lost funds to a crypto scammer, those funds are gone, so don't trust anyone who says they can get them back.
Online Purchase Scam
Scam Version #1: You see an ad on social media for a product at an uncommonly low price. You place your order but are told the item's not available right now and you will be refunded. However, you never receive a refund, and you can't reach anyone at the company about it.
Scam Version #2: You purchase an item online, but it never arrives, and you can't reach anyone at the company about it. This has been reported recently with purchasing puppies online.
To stay safe: Only shop on secure websites with a lock symbol in the browser bar and an internet address that begins with "https." Pay with a credit card so you are able to report fraud and get your money back.
SIM Swapping Scam
Scam: A thief steals your number and assigns it to a new SIM card in a phone they control. The scammer can then request one-time passcodes for your logins that get sent directly to their phone instead of you.
To stay safe: Ask your mobile provider if there is any extra security you can add to protect yourself from this scam. Also, see if your accounts let you use non-SMS multifactor authentication, in which you provide two pieces of proof to verify your identity, not just a texted code.
General Tips to Avoid a Scam:
- If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- Don't respond to texts from numbers you don't recognize.
- Research before you buy items, invest, donate, apply for jobs, or enter your personal information.
- Don't click on links from people you don't know.
- Don't let scare tactics get you to bypass your better judgment.
- Look for suspicious payment requirements, like via wire transfer, money orders, cryptocurrency, or gift cards.
- Sign up for free credit monitoring and freeze your credit with all three agencies. You can unfreeze them temporarily when making a purchase that requires a credit check.
- Make sure your computer is kept up-to-date and has an anti-virus program.
- Use complex passwords and never reuse a password.
Stay vigilant, stay safe, and let's keep the scares for Halloween!