Don’t be fooled by these phone and email scams
Some of us in the personal finance business have a weird little hobby: we try to scam the crooks.
We don’t want to steal their money, just their time. When fraudsters call to say we’re about to be arrested for tax debt, our social security number has been “suspended”, or a loved one is in trouble, we are playing the game.
This gives us valuable insight into how scams work, while wasting the time these fools might spend victimizing more vulnerable people.
We have our work cut out for us. Government impostor frauds have defrauded people of at least $ 450 million since 2014, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Interestingly, people aged 20 to 59 are more likely to report being scammed this way than those aged 60 and over, but older people tend to lose more money. The median loss reported by an individual was $ 960, but it was $ 2,700 for those 80 and older, the FTC said in a July report.
You don’t have to engage with the bad guys to thwart them. Answering the phone when crooks call can put you on a “suckers list” that will prompt more calls.
But you can sign up for free AARP Fraud Watch Network ‘Watch Alerts’, reports scam attempts at the FTC and alert those around you to the latest ploys, such as these three.
Scammers are nothing if they are not flexible. As media coverage of IRS impostor calls increased last year, con artists have switched to impersonating Social Security investigators. Scammers often use software to spoof Caller ID services by displaying Social Security Administration phone numbers or its anti-fraud hotline.
Doug Shadel, AARP’s senior researcher on consumer fraud, recently pretended to take the bait. He returned a robocall from a group of these impersonators and learned that the FBI was about to arrest him for opening 25 fraudulent bank accounts. To help “investigators”, Shadel was advised to transfer all money from his legitimate bank accounts to prepaid cards issued by “government certified” stores such as Apple, Target, CVS or Walgreens. Next, Shadel was supposed to give the caller the serial numbers of the cards so the information could be added to his “file” – allowing the thugs to steal the money.
The details of these scams may seem absurd, but scammers are exceptionally good at creating an atmosphere of fear and urgency, so you’ll react emotionally, Shadel says.
“Once you are in this state of fear, it overwhelms all reason,” he says.
Variations of this program include warnings that your Social Security number has been suspended due to suspicious activity or that your help is needed to investigate a crime, such as immigration. fraud. Know this: Social Security numbers can’t be suspended, investigators typically don’t enlist civilians, and government agencies don’t call out unannounced, says Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs at the ‘AARP.
“Anyone calling the government to say there is a problem and you owe money is a scam,” she said.
The “sextortion” blackmail tries to convince you that your computer has been hacked and the blackmailer is about to expose an extramarital affair, porn viewing habits or other embarrassing behavior. The email is actually just a boilerplate form, but the subject line may include your actual password (which was likely exposed during a previous unrelated database breach) . The blackmailer usually requires payment via bitcoin or some other digital currency. The solution is not to get up, but to hit Delete and change your passwords regularly.
This is a variation of family emergency scams, where someone pretends to be a loved one who is in dire need of money – to get out of jail, leave a foreign country, or pay a hospital bill, for example. With kidnapping scams, crooks pretend to be holding your loved one hostage, often including the sounds of someone screaming or begging. The call may appear to come from the phone number of the alleged victim.
Resist the urge to panic and instead check in on your loved one’s whereabouts, Stokes says. This could mean hanging up without speaking – often the best approach – and then calling or texting them. You can also contact someone who might know their whereabouts, such as a spouse, friend or relative, Stokes says. If you stay online, expect scammers to try to stop you from verifying the story by threatening serious consequences.
“If they say, ‘Don’t tell anyone or drastic things are going to happen,’ just know that’s part of their ruse,” Stokes says.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.