You may think of yourself as being pretty savvy about fraud. And you may possess both the knowledge and skepticism needed to thwart most attempts. But two factors, in particular, can weaken even the stoutest defenses: speed and feelings. Criminals commonly prey on our desire for convenience and our emotional relationship with money when devising their scams.
In the final installation of this two-part series, you’ll get the rundown on the cons experts currently see surging and learn how to repel these attacks on your personal and financial security.
THE SCAM: Unforgiveable student loan offers
This con has taken several forms over the years, but it boils down to the same primary tactic: Using the offer of financial relief to seduce you into giving out your personal details. Recently, fraudsters have been sending texts, robocalls, and emails offering assistance with student loan forgiveness. All you have to do is fill out a simple form to expedite the process. The form of course is fake and your vital information is stolen.
THE PLAN: Never assume
One of the most critical information safety rules to remember is a simple one: Never assume the person (or, these days, automated service) you’re communicating with is who they say there are. While it’s enticing to think of quickly getting out from under crushing educational debt, there’s no need to rush it—despite what a fraudster might try to tell you. Visit studentaid.gov for the real lowdown on what you’re entitled to and how to get it.
THE SCAM: “Hitman” threats
If you ever wondered how low scammers will go, you now have your answer. In this pathetic attempt to blackmail you, criminals gather as much information on you as they can via social media. They then use that information, like the names of loved ones or common places you visit, to claim that they will harm you or someone you love. Then, they offer to call off the violent act if you pay a ransom.
THE PLAN: Leave it alone and contact law enforcement
If the scammer knows they have your attention, they’re more likely to continue to harass you. DO NOT RESPOND TO THEM. Instead, contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and local law enforcement. As a general rule, be careful about what you post online, as it can potentially be used for intimidation.
THE SCAM: Fake delivery messages
Cybercriminals have taken to sending fake messages explaining that a package is delayed or that a delivery was attempted unsuccessfully. In the case of a delayed package, you’re advised that you need to update your account information for delivery to proceed. A link is provided that then harvests your personal information. In the unsuccessful delivery version of this scam, you’re informed that you’ll need to pay a fee for another delivery attempt.
THE PLAN: Take a deep breath and disengage
It’s a fast world. You’re used to accomplishing tasks or resolving issues in seconds with a few clicks and keystrokes. But it’s a good practice to avoid links in emails or texts and instead navigate on your own to sites where you’ve conducted business. It takes a bit longer, but during the extra seconds, comfort yourself because your information is safer.
THE SCAM: Romantic investment
One of the enduring truisms of scams is that they evolve and become more sophisticated with time. It used to be that romance as a pretense for online fraud meant some heavy flirting followed by a request for money for a “plane ticket.” Lately, the crafters of these amorous scams have upped their writing game, as their tales are richer and feature more robust character development. Now it’s not just about money to escape their sad circumstances. Instead, it’s about investing in their company so the two of you can live blissfully together.
THE PLAN: Lead with your head, not your heart
Many great romances have begun online. But to make sure you’re not being played for a fool, follow these rules:
- Don’t rush. Going head over heels right away can lead to irrational decisions.
- Ask lots of questions.
- Do a little online digging to see if the person’s image and name match up with what they’ve told you about themselves.
- Ask the person to meet in person or, at the very least, via webcam.
- Never send money. If the person asks you to, it’s a scam.
It’s easy to get frustrated when almost every day seems to bring reports of a new type of fraud being perpetrated against hard-working Americans. But the reality is that while scams take on slightly different forms as technologies evolve, these efforts typically center on tricking you into parting with your money or vital information that can then be used to take money from you.
So while it’s important to stay abreast of the latest techniques con artists are using, keeping these fundamental questions in mind will help you weed out many unnecessary risks:
Do I know to whom I’m giving this information? Am I sure of that?
- Am I sure of the source of this link and where it will lead me?
- Do they really need this information?
- Should I send money this way?
- Can I end this interaction and contact the company at a number I know belongs to them?
When it comes to avoiding scams, sometimes having the right questions is better than having all the right answers.