Scam and Fraud roundup: The latest cons


young woman fraud victim looking distressed

Thieves are highly creative and spend 24-7 just trying to figure out ways to separate you from your money. Even if you are super safe and cautious, you can be a victim of a con, a phish or a fraud. Scams happen both online and off – but it’s quite efficient for criminals to mass target potential victims via the phone and email. Check our our roundup of some of the latest scams, according to some of our favorite security sources.

Social Security is not trying to take your benefits
The Federal Trade Commission posts a robocall of the latest scams which threaten to end your benefits. They offer this reminder:

  • Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended.
  • The real Social Security Administration will never call to threaten your benefits.
  • The real SSA will never tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on a gift card.

American Express Phishing Attack Targets Customers
If you are an American Express cardholder, learn the email phishing and phone scams. Learn more about it and how to avoid it. Also remember this good advice:

Never click a link or download an attachment that you are not expecting
If the email came from your boss, pick up the phone and verify it. If it appears to come from a company you do business with, ignore the email and go directly to their website. From there, you can see if there is an issue with your account.

Don’t pay for help with student loans
If you have student loan debt, a program that promises to reduce or erase it might sound like just what you need. But some of these programs just take lots of your money and give you no help — or do only what you could have done easily by yourself.  Don’t pay for help finding money for College; Don’t pay for the Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA®) form – it’s free; Avoid scams for loan or forgiveness – you can contact the lender yourself. The Department of Education has a great resource on Avoiding Scams that offers detailed explanations of common scams and reputable sources for grants and scholarships. Also, see this one page handout: Don’t Get Scammed on Your Way to College

Don’t Fall for Equifax Settlement Scams
Scammers are looking to cash in on the buzz surrounding the Equifax data breach, specifically the ability for consumers to check their data and file a claim if they were affected. If you were a victim of the Equifax breach, learn how to avoid scammers and get to the legitimate sources.

The latest news on romance scams
People reported losing $143 million in romance schemes last year, more than any other type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

How not to get scammed, according to a former con artist
You may recall Frank Abagnale – or if not him, you may recall Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of him in the 2002 Spielberg film, Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale was a highly successful conman until he was caught and served 5 year in prison decades ago. He later became a security consultant for the US government and FBI. Read his recent interview in Vox, where he talks about his latest book dealing with robocalls, IRS fraud, and good old-fashioned stolen passwords. He says these are still some of the leading ways that Americans lost $16.8 billion to scams in 2017. According to Abegnale, “Crime is basically the same; the only thing that’s changed is today there are so many forms of communication and the ability to scam someone from thousands of miles away without ever really having personal contact with them.” See our past post on Abegnale, A conman you should listen to.

Past posts on scams & fraud

 

Buying a used car? Don’t get scammed by title washing


used car lot

You see a nice used car at the local dealership that would be great for your college-bound son. You buy the car, and a few weeks later, you get a call that your son is being held by police on a charge of car theft. What!?! You spend considerable time to prove he is not a criminal and that you recently bought the car. You clear things up for your son but the issue of the car is not so simple. You are the victim of title washing. The car is indeed a stolen vehicle so you won’t get that back.

If that sounds like a far-fetched scenario, it’s not. It’s exactly what happened recently to a Chicago couple who suffered a $24,000 loss on a used car they’d recently bought. Both they and the car dealership where they bought it were victims of a title washing ring that is now under investigation.

A title washing scam might seem like a relatively obscure thing, but it’s not. It’s estimated that used car buyers are scammed up to $30 billion a year in what the National Association of Attorneys General calls the worst problem used car buyers face. Experts say that as many as 1 in 44 titles in some states have been washed.

In simple terms, title washing is a scam in which the paperwork for stolen vehicles is faked or forged. But it’s not just stolen cars – title washing is also a way to clear a troubled car’s history, a common way to re-market cars that have been totaled, salvaged or flood-damaged. This article offers a good overview of the practice: Title Washing in America – Lemons without the Lemonade  It includes a handy list of red flags to look for when buying a used car, which we’ve reprinted below.

One lesson to be learned from this is not to rely solely on the title when buying a used car. In buying a used car, be sure to check if it has been declared stolen or totaled by searching the car’s VIN:

Of course, there are other best practices beyond just checking the title when buying a used car. See these sources for more tips:

red flags for buying aused car

Imposter scams top the FTC fraud list for 2018


In 2018, people reported losses of nearly $1.48 billion in fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.) That was a $406 million over what consumers reported losing in 2017. One in every 4 people who report fraud to the FTC suffer some monetary losses.

The FTC, which monitors fraud through its Consumer Sentinel Network, has collected tens of millions of consumer reports about fraud, identity theft, and other consumer protection topics over more than 20 years. In a recently issued report, The 2018 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book (FTC), the FTC summarizes nearly 3 million consumer reports. Reports encompass both those in which money was lost, as well as those in which mo money was lost.

They sort consumer reports into 29 top fraud categories, and of those categories, in 2018, the three that topped the list of reports were:

  • Imposter Scams -18%
  • Debt collection – 16%
  • Identity theft – 15%

chart- top 10 fraud categories

Related: Imposter scams top the list of 2018 consumer fraud complaints and Fraud alert: This is (not) the government calling.

Some other key fraud report findings include:

  • Telephone was the method of contact for 69% of fraud reports with a contact method identified
  • Wire transfers continue to be the most frequently reported payment method for fraud
  • Those aged 20-29 reported losing money to fraud in 43% of reports, while people aged 70 – 79 reported losing money in 15% of their reports.
  • People aged 70 and older reported much higher median losses than any other age group.
  • States with the highest per capita rates of reported fraud in 2018 were Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Delaware, and Maryland.
  • States with the highest reports of identity theft were Georgia, Nevada,California, Florida, and Texas

You can search the full report to find a breakdown of information on fraud by state – here are more highlights.

consumer fraud infographic

Fraud alert: This is (not) the government calling


senior man answering a scam phone call

Think you are too smart to fall for phone scams? Not so fast. In 2018, American consumers lost more than $488 million to a type of fraud that the Federal Trade Commission (FRC) calls “imposter scams.”

One particularly common and effective type of imposter scam is the fraudster posing as a government official. In fact, the FTC says that fake government calls now top the list of imposter scams. We’ve frequently posted about IRS tax season scams. In the Washington Post, Michelle Singletary warns that the latest hoax calls  tell you that your Social Security number is being suspended. There re several variations to the scam, often elaborate stories about how your Social Security number turned up in crimes.  The end goal is to either get you to reveal your number or to pay a fee to “reinstate it.” Some scenarios even threaten arrest. She quotes an FTC official:

“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Check out the tips and advice she offers for how to spot and avoid this scam. And here’s an FTC infographic for a typical telephone IRS scam – it’s a pattern that is common for SS# and other governmental scams, too.

IRS phone scam infographic

Don’t fall for any fake Santas: the 12 scams of Christmas


caroon orf a fake Santa in a police lineup

Busy this season? You probably are – everyone gets caught up in the year-end holiday madness. But no matter how busy you may be, there’s one group of people that never rest: online thieves, crooks and scammers. With just a few weeks left in peak shopping season, scammers are pulling out all stops to try to separate you from your money. Don’t let any fake, scam Santas ruin your holidays. The Better Business Bureau keeps an eye on active swindle schemes and offers an updated list for this season: 12 Scams of Christmas: What to Look For and How to Avoid Them.

Here’s a brief summary – click through the link above to learn more and to find out ways to prevent being a con victim.

1. Look-Alike Websites – these usually come by email offers so buyer beware of what you click!
2. Social Media Gift Exchange – a new twist on the old pyramid scheme.
3. Grandparent Scams – emergency calls for cash help from crooks posing as relatives or friends. Hint: elderly are particularly vulnerable, but hardly the only victims.
4. Temporary Holiday Jobs – fake employers trying to get personal information from unwary applicants.
5. Free Gift Cards – a common phishing scam bait.
6. E-Cards – More people rely on electronic versus traditional cards. So do more phishers – be careful what you click in emails.
7. Fake Shipping Notifications – Phishers know that most people are ordering or getting holiday gifts and you might get tricked by a phony mail alert.
8. Phony Charities – Giving is great, but check with BBB or with sites like Charity Navigator.
9. Letters From Santa – great when they are legit but use a trusted source.
10. Unusual Forms of Payments – If the seller wants prepaid debit or gift cards, wire transfers or payments through third parties, that is a scam alert!
11. Travel Scams – Phony email offers and scam sites are common all year, but especially in this heavy travel season.
12. Puppy Scams – These play on your emotion, but at the heartstrings and wallet. Get your puppies from trusted sources!

We recommend this age-old advice: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be suspicious of emails. Hover over links before you click, or better yet, go directly to the site by typing in the URL. Rely on trusted vendors and be wary of email or online offers from companies you don’t know. BBB says that if you come across any of these scams this holiday season help protect yourself and others by:

Here are some tips we’ve offered from prior years: