It’s a new year, which means time for reflection on the past year and an opportunity to set goals for 2023. With identity theft on the rise, and scammers only getting better at what they do, it helps to stay aware of how fraudsters may be targeting your personal information and your good name. The most successful scams will continue to be circulated until they stop being an effective way for criminals to steal from their victims. The big scams that surfaced in the past year all take advantage of our growing dependence on technology to manage everything from our social plans and family finances to our professional lives. Read on to learn how to identify a scam before your personal information is at risk.
1. Social Media Scams
From Facebook to LinkedIn to Pinterest, the creation of fraudulent social media accounts is on the rise. Facebook alone identified 1.5 billion fake accounts during the third quarter of 2022. In fact, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, Meta, estimates that fake accounts represented approximately 5% of our worldwide monthly active users on Facebook during Q3 2022.
A scammer can easily create a fake social media account in the name of an individual or business by cloning your information using photos and details that are already online on your real accounts. With a slight change of spelling, an account can be cloned with enough identifying information to convince others of its authenticity. When your followers are later contacted asking for financial help or information, some of your well-meaning friends might send money or click on phishing links because they trust the source (believing it came from you). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that consumers lost about $770 million to social media scams in 2021, and once the final tally comes in for 2022 amounts are expected to be even higher.
If you haven’t taken any steps to protect your social media accounts, start now by learning about the security options in each social media platform that you use. A few simple adjustments to your online identity can prove to be very effective. For example, on Facebook, set your account to “private” and your default post privacy to “friends only.” The less you put out into the world, the less a scammer will have to use to create a believable clone. On all of your social accounts, remember that less is more when it comes to sharing personal information. Only accept friend or follow requests from people you actually know and trust, and set your friends list to private as well. If you find a fake account in your name, report it immediately and ask your friends to do the same
2. Subscription Renewal Scams
Subscription renewal scams work by blasting out phony emails or texts claiming to be popular services that typically have a large volume of subscribers, like streaming programs or anti-virus software companies. The email or text will state that your subscription is about to renew and will provide a link or a phone number for follow up if you wish to cancel or, they claim, your credit card will be charged hundreds of dollars. These messages can be vey convincing, using real logos and sometimes even copying the format of typical communications from these companies.
If a bot sends thousands of fraudulent emails or texts, they’re likely to arrive in the inbox of many people who utilize the stated service and are tempted to click the link within to sort out the issue. Whether or not you have a subscription with these well-known companies, the typical first instinct is to address the problem as quickly as possible. Of course, the links don’t take you to a legitimate site, but instead to a phishing site that requests a credit card number or other personal information. If you receive any correspondence from an online service or store, always contact the company directly through a known link or phone number. If the communication was legitimate, the issue can be resolved safely, and if it wasn’t, you avoid the losses that could have followed.
3. Government Agency Impersonation
Have you ever received a recorded voicemail message from a government agency informing you of an urgent matter? Don’t call back! The Federal Trade Commission provides hints and tips for identifying and avoiding suspicious activity like this. The message might claim that there is a warrant out for your arrest or that your Social Security benefits are at risk of being terminated. The inevitable next step is a request for money in the form of gift cards, wire transfer, or cryptocurrency to address the issue. Some reports even allege that a Social Security number or bank account information was demanded to avoid further action.
If you receive a phone call like this, even if it comes from a legitimate-looking number, hang up! A government agency will never ask for your personal information over the phone, and they won’t ask for payment in the above forms of currency. If you want to verify that there isn’t an open issue that involves you, search for legitimate contact information online for the relevant agency and make an inquiry.
4. IRS Impersonator Scams
The IRS has been in the news lately as the current administration is working to put more IRS employees on the government payroll. This has led to more incidences of scams where fraudsters are impersonating IRS agents. The FTC has posted information that can help you avoid falling prey to these specific scams and provide some clues to help consumers.
Here are few of the tips they provide:
The IRS will never call you about your taxes out of the blue. If they are trying to get in touch with you they will always contact you by mail. While they do use private debt collectors from time to time, they will not contact you without an official communication at least twice through the mail; one from the IRS, and one from the debt collector. Neither the IRS nor debt collectors will ever ask you to pay over the phone. This can’t be stressed enough, if they ask you to pay over the phone, it’s a scam. If they ask you to pay using gift cards, cash, or cryptocurrency, it’s a scam. Hang up, and reach out to the IRS directly if you’re concerned about your tax account.
Text Message/Zelle Scams
If you haven’t already used a peer-to-peer payment network, but you are thinking of trying either Zelle or Venmo, you might want to take a look at this article from Forbes that compares the two digital payment services and the pros and cons of each. While each of these platforms is generally safe, users of Zelle and Venmo are susceptible to scams. As an example, roughly 193,000 instances of fraud were reported by Zelle consumers in 2021 and the first half of 2022. With its increase in usage, instances of scams involving Zelle transfers have also increased in occurrence. Money can be sent through Zelle to anyone with a bank account, email address, or phone number, and all transactions are instant and irreversible.
Most Zelle scams work by scaring people into believing that a transfer has occurred in error or there is some other urgent issue that needs to corrected immediately. Common scams include a request to confirm a large Zelle payment that you never made, a claim that your bank account has been compromised, or an urgent plea for bill payment from a utility or other similar company before a service is disconnected. Each of these concludes with a scammer guiding you through the process of using Zelle to send them money. Once the transfer is made, it cannot be reversed. You need to think twice – and then think one more time, again – before pressing the button to send money via any peer to peer service, such as Zelle. Make sure you have the correct telephone number, email address, or bank account number before you move forward with the transaction, make sure you know the person that you are sending money to, and confirm that they are expecting the payment. Remember, a financial institution will never ask you to process another transaction to correct a previous transaction.
We’re Here to Help if You Need it
Scammers get more sophisticated every day, but they can be stopped by savvy consumers learning their tactics and sharing what they know with friends and family. The best defense is to stay aware of the techniques scammers are using so you are less likely to fall victim to fraud. When you receive a message or phone call that sounds like one of the above scams, report your experience to the Federal Trade Commission. And if you ever feel that you may be a victim of identity theft, or someone is using your personal information fraudulently, do not hesitate to reach out to one of our dedicated identity theft recovery specialists that are available to you as a HomeFREE Checking account holder. They can help you assess what information has been compromised and quickly begin the process of helping you resolve any identity fraud found.