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Common Scams and Warning Signs

Scammer takes advantage of people looking for romantic partners/companionship through dating websites or social media.

What might this look like?
You meet someone online, and after just a few contacts they profess strong feelings for you and ask to chat with you privately through telephone/email/text. After gaining your trust (can be weeks/months/year), they tell you a false story and ask for money, gifts, or your bank account/credit card details. They do not keep their promises and always have an excuse for why they cannot travel to meet you and why they always need more money.

Scammers contact someone, typically by phone, claiming to be a family member—usually a grandchild—and state that they are in immediate financial need.

What might this look like?
Scammer calls the victim posing as a family member (most of the time as a grandchild) in distress or someone claiming to represent the family member (such as a lawyer or law enforcement agent). The family member of the grandparent states he/she is in trouble and needs their grandparent to wire them funds that will be used for bail money, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills, or another false expense.

Scammers claim to be a government employee and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.

What might this look like?
Scammer will call and identify themselves as a government agency, such as the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Treasury, Border Security, FBI, etc., and claim that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. They will also state that a U.S. Marshal will appear at your door within the next 24 hours. Scammer will then tell the victim to get gift cards from the store to provide them with payment and not to tell anybody about the call. 

Scammers claim to work for a charitable organization and tell the victims they won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, which they can collect after paying “fees/taxes.”

What might this look like?
You will receive a letter, email, phone call, or text message saying you have won a prize in a lottery that you did not enter. Then, to claim your prize, you will be asked to pay a fee and taxes. Scammers may claim to be from the Publishers Clearing House.

Scammers act as a technology support representative and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammer gains remote access to a victim’s computer or phone and their personal information.

What might this look like?
A pop-up or blue screen appears on your computer, phone, or iPad/tablet with a warning sign that a virus has infected your device. The message urges you to call a toll free number or click a link immediately to get technical help. You will get a response from someone who claims to be working for a brand-name tech company, such as Apple/Google/Microsoft. They will ask you to pay for tech support through gift cards or wire transfers.

The use of emails and websites that falsely represent or claim to be associated with legitimate banks, financial intuitions, or companies. The scammers manipulate Internet users to disclose personal and financial data. 

What might this look like?
Scammers send out fake emails or set up fake websites in an effort to steal your personal information. Fraudsters always stay current with the news. Lately, many of these phishing attempts use keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “stimulus.”

Extortion scammers have a valuable scare tactic at their disposal—their messages show that they know a password you use for online accounts. They claim to have implanted malware on your computer that lets them capture your keystrokes, watch through your webcam, and amass evidence of your online history that may be private, such as visits to adult websites. They say they will share that information with all of your email and social media contacts—perhaps with a video of you enjoying your viewing—unless you pay hush money, typically several hundreds of dollars, in the form of Bitcoin.

What might this look like?
You receive an email that includes a password you use online or one you used in the past. The message seems generic and does not cite any specific websites the sender claims you visited. The threat may be poorly worded and includes grammatical errors. You are given a short deadline to respond, typically a day or two—a classic high-pressure scam tactic.

What is cryptocurrency? According to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, it is a digital representation of value that is not backed by any government or central bank. Even so, this virtual money can be used to make purchases, and it can be exchanged for U.S. dollars or other conventional currencies, but unlike government-backed money, the value of virtual currencies is driven entirely by supply and demand. That can create wild swings that produce big gains, or big losses, for investors. Cryptocurrency investments have far less regulatory protection than traditional financial products like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

What might this look like?
Someone you do not know sends you a message out of the blue about a virtual currency investment opportunity. The pitch claims that a virtual currency investment involves no risk and sure profits.

One common ruse is the overpayment scam. The scammer will send a check to pay for an item, or to award sweepstakes or lottery winnings, a grant, a scholarship, or in regard to a job. They will then ask that some of the money be returned for fees to claim the award or due to overpayment. That is a scam.

No legitimate sweepstakes or lottery requires payment to play or collect a prize.

Crooks exploit the fact that banks must make funds from a check deposit available to the account holder within days, but it can take far longer to discover that the check is phony—sometime weeks, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). When the bad check is discovered, you are out whatever money you sent back to the scammer, plus any other funds from the bad check that you withdrew or used. Banks do not assume those losses.

What might this look like?
You put something up for sale in a newspaper classified ad or online post and someone makes an offer and sends you a check—perhaps even a cashier’s check, which seems extra safe. The check turns out to be for considerably more than what you charged for the item. The “buyer” will pretend it is a mistake and ask you to deposit the check and refund them the difference.  

Date Created: March 18, 2021