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Scams: What's Old is New Again

It happened in the midst of the lockdown. Dan and his family were unable to visit their aging mother due to COVID-19 concerns. While being isolated from her family and friends, Dan's mother received a phone call. An unknown person convinced her to go to the nearest Dollar General store and purchase $2,000 in gift cards, and provide the gift card numbers to him over the phone. Suffering from early-onset dementia, she didn't question the request but instead followed the instructions. It wasn't until much later that she admitted the mistake to her son. Had she checked with him first, she would have been told it was a scam, saving her the risk of getting out in public and getting sick, and also the heartache of realizing she'd fallen victim to a scam. Unfortunately, these stories are all too common, and it can happen to anyone - not just the elderly. In addition to the financial loss, many times these scams can also result in the loss of personal information and identity theft.

According to this article posted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "The FTC knows that people who talk about scams are much less likely to fall for them. So, when people of any age are on their own too much, they don’t have the chance to talk things out. And when scammers — who are calling, emailing, and texting — might be a person’s main source of contact, nothing good happens next." The FTC data shows that online fraud sharply increased in the first two quarters of 2020, surpassing similar reports associated with phone-based scams, and continues to this day. Now is the perfect time to participate in additional awareness. Contact a friend or family member who may be alone or you haven't talked to in a while and let them know that scammers are on the rise. These are the key points to make, according to the FTC article referenced above:

  • Scammers have lots of fake stories: early or guaranteed access to vaccines (no such thing), you’ve won a prize (you haven’t), your computer needs tech support (it doesn’t), they’re an online love interest (not if they want money).

  • Whatever their story, scammers want you to pay or share your personal information.

  • Nobody legit will ever (EVER) tell you to pay by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency.

  • No government agency will ever call/email/text to ask you for money, your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number.

Old Scams, New Techniques

Here are examples of old scams making the rounds again.

The Nigerian Prince Scam- Most likely you've heard of this one. This scam has a long and interesting history dating back hundreds of years, following a similar pattern and technique. Originally dubbed the Spanish prisoner scam, you can read more about the fascinating history of the Nigerian Prince scam in this Boston Globe article. Sent to hundreds of thousands of email addresses in the 90s, these messages sought a small investment on the part of the recipient in return for the promise of a huge profit, then create obstacles that require initial investments on the way to the payout, which never arrives. While most of us have heard or even seen these scams before, amazingly they still work and are still sent today through emails, fax machines, and letters, targeting victims accustomed to older technologies and either not as savvy or isolated without friends and family to watch over them financially. According to an article by the Better Business Bureau the Nigerian bank account scam is back and with a "new twist." Scammers now personalize messages using information easily obtained online. The scam comes in the form of a letter or email that the victim is being issued a large check on a foreign bank account and if they will cash the check and submit a portion of the money back by wire, they can keep some percentage for themselves. The check is phony, so the victim is wiring his or her own money away and will not get it back. Here is a recent example of the Nigerian Prince Scam.

Grandparent Scam- Grandparent scams are nothing new. Here's how the scam works - the scammer contacts the grandparent, and impersonates the grandchild, and asks bail money or money to get out of some sort of trouble. Often the scammer is able to successfully mask their actual identity by being soft-spoken. Traditionally, the scammer asks for money to be wired to them or sent in the form of gift cards. However, according to this FTC article there is a new evolution in the grandparent scam. Instead of asking for gift cards or for money to be sent, the scammers tell the grandparent that someone will come to their home to pick up cash instead. If you or a family member receive a call like this, hang up the phone and call the person in question directly. If you are unable to reach them, contact a friend or family member to get the real story. Never send gift cards, wire money, provide cash, or provide your home address or personal information to a stranger just because they request it.

Amazon "On-Gold" Email- An oldie but goodie updated for a new generation of shoppers. Do you recall ever receiving an email claiming your email account has been locked and if you'd just provide some personal information, voila, your account will be unlocked and you're good to go? This is your typical phishing scam, attempting to capture personal information in exchange for reactivating an account. This old scheme has since received a face-lift in the form of a very convincing Amazon email. This false Amazon email appears to be legitimate at first glance, using Amazon-branded colors and fonts. The email informs the recipient that their Amazon account has been put on hold or there is an issue with their billing information. By clicking a link and providing personal information or calling a number provided in the email, "Amazon" will be able to reinstate the account. Amazon is attempting to inform the public regarding this phishing tactic using their brand and provides helpful ways to spot an Amazon scam in this article provided by Amazon.

When Will It End?

Remember, when a person has fallen victim to any one of these scams, it puts them at further risk of identity theft. If they can be coerced into giving a stranger cash, they can be persuaded to provide personal information that can result in further victimization. It's simple to open a credit card account only using a person's name, address, and Social Security number. The victim's information could also be sold on the dark web, causing further harm if multiple thieves have access to the information.

If you know someone who may have fallen victim to one of these scams, make sure to tell them that they're not alone. Scammers are becoming very good at what they do, and anyone can fall victim! As a Public Service Credit Union account holder you and up to 3 generations have access to Fully Managed Identity Theft Recovery. Should you or or a family member feel your identity or has been compromised, we have professional Identity Theft Recovery Advocates standing by. These Advocates work on your behalf to help recover your identity and reverse any damage caused by identity theft. Contact us or find out more about this and other benefits of Public Service Credit Union by visiting our website .



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