Winter 2016 Fraud News

Outgoing Mail Fraud

Fraudsters want our personal information, so they’ll “phish” around to get it. They’ll try to get at us in any way they can, using email, voice calls, and even texting. Usually, they’ll pretend to represent a company that is acting in your best interests, and they try to get you to click a link or respond so they can lure your personal information from you. 

Using text messaging as a way to collect personal information is called SMishing (a mash-up of “SMS” and “phishing”). According to the Federal Trade Commission, one example of a text message a victim might receive is: “Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.” Often, these messages are very convincing, and victims fall prey to the scam artists. 

And these scams are hitting close to home—in August, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which insures members’ money at Bellco, warned that consumers have been targeted by fraudsters in SMishing scams. According to the NCUA, some people have received a message that reads, “National Credit Union Administration Alert for (recipient’s phone number). Contact 844-234-5445.” Unfortunately, contacting that number could lead to jeopardizing personal information. The NCUA warns that it doesn’t use text, the internet, or telephone to get personal information, so if you receive a text that seems to be from the NCUA, contact the NCUA or your local credit union directly. 

If you’ve been the target of a SMishing scam, consider the following steps: 

• Don’t reply to the text, click on any link in it, or call any number listed in it

• Delete the text from your phone

• Report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

• If you did accidentally respond and became the victim of the fraudsters, immediately contact the three major credit bureaus and ask that a fraud alert be put on your credit report 

Holiday Scams

With the holiday season upon us, shopping for gifts is on many people’s minds. And most people like to maximize their holiday budget by looking for good deals. Unfortunately, that makes it a good time for con artists to capitalize by preying on people’s hope for a “steal” on that gift they’ve been thinking about buying. If you’re beginning your holiday shopping, watch out for these common holiday scams. 

• Online auctions and classified ads. Deals abound on online auction sites and classified ads. However, scammers will often post pictures of items they don’t actually have. They’ll be happy to walk away with your money and leave you with nothing. On an auction site, be sure to check the feedback about the seller and try to avoid those who have no positive reviews. And if you meet up with a seller from a site like Craigslist, be sure to take safety precautions such as meeting in a high-traffic public area and bringing a friend to the meeting. 

• Phishing schemes. Your email inbox can be a great place to surf some deals—as long as they’re from reputable merchants. However, scammers take advantage and send emails that proclaim amazing deals with links to fake merchants—once there, victims are often tricked into giving away credit card or other personal info. Con artists also send phishing emails with fake shipping notification, hoping that a victim will click the link and invite malware or other viruses. Be diligent about unsolicited links, and don’t download anything from an unknown source. 

• Gift card fraud. Gift cards are very popular around the holidays—they’re easy solutions for teachers, hard-to-buy-for relatives, and people who live far away. However, they’re also a target for scammers because it’s easy to convert gift card value into cash or merchandise. Fraudsters simply write down the numbers on the cards and then watch the merchant’s website to see when the cards are activated. Once they are, the scammer simply uses the numbers to purchase items or uses an online service to convert the gift card to cash. Either way, the value is drained, and the gift card is worthless. To avoid this scam, buy gift cards from the checkout lane, where they have a better chance of being monitored. Also, be sure to examine the card for evidence of tampering (if there’s a scratch-off area with a PIN, for example, be sure it’s intact). 

The holidays are a fun time to give gifts to the people you love, and there are many ways to stretch your gift-giving dollar. To help ensure that you’re not the victim of a scam, however, be vigilant about where and how you shop and remember that, if a deal seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is.