Living in the digital age, we are bombarded with so many instances of online fraud, from deceptive offers and phishing emails to malicious downloads that carry harmful viruses. Each of these forms of fraud can leave us susceptible to major financial repercussions. How rampant is fraud today? At the end of the first quarter of 2023, the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network reported $532.6 million lost by 178,040 consumers—with the median amount of money lost at nearly $1,000!
That is why it is so important for individuals to know how to recognize and avoid scams. In this post, we would like to take the time to investigate some recurrent instances of fraud many individuals have recently faced. We willl look at some examples in depth, talk about ways to spot fraud, and highlight a few things you can do to keep your identity and your financial accounts safe. Keep reading to learn more!
Common Types of Scams
Scams often play on emotions, either the excitement of winning or the fear of a legitimate threat, including costly IRS audits to bank account theft. And sometimes, they’re just simple tricks—like getting you to download a virus from an email attachment. Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently used techniques scammers use to defraud their victims.
Sweepstakes and Prize Scams
Contest scams are one of the most common varieties out there, and there are many forms of them. They can come in the mail, as a phone call, an email, or even a message through social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Here are some popular ones to look out for:
- Publishers Clearing House and other Sweepstakes Scams: Scammers often pretend to represent a legitimate sweepstakes, calling or notifying you that you’ve won a large sum of money. However, you will likely be asked for money or bank account information in order to claim it. Note: Publishers Clearing House will always notify winners with a certified letter first.
- Fake Prize and Winner Scams: Similar to sweepstakes scams, you may be alerted that you’ve won a prize—from big ticket items like cruises or new cars to smaller ones like gift baskets and free products. These scams are rampant on social media, but can happen by phone or even mail, too. Double-check the organization, and never give out financial information or personal information like your social security number to claim a prize.
- Lottery Scams: If you haven’t played the lottery, you cannot win anything. But even if you have, it’s very easy to confirm if your numbers actually won. If you’re in Iowa, simply visit the Iowa Lottery website to conduct a winning numbers search.
- Gift Scams: Lastly, gift scams are also quite common. Whether it’s for an actual physical item that will be mailed to you, or someone simply paying a monthly bill, these scammers will request bank account or financial information, gift cards, or personal information from you in order to give you your “gift.” Don’t be fooled.
If you ever have to pay to get your prize, paying increases your chances of winning, or you have to give your bank account or other financial or protected personal information to claim a reward, chances are you’re being scammed. Don’t accept the prize or engage with the scammer. Instead report the incident to your local police, the agency or company that is being fraudulently represented, and/or the social media platform they used as soon as you can.
Many of the prize scams above are in fact a specialized form of ‘phishing’—the attempt to gain access to personal or financial information in an effort to defraud individuals. But phishing doesn’t always involve an enticing “lure”. In fact, a lot of phishing is simply conducted through seemingly run-of-the-mill communications. Here’s are some examples:
Scammers pose as legitimate businesses or organizations, spoofing email addresses and names. Emails may be very convincing, with stolen graphics and logos and believable claims or requests. You may be asked to download an attachment, click on a link to visit a login page and enter credentials, or click on a link to a website that automatically downloads malware.
Always hover over email links to verify the address, and when in doubt, go directly to the legitimate website (typing the address in the browser yourself), or contact the company or agency directly to corroborate the content of the email. If you’ve received a phishing email, you can also forward it to the Anti-Phishing Working Group: email@example.com.
Spear and Angler Phishing
A more directed form of phishing, scammers target individuals using their specific information to appear more convincing. Any public information gleaned from social media and networking profiles (like LinkedIn or Facebook) can be used to legitimize communications. This could include your job title or employment history, birthday, or geographical information.
While many phishing attempts are conducted via email, other methods are gaining traction. Smishing—short for SMS phishing—is done over text messages. You may be contacted about your car warranty expiring or an underpayment on your last tax bill. You may be told that your bank account has been compromised, or a valuable package can’t be delivered. Or you may simply be asked to click on a link to verify a transaction.
As with emails, treat any communications you receive that you did not expect with suspicion and verify independently—without clicking on the link! If you get a phishing text message, forward it to SPAM (7726).
Lastly, “voice phishing” or vishing is phishing done over the phone. Callers can pose as banks or financial institutions, government agencies, sweepstakes, or even energy companies. Sometimes callers may even pretend to be medical practices, hospitals, or teachers, asking you for payment information because a loved one has been injured and needs to be treated.
You can avoid major headaches or financial losses very easily: simply don’t ever give up personal or financial information over the phone. Take down their name, hang up, and verify the claim independently by calling a trusted number for the purported organization.
How to Identify Fraudulent Offers
We discussed many telltale signs of fraud above. However, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish legitimate claims from fraudulent ones. Here are ten important red flags to be aware of to help you quickly spot a scam:
- You have to send money or buy gift cards to receive a prize or gift—especially for taxes, fees, or shipping charges for contests you didn’t enter.
- You are asked for your bank account or credit card login information.
- You are asked to share text message verification codes you receive.
- You are asked for your entire social security number (not just the last four digits), birthdate, home address, or other identifying information.
- You are contacted unexpectedly.
- There’s a sense of urgency to the message.
- Website and email addresses are suspect: there are small differences—for instance one letter or character is off from actual company email addresses.
- Graphics are unprofessional: uncentered, pixelated, or different from usual communications. Also, look for misspellings and incorrect grammar.
- You are asked to download something: as an attachment or through a link.
- You are asked to log into your account from a provided link.
Other Ways to Avoid Scams
In addition to being vigilant, there are other things you can do to protect yourself from scammers and cybercriminals:
- Use your email’s spam filter and ensure your email is configured for security. If you use Gmail, here’s how to make your account more secure.
- Setup security software including antivirus software and install a personal firewall.
- Use multifactor authentication (MFA) to protect accounts.
- Protect your passwords: strong passwords and password managers.
- Report any phishing attempts to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov to help them keep track of techniques as they evolve, catch criminals, and protect others.
Reporting Fraud to Peoples Bank
Anytime you are concerned that you are a victim of fraud that might impact your accounts at Peoples Bank, be sure to reach out to us directly to report the incident and protect your hard-earned money. We will work with you to determine your risk, put holds or fraud alerts on your accounts, or contact authorities if necessary.
At Peoples Bank, we pride ourselves in the security measures we take to protect our customers, offering many options to help combat fraud including our Fraud Center Alert System to notify you of suspected fraud and our ID TheftSmart Services, to help keep your identity and your finances secure.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you stay safe from scams! And for more tips on how to keep your accounts and finances secure, check out these informative blogs:
- How to Avoid Falling Victim to ATM Fraud
- Tips to Protect Your Financial Information
- 5 Tips For Using Your Debit Card Securely
- Tips to Protect Against a Cyberattack