You’ve probably noticed the increase in financial scams, and some of them are pretty darn convincing. Especially during the holidays, fraudsters ramp up their efforts to try to separate you from your money. Whether tapping into your inherent goodwill or promising you an incredible return on investment, you have to be on your guard.
The FBI has a list of 31 common fraud schemes on its “Scams and Safety” web page, including credit card theft. The thief makes small purchases with your stolen credit card number and sees if they go through. If they do, then they hit your account for bigger purchases. You should have an email, text message, or phone alert set up with your credit card company so that the bank will contact you if there are any unusual spending items, if there are illegitimate charges, you must report to the bank as soon as possible so you won’t be charged for those items. The bank will lock your account and send you a new card in the mail. This can be frustrating when you have set up monthly withdrawals to be charged against your card, but a minor inconvenience saves you a lot of headaches.
Your Computer is a Crook’s Front Gate
The FBI says protect your computer by keeping the firewall turned on and by installing and updating your antivirus and antispyware software. Be careful what you download, and only download from trusted and secure websites. Also, keep your operating system up to date, and turn your computer off when it’s not in use. You may pay a yearly fee for antivirus, antispyware, and firewall software services, but the safety they provide makes it well worth the cost. If you’ve been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with your local/state police department’s cybercrime unit and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Crooks have gotten a whole lot more sophisticated in recent years, and frauds can look like real communications from your bank. If something looks fishy (and even if it doesn’t), check the sender of an email, and unless you completely trust the sender, never click on links in emails or sign in to accounts from those links. Most financial institutions have dedicated emails where you can forward these so-called “phishing” emails.
Be On the Lookout
No one likes to be looking over their shoulder all the time or being suspicious, but these days you almost have to. Take time to review your financial institutes policies, review information supplied by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, and put your phones on the National Do Not Call Registry.
Still, clever crooks are finding ways around that, too, so if you don’t recognize the area code or the phone number on your caller ID, chances are it’s a telemarketing call. Don’t answer it, or if you do, insist that they take you off their call list.
One of the newest scams out there are text messages from unknown numbers. As with calls, if you don’t know the person, don’t reply. If it’s important, they’ll reach out again. Don’t talk to anyone who won’t identify themselves right up front.
Finally, as dating apps grow, the chances of your being catfished (deceived by someone pretending to be someone else) are on the rise. Even if you feel like you’re getting close to someone online, don’t send money, and don’t trust photographs. Google reverse photo search can be very helpful. As happened to one person we know, they were communicating with a person whose photo was taken from an advertisement, and the chances they were communicating with the actual model was slim-to-none. (Fans of the movie Stage Door will recognize that trick, except it was done using a picture frame instead of an Insta profile.)
Con men and fraudsters are a fact of life. But getting the facts can spare you considerable trouble.
— Michelle Cutrali contributed to this article.