offline scams and how to protect yourself

offline scams and how to protect yourself

Recently, scammers are becoming increasingly crafty in robbing you of your money or personal information. In the past year alone, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has received over 800,000 reports of online mischief, causing over $6.9 billion in estimated losses. As we near the holiday season, the number of scams often increase.

Even when you are extra cautious to remain safe online, you may not be able to spot when you are being scammed. And while we’ve written about this topic before here, here and here, with the internet and mobile apps constantly evolving and changing, online scammers are developing new methods to con people. So perhaps the most important thing we can advocate is learning to sense when something seems suspicious.

Here are four new online – and offline – scams becoming common today and what you can do to protect yourself:

Zelle + Venmo Scams

Peer-to-peer payment apps such as Zelle and Venmo have become increasingly popular as it gives you the ability and convivence to transfer money electronically to someone instantly. In 2021 alone, Zelle users sent almost one-half-billion dollars in payments, totaling nearly 1.8 billion transactions.

But recently, scammers are taking advantage of how these apps work – and the rules surrounding them – to rob people. Through social engineering, they utilize fraudulent info and scare tactics to trick you into authorizing money transfers to them.

A common ploy: You get a text to your phone marked “Fraud Alert,” indicating it is coming from your bank, asking, “Did you attempt a Zelle payment of $5,000? Reply YES or NO.” If you respond in any way, you will immediately receive a phone call from the scammer pretending to be from your bank’s fraud. Scammers can even make it look like it is coming from a legitimate number at your bank.

The scammer then asks you to verify your identity with “just your username,” – insisting they never would ask for your password over the phone to appear legitimate. The scammer then asks you to read back a passcode they sent via text or email. What you may not realize is that once the fraudster gets your username, they initiate a “forgot password” request on your banking site: that generates the authentication passcode you receive. Once the scammer has the passcode you gave them, they hijack your Zelle account and transfer funds.

If this happens to you, what do you do? First, ignore the text, look up your bank’s fraud department phone number online (or on the back of your ATM card), and call your bank directly to verify that the request is authentic.

The biggest rule of thumb: Never text back on a request related to Zelle.

Why? Most people don’t realize that these direct payment apps do not protect an “authorized fund transfer,” so it’s nearly impossible to get your money back once it is sent. The scams currently being used are considered authorized transfers because the victim gives the scammer information they seek or takes the action they ask to be performed.

Despite Zelle being owned by seven major banks – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, PNC Bank, U.S. Bank, Capital One, and Truist ­– if you knowingly send cash to someone, Zelle maintains the transfer is an authorized transfer under the law. Even when the payment is made under false pretenses or misrepresentation, it is not covered by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act of 1978, so you are out of luck, and there are no protections in place to help you get your money back.

Finally, whenever using Zelle or Venmo, the most important rule is to triple-check your accuracy. Make sure to carefully proofread – at least three times – the recipient’s mobile phone number or email address before hitting send. Because if you make an error, Zelle and the bank that offers it say it’s your mistake, not theirs.

Google Voice Scam

Google Voice is a virtual phone app that provides a free phone number that you link to your Google account. Once set up, it allows you to automatically send text messages or make mobile calls from your PC or mobile phone. Google Voice phone numbers work like any other mobile phone, allowing you to take and receive calls. Unfortunately, scammers are using Google Voice in nefarious ways.

Because Google Voice numbers are both free and untraceable, scammers love them. One common con today is when a scammer links their Google Voice number to your phone number.

Scammers will search online selling sites such as Facebook Marketplace. They will pretend to be buyers and text the seller’s mobile phone number on the listing, expressing interest. However, the scammer will text the seller, “Please send the Google Voice verification code I just sent to verify that you’re a real person.” Once the scammer tricks the seller and gets the code, they can use the Google Voice number tied to the seller’s Google account to scam others.

How can you protect yourself? Never share a Google Voice verification code as if you are asked, it is likely a scam.

Amazon Scams

According to research by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), Amazon is reported to be the most impersonated business, with one in three scammers claiming to work for the company. As Amazon is a widely used service, it makes it easy for phishers to send messages or emails under their branding.

Frequently, a scammer will call, text, or email you about suspicious activity on your Amazon account. After they confirm they “stopped the fraudulent purchase,” they will offer a “credit” to your account for your inconvenience. They will then ask you for your password to finalize the credit. But instead, the Amazon impersonators will use it to cheat you out of cash and purchases.

To avoid being conned, realize that it is unlikely Amazon will call you. If they do, an Amazon employee never will ask for your password. Or, if you get an email that appears to be from Amazon, look carefully at the full sender address (it should be an Amazon email address) and the actual URL in the email by right-clicking on the link.

As Amazon warns its customers, “Legitimate Amazon websites have a dot before “amazon.com” such as http://”something”.amazon.com. For example, Amazon Pay website is https://pay.amazon.com/. We’ll never send emails with links to an IP address (a string of numbers), such as http://123.456.789.123/amazon.com/. If the link takes you to a site that is not a legitimate amazon domain, then it is likely phishing.”

Bogus Tech Support

Even today, tech support scams are still alive and kicking. Some scammers will impersonate a technical support worker and manipulate you into paying for services you don’t need. Others will offer to install a malware protection program or “clean” your computer from viruses, only to install fraudulent software that gives a scammer access to your computer.

Anyone who calls you unprompted to offer tech support should raise a major red flag. If someone offers you free tech support and then asks you for permission to access your computer remotely, hang up.

How to protect yourself from Tech Support scammers: Tell them you have all the technical support you need, disconnect the call, and block their number.

While the holidays can bring out the scammers, they are also a time when you may need help setting up new tech you’ve acquired or received as a gift. If you have questions about how to connect a new printer, set up email on a new phone, or troubleshoot something else, remember that Tech Helpline – your legitimate member benefit — is ready to help and only a click, call, or text away.

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