Scammers continually evolve their techniques to stay ahead of authorities. Learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones.
As the world continues to become more digital every day, our behaviors change as well. We send emails and texts instead of calling someone over the phone, and we shop online rather than going into the store.
Unfortunately, these types of behaviors can make us more susceptible to digital and online fraud than ever before as scammers continually evolve their techniques to stay ahead of authorities.
This has been especially clear throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, as scammers adapted to headlines and current events to find new ways to target Americans. Over the last two years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned about scams targeting relatives of people who died of COVID-19, fraudsters offering fake COVID tests or vaccine certificates, and much more.
“This is a time to be vigilant,” says Dan Torbenson, Head of Business Risk Overnight at RBC Wealth Management-U.S. “Don’t click a link or open attachments from sources you don’t know, and don’t give out any personal information, including credit card numbers, to anyone you don’t know.”
When in doubt, Torbenson recommends contacting family or friends to fact-check a story or to confirm that something is legitimate.
“The golden rule of anything: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he says.
According to the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network’s econsumer.gov reporting site, online fraud – in the form of unsolicited emails, spyware/malware and shop-at-home scams – is littered throughout the organization’s top 10 complaints list. In addition to new COVID-19 fraud, here are other online scams to be aware of, as well as information about what you can do if you find yourself embroiled in one.
Phishing scams involve fraudsters creating unsolicited email, text messages or telephone calls purportedly from a legitimate company or business that request personal or financial information or login credentials, or attempt to get the recipient to click on malware. These communications often mimic details of the business using similar email addresses or phone numbers, and target customers of the business. Phishing was the number one complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2020, with more than 241,000 reports.
“Phishing impacts all individuals as they receive emails telling them to click on or share certain information,” says Torbenson. “We regularly remind our employees and our clients not to click on something that they don’t recognize.”
He points out that while most financial institutions won’t generally ask for sensitive information via email, the urgency of language in these types of scams and the lookalike emails are often tell-tale signs.
Vigilance is key, says Torbenson.
“Make sure these questionable emails are reported to the right people so they can investigate these matters and help avoid any future occurrences,” he adds.
According to the FTC, government impersonation scams often start with a call, email or text message from someone claiming to be with a government agency, such as the Social Security Administration, the IRS or Medicare. The fraudster will give some reason why you need to send money or give them your personal information.
“If you get a call like this, hang up the phone. It’s a scammer,” the FTC writes. “Because government agencies won’t call, email, or text you and ask for money or personal information.”
In general, Torbenson adds, “reputable organizations typically do not request information via email.” One way to tell if an email is legitimate, he explains, is to look at the email address’s domain – if it is actually from the IRS, for example, it would end in “.gov”.
Government impersonation fraud is especially a problem in the spring each year as people prepare and file their taxes.
“Around tax season you see a lot of phishing, notices from the ‘IRS’ that you owe tax payments and need to respond,” Torbenson says. “Again, recognizing the source and making sure you’re only providing information to authorized individuals (is key).”
He says part of the reason for scammers’ success in this realm is people’s sensitivity to owing taxes.
“People panic, they get anxious and they might be too quick to respond and not understand that it might not be a reputable site or legitimate request,” explains Torbenson.
In 2020, the FTC received 1.4 million reports of identity theft, nearly twice as many as in 2019.
“You see it all the time, whether it is somebody getting into your email and finding personal information or sophisticated hackers out there who are able to compromise some of your online accounts,” says Torbenson.
In a lot of cases, hackers will steal your credit card, banking information or Social Security Number and use it to make purchases or carry out transactions in your name.
“Good credit monitoring goes a long way,” Torbenson says.
He recommends checking your monthly bank and investment statements and reviewing your credit history on a periodic basis to keep an eye out for any suspicious purchases or transfers and never providing your SSN to strangers over the phone or email. If you feel like you’re the victim of identity theft, call your financial institution right away and walk through appropriate next steps, including placing blocks on your accounts. The financial institution may be able to monitor for future activities that appear atypical as well.
“File a report with the police and ask for a copy of that report and contact all creditors you deal with to ensure they are aware you’ve been the subject of some sort of compromise or identity theft,” says Torbenson. “Reporting (these incidents) is an important piece to stop the continued perpetration of fraud.”
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.
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