The holiday season presents a prime opportunity for identity thieves to steal personal financial information. Why? Because people are busy, they’re shopping a lot, and it’s a prime opportunity to prey on that. According to the IRS, besides stealing money, criminals can even use your stolen information to file fraudulent tax returns. Typically, scammers want to get rich quick. But, if they get access to your personal information, they can take out loans in your name, ruin your credit, and hack into your bank accounts. Here are some newer scams to watch out for.
With the popularity of Amazon, it’s no surprise that scams involving the retail giant would make the list. The latest hustle works by fraudsters calling, texting, or emailing you about a recent purchase you made. The purchase is typically a high-dollar item, such as a laptop or TV. This usually gets your attention.
The scam directs you to click a link or call a number to cancel the order. Then, the criminal asks for your personal information, bank information, or Amazon account details.
So what should you do if you get a message like this?
- Never click any links in an email or text that claims to be from Amazon.
- Log into your Amazon account directly from their website to see if there are any issues to resolve or recent orders you don’t recognize.
- Never call a phone number provided in a text or email.
- Never give anyone your bank information, online account login information, or card information.
“Smishing” campaigns target cell phone users. Theses scams send texts that seem to be from a trustworthy entity, like a financial institution or even the IRS. The messages usually offer fake programs like COVID relief, tax credits, or help setting up an IRS online account. Scammers attempt to get a hold of your personal information via text messages. They usually ask for personal information like account numbers and passwords and often ask you to click a link.
New scams are invented all the time. This newer elaborate scheme usually involves older individuals, but anyone can be a victim. The fraud typically starts as a romance scam. The fraudster creates a fake online persona, then reaches out to potential victims through social media. If the criminal gets someone to respond, they slowly build a relationship.
Over time, the fraudster gains the victim’s trust and begins to share their “success” in trading cryptocurrency. With the promise of easy money, the victim naturally wants to learn more from this “trusted source.” Once the victim is ready to invest, they’re directed to an app or website that’s actually controlled by the scammer. The money will be sent by wire transfer, which means the scammer has immediate access to the victim’s money. Even when money is being sent to a well-known crypto company like Coinbase, the account there is being controlled by the criminal. The money cannot be recovered.
The holiday season and the end of the year are popular times to make charitable donations. That also means it’s peak time for scams. You’ll want to make sure any contributions you make actually go to the charity and not into a scammer’s hands. If somebody calls and asks you to donate to a certain charity, tell them you’d like to research the charity first. Don’t let anyone make you feel rushed to make a donation. You want to ensure your gift is going where it counts.
- If a charity asks you to donate via cryptocurrency, wire transfer, Venmo, or gift cards, it’s most likely a scam.
- Never respond to a text or email asking for money.
- If you get an email from a charity you know or typically donate to, you should still go directly to their website instead of following links in a message. Why? Because websites can be easily faked by scammers and the link may lead you to a fake donation portal.
If you want to research a charity for their legitimacy, look them up on one one or both of the following websites:
Receiving a call, text, or email from a government agency, such as the IRS or Social Security Administration, can be alarming – and that’s the point. Fraudsters go to great lengths to impersonate these organizations because they know most people will take them more seriously.
Typically, the scam works by an “employee” (the scammer) from these agencies reaching out to verify personal information. They typically want you to settle a debt (that doesn’t actually exist), or pay money upfront to receive federal funds. These fraudsters even create fake employee IDs and callback numbers to appear legitimate. They often threaten to take your home, arrest you, or present the possibility of losing Social Security benefits if you ignore what they say.
Government agencies will always communicate with you through the U.S. mail first. They will never text, email, call, or contact you via social media about a new issue. The only exception to receiving a call or email is if you are already working directly with the agency on a known problem.
What should you do if get a call or text like this?
- Don’t panic! That’s what the fraudster wants you to do.
- Hang up immediately or don’t answer the text.
- Don’t click links in a text.
- Never give out personal information like bank account numbers, debit card numbers, social security numbers, etc.
- Contact the agency the person claims to be from directly – do this by looking up the official number or contact information online. For example, if they claim to be from the IRS, you want to visit www.irs.gov to obtain the proper phone number or email address.
If something sounds weird to you, never hesitate to ask a family member, friend, or even us! We’re happy to talk through the situation. We’re very familiar with what scams sound like.
Shopping Online and From Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, etc)
Consumers are urged to take extra care while shopping online or viewing emails and texts, and reminded to stay safe while holiday shopping with the following considerations:
- Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in places like a mall or coffee shop – the networks aren’t secure which means hackers can easily steal whatever information you’re typing in.
- Only buy from reputable retailers you recognize. Just because “www.greatdeals.com” has something cheap you’re looking for doesn’t mean you should buy it. Most times people never get the item, they get something that doesn’t match the description, or they’re charged for more than they agreed to.
- Avoid buying items from Facebook or Instagram ads. If you know the retailer, go directly to that website to purchase. A LOT of ads are fake, or they’re actually subscription based services. So, you get the item you paid for but then you’re charged miscellaneous fees after the fact because you unknowingly signed up for something.
- Never buy from online sellers that only accept gift cards, Venmo, Cashapp, money transfers like Western Union or MoneyGram, or cryptocurrency. Payments made that way are nearly impossible to trace and reverse. Scammers often tell people to use those payment methods so they can get the money quickly.
General Online Tips
- Keep security software for computers, tablets, and mobile phones updated.
- Protect the devices of family members, including young children, older adults, and less technologically savvy users.
- Make sure anti-virus software for computers has a feature to stop malware, and that there is a firewall enabled that can prevent intrusions.
- Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts.
- Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking accounts.
- Shop at sites where the web address begins with “https” – the “s” is for secure communications and look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
We’re Here to Help!
Your security remains our top priority. If you believe you were a victim of a scam or you received a questionable communication from the credit union or another agency, please contact us immediately at (315) 671-4000, by chat, or text, M-F, 9am-4pm ET.
Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact the Credit Union when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.