By: Aubrey Love
Of all the scams we have seen to date, there are a few that stand out as long-term runners. This simply means that they have been around for a decade or more. These long haulers are still a favorite method for scammers to get your hard-earned cash.
In this blog post, we will look at the newest scams to watch out for, and how to avoid becoming a victim. We will also touch on some of the older ones that are still hanging around and wreaking havoc on unsuspecting victims of all ages.
1. Phishing, Vishing, and Smishing
Although these scam techniques have been around a while, I moved them to the top of the list because there are so many new modern twists to these three categories. Before we get into the meat of this topic, we should first define what these three categories are. Below is a quick breakdown of what the terms mean.
Phishing: Scams perpetrated through emails.
Vishing: Scams via voice calls over the phone.
Smishing: Scams initiated through text messages.
In this section of the blog, we will discuss a scam that has become the latest trend using one or all of the methods mentioned above. Holding someone hostage and demanding ransom money.
How it works:
The latest take on this is scammers calling unsuspecting victims and claiming they have one of their loved ones held hostage and the scammers are demanding money now. Most often, they demand payment via gift cards, wire transfers, your account information, etc. In a panic, most victims will readily provide the scammer anything they request. In the meantime, the person they supposedly kidnapped is completely unaware of what’s going on and is not in any danger.
If you fall victim to the hostage phone call, the best option is to call your loved one to confirm their safety. If you can’t call, have someone near you make the call.
2. Student Loan Forgiveness Bill
The Biden Administration has been pushing a student loan forgiveness bill for the last couple of years. Although the bill is on hold, as of this writing, that doesn’t stop scammers from preying on people that may have an outstanding student loan.
How it works:
Scammers have built websites to mimic the government's website, and they placed fake forms for the consumer to fill out. These forms are designed to steal your social security numbers, bank account information, etc. In some cases, scammers have resorted to cold calling and pressuring victims into filling out these fake forms.
As of this writing, the loan forgiveness program is on hold. It may or may not pass. You can follow the progress of the bill directly on the government’s website: Department of Educations Student Aid website
Remember, if you receive an email claiming to help you get your student loans forgiven, it’s a scam. The Government will not send emails to likely candidates. You must go to the Department of Educations Student Aid website directly to start the filing process.
3. QR Code Scams
We see them everywhere; restaurant tables, store-front windows, on products we purchase, etc. They also appear on our TV screens during commercials. They are simple to use and very convenient, but at what cost? Americans have lost an unprecedented amount of money over the last few years due to fake QR codes.
How it works:
The most common practice is for scammers to physically place fake QR codes over legitimate ones. For example, in a restaurant, you may find QR codes on the table for you to scan and view their menu. This option also allows you to order directly from that online menu. In reality, that fake QR code directs you to a scammers’ website that looks much like the restaurant’s website. When you place your order, it’s through the scammer’s website and bank account, not the restaurants.
Look at the website the QR code directs you to. Does it look okay? You want to look for typos, grammar mistakes, logo differences, etc. or just ask the waiter/waitress to bring you a hard copy menu.
Other QR codes may direct you to banks, movie ticket agencies, etc. Look at the site closely. Does it seem real? Are you noticing some mistakes? Remember, when in doubt, close it.
4. You're Hired
This one has been around for more than a decade and it keeps popping up in user’s emails. It’s a straightforward approach where the scammer poses as a recruiter for company xyz. Usually, the company they claim to be recruiting for actually exists and is in good standings with the Better Business Bureau and the community. As you may have guessed, you’re not getting this job, but the scammers are getting your personal information and your money.
How it works:
A scammer will send you an email asking you to fill out an online questionnaire to see if you’re a good fit to work for company xyz. After you answer all the questions and send in your response, they will start asking for your personal information to get you on the payroll. Although this sounds like every other company that is on-boarding a new employee, this is where they get your social security number, bank account info, address, etc.
If it’s going to be a remote job, they may want to send you a check to purchase the needed hardware and software for the job. Often, they will send you a 5,000 dollar check to purchase 1,000 dollars’ worth of equipment. You are required to send back the remaining 4,000 dollars. Once you have completed this process, about 28 days later, they cancel that 5,000 dollar check and your bank comes back to you to pay back that amount.
The best course of action is to look the company up online, or in a phone book, and call them directly. Ask to speak to someone in the human resources department. Find out if the position exists and if they are currently taking applications for that position. Most often, you will find that they already know about the scam and regret to inform you that the position does not exist.
In legitimate cases, if you are going to be working remotely (from your home), most companies will allow you to use your existing equipment, or they will send you the equipment directly. Be weary of a company that wants to send you a check for a few thousand dollars more than what you need.
5. Gift Card Scams
This is another oldie but goodie. If you’re a scammer. But for the rest of us, it’s a pitfall that consumers need to be aware of. Although there are several variations in gift card scams, in this blog, we will discuss one option that most news media platforms rarely cover. Gift card skimming.
How it works:
In just about every store nowadays, you can purchase gift cards by picking them off a rack at the check-out counter or in an aisle at your local Walmart, Target, convenience store, etc. You take the card to the cashier and put money on it to use later or as a gift for a friend or loved one. Personally, this is something that I never do.
The next time you grab one of those gift cards off the rack, you may want to inspect it a little closer before loading it with money. Does it appear to be altered or slightly damaged? Scammers will grab a hand-full of these cards, take them home, and pull the sticker off to reveal the code (card number). They log these codes, along with any expiration dates, csv code, etc. in a spreadsheet or database of their own making and put the sticker back on the card. Once this is done, they return the cards to the store and put them back on the rack. Now, they monitor the card activity daily by logging in and checking the card’s account balance. Anyone can do this once you have the information from one of these cards. When they find an available balance, they use the card to make online purchases. Your friend or loved one that received the card as a gift ends up with an empty card.
The best way to prevent this scam is to purchase a pre-paid Visa or Mastercard from your local bank. City National Bank (CNB) offers Visa gift cards for your convenience and security. If you just need that special logo card from Bass Pro Shops, Olive Garden, Applebees, etc. go directly to their store or website to purchase a card from them and not off a card rack at a connivance store.
Never click on links in emails or text messages. Always go directly to the source. If the offer is legitimate, they will post it on their website.
I have a little acronym that I coined called VANA, which stands for Verify Always, Never Assume.
If you receive an unsolicited phone call and they are requesting your credit card or banking information, it’s most likely a scam. Remember, it’s just a phone call and you can hang up anytime you feel uncomfortable.
If you have been the victim of a scam, contact the FBI as soon as possible. You can file a report online at the FBI fraud report website. fbi.gov/investigate
Disclaimer: The information posted on blogs and vlogs by City National Bank is for educational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional or legal advice. City National Bank will not be held liable for any loss or damage of any kind in connection with this blog.