Ten Emerging Scams and How to Protect Yourself

Do you consider yourself friendly? Thrifty? Financially sophisticated? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are more likely to be defrauded because you may give strangers the benefit of the doubt, are more enticed by bargains and are comfortable moving larger amounts of money around.

An AARP article highlights 10 emerging consumer scams and steps to avoid them. Often, these scammers target the elderly and engage in a specific type of elder abuse.

1. Tech support

Through this scam, one American is duped out of an average $454 nearly every 10 seconds. It starts with an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be with Microsoft or Windows tech support, who says viruses have been detected on their computer.  To protect their data, they are told to immediately call up a certain website and follow its instructions.  A dummy screen may appear that shows viruses being detected and eliminated, but in reality malware is being installed that allows the scammer to steal usernames and passwords, hold data for ransom or even use the webcam to spy on them.

To avoid being scammed: Hang up!

2. Silent call

The phone rings, you pick it up, say “hello,” but there’s no one on the other line. It’s a new type of robocall – an automated computer system making tens of thousands of calls to “build a list of humans to target for theft,” according to the Financial Fraud Research Center. It’s the first step in opening you up to many of the phone-based scams discussed in this article.

To avoid being scammed: Put caller ID on your landline, screen your calls, and don’t pick up if the number is unfamiliar.

3. IRS impostor

This is the #1 reported fraud right now.  Someone claiming to be from the IRS either phones or leaves a voice message saying you owe back taxes and threatening that, unless funds are wired immediately, legal action will be taken or you’ll be arrested. Or they may say you have a refund waiting but need to verify personal info before sending.

To avoid being scammed:  Do not return a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS. The real IRS opens communications with a taxpayer only via the U.S. Postal Service. If you’re ever in doubt about an IRS matter, call the agency directly at 800-829-1040.

4. Cancer rip-off

Last spring, in one of the biggest busts of its kind, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged four national cancer charities (the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society) with defrauding consumers of $187 million.

To avoid being scammedBefore contributing to any charity, check out its rating on charitynavigator.org.  Do not give cash to door-to-door solicitors or your credit card number to callers.  Ask for more information about the charity (brochures, websites) and investigate the cause first.  Be wary of popular online giving sites such as gofundme.com.

5. Chip card

Banks and credit card companies are issuing customers new “chip” cards. The FTC warns that con artists are impersonating card issuers and sending emails requesting personal and financial information, or asking that you click on a malware-laced link before being issued a new card. The fraudsters are sending emails — purporting to be from companies such as American Express — that convincingly use the company’s logo and color scheme, and even have footer links such as “View Our Privacy Policy” and “Contact Us.”

To avoid being scammed: No credit card company will email or call you to verify personal info it already has on file before mailing a new card. If you’re ever unsure, simply call the number on the back of your card (not the one supplied by the email) and ask the company if it’s trying to contact you.

6. Faith-based dating

Some con artists are stealing the hearts of unsuspecting singles (many of them seniors) and then using various ploys to steal money. But now scammers are targeting faith-based sites like BigChurch, ChristianMingle, JDate and others.

To avoid being scammedBefore getting involved with anyone online, use Google or Spokeo.com to research the person, and even view his or her address on Google Maps. Finding “no results” is a red flag. Do a Google Image search for a profile picture. Keep in mind that people who are legitimately looking for love won’t ask for money.

7. Medical identity theft

When defrauded for medical identity theft, you can be required to cover the cost for health care services you never received including tests, prescription drugs and even operations.

To avoid being scammed: Never surrender Social Security, Medicare or health insurance numbers to anyone you don’t know and trust. Be particularly wary of free health checks offered at shopping malls, fitness clubs and retirement homes (so-called rolling labs). If they ask to photocopy your cards or ask you to sign a blank insurance claim form, don’t do it. Review all statements from your insurance provider and if there are any charges you don’t understand, call immediately. And when shopping online for prescription drugs or other health-related items, remember that if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

8. Counterfeit apps

Some Apple app developers have evidently used a fake version of Xcode (hence dubbed Xcode Ghost) to build their apps, not knowing it contained malware designed to steal passwords and do other devious things.

To avoid being scammed: Apple says it has purged its store of these malicious apps. Always read an app’s reviews before downloading and choosing proven, popular ones. You can limit an app’s access to your location by adjusting your device’s privacy settings.

9. Grieving widow

People are more vulnerable after the loss of a loved one, and con artists know that.  They scan obituaries and find ways to trick the widow or widower out of money.

To avoid being scammed: Ask a trusted family member to temporarily handle your financial responsibilities while you are grieving. Have that person follow up on any suspicious phone calls or emails. And be aware that while you are grieving, you may be more vulnerable to fraud tactics that play on your emotions.

10. Gift voucher

This rip-off involves getting an unsolicited email from McDonald’s, Subway or another popular restaurant or retailer offering a free gift card if you click a link to activate it. The pitch looks legit, but it’s a phishing scam, meaning the perpetrator is either trying to install malware on your computer or gather personal info by having you complete an online questionnaire.

To avoid being scammed: Never click a link in an unsolicited email or divulge personal info, no matter how enticing the offer. Do a Google search (such as “McDonald’s gift card scam”) and see if any warnings come up. In most cases, they will.

To learn more, you can read the full article.