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New Year, New Scams: Fraudsters Are Updating and Changing Their Approach

A recent article about scams in AARP Magazine described a gradual shift in how fraudsters are approaching potential victims. (Yes, I get it in the mail, but statistics show that 40 percent of scam victims are between the ages of 20 and 29, so there.)

Traditionally, victims were often approached with kindness by friendly and likable scammers. Their objective was to establish trust and describe a sympathetic scenario to con money out of an unsuspecting individual. But this methodology is giving way to approaches based on fear and intimidation. Psychologists claim that the human mind is hardwired to react more strongly to negative than to positive things. Fear negatively affects judgment, according to the experts. Below are some examples of scams based on fear.

The fake utility company. The scammer tells you that you are behind on you your bill. Send money or your service will be cut off immediately.

The social security impostor. Your social security number has been used in a crime and you are going to be arrested, unless…

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The dreaded computer virus. You are about to lose all of your information and photos, and only we can fix the problem.

DNA cancer screening. People like you are dying because they didn’t take the DNA test we’re offering.

Missed jury duty. There’s a warrant out for your arrest because you didn’t show up for your jury duty assignment.

The IRS warrant. You made criminal mistakes in your past tax filings and will be arrested shortly.

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The basic call to action is, “Just send us money and all of these horrible things will go away. Trust us.”

Of course, not all scams are based on fear. Below are some interesting newer ones and some not so new.

Airbnb and rentals. These scams involve a fraudster creating a fake page offering your home for rent and redirecting a potential renter to a phony website for payment. Homes for rent with no reviews may be legit, but those interested should proceed with extreme caution.

Gift cards. Fraudsters convince a victim that they owe money or need to pay for some fake service. But, to make it easy, they will take gift cards for payment. Once the victim purchases the gift cards, the fraudsters check back and retrieve the numbers from the gift cards. No legitimate company or service provider accepts gift cards for service and never over the phone.

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Home improvement. Home improvement scams take many forms. The key here is to get references from trusted and reliable sources like the Better Business Bureau and your local NextDoor group. Buyers should be doubly cautious about any home improvement solicitations door to door.

Netflix. The Netflix scam usually has “payment declined” in an email header. It asks for updated account information, including a credit card number. The user should log into their Netflix account, independent of the email, to insure legitimacy.

Order cancellation. Amazon is often used for fake order cancellation emails. The goal is to trick the victim into downloading malware or redirect them to a fake Amazon website that asks for username and password. Again, verify with Amazon directly, independent of the email.

Veterans. Unfortunately, 16 percent of veterans have fallen victim to phony phone call solicitations for charity contributions or pension buyouts. Again, independently verify.

Here are some basic ways to protect yourself against scams:

  • Don’t click on unknown or unsolicited email links
  • Don’t answer a phone number you don’t recognize
  • Don’t share giveaways on social media unless you’re positive it’s legit
  • Never give personal information online to anyone, in any way, ever
  • Get credit monitoring and check all your accounts regularly
  • Dump people you don’t know on social media

These are just some of the many scams and a few precautions to guard against them. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles on the Internet going more in depth. Take time to do some research to protect yourself. And remember—young or old, tech savvy or not—always use common sense. If it smells fishy, it probably is. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be intimidated. Think through the situation and always independently verify.

Remember—young or old, tech savvy or not—always use common sense. If it smells fishy, it probably is. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

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