Don’t Get Caught in a Shopping Scam!

Shopping in 2022 is worlds away from what it was at the turn of the century, or even just a few years ago. According to retail research firm, Digital Commerce 360, ecommerce sales surpassed $870 billion in 2021, a 50% jump over 2019. Online shopping is quick, easy and convenient. 

Unfortunately, though, when a lot of shopping moved online, it also ushered in a wave of scams that are often successful. Some of these scams can be difficult for the untrained eye to spot, and many offer no way for the victim to reclaim their lost funds. Here’s what you need to know to recognize an online shopping scam and avoid being the next victim. 

How these scams play out

There are several variations to the online shopping scam. 

In one version, a shopper will scour the internet for a specific item in their desired price range. They’ll find the item retailing on a site at an attractive price and then proceed to make the purchase. They’ll share payment information, input their delivery address and complete the transaction. Unfortunately, though, the item never arrives on their doorstep. Alternatively, a cheap knockoff of the product will arrive instead of the item they’ve purchased. When the buyer tries to demand a refund, they are unable to reach the seller. 

In another variation, a shopper finds an item online and tries to make a purchase. They’ll be asked to input sensitive information, such as a credit card or checking account number. At this point, the shopper will be unable to complete the transaction and will continuously run into errors on the site. However, the scammers now have their information and can proceed to empty the victim’s accounts, or worse.

In a third version of the online shopping scam, a seller clicks on an ad, or on a site that came up in a Google search for one of their favorite stores. They’ll proceed to make an order, not knowing they’ve actually clicked into a bogus look-a-like site run by scammers. The rest of the scam will follow one of the scenarios described above. 

Red flags

Watch for these warning signs that you may have stumbled upon a shopping scam:

  • Prices are too good to be true. If you find an online offer for a new iPhone retailing at just $450, you’re likely looking at a scam. 
  • The offer urges you to act now. If an offer warns that the bargain prices it’s offering won’t last until sundown, it’s likely a scam. 
  • The seller demands specific means of payment. If an e-tailer insists that you pay via prepaid gift card or wire transfer, opt out. 
  • The website is full of typos and grammar errors. If the site is badly in need of editing, it may be run by scammers. 

Stay safe

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from online shopping scams:

  • Only shop on safe, secure sites. Check the URL for the lock icon and for the “s” after the “http”.
  • Check the URL for proper spelling of reputable sites. Make sure the URL of the site you’re on matches the authentic URL for that retailer and that you haven’t landed on a spoof site. You may want to save the genuine URLs on your computer for future use. 
  • Avoid clicking on high-pressure pop-ups and banner ads. These are often scams.
  • Pay with a credit card when shopping online. A credit card offers the most protection for your purchases. 
  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact. Don’t input your credit card number or account details unless you’re absolutely sure you’re dealing with a reputable website. 

If you’re targeted

If you’ve fallen victim to an online shopping scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. 

If you’ve paid via credit card, call the company to dispute the charge. At this point, you may want to consider closing the card and placing a credit alert and/or a credit freeze on your name. Next, alert the FTC about the scam. If the alleged retailer is on the BBB website, you can let them know, too. Finally, let your friends know about the scam so they know to be aware.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a shopping scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Don’t Get Caught in a QR Code Scam

Scammers never take a break from dreaming up new ways to con people out of their money. Recently, they’ve even been hijacking QR codes to pull scams on innocent victims. Here’s all you need to know about QR code scams and how to avoid them. 

What’s a QR code? 

Before we can explore the details of these scams, let’s understand what a QR code is and how one works. A QR code, which is an acronym for “Quick Response code,” is a square barcode that can be scanned using a smartphone. It leads directly to a website or app. Businesses use QR codes for any number of reasons, from posting online menus, to scanning coupons, to processing payments and more. In the no-touch era following the coronavirus lockdowns, QR codes are more ubiquitous than ever.  

Ironically, QR codes should help prevent fraud, since they take the user directly to the desired site, leaving no room for misspellings or for scammers to lure victims to a bogus website that has a URL that is similar to the legitimate website. Unfortunately, though, scammers have found a way to weaponize QR codes, too. The technology necessary to create a QR code is not accessible for anyone, making QR code scams easy to pull off and difficult to identify. 

How the scam plays out

In a QR code scam, a scammer will replace a legitimate QR code with their own code. A target will then scan the code and make a payment for a transaction. Unfortunately, the target has sent their money directly to the scammer and has not made a payment for the transaction as they believe they have.

In a recent QR code scam, fraudsters replaced dozens of QR codes on public parking meters in San Antonio, Texas with their own codes. Drivers seeking to pay the meter costs scanned these codes and sent their payments to scammers. To make matters worse, many victims also unknowingly shared access to their phones with the scammers, setting themselves up for future scams as the criminals use the information on the phone to pull off additional schemes. 

How to avoid a QR code scam

QR code scams can be challenging to recognize. For this reason, the FBI has advised against downloading an app from a QR code and/or downloading a QR code scanner app. However, there are ways to keep yourself safe from these scams. 

When scanning a QR code, it’s a good idea to treat the link like any other email or text message. Proceed with caution and practice online safety measures as you would with any other online transaction. Check the source of the QR code and the URL that the code directs you to for common signs of a secure site, including a lock icon, an “s” after the “http,” and whether the URL matches with the URL of the intended site destination. 

If the webpage or app the code sends you to seems suspicious in any way, leave it. You can access the payment portal you need by visiting the app or website on your own. 

When using a QR code, look for these red flags that can indicate a possible scam:

  • The URL is different from the home site.The QR code is posted on a public sign or notice that seems to be tampered with.The site or app the code directs you to is full of typos. 

Knowing how to recognize a QR code scam can help prevent you from falling victim to this emerging and quickly growing scheme. 

If you were scammed

If you’ve used a QR code to pay for a transaction and subsequently received an email from the company claiming you’ve never completed the payment, or that the payment failed, you may be the victim of a QR code scam. Let the company know that its QR code has been tampered with and alert the FTC as well. 

Stay alert when using a QR code and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a QR code scam? Share your experience in the comments. 

All You Need to Know About the Metaverse and NFTs

If a time-traveler from the 19th century landed in your living room, you’d likely have a hard time explaining the way our world works – especially the way we deal with finances. Your visitor can watch as you hold an oblong object in your hands and proceed to order a full summer wardrobe, new bedroom furniture or maybe even airline tickets. Who would have imagined we’d be able to do all that and more or without ever touching a dollar bill, coin or even a credit card?

But the changes to the way we handle our money continue, and the world of finance evolves along with technology in the most incredible ways. Let’s take a look at two major innovations in the world of technology and finance, as well as how they may affect us in the very near future: the metaverse and NFTs. 

The Metaverse

What is the metaverse?

The term “metaverse” has generated many curious Google searches since Facebook rebranded itself as Meta in October of 2021. In short, the metaverse is a scaled, interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced simultaneously by an infinite number of users. In addition, the metaverse has continuity of data, which includes identity, objects, communications and payments. In simple English, the metaverse is an all-immersive digital universe where users can live, connect and even make financial transactions through virtual reality and augmented reality. If you played “Second Life,” you’ve already had a taste of this.

Does the metaverse exist?

While some forms of the metaverse already exist, the full experience that tech giants envision likely won’t be ready for consumer use for another five to 10 years. However small aspects of the metaverse, including ultra-fast broadband speeds, online worlds that are always “on” and virtual reality headsets to bring the user into another world are already quite common across the internet and gaming world. 

What are some examples of the metaverse?

Here’s where you can get a feel for what the metaverse is actually about: 

  • Meta. Formerly known as Facebook, the platform’s CEO speaks openly and often about the metaverse and the role Facebook will play in its rollout. 

“The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied than the internet, where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it, and we call this the metaverse,” Zuckerberg said after the company’s rebranding. 

  • Microsoft. Similarly, the software giant has made no secret about where it believes the future of technology lies. Microsoft is already developing mixed and extended reality applications through its Microsoft Mesh platform, which blends the real world with augmented reality and virtual reality. Of course, Xbox Live already connects millions of gamers across the globe in a small-scale metaverse. 

 How will the metaverse affect the world of finance?

Experts envision a world where a consumer can enter a massive virtual shopping mall, purchase a unique digital item and sell that item in a different virtual world, such as on Twitter or eBay. In addition, the expected meteoric rise in popularity of the metaverse creates a unique investment opportunity for the savvy investor. 

NFTs

What are NFTs?

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a kind of crypto asset in which each token has a unique value. This is as opposed to “fungible” assets like Bitcoin and dollar bills, which all have exactly the same value. Because every NFT is unique, they can be used to authenticate ownership of digital assets including artworks, recordings and virtual real estate or pets.

How do NFTs work?

NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, but its blockchain can support NFTs as well. It’s important to note that other blockchains can easily implement their own versions of NFTs. 

NFTs can be anything digital, like music, videos or drawings, but digital art has been monopolizing NFT trading since its inception. NFT art collecting is not unlike fine art collecting in the real world: Millions of people can buy a Monet print, but only one person can own the original – and pay for it. Similarly, while anyone can own a copy of a digital piece of art, the original can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, or in some cases, even millions. The irony here is that while the owner of an authentic Monet has a genuine piece of art, there is no real difference between owning a copy of a digital artwork and owning the original.

As bizarre as it may sound, NFTs are gaining popularity at record speed. A 50-second video by Grimes sold for $390,000, a tweet by the founder of Twitter sold for just under $3 million, and a video by Beeple sold for $6.6 million.

What’s the purpose of NFTs?

NFTs present a world of financial possibilities for artists and collectors alike. 

Digital artists with real talent can earn a pretty penny through NFTs. Instead of posting a creative meme they designed on their Facebook page, digital artists can now try selling their work as an NFT. The good news is the artist will continue enjoying dividends of their work far beyond its sale. Every time the NFT changes hands, the artist gets paid a percentage of the profits. This way, if the work only becomes popular a while after it’s created, the artist can still pocket their share of its ultimate value. 

Collectors can use NFTs to purchase unique digital artwork as a financial asset. A work of art always carries with it the possibility of becoming wildly popular and spiking in value. Digital artwork is no exception. In addition, owning an NFT comes with some basic rights, which include being able to post the image online or use it as a profile picture.

The world of finance is constantly evolving as technology races to stay ahead of current trends and futuristic visions. The metaverse and NFTs are just two mediums that can change the way we handle our finances in the near future. Use the primer here to learn all about these technological wonders so you are better prepared to participate in and invest in the future. 

Your Turn: Do you think the metaverse and NFTs will play a major role in our finances? Why, or why not? Share in the comments. 

4 Scams to Watch Out for this Black Friday

Black Friday has traditionally been the day that kicks off the holiday shopping season, sending hordes of crowds surging through malls and big-box stores all over the nation. Unfortunately, it’s also been a day that kicks off the season of shopping scams. 

Here are four scams to watch out for this Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season:

  1. The Amazon Prime service fraud scam

In this ruse, a scammer posing as an Amazon representative will call a target to notify them about an alleged problem with their Prime account. The victim will be prompted to download a tool on their computer or mobile device. That “tool” will give the scammer remote access to “help them resolve the problem” that is at hand. If they comply, the victim will then be instructed to log onto their banking account, supposedly so the caller can be compensated for their time. Unfortunately, doing this will give the scammer direct access to the victim’s accounts. 

  1. Phishing emails

Phishing emails are nothing new, but they can be difficult to spot among the barrage of promotional emails flooding inboxes during this time of year. 

Here are two common variations of phishing scams: 

  • Account verification. The victim receives an email appearing to be from a retailer they frequently shop. It informs them that someone has tried to hack into their account. They’re asked to verify their account, or update their account details, through an embedded link. Doing so, however, will give a scammer access to their account. The scammer can now rack up a huge bill and leave the victim to pick up the tab. 
  • Order confirmation. The victim receives an email asking them to confirm an order made through Amazon or another large e-tailer. They’ll be asked to verify the order details through an embedded link. Unfortunately, doing so will give their personal information directly to the scammers. 
  1. Delivery issues

The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way Americans shop. It’s resulted in the volume of U.S. online purchases increasing steadily, according to the Census Bureau’s quarterly e-commerce reports. Scammers are well aware of this, and they’ve been quick to capitalize on the opportunities to pull off delivery scams, especially this time of year. 

Delivery scams generally take the form of a message appearing to be from UPS, FedEx or another delivery service, informing the victim of a “delivery issue” with an order. They’ll be asked to confirm or update their information with the provided link. Doing so will give the scammer access to their financial information and open the door to identity theft and more. 

In another variation of the delivery scam, a victim will be asked to pay a fee for covering a customs charge or tax. Of course, these fees are invented by the scammer, who will gladly pocket the money. 

  1. Non-delivery scam

Another scam whose prevalence has spiked with the increase in online shopping is the non-delivery scam, which involves a purchased gift that never arrives. The victim, likely lured in by an ad promising a super-low price on a desired item, rushed to complete the purchase without researching the seller. Unfortunately, the seller then disappears and the victim has no way of notifying them about the no-show or requesting a refund. 

How to avoid Black Friday scams

Follow these tips to keep your shopping free of scams:

  • Don’t open links in emails sent from unverified contacts. 
  • Never allow a stranger access to your device and/or accounts. 
  • Don’t share sensitive information on the phone or online with an unknown contact.
  • If contacted by an alleged representative of Amazon or another large company about an issue with your account, hang up and check your account to see if an issue is actually present.  
  • Always keep the privacy and spam settings on your computer and mobile devices at their strongest settings. 
  • If you have an issue with an ordered item, contact the retailer directly through their site and not through a pop-up ad appearing to represent them. Likewise, it’s a good idea to not click through to “support links” that are posted on troubleshooting forums, as they may not be to legitimate service sites. 
  • Only purchase items from reputable sellers. When shopping on a new site, look for a physical address, a customer service number and copy that’s free of spelling errors and typos. 

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Black Friday scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

All You Need to Know About Multi-factor Authentication

In our digital world, passwords are as much a part of our lives as Netflix and Amazon. Keeping information stored in dozens of accounts across the web can make it easier to stay on top of your finances, order a new pair of jeans or even schedule a dentist appointment. Unfortunately, though, passwords can be relatively easy for scammers to hack, opening the door for identity theft, credit card fraud and more. 

Here’s where multifactor authentication (MFA) comes into play. As a means of securing your information, MFA provides an extra layer of protection for your accounts and sensitive data. 

Here’s all you need to know about MFA, how it works and why it’s an important step in protecting your information. 

How multifactor authentication works

Multifactor authentication utilizes two or more factors to allow the user to sign into an account. Generally, these will consist of something the user knows, like a password or PIN, along with one or both of the following: 

  • Something the user has. This can include a phone, key fob or smartcard. 
  • Something the user is. This can include an iris or fingerprint scan, or voice or facial recognition.

Accounts that use MFA will not allow the user to sign into their account unless both factors are verified.

Why multifactor authentication is crucial for protecting sensitive information

While passwords can provide some protection against hackers, they’ve proven to be an abysmally weak barrier against hackers. A recent study by Digital Shadows, a digital risk protection company, found evidence of approximately 15 billion passwords and logins floating around the darkweb as a result of 100,000 data breaches. These passwords are up for sale to  other cybercriminals, potentially providing them with access to the victims’ financial accounts, credit card information, Social Security data and more.

In addition to opening up the door to sensitive information, a single password can give the hacker entry into a victim’s private life. For example, by hacking into a victim’s Google password, the cybercriminal now has access to their email history, which can include important correspondence and other information; calendar, which can provide a complete picture of the victim’s upcoming events and meetings; YouTube account, which unlocks the victim’s viewing history and uploads, and any other apps that allow users to sign in with a Google account, such as Asana and Mint.

Unfortunately, passwords can be cracked by amateur hackers, even without a data breach. Many consumers make it even easier for hackers to break into their accounts by using weak, ineffective passwords that are simple to guess, and by using the same password across multiple accounts. For these reasons, using MFA when available — especially for accounts that store highly sensitive information — is crucial for ongoing security and protection. This way, in the event of a data breach or hack providing a criminal with your password or login credentials, your information will still be protected. Without access to your account’s second factor for authentication, the hacker has no way to gain entry into your account. 

Where you may encounter MFA

In general, the more sensitive the data an account stores, the stronger security measures the company hosting or providing the account will use. Consequently, you’re most likely to encounter MFA on banking apps and accounts, money management apps, investment apps and the like. Depending on your line of work, you may also need to use MFA to sign into your personal workplace account. Finally, some retailers may offer clients the option of using MFA to sign into their accounts. 

Under each of these and similar circumstances, using MFA means a login time that’s a bit longer and more complicated than just inputting a password or PIN. However, measuring this inconvenience against the time, stress and money it will take to recover from a potential data breach makes it more than worth the extra few minutes. 

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Which means of MFA is your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments.

Beware Cryptocurrency Scams

As one of the hottest investments on the market, cryptocurrency has been enjoying the spotlight for quite a while, and scammers are eager to cash in on the excitement. Cryptocurrency scams are particularly nefarious since the digital currency is not regulated by any government, and once it has transferred hands it usually cannot be reclaimed. Here’s what you need to know about cryptocurrency scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out 

There are several ways scammers are using cryptocurrency to con people out of their money. 

  • Blackmail. In this ruse, scammers send emails to their targets claiming they have compromising photos, videos, or embarrassing information about them. They threaten to go public with these unless the victim pays up in cryptocurrency. Of course, the scammer is lying about the materials they possess and this is illegal blackmail and extortion.
  • Social media. Here, a target receives a social media message appearing to be from a friend and asking them to send cryptocurrency immediately to help them out of an alleged emergency. If the target complies and sends cryptocurrency to their “friend,” they’ll never see that money again. 
  • Mining. In this scam, bogus websites lure targets into what appear to be opportunities for mining or investing in cryptocurrency. The site may even offer several investment tiers, promising bigger returns for a more significant investment. Unfortunately, any money invested through these sites can never be withdrawn. 
  • Giveaways. These “giveaways” appear to be sponsored by celebrities or big-name cryptocurrency investors, like Elon Musk. Victims are promised exponential returns for small investments in cryptocurrency, or for simply sharing some personal information. Of course, none of it is real, except the loss you’ll experience if you fall victim.
  • Romance. Through online dating sites, scammers convince victims they have met a legitimate love interest. As the “relationship” deepens, the victim’s long-distance date starts talking about fabulous cryptocurrency opportunities with incredible returns. The victim acts upon this advice, and sadly, loses their money to the person they believed was a new romantic partner. 

In each of these scams, the victim has no way of recovering the cryptocurrency they shared if an “investment” has been made. Scammers also use common spoofing technology to make it appear as if they represent a legitimate business or website. As always, when in doubt, opt-out. 

How to spot a cryptocurrency scam

Look out for these red flags to help you avoid cryptocurrency scams: 

  • You’re promised big payouts with guaranteed returns for a small investment in a specific cryptocurrency. 
  • A celebrity or famed cryptocurrency investor is sponsoring a cryptocurrency giveaway.
  • A friend contacts you on social media, claiming they are caught up in an emergency and need immediate rescue, but only through cryptocurrency. 
  • You’re promised free money in cryptocurrency in exchange for sharing some personal information.
  • A caller, new love interest, organization, or alleged government agency insists on payment via cryptocurrency.

Be sure to follow common safety measures when online and never share personal information or money with an unverified contact. If you are unsure whether you’ve actually been contacted by a friend or an authentic business, reach out to them to learn the real deal. Finally, if you’re looking to invest in cryptocurrency, never click on an ad or email; look up secure investment sites like Robinhood and Coinbase on your own.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by any of the above cryptocurrency scams or a similar scheme, immediately report the scam to the FTC. If the scam was pulled off on social media, let the platform owners know so they can take appropriate measures. Finally, let your friends and family know about the circulating scam.

Cryptocurrency offers unique opportunities for beginner and experienced investors alike, but scammers are exploiting digital currency for their own schemes. Proceed with caution to keep your money and your information safe. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a cryptocurrency scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Don’t Get Spooked by One of these Scams this Halloween!

That cackling, long-haired witch might send your heart fluttering with fear, but these Halloween scams are even spookier! Here’s what to know about these common Halloween scams. 

 1. The Joker

Desperate for money before the holiday shopping season hits? Looking to pad your pockets with a bit of extra cash? Scammers know this all too well, and target consumers with messages promising loads of money for very little work. All you need to do is send a small amount of money to a designated digital address via CashApp, Venmo, or another money transfer app, and your money will be doubled, tripled, or more. 

Don’t fall for the tricks! Much like another variation of the money-flipping scam, they’ll ask you to share your account information so they can withdraw the money and then “treat” you with the cash you’ve earned. It’s like getting free money – which, of course, doesn’t exist. 

Spot a money-flipping scam through the amateur writing and too-good-to-be-true promises. Any request for you to share your banking information is another dead giveaway. 

2. Night of the Living Dead

This scam can be pulled off at any time of year, but it takes on an extra level of spookiness when yards are decorated with ghosts and cobwebby graveyards. In the deceased identity theft scam, scammers actually steal the identity of someone who is no longer living. They may empty the decedent’s accounts, pass off their credit history as their own and use their Social Security number to collect benefits, apply for a job, and more.

Protect a loved one’s identity from being stolen after they pass on by taking steps to lock down their social media accounts, credit report, and Social Security number. Keep an eye on their accounts until their assets have been lawfully divided. 

3. Trick or Treat

You found the perfect costume online, and for a bargain price! You happily pay up, complete your order and wait for the package to arrive. And wait. And wait. Unfortunately, you’ve been tricked. 

In a variation of the online order scam, the package arrives on your doorstep as promised, but has little resemblance to the way it looked online. The quality may be lacking, the size and color completely off, or important components missing. You may try to find a customer service line, but there’s no working number listed. You may also try returning the purchase, but a street address for returns will be more elusive than the invisible man. 

Don’t get tricked! Only order from reputable sites that display complete contact information for the company. Ignore all offers that scream “Hot Deal! Act Now!” and feature prices that are way below the average sale price. Shop with caution and you’ll only walk away with treats.

4. Hitman

There’s a hitman at your door – and no, this is no disguise! 

In the hitman scam, scammers pretend to be assassins who were hired to take out a target. They’ll send the target extortion emails and messages, promising to spare their life for just a few thousand dollars. Often, they’ll even drop the name of the friend or family member who allegedly put a hit on the target’s life. 

Don’t get scammed! If you receive an extortion message of any kind, contact local law enforcement. Never share money with an unverified contact. And finally, if the scammer shared the name of the person who allegedly hired them, reach out to this person to verify that no, they didn’t put a hit on your life. 

It’s a frightening world out there, but being aware of these scams and following smart precautions, you can protect your money and your information. 

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Halloween scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Beware of Gift Card Scams

Everyone loves a gift card for their favorite retailer or restaurant. It’s like getting money to spend in any way you please! Unfortunately, scammers also love gift cards, but for all the wrong reasons: They often use gift cards to pull off scams. Here’s what you need to know about gift card scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

There are several ways scammers utilize gift cards to con victims out of their money:

  • The IRS gift card scam. In this scam, a target receives a threatening message that’s allegedly from the IRS and claiming they are at risk of arrest for tax evasion if they do not pay up immediately. However, they insist that payment can only be made in the form of a gift card. Often, the scammer will ask specifically for an iTunes gift card, because, as you know, the IRS always asks for tax payments in the form of digital music. 
  • The tech support gift card scam. In this variation, a caller pretends to represent tech support at a recognized company, like Apple or Microsoft. They’ll insist there is something wrong with the victim’s computer and offer to “assist” in fixing the problem. Payment can be made with a gift card, of course. Lucky for you, there is nothing wrong with your computer, but you’ve just been targeted by a scam and are at risk of getting tricked. 
  • The romance gift card scam. A new dating partner found through a dating website asks for money in the form of a gift card to help them out of a sticky situation. Believe them and you’ll lose both your date and your money. 
  • The sweepstakes gift card scam. Congratulations — you’ve won a trip to the Cayman Islands! But first, you have to pay the small processing fee via gift card. Follow directions and you’ll never see that vacation or the money you spent on the gift card again. 
  • The utility gift card scam. You don’t want your gas or electricity cut off, do you? If you don’t pay up with a gift card, the lights might just go out. They won’t, but if you fall for the call, you’ll be out the money you spent on the gift card.
  • The balance-check gift card scam. You spot a discounted gift card up for sale online and happily purchase the card. The seller will send you the card, but then ask you to read the numbers over the phone to confirm the balance. If you comply, the seller now has all the information they need to use up all the funds on the gift card. 

How to spot a gift card scam

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in recognizing gift card scams:

  • The IRS will never initiate correspondence by phone call, text message, or email. Instead, they will send a letter to taxpayers through the U.S. postal system. 
  • No authentic business or government agency will insist on payment by gift card. 
  • If you don’t recall entering a sweepstakes, chances are you didn’t win it either.
  • A caller or message claiming a matter is urgent and demands immediate action is nearly always a scam. 

In general, gift cards should be used for purchases or to send as gifts, and not as payments. Also, as with all sensitive information, the numbers on your gift card should never be shared over the phone or online. Finally, it’s best to only purchase gift cards through reputable sellers or those that have excellent customer reviews and/or offer a cash-back guarantee.

If you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam

If you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card or shared your gift card information after being taken by any of the above ruses or similar schemes, take immediate steps to mitigate the damage. 

First, contact the company that issued the card as soon as possible. You can find the customer service number for most companies on the card itself or through a simple Google search. Tell the representative what happened. If you still have them, hold on to the receipt and the actual card for proof should it be required. 

Next, if the scammer continues to contact you by phone, text message or email, do not engage further. Block the scammer’s number from your mobile device and mark their emails as spam. 

Finally, report the incident to the FTC and alert your family and friends about the scam. 

Stay safe! 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a gift card scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Beware Romance Scams

With COVID-19 forcing more singles to meet and date online, America’s most expensive scam is on the rise. Romance scams are all over the internet and can be difficult to spot  While the data for 2020 is not yet available, according to the FTC, Americans lost a collective $201 million to romance scams in 2019.

Don’t be the next victim of a romance scam! Here’s all you need to know:

How the scam plays out

In a romance ruse, a scammer will create a bogus online profile and attempt to connect to singles on dating apps and websites, as well as through social media platforms. After a connection is formed, the scammer will work to build up the relationship with the victim, calling and texting often. Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, the scammer will spin a sorry story and ask the victim for money.

The scammer may explain that they cannot meet in person because they are currently living or traveling outside the United States. They’ll claim to be a doctor working for an international organization, a blue-collar worker in the middle of a construction project or to be part of the military and currently serving overseas. They may ask for money to help cover travel expenses, pay for medical treatment, cover customs fees at the airport or to pay for a visa or other official travel documents.

The scammer will ask for payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Once they’ve received the funds, they will disappear. Alternatively, the scammer will ask their “date” to share personal financial information and then go on to empty the victim’s accounts.

How to spot a romance scam

If you’re in the market for a new date and you’re hoping to meet someone online, look out for these red flags:

Profile is too good to be true. If a single’s profile has unrealistic credentials, including a magazine-worthy photo, you’re likely looking at a scam.
Single rushes into the relationship. If the contact comes on too strong, too fast, it may be a scam.

Single asks you for money. Don’t believe a money-starved story of someone you just met online, especially if they start asking you to help them out.

How to play it safe online

Avoid falling victim to romance scams and similar ruses by following basic online safety rules.

First, never share personal details online with anyone whose identity you cannot verify. This includes all financial information, credit card details and personal information that can be used to unlock a password on any of your accounts.

Second, only visit secure sites and keep all the settings on your social media pages private. Never engage in conversation with a stranger who reaches out to you on a platform you’ve just begun using, or who sends you personal texts or emails you without any prior communication.

It’s equally important never to send money to anyone online.

If you suspect a romance scam

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a romance scam, take these steps to avoid further damage:

Research the name on the profile to see if the details check out. You can also use an online background checking tool, such as BeenVerified or TruthFinder, to verify the credibility of the profile.

Do a reverse-image search of the profile picture to see if it’s a stock photo or an image that was plucked off the internet. You can also ask the contact to share a current photo of themselves.

If your research confirms your suspicions, stop all communication with the scammer immediately. Block the scammer’s number and flag their emails as spam. If you’ve already paid a romance scammer with a prepaid gift card, call the company that issued the card to ask them to refund your money.

Report the scam to the FTC. It’s also a good idea to alert the website or app that the scammer is using. You may also consider warning your friends about the scam.

Follow the tips outlined above to keep your love life scam-free.

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a romance scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
romancescams.org
fbi.gov

Don’t Fall Prey to a Holiday Toy Scam

He’s making his list and checking it twice. Unfortunately, though, the scammers making the list aren’t being so nice.

Scammers famously exploit high-stress times, and the pre-holiday shopping frenzy is no exception. That’s why the BBB is warning of an uptick in holiday toy scams which can be difficult to spot.

Here’s what you need to know about these scams.

How the scam plays out

Every year, there are a few must-have toys that make it onto most kids’ wish lists (this year’s most popular toys include a realistic toy dog and an animatronic baby Yoda). These choice picks become the hottest-selling items online and in stores, getting plucked off shelves in a wink. Unfortunately, for anyone who didn’t shop early enough, these toys soon become more difficult to find than toilet paper at the height of the COVID shutdown. The parents search desperately, ready to pay almost any price to make their child’s wish come true, to no avail.

Here’s where the scammer steps in. Armed with a bogus website and some crafty online tracking, the scammer targets the vulnerable shopper with ads and online messages to draw them to the scammers site. On the authentic-looking site, the shopper finally finds what they were looking for — the sought-after toy! Often, the toy is even deeply discounted. The purchase is completed within minutes, but sadly, the shopper’s child will not be unwrapping the much-desired toy on Christmas.

Instead, the scammer will send a cheap knockoff that doesn’t work or quickly breaks. When contacted for a refund, the scammer will either be AWOL, refuse to provide a refund or only offer to refund a small percentage of the purchase price. Sometimes, they’ll also charge an exorbitant amount of money for shipping the toy back to the company, almost making the small refund not worthwhile.

As one shopper told the BBB, she believed she’d ordered a high-quality animatronic puppy that would move and act like a real little dog.

“I wanted to get it for one of my great granddaughters,” she said. “When I received the dog in the mail, it was a small stuffed animal that you could get out of a machine at an arcade.”

Another customer paid $59.99 for a Baby Yoda toy that turned out to be nothing like it was advertised.

“It was supposed to be animated and make sounds,” the customer reports. “When I finally got it, it [was] an ugly plastic hand puppet.”

After contacting the seller for a refund, the customer was instructed to send the toy back and pay for shipping to the tune of $20 — all for a $10 refund.

Red flags

Don’t be the next victim of a holiday toy scam!

Here’s how to spot these scams:

  • The seller has a large supply of toys that are in extremely high demand.
  • The website is not secure.
  • The seller is offering a steep discount due to a “flash sale” or “last-minute” deal.
  • The seller’s website is full of spelling and/or grammatical errors.

Stay safe

Keep yourself safe when shopping online by following these tips:

  • Research before you buy. Don’t purchase an expensive item from a company you’ve never heard of before without doing some digging. Feed the company name to Google and see what the search engine has to say about it. Look up the business on the BBB website. You can also try calling the customer-service number on the website to verify the legitimacy of the company.
  • Only visit secure sites. Always look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” on the URL of a site to check if it’s secure.
  • Pay with credit. Paying for a purchase with a credit card will offer the buyer purchase protection and an easier time backing out of the transaction if it doesn’t turn out as expected.
  • Update your security software. For the best protection against scams, your computer should be using the most updated version of its security software
    If you believe you’ve been targeted by a holiday toy scam, end all contact with the seller immediately. Alert the BBB and let your friends know about the circulating scam as well.

Shop safely this holiday season!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a holiday toy scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
scamicide.com
wkrg.com
bbb.org
lpheralddispatch.com