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

How Can I Protect Myself from Payment App Scams?

Q: I love the convenience of payment apps, like Cash App and Venmo, but I’ve heard there’s been an increase in scams being pulled off within these apps. How can I continue to use my payment apps without compromising my safety?

A: Payment apps offer users the ability to effortlessly send payments to friends, making it easy to split the tab at a shared meal, buy a present for a mutual friend and quickly pay back a small loan. Unfortunately, though, scammers are using these apps to cheat people out of their money.

Here’s all you need to know about payment app scams and how to protect yourself from being the next victim.

How the scam plays out

There are several variations of the mobile payment app scam, most of which involve the scammer hijacking the victim’s linked checking account or credit card and using it to pay for their own purchases. Now, though, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing people’s attitudes toward money, there is another, more nefarious scam being played out through mobile payment apps.

In this trending scam, a payment app user is invited to participate in a contest on Twitter or another social media platform. The host of the contest is giving away a bundle of cash to one lucky winner as a way of helping them through the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

After entering the contest, the victim receives a message informing them that they’ve won the giveaway — but they need to pay a small fee to verify their account and, later, receive their cash prize. Thrilled to be the winner and suspecting nothing unusual, the victim will gladly pay the fee and wait for their big payday. Unfortunately, though, the money never lands in their account, and they won’t see the funds they used to pay the “fee” ever again.

In the above scenario, the contest the victim entered may actually be authentic, but the follow-up post they’ve received is the work of a scammer.

Sometimes, the victim has not entered any contests but receives a message appearing to be sent directly from the payment app informing them they’ve been randomly chosen to win a cash prize — with a small processing fee attached.

Other times, scammers take the ruse one step further. After asking the victim to send the fee via mobile payment app, the scammer hacks the victim’s linked account or credit card and uses it to make their own expensive purchases.

Scammers use keywords like #coronavirus and #emergencyfunds to make their social media posts appear authentic; their efforts often pay off.

“My goal is to help those in need,” one scammer in Florida wrote. “Your deposit allows us to immediately send you your payment.”

The scam can be pulled off through any payment app, but is especially popular with Cash App users who are familiar with the app’s “Cash App Fridays.”  To the unsuspecting victim, the new freebies seem like an extension of the app’s existing giveaways.

Likewise, the scam can be executed through several social media platforms, but is most commonly found on Twitter. The social media giant is a popular host for contests of this sort, and another cash giveaway hardly stands out. The “Retweet” culture on Twitter also makes it easy for scammers to pick up on a legitimate contest and choose a participant to target.

“This behavior is absolutely against our rules and outlined as such here,” Twitter spokesperson Lauren Alexander wrote in an email. “Users who see such scams should go to the ‘Suspicious and Spam’ category to report the scam.”

Protect yourself

Luckily, you don’t need to give up on the convenience of mobile payment apps just yet. Protect yourself from this scam by learning about the medium used to pull it off and how to recognize the scam’s red flags.

Here’s what you need to know about Cash App and other mobile payment apps:

  • Cash App will never ask customers to send it money as a “processing fee” or for “verification.”
  • Cash App will not ask users to share their PIN or sign-in code outside the app.
  • Cash App currently has only two official Twitter accounts, @cashapp and @cashsupport, both of which have blue, verified check marks. If you receive a tweet from another account appearing to be from the app, it is likely bogus.

If a post or tweet looks suspicious, don’t take any chances; ignore it and move on.

If you believe you have fallen victim to a mobile payment app scam, contact the app’s support through the app or website. If the scam is reported early enough, they may be able to reverse the transaction. You can also report the scam to the FTC at ftc.gov  and let your friends know about the circulating scam so they don’t fall victim to it themselves.

Mobile payment apps make transferring money easy, but they also make it easy for scammers to con victims out of their money. Stay alert and practice caution to keep your money safe.

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

Learn More:
www.freep.com
www.cash.app
www.qz.com
www.consumer.ftc.gov
www.idtheftcenter.org

4 Vacation Scams To Watch For This Summer And How To Avoid Them

young parents with two kids taking a selfie picture while on vacationWith summer in full swing, you might be planning and packing up for the vacation of a lifetime. Before you load the car and head out, though, read through our list of four common vacation scams and learn how to avoid them. You don’t want to take a permanent vacation from your hard-earned money!

1. The bogus prize vacation
In this scam, you’ll receive notification via snail mail, phone call or email, that you’re the lucky winner of an absolutely free vacation stay. You’ll eagerly start planning your trip, only to find that you’re constantly asked to pay various “prize fees,” “taxes,” or “reservation deposits” as the departure date draws near. Your “free” vacation isn’t really free at all!

You might get suspicious and pull out. Or, you might be too deeply ensnared in the trap and only realize that, when you arrive at your destination, you’ve been conned. The vacation destination will either not exist at all, or be so substandard that you’ll need a vacation from your vacation when you get back home.

2. The dream-priced rental
You’re scrolling through Airbnb, searching for that perfect vacation rental house when you suddenly strike gold. There it is! The rental you’ve been looking for — and at a dream price!

You’ll contact the renter and begin making make arrangements for your trip. The renter will offer you an even steeper discount if you pay them through a third-party processing site instead of through the Airbnb website. Their likely preference is wire transfer. You’ll then be asked to pay a deposit or even the full price of the rental before you arrive. While it’s completely expected to pay up front through Airbnb or another rental service, you will not have the same protection if you’re not using the site.

The problem starts when you arrive at your vacation spot — or try to do so, that is. The address you’ve been given does not actually exist and the gorgeous pictures you’ve been looking through belong to another renter. Sadly, you’re now out your money and have nowhere to stay during your vacation.

3. Phony “experiences”
Aside from vacation rentals, sites like Airbnb also allow you to book “experiences,” or days out on the town with locals.

Unfortunately, this platform has become a breeding ground for scammers who offer phony tours to eager vacationers. You might find yourself booking a tour or an experience, and even paying for it, only to find out you’ve been scammed.

4. Travel-club membership with a catch
In these scams, unscrupulous travel companies work hard to persuade you to join their travel club with the promise of significant benefits and kickbacks, including dream vacation stays, discounted cruises or resort tickets and completely free getaways. Unfortunately, once you’ve joined the club, you’ll be charged high dues for perks that are so hard to access, they’re practically worthless. The discounted tickets will only be eligible for certain vacation dates that probably will not align with your own plans, and the “free” trip you were promised also comes with severe restrictions.

How to spot a vacation scam
Now that you know the many ways you can be conned while planning for or being on vacation, let’s take a moment to review the red flags that will clue you in to these scams.

Upfront fees
Whether it’s a vacation rental, a tourist experience or a sweepstakes prize, you should not have to pay more than a small deposit before your arrival. If you’re asked to pay steep upfront fees or even the full amount before your vacation, run the other way and don’t look back.

Specific payment methods
Similarly, if you’re asked to pay via wire transfer only, you can be sure you’re looking at a scam. According to the FTC, a demand for payment by wire transfer is the surest sign of a scam.

Skimpy details and absent reviews
When booking any kind of vacation, do your research. If your contact refuses to provide you with anything more than the most basic of details and you can’t find much info online, you’re likely looking at a bogus vacation.

Prices that are too good to be true
Trust your instincts. If a vacation rental, experience or package is priced ridiculously low, do some digging. Google the travel company or the renter’s name with the words “scam” or “bogus” to see what results come up.

Pressure tactics
If you’re urged to sign on a vacation package quickly or risk losing out on the deal, opt-out. Scams succeed with speed.

Scammers never go on vacation. Keep your guard up when planning your getaway and stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a vacation scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

SOURCES:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/05/make-it-scam-free-vacation

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/vacation.html?CMP=KNC-DSO-Adobe-Bing-FRD-VacationRentalScams-General&s_kwcid=AL!4520!10!73873646340258!73873595875939&ef_id=XQkCmwAAAKChlBOg:20190618160907:s

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0073-timeshares-and-vacation-plans