All You Need to Know About Pet Adoption Scams

Pet adoption can be an incredibly rewarding experience. After all, there’s nothing quite like coming home after a long workday and being greeted by a cuddly, furry friend. Unfortunately, though, scammers often exploit people’s adoration for animals through pet adoption scams. Let’s take a closer look at pet adoption scams and how to protect yourself from falling victim.

How these scams play out

In a pet adoption scam, fraudsters pose as legitimate pet sellers or rescue organizations to scam potential adopters. They may advertise pets online, usually at lower-than-market prices, and use emotional appeals to lure unsuspecting individuals. Variations of these scams include “puppy mills,” where animals are bred in inhumane conditions and then sold, or “phantom pets,” where scammers falsely claim to have pets available for adoption. In the first scam, the buyer is charged exorbitant fees for one of these neglected pets. In the second, the buyer eagerly makes the required payments and then waits for their new pet that never arrives. 

Red flags to watch for

If you’re in the market for a new pet, or you’re the kind of person who will be in the market as soon as you lay eyes on a picture of an adorable puppy or kitten, it’s best to brush up on these red flags, which may indicate a pet scam:

  • The seller only communicates through email.
  • The seller demands upfront payment.
  • The seller refuses to provide necessary documentation and verifiable details about the pet’s background or health.
  • The seller asks for additional fees for shipping, vaccinations or permits. 
  • The ad featuring the adoptable pet is riddled with grammar mistakes and misspelled words.
  • All photos of the pet are generic, stock photos.

If a potential pet seller shows any of these red flags, you are likely looking at a scam.

Search safely for a pet

When searching for a pet to adopt, take protective measures to ensure you’re only dealing with legitimate sellers. Carefully research and verify the authenticity of the seller or rescue organization before proceeding with an adoption. Look for a physical address, contact information and secure online presence. Check out any online reviews, testimonials or complaints about the seller. Confirm the organization’s affiliation with recognized animal welfare associations or governing bodies. Finally, reach out to local animal shelters or breed-specific rescues to validate the legitimacy of the seller.

Finalizing an adoption

Once you’ve found a pet to adopt, continue to exercise caution as you finalize the sale. 

First, insist on meeting the seller and pet or visiting the rescue organization in person before going through with the adoption. This will enable you to observe the animal’s living conditions, assess its health and directly interact with it. Legitimate sellers or organizations will encourage these visits and provide an opportunity for you to ask questions or address any concerns. Scammers, of course, will provide any number of excuses as to why it’s impossible for you to meet them and your potential new pet. 

If everything checks out and you’ve seen the pet and all necessary documentation, be sure to use a secure payment method that offers fraud protection, such as a credit card. As always, do not wire money to an unverified contact or pay them via gift card.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a pet adoption scam, take steps to help the proper authorities apprehend the scammers. First, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at FTC.gov. You can also alert local law enforcement agencies, and let your friends and family know about the ruse so they can be on alert, too. 

Adopting a pet is a super-exciting time, but scammers can quickly turn this experience into a nightmare. Use the tips outlined here to learn what you need to know about pet adoption scams and how to avoid them. 

TikTok Inspo: Can you scam us? In a short video, try to sell us on a pet that is oh-so-adorable but doesn’t actually exist.

AI Fraud and How to Protect Yourself

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way we live and work. Unfortunately, though, it’s also revolutionizing the way scammers con unsuspecting victims into sharing their personally identifiable information and their money. Here’s what you need to know about AI fraud and how to protect yourself.

What is AI fraud?

AI fraud is the use of artificial intelligence to deceive or defraud individuals or organizations. When using artificial intelligence to pull off a scam, fraudsters use AI algorithms to create convincing fake identities, manipulate social media, generate realistic fake images and videos (AKA “deepfakes”) and more. The scammers then create fake social media profiles and email addresses using these bogus identities and footage. Often, they’ll pretend to represent celebrities or other famed personalities for soliciting money and information. 

In another form of AI fraud, scammers use social engineering tactics to trick people into giving them their personal information or money. They may create fake websites or emails that appear to be from legitimate sources, such as financial institutions or government agencies, and ask people to provide their personal information or login credentials.

AI fraud is especially dangerous because its sophistication makes it difficult to detect. Thanks to AI technology, scammers appear to be legitimate, increasing the likelihood that people will fall for their scams.

Types of AI Fraud

AI fraud is executed in several forms, including:

  • Phishing
  • Identity theft
  • Deepfakes
  • Fake news
  • Social media manipulation
  • Chatbot scams
  • Fraudulent financial advice

Each type of AI fraud has its own unique characteristics and risks. 

Red flags

Are you being targeted by AI fraud? These red flags may be your first clue of an AI scam:

  • Multiple unsolicited emails and/or text messages
  • Being asked to provide personal information or login credentials by an unverified contact
  • Unusual and/or unexplained activity on your social media accounts
  • Receiving financial advice that seems too good to be true

If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to be cautious and investigate further. If the contact claims to represent a government agency, do not engage. Reach out directly to the agency that supposedly contacted you to see if the communication is legit. Follow the same steps if you’ve been contacted by an alleged representative of Advantage One Credit Union and something about the interaction has set alarm bells ringing in your head. It’s always better to be on the safe side when it comes to your personally identifiable information and your money. 

Protect  yourself

You don’t have to wait to be targeted by AI fraud to protect yourself from falling victim to these scams. Keep your money and information secure by following these precautions at all times:

  • Never share sensitive information online with an unverified contact.
  • Always check the URL of each landing page when banking online or using another platform to share sensitive information. Look for the “s” after the “http” and the padlock icon, as well as the correct spelling of the company’s website to ensure you haven’t been lured into a look-alike scammy site. 
  • Use strong, unique passwords across all of your accounts. 
  • Keep your device’s security on its strongest setting.
  • Be wary of messages from celebrities asking for money or information.
  • Use updated antivirus software on your personal devices.

If you’ve been targeted

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of AI fraud, it is important to act quickly to mitigate the damage. First, contact Advantage One Credit Union at 734-676-7000 to let us know your information has been compromised. Similarly, reach out to your credit card companies to let them know about the fraud. Next, report the fraud to the FTC so they can take appropriate measures in catching the humans behind the bot-generated scam. 

Finally, you’ll also want to change your passwords and login credentials and consider a credit freeze. Finally, if your identity has been stolen, reach out to identitytheft.gov to learn your next steps.

AI fraud is a growing concern, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Follow the tips outlined here and stay safe.

TikTok Inspo: Can you scam us? Use the info in this blog to impersonate an AI fraudster in a 15-second video.

Beware Check Washing Scams

When Midge Laurin, of Chicago, Illinois, mailed out a $30 check, she had no idea it would be intercepted by a scammer and written out to someone else to the tune of $9,475. Check-washing scams like this are on the rise, and can leave victims struggling to reclaim their lost funds for months. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

In a check-washing scam, the target places a check in the mail, and it is then stolen by scammers who nick envelopes from private mailboxes or lift them out of public mailboxes using “fishing rods” made of strings attached to a sticky substance. With check in hand, the scammer uses ordinary household chemicals, like acetone or bleach, to erase the ink off the stolen checks. Finally, they’ll rewrite the numbers and/or the payee before depositing the checks into their own accounts. 

Sometimes, the scammer will take the ruse one step further by using the checking account details found on the check to commit further crimes against the check-writer. This may include producing counterfeit checks in the victim’s name, as well as fake IDs, driver’s licenses and passports. The victim may only learn about these crimes when they begin receiving overdraft notices or are informed that their ID is no longer valid.

Protect yourself

Unfortunately, check washing may not be discovered for weeks, or even months after its occurrence. Sometimes, the victim will only learn of the ruse when they review their monthly checking account statement and see that the check amount and/or payee has been altered. Or, they may only find out about it when the intended recipient reaches out to let the check-writer know they still have not received the check. The scam’s discovery is more likely to be delayed when the scammers have not modified any information on the check and have simply stolen and deposited a check made out to “cash”. 

In addition, many financial institutions do not offer complete protection on fraud that is not reported within a few days of its occurrence. Some offer partial protection for up to 60 days.

Law enforcement agencies on local and federal levels, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FBI, have task forces to help stop check washing. They offer the following strategies for keeping your checks and your information safe from scams:

  • Whenever possible, use mobile and online banking services and P2P systems as a replacement for checks.
  • When writing checks, use black ink, preferably the gel kind. The ink found in blue ballpoint pens can be easily removed with acetone.
  • Don’t raise your mailbox flag when there are bill payments inside. Hand this mail directly to your carrier or mail it from the post office.
  • Retrieve your mail daily and never leave the mailbox full overnight. If you’ll be traveling, you can arrange for the post office to hold your mail for up to 30 days. Alternatively, have a friend or trusted neighbor retrieve your mail so it doesn’t pile up.
  • When mailing checks, use envelopes that have security tinting.
  • Shred or burn all canceled checks, checks deposited through your mobile app, credit card statements and bills. 
  • Review your checking account activity frequently. Ensure all checks have cleared for the correct amounts and to the correct payees. You can generally access this information through your financial institution’s mobile banking app or website.
  • Store your checks in a secure place within your home.
  •  Avoid making checks out to “cash”. Instead, write out your checks to a specific person or business.

Check washing can wreak havoc on a victim’s finances before they even know it’s occurred. Follow the tips outlined here to keep your checks safe.

TikTok Inspo: Have you side-stepped a check-washing scam? Tell us your story in a 15-second video.

Don’t Fall for a Home Improvement Scam

Scammers are always looking for new ways to deceive people for a quick buck. With home improvement season upon us, related scams are common. Here are some of the most common home improvement scams and how to avoid them.

The door-to-door scam

Knock-knock. There’s a scammer at the door! They’ve shown up, pretending to be a contractor or representatives of a home improvement company. They may offer to do work for a low price or even for free, claiming they’ve just finished working in the neighborhood and have extra materials, so they’re happy to work at a reduced or no cost. 

Cheap or free labor sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And it is – until you realize the “contractor” is unlicensed or not insured, uses subpar materials and does shoddy work. They may also try to get you to sign a contract on the spot, not leaving you any time to research or get competing quotes. 

Stay safe: Never hire a contractor on the spot. Always ask for proof of license and insurance and references of previous clients. 

The high-pressure sales scam

“If I leave here without a signed contract, the deal’s gone!” Some scammers use high-pressure tactics to get you. They may offer a special deal you can only get for a very limited time. It’s take it (now) or leave it. Unfortunately, though, these tactics are only a ploy to pressure you into making a decision before you’re able to think twice. They may also hide extra fees or charges in the contract, and/or promise things that they cannot deliver.

Stay safe: Never rush to hire a contractor. Don’t be swayed by limited-time offers, and always read the contract carefully before signing.

The “as seen on TV” scam

Some home improvement scams use the “as seen on TV” approach to trick you into thinking their product or service is endorsed by a reputable source. They claim their service has been featured on a popular TV show, but these claims are false or exaggerated. 

Stay safe: Always do your research and read reviews from other customers on multiple platforms before hiring a contractor. Don’t assume claims of popularity are legit without verifying them first.

Follow these tips to protect yourself from a home improvement scam. Stay safe!

TikTok Inspo: Can you scam us? Try impersonating a home improvement scammer using one of the ruses described above.

Beware of Celebrity Scams

Celebrity scams prey on society’s trust in celebrities and the adulation many people have for the rich and famous. Unfortunately, celebrity scams are becoming increasingly common and can be challenging to spot. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to protect yourself from falling victim.

How the scams play out

There are several ways celebrity scams play out:

  • Online phishing schemes. In this ruse, a scammer pretends to be a celebrity to get personal information from unsuspecting victims. They may create fake social media accounts, send emails or even set up fake websites to get credit card numbers, account information and passwords. 
  • Fraudulent charities. Here, a scammer will create fake charities and use a celebrity’s likeness to solicit donations. They may also use the celebrity’s name to advertise non-existent events or products in support of this bogus charity. Of course, any money donated will go directly into the scammer’s own account. 
  • Fake autographs. In this variation, scammers attempt to sell fake autographs as authentic, often at a fraction of the cost of a real one. 
  • Bogus endorsements. In this scam, a scammer creates a bogus promotional post that appears to be from the celebrity to sell their own product.

Protect yourself

The best way to protect yourself from celebrity scams is to be vigilant. 

Do your research and make sure that every celebrity-endorsed social media post is legitimate. Be sure to verify a celebrity account before engaging with it. It’s also important to follow basic online safety rules at all times. Never share your credit card or account numbers with an unverified contact, and only visit secure websites.

When donating money to charity, even if it appears to be endorsed by a celebrity, it’s best to verify that it’s legitimate. You can look up the charity on a site like Charity Navigator or CharityWatch

Finally, when purchasing an autograph or buying a product that’s allegedly endorsed by a celebrity, verify that it’s legitimate. Use reputable dealers for autographs, as celebrities will never sell autographs directly to the public. If you believe a product is actually being endorsed by a celebrity, check out their account on another social media platform to see if they’re really promoting this product. 

Stay alert, and stay safe!

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

Don’t Get Caught in a Non-Delivery Scam

With the holidays approaching, and online shopping reaching its annual peak, scammers are out in full force to get at your money and your purchases. There are many scams to watch for this time of year, from online “retailers” phishing for information as you shop to brazen porch thieves who swipe delivered packages from doorsteps and so many more. The non-delivery scam can be particularly difficult to spot, and recovery is nearly impossible. Here’s what you need to know about this scam and how to protect yourself.

How the scam plays out

In a non-delivery scam, a shopper makes an online purchase, often at a discounted price. They may have chanced upon this “sale” through a social media ad, an unsolicited email or a banner ad on their favorite website. Unfortunately, though, the promised package is never delivered. After weeks of waiting, the shopper may try reaching out to the seller, only to find that the seller’s gone AWOL, along with the victim’s chances of recovering their money and/or their purchase.

Protect yourself

The best way to protect yourself against non-delivery scams is to practice online safety measures and to shop smartly. Here’s how.

  • Never click on links or attachments in unsolicited emails or on social media, regardless of how amazing the offer may be. If an ad looks promising, look up the alleged associated retailer directly and on your own. 
  • Keep your device’s security at its strongest settings and mark all suspicious emails as spam. 
  • Opt out of websites that are full of typos and/or grammatical errors.
  • Check each website’s URL for authentic spelling and signs of security, like the “https” and padlock icon. Recheck each landing page as you shop. 
  • When shopping a new seller, do some research before sharing any information with the seller. Look for a phone number and street address associated with the seller or company, dig up some online reviews and ratings and Google the retailer’s name along with the word “scam” to see if anything comes up. 
  • When shopping a private seller on an online marketplace, like Jiji or Etsy, check the seller’s profile carefully. Be extra wary if the profile is new.
  • Avoid shopping at retailers who insist on payment via prepaid gift cards or wire transfer. When shopping online, it’s best to use a credit card.
  • Stay away from sellers who advertise as if they are residents of the U.S. and then respond to questions by claiming that they are actually out of the country.
  • Always ask for and save the tracking numbers of online purchases. Monitor the shipping process so you can dispute the charge if the process seems suspect.
  • Be wary of items with prices that are too good to be true; in all likelihood they are.

If you’re targeted

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a non-delivery scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. 

First, if you’ve paid via credit card, call the issuing company to dispute the charge as soon as you recognize the scam. If you believe the account has been compromised, you may want to close it and place a credit alert and/or credit freeze on your name as well. Next, be sure to alert the FTC about the scam so they can do their part in catching the crooks. 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.

Online commerce makes holiday shopping so much easier–but scams are everywhere. Shop smartly this season and follow the tips outlined here to avoid getting scammed. Stay safe!

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

All You Need to Know About SIM Swaps

SIM swapping, also known as SIM swap scams, or SIM hijacking, can be a nightmare for an unwary victim. According to a recent announcement by the FBI, this ruse is on the rise. In 2021, the FBI received 1,611 reports of SIM swapping, with losses totaling over $68 million, a more than five-fold increase from the 320 SIM swap complaints occuring in 2018 and 2019 combined. Here’s what you need to know about this prevalent scam and how to protect yourself. 

How the scam plays out

In a SIM swap scam, a criminal steals a target’s mobile phone number by tricking the victim’s cellphone provider into transferring the number to a SIM card in the criminal’s possession. 

Before the actual scam is pulled off, the scammer will generally employ a phishing scam to obtain some basic information about the target’s mobile number and phone service provider. They may reach out to the target via email, text message or phone call. They’ll pretend to represent the service provider, and ask the target to share or confirm their phone number and/or account number. They may claim there is an issue with the target’s account, and say they need this information to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the target often believes they are engaging with an authentic representative of their phone company, and willingly shares this information.

Next, the scammer will call the target’s service provider and use this info to convince them that they are actually the target. The scammer will claim that their SIM card has been lost or destroyed and they’ve purchased a new one to replace it. If the mobile service provider falls for the ploy, they’ll transfer the phone number to the scammer’s SIM card.

Finally, the criminal inserts the now-active SIM card into their own device and uses it to access the victim’s accounts by bypassing the SIM-based two-step authentication. The scammer then proceeds to change all passwords for online accounts linked to the phone. Unfortunately, this leaves the victim with an inactive SIM card and worse, locked out of their own accounts.

Protect yourself

Despite its prevalence, there are ways to protect yourself from SIM swap scams. The FBI advises consumers to take the following precautions:

  • Never share information about your financial assets while online.
  • Never share information about your mobile phone number or cellphone provider with an unverified contact over the phone or online.
  • Don’t assume every communication from an alleged service provider is legit. If you receive an unexpected call, message or email from your mobile phone’s provider asking you to share or confirm information, do not engage. Contact the provider directly to determine if the communication was authentic. 
  • Keep your social-media platform settings private.
  • Use strong, updated security for all your devices. 
  • Never share personally identifiable information online. 
  • Use strong, unique passwords across all your online accounts.
  • When possible, use strong, multi-factor authentication, standalone authentication, apps and physical security tokens to access accounts that contain sensitive information.
  • Don’t allow your mobile devices to “remember” your passwords, usernames and other personal information.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a SIM swapping scam, take these steps to mitigate the damage:

  • Reach out to your cellphone provider for assistance in regaining control of your phone number.
  • Change the passwords and logins on all your online accounts.
  • Let your financial institution and credit card companies know about the scam so they can look out for suspicious activity on your accounts. 
  • Consider placing a credit alert and/or credit freeze on your accounts. 
  • Report the scam to your local FBI field office, your local law enforcement agency and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Stay alert and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a SIM swap scam? Tell us about it 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.

5 Steps to Take After a Data Breach

Data breaches show up in the news almost as often as celebrity couple breakups. According to Risk Based Security’s Mid-Year Data BreachReport, there were 1,767 publicly reported breaches in the first half of 2021, exposing 18.8 billion records. One of the most far-reaching of these breaches was the T-Mobile data breach in August, which has impacted more than 50 million people. 

A data breach exposes confidential information of its victims, which can include Social Security numbers, account information, credit card numbers, passwords and more. If your personal information has been compromised by the T-Mobile data breach or another exposure, take these five steps to mitigate the damage. 

Step 1: Read all alerts and notifications from the compromised company

The business whose data has been compromised in the breach will generally reach out to all potential victims to notify them about the exposure. They may instruct all recipients of this missive to check for signs that their information has been exposed and/or direct them toward their next step. If you believe your information may have been compromised in a breach, it’s important to read every message you receive from the exposed company. 

Step 2: Alert your financial institution 

Next, let Advantage One Credit Union know your account may have been compromised. This way, we’ll know to keep an eye out for signs of fraud and place an alert on your account. We’ll be watchful of requests to approve any large transaction or withdrawal, and we’ll contact you if we notice any suspicious activity. 

Step 3: Change any exposed passwords

A data breach generally means passwords of all kinds have been compromised. It’s best to change as many as possible after a breach to keep information and money safe. The quickest way to do this is by using a password manager, which allows you to store unique, complex passwords for each account. Although it’s important to have a different password for each account, it’s best to start by changing passwords you know were a part of the data breach.

Step 4: Consider a credit freeze

A credit freeze alerts lenders and credit companies to the fact that you may have been a victim of fraud. This added layer of protection will make it difficult, or impossible, for hackers to open a new credit line or loan in your name.

You can freeze your credit at no cost with all three of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, Transunion and Experian. You’ll need to provide some basic information and you’ll receive a PIN for the freeze. Use this number to lift the freeze when you believe it is safe to do so. 

Step 5: File an identity theft report

If your accounts have been compromised and you believe your identity has been stolen, file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) immediately. This will assist the feds in tracking down the scammers responsible for the data breach. It will also help you return your finances to their usual state as quickly as possible.

Take these precautionary measures to protect your information from future data breaches of any kind:

  • Monitor your credit. It’s a good idea to check your credit accounts for suspicious activity on a regular basis. You may also want to sign up for credit monitoring, a service that will cost you $10-40 a month for the promise of notifying you immediately about any suspicious activity on your accounts.
  • Use strong, unique passwords. Use a different password for each account, and choose codes that are at least eight characters long. Use a variety of numbers, letters and symbols–and vary your capitalization use as well. Choose two-factor authentication when possible, and non-password authentication, such as face recognition or fingerprint sign-in, for stronger protection.
  • Browse safely. Never share sensitive information online and always keep your security and spam settings at their strongest levels.

Your Turn: Has your personal information ever been exposed in a data breach? 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.