Spotting Romance Scams

Online romance scams

Romance scams have been around since the dawn of time. A woman meets a man and seduces him for his money. A man meets a woman and steals her retirement. Men and women use each other to get revenge on an ex-lover. People use romance scams today, but they tend to be online. Scammers choose a target and begin to weave a tale of woe or claim to believe in love at first sight. The targets give in and the scammer walks away with money in hand. The FTC reports that people lost $143 million last year due to scams. The median loss for romance scams last year was $2,600 per person.

What is a Romance Scam?

A romance scam involves meeting a person who will lavish you with gifts, compliments, and dreams of a life together…just before asking for money. Scammers tell the same stories over and over. He has a medical emergency. She is late paying her rent. He has lost his family and needs someone to help him heal. She is stranded in another country. She’ll come to you but needs money for travel. However, there is no medical emergency; no one is stranded; and the only place the scammer is going is to the bank.

The Target

Profiles include a middle-aged woman who is somewhat dowdy and lonely or an older man who is looking for a trophy wife. Scammers target people who are older and are more isolated than the younger population, but they are not the only ones. Targets include professionals who are too busy to date, people tired of the dating scene, those who are disabled or are unable to get out into public, shy people. Many of the people being scammed are intelligent and ones that would not be duped easily otherwise. The scammers are just that good.

Spotting the Scam

Online daters should be on the lookout for the following signs:

Shady Profile Signs

Scammers’ profiles may include:

Professional or glamor profile pictures. Some won’t post any picture.

Profiles provide little or no information.

They claim to be in the military and stationed overseas.

They are looking for dates in the area although they live in another country.

They Send You to Another Site

Recent scams include sending their targets to another site. Some contain malware or ask for personal information. Most will want to talk through an app or by text. Use a free reverse phone lookup app to ensure the number belongs to the user.

Something Always Comes Up

The scammer wants to meet you, but something always comes up. There is an emergency, he got called into work, she has to take care of her sick mother. The truth is that the scammers are lying and will never meet you. Yet, it’s a good opportunity for them to ask for money for rent, bills, or travel.

They Ask for Money

The scammer will always ask for financial support – money, a new phone, travel expenses, or untraceable gift cards. They will refuse physical gifts, claiming that they want the money. Once the target says no, the scammer will try harder, often becoming combative. Eventually, the scammer will disappear and move onto the next person.

Reporting a Scam

If you are a victim of a romance scam, delete the person from your phone/computer. This includes phone contact. Report to the scam to the FTC.

Catfishing On the Internet: What Is It?

Catfishing

You’ve probably heard of “catfishing,” especially if you use social media or dating websites. Catfishing is when a person pretends to be someone else to trick another person. People who catfish do so for many reasons, including trying to prove a partner is cheating, using it to scam someone, or using it to cyberstalk or cyberbully someone.

How It Works

Catfishers use social media sites to trick others. They often use dating sites, although other social media websites like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram are used to make people think they’re someone else. Here’s an example from a dating website.

Joan signs up on a dating website. She fills out her information and posts her picture. Joan receives messages almost immediately. Joan has high hopes for meeting new people. She looks at pictures and answers messages. It’s not long before Joan notices strange behavior from some of the men. Here are some things noticed by Joan:

Bad English

Many scammers are not native English speakers. It’s obvious when you talk to a person who doesn’t know what words to use. Joan notices that they use the wrong words, can’t make full sentences, use the wrong tense, or confuse words like there, they’re, and their. Non-English speakers usually don’t use contractions.

Profile Pictures

Joan gets messages from people that don’t have a profile picture. Sometimes there is a real reason for not posting a picture, such as his job, but it usually means that the person is married or not who he claims to be.

Some men look like movie stars. If a picture looks professional or familiar, chances are it’s fake. Do a reverse image search to find out if the person is real. You can upload the picture into an app or website and search.

The Catfishing Story

Scammers use the same stories over and over. Stories include the person losing his family in an accident, being stranded, or having lost his wife and being left with a young child. If a story sounds familiar, copy and paste some of it into a search engine.

Moving Too Fast

Scammers want money…fast. When catfishing, people will say anything to gain your trust and steal from you as soon as possible. Poetry, gifts and words of love are some ways in which a scammer will try to win you over. If you respond to the gestures, the scammer will try harder to win you over.

The Scam

Once a catfisher has gained your trust, he will ask you for something. It starts with something small, such as a gift card. If you give what he is asking for, the next gift will be something bigger and grow larger with each request.

Protecting Yourself

Fortunately, Joan reads a lot of articles about online dating  and catfishing and has prepared herself. She immediately refuses all requests for money or gifts, blocks unknown callers from her phone, and insists on meeting in public.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, proceed with care and trust your intuition.

What is Caller ID Spoofing?

Scammers call using fake numbers

Caller ID spoofing is when a caller gives false information that will show up on your caller ID. The tactic is to hide their identity. Although it’s not illegal to use alternate information as a Caller ID, most people use it deceptively, trying to make you believe that the number belongs to someone else. They may also want to make the number untraceable. Scammers frequently use this tactic.

Legal Spoofing

Business professionals have used spoofing for many years, but with good reason. A company may use spoofing so that calls from anyone inside the company reflect the business’ main phone number. Doctors often use spoofing to conceal their personal numbers and replace them with the main office number. The call is recognized by the patient and also maintains the privacy of the doctor. Law enforcement agencies can also use caller ID spoofing.

Illegal Spoofing

Illegal spoofing is using a false number to trick a target into answering the phone. Consumers are savvy these days, so fooling them isn’t easy. However, if a scammer wants you to think he is calling from a well-known company like Microsoft, he can spoof the company’s main number. The target will answer the call and may be fooled if the caller claims to be from Microsoft’s tech support or billing department.

The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 bans anyone from using false or misleading caller ID information “with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.” Anyone caught illegally spoofing can get a fine of up to $10,000 for each offense. The fines do not stop most scammers as they are usually untraceable.

Neighbor Spoofing

Scammers use fake numbers in the region. They target people who may think the call is from a neighbor. They use a local exchange and may mirror a number close to your own. For example, if your number is 910-553-8762, the scammer might use 910-553-0371 or 910-553-8754. Phone numbers that appear to be local are more likely to be answered by the target. Most people don’t answer unknown numbers, but if the number appears local, the target may think it’s a call from their child’s school, the local pharmacy, or a call from a neighbor in need. If you see a number you don’t recognize but could be important, you can use a white pages iPhone app to investigate before taking the call. You can return legitimate calls right away. The Federal Communications Commission has a plan to stop neighbor spoofing, urging the phone industry to use a strong caller ID authentication system.

Avoiding Spoofing Scams

You can use several techniques to avoid spoofing scams. Don’t answer calls from unknown phone numbers. If you answer the call, do not respond to any questions, especially if they are “yes” or “no” answers. If an automated system asks you to press a button to opt out of calls, do not press the button – simply hang up. You should also hang up the phone if the caller asks for any personal information.

New Veterans’ Benefits Scam

Scammers target veterans

Veterans are the target of a new benefits scam. Scammers call veterans to talk about their medical care and the Veterans Choice Program. The VCP is a part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The program allows eligible vets to access approved health care providers who operate outside the VA network.

Fraudsters try to trick veterans into answering important questions such as social security number, date of birth, and bank account information. In addition to health care scams, the callers approach veterans about updating their information, credit cards or financial services including home loans.

Spoofing

The scam involves using a phone number designed to fool people into believing the call is from the VA. Con artists may use lingo that is related to VA benefits. They may sound like legitimate representatives. They set up phony 1-800 numbers to lure the veteran or family member into thinking that they have reached the VCP. It may contain a message stating that the veteran is eligible for a rebate or other services if the caller supplies a credit card number. The VA will never request financial information over the phone, nor will any other government agency. The real number for the Veterans Choice Program is 866-606-8198.

Callers may also leave a voice message to get you to return the call. A common message: “Your VA profile was flagged for two potential benefits to the changes in the VA program. These are time sensitive entitlements. Please call us back at your earliest convenience.”

If you call the number and it seems suspicious, hang up and verify the number. You can also use a phone app to do a reverse phone search to ensure the number is legitimate. If the call is not legitimate, report it to the VA’s identity theft prevention program, More Than a Number.

Email Scams

Scammers may also use email to get information. They often use official looking logos, seals or letterhead to resemble the real organization they claim to represent. The con artists will try to get you to send money or supply financial information. They will also “phish” for your information. If you receive such an email, you should take down the information, delete the email, and report it to the legitimate organization and to the Federal Trade Commission.

Black Market

Thieves who steal a person’s information may use it for a wide variety of purposes. They may make withdrawals from bank accounts or open credit cards. At worst, they will sell the information on the black market or Dark Web, which means an untold number of people will have access to your information. You should always safeguard that information, but if that happens, there is little that can be done aside from shutting down accounts and opening new ones. Security companies, banks and credit card companies may offer identity theft protection, which is another way to protect yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyberstalking is a Real Threat

Protect yourself from cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is the use of technology to harass or pursue a victim. Stalkers may use social media, phone calls, email and text messages to threaten, intimidate or steal a victim’s information. Cyberstalkers are driven by anger, jealousy, hatred, revenge, infatuation, and obsession. Some suffer from mental illness while others have no clear motive. A cyberstalker can be a stranger but is most likely an ex, schoolmate, co-worker, someone with whom you’ve had an argument, a fan or possible love interest.

Cyberstalkers may cause trouble for their victims. Cyberstalking can include cyberbullying, which often happens between adolescents. Cyberstalking can include actions of a sexual nature.

Stalking Facts

The National Center for Victims of Crime has published a list of stalking facts.

  • Cyberstalkers victimize 7.5 million people in the U.S. each year.
  • 15% of women and 6% of men have been stalked.
  • Most stalkers are known to the victim: 61% of female victims and 44% of male victims are stalked by current or former intimate partners; 25% of female victims and 32% of male victims are stalked by an acquaintance.
  • 50% of victims indicate they were stalked before the age of 25.
  • 1 in 8 stalking victims lose time from work as a result of stalking.
  • 1 in 7 stalking victims move as a result of stalking.
  • 2/3 of stalkers track their victims at least once per week.
  • 78% of stalkers use more than one method of approach.
  • Almost 1/3 of stalkers have stalked before.

Protect Yourself

  • You can take simple precautions to protect yourself from cyberstalking.
  • You should restrict access to your phone, computer, and other devices. Use strong passwords and change them often.
  • Run a search on your name to see what information is available online.
  • Ask friends and family not to post personal information on their social media accounts.
  • Don’t announce travel plans or share where you will be at a certain date and time.
  • Use screen names that are gender neutral.
  • Use anti-virus, spyware and anti-tracking software on all devices.
  • Never open attachments from unknown sources.
  • Don’t give out personal information.
  • Don’t get involved in online arguments.
  • Set up separate email addresses for dating sites and social media accounts.

After the Fact

If you think you have been cyberstalked, act immediately. Call the local authorities.

  • Change email accounts.
  • Take all suspicions and threats seriously.
  • Change your account passwords.
  • Report any illegal activity.
  • End contact with suspected cyberstalkers.
  • Record and block phone numbers or emails used to contact you.
  • Limit information on social media profiles.
  • Reset privacy settings on internet browsers and programs.
  • Delete online accounts if necessary.
  • Inform family and friends of your suspicions.
  • Be aware of any real-life stalking activity, including hang ups and missed calls or strange noises around your home.

Applying for Online Loans

 Online Loans

Everyone needs extra cash from time to time. There are even times when things feel desperate. Applying for online loans might seem like a good idea – a quick fix – but they are often a source of trouble. Loans are offered by everyone from legitimate banks to credit cards to cash advance services. Due diligence and giving out the right information may save you from theft, fraud, or worse.

Red Flags

Red flags can be obvious, but may not be recognized by uneducated consumers. Before applying for a loan, check out the company thoroughly to make sure it’s legitimate. The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start. Research reviews from former and current customers. Check scam websites.

Seven Signs:

  1. The lender doesn’t request credit history. The first thing a reliable lender should ask for is your credit history. Real lenders want to know they are making a calculated risk. Before applying, you should have your credit history in front of you. Credit history is issued through three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. If you aren’t required to give your credit history, it’s a scam. They are interested in collecting high fees from late payments.
  2. The lender isn’t registered. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires registration for all lenders and loan brokers in the state(s) they conduct business. Verify the lender is legally permitted to process your loan.
  3. The lender requires a prepaid debit card. Some sites will require a prepaid card as collateral or insurance. Prepaid cards are untraceable and nonrefundable, so the scammers keep the money free and clear.
  4. The lender approaches you. Legitimate lenders advertise, but you should be suspicious of one that calls or shows up at your door. If you receive such a call do a free phone trace on iPhone to verify the number of the caller.
  5. Their website isn’t secure. If your antivirus or firewall software doesn’t catch it, you can tell a website is secure if it features a padlock symbol next to the URL. Also, a secure site will have an address with https://www… Instead of the typical http://www.
  6. The lender has no address. All banks and loan brokers have a physical address. Use Google Maps to pinpoint their location.
  7. The lender wants immediate action. Don’t give in to limited time offers, even if the lender promises to send the money the next day.

Reporting a Fraud

If you suspect you have been the victim of a fraud or identity theft due to an online loan offer, contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center.

 

Charity Phone Scams

Charity Phone Scams

 

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reputable charities.  They represent worthy causes up and down the spectrum. However, people trying to scam you in the name of charity aren’t in that group. Scammers take the money you give in good faith to use for their own purposes. Be aware that scammers may pose as employees of famous national charities. Be sure that you are really donating to the actual charity and not a false front.

The “Good Guys?”

Scammers aren’t always located in call centers in foreign countries. The might be in your neighborhood exploiting people to make a quick buck. So-called upstanding businesses often use aggressive telemarketing campaigns to collects funds. On the surface, these charities seem to be honest. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that it’s a front. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission filed charges against four cancer charities that collected almost $200 million in donations. The money was used for luxury vacations and their family’s salaries.

Is It a Phone Scam?

Legitimate charities do call potential donors for contributions. Charities are created every day and it is nearly impossible to keep up with the latest giving trend. Likewise, it can be hard to catch on to a false charity asking for money or an organization, although it’s not impossible. Scammers will use fake names and numbers, so you can’t run an iPhone phone number lookup. Take the following steps to avoid falling for a charity phone scam:

1.     Ask questions

Question the caller about the charity’s mission. Ask the representative his or her full name, the charity’s name and address, and how donations will be distributed. Scammers may not be able to answer and hang up.

2.     Ensure the charity is real

Do not donate at the time of the call. Research the charity online to verify its information and credentials. Charities are required by law to be registered with the state; national organizations can be verified through the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. If you have found that the charity is real, you can call back or donate via their website. If you donate, be sure to get a receipt.

3.     Don’t give out personal information

Never give out personal or financial information. Be suspicious if the caller asks you to issue a wire transfer, purchase a pre-loaded debit card or a similar means of payment.

4.     Keep emotions in check

Scammers will often play on your emotions. They will tell sad stories about children, veterans or animals; anything that will get a reaction. They may use guilt to get you to donate. Whenever a caller asks for a certain dollar amount, hang up.

5.     Report suspicious activity

If you think a call is a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission immediately. Also call the local police on their non-emergency line to report it.

How to Handle Phone Scams

iPhone number tracer app

 

Phone scams are prevalent especially since scammers can manufacture phone numbers. Many scammers call from outside the country, making their real numbers suspect. By using Voice over Internet Protocol, scammers can link a new number to a phone, computer, or other electronic device to trick their victims into believing their outrageous claims.

The best way to avoid phone scams is to use a iPhone number tracer app. If the caller has a legitimate reason for calling, he will leave a voicemail. This also applies to telemarketers who circumnavigate the federal Do Not Call list.

Types of Scams

The list of phone scams is seemingly endless with more being invented every day. Fraudsters call regarding anything that might get a response from their victims from Medicare offers to IRS scares to utility company demands for payment. If you are suspicious of a phone call you have received, check it out online before making any financial commitments. Callers demanding payment for taxes, utility bills or mortgage payments are often fraudulent. Call the company directly to make sure the request is valid. Also, be aware that the IRS never calls anyone on the phone; they always send letters in the mail.

Examples:

“Can You Hear Me?” The caller asks you questions to get you to say “yes.” The answer can be altered and used to show agreement to the scam. If you must answer in a positive way, find another word to agree. Following are just a few popular scams:

  • Car Accident. The scammer informs the target that a family member has been in an accident.
  • Kidnapped Relative. The caller demands money for the safe return of a kidnapped family member. The scam is also known as the “Grandparent Scam.”
  • Unpaid Utility Bill. Someone posing as a utility company worker threatens to cut off the utility unless paid immediately.
  • Free offer/lottery winnings. Caller tells the victim that he has won a prize or a free vacation.
  • Government Employee Impersonator. Someone calls claiming to be an employee from the IRS, Social Security office or other agency.
  • Credit Card Services. Caller states he is from your credit card company inquiring about suspicious charges, lower rates or another service. Asks for your social security number or other vital information.
  • Medical Coverage and Benefits. This scam targets seniors more than any other group. Caller scares target into thinking his medical coverage is insufficient.
  • Lower Your Interest Rates. The scammer details how you can save on credit card or loan interest rates.
  • Tech Support. The caller says he is from tech support. He reports a serious computer issue on your system. The “technician” offers to fix the issue for a fee.

Reporting Scammers

Reporting fraudulent calls may seem futile, but it does help to curb the activity. Law enforcement should be notified regarding calls designed to defraud or harm the victim. Take the following steps to report suspicious activity.

Identify the Type of Call You Received

Telemarketer: A telemarketer is anyone that attempts to sell a product or service. To stop the calls, sign up on the Federal Do Not Call Registry. It may not stop the calls, but it will help. Block all unwanted numbers.

Debt Collector: Someone calling to collect a debt should be able to provide you with account information, amount due, contact number, and address. Tell the caller you will return the call at your convenience. If the call is legitimate, contact the collection agency via snail mail, requesting that they stop calling you. Legally, they must obey.

Scammer: Telemarketers must obey the national Do Not Call Registry. This should prevent telemarketers from calling and if you do continue to receive these types of calls you should report them. You only need to sign up one time per phone number.

Report the Call to the Authorities

Once you have determined that the call you received is a scam, report it to the proper authorities. Local law enforcement can warn other citizens since scammers often target specific areas.

  • All Internet-based scams, including romance and tech support scams, should be reported immediately to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, an agency operated by the FBI.
  • Calls from the IRS should be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).
  • Consumer-related phone fraud should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant. Consumer-related scams include free vacation or prize scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams, energy bill scams, loan and credit card scams, tech support scams, fraudulent debt collectors, medical alert scams, fake charities, and telemarketers in violation of the Do Not Call list.
  • Contact the Federal Communications Commission to report telemarketers and fake debt collectors using ID spoofing.

Block the Number

Aside from not answering calls from unknown numbers, you can block a phone number with the press of a button. Scammers use many phone numbers but placing a block will reduce the number of calls you receive.

Avoiding Identity Theft

Avoiding identity theft is becoming more difficult every day. Thieves target much more than credit cards these days; they may steal social security numbers, driver’s licenses, passports, green cards, visas, addresses, tax returns, phone numbers, and more. It might seem nearly impossible to avoid identity theft altogether, but there are some measures you can take to protect yourself from crime.

Watch out for online scams

Guard Your Phone

Most of us have become thoroughly attached to our phones. So much so that the majority of our personal information is stored inside. While it is certainly convenient, it can also be a nightmare if your phone is lost or stolen. To protect yourself and your information, password protect your phone with a code, fingerprint or facial recognition software. There are a plethora of apps on the market that will help you to block calls on your iPhone and potential thieves. Additionally, store the information in a place an identity thief may not think to look such as a document titled, “family recipes” or “medication schedule.”

Password Protection

Most websites offer password protection, often including several layers of security. Features may include multiple secret questions, pin numbers, or secondary verification through email or text. While those are helpful features, they won’t prevent an identity thief from pulling that information from your computer if it’s not protected as well.

Identity Theft Monitors

As identity theft grows, so do the number of companies that offer protection. Information can be obtained in many ways, including a breach of credit bureaus, credit card or utility companies. You may not know for months if your information has been stolen. While companies typically assist in fixing the problem, it can take years to get things back to normal.

If you’re going to invest in a monitoring company, do your research to find the one that best fits your needs.

Limit Card Use

Using a card instead of cash has its benefits. It eliminates the need to carry cash or checks and, in some cases, it’s much faster to get service. It is also easy to track expenses. However, thieves are always developing new ways to steal your information and use it for gain. Try to limit your card use when shopping in grocery stores and gas stations where it’s easy for someone to peer over your shoulder and get your information. They often employ tools like gadgets that can swipe your info at gas pumps or as you pass by, completely unaware of what is happening. You can also get theft prevention wallets that will block electronic scanning of your cards.

Shred Documents

It might seem simple but shredding your documents is an effective way to deter theft. You might reserve the shredder for financial documents when, in fact, identity theft can occur with less sensitive items such as phone bills, magazine labels, and junk mail. If something has your name and address on it, be safe and shred the item. If you have a large amount of material, use a commercial shredding company or burn it.