Tag Archives: scams

How to Avoid Summer Scams

As the weather gets warmer, mosquitos and ticks re-enter our lives, and along with them comes their larger cousin, the scam artist. There are ways to prepare for those seasonal meal stealers. The same goes for scams, as knowledge is the best repellent.

Either way, some scams never seem to get old, as evidenced by the huge number of people that continue to fall for them no matter how many warnings we issue. There are always new variations that snare even the wariest consumers.Ticks and mosquitos aren’t harmless—they are well-known vectors for serious illnesses. Scam artists also are vectors for a plague that affects millions of people each year: identity theft. But sometimes a scam is of the simpler smash-and-grab variety.

With that, I give you this summer’s smorgasbord of scams.

1. The summer rental scam

It’s not the easiest thing to find a summer rental that has all the right elements: a reasonable distance from the beach, the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms, a pets welcome policy. So, when you do find the right one, the tendency for most people is to pounce. Don’t be most people. If you get scammed on a rental, you’re not going to know till you show up at the front door and a puzzled person peers back at you.

The best thing you can do is visit the property in question beforehand. If you are working with a real estate agent, ask for his or her license number and check it, request references if there are no reviews online, and confirm that the address is real and the premises are truly available for rent.

See also: Be on the Lookout for Tax Scams  

2. Summer job as credit application

It is sadly a common occurrence that when kids are offered a “job,” they provide their information for tax purposes, including their Social Security number, and then never hear back. The reason: The only “job” was a robbery. Their identity is stolen, and because kids will be kids, it often takes a long time for them to realize the jerk who flaked on a summer job offer gutted their creditworthiness. (Here are four ways identity theft can impact your credit.)

Never provide sensitive personal information to a job site or anyone claiming to offer a job at the start of the process. Before you show up for an interview, make sure the job is legit: You can figure this out by doing an online search or making a few phone calls.

3. Door-knocker scams

Summer is the time for door-knocking scams. Sometimes the knocker wants you to help save an endangered species or an embattled population far away, sometimes they are selling a lawn service, home maintenance or sustainably produced electricity—all these causes, services and products may be legitimate, but the person offering them … not so much.

If a stranger comes to your door, your level of suspicion should be high from a personal and digital security perspective. If you like what a knocker has to say, tell them that you will go online to help their cause or buy a product, and send them on their way.

4. Wi-Fi scams

This is a year-round thing, but people still get got all the time by phony Wi-Fi scams, and the problem is only getting worse now that more municipalities are offering free access to the internet. The problem is that free Wi-Fi doesn’t guarantee secure Wi-Fi.

Always check with the network provider or someone of authority before logging on to any new wireless connection. Use a VPN, or virtual private network, to conduct any transactions that involve sensitive information.

5. Front desk, fake menu scams

Hotel scams are many and various, and it’s best just to remember that you are a target whenever you are traveling, but there are two scams that are sufficiently common. The first is the front desk scam, which is pretty simple.

You check in late, you’re tired and your phone rings. The scammer doesn’t know when you checked in. He or she is calling random rooms. You are told there is a problem with your credit card. Can you please confirm the number? The second scam to look out for is the menu scam. Scammers produce fake ones, and then steal your credit card information when you call to place an order.

If you get a call from the front desk, hang up and call back or go in person to confirm your payment method. Use your smartphone to order food or call the front desk for suggestions.

6. Moving scams

Summertime is moving time. Just make sure your relocation isn’t a moving experience of the hair-pulling kind. While there are many great services out there, there also are some fraudulent ones that could wind up costing you big time.

With online services like Task Rabbit and Angie’s List to name but two, there are ways to choose a moving service that suits your needs and provides reviews. Just make sure you check out their reputation online before they show up at your door.

You may have identity theft repellent

If you think you might have been a victim of identity theft, it’s important to monitor your credit for anything out of the ordinary—primarily accounts and delinquencies you don’t recognize. You can get a copy of each of your three major credit reports for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com and you can use a free tool like Credit.com’s credit report card to check for signs of identity theft every month.

It’s also a good idea to check with your insurance agent, bank, credit union or the HR department where you work. It is increasingly more common as a perk of your relationship with the institution to be offered free access to a program that provides education, proactive assistance and damage control if you become a victim of identity theft.

See also: Are Scams Killing Direct Marketing?  

If it’s not free, you may be able to get it at a minimal cost. (Full disclosure: CyberScout, a company I founded in 2003, provides these services to institutional clients, and they in turn offer the service to their clients, customers, members or employees.)

This post originally appeared on ThirdCertainty.

Full disclosure: CyberScout sponsors ThirdCertainty. This story originated as an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Are Scams Killing Direct Marketing?

We are facing an epidemic that is only going to get worse – the scourge of cyber and telephone-based scams against individuals and businesses. Scammers are becoming so sophisticated that it is difficult for even the most educated and tech-savvy individuals to avoid being conned. It is actually difficult to find someone who has not fallen for some kind of scheme that resulted in stolen money or a stolen identity.

These highly sophisticated and organized criminals are now able to assemble substantial information about an individual, their relationships with others, the products they own and the businesses they interact with. This allows scammers to create credible, convincing stories and interactions that instill confidence or fear, causing people to give out sensitive personal information, credit card information or other financial details. Some of these schemes are so involved that they span days or weeks and result in individuals wiring significant amounts of money to these villains. Other plots are based on ransomware that extorts money in exchange for the release of locked up digital information.

See also: Most Firms Still Lack a Cyber Strategy  

The result of this barrage of attacks – especially against individuals – is that many people are just shutting down. You’ve probably seen the advice in recent articles that you should hang up immediately when the caller is not recognized, because criminals are now enticing the person to say “yes,” recording their voice, then using that recording as consent to conduct illegal financial transactions. In addition, phishing scams are becoming more and more realistic, so it is not as easy as it once was to spot a fake request. SMS texting-based scams are on the rise, so individuals are becoming cautious about responding to what they receive via those modes. The bottom line: More and more people are unwilling to take an inbound call, answer an unknown email or communicate with someone on social media who asks for information.

Add to this the fact that millennials are notorious for avoiding actual “live” phone conversations, and you have a serious problem for any company trying to do outbound marketing of any sort. Sure, the direct mail will still fill up the mailbox, but virtually anything communicated electronically is now suspect.

Quite a few people I know (including myself), are taking the strategy that the only time they will buy something, renew a subscription, donate to a charitable cause or provide any personal information is when they initiate the interaction.

This has some serious implications for the insurance industry – both negative and positive. The contact center operations with predictive dialers and other advanced technologies are used extensively by many insurers, especially the Tier 1 companies. And these outbound calls are not just for marketing and prospecting, but also for existing policyholders for insurance-to-value assessments, customer satisfaction surveys and other activities. Emails are also prevalent among insurers for prospecting and for communicating with policyholders and members. Insurers, as well as companies in other industries, may face more and more resistance to these approaches over time.

If there is any silver lining in this, it comes from the enormous societal need for advice on preventing and dodging these scams and for indemnification against these types of attacks. Insurers have the opportunity, and perhaps the obligation, to determine the industry role in this area. Cyber liability coverage could be expanded significantly across all lines of business. Loss-control engineering should increasingly include expertise in these areas to help customers. Insurers should promote legislation, encourage technology solutions and find other ways to thwart this increasing threat.

See also: Cyber Insurance: Coming of Age in ’17?  

It may sound like hyperbole to say that direct marketing is headed for a crash, but preemptive actions by insurers, other industries and governments need to kick into overdrive if this problem is to be solved … not just for the sake of marketing but for the protection of the customer, as well.

Health Insurance Exchange Scam Alert: Beware of Fake Websites

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has growing concerns regarding the potential for new scams concerning the implementation of the Health Insurance Exchange (HIE) websites as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). These exchanges are currently online with enrollment due to start on October 1st.

According to the Act, each state must implement insurance exchanges. These exchanges are to serve as online marketplaces (websites) for consumers to compare rates and make choices about which health insurance coverage is best for them. Each state has the ability to determine the best way to manage these exchanges in order to meet the needs of their uninsured residents.

The open enrollment period for these exchanges begins on October 1, 2013. There have already been some predictions that there will be “bugs and glitches,” to quote President Obama, during this process. IT professionals are already voicing concerns regarding the ability to handle the amount of traffic anticipated on the first day of the rollout. However, no one is talking about ensuring that consumers actually know and understand where to go in the first place.

There is huge potential for misinformation and misunderstanding with this new insurance exchange program. Consumers will now be mandated (or face a penalty come tax time) to purchase health insurance if they don’t have existing coverage. The official website, www.healthcare.gov will be used by the majority of the states. But 17 states have opted to manage their own unique exchange with a different URL. This has the potential to cause much confusion for consumers. While it may appear that this information would easily be located via an internet search, our experience was that the official website was not easy to locate. In fact, when we searched for “health insurance exchange official websites” (rather than “website”) the websites for the 17 states that have their own unique URLs appeared, but www.healthcare.gov did not appear on the first page.

From our experience with scams and fake websites, we believe it would be extremely easy for scammers to create multiple websites that will trick consumers into thinking that it is either the federal health exchange website or one of the alternative state websites. Without known and reliable sources, there exists a great opportunity for gaming of the Internet search engines to attract consumers to websites intent on harming them by eliciting the fraudulent collection of personal identifying information (PII). There is a need to present factual information about which websites represent the accredited websites for the new insurance exchanges.

While there is a comprehensive list of insurance exchange websites on www.healthcare.gov, we are concerned that consumers may not find their way there in the first place. Already our searches indicate that there are organizations using keywords such as “Obamacare” and “Health insurance exchange” in the paid advertising section that are not the official insurance exchange websites. While these websites may not be scams, our concern is that it will only be a matter of time before imposter websites intent on real consumer harm surface.

This concern has a historical basis. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax) to provide consumers with one free credit report annually. Confusion still exists between www.annualcreditreport.com, which is the court-mandated website hosted by the credit reporting agencies that actually provides annual free credit reports to consumers, and other websites that offer free credit reports or free credit scores such as www.freecreditreport.com, hosted by one of the credit reporting agencies. Soon after the creation of the original mandated website, dozens of look-alike websites were created. Consumer protection organizations, including the Federal Trade Commission, continue to educate consumers about this to this day (Consumer Information: Free Credit Reports) even though the mandated free website was launched in December 2004.

With the operational launch of these new insurance exchanges just a few short months away, consumers will be scrambling to comply before the January 1st, 2014 deadline. We already stated that we expect consumers to use search engines to locate the particular website they are supposed to use, and that the searches are inconsistent. With that knowledge, will regulators put provisions in place to identify, deter, monitor and address imposter websites? Or do they presume that the existing regulatory or enforcement provisions will deter those who create malicious fake websites intended to capture the personally identifiable information of consumers? Information provided to a fake insurance exchange website could be used to commit identity theft and other frauds.

There will be two types of imposter websites that will require redress. Not all imposter websites are created equal. There are differing levels of harm depending upon the type of imposter website consumers discover. There are legitimate businesses cutting corners and engaging in misleading tactics to secure new business and there are outright scam websites, whose intention is to secure personally identifiable information for malicious use.

Phishing and smishing could eventually come into play.

In 2012 “Imposter Scams” ranked 6th (out of 30) in the list of most complained about fraud events according to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Report. The 82,896 complaints represented 4% of the total complaints received by the FTC.

This category is defined by the FTC as “complaints about scammers claiming to be family, friends, a romantic interest, companies, or government agencies to induce people to send money or divulge personal information.” Complaints included the following: Scammers posing as friends or relatives stranded in foreign countries without money, scammers claiming to be working for or affiliated with government agencies, and scammers claiming to be affiliated with a private entity (a charity or company).

By far, the largest subtype of scam was regarding government agency imposters, with over 43,000 of the total in that category. Previous years’ statistics indicate that year over year, government imposters were the most complained about subtype: 47,454 in 2011 and 49,321 in 2010.

This demonstrates that the scammers continue to find impersonating the government to be a lucrative enterprise. Since this is a new program, even those consumers who normally know not to click on strange links in emails or respond to unknown senders of text messages, may feel compelled to respond and potentially share their personally identifiable information via these means. Why should we believe that the health care exchanges will be immune to this kind of impersonation?

If past behavior is an indicator, we can be sure that there will be financial harm to at least some of these victims.

The Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) 2011 report states that it received approximately 39 complaints per day regarding FBI impersonation email scams. IC3 presented a total loss for this type of impersonation scam (via phishing emails) as over $3 million dollars. This number is just for the complaints that the IC3 received and does not take into account all the unreported losses.

A fundamental part of the Identity Theft Resource Center’s mission is to serve as a relevant national resource on topics such as this. In an effort to provide consumers with the important information they need about potential insurance exchange scams, the Identity Theft Resource Center has developed a scam alert and posted additional information on its website to help educate consumers.

The Identity Theft Resource Center is hopeful that there will be strong and coordinated efforts to educate consumers as to the authentic websites for these exchanges. As they differ from state to state, universal messaging will be difficult to coordinate. Of course, there will be glitches, and as with any new process, we will only discover what these are when the actual user experience is reviewed. However, these efforts need to take place now.