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Security & privacy

8 biggest scams you need to watch out for

The state of scamming in the digital world paints a grim picture. There’s no better word. In 2020, the FTC received over 2.1 million fraud reports. Imposter scams are the most common type of fraud the agency heard about.

That’s because scammers gleefully impersonate companies, government officials and even coworkers you know. Phishing scams have skyrocketed since the pandemic, and it looks like they’re not slowing down any time soon. Tap or click here for seven essential privacy tools to stay protected online.

You’ll need to take preliminary measures to stay safe, or you could lose a ton of cash. The FTC says consumers reported losing over $3.3 billion to fraud last year. We’ll tell you about the biggest scams out there so you can stay protected (some of these are scarily easy to fall for).

1. COVID-19 scams

Let’s take a moment to remember the old saying that goes, “In life, only two things are certain: death and taxes.” We should switch that to three and add another certainty. The third is that no matter what catastrophe life throws our way, scammers will always try to trick others out of their money.

Exhibit A: COVID-19. When the first news reports trickled stories about a faraway disease spreading like wildfire, bad actors readied for a fruitful year of thievery. They’ve been brewing up new cons to capitalize on the chaos ever since.

For starters, scammers set up fake websites promising miracle cures. They even touted treatments and vaccines that would help worried people. (Even now, if you see a site claiming to sell COVID-19 treatments, run. There’s no miracle cure that can make you feel 100% better in a snap of your fingers.)

Even more insidious were the fake research trials to steal money from victims

Scammers promised to pay $1,000 to anyone who joined research trials. They banked on people’s desire to help fight the disease, basically turning altruism into cash flow. Tap or click here to see how to spot these fake trials.

Who can forget the government impersonators? Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General put out a dire warning. You need to watch out for telemarketing calls, messages through text or social media and even visits to your front door.

They’re great at convincing you to let them in. | Photo 4643989 © Edward J Bock 111 | Dreamstime.com

That’s right — scammers are getting so bold they’ll literally lie to your face. Basically, they’ll offer HHS grants, Medicare prescription cards and COVID-19 tests. But these don’t come for free. (Of course not.) In return, they ask for personal details, like your Medicare information.

You also need to watch out for:

  • Malicious apps that masquerade as legitimate contact tracing apps
  • Online scams
  • Mail fraud
  • Charity scams
  • Claims that you need to pay a fee to get the vaccine (You don’t need to pay at all)

It’s sad but true. COVID scams aren’t going away. Tap or click here for the newest schemes that turn the pandemic into a money-pandering attack.

2. Scams specifically targeting older Americans

We talked a bit about Medicare scams earlier, but that’s not all. Here are a few other tricks to watch out for.

Social Security scams

You answer a call. The person on the other line claims they’re from Social Security or another government agency. “There’s a problem with your Social Security account,” they say with confidence. “You need to pay a fine.” They’ll demand you pay in one of these ways:

  • Wire transfers
  • Mailing cash
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Retail gift cards
  • Pre-paid debit cards

It sounds fishy, but you check the caller ID, texts or documents they send through email. It all looks so official, you slowly start to let the stranger convince you they’re legitimate. Don’t fall for it.

Scammers are excellent at impersonating government employees. Tap or click here to recognize and report Social Security scams.

Grandparent scam

A new type of trick is harassing seniors across the country. Criminals will call up a grandparent, impersonating their grandchild. They’ll say they need cash for traffic tickets, bail or other expenses.

Then, your “grandchild” will insist someone else comes to pick up the money on their behalf. Next thing you know, a stranger’s knocking on your door with an open hand, demanding cash. Tap or click here to protect your family from this nasty scam.

Romance scam

It’s been a good year to play Cupid. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe how much cash scammers made by manipulating people’s hearts. The FTC breaks down the shocking data:

  • People lost $304 million to romance scams in 2020
  • That’s about a 50% increase from 2019
  • People lost a median of $2,500

Clearly, breaking hearts makes for good business. Tap or click here for the inside scoop on romance scams and other clever tactics fooling older people out of their money. (Could they fool you, too? Some of them are surprisingly convincing.)

3. Investment scams

Want to plan for your future? You’re in good company. According to the Motley Fool, the average stock market return was 13.9% annually from 2011 through 2020. (Well, for the S&P 500 Index, that is.)

Put simply, that means a ton of people are getting good returns on their investments. If you find that inspiring, you may be on the hunt for exciting new investment opportunities.

Most of us work for our money. Investing makes our money work for us. | Photo 128422688 © Kaspars Grinvalds | Dreamstime.com

Just watch out for these three tricks fooling would-be investors out of money.

(Oh, and don’t fall for any big crypto scams, either. Now that Elon Musk, Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Robinhood and all those other big names are swirling around news headlines, tons of people are diving off the deep end. But you need to do your research — or else you might fall for these 170 cryptocurrency app scams.)

4. Tech support scams

The new scams that emerged during the pandemic made criminal creativity crystal clear. Although they’re great at thinking on their feet, many others rely on “old faithful” techniques. You know: the tried-and-true tricks people fall for again and again.

Of course, we’re talking about tech support scams. For example, say you get an email, text or pop-up claiming there’s a virus on your computer. That probably shoots a bolt of fear through your body. Just like that, you’re put on the defense, looking for a solution.

That’s where the scammer swoops in. Basically, they manufacture an imaginary computer problem to sell you tech support services you don’t even need. They’ll demand you pay through hard-to-track methods like wiring money, using a money transfer app or putting money on a card.

If you get a scary pop-up claiming your computer is broken, chances are the contact number at the bottom sends you straight to a scammer. (And remember, these cybercriminals will set up whole call centers with scripts specifically tailored to trick you out of your money. Scamming is no one-man job; it’s often a coordinated effort between hordes of unscrupulous people.)

Or maybe the scammers call you directly. Some will pretend to be representatives of a tech company, Microsoft says. Don’t fall for it.

Overall, you should watch out for phone calls, pop-ups and online ads or listings trying to sell you on tech support services you don’t need. Remember that legitimate companies won’t text, call or email you about computer problems. Plus, real pop-up warnings won’t ask you to call a phone number.

That’s not all you need to look out for, though. Tap or click for a dive into seven tech support scams you should prepare for.

5. Travel scams

It looks like 2021 will be a good year for travel. For one, 74% of travelers plan to spend extra time choosing a special destination this year, TripAdvisor says. After being cooped up for so long, many people want to see more of the world and celebrate their vacation time.

When you’re planning your itinerary, add “research travel scams” to your list. | Photo 107284096 © Prudencio Alvarez | Dreamstime.com

As you can imagine, scammers are hopping on the trend. If you are planning your next trip, watch out for these five travel scams that have gone viral.

6. Delivery scams

Package delivery scams hit countless Americans last year — and the trend’s persisting well into 2021. Not only do we have to deal with porch pirates, but we also are seeing scammy texts and calls notifying us of deliveries. Here are some tips from the FTC on identifying and avoiding delivery scams.

Here’s a concrete example of a recent scam. Crooks are sending out emails “from Walmart” claiming your package wasn’t delivered. The cause? An incorrect address.

Don’t take the bait! We’ll show you how to spot this scam and others like it. We’ll also give you tips to protect yourself from these phishing tactics. Tap or click here for the full story.

7. Phishing emails and texts impersonating companies

Speaking of phishing, Walmart isn’t the only company scammers are dressing up as. For starters, Netflix and Amazon employees are pretty popular for impersonation schemes.

Scammers will find an employee at one of these companies, pose as them and then target customers or employees. Oftentimes, they’ll send a link with a message asking the receiver to click on it. If you do, you might download malware to your computer. (Sometimes it’s even ransomware that can take down our entire company.)

Get this: The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said that in one year, people lost $57 million to phishing schemes.

If you’re wondering why phishing attacks are so popular, it’s because they’re easy and straightforward to pull off. All it takes is one person making the mistake of opening your malicious email and presto — you have full access to their messages, contacts and personal data.

8. Fake job opportunities

When you’re job hunting online, scams are the last thing on your mind. You’re probably full of hope for the future. That makes you especially susceptible to tricks, unfortunately. You could even become a victim of identity theft.

According to the FTC, Americans reported 70% more job scams in the first quarter of 2020 than in all of 2019. Fresh college graduates lost thousands of bucks.

We found two scammy stories you won’t believe. Tap or click here to find out what happened — and get tips for spotting fake job posts.

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