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Security & privacy

Government-related scams never end – Here are 2 new ones to watch for

Scammers often spoof retailers or tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft to trick you out of your money. But now and again, cybercriminals pretend to be government officials or agencies. Tap or click here for another phony IRS email that is making the rounds.

The latest version of an impersonation scam is victims supposedly receiving correspondence from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It’s become such a problem that the SEC has issued a warning detailing the dangers of the fraud.

And as the holiday season is underway, several traveling scams have also seen a resurgence. Read on for how to travel safely this holiday and not fall victim to scams.

Here’s the backstory

In many cases, potential victims receive phone calls, voicemails, emails or even snail mail claiming to be from the SEC about unauthorized or suspicious transactions with their checking or crypto accounts.

These scams usually try to get the victims to hand over valuable information to verify their accounts or cancel suspicious transactions.

How to handle an SEC impersonation scam

In its warning to the public, the SEC confirmed that it would never initiate unsolicited communications, including phone calls or emails asking for payment related to enforcement actions, offering to confirm trades or asking for personal and financial information.

The SEC warns everyone to be skeptical if someone contacts you claiming to be from the agency. The scammers could ask for your account numbers, PIN codes, passwords or other sensitive information that may be used to access your financial accounts.

Never give out this information to someone claiming to be from the SEC until you verify the person works for the SEC. Here’s how to verify you’re speaking to someone from the SEC:

Use the SEC’s personnel locator at (202) 551-6000 to reach the staff member directly and ask the person if the communication was from them. Or call (800) SEC-0330 or email help@SEC.gov to check if the communication is from the SEC.

If you think you’ve been contacted by someone impersonating the SEC, submit a complaint at www.sec.gov/oig to the SEC’s Office of Inspector General.

TSA PreCheck scam

In another government impersonation scam gaining traction, fake TSA PreCheck websites have been charging people exorbitant amounts for nothing in return. TSA PreCheck is an enrollment program that allows airline passengers to move through security checkpoints faster than others.

You must apply in advance and have an in-person meeting with a TSA official. According to the TSA, once you’re approved, there’s no need to remove shoes, belts, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops or light jackets when going through airport security. PreCheck speeds up the process.

Unfortunately, scammers are now targeting those looking to enroll in PreCheck. Fake TSA PreCheck websites claim to offer enrollment with all the added benefits but charge people up to $140. The regular enrollment fee is $70 every five years.

Another twist on the scam comes in the form of a phishing email. Thieves are sending spoofed emails to those already enrolled in TSA PreCheck, claiming their membership is about to expire. They include a link in the email that is to be used to renew.

Of course, that link is malicious and leads to a spoofed site. If you pay the renewal fee, you’re handing money over to thieves and you won’t get your PreCheck membership renewed.

What you can do about it

It can be easy to be duped into using a fake website, and scammers try their best to convince you it is the real deal. But there are some things that you can do or look out for that will protect your data and money.

  • Be careful with unsolicited messages. If you get an email claiming it’s time to renew your TSA PreCheck, don’t click the link. Instead, go to the official website here and check your status.
  • Always check that the URL you are using is the legitimate address. Especially with websites where you must pay a fee, make sure that it is a secure connection.
  • You might pay a bit extra, but always try to use the official website for a service. In the case of the TSA PreCheck, go through the official website.

Keep reading

Think you know all the government impersonator scams? Watch for this scary twist

Fake government sites are impersonating real ones – Here’s how to spot them

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