February 28 – March 6 is National Consumer Protection Week
We all hear the stories… the person who lost their life savings because they received an email about an inheritance, or thought they met the love of their life, only to find out that they had been scammed. Thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, money lost to fraud in the United States nearly doubled last year, up from $1.8 billion in 2019. During 2020 alone, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recorded over 2.2 million reports of fraud, with estimated losses of nearly $3.3 billion. $1.2 billion was lost to imposter scams, online shopping scams ate up $246 million, and romance scams increased to $304 million.
In order to help protect yourself and your loved ones, we would like to introduce you to five of the most common scams. We will also provide information on how to avoid them and resources to help you in the event that you or someone you know end up on the wrong end of a scam:
- Romance Scams: With more people than ever turning to online dating, dating apps and sites are rife with scammers. A scammer will confess love for you quickly, showering you with attention and claiming to have had similar life experiences (death of a loved one, divorce due to infidelity). They will then try to lure you off the official dating site to another messaging app, like WhatsApp, Kik, or Google Hangouts. They may begin to communicate by email or call frequently. At some point, they will ask you to send money (usually for transportation to visit you or a medical emergency), or ask you to accept money on their behalf (frequently claiming an inheritance or lawsuit settlement). If either of these things happen, run! Report them to the site administrators and then to the FTC. Read more about these types of scams and what to look for on the FTC’s website .
- Covid-19 Vaccine Scams: Yes, really. Scammers will take advantage of a worldwide crisis in order steal your money. You cannot pay for the Covid-19 vaccine or to get on a list to get it early. It is not available for purchase, so if you receive an offer to purchase it, even if it looks like it came from your pharmacy, it is a scam. Read more about this type of fraud on the FTC’s website.
- Work-From-Home or Training Scams: Have you received an email offering to pay you for advertising on your vehicle, or to work from home? Congratulations, you have received a scam email! Work-from-home scams promise that you can make lots of money for little to no work, and frequently offer an up-front advance to purchase supplies. They may also offer fake training programs, promising you a better life or job once you complete an expensive online course. Learn how to navigate the myriad of false promises of a better life here. Remember, if someone offers to send you money then instructs you to send that money somewhere else, it’s a scam!
- Utility Scams: Fraudsters are scaring folks into thinking their utility provider will shut them off unless demands for money are met! If you are behind on your bill and you receive a call, text, or email, hang up and call the direct number from an old bill or local listing for the provider. Never give out credit/debit card numbers, utility account numbers, or personal information to someone who contacts you. Click here to read what the FTC has to say about this new type of fraud.
- Insurance Scams: With job loss often comes loss of health insurance, and a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act plans at Healthcare.gov has opened. Unfortunately, scammers know this, too. Their latest ruse is to try to trick those who need insurance out of their personal information and money by posing as someone who will help you with enrollment. No one from the government will ever contact you asking for your social security number for any reason. Those tasked with helping enroll people in the Affordable Care Act are not allowed to accept payment for their services. To find out more about this form of fraud, visit the FTC here.
Now that you know what to look for, you can avoid falling victim to a scammer. If you receive a phone call, text message, email, or message on a dating site that seems too good to be true, ask yourself the following questions before you respond:
- Was I expecting this correspondence? Even if it comes from a known sender, it could still be a scammer. If the email, text, or social media message seems out of context or odd, call your friend or business relationship directly at their published number, or a number you have previously used, to verify that the communication is from them. If your contact’s email or social media account was hacked, you could be saving them, as well!
- Does the correspondence cause me to panic? Chances are that if what you are reading or hearing is causing you alarm, it is a scam. Scammers use threats hoping to coerce you into doing what they want. They will make the threat seem urgent- if you do not act right now your livelihood, accounts, or social standing might all be at risk. Remember that your bank, credit card company, the IRS, or Social Security Administration will never contact you via email, text, or phone to ask you for your personal information. If you receive a call asking for your bank account number, social security number, or password for ANY reason, hang up and contact the company or agency directly. Unless you initiate contact, never give out personal information.
- Is there a sense of urgency? Scammers love to make you think you must act now or it will be too late. They do not want you to take the time to think through their offer or threat. If it is legitimate, then it can wait until you have all the facts to make an unemotional, informed decision.
- Does it seem too good to be true? If so, chances are that it is. You will never win a lottery you did not enter, a relative you have never heard from leaving you a fortune only happens in movies, and a legitimate interest on a dating site should never ask you for money or gift cards!
If you suspect a scam, do not be embarrassed – remember that there were 2.2 million reports of scams last year, and that you are not alone. Contact your bank right away for help, and report the scam at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/. Your report can help law enforcement stop these fraudsters from harming others. There are also steps on the FTC’s site you can take if you suspect you are a victim of fraud.
Thanks for reading, stay safe, and contact your local branch if you have questions about potential scams.
Your Opportunity Bank of Montana Fraud Team