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Don't Be Scammed

Phishing, Vishing, Smishing & Catfishing Scams

Phishing is any attempt to obtain sensitive information, such as passwords, usernames, personal details, account numbers, etc., for fraudulent purposes. Phishers may solicit information via email, phone (vishing, short for voice phishing), or text message (smishing). 

Scammers may try to use you to move stolen money. If you help them, you could be what law enforcement calls a money mule. You may be asked by email to click on a link to claim a prize, verify an account, or deal with a “security breach.” Someone may call you, claiming to be from your bank or credit card company. They may ask for personal details or request that you create a new pin or password. You may receive a text with a “special offer” or a “cool link.” All of these are examples of phishing. 

Catfishing is when the criminal creates a fake online profile or persona and establishes a relationship with the victim. Once they have the victim’s trust, they press for personal information that they intend to use for criminal purposes.
Never open an email from an unknown party or click on a link in a social media message from a sender you don’t recognize. These are the two most obvious ways to avoid a phishing scam. Phishing attempts may be more covert than this. Here are some frequent scams to look out for.
The fbi.gov  website warns that fraudsters are taking advantage of the uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, access your personal and financial information, and use you as a money mule. We have recently seen local examples of this type of scam surrounding the PPP loans and other claims filed using people's identity. 

When criminals obtain money illegally, they have to find a way to move and hide the illicit funds. They scam other people, known as money mules, into moving this illicit money for them either through funds transfers, physical movement of cash, or through various other methods. Money mules are often targeted through online job schemes or dating websites and apps.

Acting as a money mule—allowing others to use your bank account, or conducting financial transactions on behalf of others—not only jeopardizes your financial security and compromises your personally identifiable information, but is also a crime.

Protect yourself by refusing to send or receive money on behalf of individuals and businesses for which you are not personally and professionally responsible. The FBI advises you to be on the lookout for the following:

Individuals claiming to be located overseas asking you to send or receive money on their behalf
 
Watch out for emails, private messages, and phone calls from individuals you do not know who claim to be located abroad and in need of your financial support. Criminals are trying to gain access to U.S. bank accounts in order to move fraud proceeds from you and other victims to their bank accounts. Common fictitious scenarios include:
  • Individuals claiming to be U.S. service members stationed overseas asking you to send or receive money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling COVID-19 
  • Individuals claiming to be U.S. citizens working abroad asking you to send or receive money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling COVID-19 
  • Individuals claiming to be U.S. citizens quarantined abroad asking you to send or receive money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling COVID-19 
  • Individuals claiming to be in the medical equipment business asking you to send or receive money on their behalf 
    Individuals affiliated with a charitable organization asking you to send or receive money on their behalf 
Criminals are good at making up reasons to help them move money. Don’t do it. The money may be from other people they scammed. You may be helping criminals hurt people just like you.

If you think you might be involved in a money mule or money transfer scam, stop transferring money. Notify your bank, the wire transfer service, or any gift card companies involved. 

People may be embarrassed or afraid to talk about their experiences, but you can help. A simple phone call, email or text, saying “Look what I just found” may make a difference in someone’s life.

Watch out for online job postings and emails from individuals promising you easy money for little to no effort. Common red flags that you may be acting as a money mule include:
  • The “employer” you communicate with uses web-based services such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, Outlook, etc. 
  • You are asked to receive funds in your personal bank account and then “process” or “transfer” funds via wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service businesses, such as Western Union or MoneyGram 
  • You are asked to open bank accounts in your name for a business
  • You are told to keep a portion of the money you transfer
Criminals are good at making up reasons to help them move money. Don’t do it. The money may be from other people they scammed. You may be helping criminals hurt people just like you.

If you think you might be involved in a money mule or money transfer scam, stop transferring money. Notify your bank, the wire transfer service, or any gift card companies involved. 

People may be embarrassed or afraid to talk about their experiences, but you can help. A simple phone call, email or text, saying “Look what I just found” may make a difference in someone’s life.

At PCH the winning is always free and you NEVER have to pay to claim a prize. Recognizing the difference between legitimate sweepstakes and other types of offers that may not be legitimate will help you protect yourself and your family.

If someone contacts you claiming to be from PCH, and tells you that you’ve won a prize– then asks you to send a payment or money card in order to claim the prize – STOP! You have not heard from the real PCH.

Learn more about the PCH scams at https://info.pch.com/fraud-protection-2/

IRS scams are an increasingly common threat. A caller says they are with the IRS and threatens some sort of “consequence” if you don’t pay overdue taxes immediately. They will ask you to pay via gift card, preloaded credit card, or wire transfer.

The real IRS will never threaten you over the phone with arrest or deportation, and it cannot revoke your driver’s license. Anyone making these threats is a phony. The IRS notifies taxpayers of monies owed via mail. They may come to your door or business unannounced to collect a debt, but they will not ask you to address payment to anyone other than the U.S. Treasury. These scams happen often enough that the IRS offers a guide to help you know if you’re being contacted by a real IRS representative or a fake.

Quizzes and games spread like wildfire on social media, such as Facebook. If these quizzes ask for personal information, like your pet’s name, the street where you first lived, your mother’s maiden name, or where your parents met, they may be a scam. Fraudsters use the guise of “discover your superhero/rockstar/etc. name” to collect information they can use to hack into your accounts.

If you receive a text, email, or social media notification saying you’ve won a trip, prize, or lottery that you don’t remember signing up for, don’t click any links or give out information. Often scammers will ask for bank account information to collect “taxes” on your winnings. U.S. law doesn’t allow the purchase of international lottery tickets, so if someone claims you won a lottery in another country, it is a scam.

Be wary of ads for websites that sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies or fake apps selling cryptocoins through legitimate venues, such as Google Play or the App Store. Look out for ponzi schemes and other crypto-scams.

All over the Internet, there are shadow websites set up to resemble legitimate businesses selling crypto coins and other goods. These websites are designed to trick you into giving up personal information. Stay away from brand new crypto exchanges and always google a company or website to cross-reference and compare logos.

Be wary of bad grammar and misspellings on “professional” sites, and don’t go through email links to retrieve an offer. If you get an email saying a product is on sale, search to find the company’s website. Click on the deal through a browser link rather than going through a link sent directly to you. Take this extra step, even if the email seems to be from a site you trust and where you shop often.
Be careful when signing up for subscription-based products. Search for online product reviews, and keep a close eye on your bank account. Scam subscriptions exist. Victims sign up and have funds deducted each month for products or services that never materialize.
If a loved one reaches out to you via email or social media, claiming to need funds for some sort of emergency, contact that person another way. Call or text their personal number, and ask if they sent the request. Often these are scam requests created through fake accounts.
We’ve all seen those tantalizing headlines: ”Where are these celebrities now? What do these athletes look like 20 years later?” Sometimes clickbait sites send you to a webpage that downloads malware on your computer.

This malware may memorize your keystrokes for passwords or otherwise collect information without your permission. Copyright infringement sites, such as unauthorized sites showing TV shows, are riddled with malware.
Fake charities may mimic efforts made by real charities to get your “contributions.” Always do your research before donating. Don’t contribute to Go Fund Me and other crowdsourced causes unless someone you know can personally vouch for the legitimacy of the fundraiser.