Although we may know of various scams and how to avoid them, we can’t know them all because they are changing all the time. Sometimes we can spot these changes as they happen. When the Nigerian prince scam changed from being mailed to being emailed, it wasn’t that hard to tell it was the same scam. On the other hand, technology can really give scammers the upper hand and new tools to work with to disguise themselves. Here are two examples:
Solitary confinement is considered to be an extremely harsh punishment because we crave social contact, and many older people become lonely and isolated as they age. Scammers use another’s loneliness as their strength in order to manipulate them. It’s not just the old story of the gold-digger, but instead anyone that befriends the senior in order to target them to help with a sudden financial “emergency”. According to the FTC, romance scams rose by about 50% to reach a new record of thefts in 2020 of over $300 million.
Adding new technology into the mix
Over a dating website and social media such as Facebook – The stigma associated with dating websites may be disappearing, but that doesn’t mean that everyone on them is legitimately there for romance. In fact, many of the profiles may not be people at all, but built to more efficiently run the romance scam on more people at the same time.
Adding another new twist
Over online games – One may think of the phantom profile or dating apps as scripts that are followed, and the people behind the scripts aren’t “real” because the profiles are fake. One might be caught off-guard when the person on the other end is playing games and cognitively interacting in a unique way. According to the AARP, one of the growth areas of scammers are online games such as the popular scrabble alternative, Words with Friends. After months of playing games with a real person online, it becomes much harder to think of them as a scammer even if you haven’t met them in person.
The False Authority Figure Scam
Often done with two people posing from a local electric or gas company that needs to check on something, the primary resident is distracted while an accomplice steals from the property. Someone might call pretending to be from the IRS or from the police, and demand that tax issues or a bail for a loved one need to be paid off immediately.
Adding new technology into the mix
On a website – A scammer steals your bank’s logo and creates a login website using that branding that looks identical to the actual website. They send an email or text asking for you to verify information or that a credit card number was stolen and you need to login to request a new one. If you login using your current credentials on the website they built, their website captures the credentials they enter your accounts illegitimately to make transfers.
Adding another new twist
Robocalling – A scammer knows the exact robocall script that goes along with a stolen credit card. A person gets their credit card stolen for real, gets called by their credit card company that leaves a legitimate robo-message to call them back, verify which charges are real and which to remove and get their new card. A fairly routine procedure. The recipient is suspicious, and double-checks that the number left in the message is in fact the customer service help number from their credit card provider. They call, go through the process of verification, get the new card and everything seems resolved.
However, the scammer that stole their credit card also has their phone number. They leave the same robocall message, word for word, except that the phone number has been changed. The person being scammed hears the same message that was legitimate a couple weeks ago, and is more likely to click to call back immediately thinking their credit card provider discovered more about the same problem or that the issue has come up again. On the second round they are in danger of losing more than a stolen credit card number during the verification process, because the real goal of the scammer was identity theft.
Trust, But Verify
Individuals you’ve met online – The FTC suggests that you never send money or gift cards to anyone you haven’t met in person, and also provides some additional steps you should take should you suspect something is off. Stop communicating with the new romance. Pay attention to concerns from family and friends. Search online for any “distress story” with the word scam after it to see if the same story is coming up repeatedly with the exact same language. Do a reverse image search of the person’s picture profile to see if the image is associated with other identities.
Those claiming to be from utilities – It’s reasonable for you to ask for employee identification for anyone coming door-to-door, even if it seems like you’re forcing an inconvenience on the visitor. It’s also reasonable for you to call your electric or gas company directly prior to allowing them entry to verify that employee’s credentials or that they currently have someone going door to door in your neighborhood.
Those claiming to be from the IRS – The IRS will not call and demand immediate payment, or request payment via a credit or debit card or gift card, or threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying. If you don’t owe taxes, or have any reason to believe you do, do not give out any information when called and contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” webpage. You can also call 800-366-4484 to report it.
Those claiming to be from a financial institution – Should you receive any digital messages telling you to login, never click through a link on the message itself. Instead, enter your bank’s website address directly, or search for your bank on a search engine such as google in order to get there. Vigilance is key against scammers. They are clever and relentless, and will use the information of how they have already tried to scam you against you. Every single time your bank or a financial institution tries to initiate contact with you, utilize the same steps of verifying that it is really them by initiating contact back through their website or app directly.
Up-to-date personal information is more available than ever before
These scammers are becoming more sophisticated all the time with more information at their disposal. The obituary scam to target widows and widowers might been limited to local before, but now often a lot of personal information about the family is published in an online obituary right as someone enters the extremely vulnerable state of grieving. The grandparent scam used to rely on the grandparent telling the scammer the name of the grandchild and the scammer repeating it back, now the scammer may be able to make the connection via Facebook and try to run the scam when the grandchild is traveling and uploading pictures to Facebook and they know the grandparent won’t be able to call them to verify.
Trust is hard to build, and easy to break. At Garden State Trust Company, we take these issues seriously, and trust services can prevent some scams from occurring by providing a financial gatekeeper for requests for money.