Volume No. 18 Issue No. 2 February 2021  

  Beware of all scams

     Scammers and fraudsters take advantage of millions of people every year; in 2019 alone, 60% of Americans were victims of an online scam. 
   The above statistic is cited in the article, “3 scams to watch out for online,” published July 27, 2020, on centurylink.com by author Kirsten Queen. The article listed the most common scams.
   Phishing: In the last year, phishing attempts grew by 65%; it is the most common online scam. Phishing attacks use official-looking email messages and websites and usually come from trusted sources. They often include urgent requests for sensitive information, like logins or financial information. Do not use any phone numbers included in those messages or click on any links or download any attachments. Instead, check a bill or statement for accurate contact information and use that to contact the person or organization to ask if one’s account has been compromised. Report the attempt by forwarding the email to spam@uce.gov.
   Romance scams: In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission reported $201 million lost to romance scams. A romance scammer begins by creating a fake profile on a dating site or app or may contact victims through social media sites. After establishing a relationship, the scammer will ask for money to be wired or for a gift card, which allows them to stay anonymous. Check to see if their online profile photo has been used anywhere else, ask a lot of questions and be wary of trusting a person too soon. Be careful about sending inappropriate pictures to avoid extortion, and never send money to an online romantic interest. This type of scam could also look like someone pretending to be a family member or coworker in need of immediate financial rescue. File a complaint with the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Internet Crime Complaint Center for romance scams.
   Tech support scams: In 2019, the Internet Crime Complaint Center noted tech support fraud as a growing problem, after receiving 13,633 related complaints. In this scenario, scammers claim to provide technical support, posing as a customer service or help desk representative. They offer assistance for getting back into an email account, handling a computer infected with a virus, updating security software, offering virtual currency exchange or posing as a government official. Do not give untrusted or unverified tech support remote access to your computer or give out login information. Go to someone known and trusted for tech support and contact software companies directly. Report any tech support scam attempts to the Federal Trade Commission. 
   Adah Rodriguez, vice president of development and operations at the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, said online scams encompass everything from social media, emails, Medicare and puppy scams.
   “We report on whatever we can so consumers get the information they need to make the best informed decisions, but part of the challenge is people have to know there are scams so they can do the research,” Rodriguez said. “And people need to report scams; we think only a third of scams are being reported.”
   Rodriguez said the top online scam in 2020 involved online shopping. She said because of COVID-19 restrictions, many retailers created online shopping websites. With more people participating in online shopping, more scams popped up. She said there are websites selling counterfeit goods and sites that pop up; and, just as quickly, disappear without sending what customers ordered and paid for.
   She said scammers take advantage of and target vulnerable people. For example, since the onset of COVID-19, there have been scams to buy preventive products that promise to keep people from getting COVID, along with disinfecting products that aren’t effective and websites where people pay for a place in line to get the vaccination, Rodriguez said.
   Seniors are often targeted because they aren’t as technologically savvy; in 2020, the top way to scam seniors occurred through phone scams. She said millennials aren’t necessarily targeted, but they fall victim more often because they are online more, although they don’t lose as much money.
   “People should pause and not click on anything they’re not 100% sure of. You’re not required to click on anything, you have that control,” Rodriguez said. “You can close your browser, Google it, call the company and do some research. Check the Better Business Bureau website or call the local bureau if you have questions.”
   Scamming can happen to anyone, so educating oneself to recognize the signs of a scam is the key to preventing fraud, she said. “If something feels too good to be true, watch out. If you feel suspicious of someone or they’re asking for information they don’t need or shouldn’t have, trust your gut,” Rodriguez said. “Be extra careful when someone asks for money online and get reliable verification.” She said by asking questions and practicing healthy skepticism, people are better prepared to protect themselves from getting scammed and keeping their financial assets out of the hands of criminals.
   Mark Molzen, global issues manager of Lumen Technologies, CenturyLink’s parent company, wrote in an email, “It’s important for everyone to be aware of scams; and, at Lumen, we work hard to protect our customers from scams.” He said they encourage customers to contact them with any questions or concerns if they feel suspicious activity is underway. Molzen said to remember most companies will never contact their customers via email, text or phone to ask for bank account information, social security numbers or to verify one’s credit card number. He said these are all important red flags that should cause customers to stop the conversation and report the issue by calling CenturyLink or by forwarding suspicious email to abuse@centurylinkservices.net.
   To learn more about current scams, visit http://bbb.org and click on scam tracker or the FTC’s scam alert page at http://consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts.
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