Becoming a victim of fraud is unsettling. You may feel violated, scared and unsure how it will affect your financial health. Scams are also getting harder and harder to spot. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers reported losing a total of $8.8 billion to scams in 2022, an increase of more than 30% over the previous year1.
Many factors have driven fraud to an all-time high: increases in online shopping, social media bots, and the emerging prevalence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) just to name a few. To protect your financial wellbeing, it’s critical to change how you think about fraud and become more skilled at recognizing the red flags.
Nowadays, rather than a stolen credit card or a security breach, fraud is more likely to occur as a result of a phone call from a smooth-talking scammer, a very convincing fraudulent email insisting to click or call the number listed, or a look alike website generated by AI.
According to a recent survey by AARP®, in early December 2023, 78% of U.S. consumers 65 years or older had already experienced or been targeted by at least one form of popular fraud during the holidays. This is up nearly 10% since 2022.3 The most common scams set during the holidays included raising money for fake charities, online shopping scams such as fake websites, and lastly, phishing attempts using communications about delivery problems.
Outside of the holidays, the following scams top the chart as being the most invasive and easy to fall for:
Mail Theft is stealing or taking any item sent through the mail, including packages and postcards. This crime does not require the use of force; the taking of things through fraud, deception, or embezzlement is included within the definition of the crime. Mail thieves can target anything from greeting cards to steal cash or gift cards or checks to alter and negotiate. In order to reduce the risk for mail fraud, it is recommended customers utilize OnlineBill Pay where you can conveniently pay bills, transfer funds and send money to friends at home or on the go.
Technical Support Scams usually start with a pop-up window, email or text sent to the victim indicating fraudulent activity associated with their account or offering a subscription refund. Fraudsters pose as representatives from prominent companies, like Microsoft®, Dell®, or Apple®, and instruct victims to call for assistance. Reinforcing the urgency of the matter, victims are manipulated into providing remote access to the scammer, then logging into their bank account, where a deliberately large sum is deposited. In some cases, the scammers convince the victim to return surplus funds, so the error doesn’t cost the “representative” their job.
Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. Phishing emails and text messages often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment.
You might get an unexpected email or text message that looks like it’s from a company you know or trust, like a bank or a credit card or utility company. Or maybe it’s from an online payment website or app. The message could be from a scammer, who might:
- Say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts.
- Claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information.
- Say you need to confirm some personal or financial information.
- Include an invoice you don’t recognize.
- Want you to click on a link to make a payment.
- Say you’re eligible to register for a government refund.
- Offer a coupon for free stuff.
While these are the most obvious types of fraud, according to Experian’s look at last year’s biggest fraud trends there are a number of new scams which gained traction in 2023 and are sure to become more prevalent this year:
- Deposit and Check Fraud
- Synthetic Identity Fraud
- Fake Job Postings and Mule Schemes
- Peer to Peer Payment Fraud
- Social Media Shopping Fraud
- Employer Text Fraud
Regardless of the ploy, you can protect yourself and stop each fraudster in their tracks by doing one thing: SLAM them!
S – STOP taking phone calls from unknown numbers, stop talking to unrecognizable representatives who say they are from your bank. Stop giving any personal or confidential information out over the phone. No matter how urgent the situation might seem to be, stop and explore the facts before giving out any personal information.
L – LOOK for the signs and telltale clues that a phone call, email or website might be a scam. The spelling error in the email address, a blocked number, etc. Look past the friendliness of the person on the other end of the phone, or their willingness to help. The best fraudsters are those who earn trust by seeming genuine and sincere. A bank will never ask you to share any personal or confidential information with them over the phone. Instilling fear and urgency are the top ways a scammer gets the information they want.
A – ASK the important questions you need to explore if this is fraud. Opening your mind to the possibility is half the battle. Ask yourself, “Would my bank call me like this? How would they know this? Is this the main phone number from my branch?” “Would the CEO of my company actually be texting me?” Scour eCommerce websites for misspellings, fake addresses, or odd payment options. Visit the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to learn more about how to identify a fake website. It’s important to ask these questions and obtain more information to ensure the inquiry is legitimate.
M – MASTER the art of preparation. Having a master plan makes all the difference in knowing how to react when facing a potential scammer. Create a plan with your spouse and family members about what to do in the event you receive an unknown phone call or urgent email that is seeking confidential or personal information. If you and your family are all on the same page, this will minimize the opportunity for a scammer to leverage an unknowing family member. There are also key steps you can take to be safe while using the internet or smart device. Also be sure to update your smart phone’s address book to ensure old phone numbers are removed. If an old number is still listed in your friend’s or family member’s contact information, you may fall victim to speaking or texting with a stranger whose number will come up on your phone as your family member or friend.
Educate yourself by visiting the following resources online. Scammers target anyone and everyone, and with fraud becoming so hard to spot, brushing up on what to look for is a solid plan:
- How to Spot, Avoid, and Report Tech Support Scams | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov)
- Phishing Scams | Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov)
- Report – United States Postal Inspection Service (uspis.gov)
- For businesses: Phishing | Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov)
Afraid you have been targeted? Use the helpful links below to report fraud to the FTC: