Scammers are constantly innovating, coming up with new ways and strategies to trick the innocent out of their hard earned money. As Cybersecurity Month draws to a close, we take a look at some of the most common scams, as well as some newer ones that you and your members should be aware of to avoid falling for the ruse.
Student loan repayment and forgiveness
The Biden-Harris Student Debt Relief Program created opportunities through which scammers sought to “help” those with student debt either complete their debt relief applications or get the loans forgiven faster.
With student debt repayments resuming in October, scammer have shifted their tactics. Instead of helping debtors take advantage of the Relief Program, they are now offering ways to lower payment amounts, delay repayment, or get the loans forgiven via other means. Of course, these are all just a way to solicit sensitive data from the individual that the scammer could then use to gain access to accounts or trick the individual into sending repayment directly to the scammer.
Individuals should be wary especially of individuals claiming to represent the Department of Education, whether via phone or email. As with many of the scams listed, they will attempt to make themselves appear as legitimate as possible. The important thing is to not share information. If you are concerned about your student loans, use the contact information available from your provider’s official website.
Similar scams that follow along these lines are mortgage and credit card debt relief scam. If you’re unsure if somethings sounds too good to be true, contact the credit union because it likely isn’t.
Family “emergency” scams
It’s not just foreign princes that need help. Scammers will try to convince you that a friend or family member was in an accident or in trouble with the law, requiring you to act immediately. It’s usually urgent with little time for the scammed to think or verify that the terrible news is in fact true.
If the supposed family member is in trouble with the law, they will be urged to send money to pay for bond. If it’s medical, it’s to pay for treatment of some kind. And often the initial contact is followed up by a figure of authority (e.g. lawyer, doctor, or officer) to confirm the incident and further cement the legitimacy of the emergency to the target.
If you are so unfortunate as to receive a message of this sort, it’s important to keep calm, end the communication, and contact the individual at risk or somebody close to them to make sure there’s no real trouble. Remember, scammers are preying on your fear and will attempt to make you feel like you have to act immediately or somebody you love will suffer more. Keep your head, verify the claim, and save your money.
The long cons of the scamming world. Where emergency scams rely on a sense of urgency, romance scams depend on forming a meaningful relationship with the target. Dating apps and online message boards have given rise to opportunities for scammers to catfish individuals looking for connections with others. (Catfish meaning to lure somebody into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.)
As the scammer slowly forms the connection and earns the trust of the individual by creating a believable fictional romantic interest, that’s the bait for the eventual switch. This may come in the form of trying to arrange an in person meet up, but needing the financial assistance of the target to help with travel. Or asking for gifts or help with financial hardships.
Though it may feel like a betrayal of the other’s trust, the way to combat these scams is to dig into the relationship to ensure they’re not pulling your leg. Often, scammers use photos of individuals they’ve found on social media; by reverse image searching for these photos (i.e. using a tool like Google to search for that image), you might uncover that the person you formed a connection with is actually some random influencer seen online!
The gift that keeps on taking
Gift card scams are as much a means of funneling funds to the scammer as a scam unto themselves. Essentially, the scammer convinces the individual of a boon won or a threat they can avoid if only they send some gift cards or the identifying card number and PIN.
For example, maybe the IRS says you owe money. In order to avoid a fine, imprisonment, or otherwise on the back taxes you owe, you can pay a smaller portion of the amount due. The catch is it has to be paid with gift cards for some reason. You buy the cards, send the details, and just like that your imaginary problems are gone.
Alternatively, some weird situation involves you being sent a check for a large sum of money. Your task is to deposit the check, take out the bulk of the amount in gift cards, send the cards or info, and you keep the rest. Only after a couple days the check bounces, and you’re out the sum of money pulled for the cards.
The long and the short of this scam is that no company will request payment via gift cards, and any offer in which you get to keep a portion of returned money should instantly throw up a red flag. As with all these scams, if you are contacted by somebody and it seems fishy, end communications, contact the official number and verify whether there’s an issue.
A smörgåsbord of other scams
These are a few of the most common scams, but there are many more out there plaguing hard working individuals across the country. Whether it’s the modern day equivalent of a snake oil tincture to cure every ailment known to man (see: miracle COVID remedies and prevention methods) or scammers looking to capitalize on tragic global events, like the Israeli-Gaza crisis, opportunists will find new ways to rob the unaware.
Our responsibility as representatives of the credit union industry is to help keep members informed of these cons, to help them identify the patterns in all these scams, and to point them to resources that can help, such as the Federal Trade Commission. Do the work to provide your members these resources, and hopefully we can minimize the impact to those in your community.