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Sophisticated scams increase, so be aware: Editorial

Posted 12/5/18

There are thousands and thousands of people out there ready to take your money this holiday season, and we aren’t talking about cashiers at your favorite stores.

We are, of course, talking …

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Sophisticated scams increase, so be aware: Editorial

Posted

There are thousands and thousands of people out there ready to take your money this holiday season, and we aren’t talking about cashiers at your favorite stores.

We are, of course, talking about thieves and scam artists.

These people aren’t new, of course. Ever since the beginning of time, there have been those who want to better their own lot by taking from others, be it pyramid schemes or miracle elixirs.

Technology has upped the ante in ways unimaginable to the hucksters of 100 years ago. With all its wonderful benefits come the perils of scams.

As we told you in an editorial in August 2017, the days of receiving an email from a Nigerian prince who is sitting on a fortune are long since gone. The threats keep getting more sophisticated and high-tech. During this Christmas season, we wanted to revisit recent scams reported in the area in the hopes you don’t fall victim to the bad guys.

If you read our police and court roundups, you know that many scams involve the purchase of debit or gift cards. Sometimes there is the promise of more money in return than what the cards are worth.

Loan scams are also on the rise.

This fall, a Lower Swatara Township resident was scammed out of $2,700 in a fraud that was initiated by a telephone call about an approved loan. The man was instructed to purchase several Google Play cards. He told police $900 was deposited into his bank account. That gave scammers access to his account, which they drained.

Another Lower Swatara resident lost $7,000 in a similar way — someone who claimed to represent Check & Go notified her that she had been approved for a $5,000 loan. She bought several Google Play Gift Cards and passed along the cards’ identification numbers and gave out the number to her personal account with the credit union. Her account was drained.

Some even threaten violence. Middletown police Sept. 4 received a report from a man who said he had received a text from an entity claiming to represent Bank of America. It told the man to send $250 for a debit card. However, the man told police he had never ordered such a card through Bank of America.

When the man texted back that he was reporting the scam to police, he received a text allegedly threatening to kill him.

Some scams start with online sales and progress to meeting in person, such as the beating and robbing of a man in which two women allegedly stole $45,000 from his trunk after he agreed to meet them to buy a watch at a remote Stoner Drive location in Lower Swatara Township on Oct. 23.

Even phone scams are getting more complex. Scammers can create phone numbers that look legit when they show up on your phone.

There are too many scams to list here. Keep an eye on the Press & Journal; we try to keep you up to date on the latest cons. Go to pressandjournal.com and search “scam” and you will find more examples.

We don’t want to scare you out of all transactions. There are risks of going to a brick-and-mortar store. You could get pickpocketed, or the store’s credit card numbers could get hacked. We simply want you to take the necessary precautions.

Let’s wrap up with tips from Better Business Bureau website.

1. Never send money to someone you have never met face-to-face. Just don’t ever do it. And really, really don’t do it if they ask you to use wire transfer, a prepaid debit card or a gift card (those cannot be traced and are as good as cash).

2. Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email. Links can download malware onto your computer and/or steal your identity. Be cautious even with email that looks familiar; it could be fake.

3. Don’t believe everything you see. Scammers are great at mimicking official seals, fonts and other details. Just because a website or email looks official does not mean it is. Even Caller ID can be faked.

4. Don’t buy online unless the transaction is secure. Make sure the website has “https” in the URL (the extra s is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Even then, the site could be shady. Check out the company first at bbb.org. Read reviews about the quality of the merchandise, and make sure you are not buying cheap or counterfeit goods.

5. Be extremely cautious when dealing with anyone you’ve met online. Scammers use dating websites, Craigslist, social media and many other sites to reach targets. They can quickly feel like a friend or even a romantic partner, but that is part of the con to get you to trust them.

6. Never share personally identifiable information with someone who has contacted you unsolicited, whether it’s over the phone, by email, on social media, even at your front door. This includes banking and credit card information, your birthdate, and Social Security/Social Insurance numbers.

7. Don’t be pressured to act immediately. Scammers typically try to make you think something is scarce or a limited time offer. They want to push you into action before you have time to think or to discuss it with family, friends or financial advisers. High-pressure sales tactics are also used by some legitimate businesses, but it’s never a good idea to make an important decision quickly.

8. Use secure, traceable transactions when making payments for goods, services, taxes, and debts. Do not pay by wire transfer, prepaid money card, gift card, or other non-traditional payment method. Say no to cash-only deals, high pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, overpayments, and handshake deals without a contract.

9. Whenever possible, work with local businesses that have proper identification, licensing and insurance, especially contractors who will be coming into your home or anyone dealing with your money or sensitive information. Check them out at bbb.org to see what other consumers have experienced.

10. Be cautious about what you share on social media and consider only connecting with people you already know. Be sure to use privacy settings on all social media and online accounts. Imposters often get information about their targets from their online interactions, and can make themselves sound like a friend or family member because they know so much about you.

Happy holidays, and safe shopping!