Online Fraud Alerts

Online fraudsters are constantly evolving their tactics to target unsuspecting individuals and steal their personal information and money. In 2023, scammers are using new strategies while also putting a twist on existing scams. It is crucial to stay informed and be aware of the latest scams to protect yourself from falling victim to these fraudulent activities. This article aims to provide you with online fraud alerts and tips to avoid scams.

Student Loan Forgiveness Scams

One of the latest scams in 2023 is related to student loan forgiveness. Scammers may contact borrowers through phone calls or create fake application websites to steal their personal information, such as Social Security numbers and bank account details. They often use urgency and pressure tactics to convince victims to apply for debt relief before it’s too late, charging them hefty application fees. It’s important to note that applying for student loan forgiveness is free, and the U.S. Department of Education does not contact borrowers by phone. To stay safe, always go directly to the Department of Education’s official website for information about applying for loan forgiveness.

Phone Scams

Phone scams have been prevalent for years, and scammers continue to find new ways to exploit smartphones and access the Internet to carry out their fraudulent activities. Here are some common types of phone scams to be aware of:

  1. Robocalls: Scammers use automated robocalls with increasingly natural-sounding recorded voices to offer fake products or services, issue threats, or try to get your attention. Some robocalls can even respond to your questions, making them more convincing.
  2. Texts: You may receive text messages from unknown numbers or email addresses, commonly known as smishing attempts. These messages often contain links to scammer websites or apps, aiming to trick you into providing your personal information.
  3. Impersonators: Scammers impersonate various individuals or organisations, such as IRS personnel, police officers, survey takers, relatives, delivery people, or well-known companies. They may use scare tactics related to your Social Security number, criminal record, or account to gain your trust and then ask for your personal, account, or credit card information.
  4. Apps: Scammers may try to deceive you into installing malicious apps that steal your information. They might also create almost identical copies of existing apps to make money from in-app purchases.
  5. QR Codes: QR codes have gained popularity as a touchless option for various activities, such as reading a restaurant menu or making a payment. However, scammers have started placing their QR codes in inconspicuous spots. Scanning these codes can prompt you to make a small purchase or enter your credentials on a look-alike website.

Additionally, scammers are now using two relatively new tactics: SIM swapping and OTP bots.

SIM Swapping

SIM swapping is a technique where scammers steal your phone number and assign it to a new SIM card in a phone they control. By doing this, they gain access to your information and can log into your accounts by entering verification codes or resetting passwords. To protect yourself from SIM swapping, you can contact your mobile phone operator to add extra security measures or temporarily freeze number porting. It is also advisable to use non-SMS multifactor authentication options if available.

OTP Bots

Some scammers are now using OTP (One-Time Password) bots as an alternative to SIM swapping. These bots attempt to trick individuals into sharing authentication codes sent via text or email, or obtained from an authentication app or device. They might initiate a robocall or send a text pretending to be from a legitimate company, asking you to input the code for authorisation. However, the code is used by the bot to log into your account. Be cautious and avoid sharing these codes to protect your accounts.

Zelle Scams

Scammers have turned to Zelle, a popular peer-to-peer payment app, as a means to steal money. Typically, the scammer will contact you through email, text, or phone, pretending to be from your bank or credit union’s fraud department. They will claim that someone attempted to steal your money through Zelle and ask you to “fix” the issue by sending the money to yourself. However, the money will actually go to the scammer’s account. Be wary of any unsolicited communication regarding Zelle transactions and always verify the legitimacy of such requests.

Cryptocurrency Scams

With the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies, scammers are taking advantage of people’s fear of missing out on investment opportunities. These scams often involve fake prizes, contests, giveaways, or early investment opportunities. Scammers may impersonate celebrities or popular cryptocurrency websites to lure victims into sending them money, sharing login information, or investing in fake projects. Additionally, OTP bots target crypto exchange accounts, making it difficult for victims to recover their funds if scammers drain their accounts.

Romance Scams

Romance scams, although not new, continue to rise in popularity. Scammers steal identities or create fake profiles on dating and social media apps to meet potential victims. They may use stock photos and make excuses for not meeting in person. After gaining trust, scammers may ask for money, request the purchase of items, or share false investment tips. Victims may also receive money “by mistake” and be asked to send it back or forward it to someone else. However, if the payment is determined to be fraudulent, the victim may be held responsible for the funds. Romance scams can target anyone, and scammers may seek both romantic and platonic relationships.

Employment Scams

Employment scams prey on individuals who have been out of work by offering enticing opportunities. Scammers may take a slow approach, conducting interviews and creating a legitimate-seeming operation to gain trust. They may collect personal information from employment forms or ask victims to purchase equipment or training. Other scams promise guaranteed or easy income in exchange for purchasing a program. Some fake employers send large pay cheques and request the victim to send back the “extra” money, resembling the popular overpayment scam. Job opportunities involving receiving money and reshipping packages are often part of illegal operations, and victims can be held personally liable.

To avoid falling victim to scams, it is essential to adopt certain security measures and stay vigilant:

  1. Be sceptical when someone contacts you and avoid sharing personal information, usernames, passwords, or one-time codes.
  2. Enable multifactor authentication on your accounts, preferably using non-SMS options to protect against SIM swapping.
  3. Research companies before making any purchases or donations. Look for reviews and check the legitimacy of charities through reputable sources.
  4. Be cautious with your phone and avoid responding to spam calls or texts. If in doubt, initiate contact with the organisation directly.
  5. Do not refund or forward overpayments as they are often part of fraudulent schemes.
  6. Be wary of suspicious payment requirements, such as wire transfers, money orders, cryptocurrency, or gift cards, as they can be difficult to track and cancel.

If you become a victim of a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and your local law enforcement. Filing a report can help prevent others from falling victim to similar scams.

While staying informed about the latest scams is crucial, it’s also important to monitor your identity regularly. Sign up for free credit monitoring services to receive alerts about unexpected changes in your credit report and consider using an identity theft monitoring service like Experian IdentityWorks℠. These services can help detect any unauthorised use of your personal information and provide assistance in recovering from identity theft.

Remember to stay cautious, follow security measures, and stay informed about online fraud alerts to protect yourself from scams.

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