Member Security Center
Spotting, Avoiding & Reporting Scams
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a government agency that protects people from frauds and scams.
ARTICLE FROM AARP FRAUD NETWORK
The holiday season brings the blessings of gift-giving, good cheer and time with family and friends. It also brings plenty of opportunities for cybercrooks to spoil your celebrations. A few scams are specific to the holidays, but most are variations on everyday frauds, ramped up to match seasonal spikes in spending and web traffic. With a little preparation and vigilance, you can lessen your chances of being victimized.
Not surprisingly, holiday scams often center on shopping, especially online. Sixty percent of consumers take to the internet to buy holiday gifts, according to a Deloitte survey. As real retailers roll out their seasonal deals, cybersecurity company ZeroFOX says, scammers seek to snare bargain-hunting shoppers with bogus websites and, increasingly, social media campaigns that impersonate major brands, especially in fashion, tech and sporting goods.
These “spoofing” sites and fake posts entice you to spend money for products you’ll never receive. Further, many are vehicles for harvesting credit card numbers and other personal data that fraudsters use to commit identity theft or sell on the dark web. Scammers may distribute malware-loaded links or attachments via supposed coupon offers or “order confirmation” emails asking you to verify an order you never placed. Frauds involving gift cards — the No. 1 item on holiday wish lists, according to National Retail Federation research — also shift into high gear during the holidays.
Other hallmarks of the season provide grist for grifters:
- Charity scams: Thirty percent of giving to nonprofits is done from #GivingTuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) through New Year’s Eve, fundraising software company Network for Good reports. That means more sham charities exploiting Americans’ goodwill via fake websites and pushy telemarketers.
- Delivery scams: As holiday packages crisscross the country, scammers send out phishing emails disguised as UPS, FedEx or U.S. Postal Service notifications of incoming or missed deliveries. Links lead to phony sign-in pages asking for personal information, or to sites infested with malware.
- Travel scams: Going home for the holidays carries risks other than family feuding. Spoof booking sites and email offers proliferate, with travel deals that look too good to be true and probably are.
- Letter from Santa scams: A custom letter from the jolly old elf makes a holiday treat for the little ones on your list, and many legitimate businesses offer them. But so do many scammers looking to scavenge personal information about you or, worse, your kids or grandkids, who may not learn until many years later that their identity was stolen and their credit compromised.
- Huge discounts on hot gift items, especially when touted on social media posts or unfamiliar websites.
- Spelling errors or shoddy grammar on a shopping website or in an email.
- A shopping or travel site does not list a phone number or street address for the business and offers only an email address or a fill-in contact form.
- An unsolicited email asks you to click on a link or download an app to access a deal or arrange a delivery.
- Do mouse over links in emails and social media ads to display the true destination URL, and click through only if you’re certain it’s a legitimate site.
- Do pay by credit card. That way you can dispute charges and limit the damage if it turns out you were scammed.
- Do research unfamiliar retail, travel and charity sites online. Search for their names with terms like “scam,” “complaints” or “reviews,” and look them up on evaluation and information sites like those listed below under "More Resources."
- Do look for return and refund policies when shopping on an unfamiliar or suspicious site, and make sure they are clear.
- Do carefully examine gift cards at the point of purchase. Signs of tampering could mean a thief has accessed the card’s PIN code and can drain its value as soon as someone buys and loads it.
- Don’t conduct financial transactions on a site unless the URL begins with “https://” or there’s a padlock or unbroken key icon in the address bar or at the bottom of the browser window. These indicate a secure connection.
- Don’t buy anything online while using a public Wi-Fi network. It might not be secure.
- Don’t make a purchase or donation if a website or caller seeks payment by wire transfer, gift card or prepaid card. These are like forking over cash.
About Identity Theft
If someone is using your personal or financial information to make purchases, get benefits, file taxes, or commit fraud, that's identity theft.
What to do right away
Step 1: Call the companies where you know fraud occurred.
- Call the fraud department. Explain that someone stole your identity.
- Ask them to close or freeze the accounts. Then, no one can add new charges unless you agree.
- Change logins, passwords, and PINs for your accounts.
Step 2. Place a fraud alert and get your credit reports.
- To place a fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus. That company must tell the other two.
- Experian.com/fraudalert - 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion.com/fraud - 1-800-680-7289
- Equifax.com/creditreportassistance - 1-888-766-0008
- Get your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
- Review your reports. Make note of any account or transaction you don't recognize. This will help you report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the police.
Step 3. Report Identity theft to the FTC.
- Go to Identitytheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338. Include as many details as possible.
What to do next
Take a deep breath and begin to repair the damage.
Contact our Risk Management Department at email@example.com
For more information visit identitytheft.gov
Here's How They Work:
Did someone promise you a job - if you pay them?
Never pay anyone who promises you a job, a certificate that will get you a job, or secret access to jobs. Those are scams.
Did the IRS call saying you owe money?
The IRS never calls to ask for money.
Did someone else from the government call, threatening you and demanding money?
The government doesn't call to threaten you or ask for money.
Entering the Diversity Visa Lottery to get a Green Card?
It's free to apply and choice is random. No one can increase your chance of winning.
Looking for legal help with immigration?
Use a lawyer or an accredited representative, never a notario.
Did you get a call or email saying you won something? Except there's a fee?
Never pay for a prize. That's a scam. You'll lose your money.
Did a caller offer to help you get back some money you lost?
No government agency or legitimate business will call and demand money to help you get money back.
Did you get a check form someone who asked you to give them part of the money back?
Never give someone money in return for a check. Fake checks can look real and fool the bank. You'll have to pay back all the money.
Did you get an email, text, or call asking for your credit card, bank account, or Social Security number?
Never give that information to anyone who asks over email, text or phone.
Here's how they work:
You see an ad on TV, telling you about a new law that requires you to get a new health care card. Maybe you get a call offering you big discounts on health insurance. Or maybe someone says they’re from the government, and she needs your Medicare number to issue you a new card.
Scammers follow the headlines. When it’s Medicare open season, or when health care is in the news, they go to work with a new script. Their goal? To get your Social Security number, financial information, or insurance number.
So, take a minute to think before you talk: Do you really have to get a new health care card? Is that discounted insurance a good deal? Is that “government official” really from the government? The answer to all three is almost always: No.
Here’s what you can do:
- Stop. Check it out. Before you share your information, call Medicare (1-800-MEDICARE), do some research, and check with someone you trust. What's the real story?
- Pass this information on to a friend. You probably saw through the request. But chances are you know someone who could use a friendly reminder.
Want to know more? Sign up for scam alerts at ftc.gov/subscribe
Here's how they work:
You get a call or an email. It might say you've won a prize. It might seem to come from a government official. Maybe it seems to be from someone you know - your grandchild, a relative or a friend. Or maybe it's from someone you feel like you know, but you haven't met in person - say, a person you met online who you've been writing to.
Whatever the story, the request is the same: wire money to pay taxes or fees, or to help someone you care about.
But is the person who you think it is? is there an emergency or a prize? Judging by the complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the answer is no. The person calling you is pretending to be someone else.
Here's what you can do:
- Stop. Check it out- before you wire money to anyone. Call the person, the government agency, or someone else you trust. Get the real story. Then decide what to do. No government agency will ever ask you to wire money.
- Pass this information on to a friend. You may not have gotten one of these calls or emails, but the chances are you know someone who has.
Here's how they work:
You get a call: "Grandma, I need money for bail." Or money for a medical bill. Or some other kind of trouble. The call says it's urgent - and tells you to keep it a secret.
But is the caller who you think it is? Scammers are good at pretending to be someone they're not. They can be convincing: sometimes using information from social networking sites, or hacking into your loved one's email account, to make it seem more real. And they'll pressure you to send money before you have time to think.
Here's what you can do:
- Stop. Check it out. Look up your grandkid's phone number yourself or call another family member.
- Pass this information on to a friend. You may not have gotten one of these calls, but chances are you know someone who will get one - if they haven't already.
How do I spot a money wiring scam?
Wiring money is like sending cash. Do not wire money to people you do not know. Most money wiring scams look like this:
- someone you do not know asks you to wire money
A scammer might use different ways to convince you to wire money. The scammer might say:
- you won a prize, or inherited money, but you have to pay fees first
- you won the lottery, but you must pay some taxes first
- a friend or family member is in trouble and needs you to send money to help
- you need to pay for something you just bought online before they send it
- you got a check for too much money and need to send back the extra
These are all tricks. When you hear stories like these, you have spotted a money wiring scam.
How do I avoid a money wiring scam?
Scammers are good at being friendly. They also are good at fooling people. Here is how you can stop a scammer:
- Never wire money to someone you do not know.
- Never wire money because someone contacted you:
- even if you feel like you know the person
- even if the person says he is your friend or related to you
What if I already wired money to someone?
If you sent money to someone who contacted you, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357
- Go online: ftc.gov/complaint
The FTC uses complaints to build cases against scammers. Any information you can give helps investigators.
You Probably Spend Time:
- connecting with friends and family online
- downloading apps
- sharing what you're doing - and where you are
- sharing photos and videos on-the-go
- building your online profiles and reputation
Why should I read this?
The truth is there are some risks involved in posting, playing, and talking to people online. It can be easy to over-share, embarrass yourself, mess up your computer, and possibly get messages from creepy people.
Asking a few key questions first can help you protect yourself, your friends, your accounts, and your devices.
- Before you post a message or a photo, download a game, or buy something online...ask yourself:
- How will I feel if my photos or comments end up somewhere, I didn't mean for them to be?
- Do I know and trust who I'm dealing with?
Protect Your Information
Some information should stay private. Your Social Security number and family financial information - like your parents' bank account or credit card numbers - should stay in the family.
Don't reply to messages that ask for your personal information - like passwords. That's true even if the message looks like it's from a friend, family member, or company you know - or says something bad will happen if you don't reply. Chances are it's a fake, sent to steal your information. Just delete it.
Don't stay permanently signed into accounts. Log out when you're done using them.
Got apps? Try to check what information the app collects - before downloading. And check out your own privacy settings. Also think about whether getting that app is worth sharing the details of your life. You might be giving the app's developers access to your personal information.
Passwords are one way to keep other people out of your accounts. Here's how to create good ones:
Be unique. Come up with different passwords for your different accounts. If you reuse the same password and it's stolen, someone could use it to hack into your other accounts.
Be strong. The longer your password, the harder it is to crack. Create a password with at least 12 characters, use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Avoid the obvious. When creating passwords and security questions, don't use names, dates, phone numbers, or anything someone could learn about you from social media. That's too easy to guess. Get creative! And definitely don't use "password123".
Keep it private. Don't share your passwords with anybody.
For more information on guarding your online presence visit ftc.gov/onguardonline
Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Information
- Don't carry all of your important papers or ID cards with you.
- Don't click on links in emails unless you're sure you know what it is. Clicking can put bad programs on your device.
- If you're shopping or applying for a job online, make sure the website starts with https. The 's" means the site is secure.
- If you think someone stole your identity, visit IdentityTheft.gov for help.
- Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry. DoNotCall.gov
Please Report Scams
If you spot a scam or think you are a victim, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Call the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP
- (1-877-382-4357 or TTY 1-866-653-4261)
- Go online: ftc.gov/complaint
Your complaint can help protect other people. By filing a complaint, you can help the FTC’s investigators identify scam artists and stop them before they can access a friend’s hard-earned money. If really makes a difference.