You may be faced with an urgent request, or you may find unexpected charges on your bank accounts. You may even receive an unexpected check or credit card that you didn't request. You may be asked to verify sensitive information over the phone. All of these are potential signs of fraud crimes.
Fraudsters often pose as family members in distress, such as a grandchild, and ask for money to pay for bail, attorney fees, hospital bills, or other false expenses. They may also call and identify themselves as a government agency, such as the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, or the US Treasury. They may even claim that a US bailiff will appear at your door within the next 24 hours. You may also receive a letter, email, phone call, or text message saying that you won a prize in a lottery you didn't participate in.
To claim your prize, you'll be required to pay a fee and taxes. Scammers can pretend to be from the Publishers Clearing House. Scammers also send fake emails or create fake websites in an effort to steal your personal information. They keep up to date with the news and use keywords such as “coronavirus”, “COVID-19” and “stimulus” in their attempts to impersonate someone.
You may even get an email that includes a password you use online or one you've used in the past. The message seems generic and doesn't cite any specific websites that the sender claims to have visited. The threat may be poorly worded and include grammatical errors. You are given a short time to respond, usually a day or two. You may also receive an unexpected message about an investment opportunity in virtual currency with claims that investing in virtual currency involves no risk and has safe returns.
You may also put something up for sale in a newspaper, a classified advertisement, or an online publication and someone makes an offer and sends you a check, maybe even a cashier's check, which seems safer. The check turns out to be much more than what you charged for the item. The “purchaser” will pretend it's a mistake and ask you to deposit the check and refund the difference. Scammers often pretend to contact you on behalf of the government using real names such as the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or Medicare. They can also pretend to be from businesses you already know such as utility companies, technology companies, or charities asking for donations. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself from fraud:
- Be aware of common frauds.
Scammers often target seniors and college students but all consumers are at risk of fraud.
- Be aware of close relationships. In organizations, some common types of fraud are the unauthorized use of physical and monetary assets and misrepresentation of financial statements. If there are close relationships between a group of people or between a high-risk person and a small group of other people, it can be a sign of fraud.
- Know who to contact. Agencies that help prevent consumer fraud include the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the state attorney general's office, and the Consumer Protection Agency (CPA).