Don’t be the victim of a scam!

By:
Karen Zuckerstein

If your experience is anything like mine, you receive texts and emails almost daily saying a $500 transaction was made on your account OR you just won a gift card OR your account was breached and requires immediate attention OR…. The list goes on—just take a look at the samples (see sidebar) from NNV members and staff. I consider myself a reasonably savvy internet user and I sometimes feel like I’m starting to get drawn in but…don’t!  Here are a few rules I follow:

  • Take a deep breath (and don’t do anything!)
  • Ask yourself “Could this be a scam?” (if you start to ask, it probably is)
  • If in doubt, go to the website of the bank or store that purportedly sent you the text/email)

MOST IMPORTANTLY, DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK IN THE MESSAGE!

Scammers use all sorts of promises and threats to get you to click on the link and share information with them. Sometimes, they want information from you—even partial information—on credit card numbers, social security numbers, birthdates etc. Other times they may be trying to download a virus or malware to your device. Do not click on the link!

I get legitimate alerts from, for example, my bank.  It sends me alerts if I have a check, online transfer, or credit card transaction over $400 (the amount I set), a transaction in another country, or if I’ve added someone to my list of transfer or bill payment recipients. If I receive an alert that I’m not sure about (the ones that cause my blood pressure to spike—like a $2,000 transaction), I do not click on the link (even if it really looks like it is legitimately coming from Chase, or Amazon, or Visa…). Instead, I GO TO THE WEBSITE AND LOG INTO MY ACCOUNT FROM THE WEBSITE! Then I look for a suspicious transaction. I’ve never found one. If I did, I would contact my bank or credit card using the contact information on the website or on my credit card. Even if you don’t like online banking or shopping, you can always look up the number on a past bill or statement and call the bank or store to verify whether the information in the text/email is legitimate. If in doubt, also consider calling a friend or relative — explaining the situation to someone can help you assess if it’s a scam.

It’s a good idea to set alerts on your bank accounts and credit cards. That way, you know what a legitimate alert looks like. You can also quickly identify any inappropriate transactions. However, also be suspicious of small dollar transactions. A recent scam involves $1 donations that scammers make so they can fill in missing digits in a credit card. Report this to your credit card company!

Keep in mind that scammers are getting more and more creative. Here are a few that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or AARP highlight on their websites:

Scammers have been targeting Medicare recipients with a fake offer to get “free COVID tests.” They’re calling and running websites, online and television ads to try to convince people to give their Medicare information. But if you give them your information, they’ll bill fraudulent charges to Medicare. (Source: FTC)

You receive a call from Genetic Testing Services. “Bill” tells you that your doctor  is concerned with the cancer that runs in your family and would like you to take a DNA swab test. This test is covered by Medicare, and his company just needs your Medicare number to process and ship out the order. (Source: AARP)

If scammers get hold of your Medicare info, they will send fraudulent bills to Medicare. This depletes Medicare resources but could also affect your ability to obtain medical devices, tests, or other services.

Be wary of messages about unexpected packages. That unexpected text from the Postal Service (USPS), Costco, or The Home Depot telling you about an unclaimed package or a survey you can complete to claim a freebie is NOT from them. (Source: FTC)

The FTC warns that if you click on message links (including surveys) and submit your card information, you’ll end up with nothing — but you’ll find unauthorized charges posted to your account. The FTC also says not to pay to get a package redelivered—another popular scam.

Some other scams highlighted by AARP:

"Good morning, this is Apple Inc. We are calling to tell you there is a problem with your phone, and someone has placed malware on it. We will need you to download AnyDesk onto your phone so we can help you."

"Hello, this is Amazon Security calling to inform you that there is an attempt to order items on your account. But don’t worry — we can help with the refund. I just need a few pieces of information from you to get this started."

"Hello, this is the Social Security Administration, and your Social Security check has been frozen due to fraudulent activity. Press 1 to take care of this matter."

Remember, be suspicious of any call or message you receive. Instead, call back using a phone number you already have on a statement or that you obtain at the company or organization’s website. Never react to pressure. Talk to a friend (or NNV volunteer)! Be vigilant and you will stay safe!

If you have been scammed, contact the credit card company, Medicare, etc. about the transaction. Also check out the advice offered by the FTC. And, of course, our full members can ask for help from a technology volunteer to work through the steps they should take.

Addendum: Another location where online scams are showing up is at the top in the ad-supported results on search engines including Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo!  This was reported recently in the Washington Post. Although the search engines are constantly working to find and stop these scammers from running ads, be on your guard for results that are not the real website you are looking for. Not all ads are “malvertising”, as scam search ads are known, but it’s important to know that you are clicking on an ad rather than a search result. See what search ads look like on Google vs. Bing vs. DuckDuckGo (see the red circles in the bottom side bar photo).

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