Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with top industry experts to bring you the most relevant and timely updates about threats to your personal data security. One group, Scam Detector, combined with their local Better Business Bureau, produces a top ten list of threats each week, ones that are either new or gaining in popularity. Take a look at their top three scams or fraud attempts.
#1 – Valentine’s Day
Love is in the air, but so are identity theft and fraud. While Scam Detector’s website lists four really serious scams associated with Valentine’s Day (be sure to read them HERE), the e-card scam stands to have the farthest reach since it doesn’t involve making a purchase.
An e-card is an emailed holiday card that users can send out for a small fee. They’re really great when they’re legitimate; the sender can pick from a wide variety of themes, can customize it with graphics, video, and music, and can easily and quickly send them to their email contacts as a special reminder of the day.
The problem is those e-cards could also be links to malicious software, sent by a scammer. Never open an email from someone you don’t know then click an enclosed link, and make sure your own antivirus and antimalware software are active and up-to-date to avoid downloading a harmful attack.
#2 – Save Water Scam
Just like other utility or alarm system scams, this one involves either a phone call or a door-to-door visit from someone claiming to sell you a device that will reduce the cost of your monthly water bill. Whether over the phone or in person, the thief is really after access to your credit card information. Even if you do end up with a cheap faucet attachment that doesn’t save you any money, that cost was small compared to the rewards the thief can reap once he has your payment information.
Never respond to cold calls offering to sell you something. If you are approached with a too-good-to-be-true offer that sounds intriguing, take the information and find the sales locations yourself. Allowing someone to reach out to you and giving them your personal information is a good way to get scammed.
#3 – Vacation Property Scam
At this time of year, most of us are thinking wistfully of a warm vacation, especially when the five-day forecast comes on! But if you’re renting a condo, house, or other similar property in another city, be sure to do your homework.
The scam happens when a thief finds a rental property online and uses the details to create his own website and listing. He’ll even have bogus five-star reviews from fake renters, and it will be particularly affordable, possibly due to a one-day-only internet sale. You book the listing and pay either by credit card or wire transfer, and you get ready to pack your bags.
But here’s the problem: when the time comes and you show up for your vacation, that’s not your condo. Oh no, it’s not just a matter of bait and switch, where the gorgeous property on the website doesn’t exactly live up to the reality. No, in this case, the property is very real and even very beautiful…but you didn’t rent it. There may even be another family in it that week. You now find yourself on vacation with nowhere to sleep, and your scammer is nowhere to be found.
Whenever you’re booking a rental property—for any reason, not just a beach getaway—there’s a sneaky little trick you can use to verify the authenticity of the listing and the property. Instead of emailing, call the person on the phone, but first do an online search for other businesses in the area surrounding the property, then ask the listing agent some specific questions that you’ve already figured out. How far is it to the nearest beach access? Where is the nearest restaurant with a kid’s menu? How far are we from an emergency room in case someone in our group gets hurt?
If the person can’t answer those questions accurately—or takes too long to answer, which indicates that he’s also doing an online search!—then that could be a red flag. It is possible that the rental agent is located in another city, but someone in their offices should have at least laid eyes on the property and can give you an idea of the answers.
For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit Scam-Detector.com or the ITRC website under the Current Scams & Alerts section. Be sure to share this information with others so they can stay informed and protect themselves.