Warmer weather and longer days can easily turn your thoughts to vacation and travel, but you’re not the only one thinking in that direction. For every would-be traveler sitting down to make some plans, there are scammers making plans of their own, plans to get your money, your personal data, or both.

Travel scams can take on many forms, and they can strike at any point along your journey, from before you leave home until well after you return.

Before Your Trip

While planning a trip, you might encounter online booking scams, popup ads for “amazing” deals that install viruses on your computer, or bait-and-switch scams that offer you incredible deals on stunning accommodations that don’t even exist.

While You’re Away

During your trip, you have to be mindful of a wide variety of scams and frauds. It might be the stranger in need who steals your money, a local official scheme that extorts money from you for supposedly breaking the law, hackers who steal your information when you connect to hotel or public wifi, or any number of other methods of attack.

After Your Vacation

Once you return to the safety of your own home, you’re still not out of the woods when it comes to a travel scam. You may find out the hard way that someone copied your credit card while you were away—something that can happen quite easily in a restaurant or hotel—and is now using it widely. You might receive phone calls or emails informing you that you ran up extra charges and are expected to pay them (charges you didn’t actually make, but how will you prove it now?). It could even be an unscrupulous property owner who now claims outrageous damages to the rental property where you stayed.

The only way to protect yourself from these scams and many others just like them is to know what kinds of schemes are out there and to know your rights. Staying informed can help you spot the red flags that indicate something isn’t right, as well as head off known tricks of the scammers’ trade. Knowing your rights, such as what types of charges (if any) you’re responsible for on your credit card if someone uses it fraudulently, can help you respond proactively if someone steals from you.

Of course, nothing will replace being smart about your accounts and your personal identifiable information; monitoring your online accounts regularly and knowing what types of information you’re sharing will help you safeguard yourself.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

There has been a sad increase in reports of “puppy scams,” in which someone sells a live animal online and even agrees to ship it to the customer but steals their money instead.

In a puppy scam, which can really apply to any animal but puppies are so commonly associated with this that the name has stuck, someone offers purebred puppies for sale on a site like Craig’s List or on social media. The price is fairly typical for a purebred animal, since anything that comes across as a “steal” would stand out in people’s minds as being a possible scam.

There are tons of pictures of the available puppies and adorable names to go with them. When you reach out to the seller with the one you want, you receive instructions on how to pay the fee. Once your fee is paid, you’re provided with information on the pet’s arrival via shipping. Before the arrival, though, you receive an email with your cost for transportation. You pay that fee, then receive another invoice requiring you to pay the legally mandated live animal insurance.

If you make it this far and have paid all these fees, the communications simply stop, but many victims have reported getting suspicious by the time they were required to pay the third outrageous fee. Your emails and calls go unanswered, and the seller removes the ad from the website. You are out the money and have literally no way to contact this person. Those adorable photos you were shown were just cut and pasted from other online sources. There is no dog, and your money is long gone.

Like any item you plan to purchase from an individual seller sight-unseen, you need to take steps to protect yourself from this kind of scam. Ask for (and reach out to) references, inquire about using a payment protection service, and other smart measures. If you can avoid purchasing an animal from a location that is too far for you to drive, that may also help prevent you from becoming a victim of a scam.

Of course, one surefire way to avoid a pet scam is to adopt locally from a shelter. There are many loving animals awaiting a home, far more than there are actually homes for. Consider opening your heart and your home to a really deserving animal instead of risking giving your money and your information to a scammer.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

Spring brings with it warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours, and a general feeling of starting fresh. Unfortunately, that same sentiment can carry over into our personal lives and relationships, and scammers are all too happy to drop you a quick message to say hi.

There’s no such thing as a “good” scam or one that doesn’t leave the victim feeling horrible, but romance scams have to be at the top of the list for doing the most damage. Not only is the victim out their money, but the hope they felt and the feelings they thought were genuine are destroyed. So how can you avoid falling for a scam?

1. Who is this person? – No matter if the scammer’s persona is a man or a woman, it’s important to ask yourself how this person knows you and why they’re contacting you. Yes, as unlikely as it seems from the outside, people really do fall for this line: “I was browsing Facebook and saw your profile picture. You look like such a nice person, I just had to say hi!” WHY was this individual “browsing Facebook?” Are they seriously just scoping out different people’s profiles, hoping someone’s picture just grabs them?

No. They’re browsing Facebook looking for a victim. And they happened to settle on your picture. It wasn’t just your nice smile that roped them in, it was a lot of factors that made them throw out some bait in the form of a compliment.

2. Too much, too soon – Once the initial contact has been made and you start to chat with this person, it won’t take long before the sweet talk starts flowing. In fact, things can escalate at an alarming pace, a pace that you never would put up with if this was a face-to-face relationship. Declarations of love, of having never felt like this before, and more come pouring out fairly quickly…too quickly, if you stop and think about it.

3. Show me the money – Soon enough, the first request for money comes along. Oh, there’s always a good reason: car trouble that’s keeping him from getting to the airport to see you, the unexpected cost of the travel visa AFTER he’s already bought a plane ticket, a sick relative who needed medicine and he sent them the money he was going to spend on coming to see you, or some other heartstring-tugging excuse.

4. Speaking of money… – When we think of romance scams, we think of the poor victim being left heartbroken and penniless. We rarely think of the victim going to jail, but that happens too often to overlook it. Some romance scams dupe the victim into money laundering, which happens when the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” wires money to the victim with instructions to send that money to someone else. There might be some plausible excuse given as to why the victim needs to follow through, but honestly, after the first transaction is made, the scammer might even let the cat out of the bag: you either keep doing this, or you’re going to jail for money laundering.

It’s important to note that it doesn’t only have to be money laundering. Some victims have been trapped in trafficking stolen goods, such as receiving shipments of items from their “loved one” and then sending them to someone else.

So how do you protect yourself from scammers who are very good at what they do? Be smart and be cautious, even more so than with a face-to-face relationship. If you wouldn’t put up with a behavior from someone you’re dating “in real life,” then don’t put up with it online. If you’re ever, EVER asked for money, no matter how logical the excuse, stop and think it through. Refuse to give anyone money, even if it’s a “loan,” and protect yourself from manipulative tactics.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

The old saying, “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” means a lot of people get into the March holiday spirit, but the “luck o’ the Irish” isn’t funny when you’re victimized by a lottery scam. Unfortunately, this kind of scam has been around for a long time, and it’s still stealing from new victims every day.

In a lottery or sweepstakes scam, you receive a message informing you that you’ve won some kind of major prize, usually an unspeakable amount of money. You can also include scams involving enormous inheritances from long-lost relatives in that list. Basically, anytime someone contacts you and says there’s a ton of money headed your way, it’s most likely this kind of scam.

Typically, there is some “catch” to it. You have to pay the taxes up front, or you have to pay an electronic transfer fee. But what’s a few thousand dollars compared to the millions you’re about to receive? Even in cases where scammers haven’t demanded payment, they’ve requested the victim’s bank account number and routing number in order to electronically transfer the money, only to wipe out those funds later.

So how do you protect yourself from this kind of scam? After all, no one wants to think they let millions of dollars slip through their fingers. In these cases, it’s important to remember the lucky Four Leaf Clover:

Leaf One

Who is the sender? If you receive a message from someone you’ve never heard of, ask yourself what made them pick out your name. How did they get your information? What made them sit down at a computer and email you, or even more confusing, what made them designate you as the winner in the first place? What company is even providing the prize money?

Leaf Two

What did I have to do to win? In a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes, you have to enter the contest somehow. You either purchased the lucky lottery ticket or had your name entered in some kind of drawing. At the very least you were the 100thcustomer who walked through the door that day or made a purchase that automatically qualified you to win.

Leaf Three

Why am I paying money to receive…money? If you ever do win the lottery, yes, you’ll pay taxes on those winnings. There are different mechanisms to do so, such as taking a smaller lump sum amount and paying the taxes by filing with the IRS, or opting for multi-year payments and filing each year with your regular tax return. But no one will ever be required to pay BEFORE receiving their winnings.

Leaf Four

How official is this announcement? If you receive an email telling you that you’re now a millionaire, ask yourself this important question: “Wouldn’t news like that come from an official source?” Instead, scammers rely on cheesy-looking, grammatically incorrect messages because they only want to hear back from gullible people. They don’t want to waste their time with someone who says, “No thanks, I’ll pay those taxes in accordance with the law after you send me my winnings.” If you ever legitimately win any kind of prize, you can rest assured that the documentation will be more official than an email.

Perhaps we can’t all have the luck of the Irish, but we can work to protect ourselves from scams and fraud attempts. The best way to reduce your risk is to stay informed and make sure you think it through before responding to a request for money or personal information.


If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

We all play a role in keeping our neighbors and community safe.

Earlier this year, a California woman thought she was making a routine trip to pick up some items at Target. Instead, she ended up calling the police and getting involved in an elder scam case. As she was checking out, she noticed that an elderly man was buying a highly unusual number of iTunes gift cards. Without thinking about the invasion of someone else’s privacy, she asked him point-blank why he needed so many gift cards.

“To get out of trouble with the IRS,” he answered. He’d already purchased around $1,700 worth of the cards before she approached him, but thanks to the woman’s intervention, he avoided buying an additional $500 worth. Her phone call to the police about the possible scam in progress prevented even more loss, and hopefully gave both the victim and the police a better understanding of the crime.

It can be very difficult to speak up in these kinds of situations, especially since scams tend to involve people’s personal finances. And to be honest, if a stranger asked you why you were making a large purchase, how would you respond? Putting yourself out there can be uncomfortable, but it might be a financial lifesaver for a potential victim.

Here are some ways to step in if you suspect a scam:

1. Start at the top

These scams often rely on untraceable, anonymous forms of payment, which is why criminals prefer them. Before you attempt to intervene on a one-on-one level, there’s another way you can help. Cities around the country are proposing ordinances that would require scam alert notices on gift card displays and at wire transfer locations. Reach out to your local city officials about implementing such a regulation where you live.

2. Contact law enforcement

Connect with your local law enforcement agency about hosting scam prevention workshops in your community. Many police departments have Facebook pages or other social media announcements platforms, so connect with them about posting scam alerts on their pages.

3. File complaints to the FTC

Complaints help the FTC and other law enforcement agencies bring scam artists to justice and put an end to unfair and misleading business practices.

4. Contact a store employee

If you do spot a possible scam in progress, don’t hesitate to say something. Tell an employee or a manager what you know and ask them to communicate with the customer if you’re not comfortable.

5. Make conversation

If the situation lends itself, you can even make conversation, telling the stranger about the time your “sister” got scammed when fraudsters had her buy multiple gift cards or send money to an address. If that’s too close to lying for your comfort level, talk about an article you read (this one, for example!). At the very least the listener might be intrigued, and at best you may be stopping a terrible crime in its tracks.

6. Spread the word

The best way to stop a scam is to keep it from ever happening in the first place. That means sharing news about the latest scams and fraud attempts with family and friends, which you can do face-to-face, on social media, and more. Sign up for the Identity Theft Research Center’s TMI Weekly in order to find out more about the latest scams and identity theft news, and then spread the word!

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530.

A recent scam has made headlines around the world, with news outlets and law enforcement in far-off places warning the public of the threat. What type of crime could be both so horrible and so widespread?

The “Can You Hear Me?” phone scam. Yes, this simple question is wreaking havoc for consumers in many places, and its rampant rise is because it’s both effective and simple. With very little technological know-how and a good amount of extortion, thieves are able to bilk their victims out of their money. They call a random number, ask this basic question, and when the victim says, “Yes,” they record the response and use it as verification that the victim agreed to expensive charges. If the victim tries to register a complaint, they’re warned that the recording is essentially the same thing as a contract and that legal action will be taken against them if they don’t pay up.

This scam also relies on another sneaky little tactic, and that’s our good manners and a basic sense of respect. When someone calls, what do we do? We answer the phone! If someone asks a seemingly harmless question, what do we do? We reply!

But when it comes to phone scams, the smart approach might actually be on getting a little mean. No one should be intentionally hurtful or disrespectful, but there is nothing wrong with taking a few of these steps:

1. If your phone rings and you don’t recognize the number, there is literally no obligation to answer it.

If the caller ID displays a number in a city you’re not familiar with—or don’t have friends and family in—there’s absolutely nothing wrong with ignoring it. If it was an important phone call, they’ll leave a voicemail. You can choose whether or not to call back after hearing the message.

2. You also don’t have to call back.

That one might seem obvious if the message is some mass-market sales call, but think of this: what if the message states that the caller is from the IRS, and you’re in legal trouble for not filing your taxes? That kind of message is a little harder to ignore, and far too many victims of tax scams and fraud return that call.

3. Greetings are often the trigger for the scam phone call.

When your phone rings, you pick it up and say “hello,” only to hear silence on the other end. Once you say hello again, then a person comes on the line. Why? Because the first hello occurred when the autodial software realized that a connection had been made. With the second greeting, the human has had time to step in and join the call. So just don’t repeat yourself. State your greeting and wait, and if you don’t hear anything more, just hang up.

4. The best offense is a good defense, and when it comes to your security, putting the other person on the defensive is a handy approach.

If they ask for your name, instead of answering just respond with something formal like, “What is the nature of your call?” or “Who am I speaking with?” By giving the caller the impression that they may have reached an official phone number, they’re less likely to launch into their script.

5. No one is entitled to your information over the phone.

If you’re ever called and told to verify your identity, state your account number, or any similar request, simply tell them no. They called you, remember? They should have your information! If you don’t wish to be impolite, you can simply say, “I don’t give out that information over the phone.” Take their name, company name, and direct phone number, and tell them you will call back yourself to address the situation. HOWEVER, don’t do it. Instead, look up the actual phone number for the company yourself, and use that phone number. You might be surprised to find out that the urgent problem with your account actually doesn’t exist when you call and speak to a legitimate customer service rep.

How much information are you putting out there? It’s probably too much. We are here to help you stop sharing Too Much Information. Sign up for the TMI Weekly.

There are a few telltale characteristics in most phone or email scams, and if you know what to look for, you might be able to spot them rather quickly.

Phone scammers tend to rely on high-pressure tactics to keep you from thinking too deeply about the offer, such as a warranty offer that expires today or a threat to cut off your utilities that afternoon. They often request absurd amounts of personal information, and they may require you to make payment via untraceable methods, like prepaid debit cards, wire transfers, or even retail gift cards.

Email scams, on the other hand, often have some bizarre yet noticeable characteristics of their own. The infamous Nigerian prince emails usually start with a sob story and end with promises of millions of dollars, and they tend to address you with a strange greeting, like “dear most sincere beloved recipient.” Spoofed emails, which look like they came from a famous company, often contain strange spelling or grammar errors and unprofessional language, despite supposedly coming from the corporate office.

But one scam that a staff member at the Identity Theft Resource Center received contained very limited grammar errors, or at least they were the kind of errors that a lot of people might overlook. These tended to be issues with the commas or the apostrophes rather than misspelled words or faulty vocabulary.

There were still a few obvious signs, though:

  • First, the sender claimed to be the US Postal Service, and the email address even looked legitimate. You would have had to know that it isn’t a real in-house email address to spot that one. But the very first clue was in the subject line, which included a “parcel number.” The USPS uses tracking numbers, not parcel numbers, and a search for the term “parcel number” on the USPS website turned up zero results.
  • The above-mentioned grammar errors aside, the email itself was poorly formatted and without clearly recognizable paragraphs. Major corporations and organizations hire PR teams to make sure that all of their public correspondence is both easy to read and accurate.
  • The message openly stated that you had to click the included link on a PC (meaning no phones or tablets) with Microsoft Word installed. What does Word have to do with opening a website through a link? Nothing. But the macros that carry the virus to your computer are activated through Word.
  • Finally, the real prize was the link. If you hovered your mouse over the link you would see that the text in the email did not match the text in the link. A virus scan was quickly able to determine that the link contained malicious software.

So how do you avoid this type of danger when it’s getting harder and harder to spot the real emails from the phony ones? The ITRC is very knowledgeable about scam attempts, and they still had to look up the included “parcel number” at the USPS.com website to see that it wasn’t genuine. In order to stop a scam attempt in its tracks, you have to be very diligent about reading your messages before taking action. Stop and think before clicking any links that come to you via email or text, even from user accounts you think you know.

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Many individuals are turning to the internet in ever-increasing numbers, and many reputable dating websites and apps have given online romance a sense of legitimacy. Online dating is no longer the stigmatized “last resort” it used to be, but that means it’s even easier for a scammer to find new victims.

There are a number of factors that make people fall for romance scams, and they’re as upsetting as they are infuriating. Some people who try a dating website have “struck out” when it comes to meeting people in their everyday lives, so the chance to connect with someone online is welcomed. Even worse, many online romance seekers have been hurt in previous relationships and they see the internet as a way to connect without becoming too vulnerable, or risking getting hurt again.

Little do they know the heartbreak a scammer has in store for them.

In general, romance scammers rely on a few things. They need an instant, complimentary relationship with the victim, and they need a built-in excuse for why they can’t communicate often. Those excuses typically involve out-of-town employment, like serving in the military, working on an off-shore oil rig, or being the captain of a deep sea fishing boat. The scammer’s persona will usually be successful but not too wealthy, and his or her profile picture is usually very good looking but not so gorgeous as to be an obvious fake. In many reported scams where a woman was the victim, the instigator also claimed to have a child from a first marriage, one that left him a widow to raise the child alone.

There’s another tactic that scammers rely on, and that’s the lightning speed with which their online relationship develops. Within a matter of a few back and forth conversations, there may already be talk of never having felt like this before, of being burned in previous relationships but just knowing this time it’s different, and more.

Once the connection is established and declarations of lifelong togetherness have been made, it’s time to go in for the kill. A scammer just can’t come out and say that he needs money for some random reason, so the carefully crafted story plays out. He’s currently at sea and his mother has been hospitalized. He can’t get to his funds—he’s got plenty of money, of course, but just can’t access it due to his job—and the poor woman needs medication. The victim, envisioning the poor sickly mother (who has already seen a picture of her and is just thrilled that her son has found love again after all these years, according to the story), happily sends the money.

Next, it’s the child. Their child, as one victim reported being told to call him. Their “son” needed a new computer for school because he would lose his scholarship if he doesn’t get his project completed. So the money is sent again.

And it continues. Scammers have story after story after story to separate their victims from their money, all while doling out loving messages or withholding their communication if the victim doesn’t pay up right away. When the victim either can’t or won’t pay anymore, the love of her life simply disappears without a trace.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to be taken in by a scam like this one. After all, the thief’s success as a criminal depends on being good at their con game. It’s important to know the warning signs and red flags, like relationships that turn serious too quickly, strange excuses for the other person’s behavior, and as always, requests for money. Many couples have proven that online romances can turn into a happily ever after, but only if you’re cautious and protect yourself.

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There’s a common scam making the rounds, and its name is a little misleading. Known as a “vanity scam,” it has nothing to do with an overabundance of pride and everything to do with being misled into clicking a malicious link.

Typically, the scam works in two stages. Step one is to get control over someone’s email account, social media account, or even cellular phone number in order to send a text message. That victim is unaware of this entire process, at least until her friends start calling and complaining about the messages “she” sent them.

Once the scammer has access to an account to use, he sends out the same message to all of the victim’s contacts:

“OMG, you wont beleive this video I found of you! LINK: http:bitly.c98.k33x” (Note the lack of a name and the poor grammar in the message, as both are fairly common.)

You open your email or your Facebook messages and find this communication from someone you know. It might be your sister, your co-worker, or your college roommate whom you haven’t spoken to in years. It really doesn’t matter who it is because it isn’t actually from them. But since you don’t know that their account was hacked, you’re tricked into thinking there’s no harm in clicking the link and seeing this potentially incriminating video.

This is precisely why the term “vanity” is used to describe it. It’s not vanity in the traditional sense that you think you’re too beautiful for words, but more like being afraid for what that video or photos might contain. After all, it’s possible that an old college friend has some pictures from Spring Break in Cabo, so you click the link to see how bad it could be. Instead of your photos or video, though, the link downloads malicious software to your computer.

This is the very reason why computer users are cautioned to never click a link or open an attachment if they weren’t expecting it, even if it appears to come from someone they know. There’s an excellent chance the sender’s account was hacked and they’re completely unaware. However, it’s important to mention that this scam has also been used by strangers on social media, meaning it didn’t come from someone you know well; if you have a large “friends” list on Facebook, you probably don’t know every single person by name. In that case, it’s even more important to skip the link altogether and just ignore the message.

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When news headlines include details of major stories, most people get at least some of the information, or enough to know that “something” is going on. But the widespread nature of 24-hour news channels, internet news sources, and even trending hashtags on social media sites can actually help scammers take advantage of the public.

For example, Takata, a Japanese company that manufactures airbags for a number of major vehicle brands, has recently been fined $1 billion and three of its top executives have been indicted in the US for a variety of criminal charges. The case centers around allegations that Takata was aware that its airbags were not meeting safety standards, yet contrived to cover up the test results. This intentional cover-up is believed to be responsible for a number of motorists’ deaths already, and a high number of vehicles are still being driven but have not yet been repaired under the recall.

This is obviously big news for consumers, but if the above information is all you know about the case, then you don’t know that this has been under investigation for years. The company is believed to have begun the cover-up in 2000, and some of the drivers’ deaths date back to 2008. The fines and the criminal charges are new, however, and scammers have already taken to sending fraudulent emails and calling potential victims. Since airbags are in the news right now and most cars on the road have airbags—and since Takata was the world’s second largest provider of airbags to the automotive industry—there’s an excellent chance that anyone who is contacted by a scammer under the guise of an airbag recall can fall for their ploy. All they have to do is claim to be from a consumer advocacy group, ask for the make and model of your vehicle, and then—voila! Yes, your car is under recall! They take some highly sensitive personal information as part of the “process,” and in some cases, they might even charge you a nominal fee (which you pay over the phone, providing them with your credit card or bank account information) in order to complete a full safety check at the time of your vehicle’s safety upgrade.

Fortunately, all of the hard and fast rules about avoiding scams apply in this case. Your vehicle’s manufacturer will not call you or email you about a recall. Instead, you will receive a letter in the mail, complete with your VIN number and a detailed description of the recall. It will also contain instructions for contacting your local dealership and having the repair made. In instances like this, there is no charge whatsoever to the vehicle’s owner and therefore no reason to provide financial information. One final tactic involves the “rush” factor; the caller or email indicates that you only have a 24-hour window to sign up, leaving you with a sense of panic in order to coerce you into complying.

Whenever you’re contacted involving a high-profile incident, it’s important to stop and verify the source. Even if it seems legitimate, there’s no harm in taking down the caller’s information and looking it up online. You’ll only risk wasting your time, but could prevent the loss of your money or your identity.

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