When disaster strikes, there’s often a heart-tugging sadness that comes from feeling powerless to do something useful. As distanced bystanders, we’re left reeling from the news footage of the horrific events, both man-made and natural, and thinking to ourselves, “If only there was something I could do to help.”

Fortunately, technology has empowered us to support people in their time of need. Charitable giving websites, crowdfunding campaigns, even the ability to text a donation for a specific cause and then pay it on the following month’s bill have enabled us to lend a hand when needed.

In the instance of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, nearly 3 million people were killed, injured, or left homeless. Relief efforts were mobilized within mere minutes. The Red Cross immediately set up a text-to-donate option, and more than $43 millioncame in via text.

Sadly, the same technology that lets kind-hearted people participate in helping out have also made it possible for scammers to bilk innocent, well-intentioned people out of their money. It can also be used to steal your personal identifiable information, something that’s far more valuable than a donation of a few dollars.

Only a matter of hours after the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11, scammers were already soliciting donations for relief efforts, but pocketing the money. And it’s the same with nearly every high-profile incident that affects large numbers of victims.

So how are you supposed to help while still keeping criminals out of your wallet? By only working with trusted sources and legitimate agencies.

But authorities have already warned the public to be watchful of “disaster relief” scams that crop up online. There are genuine sources to send donations of money or supplies, and even applications to volunteer with the relief efforts in person. Considering how easy it is to set up a website and request donations, though, here’s a good rule of thumb. If you do not recognize the name of the charity that is soliciting funds, or if it’s a name that’s too “sudden” to be believed (something like LouisianaFloodHelp.com), be cautious. Trustworthy charities will have long-standing reputations of meeting the government’s guidelines for a charitable organization, so other new sites should be treated as suspect.

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.

The infamous Nigerian prince emails have become so much a part of everyday society that they’ve actually turned into a pop culture joke. Unfortunately, that reality of email scams—many of them originating in Nigeria, hence the nickname, but in actuality coming from around the globe—is anything but amusing.

Nigerian prince emails actually have several different, more formal names. Sometimes called the “419 Scam” after the section of Nigeria’s criminal code that deals with fraud, or “Advanced Fee Scams” due to the fact that the victim pays money up front in exchange for promises of a greater return, these scams come in all shapes, sizes, iterations, and countries of origin.

With so many victims duped out of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, what makes them even the slightest bit funny? It’s the unbelievable stories behind them, many of which detail outrageous scenarios in nearly incomprehensible English, all intentionally designed to attract only the most gullible of would-be victims.

While it’s hard for authorities to track down every single origin of every single internet scam, that doesn’t mean they’re not out there searching. And their efforts have paid off in a big way this month, as INTERPOL and the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) have tracked down and arrested a man who was responsible for more than $60 million in fraud and theft.

Along with an accomplice, the scammer known only by the single-name Mike ran an operation with as many as forty employees below him, all of whom were able to hack business email accounts and send out fake invoices to their customers and divert those payments to their own accounts. Their other tactic was “boss phishing,” or hacking a business email account and pretending to be the boss. They would then send instructions to an employee within the company, demanding sensitive information, the transfer of funds, or other fraudulent requests.

This is certainly not the first or the largest criminal to be snared through joint efforts of curbing internet fraud and crime. But the anonymous nature of this type of crime, coupled with the fact that all it takes is a computer and an internet connection, means criminals can be hard to identify and even harder to track down.

One thing that the public can do to help stem the flow of internet fraud is to stay on top of the latest scams and fraud attempts. While most users may have by now heard of the sad plight of thousands of Nigerian princes who need help moving their royal fortunes out of the country, new fraud variations come up every day. Boss phishing and text message “smishing” are new, for example, but old schemes like the lonely heart dating scams are still effective. Be aware of the threats to your identity and your funds, and help others understand the dangers of getting hooked by a scammer.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

The Rio Olympics are set to kick off, and sports fans around the world have their eyes set on South America. If you’re one of the lucky fans who’ve opted to travel to the country to watch the action up close, be prepared: the usual numbers of scams associated with any exotic locale will grow exponentially during this event.

There are literally dozens of scams that crop up in hot-ticket tourist destinations, and they can be grouped into different types. This link from Scam-Detector.com contains details on more than forty different scams that might target travelers to Rio, but here are some general categories to watch out for:

  1. Travel Scams – It doesn’t matter where you’re headed, there’s undoubtedly a travel scam waiting to steal your money, your identity, or both. Many of the scams take shape before you ever even pack a suitcase, such as ones with bogus flights, fake hotel accommodations, or hefty fees that you wouldn’t have been charged if you’d used a reputable service.

Do your research before booking any travel, lodging, or ground transportation. Beware of “too good to be true” deals, or offers of free lodging and free car service. Remember that the location isn’t the problem, but the fact that scammers know you’re out of your element and more likely to fall for their schemes.

  1. Extortion Scams – There are so many different variations on extortion schemes, but they all have one thing in common: you’re going to be intimidated into forking over your money to clear up the confusion. Whether it’s a dropped item scam that makes it look like you’re responsible for damaging someone’s property, a money drop scam in which someone offers to split “found money” with you, or a scam in which someone argues that you received a service then didn’t pay for it, don’t fall for their intimidation tactics. If the scammer starts calling for the police, let them; in fact, encourage them to alert the authorities, or call for the police yourself.

Be warned though, there are scammers who pose as police officers and automatically take the scammer’s side, informing you that your ignorance of the country’s laws is at fault. When in doubt, contact the US consulate or embassy in the country where you’re staying. There are common reports of local police corruption or their willingness to look the other way when it comes to a foreigner being scammed. Do not let threats of physical harm or jail time coerce you into handing over money to make it all go away.

  1. Identity Theft Scams – Oddly enough, the very same scams that target your identity when you’re home are still viable in other countries. That’s why you have to be careful about using an ATM, paying at the gas pump or a payphone with your credit card, logging into your sensitive accounts over public Wi-Fi, and more.

Do your homework before you leave, and learn what technology steps you need to take while you’re in Rio (or any other country). Make sure someone back home has the right access to help you if an account problem comes up, such as knowing where your credit card information is stored in case your wallet is stolen or your account is compromised by a scammer. Make sure you monitor your credit card and bank account statements very thoroughly when you get home in order to spot any suspicious activity.

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from scams is to avoid looking “too much” like a tourist. Some things can’t be helped, like driving a rental car that alerts scammers to your traveler status. But other behaviors can make you seem like more of an easy target, so keep a low profile, keep an air of quiet confidence about you, and do your best to blend in with others.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

The ITRC recently released information regarding the best practices for parents when using a child ID kit. One of the questions we heard over and over was, “Are the companies behind this really scams, or are they just misinformed?” My response was that there are probably a blend of both, but that we at the ITRC had direct experience with a scam company in the southern California area.

A member of the ITRC team, and a mom, was concerned when she received a flyer from her child’s preschool regarding a company coming in to fingerprint the children and provide child ID kits. This company was engaging in all of the practices that we list as red flags in our scam alert…all of them.

As we reviewed the recommendations and service offerings for this company, we were dismayed at how they were taking advantage of parents’ natural fears while potentially creating massive identity theft vulnerabilities for their children.  Here are some of the things that tipped us off:

  • This company offers to digitize fingerprints and store them for parents, a service for which they did not list the cost; they simply recommended that parents call for a price quote. The company stated that they could provide the fingerprints directly to law enforcement in the event of an emergency, but according to my research and discussions with law enforcement personnel, this is something that parents can do themselves…for free.
  • This company offers to provide a wallet-sized copy of the scanned fingerprints so that parents can carry it around with them at all times, a service which costs $86. Apart from being an alarmist tactic that tricks parents into paying, if the parents’ wallet goes missing, so do the fingerprints. This poses an identity theft risk for the child.
  • This company also offers parents a digitized set of the child’s fingerprints on a thumb drive, and recommends that parents carry it on their key chain so it is with them at all times. Again, this is an alarmist tactic that puts your child’s identity at risk if your keys are lost or stolen.

Unfortunately, the list of red flags goes on. The ITRC brought this to the attention of law enforcement, who will do their job and investigate. Should they find evidence of a scam, they will bring those responsible to justice. We also feel it is important for the ITRC to do its job, which is to inform parents about how to determine if there is a need to establish a child ID kit for their kids, and if so, how to properly go about it.

This scam is real, and was happening right in our area. If it’s happening here, there’s an excellent chance that it is happening elsewhere.

Now that summer is here you may think this risk isn’t as great—school is out, after all. But during the summer months, our children attend alternate day care programs, summer camps, and a host of other enrichment activities. Scammers don’t care that school is out; they will go to those places as well. And if your care providers don’t know what to look for, they could be duped into helping scammers reach new victims. Don’t get me wrong, the professionals who engage these companies will almost always have good intentions, and think they’re doing something to ensure your child’s safety. Instead, it’s the scammers that we need to blame for taking advantage of those good intentions.

What can you do as a parent? Read the scam alert so you know what the red flags are. Understand how to determine if a company is a legitimate service provider or a scam (via this helpful fact sheet). And share this information with other parents, your school, afterschool programs, and daycare providers so they can make the right decision as well. In other words, the best thing you can do right now is to:Read it. Understand it. Share it.

Online dating has risen in both popularity and credibility in the past few years. What was once commonly seen as the last resort of desperate, lonely people has now become a high-dollar industry that helps people around the world find genuine relationships. Unfortunately, the rise of internet dating sites and their widespread acceptance means more and more scammers are using that approach to find victims.

There are a few ways that you can spot a scam before you become a victim, though. By being smart about protecting yourself and your information, you can keep a scammer at bay.

1. Too close, too soon – In any online relationship, be careful of individuals who want to take things a little too fast. It might be that they start using pet names, talk of long-term relationships, or insist on sharing personal details or photographs too soon. At the same time, if they are too quick to invite you to talk to them outside the dating platform—meaning your communications are not accessible by the site that connected you—be very concerned.

2. Phone is no guarantee – Believe it or not, there are customer service call centers that scammers can subscribe to in order to make phone calls to their victims. Just as a company can hire a phone service to take phone messages or handle customer service requests, scammers can hire shady phone services to pose as your new boyfriend or girlfriend on the phone. That’s why speaking on the phone is no guarantee that this relationship is valid.

3. Odd situations that prevent connecting – It’s inconvenient to have your new victim constantly harassing you just to talk about their day, which is why so many common romance scams involve individuals who are not near a computer during their jobs. What does that mean? Jobs like off-shore oil rig worker, long distance truck driver, and even worse, US soldiers deployed overseas are all common tactics for scammers. With so many victims to keep straight in their phony relationships, they can’t devote all their time to you; be careful of an online relationship involving someone whose job keeps them away from communication for days at a time.

4. And then the money request… – Inevitably, the real reason for the scam comes out: a request for money. It could be needing funds to come visit you, funds to keep their (non-existent) child out of trouble, a request for you to use “their” bank account to help them out of a bind, or even outright extortion if you’ve sent them compromising photos of yourself. No matter how it plays out, the ultimate goal in a romance scam is to take your money.

In any relationship, whether face-to-face or online, if you’re asked to hand over money or personal information without some form of legitimate, legal commitment, be careful. It should make you think twice, and make you cautious about the relationship as a whole. Don’t waste your time on scammers who want to cause you and your finances harm; just remember that there are real, viable relationships to be made online, and be smart about protecting yourself.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

If you own a phone, there’s a good chance you have to put up with the annoyance of unwanted callers. But it’s not just telemarketers interrupting your dinner or survey takers wanting to know your opinion on political topics anymore. The real danger of unwanted calls is in phone scams.

An estimated 89% of phone owners in the US receive unwanted calls each month, and the increasing problem of phone scams is only getting worse. According to one source, 11% of phone owners have fallen victim to a phone scam, and of those victims, 20% have lost as much as $10,000 as a result; 14% of the people surveyed receive more than thirty calls in a single month period.

So what do you need to know to be able to rely on your phone for communication and emergency access, but still avoid the threat? Here are a few helpful tips that will hopefully lower your chances of becoming a victim of fraud:

  1. Guard your info – Scammers operate off of different sources for your phone number. They may be Robocalling you, which means a computer is doing all the dialing, or they may have purchased lists of phone numbers from sources who got them either legally or illegally. Finally, they may simply be punching numbers at random, hoping to land on someone who will fall for their scheme. But think about this: if someone was legitimately calling you with an offer or with a warning about your account, wouldn’t they have your information already? Of course they would, so there’s no need to supply them with your personal data, especially things like your Social Security number, your birthdate, or your account number and password. Even if they tell you to verify your account information, don’t do it. After all, they called you. They should know who you are. Never give out your information to anyone who calls you. Even if they indicate there’s a problem with your account, hang up and call the company directly using a number you can verify—not the number the caller gives you, as this could lead right back to the scammers.
  1. Too good to be true, too scary to be real – One of the most common phone scams right now (33% of reported calls) involve people posing as IRS agents, claiming that criminal charges are being filed against you for failure to pay your taxes. The second most common phone scam right now is threats from credit card companies or loan companies, claiming you’re behind in your payments (31% of calls). That’s pretty scary stuff. However, the IRS doesn’t call people, it sends a mailed letter with instructions on what to do next; your credit card company will never call you and demand payment over the phone, although depending on the company you might receive a phone call simply informing you that need to address some concern with your account. At the same time, 27% of the reported phone scams involved lottery winnings or some form of sweepstakes winnings. Think about this: how many times have you seen news reports of a major lottery like the Powerball, stating that a winning ticket was sold but the winner has yet to come forward? It happens somewhat frequently. That’s because no one calls the winning ticket holder to inform him that he’s won. If you receive a phone call for a lottery or contest—especially one that you don’t remember entering—hang up…it’s a scam.
  1. Let it ring – With the increase in cell phone ownership and the numbers of people who rely on a cell phone instead of a primary house phone, avoiding a scam is easier than ever. Why? Because there’s no need to answer the phone! If you don’t recognize the number or if the caller ID indicates it’s from a city and state you’re not connected to, simply ignore it. Anyone who actually needs to get in touch with you will leave a voicemail, and if it’s your cell phone, the caller can opt to text you instead.

Just remember one crucial warning: even a text message isn’t necessarily safe. It’s an easy way to spread scams because it can be typed once and delivered to thousands of people instantly. It’s also an easy way to install a virus on your phone, so never click a link in a text message that you were not expecting.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Just about every corner of the internet is filled with scams and fraud attempts, waiting to prey on gullible users. Fortunately, with better awareness and education, more and more people are able to spot these crimes and take action to avoid becoming a victim.

In this instance, one quick-thinking postal employee helped prevent a customer from falling victim to an electronics scam, despite his assurances that everything was legitimate and that his newfound work from home job was genuine. When a customer came into a Fresno, California, post office to mail several packages to international addresses, the employee became curious. She questioned the customer about what the packages contained, and why he was mailing them to those addresses. Fortunately for the customer, he was happy to explain about his new job opportunity rather than feeling put out by the slight intrusion.

That’s when the employee informed him that this was a scam. He told her no, that the company who’d hired him had already sent him a check to purchase the iPads and cover the shipping, along with a remaining amount as his payment. A quick call to his bank, though, confirmed the employee’s suspicions: the check he’d received was no good and his bank balance had not gone up.

Had the employee not been aware of the scam—or worse, had she not cared enough to ask why the individual was mailing iPads overseas—the victim of the scam would have lost out in a big way. Not only would he have bought high-dollar electronics and paid a lot of money to ship them to the thieves, he could then have faced additional overdrawn charges on his bank account. That could also have meant that any checks that bounced went unpaid, possibly resulting in late fees from the intended recipients.

In this instance, there was a happy ending (the victim could return the iPads for a refund), but for too many victims of this type of scam, the end result is far more upsetting. Apart from the lost funds and the feelings of being cheated, in some cases the victims actually continue the scam in the hopes that this will still turn out to be a legitimate job, since they can’t bring themselves to admit they were victimized. In extreme cases of scams like this one, victims have even been roped into receiving stolen goods, which can result in criminal charges for the victim.

It’s absolutely crucial that the public stays informed about scams and fraud, but also to keep in mind one universal adage: there is no such thing as free money. No one will pay you a legitimate income to do a task that can be done with little or no effort, and no one will hire you to do a job that requires almost nothing on your part. If anyone reaches out to you online for employment and cannot provide you with things like a physical address and documentation to report this “amazing” income to the IRS, then it is not a legitimate job offer. Walk away, before you become a victim.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Scammers love to go after senior citizens, for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources available to help stop the spread of scams, and to help empower individuals to fight back without becoming a victim.

recent senior citizens’ symposium is just one example of the kinds of education and awareness that groups like the Federal Trade Commission and AARP are promoting. By combining forces to cover a wide variety of topics, the agencies are working to ensure that senior citizens are aware of the threat and know when to step away from a fraud attempt.

One very important aspect to the recent training was identifying the three major categories of scams. While these three types can impact anyone, they are especially important when talking about elderscam.

Fear – It’s sad to know that there are scams that play off of the victim’s fears, but that’s a very common tactic used to steal from seniors. Some very common fear-based scams include:

  • Threats from phony IRS agents who inform the victim he owes taxes or penalties
  • People who pretend to be kidnappers who’ve taken the victim’s grandchild
  • A person reportedly calling from the utility company, threatening to turn off the victim’s electricity for non-payment
  • A fake call from a bank or financial institution that states the victim has bounced checks and is facing prosecution

Sympathy – Many senior citizens live in less-than-lavish financial circumstances. Through careful savings and planning for retirement, a comfortable standard of living is the ideal. But too many individuals who worked hard to squirrel away money for their retirement are able to sympathize with those who are less fortunate, possibly because they themselves understand the rigid constraints of a fixed-income. For this reason, scammers target the elderly relentlessly with things like:

  • Fake charities or aide collections following a large-scale disaster
  • Requests for money to save a child’s life
  • Emails that claim the individual is stranded in a foreign country and needs money to get home
  • Lonely individuals claiming a desire for a romantic relationship

Greed – Like it or not, greed is a very real human response, and scammers are all too happy to feed that greed with phony offers at making free money. Even some people who should be trustworthy—like church officials or financial advisors—can end up being part of the problem and bilking seniors out of their money. Some common greed-based scams include:

  • Pyramid schemes that promise “easy money” after you submit your payment
  • Work-from-home jobs that don’t require you to actually do anything
  • Selling bogus memberships or financial planning programs that don’t offer any return
  • Emails from people who claim they have millions to share and just need your help processing the funds
  • Reshipping scams, in which the victim is unwittingly trafficking stolen goods

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Internet scams are a horrible fact of life online, and the damage they do can have lasting effects for the victims. Unfortunately, the nature of internet crimes means that law enforcement can face serious obstacles when it comes to investigating and prosecuting internet scammers, many of whom can be operating from foreign locations literally anywhere in the world.

But for at least a few victims, justice has finally been served. Police have successfully arrested a man whose online “rap sheet” puts him as a dating scammer, check thief, and fake concert promoter. In a twisted geographic tale, the native of Ghana came to the US and lived in Maryland, then was arrested in New York but his activity affected victims in Pennsylvania, resulting in the prosecution in Pennsylvania courts.

Sigismond Segbefia was charged with multiple crimes that included bilking women out of money by pretending to be a deployed US serviceman, posing as an Australia businessman, and making a deal with a company by pretending to be a concert promoter. On that larger scale, Segbefia scammed a South Korean company when he took money to put on a concert by musical star Pharrell Williams for them.

As if his crimes weren’t horrible enough, one of the thief’s methods of meeting women online for the purpose of scamming them was to impersonate a US serviceman, whose picture he found on the internet. Segbefia assumed that individual’s identity and gained his victims’ trust, then claimed that his accounts had been frozen while he was deployed in order to entice the women to send him money. He was also originally charged with stealing a check for $23,000, altering it, then cashing it.

In all, Segbefia is believed to have scammed about $1.2 million from his victims, many of whom he met on dating websites like ChristianMingle and Match.com. After his two-year jail sentence, handed down by a judge this past week, he will be required to pay $1 million restitution to his victims and then willingly be deported.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

Only a short time ago, admitting that you met someone online was sure to raise a few eyebrows, but with the increase in reputable dating websites and apps, there’s been a shift in what’s considered normal dating behavior. Unfortunately, the very same popularity and acceptance of online dating has made the whole concept rife with scammers and fraud attempts; and with the growing sophistication of software that lets “bots” do the dirty work, it can be hard to tell the difference between a genuine romance-seeker and a scammer.

One company, Scamalytics, is turning the tables on scammers by using the very same algorithms that help find a closely compatible match between two would-be daters. With hundreds of different variables that help bring people together, the company can use similar characteristics and variables to catch scammers in the act.

While Scamalytics is a service that the dating website would contract—as opposed to something that individual users would sign up for—there are a few key indicators that can help you weed out the scams in order to have a safe and successful online dating experience.

Know the purpose of the site you’re on

There is literally something for everybody when it comes to online dating websites. You can choose your site based on occupation, religious affiliation, even the age demographic or geographic location of the person you want to meet. At the same time, the website you choose will have different goals for its members; some sites are dedicated to helping people forge lasting relationships, while others are for the so-called “casual hookup.”

Avoid the “sexy” stranger

Regardless of whether you’re looking for a long-term relationship or just a one-time, weekend interaction, it might be best to steer clear of any profiles or message offers from people sending out unsolicited compromising photos of themselves. These accounts are quite likely to get your attention, all right, but it’s a common trick of the trade for scammers.

Watch the grammar

The bad grammar on scam emails and websites used to be laughable, but industry experts have discovered a couple of characteristics that are anything but funny. First, bad grammar is often an indication that the person sending the message is foreign, which is ordinarily fine. What isn’t fine is someone who claims to be a US soldier stationed in Kansas, but whose grammar clearly indicates he’s a non-native speaker. Here’s something to remember about grammar: scammers don’t want to waste their valuable time on people who are going to see right through them. By using awkward grammar, scammers are more likely to only catch gullible people instead of those who are savvy enough not to fall for it.

Beware of the sob story

It doesn’t matter what the tale of woe is—stranded in another country and can’t afford a flight, son has been arrested and they can’t pay his bail, sitting aboard a broken down deep sea fishing vessel and can’t get a new engine, whatever—if someone contacts you and eventually has a sad story, be very cautious about engaging. Remember, if this person really did need bail money for a child or money to get home, WHY would they reach out to a stranger they met online? Does this individual have no one else in his or her life whom he can call for help? Think of it this way: if there is genuinely no one closer to this person than a stranger on a dating website, that might be a sign that you shouldn’t invest in this relationship!

Watch out for the excuses

Scammers have gotten really good at coercing their victims, and they’re ready at all times with a playbook of excuses. Maybe he can’t email or chat regularly because he works on an oil rig (a very common line with dating scammers), or maybe she can’t talk on the phone because her parents are very strict and will disown her for having a relationship with someone who isn’t of her culture or religion. Whatever the excuse, they have one…so don’t continue to engage with someone who’s building a story for you to follow.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.