This country has a long history of its citizens writing to servicemen and women who are deployed far from home. They’ve sent care packages to soldiers fighting in wars, sent movies and books to those who are deployed to remote places, and just sent pen pal-style letters to let soldiers know they are not forgotten.

These communications have even been passed between strangers, sent by individuals who heard of someone who was far from home and decided to send a thoughtful pick-me-up. The USO at one time organized entire lists of soldiers who could use a friendly letter, and citizens back home stepped up to the plate to offer their support.

Unfortunately, that long-standing history has been corrupted into something ugly in the digital age: the military romance scam.

Using Facebook and other social media sites, scammers reach out to unsuspecting users every single day, duping them into forming online relationships by creating accounts that use stolen names, ranks, and photographs. With so much information available online about our troops, it’s all too easy to steal a picture and a name, and use it to tug at someone’s heart strings. Even worse, since the victim can verify the existence of this soldier through online searches, it makes it all the more plausible that someone will fall for it.

“We cannot stress enough that people need to stop sending money to persons they meet on the internet and claim to be in the U.S. military,” said Chris Grey, Army CID’s spokesman, in an Army.mil article on romance fraud.

Why are these scams so popular? Apart from our natural sympathy for anyone who is heroically serving the country while putting himself in harm’s way, there are also inherent factors about our soldiers that make it easy for scammers to avoid detection. Their far-flung locations across multiple time zones means they won’t be able to speak on the phone much, military regulations may prevent full-disclosure contact without raising our suspicions, and the fact that soldiers pack up at a moment’s notice means the scammer can discontinue the fraud once he gets his money then recycle the soldier persona he created in order to scam his next victim.

Here are some things the public needs to keep in mind about these scams:

  1. NEVER send money to a soldier you’ve met online, especially a wire transfer or prepaid credit card. This includes money for food, for plane tickets to go on leave, or to pay bills back home. The process might move slowly for soldiers who are deployed, but there are protocols in place for them to get everything they need.
  2. Soldiers will never need you to send devices like expensive satellite phones or cell phones; any soldier who’s allowed to speak on a phone for personal calls will have base access to one.
  3. Do not authorize a serviceman whom you’ve met online to use your accounts, like your email, your Amazon or PayPal, or your bank accounts. Again, they have mechanisms to use these accounts themselves; anyone who tells you that he can’t access his account while in the country but can somehow use yours is lying to you.
  4. This is vital: NEVER agree to receive a shipment from a soldier, either to hold for someone to pick up or to mail to someone else. Again, there is no legal reason that a US soldier can send the box to you but not to its intended recipient. If he claims he can only send mail to certain addresses (like yours) or says that it’s simply his personal belongings that won’t fit on the plane, it’s a lie and there’s a crime afoot.
  5. Don’t agree to pose as a fiancé or family member. Once again, there is no legal reason why you need to pretend to be someone you’re not. Even in cases of something as seemingly innocent as pretending to be a soldier’s fiancé in order to let the soldier have housing arrangements, that is a violation of military protocol and you shouldn’t be a part of it.

The unfortunate reality is that far too many people have already been scammed out of serious money because they fell for a sob story from someone posing as a soldier. The sad reality is you should never communicate with someone online who claims to be a member of the military.

Phishing emails are not new, but the approach they’re taking may be unfamiliar to some victims. In a phishing attempt, a scammer sends out hundreds or even thousands of emails, hoping someone takes the bait.

Some of the most infamous phishing tactics are the so-called Nigerian prince emails, or messages that promise the recipient a share of the wealth if they’ll only help traffic a fortune out of the country. Those emails are so laughable that they’ve made their way into pop culture and entertainment media, but the truth of the matter is the current state of phishing attempts is anything but funny. Now that the general public tends to dismiss the ridiculous emails as fraud, scammers have had to evolve in order to continue to reel in their victims.

That’s why boss phishing or CEO phishing is growing in popularity. With a few simple hacks, cybercriminals can take over the boss’ email account, send it to all of his or her employees, and give them instructions to do something that compromises the network and gives the thieves what they want. Even better, there’s no need to hope for a nibble or two after sending out countless emails, since a boss phishing email tells a focused group of people to comply with the demand. What employee is going to ignore and delete an email from the boss?

That’s certainly the case for a New York school system who received two phishing emails, which then prompted an employee to turn over all of the teachers’ personal identifiable information—including Social Security numbers—to the scammers. This action came after receiving an email that appeared to come from the district’s superintendent. The school district has now sent out warnings to the teachers to be mindful of phishing tactics and to monitor their credit reports and accounts carefully for any sign of fraud. Another unnamed school district in New York has also reported receiving these phishing emails, apparently from their superintendent.

With the increase in awareness of scams, fraud attempts, and identity theft, cybercriminals have to get more and more sophisticated in order to keep up. At the same time, the tools the scammers have at their disposal—such as the ability to hack into an email network in order to send out message that appear to come from someone in charge—are also easier to come by, meaning they don’t have to have any specific hacking training in order to pull off these scams. Consumers have got to stay on top of the matter and protect themselves, mostly by remembering to never give out their personal information over email or online without knowing where it will end up.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker. Take a look at some of their recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Dating Scam

Internet scams typically work by playing off our emotions. In the case of dating scams, the effect is even more heartbreaking; individuals who are already lonely and reaching out to others online can end up victimized, robbed of not only their money but also their trust in others.

One report to the BBB about a dating scam was so common that it might as well have been scripted. The victim met someone online, and soon enough the scammer asked for gift cards. From there, the scammer requested a wire transfer, which is when the victim became suspicious.

Remember, there’s always a chance that the person on the other side of the computer is a fraud, and there’s no better way to uncover that than to refuse to send money to someone online. Someone who does actually care about you wouldn’t ask in the first place, and certainly wouldn’t take offense if you don’t comply.

#2 – Boss Phishing

Boss phishing is a growing problem, namely because it works so well. But this past week marks one of the first times a victim has reported an attempted boss phishing to the Scam Tracker. In this incident, the recipient of the email happened to be the CFO of a company, and the phishing email appeared to come from the CEO. Right away, the first problem was the email addresses didn’t match, only the name in the subject line.

When the CFO was directed to transfer a large sum of money to a new account, he made a quick phone call to the CEO to see if it was legitimate. Obviously it wasn’t, but that didn’t stop the scammers from contacting him several more times to see if he’d sent over the money yet.

If you’re ever emailed or messaged and told to follow through with a somewhat strange request from the boss, it’s easy…just pick up the phone and verify it first.

#3 – Contractor Scam

One victim has already reached out to the BBB with news of a fraudulent contractor this week, one who claims to be licensed and bonded and who boasts about his solid reputation. So imagine the victim’s shock when he discovered that the phony contractor’s business address was actually the UPS Store in their town. He was further surprised to discover that the thousands of dollars he paid in advance for work to be done was gone, along with the contractor.

Any time a contractor tells you that you must pay up front, or must pay for the materials before he can get started, you should become suspicious. If you can’t locate anyone who has hired this individual in the past and can endorse the quality of the work, then take your business elsewhere.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker. Take a look at some of their recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Payday Loan Scam

The world of payday loans and advanced funds loans can be filled with a lot of shady pitfalls, but one report to the BBB last week indicated an even scarier threat. The victim went online and applied for a loan through a payday loan website. He was immediately inundated with phone calls from a company he hadn’t heard of, approving him for the loan and informing him that he has to pay a lot of fees upfront.

If you had the money to pay hefty fees upfront, chances are you wouldn’t be applying for a payday loan to see you through. Watch out not only for scam companies that bilk their victims with these tactics, but also with unsecured websites that steal your personal identifying information.

#2 – Credit Repair Leading to Identity Theft

This victim report was very interesting in that it targeted someone who has had trouble with his credit in the past. He received an automated phone call that was quite aggressive about an overdue bill. The victim has never had an account with the company listed in the phone call, so he knew he was in the clear.

But after calling the company the next day just to be sure that there wasn’t an error or an account that had fraudulently been opened in his name, he discovered that this particular tactic wasn’t about getting the fee paid: it was about stealing his personal identifiable information.

Banking on the fact that people who’ve had to work hard to get their credit back in shape won’t remember which accounts they’ve opened, scammers call and pretend to be a company that has yet to be paid off. Their only intention is to gather up your sensitive information in order to steal your identity. Remember, never give out your personal data to someone who calls you or emails you. If they’re calling you about an account you supposedly opened, they should already know everything they need to know.

#3 – Shipping Scam

A victim reported that he had been hired to receive packages, affix a shipping label, and then mail the packages to the recipients. He would be paid for each package, but of course, after only a short time the company stopped responding, removed its website, and left him holding the bill for the shipping that he’s already paid out. In other versions of this scam, the victim actually pays for the item as well, expecting to be repaid when the account is settled.

Unfortunately, this scam doesn’t just involve the money that’s lost in shipping charges. There’s a very real chance that the packages the victim received were actually stolen goods; even if he has no knowledge of the operation, he could still be held criminally accountable for his part in it.

Think it through: why would someone pay you to receive and then reship a package? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and faster to just ship the package to the intended recipient, and cut out the middle man? Beware any “job” offers that promise you money for basically doing nothing.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker. Take a look at some of their recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Credit Repair Scam

There are a few universal truths that make it easy for scammers to cold call their potential victims. Everyone would love to take a vacation, they all have to pay taxes, and there’s an excellent chance you have at least one credit card that carries a balance. That’s why these three topics are on a short list of favorite scam attempts.

Repairing your credit score and paying off out-of-control debt is an incredibly serious matter that involves meeting with a credit counselor. This counselor can help you do the math and know what mount to pay to reduce your balances, can work with your lenders to reduce your interest rate or even your total balance, and can help get you on the road to being debt-free. Sadly, they have plenty of clients, so many that they do not need to resort to auto-dialing your phone to drum up new business.

If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone who wants your personal information—like credit card numbers or Social Security numbers—and promises you they can erase your debt, hang up.

#2 – Account Cancellation

Whether it’s a phone call, an email, or even a mailed letter, if you receive some kind of threat that requires you to take swift action to resolve a matter, you should immediately become suspicious. In one reported case this week, a man received an email from his bank that his account had issues and was facing immediate cancellation unless he clicked the included link and resolved the matter.

Thankfully, he ignored the email and contacted his bank directly, who confirmed that it was a scam. The link in the email would have likely installed malicious software on his computer.

To find out if any kind of threat is genuine, remember to always go to the source using a verified contact number (not a number listed in the communication, since the scammers would answer that phone and confirm the contents of the letter) before you take any action.

#3 – Prize Winning Scam

One report to the BBB this week can only be described as bizarre. A caller informed a would-be victim that she had won a new Mercedes. He told her he would be delivering the car personally and that she need only pay the fees for the prize. According to the report, she must have actually given him her home address.

Instead of delivering her car, he arrived in a cab and demanded the fees. Fortunately, the victim refused to pay him as he had not brought the car.

The bizarre part? He claimed the prize was from the Better Business Bureau as a reward of some kind!

Remember, you will never win a prize or award that you never entered, and a legitimate prize does not require you to front any money or pay any fees. If you’re told you must jump through hoops to claim your prize, it’s a scam.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker.

Take a look at some of their recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Apartment Rental Scams

Finding an affordable place to live in a nice neighborhood can be daunting, and there are a lot of websites that promise to help you find one that meets your needs. Unfortunately, the chances of falling for a scam are really high in this type of online finder service.

One report to the BBB this week was from someone who not only paid a fifty dollar “application fee,” but also turned over all of his sensitive personal identifiable information on the form. Now, not only does he have no apartment and has had no luck in reaching customer service about a refund, he’s also receiving scam attempts via text message and email.

Short of doing all your own legwork, it’s hard to avoid turning over your information for this kind of help. All you can do is make sure you’re working with a highly reputable company that has good reviews from genuine customers.

#2 – Tech Support Scam

This phishing attempt comes around quite frequently, and it works when the victims aren’t very familiar with computers and technology. A caller informs you that your computer has been infected, and then states that he can clean it for a fee. There are a couple of things the scammer may be after, depending on how sophisticated his own technology is.

If the scammer isn’t that tech savvy himself, he’s only after your personal information and your credit card (which you use to pay for the service). If he does have a little more computer skill, he’s after sensitive information stored in your computer, which he’ll most likely get by installing a virus and gleaning the data later.

Remember, tech companies do not hire people to sit around and watch their customers’ computers for any signs of trouble. If you’re having issues, you are the one who reaches out to tech support. The only exception would be if you’ve signed up already for a monitoring service, in which case you will recognize the company who’s contacting you and they will be able to verify your account.

#3 – Employment Scam

A new employment scam has made the rounds, one that offers the victim a job interview but requires fees in order to apply. This scam plays off the fact that the job seems completely genuine—a housekeeping job that candidates actually have to interview for in person, as opposed to suspicious work-from-home internet jobs—but there are hidden fees required before you can interview. In this scam, victims paid over $200 each to the interviewer for an OSHA card, and then never heard from the company again.

There are jobs that require you to fulfill obligations before you can begin employment, but be wary of postings that require you to pay before you can interview, and that require you to pay the company who’s posting the job. Yes, many companies require background checks or a drug test, for example, but even if that fee is passed on to the applicant, you typically pay it to the agency conducting the check, not to the potential employer.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker.

Take a look at some of their recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Puppy Scams

Scams work because they target our emotions, and the puppy scam is no different. There are many variations on it, from a breeder with a website filled with adorable photos to sob stories about a puppy that is free to a good home; the end result can be falling victim to a shipping scam.

There are legitimate companies that ship animals, but there are also too many scammers out there looking for a quick buck via the anonymity of the internet. Any company that requires you to pay upfront, only accepts payment through a money wire like Western Union, or is trying to “give” you a free puppy from a foreign country probably isn’t legitimate. If in doubt, remember…there are plenty of loving pets looking for a good home right in your town.

#2 – Phishing Mail

If you’ve spent more than five minutes on the internet, you’ve probably already received a phishing email. This is a communication that tries to get you to comply with the instructions in order to scam you out of money. But now that word has gotten out about emails like the famous Nigerian Prince emails, scammers are having to switch tactics.

All during the recent tax season, reports came in about scam phone calls that claimed to be IRS agents, stating that the victim owed money and was facing criminal penalties. Now that the tax filing deadline has passed, victims have reported receiving postcards with ominous sounding names like “Compliance Violation Division,” claiming the individual has violated some regulation and is being held accountable.

Remember, you are under no obligation to pay money to someone who calls you or emails you and demands payment immediately. However, mailed correspondence is a little more genuine, but can still carry risks of scams. Always contact the company directly—NOT using the phone number listed on the postcard—and ask to speak to a customer service agent about your account.

#3 – Past Due Invoice

There were multiple reports in the past week about businesses receiving “overdue” invoices, some of which even threatened to send the matter to a collection agency. Many of these invoices involved overdue payment for business ads in the Yellow Pages, but attempts to contact the invoicing company not only showed an out-of-service phone number or a fax line, but also that the company who’d sent the invoice was not associated with the Yellow Pages. The scammers send these out in hopes that you’ll just pay the bill, but it’s important that you don’t. Never send in payment for any unexplained bill without speaking to a customer service agent from the company.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker.

It’s worth noting that IRS Imposter Scams are still topping the list of reports to the BBB, and that isn’t likely to change until well after tax season. In the meantime, take a look at some of their other recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Unsolicited Check Scam

There are so many variations on this scam that it’s hard to keep track of them all, but one report to the BBB last week said the victim received a fake check for $2,000 that appeared to come from Walmart. The accompanying letter gave the recipient instructions on completing a “quality control” job, and that this paycheck would serve as compensation.

In reality, cashing the check would open up a floodgate of possibilities, including identity theft, account theft, bank fees for an invalid check, or automatically subscribing to an ongoing charge.

Remember, there is no such thing as free money, especially in the form of an unsolicited check for a job you never applied for. Scammers are playing off of our desire for extra money; they certainly won’t be the ones to lose out in a situation like this.

#2 – Good Citizen Scam

This variation on tax scams is really tricky, and it’s perfect for this time of year. While many people will still file their tax returns on (or after) the mid-April deadline, a lot of citizens have already filed and even put their refunds to good use. Those people are ripe for scammers to come after with a “good citizen” scam.

Scammers posing as IRS agents—either through phone calls, emails, or even postal mailers—claim that you are entitled to additional funds as the government’s way of thanking you for filing on time.

Even if there is some truth to government award programs, no one will contact you and ask for your personal identifiable information in order to “process” this reward. Think about it… they’re with the state or federal tax office. They already have all of your information, including where you work and how much money you made last year. Yet scammers call and ask you to “verify” your information, which allows them to steal your identity.

#3 – Online Dog Breeder Scam

All scams are horrible, but ones that play off our emotions as a way to pressure us to cooperate are particularly bad. In this report, the victim was strung along by an internet scammer who claimed to be selling puppies. After much back and forth and promises of the dog—complete with photos—the victim finally agreed to pay half of the asking price via instant wire transfer. Of course, there was no dog. The asking price of $500 plus an additional $200 for shipping resulted in the victim losing out on half that money and never hearing from the scammer again.

When you’re buying something online, the internet can be a Wild West of options. If you have the choice to only deal with well-known, reputable companies, that’s usually a safer bet. But when dealing with individuals, always do your homework. Read reviews from other buyers who’ve dealt with this individual, and contact those people directly for more information if you can. Speak to the seller on the phone and verify as much as you can about him or her. Ask for copies of state licenses if you’re working with someone who sells something that is regulated, and request a notarized document describing the item for sale and proving its existence. Finally, when it comes time to pay, use an authorized escrow-type payment service that will hold the funds and guarantee the consumer’s protection if an issue arises.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker.

It’s worth noting that IRS Imposter Scams are still topping the list of reports to the BBB, and that isn’t likely to change until well after tax season. In the meantime, take a look at some of their other recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Credit Card Interest Scam

Everyone wants to save money, and to think that they are making smart choices with their finances. So when an individual calls you to offer you a lower interest rate on your credit card, you’re bound to take it seriously. Unfortunately, once a scammer has your interest, you’re more like to fall for fraud.

In a recent scam report to the BBB, the caller—who claimed to be from the would-be victim’s credit card company—stated that he was eligible for a lower interest rate. All he would need to do in order to process the better rate would be to verify all of his information, including account number and Social Security number.

Fortunately, the recipient doesn’t have a credit card with that company, but even more importantly, he smelled a scam and refused to turn over his data. It’s important to remember that no one who calls you will ever need all of your information, and that anyone who contacts you and asks for sensitive information like your Social Security number is not to be trusted.

#2 – Government Grant

Just in a matter of a few days, multiple reports were made to the BBB about government grant scams. Callers who identify themselves as working for the US government to distribute free grant money are really just looking for your personal identifying information and account information in order to steal your identity and your money.

While it’s true that a lot of grant and scholarship money goes unclaimed every year, there’s a basic reason for that: because the process of applying for those funds is very involved. The government simply does not call random citizens and offer them money. No one does, and if you’re ever offered money or gifts in exchange for your information or a small application fee, hang up immediately.

#3 – Debt Collection Scam

This is a strange variation on an old scam, and it’s alarming because it’s far too easy for it to work. In this instance, a caller contacted the victim about a current debt. The caller claimed to work for a payment processing center, and stated that the debt had been sent to this company in order to work with the victim on making payments. It sounded a lot like a collections company, but somewhat friendlier.

The victim agreed to make payments since he did, in fact, owe the debt. Unfortunately, the company wasn’t real, and the debt wasn’t actually paid off. The victim paid the full amount of the debt (broken up into two payments), but now he still owes that amount to the original debtor.

Remember, you will never have to make payment in any way to someone who calls you over the phone or emails you. You may be sent reminder notices or receive reminder phone calls, but all legitimate payments will be initiated via a paper bill; follow up messages are fine, only after the original debt has been stated in writing with complete company information and account numbers. If you’re contacted and told to make a payment immediately, request a letter in writing and then verify it before ever sending a dime.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data.

The Better Business Bureau leads the way by publishing a recurring and continually updated list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each day in its Scam Tracker.It’s worth noting that IRS Imposter Scams are still topping the list of reports to the BBB, and that isn’t likely to change until well after tax season. In the meantime, take a look at some of their other recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Secret Shopper Scam

Mystery shopping has been among the top scams for a long time, and it keeps working because there are actually legitimate mystery shopping companies out there. The way to tell a scam from the real thing, though, comes down to whether or not you have to pay any money to sign up, receive lists of stores, or set up your own mystery shopping jobs.

But there’s a new take on it, and it combines the work-from-home scam with a money laundering scam. In the version reported this week, the victim was paid with a personal check and told that the shopping job involved depositing the check into her bank account, keeping $500 for completing the job, then wiring the remaining $1600 to another person via Moneygram.

If the victim had followed through, the original personal check would have bounced and the $1600 money wire would have been taken out of the victim’s bank account.

There is no legitimate reason why you should ever receive a check and then turn around and send a portion of those funds to someone else. It is a known front for criminal activity and financial fraud.

#2 – Bad Check Scam

This scam plays upon your fears of criminal action after informing you that you’ve broken the law. The victim received a letter that appeared to be official, informing him that he had bounced two checks. It went on to say that there were now bad check charges filed against him, and if he did not pay the amount of the checks plus his court fees, he would be arrested.

Here’s the catch: the letter stated that the only way to pay the fine was with a certified check. The victim couldn’t transfer money from his savings account to cover the checks, for example, or go down to the police station and pay in cash.

Whenever you’re given only one payment option—and it’s an untraceable method, like prepaid debit cards or money wires—that should cause you to think twice. A quick phone call to your bank will let you know if you’re the target of a scam or not.

#3 – Ransomware Scam

Ransomware is a form of cyberattack that can affect anything from a Fortune 500 company’s network to the smartphone in your pocket. There are a variety of different ways that your technology could have become infected, but the end result is still that a scammer is holding your device or computer for “ransom.”

It happens when you’ve accidentally installed some malicious software. A box or screen appears that tells you your computer is infected, and nothing you do seems to fix it. If you call the phone number or go to the website to fix it, you’re told to pay a fee to “clean” your system. Sometimes these messages seem to come from a legitimate source, like Microsoft informing you that your network is compromised and they can repair it; other versions have been far more sinister, as in a hacker actually stating he was responsible for this and will only remove it if you pay up.

The most important thing to do is never give in to the demand. If you cannot unlock your system yourself, take it to a computer repair office and see what can be done. Turning over your credit card number to a scammer in order to remove the issue only gives them your financial information, and may not even remove the problem.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker site 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.

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.