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 – Family Imprisonment Scam

The old Nigerian prince emails used to be almost humorous, but due to more awareness of the issue, scammers have had to switch tactics. Now, many of the phishing emails and phone calls are anything but funny. In one recently reported scam that cost a victim almost $7,000, it was a grandson who was being held in a foreign prison. He needed bail money wired to the “police” immediately.

There’s an interesting twist on this specific report, though. The couple fell for it and wired money via Walmart Money Gram. The next day, they received a phone call from someone who claimed to be with Walmart, informing them that this was a scam and they were due a refund. All they had to do in order to receive the refund was…you guessed it…send more money in order to “verify” the account. They just got scammed twice.

NEVER wire money to anyone who claims to be holding your family member hostage. Always verify your loved one’s location, and call the police if there’s actually a reason to believe someone is in danger.

#2 – BBB Scam

What better way to trick you into handing over your money or your identity than to pretend to be the very people who track these kinds of scams? One victim contacted the Better Business Bureau after receiving a voicemail… claiming to be from the Better Business Bureau!

How are you supposed to protect yourself from scammers who appear to work for the “good guys?” It actually happens all the time. Imposter scams include every possible scenario: law enforcement, the IRS, legal defense teams, schools, hospitals, and yes, even the BBB. If you receive a cold call from someone who claims that you owe money, that you are in some kind of danger (physical or legal), or that you are in any way responsible for making a payment of some kind, hang up. Contact the company or agency they claim to work for directly using a verified phone number (NOT one that the caller provided, as that could lead right back to the scammers) and find out what the issue is for yourself. NEVER give them any payment information or personal data.

#3 – Yellow Pages Scam

It’s important to understand that this particular scam happened to involve a known entity, the Yellow Pages. However, it could apply to any company name at all, and can victimize anyone.

Several reports have come in from small businesses who received a fax that appeared to be an update request for the new phone book. Instead, after sending back their current information, the ugly letters and phone calls began; the sender claimed the original document was actually an order form and that the victim now owes a lot of money. Failure to immediately comply has resulted in victims being harassed and even threatened.

Again, this scam has taken on the guise of the Yellow Pages, and there’s no reason to think the legitimate company is involved in this. It can also happen in exactly the same way, to any kind of victim and with any other company name on it. Always know what you’re signing and submitting, and keep copies of it as proof that you did not place an order or enter into an agreement. If a caller continues to harass you or threaten you with legal action, report the matter to law enforcement.

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.

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 – Tech Support Scam

A scammer reaches out to you—typically by a message on your computer or by phone—and claims to be from tech support for Windows, your computer’s manufacturer, or some other related company. He explains that there are corrupted files on your computer and he has to get in there to fix the issue. The scammer wants access to the victim’s computer in order to dig around for useful information, but be aware that other versions of this same scam also involve callers who offer to “clean” the virus from your computer in exchange for credit card payment for the service. In any case, tech support departments do not work this way; it’s a scam, and you should never give access, information, or payments to someone who calls you.

#2 – Lottery Scams

Lottery scams are certainly nothing new, but the reports that came into the BBB this week had a twist that was straight out of our nightmares. It’s not enough that a cold caller contacted the victim to inform him he’d won a million dollars and a new car in the MegaBucks drawing (a real lottery, by the way). But in this situation, in order to claim the prize, the victim had to meet the “prize committee” at his bank, presumably to deposit the massive check. From there, the conversation took a different turn: they wanted to come to the victim’s house. No one who ever contacts you out of the blue should have any reason to come to your home. If it can’t be handled by mail through a legitimate postal service or shipping company, through email, or through other safer means, you must distance yourself from the situation immediately.

#3 – Work from Home Scam

Work from home scams are as old as the postal system. In the olden days, you bought your kit, you paid for your supplies, you may have even paid for training materials, and at the end of the process the only person who was better off was the individual who sold you all of those goods. Now, thanks to the internet and the abundance of job hunt information, it’s easier than ever for someone to steal your identity by posing as a potential employer.

One person who received a work-from-home employment opportunity in the past week was contacted out of the blue by someone who wanted to hire him, but needed his highly-sensitive information to conduct the “background check,” as well as his bank account information in order to set him up on direct deposit. Those are very plausible reasons to ask for a victim’s identifying information…AFTER he has the job, NOT as part of the hiring process. Never give out this level of information during the hiring process, and never give it to someone who contacts you without prior communication.

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.

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 – Tax Collection

While IRS imposter scams are already blowing up people’s phones and email inboxes, the tax “collection” scam is slightly different. While imposter scams occur when someone pretends to be an IRS agent in order to collect fines or gather your personal information under the pretense of updating your account, a collection scam is far scarier.

Reports have come in already this month in which scammers have contacted potential victims and informed them that legal proceedings are already underway against them. In some cases it’s been civil lawsuits in which the victim is allegedly being sued for failure to pay, and in other circumstances it has been threats of criminal proceedings.

Remember, the IRS is not authorized to take any payments over the phone and will never insist that the only way you can pay is through a wire transfer or prepaid credit card. Those indicators should immediately tell you this is a scam. At the same time, the IRS does not have its own police force, and you will never be called first and told you can halt your own arrest if you just make payment.

#2 – Online Purchase

From time shares to vehicles to concert tickets, reports of scams involving fraudulent online purchasing are on the rise. The availability of legitimate online retail and resale sites has only fostered the idea that you can score great deals from web-based companies. Unfortunately, you can also end up paying for products that don’t even exist, let alone work the way you want them to.

It’s important to make sure you know what you’re getting, how it’s being paid for, and how it will arrive to you before you make any online purchases. Going through a reputable site is a must, as is paying only through a verified payment method that guarantees you some sort of consumer protection. Anyone who expects you to pay upfront and only accepts wire transfers does not have your best interests at heart.

#3 – Overpayment Scam

This one is rarer but certainly not so uncommon that people don’t fall for it. The victim receives a check—either for a legitimate purchase like an item sold on an auction website, but also just out of the blue—and is immediately contacted by the sender and told it was an error. Since they’re such nice people, they’ll have you cash it, keep out $100 for your trouble, and wire them back the rest of it.

Of course, once the check is deposited in your account and you withdraw the money that you’re returning, the check takes a day or so to clear. It’s fake, often written off a phony account. You essentially just took money out of your account and wired it to a thief.

If you receive a check like this, don’t try to make a buck for your “inconvenience.” Just offer to tear it up. It won’t hurt anything to have the check made void and the sender won’t be out any money, so there’s no reason to play along.

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.

Throughout the year, the Identity Theft Resource Center hosts informative Twitter chats on ways the public can protect itself from fraud and scams.

For our upcoming Twitter chat on Thursday, February 4th at 3pm (EST), we’re joining our co-hosts from IDT911 to talk about some of the top scams that are affecting consumers right now.

Some of the topics we’ll cover in this informative session will include:

  • What scams are you hearing about right now?
  • Who is at a high risk of falling for a scam?
  • Tax time is always a large source of scams. What are some tips to avoid tax-related scams?
  • Sweetheart Scams prey on people looking for love. Any advice for avoiding these – especially online?
  • Super Bowl scams are here. How do you know if those low price tickets or ticket giveaways are real?
  • New social media scams pop up every day. How do you identify a scam and protect yourself?
  • Are scams more common online? Or do we still need to worry about traditional phone calls and letters?
  • The elderly are often targets for scammers. How can we protect family and friends?
  • What resources are available for someone who may have already been scammed?
  • What’s your number one tip for spotting a scam?

Scams are nothing new, and have been around in one form or another pretty much since humans first learned that they could get something for nothing by resorting to trickery. The difference these days is the internet has given thieves an unparalleled ability to reach thousands of people at a time at the touch of a button, as well as provided a limitless global audience to victimize. Of course, the shift to internet scamming means it’s all too easy to let our guard down when an “old-fashioned” scam shows up by mail or phone call.

Join us for this important Twitter chat and learn some of the top scams out there, as well as ways to recognize and respond to communications that make you think twice. In order to take part in this free, live event, participants must simply log into their Twitter accounts at 3pm (EST) on February 4th and follow the #IDTheftChat hashtag.

For your convenience, you may also log into the ID Theft Tweet Deck chat room by going to http://tweetchat.com/room/IDTheftChat after signing into your Twitter account. Be sure to type “#IDTheftChat” at the end of each of your tweets so that others may see your comments and questions. If you can’t make the live event, you can also search for the hashtag on Twitter at a later date to read all of the information on the topic of tax identity theft.

Be sure to follow the Identity Theft Resource Center (@IDTheftCenter) and IDT911 (@IDT911) on Twitter for information that will protect you and your loved ones from internet and identity theft crimes throughout the year.

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 into the tax season. In the meantime, take a look at some of their other recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Online Purchase Scams

In this scam, you click on an ad to buy a ridiculously cheap but sought-after item. These ads often claim that the product is endorsed by a high-profile celebrity, but that’s actually not the case. Once you click and enter your information to purchase the product, the real crime begins.

You’re taken to page after page after page of other products to buy, and each time you click “No thanks,” it’s actually adding the item to your shopping cart. When you finally get through to the payment screen, you’re not offered an invoice, only the option to complete your purchase. A later peek at your credit card account will show all of the other items you accidentally purchased.

Even worse, attempting to call customer service to remove these items (if you’re lucky enough to actually reach a representative) only results in being told the items have already shipped, and that the only way to get a refund is for you to wait for the products to arrive and then return them, then to wait up to six weeks for a refund to be processed. They’re counting on you giving up instead of pursuing it further.

You can avoid this scam by only shopping on reputable internet retailers’ sites, and avoiding the temptation to click on a cheap flashy ad.

#2 – Home Improvement Scams

There have been numerous reports of different home improvement scams in the past week, all in different locations and with different contractors. What could be causing an increase in the number of crooks making off with your money?

The season. This is the time of year when a lot of renovators and construction companies are looking for extra work. Their spring, summer, and fall months may be filled with lucrative jobs, but the winter months are when new construction slows down and they look to other opportunities to make ends meet.

Also, taking into consideration the fact that a lot of contractors use day laborers to actually complete the work, you may be hiring a contractor who then has to turn around and scrounge up people to do the physical work. That can be hard on a day-to-day basis when the weather turns foul, meaning the job got started but not finished.

The most important thing to do when hiring a renovation or repair contractor is right there in his name: get a contract. Never hire anyone to do work if you have to pay upfront, even if you’re told it’s for the “parts”; if that’s the case, go to the hardware store yourself and purchase the part. Any reputable construction firm will have the means to purchase the necessary materials and then bill you upon completion of the project.

#3 – Travel Scams

Different travel scams have cropped up in the past week, from the outrageously good “act now” offers to the threatening non-payment scams. Some people reported being offered extra weeks on their timeshares if they only pay the “one time processing fee,” while others were threatened with hefty fines and debt collectors if they didn’t pay up for vacations they’d never booked.

Either way, remember that legitimate companies will never call you out of the blue and expect payment over the phone. Never give your credit card number or identifying information to anyone who contacts you.

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.

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 more recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Phony Tech Support

One of the most prevalent scams in the past week has been fraud attempts that are masked as tech support offers. In these scams, people reach out to their victims by posing as support personnel who can clean viruses off their computers.

First of all, it’s likely that the virus was never even there. A popup box that looks a lot like it came from Microsoft (other versions have flashing red warnings that look very dangerous) can be very hard to ignore, though. When you click the box to remove the threat or report the virus, however, that’s when you actually installed the virus! The box originally showed up when you opened a link in an email, clicked on an ad on a website, or other similar action. Remember, that wasn’t the virus…clicking on the warning is what damages your computer.

Other victims have reported being called out of the blue by individuals who informed them they’d detected viruses on their networks, claiming to work for the computer’s manufacturer. This is false, and it’s not how computers even work. Computer companies don’t staff call centers filled with people who simply sit at a desk all day and monitor their customers’ computer use for any signs of a virus. But that doesn’t stop the scammer from trying.

When you agree to have the support person remove the viruses, you will be directed to pay by credit card, which the scammer will then steal. Remember, never pay over the phone to someone who contacts you for any reason, and if your computer actually does have a virus, there are ways to remove it at home.

#2 – Work from Home Scams

Another commonly reported scam this week was the ever-popular work from home scam. This one has been around literally for decades, mostly because it still works. After all, who doesn’t dream of waking up, turning on their computer while the coffee brews, and sitting down to work for a few hours, all while supposedly making hundreds or even thousands of dollars a week?

Most work from home scams operate by selling you something, like a list of useless names for you to then contact on your own, or the “supplies” you’ll need to conduct your business. With everything from mystery shopping to data entry to envelope stuffing, scammers hold out a lot of different options while taking your money.

There are legitimate work-from-home opportunities out there, but you have to do your homework to find them. And rest assured, you won’t find your next dream career by responding to a spam email or clicking on a flashy sidebar ad.

#3 – IRS Imposters

This scam actually topped the list last week, but it’s still happening and therefore still making our list. With tax time already upon us, imposters are coming out of the woodwork to try to get your money, your identifying information, or both.

Using either email or a technique called caller ID spoofing, the scammer reaches out to you with one of two likely scenarios. In the first, he says that you owe money from last year (either you didn’t pay enough or you owe an unpaid penalty for not filing properly); he then goes on to say that you must make payment immediately in order to file this year’s return, and that you might even face jail time. The second scenario that victims have reported involves “updating” your profile with the IRS, which will require you to fill out an online form or answer questions over the phone. This is nothing more than a way to steal all of your information, and then steal your identity.

Remember, the IRS simply does not work this way. You will never be called or emailed and told to make a payment right then. You will also never be contacted and asked for your personal information.

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.

It seems like the entire country has been caught up in Powerball fever. And with the largest payout in history—approximately 1.6 billion dollars, in case you hadn’t heard—it’s no wonder.

Sadly, as with any major headlining event, scammers are standing ready to trick the public out of their money. As the young people say, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

First of all, lottery scams are nothing new. Most of the major state-run and national lotteries even have warnings on their websites about some of the tricks thieves have tried in the past. Popular myth-debunking site Snopes.com reports regularly on different lottery-based frauds and gimmicks. So what makes the Powerball any different? Opportunity. While long-time lottery scammers have been plying their trade for years, new opportunities to cheat people for a few bucks means even more scammers may be out there, setting their sights on you.

Here are some tips to remember during this feverish time, whether you choose to participate in this lottery (or any lottery, for that matter) or not:

  1. You will not be contacted – The reason the Powerball payoff is so high was because unclaimed money rolls over to the next drawing. During the weeks when there was no jackpot winner, the historic amount got even bigger. But that doesn’t stop scammers from calling, emailing, texting, or sending messages via social media, telling you that your ticket from last week contained enough of the matching numbers to earn you a few million dollars. All you have to do to claim your prize is wire them the taxes and fees. Obviously, that’s a scam. Taxes and fees are handled after you claim your winnings, and they certainly aren’t handled over Facebook messaging.
  1. Entitlement claims – Believe or not, people really do fall for hoaxes that claim anyone who shares a specific post on Facebook is going to receive one million dollars due to Mark Zuckerberg’s agreement with the Powerball organization. No, all you will do is end up informing all of your Facebook contacts that you’re gullible. Even worse, once the internet learns how gullible you are for sharing it, that’s when scammers line up in your message inbox to promise you that you really did win. All you have to do (again) is send them money to cover some fee or tax.
  1. The sharing scam – There have been a wide variety of scams, not just involving the lottery, in which the originator claims he lives in a region where “such and such” isn’t legal. Therefore, if you’ll help him out, he’ll share the money with you. Some states, like Alabama, don’t have a lottery; that means not only is there no state lottery, but even tickets to nationwide opportunities like the Powerball aren’t available for sale within the state. That doesn’t mean that a person in Alabama can’t go to any of the three bordering states which have lotteries and purchase a legal ticket, and then claim his winnings in spite of his address.
  1. And the winners are… – There were reportedly three winners who will share the jackpot: one from California, one from Tennessee, and one from Florida. Of course, that means that the winners could conceivably live in any of the neighboring states, too. There were also many different winners who had some form of adequate winning numbers—some of them will receive a million dollars, some will receive $50,000, and on down to the lowest qualifying number. That means there’s a huge potential for scamming, especially if you live in those states or vicinities. Whether it’s an internet message from someone pretending to be a jackpot winner who’s giving away his fortune, or a message claiming that you’re a lower-level (and therefore, more believable) winner and only have to pay a small amount to claim it, the opportunity to become a victim is tremendous at this time.

Do keep in mind that there is a very real possibility of not just scams, but other financial crimes. If anyone approaches you and asks you to take possession of their lottery winnings to avoid paying taxes, to avoid having to share it with an ex-wife who’s owed child support, or other similar request, stay far away. That type of behavior is illegal, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

If anyone ever approaches you for any reason with a request to move or transfer money, it is not only a scam, it is a crime. At the very least you’ll be in harm’s way for receiving and moving stolen property; more likely, there was never any money to move in the first place and you will instead be turning over your own funds in the scam. Stay far away from these offers, and protect yourself from the fraud.

If you get a phone call from your bank and a representative tells you there’s an issue with your account, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll sit up and take notice. After speaking to the representative for a few moments and verifying your account holder information, you might be offered some options if there’s a payment or minimum balance issue.

Obviously, you’d want to resolve the matter as quickly as possible, even if it meant transferring money from another account or paying funds into your account by credit card. There’s just one problem: that helpful young man who took the time to call you about the issue doesn’t work for your bank. He might not even be in this country, let alone working from an office at your financial institution.

Using a technique known as “caller ID spoofing,” scammers are able to alter their phone numbers to make it appear that they work for your bank, your credit card company, the IRS, even your local police station. What citizen wouldn’t follow instructions when the police call to inform you that you owe a speeding ticket fine, or that your loved one is in jail and you can post his bail over the phone via credit card?

That’s the unfortunate reality for many victims of phone scams, which is why Pennsylvania State Representative Karen Boback is working to introduce legislation in her state that will make it a crime for unauthorized agencies or individuals to spoof their information in order to appear to be someone else on your caller ID. The bill, House Bill 391, would make it a misdemeanor to change your data for this kind of purpose. It does not prevent people from blocking their data, though, which is an important distinction.

In the case of a blocked caller ID, or “unknown number” message on your screen, you still have no way of knowing that the caller is a scammer, but at least you would know that your bank or the IRS will never call you from a blocked number. There’s an important lesson here that underlies this crime, though, and that’s the willingness to give out personal information to strangers.

No matter what the number says on your caller ID, there is never a valid reason to give someone your account number, your Social Security number, or any other identifying information if they contact you. If you were the one who initiated the call, you might still have reason to be cautious when it comes to supplying others with your information. Finally, there is almost no conceivable reason to make a payment over the phone to an unsolicited request. If someone contacts you for a payment, hang up and call back using a known, verified phone number for the company or agency.

 

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has literally changed the world, and we don’t just mean in the development of the social media platform that he started in his college dorm room.

Besides the innovations and regulations that have all come about thanks to the crew at Facebook, Zuckerberg has just announced something astounding, especially for someone with his net worth. He’s giving it all away. Yes, one of history’s youngest self-made billionaires is donating 99% of his stock in Facebook to charity. Sadly, this wonderful announcement—which coincided with the birth of his first child—has been tainted by scams and fraud, namely in the latest Facebook hoax to make the rounds. The text of this latest hoax reads:

“THANK YOU, MARK ZUCKERBERG, for your forward-thinking generosity! And congrats on becoming a dad! Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he is giving away $45 billion of Facebook stock. What you may not have heard is that he plans to give 10% of it away to people like YOU and ME! All you have to do is copy and paste this message into a post IMMEDIATELY. At midnight PST, Facebook will search through the day’s posts and award 1000 people with $4.5 million EACH as a way of saying thank you for making Facebook such a powerful vehicle for connection and philanthropy.
I hope someone I know gets a piece of the pie–let me know if you do!!!”

Sigh…no, he’s not giving his fortune to the random internet people who made him the man he is today. Luckily, he is giving his funds to organizations that work towards the advancement of humanity, the eradication of disease, to education initiatives, and more. At the end of the day, which of those two scenarios is more beneficial to society, and more believable?

This one is a complete and total hoax. The periodic use of all-caps should tell us that. But if you break it down and look at the information, it should also make you suspicious. Where is the news article—from a reputable source, not a homemade blog—linking to this? Where is the video of the founder at a press conference, making this momentous announcement? It’s not there, because it’s not real.

Interestingly, there’s a huge difference between a scam and a hoax, the most important difference being that scams are after your money and hoaxes are nothing more than silly jokes, intended to give the originator a good laugh. This one not only doesn’t require money for you to participate, it also doesn’t claim that you have to like or share the post (which does benefit the person who originally started it), so this is nothing more than a gullibility test.

There is something unfortunate to remember about Facebook hoaxes: they can actually have consequences. Besides the fact that you just told the entire internet that you’ll believe anything you read, especially if there’s a chance of getting some free money out of it, when you share a hoax on your social media you are perpetuating outright lies that often cause hysteria, mistrust, or a confusion about how technology and society really work.

Think back to other hoaxes you’ve probably encountered online. “The hospital will donate $1 for every like, $2 for every share! Let’s save this little boy’s life!” Do we really believe that medical professionals stand ready to operate on an adorable little boy, waiting for the post to reach 100,000 likes? That kind of mindset makes the public believe there are arbitrary and pointless deciding factors in our healthcare system. “Delete this app now, the police, the CIA, and the FBI are already investigating the man who wrote it!” This hoax appears from time to time when new apps and games come out; there are plenty of security flaws in our everyday software, and spreading lies about the CIA’s involvement in a child’s game causes people to doubt the very real security threat in other programs.

Remember, if you don’t have a verified and reputable source of the information, it’s best not to share it. Avoid keeping the confusion and hysteria going—and avoid looking sheepish when it turns out you shared a complete lie while trying to “win” something—by knowing what you share, and where it came from.

There’s no shortage of scammers lurking on social media, but a recent scam on Facebook may hit a little too close to its mark, especially at this time of year. As the holidays approach, it’s easy to fall victim to offers of free money, but this one is nothing but a fraud.

The Facebook Lottery Scam is certainly nothing new, but what makes this version different is the accompanying image of a certificate of authenticity made out to the recipient. In this version, which typically comes through private messages on Facebook, someone contacts you to let you know that you’ve won, and then informs you that you must show up in person to collect your winnings. When you reply that you can’t do that due to geographic limitations, you’re then offered the option to have the winnings shipped to you for an outrageous amount of money.

You might wonder how people can still fall for these online scams, but as the public has become more aware of it, the criminals have had to up their game in order to convince people to believe it. One of the methods for enticing people to play along is to use hacked friends’ accounts, meaning the award notice can look like it came from someone you know. Other attempts at convincing you this is real can involve using specific information about you, like your workplace or names of people you know, all of which is information that can easily be garnered from your Facebook profile, your previous posts, or your friends’ list.

This type of scam is so common that the FBI actually has a name for it: advance fee scam. That designation refers to any con game in which the victim is instructed to pay a fee in order to collect a prize, be hired for a job, or other similarly beneficial situation. If anyone ever offers you employment, a prize, or any other form of payoff in return for the recipient fronting some funds, it most likely falls into this category.

Unfortunately, not only is it nearly impossible to track down the culprit in advance fee scams that take place online, the victim often feels so ridiculous at being victimized that he or she never comes forward. By not alerting others to the scam, though, there are practically guaranteed to be more victims.

To avoid this type of crime, remember a few simple rules about online activity. First, never send money to anyone who contacts you online, no matter how enticing, alarming, heart-wrenching, or plausible the story. Next, keep in mind that no one has ever gotten rich from a lottery they didn’t enter in the first place. There is no such thing as money for nothing, and anyone who says otherwise is quite possibly out to steal from you.