There’s a very specific danger looming online right now, one that seeks to steal both its victims’ money and identifying information. Under the wrong circumstances, this particular threat can even land the victims in jail.

Romance scams prey on people who are lonely or feel unsuccessful at finding love. Victims of romance scams can come from every income level, educational background, gender, sexual identity, and ethnicity. There’s no single target demographic for this crime because anyone can be tricked by a sweet talker who says exactly what they need to hear.

Unfortunately, with the commercialism of Valentine’s Day all around us, this is the time when scammers up their game. No one wants to be alone on the most romantic day of the year, so now is the time when the bait is thrown out there and the nets are cast, hoping to snare a willing victim.

There are a few different ways that romance scams can manifest, including:

1. Out of towner needs money

One all too common approach is the social media message from a pleasant-looking person who is “intrigued” by your profile picture. You start talking and learn that this person is an offshore oil rig worker, or deep-sea fisherman, or even a deployed member of the military. The job is important, as it provides the excuse to be away from a computer and phone and away from their own funds for long periods of time. That way, it’s much more plausible when they need YOU to send money for some reason. Some reported excuses have included things like a new engine for the boat since the scammer claims to be stranded at sea, or plane tickets home from Afghanistan when the scammer says his mother is in the hospital.

2. I want to come see you, but…

Some reported romance scams have included victim stories about losing a lot of money because the other person was supposed to come visit. When they supposedly arrived at the airport, their ticket was for the wrong flight and they had to pay a fee. Then it was the need for a visa to enter the country. Then it was more fees… and the game continued.

3. Money laundering romance scams

But how do victims end up in criminal trouble for their part in all this? It’s simple. The scammer gets the victim to accept a deposit in their bank account, withdraw the money, then turn around and wire that money to someone else. The victim is now complicit in stealing money from other victims and forwarding it to other bad guys. Just because they’re also a victim, that doesn’t erase their criminal role in the scam.

The internet is filled with very real opportunities to meet someone special, but it’s also a breeding ground for scammers. By using reputable dating sites you might avoid a lot of the heartache, but the companies who run the sites cannot vet every single profile or message for authenticity. At the same time, social media has made it all too easy for criminals to contact victims with sincere-sounding promises.

In order to safeguard your heart and your money, it’s important to adopt an air of caution about anyone you meet online. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t fall for it in person, don’t fall for it online. Anyone who declares undying love too early in the relationship or asks for over-the-top favors too soon is not to be trusted. If the person’s background story is a little too shady or falls into the stereotype of the romance scammer, be careful. Most of all, keep your personal information and your money close and don’t be quick to share either one.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Whenever the end of another year rolls around, it’s interesting to look back at the year behind and compile the “best of” or “worst of” lists. Top twenty songs or films, top fashion trends or viral videos, you name it…there’s a list for everything.

Unfortunately, identity theft and fraud also have a top ten list, as the following scams demonstrate. This list includes some of the most prevalent scams of 2017, some of the most damaging, and quite frankly, some of the most bizarre.

1. Can You Hear Me? Scam

When news of this scam began to circulate, it almost seemed like a hoax. However, law enforcement agencies all over the country issued warnings after victim reports began to roll in. A caller, presumably fumbling with a headset mic or worried about a bad connection, would ask a simple question—“Can you hear me?”—and record the victim saying, “Yes.” That simple answer led to expensive charges and subscriptions for the victim after their responses were spliced onto a different recorded question.

2. Bank Text Scams

Victims all across the country reported receiving text messages from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, and other high-profile financial institutions, warning them that something was wrong with their accounts. These “smishing” scams called for recipients to click the included link, which led to installing a virus on the mobile device or taking the victim to a screen to submit all of their highly sensitive personal information to the scammer.

3. Health Insurance Scams

Following the start of a new presidential administration, there was a lot of news circulating about “repealing and replacing” the government healthcare program. That led to scam attempts that offered to secure your health insurance coverage for another year, offers of a new government program, and more, all of which were fake.

4. Student Loan Relief Scams

Again, with the changeover in presidential administrations, scammers also sought out victims by threatening them with the loss of other existing government programs, this one specifically for student loan forgiveness. Any scam that can entice victims to “act now or lose out” can cause even the most sensible people to make a rash decision.

5. Reshipping Scams

This category of scams not only can cause its victims to lose money or personal information, it can also land them in jail. Reshipping scams can involve trafficking in stolen goods or accepting illegal payments then sending that money on to another scammer. Either way, the victim in the middle is just as guilty of a crime as the mastermind behind it. One US citizen in Louisiana has just been indicted on more than 200 counts of wire fraud for serving as the go-between in a Nigerian prince email scam.

6. Nigerian Prince Scams

Speaking of Nigerian princes…those scams aren’t going away anytime soon. What has changed, though, are the tone and the tactics. One version went rampant this year: the death threat. The bone-chilling email says someone has hired the sender to kill you, but he’s been following you and you “seem like a good person.” For the amount of money requested, he will happily not harm you.

7. Social Media Scams

This year saw not only social media scams, but also more variety in the platforms that were used. Facebook hoaxes and gift card scams are nothing new, but they’ve filtered over to other platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp. These typically entice you to click, like, or share in order to earn a gift card or be entered in a drawing. Unfortunately, you’re only increasing their visibility online when you play along, and you’re potentially sharing your sensitive information with scammers.

8. Jury Duty Scams

One commonly reported police warrant fraud this year was the jury duty scam. The victim is informed that they failed to appear for jury duty—because they were never summoned in the first place—and now they must pay a hefty fine for being in contempt of court. That all sounds very plausible, right up until the scammer orders you to pay via prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card, or some other untraceable method.

9. Federal Grant Scams

These scams work because we’ve probably heard about wasteful spending or unclaimed budget line items. This scam informs you that you’re eligible for some type of government money, whether it’s to go back to school, pay off your mortgage, start a business, even to lose weight. Clicking the link will possibly install harmful software on your computer, and you’ll be asked to fill out highly-sensitive forms that scammers will use to steal your identity.

10. Travel Scams

There is a growing world of app-based travel that involves third-parties. Companies like Uber and AirBnb don’t actually own any of the vehicles or properties, but you can take advantage of the low cost associated with using another individual’s car or house. While these are absolutely legitimate companies that offer tremendous savings and convenience, there are also plenty of scammers who’ve slipped through the cracks. They sign up to be a driver or host an accommodation, only you’re trapped by the bait and switch.

Of course, this list is only skimming the surface of the types of identity information-based crimes that occur each and every day. The most important thing consumers can do is to remain aware and vigilant about the threat; exercising an air of caution can help you pause and think through the ramifications before clicking on that message.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

The internet has been all a-buzz over the recent vote on net neutrality, and the issue does not seem to be put to rest.

In short, the FCC voted to repeal some regulations that were put in place not too long ago, and many people feel that stripping away those rules can open the door to increased costs, reduced internet connection speeds, and tiered pricing plans. Again, the issue is not entirely decided. A number of Congressmen have stated their intent to address the matter with legislation, and quite a few state governments have declared that the previous regulations will remain in effect within their states.

But as consumers, it’s important to remember that any headline-worthy event can open the door to scams and fraud attempts. Now is the time to think through any message, social media post, email, or other communication you receive regarding net neutrality or your internet service provider (ISP).

One of the most prevalent concerns from experts who were opposed to removing the regulations is that your ISP can now require you to purchase different “plans,” much like you may be doing for television service. You might have “basic cable” or “extended cable,” or you might pay extra for a specific number of premium channels. The theory is that the ISPs will now be legally allowed to do the same thing with the internet, limiting you from accessing certain websites or features unless you choose to a different plan that might cost more.

It’s important to note that this has not gone into effect through ISPs at this time, but we do see a possibile opportunity for scammers to take advantage of this and start selling you premium services that don’t exist, requiring you to “verify your username and password” to prove that you’re a customer or any number of other possible scams and fraud attempts. Remember to be on guard against spoofed emails that appear to come from your ISP or services like Netflix, and never make an immediate payment or turn over your information to someone who contacts you without prior notice. Contact your ISP yourself to ensure the security of your account if there’s a problem.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

One of the automatic hallmarks of any scam is that the victim must pay with an untraceable payment method. It doesn’t matter what the story is—a loved one who’s been kidnapped, a utility that’s about to be shut off for non-payment, back taxes you allegedly owe to the IRS, whatever—if you’re told you must pay with an iTunes gift card, prepaid debit card, or wire transfer like Western Union or MoneyGram, it is definitely a scam.

You’d think companies would take a bigger interest in protecting the public from these scams through things like better employee training, signage posted at gift card kiosks, or social media campaigns. After all, once you lose tens of thousands of dollars to a scammer, your spending power takes a hit. But sadly, that hasn’t been the case so far.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission brought and settled a suit against Western Union for wire transfers, namely that specific agents had reason to suspect a victim was sending money but did nothing to inform them and were not disciplined by the company. As a result, Western Union agreed to pay $586 million in compensation to victims but those victims have to come forward and demonstrate that they were taken advantage of by a scammer and used the wire transfer service to complete the transaction.

If you sent money to a scammer via Western Union between January 1, 2004, and January 19, 2017, then you may be entitled to a portion of that settlement. Victims have until February 2018 to file and prove their involvement.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. “I’ve already reported this matter to Western Union, the Federal Trade Commission, or another government agency

– Then you should be receiving a claim form in the mail very soon. Be on the lookout for correspondence from a company called Gilardi & Co., who has been hired to handle the claims.

2. “Can’t I take care of this on a website somewhere?

– You can file your claim online, but you’ll need to use the Claim ID number and the PIN that is included for verification purposes on your mailed form.

3. “I didn’t know I could file a claim, I just thought my money was gone…is it too late?

– If you haven’t already reported the financial loss or you don’t receive a mailed claim form, go to www.FTC.gov/WU to initiate your claim.

Now, this is of the utmost importance: there will undoubtedly be scams circulating in the coming days, weeks, or even months, set up by criminals who are capitalizing on the news surrounding this landmark settlement. Don’t fall for it. Never give someone who contacts you any identifiable information, never provide your bank account and routing number to someone who claims your settlement will be direct deposited, never click a link to be redirected to a site to file a complaint, and never make any kind of payment in order to receive your claim faster.

If you have questions, read more here from the FTC.


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 year, US retailers hire an estimated 570,000 short-term employees to help carry the weight of the holiday shopping season. With the need for additional manpower on the sales floor, at the customer service desk, and in the shipping department, these opportunities help companies maximize their annual profits while allowing consumers to earn a little extra income.

Unfortunately, this is the same time of year when scammers are looking to maximize their profits, too. The abundance of bogus job offers means the loss of your money, your identifying information, or both if you fall into one of their traps. One type of employment scam can even land you in legal trouble, leaving you to face criminal charges while your “boss” gets away with it.

Known as a reshipping scam, this one models itself as a work-from-home opportunity. The employee receives items at their personal address or a PO box they’re instructed to rent. Then those items may or may not be repackaged before being shipped on to the recipient whose name and address are provided by the boss. Sadly, in most cases, the items the “employee” receives are either directly stolen or indirectly stolen by being purchased with stolen gift cards.

For years, advocates have been warning the public about scams that require them to pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card, and this is why. When you pay that supposedly overdue utility bill or your alleged past due taxes with a gift card, the scammer who demanded the payment turns around and buys high-end items with that card then resells them. Obviously, the scammer who bought the item can’t put their name on the shipment, so they hire you as a middleman to receive and resend the item while shouldering all the risk.

If you accept an offer—usually sent via email, text message, social media message, or as an ad on a less than reputable website—that requires you to operate this way, be warned: you may be trafficking in stolen goods. Also, be aware that this scam can manifest with money in the form of bank deposits into your account that you are then required to turn around and wire to someone else. Since your employer is most likely far out of reach of law enforcement, you will have no way of proving your innocence once you’re caught because legally, the moment you receive an item or bank deposit, you’re no longer innocent.

There are legitimate employment opportunities at this time of year, but none of those jobs will actually pay you outrageous amounts of money to stay home. Short-term holiday jobs, at least the real ones, will require some long hours and extra effort on your part, but the end result is worth it for a lot of people. Anyone who promises you free money is probably scamming you.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.


Read next: “Secret Sisterhood” Online Gift Exchange Scam Alert

Back in the good old days of email scams, the so-called Nigerian princes ran rampant with the grammatically incorrect and highly unbelievable cries for help.

Over the years, security experts have come to understand that those ridiculous emails were intentionally bad; scammers didn’t want to waste their time with people who saw right through them, but rather only wanted to target gullible people who would fall for their tricks.

Now, with better capabilities, scammers no longer have to rely on crazy back stories to get victims to comply. All they have to do is get you to click on a link or open an attachment, and your computer is flooded with viruses and other malware. This gives the scammers access to your computer and all of your online accounts. You don’t have to send them money, they can simply take it right out of your account; with the right information from your computer, they can even steal your identity and open new lines of credit.

One common tactic is to use highly-visible, well-known companies as the bait. An email from Amazon claiming your order couldn’t be processed or a warning message from PayPal that your account has been suspended is just a couple of examples. Recently, there’s been a noticeable amount of traffic on phony Apple ID emails that look very real and claim your account has been put on hold due to login attempts from an unauthorized source.

What do those emails have in common? First, they look like they’re protecting you, so you’re more likely to sit up and take notice. They’re also using cut-and-pasted information from recognized internet retailers to make you think they’re genuine. Finally, the grammar level has gone way up in recent years because the goal isn’t to get you to fall for a weird story; the goal is to get you to believe this is real and click the link.

 

 

Either way, don’t fall for it. Never click on a link in an email that you weren’t expecting, and the same goes for opening an attachment or downloading some content. Instead, go directly to that company’s website and attempt to login. From there, reach out to customer support with the report of the scam. There’s an excellent chance you’ll find that nothing is wrong with your account and that the communication you received is yet another scam.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

For most people, the ability to work from home might sound like the best of both worlds. Earning your full income while setting your own hours, being home with your kids, avoiding the daily commute, and working in your bathrobe is ideal, but the reality of that kind of arrangement isn’t quite the fairy tale it’s made out to be.

First, yes, a significant number of people set their own hours and work from pretty much anywhere. But beware, jobs that promise you a steady, viable income for doing nothing are the empty promises of scammers.

Freelancers have some support against scammers through a handful of well-run companies that serve both the interests of clients who need project-based work done and qualified individuals who provide that work. The companies serve almost as brokers, handling payments and tax forms, keeping a rating system for both clients and freelancers, and more.

Unfortunately, scammers have now been found advertising jobs in these freelancing companies, using exactly the same tactics they try in typical phishing emails. Some of the scams have been copied and pasted word-for-word into job postings on these sites. If a freelancer accepts a contract for work, it can be hard to figure out when the job stopped being legitimate and fell into the land of scams.

Most genuine companies will have fairly strict guidelines for accepting a contract and receiving payment. The rules protect everyone involved in the working relationship, so violating those rules can mean the loss of income and account suspension. Trying to get you to break these rules can be a telltale sign that a job offer might not be legitimate:

1. If the client insists on communicating outside of the working platform

If the company provides a messaging platform for communicating about the job and submitting completed work, there really should be little reason to exchange email addresses, cell phone numbers, or other accounts, especially at the very beginning of the relationship. Learn toreport suspicious activity on the site.

2. Offers of payment on another platform

In exchange for protecting both the client and the freelancer, the company will take a small percentage of the fee. Asking to pay on a platform other than through the company can not only void your account with that company, it can leave you vulnerable to submitting work to a client and then not getting paid.

3. Requests for personal information

The whole purpose in using a service that connects them to a freelancer is so the client doesn’t need to fill out mounds of employment paperwork and worry about tax forms. That type of thing is handled by the freelancing company. If a client gives you a detailed form to fill out, there’s a good chance it’s a fraud or identity theft attempt. Never turn over your sensitive personal information to a client who hires you through a freelance company. The company has your employment data and therefore the client has no business with it.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

When the worst happens, it is terrible to think that scammers are waiting to strike. Hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, forest fires…there’s no shortage of natural events that leave devastation in their wake. However, for too many disaster victims, falling into a criminal’s trap can make a horrible situation devastatingly worse.