When news headlines include details of major stories, most people get at least some of the information, or enough to know that “something” is going on. But the widespread nature of 24-hour news channels, internet news sources, and even trending hashtags on social media sites can actually help scammers take advantage of the public.
For example, Takata, a Japanese company that manufactures airbags for a number of major vehicle brands, has recently been fined $1 billion and three of its top executives have been indicted in the US for a variety of criminal charges. The case centers around allegations that Takata was aware that its airbags were not meeting safety standards, yet contrived to cover up the test results. This intentional cover-up is believed to be responsible for a number of motorists’ deaths already, and a high number of vehicles are still being driven but have not yet been repaired under the recall.
This is obviously big news for consumers, but if the above information is all you know about the case, then you don’t know that this has been under investigation for years. The company is believed to have begun the cover-up in 2000, and some of the drivers’ deaths date back to 2008. The fines and the criminal charges are new, however, and scammers have already taken to sending fraudulent emails and calling potential victims. Since airbags are in the news right now and most cars on the road have airbags—and since Takata was the world’s second largest provider of airbags to the automotive industry—there’s an excellent chance that anyone who is contacted by a scammer under the guise of an airbag recall can fall for their ploy. All they have to do is claim to be from a consumer advocacy group, ask for the make and model of your vehicle, and then—voila! Yes, your car is under recall! They take some highly sensitive personal information as part of the “process,” and in some cases, they might even charge you a nominal fee (which you pay over the phone, providing them with your credit card or bank account information) in order to complete a full safety check at the time of your vehicle’s safety upgrade.
Fortunately, all of the hard and fast rules about avoiding scams apply in this case. Your vehicle’s manufacturer will not call you or email you about a recall. Instead, you will receive a letter in the mail, complete with your VIN number and a detailed description of the recall. It will also contain instructions for contacting your local dealership and having the repair made. In instances like this, there is no charge whatsoever to the vehicle’s owner and therefore no reason to provide financial information. One final tactic involves the “rush” factor; the caller or email indicates that you only have a 24-hour window to sign up, leaving you with a sense of panic in order to coerce you into complying.
Whenever you’re contacted involving a high-profile incident, it’s important to stop and verify the source. Even if it seems legitimate, there’s no harm in taking down the caller’s information and looking it up online. You’ll only risk wasting your time, but could prevent the loss of your money or your identity.
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