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The 3 Biggest Scams Right Now & How to Protect Yourself

Financial Well-Being
Phone laying on a laptop keyboard with an incoming call from an unknown caller.
Headshot of Southern First banker, Carl Francois.

It has probably been a while since you’ve heard from a Nigerian prince asking you for money. That’s because fraudsters are coming up with new scams all the time. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 2.1 million fraud reports from consumers in 2020, and consumers reported losing more than $3.3 billion due to fraud last year, up $1.8 billion from 2019. When it comes to protecting yourself, knowledge is power. So we asked our BSA and Fraud Officer, Carl Francois, to share details on the latest scams and how you can stay alert. Read on to learn more.

Romance scams
In this scheme, scammers create fake profiles on social media and dating sites to meet their victims. Often, they claim they are in another country as an excuse to avoid meeting in person and could lure the victim to an alternative app or site to communicate. They develop a relationship and establish trust with their victims, chatting with them frequently. Once the scammer feels they have gained trust, they share a fake story and either ask for money directly for some sort of support or ask the victim for account information so that they can receive funds from some other source. This means the scammers are either defrauding the individual directly or asking them to move money that has been defrauded from others. While this type of scam isn’t necessarily new, its prevalence has grown due to the pandemic with scammers targeting individuals who are isolated.

COVID scams
Scammers are using the coronavirus as the hook for a variety of scams. Some offer promises of highly effective face masks, preventative measures to avoid COVID, or even COVID cures through online correspondence and links. Once clicked, the link could either install malware on the victim’s computer or request money in exchange for goods or information. Other scams ask for donations for third world countries impacted by COVID or ask victims to complete a COVID survey to gather their personal information. Stimulus checks, loan forgiveness, and unemployment benefits have all been woven into the rhetoric as well, and with the introduction of vaccines, new scams have come to light that involve selling vaccines or paying to schedule vaccine appointments. Also, some scammers pose as federal agencies, airlines, cruise lines, or event venues to verify vaccination status.

World event scams
Beyond the pandemic, scams often take advantage of current world events and headlines. Following disasters like the recent Haiti earthquake, scammers may pose as a charity or a familiar entity such as the Red Cross to ask for a donation toward relief. With news of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, scammers may pose as a deployed soldier trying to get home. There has been a history of scams involving overseas military personnel. Francois explains, “Scams keep changing and evolving with the course of time, and fraudsters never let a catastrophe or crisis go to waste.”

In an ever-changing environment, how can we protect ourselves from these threats? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Scams work in a multitude of ways. Though the goal is often for you to send money to a scammer, there are also scams that ask you to accept or receive money, helping facilitate criminal activities like moving stolen funds or access to information that can be sold on the black market. Not all scams are through the internet or phones either. Some scammers work by going door-to-door, offering home maintenance services or selling other goods in your neighborhood.

Be skeptical when someone new contacts you, especially if they are threatening in any way or using high-pressure tactics. Before making a purchase, donation, or sending money, research the company or person online, and be wary of using forms of payment like wire transfers, money orders, cryptocurrency, or gift cards since these methods are harder to track and to get any funds back once they are sent.

Monitor your emails. Be sure that everything coming in and coming out of your email makes sense.  Scammers will hack into your email and watch your correspondence to learn about you before they try to hijack your account. Never give out private information via email, and if you receive a notification about account activity that is incorrect, call your bank right away.

Advise and assist elderly friends and family members. Older people are often the targets of scams because they are more likely to be isolated, affluent, and less technologically savvy. Help educate the elderly people in your life about common scams and basic steps to avoid them. You can also offer to help them look over anything they receive that seems suspicious.

Always report it. In many fraud cases, victims may feel embarrassed to admit they’ve been fooled, but reporting the incident is incredibly important and it’s never too late to do so. Even if the money lost cannot be recovered, reporting it could save you from losing more and help prevent similar attacks on others. If you have been the victim of a scam, follow these recommended steps from the FTC to report it.

Know your banker. Your banker is a great resource if you have any questions or concerns about possible scams. A banker that knows you and your habits can help identify if something looks unusual from the typical activity in your accounts.

Francois concludes, “As we all learned growing up, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Always stop and think and trust your gut!” As a Southern First client, we are honored to serve you and want you to know that our team is dedicated to helping you protect your assets. Don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions and concerns.


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