The holiday season is upon us, and we're about to enter into a new year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact nearly all facets of everyday life. It's during times like these that we could be even more susceptible to fraud and scams because our attention is pulled in so many directions, even more than usual.
From older adults to teenagers, scammers can target just about anyone, in person and online. Here are some of the year's most prevalent scams, and what possible fraud scenarios experts say we should be watching out for in 2022.
Some top-searched scams in 2021
According to Google Trends, the top-searched terms related to "scams" in November 2021 mostly related to remote methods of communicating or sending money. The money transfer platform Cash App appeared twice on the top 5 list.
Cash App warns customers to only send money to people you know and trust fully. Users must verify and double-check information on the recipient of money, so there is a lot of responsibility in using the app. A tip Cash App offers is to never send money to anyone promising something in the future, like if they promise to return the money at a later date. If you're scammed on Cash App, tap on "Support" in the app, and the "Report a Payment Issue."
Other top-searched terms included phone scams, which the Federal Trade Commission say involve many popular tactics like social engineering and garnering the victim's trust to defraud them of money or personal details.
Email scams were on the list too, which are scams that not only try to pull personal details out of the recipient in an effort to gain access to secured accounts, but they could also include malicious links. These links may take the email recipient to a page set-up to look like it's from a reputable company, like Netflix for example, to update personal details, while in reality it's a fake page that is just a form to pull personal details out of the victim. These links also often download malicious software to the recipient's device or computer.
Facebook scams also made the top-searched list. Facebook warns that anyone asking you for money, who you don't know personally, is likely scamming you. Anyone who asks you to pay a fee for a job is likely a fraudster. Anyone asking you to move the conversation off Facebook to a less traceable or secure email address or Google Hangout may be trying to defraud you. And someone who claims to be law enforcement or a friend or relative in an emergency could be trying to scam you.
Beware of fraudsters using misleading or fake job postings to get personal details from you.
Fake text message Scams
You may have received a strange text message from an unknown number before, and maybe that text had a link in it. Do not ever click on a link unless you were expecting it and it's from a number saved in your phone or one that you recognize and can verify. The same rule applies in general with emails.
Scammers often use urgent sounding language with an action item claiming to fix a problem with your internet or your Amazon account, for example. It's possible that the message claims to be regarding your bank account or credit card. The goal, often times, is to try and convince the recipient to click on the link and provide personal information. If you're concerned, reach out directly to your bank or credit card company to verify whether the message was real or not.
The link could also be a phishing scam, where malicious software might be downloaded onto your device or computer.
Scams can target loved ones
In mid-November, the Federal Trade Commission pointed to phone scams that could specifically hone in on your clients or even your friends and family. The agency says that fraudsters might pretend they are from the government, a specific agency like the Social Security Administration perhaps, or even law enforcement.
The FTC urges people to beware and reminded Americans that law enforcement won't threaten to arrest you over the phone, and the Social Security Administration will not threaten to suspend a social security number.
Some methods to deter scammers from being able to operate further include call-blocking, signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry and avoiding interacting with robocalls.
If you believe you, or a loved one you are caring for, has been the victim of identity theft, learn what to do at IdentityTheft.gov, where you can also learn how to report crimes as soon as possible.
Scams the US government wants you to know about
The Federal Trade Commission has put out some tips on how to avoid being defrauded, and how to report scams to the government. Some of the common scams the FTC says to be aware of are:
- Social Security scams: Some fraudsters might pretend to be from the Social Security Administration and trick you into giving out your social security number, or even money. Be aware of this.
- Phishing: Be highly aware of any suspicious emails or text messages and either use your email's phishing report feature, delete the message, and never click on any strange links from unknown senders. Beware of generic greetings like "Hi Dear."
- Unemployment benefit scams: Claims for unemployment benefits by imposters have been reported. Report fraud to your state's benefits agency, found here.
- Phone scams: Be aware of phone calls from unknown numbers, and from anyone asking you for personal information over the phone. Never send cash or pay for something with a gift card over the phone. Some scammers might even pretend to be law enforcement to scare you.
IRS advice on how to avoid scams
While reducing your "cyber footprint" is one of the core elements of the advice the Internal Revenue Service has for Americans to protect themselves against scams, that's not always easy.
IRS spokesperson Raphael Tulino explained that there's a whole variety of ways that scammers can get your information, including through emails, in text scams, and phone scams. During peak shopping times like during the holiday season, these scams could tend to be more prevalent as more people start shopping online.
Tips the IRS suggest for keeping yourself protected are to use a VPN when online to add an extra layer of protection, and avoid using public Wi-Fi when possible. Be on the look out for "https" in website addresses, ensuring that the "s" is there will increase encryption and therefore security when sending credit card information. Also, the IRS encourages everyone to keep virus protections updated and to be sure to use strong passwords for each account.
The IRS encourages everyone to use best practices when it comes to online safety because fraudsters can use information they've gathered on individuals to then enter into the tax system and file fraudulent returns. While the IRS has tools to combat this, the agency stresses that it needs everyone's help to even further prevent scams and other crimes from happening.
Some of the top-searched scams on Google headed into 2022
Often when there is a concern about malicious activity, people turn to Google to find answers. Here are some of the top-searched scams on Google, according to trends that are rising in search, as we head into the new year.
Anydesk scams: These are complex and intrusive frauds involving multiple different malicious techniques to try an steal money.
In one example, the con started out with an online advertisement to sell an apartment at an enticing price. The victim was promised additional photos and videos of the property, but was asked to install AnyDesk remote desktop software to receive the images. After the images were transferred, the fraudster was able to maintain access to the victim's computer using the remote desktop software and eventually were able to access personal details and gain access to the victim's bank account to steal money.
Google Hangout scams or romance scams: At times referred to as Google Hangout scams, (so much so it was a top break out Google search related to the search term "scams") the Federal Trade Commission says that romance scams could potentially affect millions of people who turn to apps and the internet to find companionship.
According to RomanceScams.org, the term gained traction after people reported having scammers try and convince them to give up their Gmail addresses to move the conversation over from popular dating sites and apps, to Google Hangouts, which can be a red flag in and of itself.
In the fraudster's efforts to ask for money and be convincing to the victim, they may have tried to use Google Hangouts as a way to make their whereabouts less traceable. According to the FTC, scammers have reportedly used lies, including claims they are with an international organization, working as a doctor, working on an oil rig or are in the military. It's all in an effort to garner trust and sympathy and convince the victim to send them money via gift cards, wiring money, or other reload cards like MoneyPak.
Romance scams involve a heavy amount of social engineering, with the scammer possibly having full profiles on multiple sites acting as an imposter, while also telling lies convincing enough to gain the victim's trust.
If you suspect you're part of a romance scam, the FTC says to stop all communications immediately, try doing a reverse image search to see if the photos are stolen or don't match up, and report fraud to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
469 area code scams: In researching top Google searches for scams that are rising as we go into the new year, this term regarding 469 area code scams was at the top of the list. Reports surfaced in 2021 regarding what was described as an uptick in phone scams related to the 469 area code, which is assigned to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area of Texas. The scams included social security fraud, where the caller asked for personal details, or student loan scams promising refunds. Health insurance scams were even reported where a caller would try and convince people to sign up for an insurance plan, likely to get personal details.
There are so many different area codes that pop up on caller IDs when an unknown number comes through in this age of robocalls. It can be hard to make sense of it all. Consumer reporter Clark Howard listed 12 area codes to watch out for on his website, and interestingly enough, the list doesn't include the 469 area code. The list includes many international locations, and some in rural areas of the United States.
Another area code that made it into the top searched list for the term "scams" on Google is 559, a California area code that includes the city of Fresno. While it didn't make the list linked above, it's still one to watch out for, especially if you don't have any business, employment or personal connection to this area of California.