From The Better Business Bureau

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), an estimated 25.6 million consumers fall victim to fraud and scams each year. The more digital the world becomes, the more opportunities fraudsters have to access your online data. Scams are everywhere…online, on social media or over the phone, and are many times connected to current events. 

Here are a few common scams, and some tips for keeping yourself safe.

Gift Card Scams

Gift cards have become a multibillion-dollar industry, a gift that always fits and stands up to social distancing. Worldwide, consumers spent billions on gift cards last year. However, that total comes with an asterisk -- it includes the gift cards on which scammers increasingly rely to extract payment from their victims.

Typically when gift cards are requested as payment in scams, the scammer instructs the consumer to buy a gift card -- or several -- and either read the numbers on the back over the phone or send a photo of the numbers on the back. If victims ask questions about why gift cards are being used for payment, scammers invent a plausible excuse, such as that the government has recently entered a contract with a gift card company to handle transactions. Commonly requested gift cards include eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes, Amazon, and Steam, an online gaming company. The scammer might promise to reimburse the consumer later or may send a check in advance for the consumer to deposit. In reality, the funds do not materialize or the check is invalid, and the consumer has lost the funds forever.

Red Flags to Watch Out for to Avoid Gift Card Scams

  • Government agencies requesting payment. No government agency ever requests money through gift cards.
  • Statements that buying gift cards is a safe way to make a payment. Providing the numbers for a gift card is like sending cash, and the money is rarely recoverable. Gift card payment requests are a big red flag for a scam.
  • Make sure to keep the receipt when buying a gift card. Keep the physical card as well. These may help prove that the card was paid for and activated if problems arise later.
  • Inspect the card carefully before buying it to be sure it has not been tampered with. Some scammers open the card to get the numbers on the back so that they can take the money when the card is later activated.

Fake Social Media Giveaway Scams

You see a post promoting a giveaway on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platform. In order to win $500 in groceries or another substantial prize, all you need to do is comment on the post, and you’ll be entered in the drawing. Sounds easy, right? The catch is that many of these “giveaways” don’t really exist. They are created by scammers as a way of accumulating as many social media “likes” and comments as possible.

As with many scams, this technique, known as “like-farming,” has several different aims. Often, the giveaway post itself is initially harmless – albeit fake. But when the scammer collects enough likes and shares, they will edit the post and add something malicious, such as a link to malware. Other times, once scammers reach their target number of likes, they strip the page’s original content and use it to promote spammy products or sell it on the black market.

How to Protect Yourself From Social Media Giveaway Scams

Some giveaways are real. For example, CashApp has been running weekly cash prize giveaways since 2017. But scammers often use similar language and pretend like they are part of an official giveaway. Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Look for the blue checkmark. Many social media platforms verify pages from brands and celebrities so that users can tell real pages from copycats. Make sure you look for that trust mark before liking and sharing content. 
  • Watch out for new accounts. If you think a giveaway is real, click on the business or celebrity’s profile. If it’s a new account with very little other content, that’s a big red flag.
  • Look out for spelling errors and typos. Real brands use giveaways to promote their company. Spelling errors and typos will make them look bad! They are a big warning signs of a scam.
  • The giveaway asks you to complete too many tasks. If a giveaway asks you to comment on multiple posts, follow several accounts, and tag a couple of brands, it becomes almost impossible to keep track of everyone participating and pick a winner at random (as required by law).
  • There are no terms and conditions. Online giveaways should include contact details of the organizer, how to take part, how the winner will be selected, and eligibility requirements. If you don’t see information, that’s an instant red flag.
  • Don’t click “like” on every post in your feed. Scammers are counting on getting as many mindless likes as possible, so be sure you only “like” posts and articles that are legitimate. Don’t help scammers spread their con.

COVID-19 Scams

Scammers prey upon uncertainty surrounding current events, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. From fake testing kits, to stimulus check scammers to vaccine related scams, it’s important to stay on your toes. The Better Business Bureau website contains a wealth of information on COVID-19 related scams. 

Want to learn more from our very own security expert?

Attend a free webinar entitled “Fighting Fraud: How to Keep Yourself Safe in a Digital World” on Thursday, April 29 from 12 – 1 p.m. 

Matthew Fehrmann, VP-Technology Solutions at Investors Community Bank will share information on common internet safety threats and how to prevent them, scams that surround current events, online banking safety, email safety and more. 

People of all ages can benefit from the information shared at this seminar.

To register, visit investorscommunitybank.com/events.html. Attendees will receive a confirmation email containing logon information to attend the event. For questions or assistance with registration, contact marketing@icbk.com.

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