What are some common types of scams and possible ways to protect myself from them?

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Andrey Bobrovskiy

Updated

Social Security scam

Scammers try to scare and trick people into surrendering their personal information all the time. In this particular scam, a criminal would contact you pretending to be from Social Security and may even use an official-looking Caller ID or documents to convince you of that. Be careful and don't hesitate to report the call, text, or email if the person does any of the following:

  • Says there's a problem with your Social Security Number (SSN) or account and threatens to suspend it if you don't act immediately
  • Demands payment by cash, gift card, prepaid debit card, or wire transfer
  • Threatens arrest or other legal action against you or your family

Although Social Security may call you in some situations, they'll never threaten you, suspend your SSN, or require payment via any of the above-mentioned methods, especially immediately.

IRS scam

The Social Security Administration (SSA)  is not the only government agency that scammers like to impersonate. They could also call, text, or email you pretending to be an IRS employee and attempt to trick you into a false sense of security by giving what may sound like a real name and IRS badge number. But their intentions are still very much the same, as they'll typically do the following: 

  • Demand immediate payment, especially via a prepaid debit card, gift card, or a wire transfer
  • Threaten to contact police, immigration office, of another type of government agency if you don't comply with their demands

Remember, the real IRS will not ask for debit/credit card numbers over the phone or revoke your license or immigration status. In addition, the IRS normally contacts taxpayers via a letter in the mail first, so you'll have a chance to question or appeal what you owe. Similarly, they won't call to discuss audits or try to set up an appointment without attempting to notify you by mail. That being said, scammers have been known to send what may look like authentic official mail - use extreme caution and do not send money or disclose personal information in response any such letter without personally verifying it with the IRS. 

Banking scams

Some scammers decide to go straight for the very place where most people keep their money – bank accounts. While new banking scams pop up all the time, below are some of the most common ones:

Check overpayment

In this case, a scammer sends you a check and asks you to wire part of the amount back to them. Not surprisingly, it's fake. So, if you cash it, you'd likely be forced to not only repay your bank but also forfeit any money you've already wired to the perpetrator.

Unsolicited checks 

This is a similar scenario that also features a fake check. Except in this case, cashing it could automatically place you into some legally binding contract, such as a loan.

Automatic withdrawals 

As you can probably tell from the title, scammers participating in this scheme try to get the victim to set up automatic withdrawals from their bank account, typically by enticing them to sign up for a free trial or collect lottery winnings.

Phishing

This is perhaps one of the most well-known scams simply due to its prevalence. It typically starts with an email or text asking you to verify your bank account or debit card number. As you can imagine, clicking the link in the message and entering your personal information is a recipe for disaster. 

Business Email Compromise (BEC) scam

Business Email Compromise (BEC), or Email Account Compromise (EAC), is a sophisticated scam that has reportedly already cost companies over $12 billion globally since 2013. These scammers target both businesses and individuals doing wire transfer payments, and tend to compromise legitimate business email accounts to request things like Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or W-2s to conduct unauthorized transfers.

Student loan scams

Considering that the student debt in the U.S. now totals more than $1.5 trillion, it's not surprising that scammers try to take advantage of the situation for personal gain. Much like banking schemes, student loan scams come in all shapes and size. Below are some of the most common ones:

Advanced fee scam

There are companies out there that are more than happy to provide you with the "best" interest rate and loan terms for your student loan debt relief. All you have to do is pay a "small" fee up front, which, as it turns out, could be up to 5% of the total loan amount. Remember, legitimate student loans, even those from a private lender, generally should not require any up-front fees.

Loan consolidation scam

There's a wrong and a right way to consolidate your loans. This popular scam definitely falls in the former category and typically involves a company that charges you a consolidation fee but doesn't actually do anything. This fee goes by different names but generally means the same thing. Keep in mind that if you have a federal student loan, consolidating that debt generally requires no fee whatsoever.

Law firm lawsuit scam

If you get a call from a law firm, especially one that has been referred to you by a "student aid company," that promises to settle your student loan debt for much less than you owe, prepare to get scammed (or not, since you now know about it from this article). They promise to negotiate with your lender directly, as long as you make the full loan payment, or as much as you can afford, to their law firm. When they fail to do so, you could default on your loans and may end up in a much worse position than you were before.

Vacation scams

Vacation scammers often lure in their victims with a promise of amazing deals on airline tickets, lodging, or other travel accommodations. They could offer these either at a deeply discounted rate or completely free. Here are some of the more common scenarios you may encounter:

Hotel scam

Since it's common practice to give your credit card information when booking a hotel, scammers can set up fake look-alike web pages in order to get hold of it. But even if you don't fall for it, you may encounter other scams, such as fake front desk calls, bogus food delivery or "free" WiFi connections, once you finally get to your destination. If in doubt, confirm first with the hotel staff and keep your receipts.

Vacation rental scam

While rentals could often be a cheaper and better fit for your travel needs, many scammers list properties that look significantly better online than in real life. In some cases, those properties aren't available for rent or don't exist at all. A good way to avoid falling victim to this scam is to speak directly with the owner over the phone, as well as do additional research online to make sure everything checks out. 

"Free" vacation scam

Most of us have heard or received a call about a free cruise or some other complimentary all-inclusive trip. Best case scenario is that it's a somewhat legitimate offer that comes with a bunch of add-on fees and undisclosed taxes. However, the vast majority of the time it's simply a scam, especially if the caller asks you to enter a contest or tells you that you must accept it right away before it's gone forever.

Timeshare reselling scam

If you're a timeshare owner trying to sell, you may get a call from a scammer that introduces themselves a real estate broker or agent and claims to specialize in timeshare resales. They would typically tell you that they already have buyers lined up, but you have to pay an upfront fee to secure their service. As with all the fee scams, the con man would disappear into the thin air along with your money once you pay them.

Third party booking scam

Finally, there are also situations where scammers pretend to be online airline ticket brokers. Just like with hotels, they may set up a fake website. The most common scenario involves you using a credit card, like you would normally do when purchasing a ticket, except you then get a call shortly after asking you to verify your name, address, and other personal details. 

FEDEX/UPS tracking scam

This is one of the more recent scams where you receive a text with your name and tracking number from FedEx (or another delivery service). This text says that your package has been delivered and prompts you to follow the link to "set delivery preferences." As you may have guessed, that's not where it actually takes you. This scam is very deceiving because the text correctly spells the recipient's name, which could lead them to click the link without giving it much thought, especially if they're actually expecting a package. 

To avoid becoming a victim of this scam, FedEx suggests to simply not open the link and instead report any suspicious texts of emails to abuse@fedex.com. Other delivery companies often have information on their websites on how to report this type of suspicious activity.

Fake emergency scam

It's never good to hear that your family, friend, or significant other is in trouble. But before you rush to help them, make sure you don't get in trouble yourself. A scam where a criminal impersonates your loved one or pretends to be an authority figure such as a lawyer or police officer, in an attempt to get you to send them money, has been around for a while now. So what should you do if you're not sure whether that text or call for help is real or fake? Here's some ideas you can consider:

  • Consider calling that friend or family member back, especially if the number they called from is different from the one saved in your phone. Also, don't hesitate to contact another person close to them to see if they know what's going on.
  • Don't send money until you've verified their identity. Demands for an intimidate payment, especially via a wire, check, overnight money order, or a gift card, is a telltale sign of a scammer.
  • If you've already paid, contact the company or bank you used to send the payment and let them know that the transaction was fraudulent. Ask them if it's possible to reverse it.

How can I protect myself from scams?

Although scammers come up with new fraud schemes all the time, they mainly just want two things: your money or your personal information (which then can be used to get hold of your money). Luckily, you can generally avoid most of them by following a few simple rules:

  • Never send any payments or personal information without first verifying whether the request is real, especially if you're being rushed, pressured, or threatened to do so.
  • Make sure to contact someone in the position of authority. For example, you could call the SSA or IRS yourself to check if they've really been trying to reach you. Similarly, you can contact the airline, hotel staff, or the property owner to make sure your travel accommodations are legitimate.
  • Be cautious in general and keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true, there's a high chance it probably is.

How and where do I report a scam?

If you're getting scam calls or texts from a number that you believe is on the Bandwidth network, please report it to us. We're happy to help!

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