There seems to be a fresh crop of everything in the spring. It brings new flowers, vegetables, colors, academic semesters, plans….and scams.
While we are all alert and vigilant enough to see right through these, it is important to keep them in mind in order to help a family member or friend who may be vulnerable due to the impaired judgment or mental fog that can be a side effect of the increased isolation, job stress, financial stress, and other issues we have all been coping with over the past thirteen months.
Here are just a few of the most common fake claims circulating online this season.
Get additional funds added to your 2021 stimulus payment
According to a March 12, 2021 article by the Better Business Bureau, scammers are sending out email and text messages designed to look as though they are from the government. These messages state or imply that you may be able to get additonal direct deposits, checks, or pre-paid debit cards with additional stimulus funds, and invite you to click on a link and enter your information “to ensure that you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to receive.” Once you click on the link, the form that appears on your screen asks for the standard information you would enter on a government form.
Do not click this link or fill out any forms. The contact information, and the screen belong to the scammer, who can then use your personal information to commit identity theft. The scammer may also demand a “processing fee” for money they claim you can collect, or install spyware on your computer that grants them access to your banking information.
Use your stimulus money…or any money you have…to help a friend or family member
The stimulus checks are a means for many of us to help others who may have fallen on financially difficult times over the past year, and the scammers are all too aware of this. This scam appears to be particularly popular on “WhatsApp,” an instant messenger app intended to be used to keep in touch with friends and family. However, the scam can occur anywhere you send and receive messages from people.
Scammers create an account that appears to belong to someone already on your contact list, and message you. Posing as your friend or family member, the scammer claims to need money in an emergency situation.
Always reach out to your friend via a known social media account, email address, phone number, or in person to verify that it is indeed them contacting you before you send any money or contribute to any fundraisers at their urging.
Get a great deal on that item you need for your spring project
The plain old rip off is far from a new scam. People have been selling fake items and passing off substandard versions of the items in ads before everyone on earth today was even born. The internet just makes it especially easy to gather and post misleading images and videos. And the arrival of the latest stimulus checks, coupled with the feelings of hope and renewal everyone is clinging to this spring, makes it especially attractive to scammers right now. They know a lot of people are spending some of their stimulus money, and they know it’s a time for projects and plans.
Meet anyone you encounter in an online marketplace in a well-lit, public space before accepting any goods from them, or giving them any money, and never go to the meeting alone. Remember that you have the right to examine the item before accepting it, and are not obligated to take anything wrapped in packaging, or to make the exchange quickly. If the seller is in that big of a hurry, they can take the item back home with them and re-schedule the meeting for a more relaxed time.
When ordering online, resist pop up ads on social media. No matter where you see the ad, close the site down, open a new tab, and type in the webpage of a known, trusted retailer that sells the item.
Here’s an easy way to improve your finances after quarantine, or save up for that dream vacation this summer
It’s no secret that a lot of us are not doing our best financially right now. Performing artists haven’t been able to get many gigs, visual artists have faced galleries closed for months, and fewer people have the cash to buy albums, novels, and films. Many of us have lost day jobs and second careers as well. This can make the red flags of a job scam easy to overlook.
Today’s most popular version of the job scam is even easier to fall for, as scammers often join legitimate job sites such as LinkedIn or Indeed, posing as recruiters or hiring managers for legitimate, well-known companies. The hoax can be rather elaborate, including entire websites that appear to belong to corporations we have all heard of, such as General Electric, Microsoft, or Facebook.
Avoid these scams using the same tactic you use to avoid purchasing goods from a scam site. Click all the way out of the site. Open up a new tab, and go directly to the official site of the company in question. Search their page for their “careers” or “employment” link, and check there for the job listing. If you still are not sure, contact human resources at the company.
Welcome a new pet into your family
During the height of the quarantine, pet adoptions soared as people adopted pets to combat loneliness. Some of these adoptions resulted in the pet finding his or her forever home. Others ended with the pet being abandoned or returned. Current pet scammers are playing on the desire of true animal lovers to rescue these pets. Another common avenue is to join online groups for specific breed enthusiasts, claiming to have a dog who just had purebred or popular mixed breed puppies early this spring.
Overly staged or “perfect” photos, showing just the puppies or kittens on a pure white or pink background, or in a logo, are a strong giveaway, but don’t be swayed by more realistic looking photos, with someone’s carpet, TV, pillows, or even family members or other pets in the shot or in the background. The scammer could genuinely have the animal or litter, but just have no intention of parting with them after receiving your money, or they could be “selling” puppies from a litter that have already found homes. And it is much too easy to steal other peoples’ candid photos from various social media sites.
It is best to adopt a pet through a local humane society or established breed rescue organization, or through someone you already know well and trust offline, but if you feel strongly about a pet you see online, do your research before becoming attached, and never give anyone any money until you have the pet with you physically. The sadness of being drawn to a pet you have only seen online and finding out it was a scam is going to be a lot easier to cope with than that same feeling coupled with the loss of your money.
Scammers regularly create new scams, or reinvent or rejuvenate old ones when the time seems right for them to be particularly effective again. Keeping updated on what’s making the rounds is the first step in keeping you and your friends and family from becoming a scammer’s latest success story.