As Fall brought a new crop of career changers, it also brought a new crop of work related scams. Just a few weeks later, the scammers seemed to want to remind us they have not forgotten how to scam people in other areas as well. Here are just a few of the most popular non-work related scams this season.
A major corporation wants to apologize to you for poor service by giving you a prize or gift card.
People are still struggling to find work they can actually take and pay their bills, kids are back in school offline, and the holidays are on the way. Many of us could use a break on a bill so we can amend the budget a little this month, or some “free to us” merchandise to use as Christmas gifts. And the scammers know it.
The company name varies, but it is typically a major service corporation, like a phone or electric company. Messages designed to look like they came from T Mobile seem to be especially common. These texts claim the company wants to apologize for a disruption in service, or for poor service, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The apology will come in the form of a gift card to the company to use toward their service or another popular retailer, or a special prize.
While this scam will be immediately obvious when the message is supposed to be from a company the target does not do business with, it can be easy to thoughtlessly click the link when it looks like it might be something related to one of our bills.
Never click these links. This scam has been widely reported as new this year, and the detail about Covid certainly is, but the scam itself has been around for at least seven years. It is a classic spoofing scam, designed to get targets to click on the links so that malware or spyware can be installed on their computer. You will not get a gift card or a prize. But the scammers certainly will. They’ll “win” access to your bank account and other financial records.
If you’re in the LGBTQ community, that new love interest you met online is going to humiliate and/or out you if you do not send them money.
Online dating is growing increasingly common and acceptable, with dating sites set up for people fitting a wide variety of descriptions. But if you are lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, or identify as “queer,” take special precautions when talking to people on LGBTQ sites. Scammers pretending to be members of your community are infiltrating these sites with the goal of extorting money.
Things seem normal at first, if a little fast. You and your new online crush are happily getting to know each other, when they get you to reveal something private. Persuading the target to send revealing photos is a common tactic. They may also strike up conversations that urge you to share private details about your life.
Once they have this material, the scammer then reveals their true motive. They inform you that if you do not send them money, whatever you have shared will be sent to your family, friends, clients, supervisors, or anywhere else it might cause serious problems in your life. They may even taunt you with details like the names of your family members or the location of your workplace to make the threat seem real.
Should this happen to you, never send the money. The scammer is not sincere in his or her offer to destroy the material once the money is sent. While nobody can promise a scammer won’t actually send your personal materials to the last person you would want to see them, this is typically far too much effort for a scammer. Their only intention is to scare as many people as possible into sending them money as quickly as possible. If you do not scare so easily, it is more lucrative for them to move on quickly to the next target than to bother sending out blackmail messages and waiting for you to fall apart again.
Instead, immediately report the account to the site you’re on, and file a report with the internet crime complaint center at: https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint
One of your favorite stores is practically giving away something you’ve been wanting.
Like the “apology gift card” scam, this one plays on the fact that many people are still adjusting to the gradual return to in-person work and school as the holidays arrive. Scammers set up fake online storefronts and shopping sites, offering items everyone wants for Christmas, at prices anyone can afford.
At first glance, fake shopping websites appear to be simply outlet or resell sites. But the prices seem almost too good to be true. And that’s because they are. Should you order something from them, the most likely outcome is that you will never receive your order, and will not be able to contact anyone about getting your money back. Sometimes, you do receive a package, but it will be an item of much lower quality, and worth much less than the amount you sent the scammer. Sending the scammer $200 for a guitar or a handbag that typically sells for $1,200 might get you nothing more than a flimsy knockoff, broken, or even toy item that bears no resemblance to the photo and description on the site.
The only way to avoid being scammed by these sites is to avoid them entirely. Always go directly to known, trusted sites when you want to shop online, and carefully check that the website address is the official address of the store you meant to visit. Merchandise from Amazon will always be on “Amazon dot com,” not “Amazon deals dot com” or “Amazon outlet dot com.” Your friends’ Etsy shops are searchable from “Etsy dot com,” not “Esty dot net.”
If you absolutely need a deeply discounted item, wait for sales, coupon, or visit local thrift stores and yard sales.
The perfect puppy or kitten for your family is easy to find and purchase on a social media group dedicated to your favorite breed.
This scam seems to be the evergreen content of the scammer playbook. It never really goes away, they just update and refresh it from time to time, adding a bit more to it to attract a new audience….full of victims.
The basic scam is the same one from many times before. You love dogs, and have an especially soft spot in your heart for Chihuahuas, Pugs, Boston Terriers, or some other breed, so you join an enthusiast or owners group or two. Scattered in between people sharing cute stories and photos of their own pets are ads from people claiming their own beloved pet just had a litter, and they’re offering them at a reasonable price. In a newer twist, some claim the litter belongs to someone else, is unwanted, and the person posting is finding the puppies a home out of the goodness of their heart.
One particular puppy captures your heart. You contact the person, make a deposit through some type of online money transfer service, and travel to meet your new bundle of fur at the agreed upon public place. Nobody ever shows up with your puppy. And they never will. They will also never respond to your messages asking for your money back.
There was never any unwanted litter, and nobody’s beloved pet had puppies or kittens who needed homes. Scammers steal pictures from breeders’ websites, animal shelters, or image searches, save them, and change the caption to make them look like their photos.
The only way to avoid this scam is to never purchase or pay an adoption fee for a pet online. Ideally, adopt a pet from your local shelter. If that is not possible, or if you see an ad for a pet online and feel called to respond, make no promises and hand over no money until the pet is with you, physically and offline.
Don’t be mislead by a picture of the person you’re talking to and the pet or litter together, or even seeing the person and the pet on Zoom together. They could be be running a scam using their own pet they have no intention of rehoming, a friend’s pet, or an animal they’re pet sitting.
Keep a lookout for these, and other scams, as we head into the start of the holiday season. Even if you would never be taken in, let’s keep vigilant and protect each other.
by Jess Szabo originally published on Artist Cafe Utica www.artistcafeutica.com