As Hollywood prepares to announce the winners of the Academy Awards on March 2, scores of consumer watchdog groups kick off National Consumer Protection Week that same day to increase awareness and provide consumer tips on how to avoid online traps where cybercriminals can rob you of your money, identity and security.
While with the recent breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus, Kickstarter and the University of Maryland, there is no shortage of related scams, some deserve special recognition for being especially sneaky and insidious. Adam Levin, Chairman of Identity Theft 911 and Credit.com says “this year’s ‘winners’ look like a season from the hit CNBC series American Greed.” “What consumers need to know,” warns Levin, “is that breaches are the new normal and that means cybercriminals and scam artists will never be out of business looking to steal your precious identity and hard earned cash.”
This year’s picks are a motley crew of scams that can get you while you’re responding to an email, searching the Web, answering a phone call, filing taxes or even trying to find love.
And the envelope, please…
The Celebrity Scam: Your online search for your favorite celebrity could expose you to identity theft. Be suspicious of links to free content and exercise extra caution when searching hot topics and check for URL misspellings. Remember, if you search for Sandra Bullock and get detoured to a random site, you may be entering a cybertrap.
The Catfish Scam: When it comes to on-line dating, catfishers are out to make you the bait and steal your wallet and heart. Armed with fake photos and scripted lines, catfish scammers prey on lonely hearts. Always do your research. Check the photo and the profile. If you see inconsistencies, then don’t engage and never wire money to someone you have not met in person. Money can’t buy you love and being asked to pay for someone else’s expenses is a major red flag.
The One-Ring Call Scam: Scammers auto-dial you and let the phone ring once, hoping you will call back. Once you do, they’ve got you! Those who call back are connected to an adult entertainment service or chat line, where they are charged an international calling fee of $20, with a $9 per minute fee or higher. If you don’t recognize the number, don’t call back.
The Tax Related Scam: Counting on your tax refund to pay a few bills or take a much-needed vacation? Beware; scammers are working to steal it. During tax season, taxpayers should look out for fake IRS phishing emails asking for your personal information or shady tax preparers that promise inflated or quick refunds. Mind your mail, file early and e-file your return.
The Obamacare Scam: Con artists call unsuspecting consumers, peddling fake insurance plans, claiming to work for the government or as a navigator under the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. If you receive a call from someone claiming they need to verify personal information or you won’t receive your insurance benefits, this is a scam. Customer service reps from Medicaid & Medicare Services, HHS, or Obamacare will never call you asking for personal information, like your Social Security Number.
Mr. Levin urges that in the “age of the breach,” businesses need to invest in better technology and security and consumers must be vigilant and always self-monitor. Levin advocates for businesses and consumers to follow his 3M plan: Minimize your risk, Monitor your accounts and Manage the damage. Scammers and fraudsters will always be around looking for a good “mark”, but every business and consumer can empower themselves by taking their security into their own hands.