This is the first part of a series by guest contributor Athina K. Powers, a California attorney and certified fraud examiner, explaining fraud scams and how to avoid them. She is a member of the Rocket Lawyer On Call® network.
There’s an old saying that knowledge is power. In today’s fight against fraud and identity theft, knowledge is your best and sole defense. Understanding and identifying scams trains you to become more cautious in future dealings, and in negotiations against scammers.
A common scam that many of us have fallen for at least once in our lifetimes is phishing and its variations, vishing and smishing; individuals pretending to be from well-known companies, organizations, government agencies or educational institutions contact you and trick you into giving them personal information such as your social security number and passwords. They then use that information to open their own accounts, get credit in your name and control your bank accounts—or even engage in other criminal activities. Some of their favorite company names to use include PayPal, Western Union, Visa, banks or even the IRS. Phishing can take any form, from emails to phone calls or text messages.
It’s easy to recognize the warning signs of these scams.
If you get an email from any of your financial institutions that doesn’t seem quite right:
- Read the sender’s name carefully. If, for example, Visa sends you an alert about emails that come from the address “VERIFIEDVISA.COM,” it’s a scam. This site does not connect with the real Visa. Even if the email has the name visa.com or paypal.com, make sure you pay close attention to the return address. It’s masked to appear as a legitimate company. Usually, no other contact information is provided.
- Notice whether or not the email includes your name as a customer. If it doesn’t, that’s another sign of a scam. Visa, PayPal and other companies do not contact their customers by either e-mail or by phone about personal information updates or any private facts.
- Read the email carefully. Phishing e-mails will generally threaten you with ‘immediate suspension’ of your account. They often include typos or bad grammar—other warning signs of fraud.
Vishing, or Voice Phishing
If you receive a call from a live or automated caller claiming to be contacting you on behalf of a trusted company, it could be vishing. The caller will likely ask you to provide personal, payment or account information. It’s likely that the anonymous caller will ask for the information under the pretext of a problem, such as theft or overdrawn accounts. You cannot rely on the caller ID or the name displayed on the phone to contact them back for any reason.
SMiShing, or Short Message Service Phishing
Most of us rely on smart phones these days. But scammers can enter the texting worlds just as easily as the rest of us can. Some of the most common warnings signs include texts that don’t have the name of an issuing bank or any information that identifies your card or account number. Be aware that banks and credit or debit card companies do not contact cardholders through text messages to request personal account
Do’s and Don’ts to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Before you even consider taking any action or responding to those e-mails, calls or texts, make sure you contact the company that you supposedly received them from. Ask to speak to the fraud department to inquire about the message, and report all suspicious activity. Some companies, such as Visa, advise consumers to forward suspicious text messages to 7726 (spells the word SPAM).
- Do not reply to emails or texts. Contact the company directly.
- Do not provide any personal information to anonymous or otherwise odd callers.
- Do not click on any hyperlink in any of the e-mails you receive that contain any of the aforementioned warning signs.
Lastly, messages or even phone calls that include the words “urgent”, “verify” or “provide information immediately” should be viewed as highly suspicious. Consider these as life lessons in the cyberworld of scammers and fraudsters.