Your personal information needs to be protected now more than ever. Criminals have become very sophisticated in their efforts to get this information from you before you realize it is a scam.
According to the FDIC, the most common scams consumers fall victim to are as follows:
1. Government imposter scams
Scammers contact you claiming to be Government officials. While they may be convincing, never fall for it. Know that the U.S. Government does not contact people by phone or email. Correspondence is generally in writing through the U.S. Postal Service. Phone calls soliciting money, gift cards, or sensitive information are from Government imposters. Do not provide them any information.
2. Lotteries and sudden riches scams
These scams fall under the adage if it sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Winning a lottery in a foreign country or suddenly inheriting money you never knew existed always has strings attached. Those strings are either your personal information or your money. Do not fall for it.
3. Online auction or overpayment scams
This one is easier to fall for and be tricked by. If you sell items online or have online rentals of items or property and you are prepaid an amount greater than the asking price, do not cash the check. The scammer wants you to cash the check and send a refund before you find out that the check was fake.
4. Grandparent scams
This scam has received a lot of publicity so perhaps people are already on high alert. If you receive an email from a third party claiming a relative needs money who is stranded abroad, do not provide your credit card number. The easiest way to validate this is a scam is to call the relative directly. Generally, if a relative wants to ask you for money, they will not enlist a third party to do so.
5. Mystery Shopper employment scams
Here is another scam that falls under the adage of being too good to be true. Beware of those online ads enlisting mystery shoppers with a signing bonus in exchange for account activation. The so-called signing bonus is a fake check that the scammers do not want you to find out about until you have deposited it and paid them the fraudulent activation fee.
Besides these sophisticated scams, hackers are trying to steal your information daily for their general use. Here are some of their methods for gaining access to your personal data.
An urgent email asking for your information by someone pretending to be from a bank or other institution is categorized as phishing. Sometimes this message will say that you are a victim of fraud. The best way to confirm that these are fraudulent emails is by contacting the institution the person claims to be representing.
The difference between phishing and smishing is the method by which the hacker tries to reach you. Smishing is generally done via text message. Again, ignore all requests to provide information unless you can validate the identity of the person asking for it. That can be done by directly contacting the bank or institution the person claims to represent.
Hackers using vishing have the same goals as those phishing or smishing. They want your personal information, but instead of using email or text message to attempt to get it, they use those annoying robocalls. These criminals have become very sophisticated over the years. Whereas, people used caller ID to avoid the calls in the past, the hackers are accessing local numbers so they get unsuspecting people to pick up the calls and provide the information believing the person on the other end of the phone call is from a trusted source.
Even if you are on guard, it is easy to become a victim to one of these schemes. The best approach to avoid being a victim is to assume that any communication from someone you do not know is not legitimate. Then, you can go through the vetting process to see if it is true or not true. Sometimes, in emails or text messages, you may get hints that they are not legitimate. Those hints include spelling errors in the messages or email addresses that do not seem familiar.
For more information on how to protect yourself and your personal information, go to https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts