National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), held the first week in March, is an effort spearheaded by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and is “designed to focus on the importance of keeping consumers informed.” In 2020, more than 4,000 scams and over $2 million in losses were reported by Texans to BBB Scam Tracker, illustrating the importance of keeping consumers informed and protected.
BBB Scam Tracker data shows that nearly 40% of fraud reports came from consumers who lost money. Additionally, phone calls were the most popular means of contact used by scammers, but victims that lost money were reached via fraudulent websites. Most reports came from individuals 65 years or older, and women are targeted almost twice as often as men.
In recognition of NCPW, Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas is helping protect consumers against fraud by sharing important information on recognizing and avoiding the scams most likely to affect them. The top scams Texans faced last year were government impostor, tech support, employment, phishing and online purchase scams.
Government impostor scams
Confusion and concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have created new opportunities for scammers posing as government officials to steal your personal information. Now, with government assistance available to businesses and individuals impacted by the recent weather crisis, many Texans are especially vulnerable to these scams.
In a government impostor scam, scammers will impersonate representatives of a government agency, often the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and insist you need to disclose your personal information or make a payment to receive benefits or resolve an issue with your account.
• Remember government procedures. The IRS and SSA will never call you to demand immediate payment, and they will never threaten to call police or immigration. If a caller is threatening you, hang up immediately.
Tech support scams
Tech support scams begin with a phone call or a pop-up message claiming to be from a familiar software or hardware company like Microsoft or Dell. You are then told there is a problem with your computer, possibly a virus, and urged to act quickly.
After receiving the message, you are connected to a scammer posing as a tech support employee and asked to pay for the assistance. The fake representative may even request remote control of your computer, giving them access to your personal information and an opportunity to download malware onto your computer.
• Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can manipulate caller ID to make it seem like a legitimate company is calling you. Remember, tech support employees will only contact you if you reach out for assistance first.
In 2020, 365 Texans encountered employment scams and reported nearly $140,000 in losses. Scammers frequently target job seekers by posting fraudulent job openings online that promise flexible hours, great pay, and the ability to work from home. You are then offered the job, sometimes without an interview.
Employment scams can take a few different forms. You may be asked to provide your banking information to set up direct deposit or told you must pay for training before you can begin. In some versions of the scam, the employer will claim they overpaid you and ask you to wire back the difference. Later, you discover the check has bounced, and the money you sent was your own.
• Go to the source. To ensure a job opportunity is real, visit the company’s official website and see if the position is listed on their careers page.
Phishing scams are common but dangerous. They start with an unsolicited text or email directing you to links or attachments. The sender may use a variety of methods to convince you to click the link. The message may promise a reward such as a gift card and discounts or threaten punishment for things like unpaid taxes or missing jury duty.
Links or attachments used in phishing scams are often extremely dangerous, as they could download malware onto your device. These digital viruses can steal personal information directly from your computer and leave you vulnerable to identity theft.
• Protect your information. Always delete unsolicited messages that contain links or attachments. Even if it appears to be harmless, the message could be concealing dangerous malware.
Online purchase scams
COVID-19 has caused an increase in both online shopping and online purchase scams, which were designated the riskiest scam to consumers last year by the 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report. The goal of an online purchase scam is simple: steal a buyer’s money. Victims pay for an order that never arrives or arrives with incorrect, sometimes defective, items.
Puppy scams are among the most common form of online purchase scams, costing victims hundreds or thousands of dollars. Scammers will create fake but convincing websites advertising pets for sale. When you inquire about making a purchase, they claim to be in another state, making it impossible to see the pet in person before you pay, but they will offer to ship the puppy directly to you for an extra fee. Unfortunately, once you send the money, the scammer disappears, and your furry friend never arrives.
• Shop safe. Before you buy, make sure you are on a safe website. Look for the lock icon next to the URL and the ‘s’ in ‘https’ that signify the page is secure.
To learn more, visit Better Business Bureau, an official NCPW partner, at BBB.org.
ABOUT BBB®: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2019, people turned to BBB more than 183 million times for BBB Business Profiles on nearly 5.8 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The International Association of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico. BBB Serving the Heart of Texas serves 105 counties in Austin, Bryan, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, Permian Basin, San Antonio and Waco.