Scammers are constantly working to find vulnerable people across the globe and exploit their situations for the scammers’ personal gain.
Scammers aren’t just on the hunt for easy money. In some cases, they’re working to steal victims’ personal information, like full names, dates of birth or Social Security numbers, to hide behind different identities as they steal from others. Others may sell personal information to scammers looking to pose as someone else.
Greeley Police Fraud Investigation Specialist Lisa LaBracke said scams of all kinds are on the rise as people faced unemployment or furlough due to the pandemic.
“People are trying to work from home. They need some extra income,” she said.
The top scam local residents are currently reporting is the unemployment scam, according to LaBracke. An impostor will file a claim for unemployment benefits, using the personal information of someone who has not filed a claim. They will have payments deposited into an account controlled by the scammer, or have the funds sent to another scam victim.
Scammers have also tried posing as the unemployment office and asking people to send funds back to them by purchasing gift cards. Once the victim gives the scammer the information to withdraw the gift card funds, it’s practically impossible to track the funds. LaBracke said this is a common sign of a scam.
“Usually with all these scams, they’re going to request funds generally by gift card,” she said. “Anytime you’re asked to get a gift card and told to scratch off the back, it’s going to be a scam. No legitimate company or individual is going to ask you to pick up gift cards for payment.
Scammers have also started using smartphone apps to request funds, including Zelle, Cash App, PayPal and Venmo. The scammer-owned accounts are commonly opened with another victim’s information, again making tracking the funds an impossible task, according to LaBracke.
Once a scam victim sends money over, that’s usually the last they’ll see of it. LaBracke said funds are usually sent overseas, to places such as Turkey and Romania, where local police can no longer track those funds.
“I’ve been with the police department for a year, and I haven’t had a successful scam case that resulted in funds being recovered,” she said.
Websites including Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and eBay are common places for scammers to try finding victims. Both buyers and sellers should be on the lookout for signals they may be dealing with a scammer.
For sellers, LaBracke said scammers may send a check for a much larger amount than what the seller asked for, and then ask the seller to send back part of the amount with gift card information or to pay supposed courier fees.
LaBracke said several people have reported trying to purchase inexpensive vehicles on Craigslist that turn out to be scams. The seller might claim the vehicle is out of state and request payment before the victim ever sees it in person. Scammers will usually try to get payment through an app to complicate tracking the funds.
Another popular online marketplace scam right now is fake rental properties, according to LaBracke. Many leases are ending around this time of year, so scammers will list properties that aren’t actually available. The listing might include a low price, say that bad credit is OK and warn the victim the deal won’t last.
When contacted, the scammer will ask the victim to fill out an application, which includes the person’s identifying information. They’ll then sell that info or use it to conduct other scams. Scammers may also try to get a down payment on the property before the victim sees it.
Scammers use more than big purchases to prey on the vulnerable. Even puppies can be used in the commission of a scam, LaBracke warns. The scammer may create an entire fake profile posing as someone living nearby and give an elaborate story about why the puppy is available. The puppy might be a purebred and available for a very low price.
After the victim pays a deposit, the scammer might text the victim and say the puppy also needed shots or give some other reason, like insurance, to request more money from the victim. No matter what the victim pays, however, the puppy never arrives.
In a different scam, products do arrive, but not for the victim. Scammers will post a job offer for something like a “quality control inspector.” The supposed company may have an entire website, LaBracke said, but the website is fake. Victims are asked to complete an application, again giving out their personal info, and informed they’ll be responsible for forwarding or reshipping merchandise that will be shipped to their home.
The victim is told to print a new label for the package and then send it again, either to another reshipper or out of the country completely. The original merchandise, often expensive electronics, were purchased with fraudulent funds. The additional shipping helps make it difficult for law enforcement to track the original purchaser who is using fraudulent funds.
While the “reshipping scam” has become pretty popular within the past year, another scam that’s gone on for years still claims victims today. Scammers sometimes pose as a utility company and threaten to shut off services if payments aren’t made immediately. The scammer may even call from a phone number that appears to be the company’s posted number, a practice known as spoofing.
“All of these scams thrive on people’s emotions and putting them in a situation where it’s, ‘You need to pay now, otherwise X, Y, Z is going to happen,’” LaBracke said.
Scammers will also commonly tell victims not to tell others about what’s happening, whether it’s family and friends or coworkers and the bank. In one plot, scammers will target employees of corporate chain stores or restaurants and say the manager or owner is under investigation for embezzlement. The employee is told to take all the money from the register or safe and purchase gift cards to settle the matter. In that scheme, the employee is told not to tell others, to avoid “tarnishing the investigation.”
The pandemic has changed details on some scams. Instead of being told the manager or owner is under investigation, the employee may be told they need to facilitate a mask and glove delivery, LaBracke said.
Avoid getting scammed
Though scams can vary greatly in the details, there are typically a few common themes that can help people identify the situation is a scam. LaBracke said the following are red flags to look for:
- Trying to get your money as quickly as possible in a way that’s difficult to trace.
- Telling you to pick up gift cards or reloadable cash cards for payment.
- Asking for your online banking login information.
- Offering something that seems too good to be true.
- Offering to pay for work before you actually do it, especially if you haven’t met them in person.
- Calling from a phone number you don’t recognize.
- Telling you to keep the matter to yourself.
If you think you’ve come across a scam, but aren’t sure, LaBracke said residents can always contact the police department for an opinion from law enforcement.
For those who think they were just scammed, LaBracke offered a few tips.
If you just sent money by gift cared and think it might have been a scam, immediately call the number on the back of the card and ask to stop the transaction or freeze the account. If you gave out banking information to a suspicious person or website, contact your bank immediately. If your computer was compromised, take it to a local or national computer repair professional you can trust.
For personal information, LaBracke recommended putting a freeze on your credit report with the three major credit bureaus. In fact, LaBracke said, that’s a good idea for anyone who isn’t applying for credit in the next three months.
“I tell everybody this,” she said. “It’s just going to be an extra layer of protection for you to prevent identity theft.”
Another way to prevent being targeted by scammers is going through your phone service provider to set up a call filter that will automatically detect potentially fraudulent calls. LaBracke said people should add phone numbers they expect calls from and not answer calls from unknown numbers. If the call is legitimate, the caller will likely leave a voicemail.
Finally, to keep on top of common scams, LaBracke offered two resources: the Federal Trade Commission, which lists common scams and even offers emailed updates for scam alerts, and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a Federal Bureau of Investigations website tracking internet crimes. Both websites also offer forms for people to file complaints about online crimes or scams.
Though being victimized by a scammer can feel embarrassing, LaBracke said she encourages scam victims to tell their friends and family about the scam. It’s not uncommon to be a scam victim. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2019 report, more than 9,600 Coloradans lost a total of more than $65 million to internet crimes in 2019.
“Get the word out because the only way that we’re going to stop scams from happening and stop people from being victimized by these scammers is by word of mouth and by not sending them any money,” she said. “Once we cut them off from their supply, that’s the way to stop them.”