Avoid the sucker punch: six scams on the rise

Scams have been around for, well…forever. Whether it’s for information, money, or power, unsuspecting people have been duped time and time again.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there have been more than 1.4 million reports of fraud in 2018. Twenty-five percent of those reports included a combined financial loss of $1.48 billion, a 38% increase over 2017.

How do scammers get away with cheating so many innocent people out of their money? Sometimes they don’t, but given the statistics, they score more often than you might think—a lot more. With advances in technology, the volume of personal information people are willing to divulge, and a little evil-minded creativity, scammers are getting smarter every day. If you’ve ever been a victim, you know how easy it is to fall prey, especially when you’re caught off guard.

Fraudsters concoct new ways of deceiving people daily, so it’s nearly impossible to cover them all. Here are six scams that have gained popularity and are making the rounds lately:

1. Facebook questions scam

Have you ever answered the random surveys on Facebook? Who was your first roommate in college? What was your first car? What’s your favorite food? How about “answer these 20 questions about yourself and then tag another person to do the same?” It may seem harmless, but you’re giving away a ton of private information that could jeopardize your account security. If scammers manage to get one or two of your questions and answers, they can easily reset the password to your social media accounts, bank account, Amazon account, Venmo or Paypal account, and more. In the meantime, keep scrolling when you see those question and answer posts.

2. The grandparent scam

Although this isn’t a new scam, reports of it have been on the rise lately.

A scammer has a child about the same age as the victim’s grandchild, call the grandparent in tears. “Hi Grandma, this is Johnny. Please don’t call my parents. I need you to bail me out of jail, and then I’ll explain.” Or it could be, “I got into a fight, and I’m at the hospital. I know I sound a little different, but that’s because my nose is broken…I have a terrible cold, or I’m really upset.” Whatever the excuse, they need money—and quick! A grandparent might offer a credit card number over the phone or wire cash with all intentions of getting the details later.

Seniors are especially vulnerable, so you need to impress upon them that any time a family member supposedly calls asking for money, they should be skeptical. How can they make sure it’s a real emergency? Hang up and call the grandchild back on their cell phone, call the courthouse if they’re asking for bail money, call the hospital if they need money to pay a bill, or call someone who can confirm their whereabouts. This scam is all about creating panic, so the victim simply reacts without trying to make sense of the situation.

3. Fortnite scam

With its 125 million players, Fortnite: Battle Royale might be the most popular video game in the world, but some of those players are there for a different kind of challenge.

V-bucks are the game’s currency, and oftentimes, scammers will offer players discounted or free V-bucks. The more V-bucks you have, the quicker you can elevate your game, and someone’s offering a deal? Heck, yeah! Just follow the simple instructions, and you’ll be advancing your “Battle Pass” standing in no time.

Most scammers will send you to a website where you share a code from your Fortnite account, which, in turn, will allow them access to your payment information. That third-party site will also lure you with tempting pop-up ads, too, which inevitably lead to downloaded malware. Stay focused on the game, play by the rules, and don’t share any personal information—it’s the only chance you have to be the last one standing!

4. Disaster relief scam

Sadly, in the wake of a disaster, fraudsters come out of the woodwork. They’ll create bogus charities, solicit donations from caring and genuinely concerned people who want to help, and then RUN!

Meanwhile, not only does the donor lose, but the cause it was intended for loses too. Take, for example, Hurricane Dorian, the category five storm that pummeled the Bahamas in September. The Tampa Bay Times reported that scammers posed as a popular television meteorologist and solicited donations that funded a phony Bahamas hurricane relief site.

How do you trust that you’re making a donation to a legitimate charity and that the money will benefit people in need? The most secure way is to do your research and verify the specific organization through Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar, or the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance. Never contribute by way of a social media platform. Instead, go directly to the charity’s website.

5. Airbnb scam

This Airbnb scam was active in 2017, but it seems to be rearing its ugly head again.

Most of us can agree that reserving an Airbnb is a relatively simple process. It can be significantly less expensive, more convenient, and just as comfy as a hotel room. It’s a fantastic alternative until you arrive at a house that’s already booked by someone else, or even worse, it doesn’t exist! How’s that for a dream vacation? Scammers are creating fake listings on the popular site and directing renters to a fraudulent third-party website to make their payment.

How do you avoid being caught up in this nightmare? You should never communicate outside of the Airbnb platform and never pay cash. Instead, use your verified bank account or credit card. Read the reviews and make sure they all sound like they’re describing the same place, and engage with the landlord through the Airbnb messaging system before you rent.

There’s also the reverse Google image verification. Once you find a place that looks like a viable option, make sure the images you see are the real deal. Right-click on an image, copy its URL and paste it in the search box at Hopefully, you’ll see the property that you expect.

6. Netflix scam

Netflix has 51 million paid subscribers around the world, which makes for a perfect place to phish for some chillin’ couch potatoes. Imagine this: You’re sitting down to watch the newest season of The Crown when you get an email that says your monthly payment couldn’t be processed and your account is scheduled to be suspended TODAY. The email looks official, but the logo is a little smaller than usual, and when you hoover over the “Click Here” link, you see ad oddly long URL.

If you clicked the link, you’d be directed to a page that looks like the Netflix website, where you can enter your credit card information. Submit it, and where does that information go? Straight into the scammer’s hands.

If you step back for a minute, you might notice that the name in the “To” line isn’t yours. The “From” line might include the word Netflix, but also a much longer URL. The subject line says “RE [Alert],” along with too much other random information. It’s a scam.

It may be quicker and easier to follow the link, but you run a significant risk of fraud for the few keystrokes you save. Instead, go to the company’s site, enter your username and password, and update your information within the safety of their system.

The Federal Trade Commission’s website includes an ongoing and cumulative list of scams and fraudulent activity. Click here to file a complaint and open an investigation.

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