On Guard! Top Scams Point to Need to Monitor Your Card Accounts

Dating cheats and money wiring top scams list for 2019: Internet Scambusters #889

Fake dating and romance tricks, as well as money wiring and gift card fraud, are among the top scams of 2019.

It looks like more of the same in the coming year — but there’s an important change, as we report in this week’s issue.

A new survey suggests most of us have already been scammed, and it’s highly likely that, even if we haven’t, our personal information is in the hands of scammers, making it essential that we regularly check our accounts for suspicious activity.

Let’s get started…

On Guard! Top Scams Point to Need to Monitor Your Card Accounts

As we move into the third decade of the 21st century, it’s a sad fact that Internet scams have become a part of everyday life.

A crime that was barely known at the beginning of the century has reached a point where, according to a new survey, 9 out of 10 of us say we’ve been victims of a scam.

The survey of 2,000 people, published just a couple of weeks ago by cash-wiring service MoneyGram, cites online scams, fraud, data breaches, identity theft and social media hacking as the main sources of scams.

The most common online scams were romance/dating cheats and various tricks designed to get victims to wire money or gift cards after being threatened by imposters claiming to be police, tax and court officials, or by falling for tech-support, coercion and blackmail scams.

Scambusters’ tracking of crime reports and other anecdotal information suggests that romance scams in particular have been one of the major crime growth areas during the past 12 months.

Not only that, but statistics suggest that victims are parting with huge sums — $250,000 in one case — by falling for supposed lovers’ sob stories. The scammer, having spent months or years grooming their victims, suddenly asks for financial help.

Often, the victims are middle aged or older women, some of whom admit they’ve handed over their entire life savings after falling for a scammer’s lies.

Fake websites designed to look like the real thing and phony tech support callers account for a large share of identity theft scams. However, as we know from the news reports we get every day, the major sources of ID theft are data breaches at big name firms.

These were up 50% during 2019, with more than 3,800 incidents reported in the first nine months of the year.

All things considered, it’s surprising that 10 out of 10 of us didn’t report being scammed!

No Wiser

What is worrying, as we move into the New Year, is the number of consumers who still have not wised up to some of the scammers’ most obvious tricks.

For example, the MoneyGram survey showed that less than half of respondents knew that being asked to wire money to a stranger was a glaring danger sign. Only about the same proportions were wary about get-rich-quick offers and threats of jail if they didn’t pay a non-existent penalty.

That suggests that the other half of the population are open to these scams. In fact, alarmingly, 10 to 12 percent of the people polled admitted they’d answer an email from an unknown source, respond to romantic requests online or to a job offer they’d never applied for. And a third of the respondents said they didn’t take any type of precautions to protect themselves while shopping online.

There’s obviously still a big education job to be done.

As MoneyGram chief operating officer Kamila Chytil says: “Increased internet usage, sharing our lives on social media and the growth of non-face-to-face interactions are just a few factors that put consumers at risk and make it more important for financial services providers to help protect and educate our customers.”

Given all of this, it’s highly likely that confidential details of every single one of us who use the Internet have been compromised in some way. Somewhere, someone has that information — whether it be bank account or credit card details, email addresses, Social Security numbers or other data we’d rather others didn’t know.

We can’t stop them. So, as we move into the next decade, it’s going to become increasingly important to monitor credit card and bank accounts on a daily basis. While we may not be able to keep our information out of the scammers’ hands, we can stop them using it.

And if you can’t check accounts daily, consider using a third party to monitor your records with the credit reporting agencies. There are paid and free services. If you don’t know where to start, check out this report: The 7 Best Credit Monitoring Services of 2020.

More of the Same

Beyond this, we see most of 2019’s top scams continuing through 2020, notably those romance and imposter tricks.

Furthermore, as we have already reported, with 2020 being an election year, we’re likely to see a surge in fake news and photos. In particular, the growth in what are called “deep fakes” — videos that have been doctored to make someone appear to be saying something scandalous that they didn’t really say — will be evident.

No matter what your political leanings, we urge you to be skeptical about sensational stories and to check them before forwarding them.

In 2020, the age of Internet honesty, if it was ever here, is over. Security software companies are battling the scammers to protect us, and lawmakers are scrambling alongside them.

But unless we take responsibility and educate ourselves about the risks and the top scams — and encourage friends and relatives to do the same — we will remain firmly in the sights of the scammers.

Alert of the Week

Payments processor Visa has issued an urgent warning about malware at gas stations — both at the pump and inside their convenience stores.

Crooks have been hacking their networks to get access to point-of-sale (POS) equipment — devices used for reading debit and credit cards — that still use magnetic strips instead of chip readers.

There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s the business owners’ responsibility to take security precautions and you have no way of knowing if they have.

The safest action is to pay with cash. But if you do use your card, make sure you check your statements regularly for signs of fraud.That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!