In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, fake charities and scams related to relief efforts are a real threat to legitimate relief agencies. Sadly, the headlines will include stories of price-gouging and consumers who unwittingly gave cash or emergency supplies to fraudsters and hoaxes.
Scams are as common as a cold but far more serious. The Federal Trade Commission, collected over 1.4 million fraud reports last year, with consumers reporting that they lost money to scammers in 25% of those reports. Respondents reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud last year – an increase of 38% over 2017’s numbers.
So what do these scams look like? Here’s a few of the most common and how to avoid them.
Your Utility Company Doesn’t Need Immediate Payment or Access to Your Home
Over the past several years, power companies have begun installing meters that allow consumers to monitor their energy use. Fraudsters have seized the opportunity to scam unwitting victims out of both money and personal information. How? They either show up at the front door, often with convincing “uniforms” and I.D., or they call you directly, asking for a “deposit” for the meter, or personal information to confirm you are the registered user.
Good Housekeeping reports that Law enforcement, utility companies, and consumer protection agencies have issued warnings in states as widespread as Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin about new tactics that have fooled thousands of people across the country.
“These scammers take tens of thousands of dollars a year from our customers by sounding sincere while they lie,” Jim Duggan of Con Edison said in a statement. “We want our customers to be able to recognize signs that someone is a professional criminal trying to steal from them.”
Other power-related scams include offers to restore power quickly after a large storm in return for payment or a “reconnection fee,” a demand for a separate payment to replace or install a meter, and
requests to inspect equipment or conduct an “audit” in order to gain access to your home.
What do you do? Remember, your utility company would not shut off the power without warning nor will they demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment. If you think the demand for immediate payment or access to your home is legitimate, call the number on your bill or the provider’s website.
Suspension of your Social Security number
This is how the scam usually goes: You’ll get a call and the caller will inform you that because of “suspicious activity,” your SSN has been “suspended.” In order to reactivate it, you either need to pay a small fee or “confirm” your SSN by dictating it over the phone. Both are scams – one to steal your money, the other to steal your identity. Remember, your social security card isn’t a gym membership or an airline miles card – it can’t be suspended. Its value for fraudsters is immense because it opens so many doors for hackers.
If they’re really convincing and you think the caller may be legitimate, call the SSA yourself using the number posted on their official website.
In a way, I feel like this one doesn’t need to be said, but here we are. Don’t give your DNA to fake scientists who approach you on the street. According to Bloomberg, authorities in several states are warning people that scammers may be using DNA testing to defraud Medicare and steal their identity.
It’s a new twist on the old game of tricking people into sharing personal identification like social security or banking information. Reports of “scientists” working out of vans – what did your mother tell you about talking to people in vans? – who then offer individuals $20 in exchange a few medical details and a DNA sample for “research purposes.”
Seems legit – who doesn’t want free money in exchange for no work and a little saliva? The risk here isn’t so much the DNA as the info you hand over with it that can then be used to open credit cards, file false insurance claims, and a million other nefarious schemes that end up costing victims millions every year.
What do you do if you’re approached? Run away just like your mama told you.
The Single Ring Call
While it may sound like an intriguing new movie or a mating behavior in a nature documentary, this is the scam where your phone rings once then the caller hangs up. Do NOT return the call. The “one-ring call back scam” is one of the most clever calls out there. It works on the premise that if someone is repeatedly calling and then the call is dropped, it could be someone in danger. The problem is, the call is likely from a premium-rate toll number based on the other side of the world. You likely won’t know until you get your bill next month, but you’ve been slammed with an array of expensive charges, and the caller has walked away with a healthy share of the profits.
What do you do if you’re approached? Simple, don’t answer the phone and don’t call back.
No one has Hacked your Porn Habits.
Well, this is an awkward one that plays on people’s fear of exposure and that’s why we’re seeing an increase in sexploitation scams. Targets get an email saying their online porn habits have been tracked and unless you pay up in a certain number of days, everyone from your kids to your boss will know what you’ve been up to. The scam is effective because who cares if it’s true or not – no one wants that kind of accusation out there.
What do you do if you receive one of these emails? Delete it. The end. The email is designed to play on fear, and everyone knows the best way to deal with fear is to ignore it. Well, at least in this situation it is.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.