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Explore the latest happenings at Kirtland FCU and learn about important topics from around the financial world. Here’s your insight!
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All Posts > Security

Security Fraud

New Mexico’s electric utility, PNM, is once again warning customers to be on the lookout for scams related to PNM service:

PNM is warning its customers throughout New Mexico to be on the lookout for phone scams, especially on the weekends. PNM is seeing a surge in scam reports from residential and business customers that scammers are spoofing the PNM name and phone number, pretending to be with PNM, are insisting a past due balance is owed, and are threatening to disconnect electricity unless customers pay, within an hour, with a prepaid gift card.
 

Spoofing

New Mexico’s electric utility, PNM, is once again warning customers to be on the lookout for scams related to PNM service
Spoofing is a tactic that includes adding a false PNM caller ID name on their phone number to get customers to answer or they leave false call-back phone numbers. Then when customers return the call, they hear similar on-hold messages as PNM, often with a low sound quality, duping customers into thinking it is legitimate.
 


Classic sign of a phone scam

The common element in all the phone scams is the demand to only make payments with prepaid gift cards. This is a scam.



Spotting a scammer

Scammers are smart and are getting more and more savvy every day to try and convince people they are legitimate.
  • Scammers will claim they are with PNM. If you suspect the person on the other end may not be with PNM, hang up and call PNM yourself at 888-DIAL-PNM (888-342-5766). They’ll be able to tell you if a PNM representative contacted you and whether you are past due.
  • Scammers often spoof the PNM phone number on your caller ID, making it look like PNM is calling you.
  • Scammers sometimes call you from what looks like a local number or a number that is similar to your own.
  • Scammers sometimes leave a false number for you to return their call. When you do, you hear similar on-hold messages as PNM, but often is low sound-quality.
  • Scammers will claim you are past-due on your bill. Customers should check their own bill for their current balance. If customers are ever uncertain if a caller is from PNM, hang up and initiate the call yourself at 888-DIAL-PNM (888-342-5766) Monday through Friday from 7:30 A.M. until 6 P.M. If you wanted to verify your balance, you can also text #BAL to 78766 from the phone number connected to your PNM account. PNM will instantly text you your account balance so you know whether or not you were just called by a scammer. Not registered to text with PNM? Text #REG to 78766 from the phone number connected to your PNM account to register. Even if you are late with your bill, there are several ways to quickly and safely pay without giving the caller personal or financial information.
  • Scammers will demand you pay within a short window of time, usually 1-hour, to avoid shutoff.
  • Scammers usually demand between $200 and $500 for residential customers and more than $1,000 for commercial customers.
  • Scammers tend to target customers by calling during weekends, when PNM is closed, making it more difficult to verify the scammer’s claims and more likely that red flags will just be bypassed. This tactic is intentional. PNM does not shutoff power over the weekend or on holidays. Scam reports show that customers went against their better judgement, reacted out of fear, and overlooked the red flags of the scam explaining they were afraid to be without power over the weekend.
  • And the most classic sign of a scam: scammers ask or demand you pay your supposedly past-due bill with a prepaid gift card. PNM will never ask or demand customers pay a past-due bill with a prepaid gift card.
  • Additionally, there are reports of solar salespeople posing as PNM employees purporting to sell solar panels to homeowners. These are likely solar sales lead generators that are obtaining customer information and selling it to solar contractors. They may say they work directly for PNM or that they have been contracted by PNM to install solar on homes. PNM has received reports that sometimes these people are door-to-door rooftop solar salesmen that claim to work for PNM and ask to see your private PNM bill as a lead-in to sell you something. While PNM works proudly with many reputable solar companies, they are not affiliated with this deceptive tactic. If you know of any companies engaging in these practices, please report them to the New Mexico Attorney General's office as soon as possible. Visit nmag.gov and click on the "Submit a Complaint" button to properly report the incident.
 

Does PNM contact customers about past-due bills?


PNM notifies customers about past due balances and does sometimes reach out to customers, but PNM would never ask customers to pay with a pre-paid gift card. PNM notifies customers of the balance, offers assistance programs, encourages customers to verify their balance on their own, and customers can pay using an option they feel most comfortable. Prepaid gift cards are never part of the conversation, and if they are, PNM encourages customers to hang-up and report the scam.
 

Report the phone scam

Regardless if it was an attempt to scam you out of money or if the scammer was successful, please report it. PNM is working the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) because these fraudsters are using VoIP telecommunication phone lines to scam customers out of money, which is a federal crime. PNM and the FBI are asking New Mexico customers for help by reporting the details of any scammers that may have contacted them to the FBI so the agency can track and analyze them against similar scams and suspects. Reports can be made here. PNM is also asking customers to report the same information by calling 888-DIAL-PNM (888-342-5766). You may also chat with a representative Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. at PNM.com or you may submit the details of the scam to PNM here. You can also file a complaint with the FTC and the New Mexico Attorney General's office.
 

If you need to make a payment quickly

  • Make a payment online
  • Initiate the call yourself by calling PNM 1-888-DIAL PNM (888-342-5766) and follow the prompts for making a payment 24/7.
  • Or you can call KUBRA EZ-PAY directly at 1-844-PNM-PYMT (844-766-7968) to make a payment.
  • Make a payment at more than 70 Western Unions throughout PNM’s service area. Your payment will be noted in their system within 1 hour. Find a location near you.

Security Fraud

The first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. is finally approved and making its way into hospitals across the nation. The news was met with relief and hope—and with criminals ready to cash in.

COVID-19 scams are popping up like wildfire. On December 3, days ahead of the emergency use authorizing for the first vaccine in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General issued an alert to the public about fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Scammers are already using telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits to perpetrate COVID-19-related scams.

These scams are not new, but the introduction of the vaccine has opened a new avenue for fraudsters. Reports of calls, texts, e-mails and social media messages offering faster access to the vaccine—for a price, of course—began rolling in immediately after the announcement of the approval of the first vaccine in the U.S. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a consumer safety advisory warning families to be on the lookout for these scams as they seek or receive the vaccine.

“We will not tolerate fraud and scams in the delivery of this critical vaccine,” said Attorney General Balderas. “Unfortunately during this pandemic, we have seen the rise of individuals who are looking to take advantage of the fear and vulnerability of our families in these uncertain times; but New Mexicans should remain confident in the advice of healthcare professionals and the law enforcement community, who are working diligently to make sure we all stay safe.”

Balderas said the Office of the Attorney General is working in partnership with law enforcement nationwide to warn of potential criminal activity, including theft and illegal advertising of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a number of COVID-19 vaccines come closer to approval and global distribution, ensuring the safety of the supply chain and identifying illicit websites selling fake products will be essential. Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives. According to INTERPOL’s Cybercrime Unit, it has identified 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, and around 1,700 of those websites contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware.

Remember:
  • Be vigilant, skeptical and safe. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do not give payment information to anyone claiming to be selling the vaccine or selling early access. Paying will not gain you access to the vaccine.
  • Beneficiaries should be cautious of unsolicited requests for their personal, medical, and financial information. Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products, services, or benefit review.
  • Be suspicious of any unexpected calls or visitors offering COVID-19 tests or supplies. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately.
  • Do not respond to, or open hyperlinks in, text messages about COVID-19 from unknown individuals.
  • Ignore offers or advertisements for COVID-19 testing or treatments on social media sites. If you make an appointment for a COVID-19 test online, make sure the location is an official testing site.
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone claiming to offer HHS grants related to COVID-19.
  • Check with trusted health authorities for the latest news and information regarding COVID-19 and its vaccines.
Report any suspicious activity related to the COVID-19 vaccine to local law enforcement. New Mexicans can also report suspicious activity to the Office of the Attorney General by calling 1-844-255-9210 or visiting nmag.gov or to the New Mexico Department of Health at 1-855-600-3453.

Security Fraud

The holidays are always a hot season for criminals and fraudsters, and 2020 presents a uniquely rich opportunity for thieves with record numbers of online shoppers expected due to pandemic worries and closures. Here the top six scams lighting up holiday shoppers this year.
 

1. E-skimming

E-skimming happens with scammers exploit weak links on an e-commerce platform—where you’re completing your online purchases. In many cases, a victim can be re-directed to a malicious domain where the skimming code can capture the customer's information from the checkout page. The skimming code would capture information in real-time and send it to a remote server where the data is collected by the criminals behind the scene. Your credit card data can either be sold or used to make fraudulent purchases from that point going forward.
 

2. Social Media Scams

In the midst of a pandemic and especially around the holidays, social media offers an important opportunity to safely connect with each other as well as become another avenue for online shopping. But scammers have also flocked to social media. According to the FTC, Reports that people lost money to scams that started on social media more than tripled in the past year, with a sharp increase in the second quarter of 2020.


 
Reports about scams that started on social media have been increasing for years. In 2019, total reported losses to these frauds reached $134 million. But reported losses reached record highs, climbing to nearly $117 million in just the first six months of 2020. In that time, the reported scams that started on social media often related to online shopping, romance scams, and supposed economic relief or income opportunities.

Online shopping scams often involve the use of social media platforms to set up fake, online stores. By using social media to advertise the fake website; fraudsters take a victim’s payment, but the victim will never see the goods. Those ads you see as you scroll, personalized to your name or job title, are often fake sales.

Not all social media scams are spread by criminals, either. Popular posts by family and friends about the “Secret Sister” gift exchange are actually illegal pyramid schemes.

 

3. Porch Pirates

This may be one of the most pervasive holiday crimes, and it feels more personal than other digital crimes. These criminals were on your porch! They may follow a delivery truck or simply be taking advantage of an opportunity after spotting a package, but the result is the same—a stolen package off your porch.
 

4. Buy Online and Curbside Pickup

This is one of the newest avenues for ‘friendly fraud’, where a member may state they didn’t receive an item and want a refund. Curbside pick-up is also another option for fraudsters to intercept your purchase.
 

5. Shipment Update Scam

This one also saw a major boost in 2020 with the exponential increase in online shopping and deliveries due to the pandemic. This scam involves a text or e-mail claiming that a shipment is delayed unless action is taken immediately to correct the issue. That action involves a link that may install malware on the device or directs to a fake site in order to collect your personal information.
 

6. Donations and Fake Charities

It’s the season of giving, but not every plea for assistance is legitimate. 
 

7. Gift Card Scams

It’s a theme with thieves: requesting to be paid in gift cards for a fake service or product or even selling the victim a gift card that is worthless. Make sure you purchase gift cards only from reputable sellers and directly from the particular store if at all possible.

What you can do to protect yourself
A few good rules of thumb will reduce your risk of falling prey to one of these hot 2020 holiday scams.
  • Purchase gifts and gift cards only from reputable sites.
  • Go directly to the site yourself; don’t click links!
  • Keep track of your delivery days and keep an eye out so you can bring packages in quickly. Or, if available, choose to pick up packages curbside.
  • Avoid entering payment information directly if possible. Services such as PayPal allow you to complete purchases safely online without transmitted card information.
  • Sign up for Online and Mobile banking and keep a close eye on your accounts and transactions. Catching fraud early is key to limiting losses!
This holiday season, contactless forms of shopping will be more popular than ever, and criminals are not passing up the opportunity to cash in. Keep yourself safe and stay financially secure this holiday season.

Security

COVID-19 remains a popular target for attackers looking to trick users into clicking malicious links. 
 
6 Psychological Tricks Used By COVID-19 Scammers
 
“During this pandemic, we’ve seen malicious hackers preying on users’ biggest weak points by sending messages that instill fear, uncertainty and doubt,” said Stu Sjouwerman, CEO, KnowBe4. “Our Q3 report confirms that coronavirus-related subject lines have remained their most promising attack type, as pandemic conditions weaken judgment, and lead to potentially detrimental clicks.”

This Fall’s Top 10 Suspicious Work E-Mail Subjects:
  • Payroll Deduction Form
  • Please review the leave law requirements
  • Password Check Required Immediately
  • Required to read or complete: “COVID-19 Safety Policy”
  • COVID-19 Remote Work Policy Update
  • Vacation Policy Update
  • Scheduled Server Maintenance — No Internet Access
  • Your team shared “COVID 19 Amendment and Emergency leave pay policy” with you via OneDrive
  • Official Quarantine Notice
  • COVID-19: Return To Work Guidelines and Requirements

As is often the case with malicious emails, many of these emulate actual e-mails you may receive, but the key difference is that the legitimate e-mails won’t usually have the red flags everyone should always be on the lookout for:

Red Flags
  • Unsolicited Attachments and Links - E-mails containing unsolicited attachments or links—don’t open or click these!
  • Urgent Response - E-mails requesting urgent action regarding some previously unknown matter
  • Unusual E-Mail Address - The display name on an e-mail isn’t necessarily the e-mail address. So even if the sender appears to be “HR Department”, check the e-mail address. A scam address will likely not match exactly.
As with all scams, resist urgent calls to action to click links, send money, or enter any personal information. Verify any e-mail you receive directly with the purported sender. If you do click or enter any information based on a potentially fraudulent email you receive in a work inbox, inform your employer as soon as possible.




 
Kirtland FCU is an equal housing lender. Membership eligibility required. See a representative for complete details. Loan subject to credit approval. Financing available for New Mexico properties only. As with all lending services, full disclosures, terms, and conditions will be supplied with your mortgage or home equity disclosures.
 

Security Fraud


No, they aren’t.

So much of our lives are accessible on our computers and devices. For many older generations, that technology remains a somewhat of a mystery, making them particularly vulnerable to this scam. Tech support scams are extremely popular, and they hit older generations harder than any other type of scam, according to the FTC. Adults over the age of 60, who may be less tech savvy than younger generations, were five times more likely to be a victim of a tech scam in 2018, according to the FTC. In 2018, these scams cost Americans $55 million, and the median loss was $400. Those are numbers are just from reported cases of fraud; untold numbers may have been victims without realizing that the entire interaction was a sham.
 

How it works

The tech support scam begins with a pop-up in a browser or a direct contact via e-mail, text or phone call that informs the target of a problem with their computer or device, similar to the Apple Support scam. The problem is entirely fabricated, and the thief will, at best, attempt to get the target to pay money for the “repair” or for bogus warranties.

At worst, the thief will guide the victim to click links, turn over passwords, and information. Some even get the victim to provide remote desktop access in order to “troubleshoot” the imaginary issue. Once inside the victim’s computer, a thief can quietly install malware, spyware, or log into sensitive websites that have saved passwords. Kevin Mitchell, Security and Fraud Specialist at Kirtland FCU says this scam is common.
 

“It happens every day. Multiple times a day. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve just gotten off the phone, trying to help someone who ran into this scam,”

Mitchell says scammers routinely use fear as a tactic. Bright flashing boxes proclaiming that your phone or computer will soon stop working certainly inspire worry, and many will click as a result.

 

How to protect yourself

Tech support scams work because technology can be confusing, and we’re quick to rely on experts to assist us when we feel out of our depth. To protect yourself from tech scammers, remember:
  • Tech support companies will NEVER reach out to you unsolicited. If you’re having an issue with your computer, your phone, or any other piece of technology, call or visit a reputable merchant or service company to discuss the problem and arrange repair. If you haven’t requested a call, feel free to hang up.
  • Don’t click on pop-ups. Those little boxes that pop up on an internet browser that alert you to a problem are a classic form of this scam. Don’t click and close your browser as a precaution.
  • Don’t believe a logo or the caller ID. Many scammers attempt to impersonate legitimate companies. Just because the caller ID says Apple or the e-mail appears to be from Best Buy doesn’t mean it’s a real communication. Content is key. Is the caller claiming to be able to solve a problem you haven’t detected? Are they asking for money or access to your computer? It’s probably a scam.  
  • Protect your passwords. No tech support company will ever request you provide a password. And don’t turn over access to your computer! If you initiated a service call, tech support may request remote access to help you solve a problem, but you should NEVER grant computer access to anyone you haven’t contacted yourself and trust thoroughly. The best idea is to take your computer in for in-person repairs if you’re having a problem.
  • Beware requests for payment or information. Don’t ever enter credit card information or authorize any type of payment for tech support. Repairs will cost you money, but legitimate companies will provide an estimate for the repair before beginning work and charge you upon completion.
  • Don’t let fear guide you. A sense of urgency is key to this scam succeeding. The more pressed you feel to act, the less likely you’ll make a wise decision. If a caller or a pop up is threatening or urging action, take a breath. Think. And click away or hang up!
Mitchell recalls a story of a woman who had given remote access of her computer over to a scammer. The thief used her saved passwords to break into her Online Banking and start moving money around.
 

“Please don’t save your passwords on your browser,” he urges. “It’s much safer to enter them each time, as much trouble as that can seem. It’s dangerous to leave them out there.”


If you think you may have become a victim of this scam, the best course of action is to immediately disconnect your computer from the internet by shutting off WiFi or unplugging the ethernet cord, says Mitchell. Then, take your computer to a legitimate repair facility to have it checked out and reset if necessary.

Make sure you notify any credit union, financial institution, credit card company, or other business that you may have had access to through your computer. Changing your passwords is a good idea as well.

The tech scam is very common, so always be on the lookout.
 

Security Fraud

This article was original published in February 2020.

Puerto Rico. California. Florida. Australia.

What do all these places have in common? They’ve all experienced a disaster or event that prompted an outpouring of donations and an influx of charity involvement in the recovery efforts. In the age of coronavirus, need is all around us. Closures have resulted in record unemployment, failed business, and unprecedented challenges in every corner of the country and the globe. Charities that have traditionally relied on annual walks and other fundraising events are facing a crisis, rapidly attempting to bring their fundraising efforts online—digital giving is the name of the game in 2020.

And there’s no question as to the willingness of people to give. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the second-costliest storm on record in the United States, causing an estimated $125 billion in damages. In the three months following the storm, at least $1.07 billion is estimated to have been donated to U.S. nonprofit organizations in response, according to a study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. More than 30 percent of U.S. households made a disaster-related donation in 2017 through a variety of sources.


Image from U.S. Household Disaster Giving Report, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. https://www.issuelab.org/resources/34757/34757.pdf





Hurricane Harvey relief workers hand out supplies. Photo courtesy of michelmond / Shutterstock.com

Give directly to reputable organizations
Well-established organizations are the most experienced in working with disaster relief and After a disaster, donations tend to explode. In fact, most donations are made in the first six weeks following a disaster and have all but tapered off six months later. The first few weeks after a disaster, especially one with high-profile news coverage, are prime season for fraudsters who capitalize on the disaster and peoples’ desire to make a difference by posing as a charity organization.

In August of 2019, as Hurricane Dorian approached the shores of Florida, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and the Better Business Bureau offered advice on how to make the most of your donation in the face of a disaster and how to spot a fraudulent attempt to divert donations.  They often have strong local ties and will know how to work together with other agencies as well as governments.

Watch for look-alike charities
It’s not uncommon for organizations to pop up in an attempt to collect a portion of a massive volume of donations being made in the wake of a disaster. Many fraudulent organizations will create names that are similar to legitimate organizations. And even new, legitimate charities may be well-intentioned but not well-positioned to help immediately. Check with Give.org for a list of credible charities assisting with recovery efforts or with the IRS’ Tax-Exempt Organization Search to make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate organization.

Understand crowdfunding
The explosion of online crowdfunding—the collecting of money for a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people—has made it very easy for fraudsters to cash in after a disaster. If you’re going to donate via a crowdfund, it’s best to makes sure you know the owner personally. The person running the crowdfunding campaign isn’t necessarily the person who you want your money ending up with, and you’re trusting that they’ll follow through on their promises.
 
Beware direct requests for money
If you’re contacted by someone you don’t know on social media or via e-mail in a direct request for donation funds, you should hear alarm bells in your mind. Legitimate organizations that you aren’t already affiliated with will likely not reach out to you directly to request help. Be even more concerned if that person is requesting gift cards or P2P payments (Apple Pay, Paypal, etc.) Likewise, do not click on links in unsolicited e-mails requesting donations. DO NOT give out personal financial information to anyone who solicits a contribution.

Do not send cash
A cash donation is a bad idea. Leave a paper trail for tax and security purposes by using a check or credit card to make a donation. If something goes wrong, you have avenues you can follow with your card company and documentation of the amount and where it was supposed to go. Checks have to be cashed somewhere. When you hand over cash or gift cards, the trail ends—and if you’ve given your donation to a fraudster, you have no path for recourse.

Report suspected fraud
If you receive an e-mail requesting donations and suspect it may be fraudulent, report it to the IRS.

These types of scams are not limited to disasters or charities: scammers often impersonate political organizations as well, purportedly seeking donations for a candidate or a cause.
We know the desire to help is nearly overwhelming in the days and months following a disaster. And with coronavirus pandemic causing a record need for charitable assistance, opportunities to help abound. By being aware of the dos and don’ts of donation, you’ll be able to avoid fraudsters and make sure your donation provides the maximum amount of relief in the right hands.

 

Security Fraud

Six months in, the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has devastated the economy with business closures resulting in lost jobs for a record number of people. In fact, as of the end of July, a staggering 28.2 million people claimed unemployment benefits. Last year, 1.6 million people claimed unemployment in the same time period.
 
For those who have been affected, unemployment benefits are lifeline. Indeed, through the federal CARES Act as well as various state efforts, unemployment benefits have received a boost in recent months. But the exponential increase in unemployment claims, coupled with several state and federal actions design to make applying for unemployment easier, has resulted in an explosion of fraudulent unemployment claims.
 
How this scam works
The Unemployment Usurper uses stolen personally identifying information—a Social Security number, birth date, name, address, etc.—to fraudulently apply for and receive unemployment benefits in the name of the victim. The incidence of this scam has increased so quickly that the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission have both recently issued warnings to be on alert for this scam.
 
The imposter may obtain personal information through a variety of methods—data breaches, phishing e-mails and phone calls, public websites, social media accounts, and physical theft of data. Often, the criminal will file the claim under the false identity and set up payments to drop into an account they themselves control.
 
Victims only learn about the fraud when applying to receive their unemployment benefits, when they receive a notice from their state unemployment benefits office or their employer if currently employed. Red flags that you’ve been targeted in this scam include:
 
  • Communication regarding unemployment insurance forms when you have not applied for benefits
  • Unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits
  • Fees involved with filing or qualifying for insurance
  • Unsolicited inquiries related to unemployment benefits
  • Fictitious website and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies.
 
If you are alerted to this activity and you haven’t applied for benefits, it’s likely your information has been stolen and employed in this scam. The benefits may be long gone, but you will need to move quickly to protect your finances and credit from further impacts.
 
  1. Report the fraud to your employer
  2. Report the fraud to your state unemployment benefits agency (click here for New Mexico’s Department of Workforce Solutions).
  3. Report the fraud to the FTC.
 
How to avoid this scam
They key to avoiding becoming a victim of this scam is to stay in control of your personal information as much as possible. Familiarize yourself with the various methods scammers use to obtain your data so you can be on the lookout.
 
  • Be wary of calls, messages, e-mails, letters, and website that ask you to provide your personal information or financial data—especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Watch for links in e-mails as well. Just because a website looks legitimate doesn’t mean it is. When in doubt, start a new session in your browser and type the website name in directly
  •  Monitor your accounts. Enroll in Online Banking to keep a 24/7 eye on your accounts and set up alerts to notify you of unusual withdrawals and activity.
  • Go paperless. Mailbox theft is common. Keep your statements and other information out of the hands of criminals by opting into electronic statements wherever possible.
  • Check your credit report. You can do this for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Report unusual activity to your financial institutions, credit card providers, and the IRS. You should also consider notifying the FBI of fraudulent or suspicious activities through the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
 

Security Fraud

We’ve all been at home for decades months now. It’s become apparent to many of us that something is just missing at home. What an amazing time to get a pet! Everyone is at home, we can train and look after our new pet! It’s a great distraction and a perfect time to grow our family.
 
It makes sense that with COVID-19 comes skyrocketing incidents of this scam—a threefold increase from this time last year. It’s the Puppy Scam.
 
The BBB received 1,681 reports of pet scams in the past few months, up from 583 for the same period last year. Overall, pet scams comprise 25% of online scams reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker. During the same period last year, it was 18%. The typical dollar amount lost to pet scams also rose from $655 last year to $700 this year, one of the highest for all categories. The percentage of people who reported losing money inched up from 68% last year to 70% this year.
 
It's a costly scam, and one that pulls at the heartstrings.
 

How it works

According to the American Kennel Club, puppy scammers post fake litters online or pretend to be someone they’re not (usually an existing breeder) to take advantage of puppy sales (sans the puppies.) This means that if you aren’t careful, you could find the perfect puppy, send the ‘breeder’ your money, and never receive a puppy or any follow-up communication in return.
While many times these fake listings appear on websites like Craigslist, some scammers find ways to position themselves as reputable breeders by stealing personal info from them.
 
BBB did an earlier study that found that these types of frauds depend on bogus, often sophisticated advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers. Experts believed, at that time, that at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.
 
Victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. There also were several instances where the consumers wanted to see or pick-up the animal but were told that wasn't possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
 
A classic report comes from the BBB: one woman reported losing more than $1,100 to two different puppy scammers in April 2020. She said the first seller agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $500, including shipping, and had her pay with a prepaid gift card he instructed her to buy at Walmart. The woman told BBB the seller subsequently notified her that COVID-19 had delayed shipment of the puppy and would not issue her a refund; she tracked the gift card and found that it had already been spent at a Target store in Texas.
 
The woman said she subsequently made contact with another seller who agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $620, including shipping. She said after she paid half the fee, a third-party shipper contacted her and demanded $750 for a climate-controlled crate; when he offered to split that fee with her, she sent him $300. The seller and shipper subsequently both turned out to be fraudulent, and the woman did not receive refunds or either puppy.
 
“This seller absolutely played on my emotions and vulnerability,” the woman told BBB. “I'm a highly educated person, but I've never felt so stupid in my entire life.”
 

How to stay safe

If you’re considering purchasing a pet, the following are best practices to keep yourself safe from a puppy scammer.
 
See the pet in person before purchasing
Reluctance to have you meet the animal should be a red flag. And when it comes to photos, scammers will often use stock images or photos off the internet when advertising for their scheme. They’ll also repeat their posts in several different places, so do a quick Google search using the text in the listing. If you’re finding the same text on a different site with different photos, that’s a warning sign.
 
Beware sketchy payment methods
If a seller is asking for money wires or gift cards, you should be on the lookout for a scam. Paying by credit card is your best option because it gives you recourse in case a deal doesn’t work out. If you pay with a gift card, wire money, or use a personal transfer service like Venmo, there is no way to retrieve your payment.
 
Research the price
These scams often advertise full-breed animals at an unbelievably low rate. Research the prices of the breed you’re considering to see what the typical price is. If the listing says the animal is registered, check out that registration before turning over any money
 
Beware extras
Scammers often try to charge money for transportation or other extra perks along the way. Be on the lookout for these.
 
Consider adopting rather than purchasing
Animal shelters nationwide are full of wonderful dogs and cats waiting for forever homes. Whether you adopt from a city shelter or one of the many rescue organizations, you have many options for getting a four-legged friend that won’t put your money in jeopardy. Fees are nominal and usually cover vaccinations, microchipping, and other costs associated with adopting out an animal.
 
If you think you have been scammed or have found a suspicious website, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission.
 
Get started on your puppy search safely!
 
Animal Humane New Mexico
ASPCA
Watermelon Mountain Ranch
Rio Rancho Animal Resource Center
Albuquerque Animal Welfare
 

COVID-19 Security Fraud

Scam artists will stop at nothing to exploit the fear, social isolation and uncertainty fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are more vulnerable emotionally than ever,” says psychologist Stacey Wood, a professor at Scripps College in California. “That makes it easier to fall for the increasing number of scams out there."

Criminals are preying on this new vulnerability with everything from fake work-at-home jobs and fraudulent charities to money-seeking romance schemers lurking on dating sites. Other scammers include government impostors who are targeting your stimulus check. How do they do it? Here are six psychological tactics scammers don't want you to know about.

A friendly voice
Before the coronavirus, 1 in 4 older adults were socially isolated; today that number is far higher. “When you're lonely, a friendly voice on the phone or a friendly message on social media seems like a real bright spot,” says Emily Allen, senior vice president for programs at AARP Foundation. Scammers use information they've gleaned about you online to strengthen the bond. They shower you with compliments and get you to like them in order to make you more willing to believe their lies.

Official-sounding sources
“In uncertain times, we rely more than ever on what other people tell us. Scammers may falsely identify themselves as being from the IRS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” says Robert Cialdini, regents emeritus professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University. “They misquote or make up advice from experts. And they create fake organizations that sound impressive, to fool you.”

Using your intelligence against you
"Some people get drawn in when scammers compliment their intelligence and ability to understand a so-called opportunity,” Cialdini says. “Others think they're smarter than a scammer and can spot a phony. Research shows that, among older adults, those who think they're the most invulnerable to persuasion are most likely to fall for scam artists."

Helping in hard times
Schemes involving fake charities, online romantic partners in need and grandchildren marooned away from home without cash are nothing new. But they're heating up as people yearn for ways to help others and as job losses and travel restrictions make scammers’ stories sound more believable than ever, Wood says.

Relieving your new anxieties
Job loss, stock market tumbles, scary virus risks — scammers are manipulating your fears in these uncertain times with too-good-to-be-true “opportunities” like fake work-at-home offers, bogus investment schemes and phony chances to buy face masks, hand sanitizer, coronavirus tests and fake remedies.

You gotta act now!
Goading you to either make a fast decision or miss out on scarce supplies or a new job plays on today's anxieties, Wood says. “When you're fearful or stressed, you're more likely to make impulsive decisions,” she says. “Scammers know this.”

So how can you stay safe from these tactics?

4 Ways to Stop a Scam Before It Starts
  1. Cut them off. Toss, delete or hang up on unsolicited offers. Don't answer the phone if you don't recognize the caller ID. Don't click on links or provide personal info requested in an email.
  2. End suspicious online friendships. This is not the time to trust strangers, no matter how nice they seem. In fact, scammers are professionals at being “nice.” Put on your toughest filters and cut off contact the moment someone you don't know well asks for info or financial help.
  3. Cultivate your real friendships. Be in frequent touch with family, friends and neighbors who can be sounding boards on unusual offers. Visit connect2affect.org to assess how much social isolation and distancing are affecting your mental and physical health, AARP's Allen says.
  4. Do your homework. If someone claims they're from the IRS or your bank, call to verify. Learn more about popular coronavirus scams now.

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