If you use a computer to pay bills, shop or book vacations, you will want to brush up on scams that threaten the security of your personal information. There is a seasonal uptick to certain types of cyber fraud and, make no mistake, there are new ones every year. Your best defense? Education and prevention.
Which scams are more prevalent throughout the year?
January thru April —Tax Scams. Filing taxes is painful enough without having to worry about this. In a typical scam, imposters send you a phishing e-mail with the official IRS logo, tell you that you owe money, and then request your Social Security Number and bank account number. The IRS reports that over 2,000 tax-related scams took place during 2019.
Remember this important fact: The IRS does NOT initiate communication with individuals via e-mail and will never ask you for personal or financial information via e-mail.
February—Romance Scams. It’s a month for hearts, candy and flowers. It’s also a time for fraud. Around Valentine’s Day, chocolate and flower deliveries increase dramatically. Preying on your emotions and sympathy, online romance scams bilked nearly $1 billion from unsuspecting lonely hearts according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
In this scam, victims may receive a phony e-mail saying that their delivery is held up because of a credit card issue. A link to a fake website is provided for the victim to re-enter credit card information. Don’t click on the link and don’t give out your card number via an unsecured e-mail.
Also, watch out for fake e-cards, which can install malware on your computer or mobile device. Ever date online? Opportunities for fraud also abound in this arena. Even Instant Messenger isn’t safe—there are “flirt-bots” that attempt to bring you into a romantic online chat and then ask for your credit card information. Sadly, thousands of romance fraud victims are also being contacted by someone who masquerades as a member of the U.S. Military asking for money.
March to August—Vacation Scams. Get ready for that Spring Break or summer vacation you booked online months ago. Make sure you do your due diligence on travel or rental websites beforehand, because many arrive at their destinations only to find the vacation rentals don’t exist. Pay close attention to ads and websites to verify if they are legit—stay away from “too good to be true” underpriced rentals, or 100% payments requested upfront via wire transfer, Western Union or check. It’s always a good idea to pay with a credit card for added fraud protection.
Also, airline e-mail confirmations may contain fake links to steal your information if you don’t verify that the sender is authentic. It’s generally a good idea to stick with official airline websites and established travel booking sites. Never pay by cash, check or wire transfer, Western Union or similar methods. Scammers regularly ask for payment in full then take off with the money; it is almost impossible to recover your money once this happens.
June to October—College Prep Scams. Students and their parents make excellent targets for college prep scams. Imposters sending e-mails from College Board (the makers of PSAT and SAT) will request payment from you for study materials under the guise of getting your credit card information. College Board will never ask for credit card or bank information or passwords over the phone or via e-mail. Avoid this by looking up any unfamiliar companies in the BBB’s database or search for the company name online.
November—Veteran Scams. Unfortunately, this revered holiday is not sacred, even to cyber crooks. You may receive an e-mail from an organization claiming to be affiliated with a charity for veterans. Never send money or personal information to an organization without first looking them up online and verifying their credibility. If you are a veteran, know that the Veterans Administration does NOT email or call to verify or update personal information. If you should receive such an email or phone call, consider that to be a red flag and do not act on it. Want a better way to help veterans in need? Check out the TowerCares Foundation.
October to December—Medicare Scams. Open enrollment for seniors to choose a new plan is wrought with opportunity for fraud. And if you or a loved one don’t act too hastily, everyone will be better off. During the fall, older Americans should be on high alert for phishing e-mails and calls. The sender (or caller) pretends to be an employee of Medicare or the government. Typical ploys involve telling you that there are extra benefits or rebates available if you click a link to update your account.
Even though there is an official logo, it may be spoofed, so verify the link by hovering over it to see if it will direct you to a government website, like Medicare.gov. Check that the link ends in: .gov or .gov/; if not delete the email immediately and report the call. The FTC offers more tips to avoid these types of scams.
November – December—Winter Holiday Scams. The holiday season is a time for cyber crooks to scam festive online shoppers who may be lured in by fake bargains, ads and spoofed websites to click and enter their personal information. Take a deep breath before you rush to purchase, and remember these tips:
- Reset shopping passwords every 90 days in the event of a data breach at an online retailer. Use different passwords at different websites.
- Be wary of information requests from shipping companies.
- Don’t fall for imposter shopping apps or fake charities—the risk of malware being loaded onto your computer increases during the most wonderful time of the year. Instead, go to the company’s website and download the authentic app to your mobile device.
Finally, keep informed to stay cyber safe, whatever the season. Check out Tower’s Financial Know How library.
Resources: Xfinity.com; AARP; Lifehacker.com; FTC.gov