By Dan Guarino
From mailbox to telephone to text, online and email, it seems there are even more ways scammers are trying to separate you from your personal information and money.
The Federal Trade Commission reports Americans lost $8.8 billion to fraud in the last year. That’s up 44% percent from 2021. Now even more residents and acquaintances are sharing their own illuminating scam stories, illustrating how these cons have hit home on the peninsula.
Longtime resident Sharon Gabriel recalls “I had a (Facebook) message from someone in my family… (saying) she received several thousand dollars from Social Security for a special program for seniors and suggested I look into it.” Following up, Gabriel shortly received a message from a man stating, “they needed some additional information from me such as an address, etc. as they already had my name.”
The funds would be sent out via FedEx after approval, he explained, and even showed her a picture of ‘himself’ and a “FedEx truck delivering packages.” Her suspicions were aroused when he mentioned he also was located in New York. When asked exactly where, he replied “Rockaway Township,” which is still firmly in New Jersey.
A further message revealed the fraud, stating that although there was no cost from the government in sending “the thousands he said I would receive, there would be a charge from FedEx of several thousand dollars, which I would have to pay when they delivered the check.” Gabriel then told him that while they were communicating, she had contacted INTERPOL and the FBI and forwarded all their messages. “The line on the computer went dead and there was no more contact.”
Gabriel’s experience is an example of ‘Imposter Fraud,’ which the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) states is when “scammers try to convince you to (give them) money by pretending to be someone you know.”
Frequently hacked Facebook, Instagram and other social media accounts are used to fake personal connections. “I get those all the time,” says one Broad Channel man. “About ‘special programs,’ or ‘Can I have a company send you a special code so I can unlock my phone?’ Or Friend Requests from people I already know. I pop their name in the Facebook search bar and sure enough we’re Friends already. So, I delete the fake requests.”
Consumer Reports notes scammers may even pose as “a grandchild or other relative of the victim in an emergency situation,” which requires you to send money.
They report in 2022 Imposter Scams cost Americans $2.6 billion. Using emails, texts, and phone calls, many such cons “involve criminals pretending to be representatives from government branches such as the IRS or other agencies, volunteers from fake charities, or employees from banks or companies you do business with.”
The CFPB advises you can always call the business or agency directly and find out if the contact is legitimate.
The FBI states, “There are many versions of the Government Impersonation scam, and they all exploit intimidation tactics. Typically, the caller advises the recipient…that charges have been, or soon will be, filed against them, and threatens to confiscate the recipient’s property, freeze their bank accounts, or have them arrested unless payment is made immediately.” Victims are often told it will cost thousands in fees or court costs to resolve the issue, and instructed to wire “settlement” money or provide payment via prepaid cards or gift cards to avoid arrest, etc.
“Be advised,” the FBI states, “federal agencies do not call or email individuals threatening arrest or demanding money. Scammers often spoof caller ID information, and these phone calls are fraudulent, even if they appear to be coming from an agency’s legitimate phone number.” It is best to disconnect the contact and report it to the agency or business immediately.
Scammers often use official looking websites and faked links to snare funds or information. One woman recently noted, “Beware, if you’re trying to fill out an application for a passport online, that it is not one of these BS sites imitating the government site and collecting your personal identification information and money. I learned the hard way with so-called ‘easy apply.’ I will dispute the charge, but I can’t un-give my personal info.” Check website or phone numbers sources carefully before doing anything else. Call the nearest local agency branch directly to see if the site or numbers are actually legit.
Fraudsters may even steer already conned people to fake fund recovery services. Messages like “Victims of scam, message #s_____r_recovery001* on Instagram if you got the evidence of been scammed. He just refunded my stolen funds,” Friends of Rockaway Beach Facebook page administrator Bill Gelhaus points out are themselves from scam accounts.
Likewise, messages from banks, credit cards, email and other services stating your accounts have been frozen or will be deleted unless you ‘verify’ your personal information are always a scam. Also, those from companies claiming you have won valuable prizes or gift cards. “I constantly receive calls from people claiming to be Amazon, home security, etc.,” says one woman. “I simply hang up immediately. I call the company to find out if there is any issue with my accounts. Like always, it’s not.”
“A few years back, someone tried opening up a credit card from Raymour & Flanigan for $10,000,” a Rockaway Park woman recalls. “They tried opening it online. How I found out, it was in my credit report when I checked.” The store manager advised people often attempt this to purchase expensive items then change the delivery address, leaving the victim with the bill. Now, the woman states, “I put a lock on my credit and check it every other day.”
The experts agree. It’s best to sign up for security alerts from your bank and credit card companies, check them frequently and disengage from any contact that wants your personal information or seems suspicious.
Because if they ‘require’ your details, intimidate you or offer something that seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
Photo by Dan Guarino.