Pending Charge? Think Again

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From imposter schemes to identity theft to online shopping scams, more than 2 million American consumers submitted fraud claims to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2020, adding up to almost $3.3 billion dollars in stolen funds. We all have a role to play in staying one step ahead of the thieves and scammers by learning all we can about their tactics and making sure our friends, family, and neighbors know what to look for as well.

As one of Call Federal’s specialists when it comes to identifying and preventing fraud, I want to share a deeper look at some of the scams we’re seeing with increased frequency and how you can best protect yourself from them.

The One That Starts With A Fake Charge and/or Refund

As we discussed in our previous post, scammers have the technology and tools at their disposal to appear as almost anyone they choose in an effort to gain your trust by mocking the phone number, email address, even the message style of a merchant you have done business with at some point. The initial outreach may look like a receipt for something you didn’t buy or a notification that a bill is about to be charged for a service you don’t subscribe to. When you reply or call back to dispute the charge, it’s game on.

How this scam works

The most common form of this scam requires access to computer (laptop or desktop) and an internet connection. To “assist with the refund”, the scammer will talk you into granting access to your computer – it may be as obvious as asking you to download tech support software or as simple as having you enter a website address that accomplishes the same goal; either way, this is essential to the scam! You’ll log into your online banking to “verify” that you haven’t already received a credit, all the while they’re gathering information about your account. When the refund isn’t there, they’ll pretend to log out of your account and then “contact a colleague” about the ‘issue with your refund’; in reality, they’re using the access you granted them to hide your screen while they manipulate your account.

Setting the Trap & Raising the Stakes

Surprise, surprise! There’s an issue transmitting the refund and you’ll have to make your request via the “refund portal”. They will now trick you into believing YOU made a mistake and requested a refund far larger than what you were supposed to “receive”. They will show you a doctored view of your bank account that appears to show the large deposit. They will demand that you return the “overpayment” –  or else they’ll lose their job, their families will starve; they will tug on your heart strings as hard as they can to gain your compliance. Then, they’ll offer a variety of unorthodox solutions (gift cards, wire transfers, payment apps like Zelle or Venmo, even an address to send cash) and may even offer to ‘let you keep some of it’. If you refuse or demonstrate any doubt, they can become agitated, abusive, even threatening. And they will ramp up the pressure & stress until their demands are met.

If you want to see this scheme in action, we highly recommend this video where a trio of YouTube stars team-up to help authorities bring some of these scammers to justice.

Reminders for Keeping Your Accounts Safe

  • Real companies never “need your help” to issue or verify a refund. If you’ve done business with them, they have all the information they need.
  • Do not share private details via text message. Legitimate attempts to validate your activity only requires a simple (YES or NO) response.
  • Do not click on links in emails or hyperlinked phone numbers sent via SMS text.
  • Do not trust Caller ID. The technology to appear as anyone from anywhere is readily available.
  • When in doubt, call your bank or credit union- we’re here to help!

You’re the Key

While we are working diligently to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters, the first line of defense against any scam is you! Educating yourself on what to look out for when confronted with these situations is the best protection you can have; as demonstrated, when scammers target someone, they only have part of the picture. The success of their scam relies on help from their victims. When in doubt, hang up and call the merchant or your financial institution directly to verify the request. Use a published phone number from a billing statement, the back of your card, or an official website – not the phone number listed in a mailing, email or text.

Finally, help us spread the word and spare others from these scams! Share this post with your friends and family, so they can protect themselves as well.

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