Age old scams don’t look the same way they once did – fake checks, mass mailers, and the wandering snake oil salesman are relics of the past as scammers turn to technology to stay hidden while getting ahead.
But while you might have noticed a mass of e-mails selling you things you never knew existed, let alone asked for, that barely begins to scratch the surface of how scammers are using technology to get your information.
To stay ahead of the curve and keep yourself protected, here’s what’s worth looking out for when it comes to scammers and technology.
They Skim Your Card
Card skimmers aren’t anything new unto themselves, but they’ve become almost unrecognizable. Skimmers these days can be placed over the card slot so securely that a simple jiggle won’t shake them loose, and with such a convincing cover that you would be hard pressed to catch the scam.
They can also go directly into the card slot, often so small that the most you’ll see of them once they’re in there are a few hair-sized fibers hanging down, and that’s if you know what you’re looking for.
Meanwhile, PIN capture overlay devices can look exactly like your ATM’s keypad, and be fastened out so tight that you’d never notice it wasn’t supposed to be there. Some skimmers are so advanced that they can send an SMS message to the scammer each time it’s collected new card information.
Scammers are getting increasingly clever with the placement of these devices, too. While they’ll probably always be seen as ATM skimmers, they’re going over card readers at gas stations, swipe entries in front of banks, and on any pad attached to self-service technology.
These pose a big risk to your financial security – giving scammers access to drain your account and even to potentially throw it into overdraft. If the information was taken from an independently owned, non-bank affiliated ATM, you could have a hard time getting your cash back. With no bank security programming backing them, these ATMs don’t necessarily have any responsibility toward customer reimbursement.
While skimmers are getting increasingly harder to find, the advice has remained largely the same:
- Use bank ATMs whenever possible
- Trust areas with security cameras first
- Look for any signs of tampering like heave wear around the reader
- If it looks even a little suspicious, don’t use it
They Take Over Social Media
You’ve seen them before – a story pops up in your Facebook feed talking about government grants or instant lottery winnings. These are classic twists on more well-known e-mail scams, with scammers knowing two things: first, you trust social media connections more than an e-mail from a stranger. Second, if they work in small enough increments, targets are more likely to bite.
You’ll see something that says you can win $1,000 instantly – just click to play. You follow the link and surprise! You’re the lucky winner. To claim your money, all you have to do is pay $50 or $100 processing fee.
Here’s the deal – you should never have to pay to claim a cash prize. Likewise, you can’t win a contest you didn’t enter. Scammers are using more widely checked and trusted methods like social media to get the scam out there, and they trust a common-sense threshold to get your attention. A thousand dollars seems far more likely than thirty-two million in terms of realistic winnings, so they’re adapting those lower numbers to draw victims in. It’s still a scam, though, and it could still have you at a loss if you fall for it.
Another common version has you paying for followers or likes. The numbers will add up, but they won’t be from real people or accounts. You’ won’t get any more traction or attention than you had previously, and you’ll be out what you paid plus the integrity of your account.
They Make You the Scammer
You won’t benefit from the information or money that they’re pulling in, but scammers can hijack your name and phone number to useas caller ID information for phone scams. This puts one more layer in between intended targets and the scammers, and it leaves you with the unfortunate fallout of angry callers wanting to know how you got their information, and possibly threatening to turn you into the police.
These are the often unheard victims in telemarketing scams – their information is used to disguise the true number and location of the scammer, and where targets have the option of simply letting the auto dialer roll over to the next number, you’re stuck with angry victims calling you back day and night.
There aren’t too many preventative measures you can take on an individual level, thought eh FTC is pushing for tighter regulation to make spoofing more difficult, but if you ever find yourself on the other end, you have the option of temporarily disconnecting your number, or getting a third party VoIP carrier that only lets certain number through to your phone.
They Make You Believe You’re Getting What You Want
This is at the heart of most scams, but technology has made it easier than ever for scammers to convince you that they’re the product, service, or person that you’re really looking for. Many scammers impersonate legitimate online service companies such as Netflix, copying their site and stealing your ID through their login or sign up screen.
The same is common with online job applications – the scammer clones a legitimate site and pulls personal or financial information when you apply, or otherwise gets you caught up as an unsuspecting player in a larger scheme, often unknowingly forwarding laundered money or illicit packages.
Not even your heart is safe – scammers are taking to online dating apps and wooing unsuspecting victims before asking for pay to come see their newfound love. Once you forward the money for the ticket, both your cash and your date are never to be seen again.
The technology may be new, but the heart of the scams are always the same. Don’t let a more high-tech front fool you. Stay on the watch for suspicious activity and you’ll be able to keep your money and your information safe both online and in real life.