Protecting Your Cash Assets
Richard D. L. Fulton
(Reporter’s Note: A former fraud specialist with a nation-wide bank contributed information for this article on condition of anonymity.)
Every year, Americans face an ever-increasing number of attempts to steal their money by email, mail, over the phone, and door-to-door in-person efforts. While senior citizens seem to be the preferred victims, victims in 2021 ranged from ages 20 through the “over 60s” age groups.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently reported that more than 92,371 senior citizens alone last year were bilked out of a total of $1,685,017,829 a 74 percent increase over the 2020 total, according to Fox News. On the other end of the spectrum, the 14,919 victims under age 20 lost a total of $101,435,178.
While seniors are the “preferred” victims sought out by the criminals—especially since so many are now online and might not be especially internet-savvy—anyone can become a victim of these crimes.
The FBI has categorized the crimes by type: tech support fraud, confidence fraud/romance scams, lottery/sweepstakes/inheritance, government impersonation, and other forms of theft/fraud.
Tech Support Fraud
Criminals will impersonate representatives of major technical support companies, claiming to need to repair (non-existing) issues on one’s computer. The amount the criminals have scammed from victims has risen from $38,400+ in 2019 to $237,931+ in 2021.
Confidence Fraud/Romance Scams
Confidence fraud/romance scams involve taking advantage of victims through online romance schemes, “designed to pull on a victim’s ‘heartstrings.’” Romance scams involve establishing a “serious, personal” relationship with the intended victim, then asking for money for some fictitious medical emergency or some other reason. The criminal usually claims to be in another country or in the military, thus avoiding having to meet their intended victim in person.
A typical confidence fraud includes “grandparent scams,” in which someone claims to be a person in authority and/or a relative, whose name they even provide, who is in need of bail or emergency assistance. In 2021, victims lost a total of $6.5 million to such schemes.
Also included are confidence fraud/romance scams or sextortion, wherein someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if their demands are not met, according to the FBI. In 2021, victims lost a total of over $3 million.
These types of scams extend almost to the advent of email, with many of them originating in Nigeria. This entails notifying the victim that they have won a big contest, lottery, or sweepstakes (that the victim did not enter) and that in order to claim their prize, the victim is required to pay upfront fees and taxes (sometimes in repeated installments). Because of the early warnings that went out on these scams, losses reported at $53,557 in 2019 dropped in 2021 to $35,744.
Government impersonation scams involve emails, mail, or phone calls by criminals claiming to be with official agencies (frequently the IRS). They have even involved threats of physical harm or imprisonment if the victim does not remit immediate payment, according to the FBI.
Other Forms of Theft
Other forms of theft include employing the use of a “skimmer” that can be placed by the criminals inside any machine (for example ATMs) that reads one’s debit or credit card information and passes it on electronically to the criminal. The criminals have reached a degree of sophistication now, in that they can fabricate a card using a victim’s information, including the chip contained within it.
Another theft involves “phishing,” which is the term used to describe a theft by which the victim is directed to click on a link provided (or call a number provided), often claiming they need to access the victim’s bank account to make a direct deposit or correct an erroneous charge that had been made to the victim’s account.
Typical red flags include the criminal requesting that payment be made in cryptocurrency or gift cards or payments be made through Zelle or wired. Payments made via any of these methods are almost never recoverable.
No government agency will send warnings or notices by email. No entities are going to ask you for codes (bank account or gift card) or sensitive information (your password or PIN) over the phone or by email, or ask you to download an “app” in order to accomplish an exchange of money.
If anything appears the least suspicious, call or go to the bank before acting. A bank manager can even lock your account to prevent any damage while the bank investigates. Local police or deputies should also be put on notice.
For FBI updates on internet-related scams, visit www.ic3.gov.