How to Avoid Holiday Season Gift Card Scams

It’s the time of year where many scams are prevalent, however lately – gift card scams seem to be popping up and affecting consumers more and more this holiday season. Continue reading to find out how to protect yourself and your finances from this type of fraudulent transaction.

If you ever receive a call, email, or text from someone asking to be paid via a gift card or to buy something by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card – they are attempting to scam you. Before you read any further, know that a legitimate business or government agency will never ask to collect payment via gift card.

Why do fraudsters attempt to collect payment in the form of gift cards? Because they are easy to get, and there are virtually no buyer protections. In other words, it’s basically like using cash. And when the money on the gift card is gone, it’s gone.

How does a gift card scam work?

  • You’ll get a call, email, or text letting you know you’ll need to pay as soon as possible, and that the only way to do so and help is to buy a gift card.
  • The requestor will almost always tell you exactly which gift card to purchase – typically eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes, and so forth. You might even be asked to purchase the gift card at a specific store, such as Target, Walmart, CVS, or Walgreens. The scammer may ask you to purchase various gift cards at different stores too (this is so the cashier won’t be suspicious).
  • Once purchased, you’ll be asked for the gift card number and PIN. These two items will give the scammer access to all the funds that were loaded onto the card, and once they have that – the money is theirs and they can use it immediately with no way for you to get it back.

If you are thinking the steps listed above are pretty obvious and how could someone actually fall for this type of scam – keep reading.

How scammers convince consumers to purchase gift cards and get away with it:

  • The caller states they are from the government, such as the IRS or Social Security Administration. They’ll tell you that you owe taxes or need to pay a fine, and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The caller says they are with Apple or Microsoft tech support, and that there is something wrong with your device. They’ll also tell you that in order to fix it, you’ll need to go out and purchase a specific related gift card.
  • Online dating sites are another hangout for gift card scammers. If you meet and chat with someone via a dating site or app, and then after they build a connection with you – they tell you they need help and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The scammer spoofs the phone number of a family member or friend close to you, and tells you they’re in trouble and that the only way to help them is to go out and purchase a gift card. If this happens to you, hang up and actually call your relative or friend on your own and ask if they truly need help.
  • You are contacted that you won a prize, however in order to redeem it – you need to pay contest fees with a gift card. This will never happen with a legitimate contest, and – did you ever enter one to begin with?
  • You get a call from your “utility company” threatening to cut off your service unless you pay them with a gift card.
  • Someone contacts you and says you will receive a check in the mail – however it ends up being more than you were told you would be getting. The sender contacts you again and tells you to deposit the check into your bank account, and give them the difference on a gift card. There are two problems here – the gift card payment, and also the check being deposited is typically fake and you may be held liable for that amount by your bank as well.

Here are a few ways to ensure gift cards are used properly and legitimately:

  • Remember that gift cards are for gifts. You should never use a gift card to pay someone.
  • Purchase gift cards at stores you know and trust – don’t buy them online or through a gift card auction site, as they may be fake or stolen.
  • Look the gift card over before you purchase it. Ensure there are protective stickers that have not been tampered with, and make sure the PIN on the back isn’t visible.
  • Keep your receipt after your gift card purchase. This will prove that money was loaded onto the card if you ever need it, as well as the gift card’s ID number will be listed. If you ever lose the gift card, you’ll be able to file a report to close that particular card.

The moral of the story: This holiday season (and any time), be mindful of those who might be trying to scam you into purchasing gift cards. Always remember, legitimate organizations will never ask to be paid in this manner.

THINK First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

 

Article Source: ftc.gov

How to Avoid Purchasing Flooded Cars

Hurricane Ida was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the U.S. in recent years, causing much flooding and devastation – especially to our New Jersey area. After an event like this, flooded cars often enter the used car market. These cars may appear to be cleaned up, but flood damage is unpredictable. Issues caused by water hitting vital parts of a car will often leave it too costly to repair.

Keep reading to find out what you can do to avoid getting into this type of bad car sale.

Check the Car’s History

A history report will reveal all the locations from the car’s registration. In most cases, it will also show if it has undergone flood damage in its title report. If there’s no sign from the registration, you should still be wary of cars that come from areas hit by hurricanes recently. There could be a chance that the vehicle tried to bypass regulations. Some car dealers have been known to try this in hopes of cleaning up a vehicle’s record, a practice called title washing.

Inspect the Interior

The interior of a car is where you can spot signs of flood damage. The vehicle may have a moldy smell, and parts of its carpet may be damp – indicating it went through water. You can also lift the carpeting inside the trunk for any sign of rust or sand, which would also show that it went through floodwaters. Rust on the bolts and screws under the seats can also indicate flood damage.

Inspect the Exterior

The car’s exterior will also show signs of corrosion or even subtle thin brown lines across its body. There may also be watermarks on the vehicle, indicating that it’s been through high waters. The undercarriage can additionally reveal signs of flood damage. You’ll usually find excessive rust on flood damaged cars.

Work with a Reputable Car Dealer

A car dealer with a good track record will avoid buying flood damaged cars, as it is not a risk they’re willing to take. Check the dealer’s history and any reviews surrounding the business. If there’s an issue, you’ll likely find a disgruntled buyer who has experienced buying a flood damaged car there.

Hire a Mechanic

Another way to ensure that you don’t get a flooded car is to hire a mechanic to come with you and inspect the vehicle. They’ll easily spot signs of water damage for you and recommend if the car’s worth buying or not. A mechanic has likely worked with flooded cars in the past, so they’ll see the signs – even if the car has been cleaned up. It’s a small price to pay to ensure you’re not buying a damaged vehicle.

Always Exercise Caution

If you suspect that you’re looking at a flood damaged car, take every precaution necessary. Often, you’ll find this type of deal is too good to be true. Take a step back and have it examined by a professional, and check the car’s history. If you have verified that the vehicle you are looking at is in fact a flood damaged car, contact local law enforcement – as selling these types of vehicles is considered fraudulent.

Think First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

Article Sources:

https://www.iii.org/article/flood-cars-how-to-avoid-purchasing-a-washed-up-vehicle

https://www.carprousa.com/blog/10-tips-on-how-to-avoid-flood-damaged-vehicles

https://www.edmunds.com/car-buying/how-to-avoid-buying-a-flood-damaged-car.html

 

Teens are Falling Prey to Online Scams

Did you know that teens are now falling prey to online scams even faster than seniors? Last year, there were over 23,000 online scam complaints from individuals under 21 years old. This suggests that no matter how well-versed you are in technology and the internet, you can still be a victim of online scams. Learn more about these scams and how you can avoid them by reading below.

Common Online Scams Targeting Teens

Reports of online scams have increased by 156% among members of Generation Z. Born in the digital age, teens are more comfortable sharing their whereabouts on various online platforms. However, this can also make you vulnerable to the scams listed below.

Romance Scams

While using various dating apps, you might encounter a romance scammer. They’ll try to build an intimate online relationship with you, but their real goal is to make a hole in your wallet. Usually stationed abroad, they will often refuse meet-ups and video calls. Be on the lookout for these types of scammers and do not send them any money, gift cards, prepaid cards, or the like. If something feels off – it most likely is.

Fake Online Stores

While online shopping can be fun and even therapeutic, you might come across fake e-commerce stores that copy the logos and sites of legitimate businesses. These scammers will usually offer your favorite items at unreasonably low prices. In the end, you’ll get substandard products — or nothing at all.

Employment Scams

There may be various job opportunities online, but not all of them are real. Scammers have been known to post fake, poorly written ads. They’ll also make you pay up front fees for training, which no legitimate employer would ever do. Don’t fall into this trap!

Bogus Online Contests

While you may follow some online influencers, scammers are busy copying these public figures through fraudulent social media accounts. They’ll conduct online contests and giveaways. Once you’re declared a “winner,” they’ll solicit your bank account details or require you to pay a nominal fee to claim the prize. In reality, you won’t get anything — other than a stolen identity.

Avoiding Online Scams: Tips for Teens and Parents

Whether you’re still trying to familiarize yourself with online accounts or already tech-savvy, remember the following tips to avoid online scams:

  • Check various reviews online before purchasing items from a specific store.
  • Choose a strong and unique password for each of your online accounts. Avoid using your nickname, birthdate, or your pet’s name because these can be found easily on other platforms.
  • Never give out your personal and financial details, especially during unexpected calls.
  • Look for misspellings and grammatical mistakes in ads, websites, or emails.
  • Monitor what you or your child share on social media. Scammers may find some information in an online profile which they can then use to commit identity theft.
  • Before making a decision, share it with someone you trust, like parents, friends, and other family members. Doing so will help you figure out if you’re being scammed.
  • Be suspicious of people asking you to pay advance fees through P2P payment apps such as Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle, or through wire transfers and gift or prepaid cards.
  • When using a person-to-person payment app, only send money to someone who you actually know and trust.
  • If possible, don’t use public WiFi because scammers can usually find ways to access sensitive information.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a teen or a senior, you’re not free from the hands of scammers. Be extra careful and combat scammers by following the tips above. Always reach out to us if you suspect any of your First Financial accounts have been compromised due to a scam.

T.H.I.N.K First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

 

How to Prevent Person-to-Person Payment Scams

Person-to-person (P2P) payment options have certainly made paying back borrowed money to friends and family very convenient. From going out to eat and splitting the tab, to chipping in for a gift, or paying a trusted contact for a service – P2P payment services have made our lives quick and easy. However, if you are a user of a P2P payment service such as Zelle, Square Cash, PayPal, Venmo, Facebook Payments, Google Wallet, Apple Pay, Payzur, and the like – buyer beware.

Continue reading to ensure you know how to spot a P2P payment scam so that you don’t fall victim to this type of fraud. P2P scams are extremely serious, because the victim unfortunately usually is not protected from money lost and fraudulent access to their account(s).

Why are victims of P2P scams usually not protected?

Due to the fact that P2P transactions are consumer initiated, there is not much protection when a fraudulent transaction occurs – because technically the consumer authorized the transaction. Whether it’s the actual consumer or a fraudster who initiated the payment service transfer, there really is no way to prove it. In addition, user error is often not covered either. Most P2P apps have user agreements prior to first time use, where the user agrees when money is sent through the app – any losses are on the user, since they authorized a transaction.

Recently, Zelle’s P2P service added a measure to help prevent users from sending money to the wrong person. Zelle now includes a pop-up warning if a user is trying to send money to someone who is not in their contacts, which makes them think twice before allowing the funds to leave their account.

How does a P2P scam work?

A P2P scam is basically an account takeover scam. Fraudsters will send text messages to an unsuspecting consumer, appearing as if the message is coming from the individual’s financial institution.

  • The text will usually appear to come from the individual’s financial institution (aka: spoofing) and will warn them of suspicious debit card activity.
  • For those who respond to this fraudulent text, the fraudster will call that consumer also spoofing the financial institution’s phone number – and claim they are from the bank’s fraud department and would like to verify a suspicious transaction.
  • The fraudster will then try to get the unsuspecting consumer to verify their identity, and let them know a passcode will be sent via text message – and that the consumer must provide the passcode over the phone.
  • Once the fraudster has that passcode, they’ll attempt a transaction that triggers another two-step authentication passcode (such as forgot password so they can reset the consumer’s password, or they’ll try to initiate a P2P transaction).
  • The fraudster now has access to all of the consumer’s accounts within Online Banking, as well as access to their P2P payment service if one is provided through the bank (such as Zelle) – and will begin using P2P payments to transfer money to themselves.

And unfortunately, there is not much that can be done once this happens – because it appears that the consumer approved the P2P transfer. Since the fraudster spoofed the financial institution phone number, they more than likely won’t be caught either – once it’s recognized that a scam occurred.

How can I make sure I don’t become a P2P scam victim?

  • Only send money to people you actually know. P2P transactions are instantaneous (meaning they happen within seconds) and are often irreversible.
  • Get all of your recipient’s details prior to initiating a P2P payment. Before you press “send” or “pay,” be sure you have the correct user name, phone number, photo, or other identifier. If you incorrectly enter a recipient’s email or phone number, the money could go to the wrong person and you may not get it back. Some P2P services offer the option of receiving a special code to confirm that the person you’re sending money to is your intended recipient. If this feature is available – use it.
  • Confirm you know how to get help if something goes wrong. Before using a P2P service, search the app for procedures and customer service contacts. Know who to reach out to if you have a problem.
  • Keep your app updated. Hackers usually look to exploit vulnerabilities. If your software is not up to date, you’re missing out on protections. Be sure automatic updates are turned on so you know you’re covered.

While P2P services are a useful and convenient way to pay those you know without having to go to the ATM or get change – it’s important to also be aware of the risks and ways to avoid fraud while using them.

Always remember that your legitimate financial institution will never ask you for your login credentials, passcodes, or user name. If you have additional questions or concerns about P2P payment services or have been a victim of a P2P scam in relation to a First Financial account, please give us a call at 732.312.1500 or email us at info@firstffcu.com.

Article Sources:

CUNA Mutual Group 2019 Peer-to-Peer Payments Risk Overview

CUNA Mutual Group Risk Alert – Sophisticated Scams Lead to P2P Fraud (May 12, 2020)

Beware of Coronavirus Unemployment Scams

Millions of Americans have found themselves out of work as the economy still reels from the impact of COVID-19. A record number of Americans have filed for unemployment insurance in recent weeks. Unfortunately, when there’s bad news – scammers aren’t far behind. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans have lost a collective $13.4 million to coronavirus-related fraud, and unemployment scams have contributed their fair share to the loss.

With a high number of individuals filling out claims, along with the overloaded unemployment websites and phone lines – it provides the perfect cover for con artists. In light of the pandemic, the federal government has also waived some regulations of unemployment insurance, including the requirement to actively be seeking work in order to be eligible for benefits. This looser criteria has only made it easier for scammers to pull off their schemes without getting caught.

Here’s what you need to know about circulating unemployment scams:

How the scams play out

An unemployment scam can involve a con artist filing in someone else’s name and then collecting their benefits or claiming to have been employed by a place of business where they have never held a job. The victim will thus be denied their own benefits.

According to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor, these fraudsters can also take the form of a scammer impersonating a government employee and offering to help the victim fill out their application form for unemployment insurance. The victim, seeking assistance with their claim – will willingly comply with the scammer who is only out to get information so they can nab the victim’s benefits. Or worse, the scammer may use this information to steal the victim’s identity.

Other times, while allegedly helping the victim fill out their forms, the scammer will ask the victim to make a payment via credit card to enable them to receive their benefits. Of course, this money will go straight into the scammer’s pocket and the victim’s unemployment claim will never be filed.

In yet another variation of the unemployment scam, fraudsters create bogus websites that look like the federal websites used for claiming benefits. Scammers use sophisticated software to create these sites and lure unsuspecting victims via social media posts or emails. Once the victim is on the site, they willingly share information and assume they are actually filling out their unemployment forms.

Unemployment scams can make a challenging situation all the more difficult by leading to theft, delaying an unemployment claim, or completely disqualifying a victim from receiving unemployment insurance altogether.

How to spot an unemployment scam

As always, arming yourself with knowledge is the best way to protect against an unemployment scam.

  • First, it’s important to note that there is no fee involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance.
  • Second, government officials will never ask you to share personal information over the phone unless a phone appointment was pre-planned and scheduled for a specific date and time. This includes a full Social Security Number, date of birth, employment history and financial information.
  • Finally, sensitive information should never be shared on a site without first verifying its security. Each state will have its own website dedicated to filing and checking unemployment claims, but you should also look for the lock icon next to the site’s URL and for the “s” after the “http” in the web address. It’s also best to visit your state’s unemployment site on your own instead of clicking on an ad or a link that’s embedded in an email.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world as we know it. Society is now looking toward the future while determining the next step in their new reality. Part of the recovery process involves picking up the pieces and putting personal finances in order. Scammers are out to thwart this process, but you can outsmart them. Always stay alert for potential scams, and practice vigilance when sharing sensitive information online or over the phone. Stay safe!

Article Source: CUContent.com

How to Avoid Phishing Scams Especially During These Times

In the current environment amidst a worldwide pandemic, fraudsters know most people are frequently using technology to do anything and everything right now. These cybercriminals are counting on society being distracted and letting guards down. One of their favorite tactics to do this is through phishing. Criminals are using email, phone call, text message, website and social media to deploy phishing scams these days.

Here are some common forms of phishing that you might encounter and the warning signs to look out for, so that you don’t become a victim:

1. Phone Call Phishing. Cybercriminals know how to mask phone numbers and change them to make it look like your bank or credit card company is calling you. Usually on this type of call the fraudster tells you they are from the Security and Fraud Department. They will often tell you that your card has been flagged for suspicious activity and you need to prove the card is in your possession. You’ll be asked to give them the 3-digit security code on the back of the card, your PIN, or a one-time passcode they email to you.

2. Email Phishing. There are several warning signs you’ll often see on a phishing email. The most common are spelling and grammar errors, including in the email subject. Also always take note of the sender’s email address. You’ll often see that it doesn’t match up, for example IRS.net (instead of IRS.gov) or using zero’s and other numbers in place of letters in the middle of a sender’s email address (j0hnsm1th@gmail and so forth). Email phishing attempts also often include deadlines, threatening language, doesn’t address you by name, often doesn’t include contact information like a legitimate company email would, and includes suspicious hyperlinks that you should NEVER click on. You should also know that a financial institution will never ask you for any financial information via email.

3. Text Message Phishing. Similar to the phone phishing scam, you would receive a text phishing attempt where the message tells you it’s your bank and they send you a link to click on instead of including a phone number for you to contact them. The message will state that the link in the text is to verify your banking information, a recent transaction, provide your PIN or your 3-digit credit card CVV code. A financial institution will never ask you to click on a link to verify any sensitive information.

4. Website Phishing. A spoofed website will often look strange. Either the web address is off (amaz0n1.com), words will be misspelled, and logos will look blurry or distorted. Sometimes on a site like this you’ll also see a pop up that asks you to enter your personal information. This is another item you should NEVER do. Another thing to note on a phony website, is when you hover over a link – a different address will show. Do not click on these links either.

5. Social Media Phishing. Often you’ll receive a friend request from someone you don’t know or a post asking you to click on a link that requests personal information. If you ever receive any requests like this, ignore them.

For more information on phishing and other computer-based scams, visit the National Cyber Security Alliance at https://staysafeonline.org/

Stay safe and Think First because There’s Harm INot Knowing!

Article Source: usa.Visa.com