Know what to look for to avoid being a victim.

These are some of the most popular schemes that criminals are using to defraud people online, over the phone and via text messages.

Reloadable, prepaid debit cards

Reloadable, prepaid debit cards can be purchased from gift card kiosks at various nationwide chain stores. This scheme involves a criminal posting on a social media site that if you provide them with your card and identification number, they can increase the dollar amount on your reloadable debit card by simply adding a zero to the end of the current balance. For example, if you put $200 on the card, the criminal promises that they can easily make that become $2,000.

Criminals also set up fake websites posing as customer service representatives who can assist you with the return or refund of a reloadable debit card. During the call, they’ll tell you that the only way to process a refund is by loading an additional amount on the card. Once you provide the criminal with the card and identification number, they will place you on hold to “process the refund.”

In both instances, your prepaid debit card will be drained within seconds. Steer clear of any offer that seems too good to be true.

Internet auction sites

Selling

Websites such as Craigslist or eBay are a popular way to sell items. Let’s say you’ve gone online and posted an item for sale. You receive a message about your item from a potential buyer. The buyer would like to send you a cashier/certified check or money order in exchange for the product. These checks and money orders are almost always counterfeit and the financial institution will hold you responsible for attempting to cash them.

If a potential buyer does not live nearby or they refuse to meet face-to-face to complete the transaction, it’s most likely a scam.

Buying

On the flip side, perhaps you’re looking to purchase something yourself and find an item of interest online. The seller requests that you purchase a prepaid debit card for the amount of the item and simply provide them with the card and identification number. In turn, the seller never ships the product even though they have stolen the funds that you loaded onto the card.

Use caution when purchasing items online, especially when prepayments are requested.

Overseas sweetheart

Online dating is more popular than ever. This scheme involves criminals creating fake online dating profiles using stolen photographs of attractive people that have been copied from an individual’s social media profile. The criminal behind the fake profile will interact with you via the website, email and/or phone to help build credibility that they are “real.” Over a period of several weeks or months, they’ll attempt to gain your trust and empathy using fake information (e.g., living in poor conditions, controlling spouses that they need to escape or saying you are the true love they’ve been looking for). Once they have this, they’ll begin asking you to wire funds to them for travel expenses, hotel stays, or even a visa so that they may flee to be with you. When you send the money, your online sweetheart will not be arriving at the airport because they've already moved on to their next victim.

Be cautious when conversing with someone online because you never know who may actually on the other end.

Work from home

This scheme involves an email or social media post advertising that you can get paid a few hundred dollars per day to shop online from the comfort of your own home. Unfortunately, the criminals who are behind this scam are providing you with stolen credit and/or debit cards to purchase the goods that you’re shipping to them – most likely in a foreign country.

Regrettably, by participating in a scam of this nature you’re committing a crime and can be held liable.


High school diploma scams

Thinking about getting your high school diploma? Many states have different options for getting your diploma, including new tests and programs. But scammers are setting up fake diploma sites to trick you into paying for their “diplomas.” Which turn out to be worthless. Here are some signs you’ve come across a scam:

You can get the diploma from home, ASAP

No classes? No in-person test? All online? That’s a scam. Legitimate programs with classes for credit mean you’ll invest weeks or months of time. And real high school equivalency tests are offered at specific days and times, not on-demand. Most people don’t pass without really studying.

You have to pay for a diploma

No legitimate high school equivalency program lets you take a test or classes for free, then charges you for the diploma. You might pay for classes or testing, but you shouldn’t have to pay for the diploma itself.

They claim to be affiliated with the federal government

The federal government doesn’t offer programs for earning high school diplomas. Legitimate tests or programs are approved by your state.

Earning a diploma

You might have heard of the “GED” test. That’s one way to get your equivalency diploma — but it’s not the only way. There are other tests and programs to choose from, depending on where you live. To learn about legitimate ways to earn your high school diploma go to the FTC website.

Foreign lottery

You receive an email that your “winning number” was chosen and you are the lucky winner of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The criminal sends you a partial payment via check and asks you to wire back most of it to cover the taxes and shipping and handling fees. In this instance, the issued check is counterfeit.

When you receive an email of this nature, delete it. Participating in foreign lotteries online is illegal in the United States.

Sweepstakes winner

You’ve been notified that you won a fabulous prize or cash, but you don’t remember entering a contest. The criminals will send you the prize once you wire money to them to cover state and federal taxes, and other extra fees to rush the prize to your front door.

It’s illegal to charge fees for a sweepstakes prize, so don’t wait for the mailman to deliver your winnings. Nothing is coming. Ignore these emails.

Investment fraud

You receive an unsolicited email (i.e., spam) about a hot new company that you should invest in immediately or better yet, “special, time sensitive” investment offers. By purchasing the company stock, you will increase the stock price; however, the criminals will immediately sell their stock holdings, leaving you with potentially worthless stock. This is also known as a “pump and dump” scheme and mostly involves stocks trading at a low dollar value (i.e., penny stocks).

Do not invest in anything you are not absolutely sure about and be sure to adequately research the company to determine if they are legitimate.

Deceased relative

You have a huge inheritance coming because someone with your last name has been killed overseas and since you have the same last name, you are the next of kin. The scam will most likely request that you wire funds to pay for taxes and processing; however, you will never receive the inheritance money.

Any death notice that starts off with the word “congratulations” is not worth reading.

Computer technician

You receive a phone call from a “computer technician” who is notifying you that your computer has a virus that needs to be removed immediately. The criminal will instruct you to perform various commands on your computer, including visiting a website and installing software to fix your computer.

By following the scammer’s instructions, you’ve most likely infected your computer with a virus that will allow the criminal to remotely access your computer and steal personal and financial information. If you didn’t solicit the help, don’t accept it and be sure to confirm the legitimacy of any technician “fixing” your computer.

Kidnapped family member

You receive a phone call informing you that a family member has been arrested or kidnapped and that they will not be released until the criminals receive the requested funds via a wire. This is generally an overseas scam and often the criminals target grandparents instead of parents who are more likely to know the perceived victim’s whereabouts.

Immediately contact the police if you receive a phone call of this nature.

Threatening IRS agent

You receive a threatening phone call from an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent who tells you that if you do not wire your unpaid taxes immediately, you will be arrested. In some instances, the criminal will ask that you purchase a prepaid debit card to have your unpaid taxes forgiven.

The IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. If you know or think you may owe taxes, contact the IRS directly.

Suspicious activity

You receive a text message from a financial institution requesting that you provide personal and/or confidential information due to recent suspicious activity. In some instances, the text includes a phone number for customer service; however, the number actually directs you to a fake customer service center that is pretending to be your financial institution.

By providing your personal and/or account information, you have more than likely just become a victim of identity theft. If your financial institution contacts you and requests non-public, personal information, end the communication and call them directly at the number on your most recent statement or on their confirmed website. This type of scam can also be a phone call. Again, end the call and contact your financial institution directly.

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