Conned on Social Media? It’s not just you

In 2021, more than 95,000 Americans told the Federal Trade Commission that they’d been scammed with a con that started on social media. In fact, more than one in four people who reported to the FTC that they lost money to any scam said the transaction started with a post, an ad, or a message on a social media platform. And the losses amounted to about $770 million.

Americans reported losing the most money to investment scams (particularly those involving bogus cryptocurrency investments) and romance scams. More than a third of the Americans who lost money to romance scams said it started on Facebook or Instagram.

The largest number of reports came from people who lost money trying to buy something they saw marketed on social media. Most said they didn’t get what they paid for, while some reported ads that impersonated a real online retailer. Reports of social media fraud increased for all age groups in 2021, but people 18 to 39 were more than twice as likely to report losing money than older adults.

Scammers trying to get your money are always looking for new ways to reach people. And they’ll use whatever they know about you to target their pitch. Here are a few actions you can take to protect yourself, no matter which social media platform you use:

  • Try to limit who can see your posts and information on social media. Of course, all platforms collect information about you from your activities on social media, but visit your privacy settings to set some restrictions.
  • Check if you can opt out of targeted advertising. Some platforms let you do that.
  • If you see urgent messages from a “friend” asking for money, stop. It could be a hacker behind that post pretending to be your friend.
  • Don’t deal with a vendor that requires payment by cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. That’s sure to be a scam.

If you see or experience scam on social media, report it to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends or relatives have been scammed on social media.  If so, what have been their experiences?
  • Ask students to make a list of actions they might take to protect themselves from social media scams.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do many people fall victims to scammers?  What can they do to protect themselves?
  2. What can the federal, state, and local governments do to protect consumers from scams?

Gift Card Scams

Someone might ask you to pay for something by putting money on a gift card, like a Google Play or iTunes card, and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card. If anyone asks you to do this, they’re trying to scam you. No legitimate business or government agency will ever insist you pay them with a gift card. Anyone who demands to be paid with a gift card is a scammer.

What Gift Card Scams Look Like

Gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. But these cards are popular with scammers because gift cards are easy for people to find and buy, and cards have fewer protections for buyers compared to some other payment options. Gift cards are more like cash: once you use the card, the money on it is gone. Scammers like this.

If someone calls you and demands that you pay them with gift cards, you can bet that a scammer is behind that call. Once they have the gift card number and the PIN, they have your money. Scammers may tell you many stories to get you to pay them with gift cards, but this is what usually happens:

  1. The caller says it’s urgent. The scammer says you have to pay right away or something terrible will happen.
  2. The caller usually tells you which gift card to buy. They might say to put money on an eBay, Google Play, Target, or iTunes gift card. They might send you to a specific store — often Walmart, Target, CVS, or Walgreens. Sometimes they tell you to buy cards at several stores, so cashiers won’t get suspicious. And, the caller might stay on the phone with you while you go to the store and load money onto the card. These are all signs of a scam.
  3. The caller asks you for the gift card number and PIN. The card number and PIN on the back of the card let the scammer get the money you loaded onto the card. And the scammer gets it right away.

 For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • How do scammers convince you to pay with gift cards?  Make a list of common gift card scams and schemes, and share it with others.
  • Ask if anyone has paid someone with a gift card.  If so, what was their experience?

Discussion Questions:

1.  What are signs of a gift card scam and how can one spot a gift card scammer?

2.  What steps should you take if you paid a scammer with gift cards?

Tips To Avoid Internet Scams

Each day, more and more scams surface through computers, tablets, cellphones, and other smart devices. To protect your personal information and to avoid being a victim of fraud, the following actions are recommended:

  • Keep operating systems, browsers, programs, apps, and security components up to date.
  • Be aware of the latest scam techniques being used by fraudsters. Search online to learn about current scams.
  • Enable firewalls for your computer and router.
  • Install an antivirus program for your computer, tablet, and smartphone that updates automatically.
  • Create a guest network for visitors to your home to use, to avoid them having to access your home network.
  • Don’t click or respond to emails, phone calls, or text messages from strange addresses and those with unusual subject lines.
  • Update passwords often with a random, complex series of letters, numbers, and symbols; don’t use the same password on different sites. Consider use of a password manager. 
  • Use only reputable sites when shopping online. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for greater financial protection. Don’t click on links or pop-ups, which can be a fake, look-alike website; instead, go directly to the shopping website.
  • Adjust privacy settings on your devices, and for websites you visit for your best protection.  
  • Regularly back up your data in case of a malicious attack, so you don’t lose access to your information and files. If you encounter a ransomware attack, file a report with the FBI.
  • Avoid use of public Wi-Fi to prevent potential fraud and identity theft.
  • Be cautious with your social media posts, especially information about children and teens. Don’t post personal information, vacation plans, work and home schedules, address or other contact information. Don’t “check in” at the locations you visit. 
  • Be cautious about online gaming, which can result in identity theft, bullying, harassment and online predators. Children should use an avatar or nickname.

For additional information on avoiding online scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online for examples of recently-created online scams.
  • Have students create a video, poster, or slide presentation with common email scams and actions to avoid those situations.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are some reasons that a person might become a victim of an online scam?
  2. Describe actions to learn about new online scams. 

ARE YOU AN IMPULSE BUYER?

During the COVID quarantine, online buying became an addiction for many.  During this time, impulse spending increased by an estimated 18 percent.  Unplanned buying occurs when you purchase more than intended.  Or, buying extra grocery items while shopping when you are hungry. Or, a bad day at work results in a purchase to overcome anxiety.

Most spending occurs to make a person feel better. A survey reported that 72 percent of respondents reported a positive mood from an impulse buy, while 65 percent reported that an impulse buy can reverse a bad day. Others reported that they buy things to help loved ones feel better.

Three personality types are often associated with impulse buying:

  1. Sensation seekers may not consider the risks of impulse buying but desire the spending experience when they feel guilty, bored, or disengaged.
  2. Impulse buying tendency buyers are those who are aware of their behavior but don’t necessarily see it as a problem.
  3. Consumer-driven self-identity is a desire to be part of emerging trends and high-end brands to present an image of status, style, and good taste. 

To take advantage of in-person shoppers, stores make use of sensory environments, bold and graphic signage, associations between brand and positive feelings, checkout line “bonus” items, and price discounts and markdowns. Online retailers encourage buying with the use of time-based and quantity-based deals, heavily targeted social media ads, abandoned shopping cart emails, and free shipping.

Symptoms of impulse buying include:

  • you shop to feel better, which can be dangerous; find other ways to channel your energy
  • you shop to compete with buying to stay up or ahead of others
  • you’re bored; plan something else to do–go for a walk, read, write, draw, email a friend
  • your finances are suffering; track spending to avoid unnecessary purchases   
  • you have too much stuff, much of which you will never use

To reduce your impulse buying…

  • avoid temptations by unfollowing your favorite brand, unsubscribing from marketing emails, clearing browser cookies, blocking favorite sites, deleting shopping apps from your phone, and unsaving credit card information on your browser.
  • create a “fun” budget item as therapy
  • save to buy a “big” item to avoid unneeded spending
  • wait 24-48 hours before buying an item
  • try a no-spend challenge in which you buy nothing for a set number of days, weeks, or months to save money and change past habits. 
  • ask yourself: “Do I need this today or tomorrow?” If not, don’t buy it.

For additional information on impulse buying, click here

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to ask about any actions they take to avoid impulse buying.
  • Have students create an in-class presentation or video that dramatizes actions to avoid impulse buying.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What types of impulse buying situations have you experienced or observed?
  2. How might impulse buying affect long-term financial security? 

VIN Check When Buying A Used Car

Every motor vehicle has a unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which can be used to check the registration, title, and any insurance claims. The numeric characters in the VIN indicate: the country of origin; manufacturer and division; vehicle description, safety and type of engine; the manufacturer’s security code; vehicle’s model year; assembly plant; and vehicle serial number.

Several no-cost VIN-check services are available to identify potential vehicle problems when buying a used car. This service is especially important when purchasing a vehicle online through Craigslist or eBay. A VIN-check service may also be used to obtain information on your current vehicle.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (http://www.nicb.org/vincheck) has a basic VIN check search tool that will tell you if a vehicle has been reported as lost or stolen, salvaged, or declared a total loss after an accident. 

VehicleHistory.com offers a more complete VIN check, such as fuel economy, ownership costs, and a price analysis. Also included are the selling history, recalls, manufacturer warranties, and price estimates for the best time to buy a certain make and model.

iSeeCars.com/VIN consider 200 data points to create a car history report with a price analysis, price history, projected depreciation, and the best times to buy and sell.

As always, when buying a used car have an ASE certified mechanic of your choice inspect the vehicle. Remember, nearly every used car is sold “as is.”  Also be cautious of vehicles with flood damage that were rebuilt and had their titles “washed” after a hurricane or other major storm. These cars often encounter failed electrical systems.

For additional information on VIN checks for used cars, go to:

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students talk to others to learn about actions to take when buying a used car.
  • Have students create a visual proposal (poster or slide presentation) with mistakes a person should avoid when buying a used car.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What features of VIN-check services might help people improve the car-buying process?
  2. Describe situations in which a VIN check may be appropriate.

SCAM TRACKING MAP

Not everyone will be a victim of fraud, but everyone is a target. The AARP Fraud Watch Network offers a scam-tracking map to report fraud activity based on user-submitted information.

To help protect yourself and others, people are asked to report a scam they encounter.  The online form requests your zip code, method of contact (advertisement, door-to-door, Internet, e-mail, U.S. mail, or other), the type of scam, and the amount of money lost to the con artist. The list of scams includes more than 50 types, ranging from debt collection and charities to contests and online auctions.

Further assistance in reporting a scam is available at 1-877-908-3360.  AARP warns that it does not independently verify scam reports, nor guarantee the accuracy of reported scams.

Commonly suggested actions to avoid being taken by a scam include:

  • Only do business with reputable companies.
  • Understand contracts or other documents you sign.
  • Beware of impulse buying; con artists often tell you this is your last chance.
  • If it sounds too good to be true…it probably is!
  • STOP…WAIT…THINK…DON’T!

For additional information on the scam tracking map, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students locate examples of current scams that have surfaced in their area.
  • Have students create a video with suggested actions to take to avoid being taken by a scam.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are reasons that some people are easily deceived by frauds and scams?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid scams and fraud.

Income Illusion

With record unemployment and the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet — and scammers are pitching income scams with false promises of success and financial security.

In a typical pitch, scammers state that you can make a lot of money, for example, working from home with little time and effort, or starting your own online business. But those promises of big money are all an income illusion. In fact, in the first nine months of 2020 alone, Americans reported to the FTC that they lost at least $150 million. The total amount of alleged losses is over $1 billion.

Sometimes these scammers focus their pitches on particular communities.  In one case, a work-from-home scam targeted Latinas through Spanish language TV ads. In another case, an alleged investment scam affected older adults, retirees, and immigrants. And even veterans, students, and college-age adults are targeted with a business coaching scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found in income scams the average loss was less than $500. Americans who lost money were 44% more likely to live in majority Black communities.

How to Spot an Income Scam

Everyone can be targeted by income scams.  A scammer’s offer may tell you that:

  • Make money selling in your community. Be your own boss.
  • Learn from the experts how to generate guarantee income.
  • You got the job! Deposit this check and send money or buy gift cards.
  • Work from home and make money with little time and effort!
  • Just recruit more people to make big money!

Before you accept a business offer:

  • Take your time

Avoid high pressure sales pitches that require you get involved now or risk losing out.

  • Be skeptical about success stories and testimonials.

Glowing stories could be fake and online reviews may have come from made-up profiles.

  • Don’t bank on a “cleared” check.

If you’re told to send some money or buy gift cards, you can bet it’s a fake even if you see the   money in your account.

  • Do your research.

Search online for the company’s name plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaints.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends, or families have received such offers from scammers. If so, how did they respond?
  • Ask students what they would personally do to fight income scams and help people recognize and avoid them.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do scammers focus their pitches on particular communities?
  2. Why is it important to search online for company’s name plus words like “review”, “scams”, and “complaints” before making a decision”?

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

Did you recently get a notice informing you that your personal information was exposed in a data breach? Did you lose your wallet? Or learn that an online account was hacked? Depending on what information was lost, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft

What information was lost or exposed?

  1. Social Security number
  • If a company responsible for exposing your information offers you free credit monitoring, take advantage of it.
  • Get your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize.
  • Consider placing a free credit freeze. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name.
  • Try to file your taxes early — before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
  • Respond right away to letters from the IRS.  Don’t believe anyone who calls and says you’ll be arrested unless you pay for taxes or debt.
  • Continue to check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com.  You can order a free report from each of the three credit reporting companies once a year.
  1. Online login or password
  • Log in to that account and change your password. If possible, also change your user name. If you can’t log in, contact the company. Ask them how you can recover or shut down the account.

3. Debit or credit card number

  • Contact your bank or credit card company to cancel your card and request a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly. Make sure no one misused your card. If you find fraudulent charges, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new card number.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

4. Bank account information

  • Contact your bank to close the account and open a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly to make sure no one misused your account. If you find fraudulent charges or withdrawals, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new bank account information.
  1. Driver’s license information
  • Contact your nearest motor vehicles branch to report a lost or stolen driver’s license. The state might flag your license number in case someone else tries to use it, or they might suggest that you apply for a duplicate.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

 

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask how many students check their credit report at least once a year. What is the importance of checking your credit report regularly?
  • Ask if any student has placed a credit freeze. If so, what was their experience?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?
  2. What must you do if someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund?

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Schemes

Each year, the IRS warns taxpayers about the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.  Some of these cons show up on the list each year, while others are new. Tax scams are most common during tax season or times of crisis. The COVID pandemic created opportunities to try steal money and information from taxpayers.

Taxpayers are reminded to beware of these ongoing swindles that include:

  • Phishing involves fake emails or websites to obtain personal information. The IRS never initiates contact by email. Do not click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Also be wary of keywords, such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “Stimulus.”
  • Fake charities are a reoccurring concern. Criminals often take advantage of natural disasters and other situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to set up a phony charity, and may even claim to be working with the IRS to help victims.
  • Threatening impersonator phone calls claim to be collecting money for the IRS. The scammer uses fear and urgency to demand immediate payment. Senior citizens and their caregivers should be especially alert for this type of fraud.
  • Unscrupulous return preparers, called “ghost” preparers, expose their clients to serious filing mistakes and tax fraud. Ghost preparers do not sign the tax returns they prepare, as required by law. While most tax professionals provide honest service, others should be avoided.
  • Fake payments with repayment demands involve scammers tricking taxpayers into sending them their refund. The criminal steals or obtains personal data to file a bogus tax return. Once the money is in the bank account, the criminal poses as an IRS employee to request that the money be returned immediately, perhaps in the form of gift cards.

Some recent tax scams that have surfaced include

  • Offer-in-compromise mills involves misleading tax debt resolution companies exaggerating their ability to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar.” The offer requires that taxpayers meet certain legal requirements. Dishonest businesses enroll unqualified candidates to collect hefty fees from taxpayers already deep in debt.
  • Economic impact payment or refund theft, in which criminals filed false tax returns or bogus information with the IRS to redirect refunds to a wrong address or bank account.
  • Social media scams may use COVID-19 to trick people. The scammer uses information on social media to send emails pretending to be a family member, friend, or co-worker, which can result in tax-related identity theft.
  • Ransomware takes advantage of human and technical weaknesses to infect a computer, network, or server. Invasive software (malware) can track keystrokes and other computer activity. An infected computer can allow access to personal and financial data. Or, a ransom request appears in a pop-up window.

To avoid these scams: (1) be aware of potential cons; (2) check with the IRS or your bank if something is suspicious; (3) keep your computer system and passwords secure, and (4) avoid deals that are “too good to be true.”

For additional information on tax scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students describe these situations to other people, and ask them what actions they might take to avoid these scams.
  • Have students create a video or visual presentation to warn others of these potential scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why do some people get taken by tax scams and other frauds?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various tax scams.

ELECTRIC CARS

As technology improves, electric vehicles, also referred to as EVs, are increasing in popularity. The benefits of EV are the result of:

  • being environmentally friendly with no emissions
  • nearly silent engine sound
  • potential tax credits have been available in recent years
  • lower operating costs and maintenance expenses
  • smartphone apps to program charging times and to heat or cool the passenger cabin in advance of driving

Common concerns associated with EVs include:

  • the higher initial cost
  • short driving ranges for some models and in cold weather and on steep inclines
  • slow charging time, which are improved with new technology
  • charging stations may not always be available
  • loss of cargo space for the battery pack
  • lower towing capacities than with a conventional vehicle

The two main EV types are battery electric vehicles (BEVs) only running on electricity, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that use electricity for a limited distance before switching to a gas-electric hybrid mode. Some models have an onboard generator to create electricity for greater driving distances.

For additional information on electric cars, go to:

Link #1

Link #2

Link #3

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct online research to determine current models, prices, and operating costs of electric cars.
  • Have students conduct an interview with someone who owns an electric car or hybrid to obtain information about the person’s experiences.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What factors should a person consider when buying an electric car?
  2. Describe future developments that might make electric cars more attractive to car buyers.