Fraud / ID Theft Prevention

Our agency has been seeing another increase in attempted fraud / Identity Theft incidents.  Please make sure that you, and perhaps more importantly, your elderly family and friends know of the tricks these scammers will try and pull.  

1. DHS OIG Hotline scam

The most recent scam hitting the phone lines deals with the U.S. government. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) just issued a fraud alert to warn citizens that the DHS OIG Hotline phone number is being used as part of a telephone spoofing scam. People from all across the country are being targeted.

The scammer pretends to be an employee with U.S. Immigration and alters the caller ID system to make it appear as if the call is coming from the DHS OIG Hotline number (1-800-323-8603). The fraudster demands that the victim verifies personal information through numerous tactics, including claiming they are victims of identity theft.

If you receive a call claiming to be from the DHS OIG Hotline, do NOT provide personal information. The scammers are trying to get victims to reveal data like their Social Security number, credit or debit card info, date of birth, drivers license number and bank account information. They will use the data to drain your accounts and/or steal your identity.

2. FBI spoofing scam

There is another telephone spoofing scam similar to the DHS OIG Hotline scam but with a twist. This one purports to be a call from the FBI.

Fraudsters claiming to be FBI agents are calling people at random and telling them they are being investigated for certain federal violations. The victim is told that if they don't pay a fee immediately they will be arrested.

The call seems legitimate because the scammer spoofs the local FBI field office phone number and it displays that way on caller ID.  The FBI does not call or email private citizens to demand money or threat arrests.

3. Smishing

There is a new type of scam that you definitely need to be worried about. It's called "smishing," short for SMS phishing.

This new texting scam looks so legitimate, anyone could fall victim to it. Scammers are spoofing banks' phone numbers and sending text messages to customers. A spoofed phone number hides the actual number the text is coming from and displays a number from a trusted source, like your bank.

The text claims that your debit card has been used to make a purchase and if you do not recognize the transaction, you need to call their fraud prevention helpline. A phone number is provided for you to call.

Warning, this is not a legitimate bank phone number!

Because the incoming text looks like it's from your bank, people are falling for this. If you do call the number provided in the text, the fraudster will answer the phone.

They will then ask you to confirm your sensitive banking details. This would allow the scammer to steal money from your account.

Claire Pearson of the U.K. is a recent victim of this scam. She received the text, called the number and spoke to the fraudster for nearly half an hour, giving him all the sensitive banking information he asked for.

The scammer ended up draining her bank account of almost $90,000. When Pearson reported the fraud to her bank, her claim was denied. The bank said that it was not at fault in this incident because Pearson willingly divulged personal, security information so it would not accept responsibility for the account losses.

This scam is not limited to the U.K. It's also happening right here in the U.S.

Smishing scams are relatively new. Here are some suggestions to defend against them:

How to avoid a smishing scam:

  • Phone number - If you receive a text or email claiming to be from your bank, do NOT call the phone number that is provided. Whenever you need to discuss banking details, always call the number that is printed on the back of your debit or credit card. That way you know the number is legit and you're not going to be scammed.
  • Security details - You should NEVER reveal your security details like your full passwords or PIN code over the phone. A bank will never ask for your online account password over the phone. They might ask you to answer a preset security question, which is fine, but never your password.
  • Be vigilant - Never assume that a text message or email is genuine. Scammers can spoof phone numbers and email addresses to make them look official. Don't click on links within these messages, always type the website address into your browser or call the phone number located on the back of your card.
  • Trust your instincts - If a text or email seems suspicious, delete it immediately. Follow up by calling the company using the trusted phone number on the back of your card.
  • Take your time - If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from your bank, don't let them rush you into giving them sensitive information. The incoming number could have been spoofed and a scammer might be on the line. Just tell them that you need a moment and you will call them back. Then call using the phone number that you know is correct.
  • Don't feel pressured - If the person calling is pressuring you to give them sensitive data, stay calm and refuse. Just hang up the phone and call the company's trusted number to follow up with the issue.

5. Phishing call scam

People are receiving phone calls from swindlers pretending to be from Apple support. The scammer tells the victim that the iCloud has been hacked and they need to verify their account details.

Warning, this is a scam! 

Victims receive an automated message claiming to be from Apple support and are told that their iCloud account has been hacked. They're then redirected to a live person who is supposed to help take care of the issue.

Once on the line, the victim is asked for personal information and credentials to log into their Apple accounts. Some victims have even been asked to pay a fee to have antivirus software installed on their gadget. To make matters worse, it's not antivirus software that they're paying for, it's malware.

This phone scam is another type of phishing attack. If you receive one of these calls you need to immediately hang up! 

You also need to be prepared for the criminal to make several attempts at tricking you. Victims say they received the same call multiple times in a row before the scammer gave up.

An important thing to remember is that Microsoft and Apple will never call you to warn of a security problem. This is something you should always remember and be sure to tell people you know.

6. Grandparent Scam

Scam artists will use any leverage they can get to separate you from your money. Sadly, that includes exploiting grandparents’ love and concern for their grandchildren, giving rise to a breed of impostor fraud specifically targeting older Americans.

Grandparent scams typically work something like this: The victim gets a call from someone posing as his or her grandchild. This person explains, in a frantic-sounding voice, that he or she is in trouble: There’s been an accident, or an arrest, or a robbery. To up the drama and urgency, the caller might claim to be stuck in a foreign country; to make the impersonation more convincing, he or she will throw in a few family particulars, gleaned from the actual grandchild’s social media activity.

The impostor offers just enough detail about where and how the emergency happened to make it seem plausible and perhaps turns the phone over to another scammer who pretends to be a doctor, police officer or lawyer and backs up the story. The “grandchild” implores the target to wire money immediately, adding an anxious plea: “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”

Fraudsters have also been known to ply this trick by email, text message and social media. It can be very lucrative — one former practitioner told CBS News that he could make as much as $10,000 on a good day. And it appears to be on the rise: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that family and friend impostor scams cost consumers $41 million in the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 2018, up from to $26 million the previous year. The median loss is $2,000, according to the FTC, more than four times the amount for all fraud types.

Warning Signs

  • The person claiming to be your grandchild asks you to send money immediately and provides details on how — for example, via prepaid cards or to a particular Western Union office.
  • The call comes late at night. Scammers figure an older person may get confused more easily if they call then, the National Consumers League warns.

These are just a few examples of what these heartless scoundrels are doing to try and separate you and your loved ones from their hard earned money.  Some important things to remember are that technology makes it very easy for people to make familiar or official looking phone numbers appear on the call recipients caller ID even if they are calling from another country.  Never trust a cold call from a familiar company based solely on caller ID.  Never wire money or send prepaid cards, gift cards etc. to someone you don't know.  Never give out personal information to anyone you don't know.  Even if someone calls purporting to be the police just verifying your information.  When in doubt, get there name and verify the correct number online and call them back.  Do not just call the number they may verbally give you.  Make sure you do your own research and call the correct number.  Last but not lease, make sure you share this information with your family members.  You may think they know better, but it doesn't hurt to refresh their memory.