In 2018, NCL heard from thousands of consumers who sent us heartbreaking stores of scammers swindling them out of millions of dollars and, just as importantly, their peace of mind. Each year, we compile all of those complaints into our annual Top Ten Scams Report, which helps us identify emerging threats – like scammers demanding payment via gift cards – that aid our work to alert consumers, companies, and the government about growing trends in fraud.
While the Top Ten Scams report is worth a read, the bottom line is you need to know how to avoid becoming a victim. To help you with that, here are tips for avoiding each of our top 10 scams:
Internet Merchandise Scams
If a website is offering an item at hundreds of dollars cheaper than retail (think: high-end sneakers), chances are that there’s something fishy going on. Check out the reviews of the website and try calling the customer service line (if one exists). If you do buy, pay by credit card so that you can dispute the transaction if it turns out to be bogus.
Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Free Gifts
If you are asked to pay money – whether via wire transfer, gift card, prepaid debit card, or some other means – before you can receive your “prize,” then it’s a scam. Run away!
Fake Check Scams
If someone asks you to deposit a check into your personal checking account and then send all or a portion of the proceeds to them or someone they know, it’s a scam.
These scams target people who have already lost money to another fraud. The scammer claims to be able to recover your lost funds for a fee. Don’t wire them money, give them credit card details, send a check, or give them any personal information. Just hang up the phone or delete that email!
Advance Fee Loans/Credit Arrangers
Consumers looking for a loan may be tempted by flashy ads on social media or the Web offering easy cash without a credit check. Be afraid! Any legitimate lender is going to want to at least check your credit history before offering a loan. Be especially wary if you are asked to pay a big upfront fee in order to get the “loan.”
Fraudsters have become highly effective at making their emails and robocalls look and sound convincing. Beware of clicking on any links or attachments in an email that seems to be coming from a bank or other trusted institution. Instead, type in the bank’s web address or call the number on the back of your bill to verify before giving out any sensitive information like your bank account routing number, usernames or passwords.
Friendship and Sweetheart Swindles
If someone you met online suddenly wants you to send money to pay for a family emergency or for them to come visit you, it’s probably a trap. Romance scammers will strike up relationships with dozens or hundreds of victims in the hope of convincing them to send cash. Be especially wary if your new friend quickly asks you to move the conversation to text message, chat apps, or email instead of a dating website’s messaging platform.
This is the dreaded “tech support” scam. If someone calls or emails you claiming to be “tech support” for Microsoft, Google, Best Buy, or some other technology firm, hang up the phone or delete the email. Chances are, they just want you to grant access to your computer so that they can convince you to pay for an expensive “tech support” service you don’t actually need. Even worse, they can install malware or even encrypt your files and hold your computer for ransom.
Scholarships and Grant Scams
Fraudsters offering “guaranteed” scholarships or college grants are to be avoided. Chances are, they’re just looking for a big fee in order to send you information about financial aid that the government already offers for free.
An urgent call or email from a family member asking for help can be hard to resist. The call or email may also come from someone saying they’re a lawyer, a doctor, or a law enforcement official that is in contact with your loved one. The “emergency” requires you to send money urgently. Before sending the money, try contacting the person in question or their parents on your own to verify the story first. Chances are, it’s a scammer trying to get you to send money before you can stop and think.
NCL depends on complaints from consumers to help us spot scams and, ultimately, help law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute scammers. If you’ve been a victim of a scam or been approached by a scammer, file a complaint via our secure complaint form.