There’s more than money at stake when it comes to a financial scam; consumers’ identities are also under attack. Opportunities that offer a large amount of money for minimal participation or investment are typically red flags, and there’s likely a criminal working to steal your money or personal information. Fraudsters pulling off imposter scams — attempting to earn your trust so you will send them money or personal information — can commit synthetic identity theft with just two pieces of your Personally Identifiable Information (PII), the kind of details often required to participate in “fast cash” or easy “work from home” jobs.
Imposter scams were ranked the number one reported scam in the US, with a total loss of $488 million, according to the 2018 Consumer Sentinel Report.
Three Financial Scams That Can Lead to Identity Theft
The following “too good to be true” fraudulent financial opportunities have led consumers to lose money, while also surrendering their personal information to criminals:
1. Social Media Money Mule
Scammers are targeting young adults eager to make money through social media, with offers of fast, easy cash. The victim is promised a payout, usually a few hundred dollars, in exchange for being a “funds processor.” Once the target shares their financial account details with the fraudster, they become an unwitting participant in a larger scam operation as suspicious funds are routed through their account. Financial institutions are aware of this social “get-rich-quick” scam and may disable or block your bank account from further legitimate transactions, or worse — including prosecuting you for money laundering. In most cases, no payout is given to the victim and the scammer has obtained their banking credentials. Young people don’t realize the sensitivity of their financial information, and often do not report their scammer or financial losses out of embarrassment. Report the scam and close your account right away if you are duped into sharing your financial account details for any reason.
2. Investments Gone Wrong
Shady investment bankers make promises of large returns if you trust them with your money. Recently, a trio of fraudsters was charged with “conspiracy, wire fraud, identity theft, and money laundering” after tricking investors out of tens of millions of dollars by lying about where their money was going and then using the victims’ bank credentials to commit additional crimes. Before trusting anyone with your hard-earned money, it’s critical to do your research and confirm their legitimacy to protect yourself, your identity, and your assets.
3. Fake Job Postings
Job seekers who are eager to impress or are looking for flexible “work from home” opportunities can easily be fooled by fake online ads or messages from recruiters. Your application may be accepted right away, often without an interview and without any details of what the job actually entails. Be wary if you are asked to pay for job training or employment “membership fees” in order to secure a position. It’s also a red flag if you are required to share your personal information, such as Social Security number, or banking details to set up a direct deposit as a requirement to scheduling an interview. A reputable company with real employment opportunities would not ask for these sensitive details upfront. In one popular employment scam, applicants are sent a large check up front and asked to wire back some of the money, only to have the check bounce. Victims lose more than $1,300, on average, to such employment scams.
Detecting a Scheme
Falling for a financial or “get-rich-quick” scheme can be detrimental to your identity as well as your assets. Before diving into an opportunity to earn fast cash, consider the following signs of a financial scam that may be targeting your personal and financial information:
- You are messaged out of the blue with an exclusive offer.
- The opportunity requires you to make a financial investment.
- You are promised a high return with minimal participation.
- You are asked to promote the offer to your network, with promises of bigger rewards for every person who joins.
- You are told the opportunity has “guaranteed returns” and is “risk-free.”
- You are pressured to reinvest, which may be a sign the scammer is trying to make as much money as they can before calling it quits or moving to the next victim.
Tips to Protect Your Personal Identity
- Never share your credit card, debit card, or bank information. If your financials get into the wrong hands, freeze or close the account to prevent fraudulent charges from being made by scammers.
- Do research on your broker before investing. Verify the name, Central Registration Depository Number (CRD#) and investment firm at Investor.gov.
- Do not wire excess funds. If you are overpaid and asked to wire back the difference, avoid depositing the fraudulent check into your account.
- Report all suspicious conversations and ads. There are several agencies that are working to reduce employment and internet scams, including the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
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