Credit/debit cards and online shopping make our lives easier but are they safer than using cash in a physical store? What about other fraud trends that are lurking around these days? As an ex-fraud investigator and fraud subject matter expert with one of the world’s leading financial institutions, I realized that fraudsters are becoming more and more sophisticated.
In the last 2 months, I have received 2 different texts from my mum saying that my brother and she have received scam calls and texts. Clearly, someone was out to scam my family. Heads up, we are neither an affluent nor influential family. Simply because you are not rich enough, does not mean you won’t be a victim. In fact, you could be an easier victim.
Fraud can be split into 5 main categories: card fraud, cheque fraud, online banking fraud, phone banking fraud and phishing.
Here are some fraud/scams that I have come to know of based on mainly banking scams, online fraud, phishing emails and recent encounters:
Fraud #1 My brother received a call to say that my dad was being kidnapped and they wanted a ransom of 25,000 USD.
Sadly, for the fraudster, my brother happened to be visiting my parents in our hometown and my dad was taking his nap at that time. Out of curiosity, my brother called my dad’s handphone to see if the fraudsters had hacked his phone line. Well, yes, they had. There was an engaged tone when my brother called my dad’s phone. From what I have learned over the years, scammers can also hijack the phone line and be at the end of the receiving call.
Never panic no matter what the person on the other line is threatening you with. Never.
Attempt to contact your relative/loved one first. If you can’t get through to them, contact people who they might be with. It is not overdoing it if you have a valid reason for the contact. Kidnapping and ransom is probably the best reason to call up people who may be with the claimed victim.
If you have high doubts about the call still, please request a photo or speak to your loved one through the same call. If your call went through to the fraudster when you called your loved one, please contact the police immediately regardless of what the fraudster has to say. Take note of the fraudster(s) voice, use of words and accent.
If you are all about being safe rather than sorry, have phone locations linked to a close one or your laptop. This helps track missing people or phones. Smartphones like LG, iPhone and even Huawei have emergency locator features. There are also other apps such as Family Locator that can help you with not just finding a lost phone but a lost person. It might sound like a loss of privacy but, hey, this is a safety tip, not a privacy act tip.
Fraud #2 My mum received a text from a bank stating that she had an outstanding loan of 25,000 USD and is past due. They requested an immediate callback from my mum at the given contact number.
The said bank was a bank that my mum has zero dealings with. I must say that my mum was smart enough not to panic. Well done, mum! She texted me and asked me to verify the information. After some Google research, the phone number provided in the text was 1 digit different from the actual bank line. This is one scam that I find to be very common these days.
Sneaky fraudsters! My advice is to always call the number on the website rather than the text. This is regardless of where the text or email came from.
Basically, trust your guts! Always do your own research and never trust the texter or caller blindly. Take down the caller’s information such as name and department name. Advise them that you will be calling the bank directly and do not feel comfortable proceeding with the call.
Let’s face it. You will not be able to confirm the caller’s identity directly, and representatives will not release your personal information without going through identification processes. Furthermore, representatives of financial institutions are trained to not push further once the consumer makes known that they are not comfortable to speak further.
Contact the number on the back of your card is THE BEST option if you have prior dealings or accounts with the claimed bank. Also, confirm the information that was given to you by the previous caller before proceeding with the call. Remember, it is not the bank’s fault if you receive a scam call.
It is also advisable to save your bank’s contact details on your mobile. Once you have confirmed their known contact numbers or direct lines, it is wise to save them.
Fraud #3 Phishing emails
Have you ever received some weird emails that only has a link in it, or comes from a similar email address from some bank? I definitely have many such emails in my spam mailbox. However, there are times when such emails have managed to even trick the filters.
Phishing emails are how digital thieves lure consumers into divulging personal information through relatively convincing emails and web pages. Usually, the web pages resemble actual financial authorities such as banks, CitiBank, American Express, PayPal or even eBay and Amazon. Just like every scam, phishing works out of the fear and belief of consumers.
Over the years, phishing emails have improved from a simple email template that looks nothing like the legitimate financial institution to a 99% email template that is basically copied from actual credit authorities. The only 1% difference is the link and sometimes the contact number. The most deceiving email I saw in my last job as a fraud investigator was an email with 100% the same content, and a statement expressing that the consumer’s card had been defrauded. The scammer wrote out the full link, but it was secretly linked back to their own website.
If you receive such emails, please Google the email address and make sure that every single alphabet is the same as the bank’s website. If still in doubt, contact the claimed bank based on the official customer service line number as per their website and not any other numbers that you find online.
Confirm that the URL starts with HTTPS:// as well. The ‘S’ in the URL stands for ‘security’. Every bank’s or payment site’s actual URL will be HTTPS:// instead of HTTP. Even with HTTPS:// in sight, hover around the link and see if there is any secondary secret linkage. Hovering your mouse pointer on links usually shows the actual URL linkage.
Fraud #4 Online shopping and auctions
A close friend, in Malaysia, was scammed for 500 USD when trying to buy a kitten online. She found a kitten seller (the scammer) on a forum and received photos of kittens to select from. The scammer claimed that she was moving back to New York from Nigeria and was not able to bring all 5 kittens along with her. Thus, she was selling 4 of her Bengal kittens to anyone who was willing to pay 500 USD. My friend innocently assumed it was a deal since Bengal cats usually cost between 1,000–25,000 USD. The scammer claimed that she was willing to pay the courier charges because she wanted her kittens to be in the best hands.
After paying 500 USD through Western Union, the scammer informed my friend that she needed to pay another 200 USD for the kitten’s vet charges. My friend became suspicious of these requests. It was only then that my friend told me about her situation and showed me the photos.
The whole story did not make sense to me. Why would anyone be willing to pay for courier charges from Nigeria to Malaysia, but was incapable of bringing the kittens along with her? She could have given them away to friends or anyone local, rather than spending money on courier charges.
The scammer interviewed my friend to check how serious she was about adopting the kittens. In addition, they had an argument on the well-being of the kitten, which made my friend believed that the lady was real and serious. The scammer’s Facebook profile photo was an old white lady holding a Bengal cat. Her friend list was about 400 users, mostly about her age.
The photos of the kittens were quite pixelated, and I do not think anyone who would be able to afford to move to New York would have a lousy smartphone camera. Thus, I did a Google image search and found the image on an old Facebook post dated 7 years back.
Scammers may go all the way to cheat buyers these days. My best suggestion is to never buy anything online from an unknown seller. Check reviews and do a background check on Google. It is really not as difficult as you think it is. If you can’t find any relevant information about the seller, please do not proceed with the purchase. It is wise to always be on the safer side.
I personally do not buy anything online with the exception of renown sellers, trusted friends, or legitimate shops to avoid any form of online scams. I avoid buying things from forums or Facebook groups, and limit my purchases to 25 USD max per online item as well. Bear in mind that sometimes it is not the merchant’s fault. There have been many cases where the courier personnel have stolen items.
Call me paranoid, but I rather ensure that I get to physically see, test and bring the item home myself. A deal is not always a deal. Trust your guts if you sense that something is fishy.
Fraud #5 Free gifts, surveys and surprise wins
Greed is an easy trait to prey on and it often gets you into trouble. There is nothing more alarming than receiving freebies that you are not expecting.
It has come to the point that there are no longer just fake lottery wins or surprise gifts. You may have voiced out on some current issues, such as global warming, and the next thing you know you receive a survey on global warming. Looks innocent? Think again.
Typically, you will not receive a survey unless you sign up for a newsletter or any mailing list. It won’t make sense if National Geography randomly sends you a survey even though you have never signed up with them. Same goes for the lottery and weird free gift emails. Such emails are just spam.
1. Trust your guts and think logically.
2. Do not panic.
3. Be confident and in control.
3. Confirm details with known numbers or direct contact with the financial institution.
4. Save known contact details of your credit/debit authorities.
5. Report any suspicious requests to authorities and acclaimed banks.