The new year brings with us new beginnings. It also brings new tactics and scams fraudsters come up with to try and separate us from our personally identifiable information (PII) and ultimately our hard-earned money.
Identity theft and fraud experts, Javelin Strategy & Research estimate that $28 billion was lost by 27 million U.S. adult identity fraud scam victims in 2021*. We expect to see another huge number in 2022 from their March 2023 report. One important step you can take to help avoid becoming one of those millions of victims is educating yourself on what schemes criminals may be attempting and how to help sniff out a potential scam.
We’ve compiled a list of some scams you might want to look out for in the coming year.
- The Google Voice authentication scam
The FBI is warning consumers of an ongoing Google Voice authentication scam. Google Voice is an online phone service that gives the user a phone number that can be used for making phone calls, texting, and receiving phone calls from virtually any browser or device. As part of the sign up for Google Voice, prospective users must provide a verification code sent via text message by Google. This verification code is key to the Google Voice scam.
How the scam works
To start, scammers go to popular marketplace apps or websites and pose as interested buyers for goods that are posted for sale.
So, let’s say you’re on your favorite marketplace site and you’re selling a record player.
To begin the scam, the scammer would contact you and say they really want to buy that record player. Excited to have someone interested, you might reply to them letting them know that it is still available. All is pretty benign so far.
But, this is where the fraudster starts making moves. Before they commit to buying your record player, they let you know that they need to make sure everything is on the level. So, they might respond to you by saying something like, “I’ve heard about a bunch of fake online listings and I want to verify that you’re a real person.” The scammer needs to know that YOU aren’t a scammer?!
They will then suggest that in order to verify that you are real, they will send you a text message with a Google Voice verification code and ask you for that code. If you can give them the verification code, they’ll be convinced and be ready to buy that record player.
In this scenario, if you were to go along with the scammer’s idea and send over the verification code, they would most likely take that code and create a Google Voice account in your name using your real phone number as verification. Ultimately, they want to use that number to help them defraud other people and conceal their identity.
The scammer might even try to use that code as a way to break into your Gmail account or other accounts that use multi-factor authentication to get even more information about you that they can use to help steal your identity.
If you have read this far, you now know that you should not share that verification code or even continue communicating with this possible scammer. The Google Voice Help Center confirms this advice and also notes that even Google employees will never ask for this code. So, for a prospective buyer to suggest this type of verification method should be a flashing red light to stop communicating immediately with that person.
The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has found that as of September 2022, 55 percent of scam contacts they have gotten have been about the Google Voice scam, so it is not slowing down. In fact, in recent months, the ITRC has noticed a newer flavor of this scam. According to reports they have received,scammers are also responding to lost animal and room-for-rent posts to try and get their hands on Google Voice verification codes for the creation of fraudulent Google Voice accounts.
So, be safe out there on online marketplaces, and whatever you do, don’t share Google Voice verification codes.
On a more festive note…
- Gift card scams
With the holidays less than a month behind us, you may have a few unused gift cards laying around. We advise that you hold on to them and use them for the right sweater, blender, or cotton candy maker. What you should not do is use them to pay for anything besides gifts.
Scammers often prefer to receive payment in gift cards because they can get quick cash while staying anonymous. In fact, giving a scammer the PIN numbers off the back of a gift card isthe number one-way people report losing moneyon many of the top frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
How do these scams work?
Someone may call and tell you they’re from a government agency or the police and say you owe taxes or a fine. They might even pretend to be a family member or friend in trouble, who needs money right away. That is usually the hook. They will try to scare you and get you to act quickly, so you don’t have time to process how odd it is that this really important thing needs to be paid for with a gift card.
In many cases, scammers will tell you exactly what kind of gift card to buy, sending you to a specific store or even multiple stores, if the amount may appear suspiciously high. These requests should help signal you to stop, try and think it through, tell someone what is happening, and realize that it is a scam.
If you get caught up in the emotion, panic, and buy the gift cards, the scammer will ask you for the gift card(s) number(s) and PIN(s). With these numbers, they will have access to the money on the cards and you will have lost that amount of money, with very little recourse to recover the funds.
About one in six people who told the FTC they lost money to fraud in 2021, say they paid with a gift card. Their losses alone amounted to $233 million.
If someone demands to be paid with a gift card, you should be suspicious that it could be a scam. Use your gift cards for those new headphones you want, not for an urgent payment.
- Tax scams
Since it is now 2023, it is once again time to think of the joyous topic of our taxes. Scammers certainly will be and could be hot on your tail to try to steal your information and any refund you may be fortunate enough to be getting.
How will they do this?
It’s called tax-related identity theft, and it can occur when a criminal uses a stolen Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return under someone else’s name, enter their own payment details, and claim that person’s tax refund. Often, the victim doesn’t even learn about the fraud until their own tax return is rejected because the criminal had already submitted a return using their Social Security number.
If tax thieves are not going after your tax rebate, they may try to use the threat of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to commit fraud. Some criminals target taxpayers with IRS imposter scams. Largely done over email, over the phone, or by text, the scammers falsely claim to be employees of the IRS. Using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers, they will try and scare you by telling you that you owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a wire transfer, debit card, or a gift card. If you refuse to cooperate, you may be threatened with arrest, deportation, or suspension of a business or driver’s license.
The scammer’s aim is to scare you into action before you can remember that:
- I should be careful to not click on links in unsolicited texts or emails before verifying their validity.
- Gift cards should be used for gifts and not urgent payments to government officials.
- The IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent or threatening voice messages demanding immediate payment. Taxpayers will generally first receive several letters from the IRS in the mail before receiving a phone call.
Also, any tax issues that sound even half as serious as what they are telling you should be worth verifying on your own at irs.gov or with a call to the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
This list is hardly exhaustive of all the scams that fraudsters will be attempting in 2023, but should highlight general qualities to be mindful of when using your devices, browsing online, and fielding phone calls. If it seems fishy, it might be, and the sometimes the best thing to do is just end correspondence immediately.
For more on scams to be aware of in 2023, especially those that may be targeting others in your family, check back for part 2 of this series Elder fraud scams we all need to watch out for in 2023.
If you think your information may have been compromised in a scam or have been notified that it has been found on the dark web, read My information was found on the dark web, what should I do? for guidance and next steps.
*Javelin Strategy & Research, 2022 Identity Fraud Study: The Virtual Battleground, Mar. 2022.
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