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In 2018, there were 1.4 million cases of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). A total of $1.48 billion were lost to scammers with younger individuals falling into their trap more often than older individuals. However, when older individuals were scammed, the total amount lost tended to be higher than the younger individuals. This makes sense since older folks tend to have more savings in preparation for retirement and are a sweet spot for scammers. This is so mind boggling!
The top reported cases of fraud were related to:
- Imposter scams
- Debt collection
- Identity theft
I am so amazed at how sneaky and clever scammers have become given this day and age. You would think that we should have all the tools we need to have us protected. That may not be the case given the amount of fraud that still occurs and it’s growing year to year (there were 1.1 million fraud cases reported in 2017)!
My Story, My Lessons
My husband and I got married in the summer of 2015, and I’ve held on to my wedding dress since. It’s been now hanging in our guest room closet – literally for years! May I note how bulky wedding dresses can be?
After a routine annual clean-up last year, my husband and I were sorting through our stuff to de-clutter. He suggested that we part ways with the dress. So I thought – why not try to sell it?
I roamed around the internet looking for best places to put my dress up for sale. Eventually, I decided to post the dress on a few (2-3) mobile apps that allows you to interact with buyers locally. My thinking was: post the dress for sale in many places and it will sell quickly. And there’s where the “fun” began.
As expected, I received quite a few comments/requests within the first few days. Some were legitimately interested in learning more about the dress, or to negotiate the price. But a few others were beyond questionable.
In this post, I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned through dealing with scammers. I sincerely hope you will find this information useful to identify and avoid scammers. The best that you can do is equip yourself with the right information to outsmart them and not fall into their traps.
Lesson 1: If the offer sounds to good to be true – it is!
There was one particular offer that sounded amazing: the buyer wanted to get the dress as quickly as possible because their wedding was two weeks out and they’ve been looking for a dress just like mine for months. Now that I put I type this out, I can’t believe how naive I was to believe this scenario. Anyhow, I was trying to help and was willing to work with the buyer.
First red flag that I noticed was the fact that the buyer was willing to pay more than the offer. I was surprised by this especially because most users [of these local buyer/seller platforms] try to get the best price which often involves at least some negotiation. Nope, not here – they were willing to pay more! Sounds too good to be true, as you will see – it was!
Second red flag that was literally waved before my eyes was the fact that the user was in no hurry to get the dress. As I was trying to confirm the details of where we can meet, the scammer would take a day or so to respond.
More amazing was the fact that, after a few days of going back and forth with this sincere soul, he or she were asking me for the price that we mutually agreed to days ago. I would think that – if you were about to part ways with a significant amount of money [and even less significant amount for that matter], you would probably remember how much you agreed to pay.
Lesson 2: Verify that the user is legit
As this story continued, this “buyer” was acting more and more strangely. He offered to send the check to my P.O. Box before we meet to take the dress. As promised, the check arrived in the mail.
Third red flag was the fact that the the addressee on the envelope was from Florida, and not any local state (I live in Virginia). This was especially surprising because for folks to find the post, they’d need to indicate which area that that person resides. It’s quite random for someone in Florida to want to shop for a wedding dress in Virginia area. Aside from that, the name on the envelope did not match the name that the “buyer” introduced him/herself as in the beginning.
Fourth red flag was due to my further curiosity about whether this person is “for real.” They’ve shared their phone number (which is a no-no, and I’ll talk about that below) to communicate with me directly. I picked up the phone and dialed their phone number with a *67 in front (for those that don’t know, you can use *67 before any number to call as an “Unknown Caller ID”).
Not surprisingly, no one picked up and it went to voicemail of TextNow subscriber ID. I was actually familiar with the TextNow app at that time that helped me be even more suspicious of what was taking place. This app basically allows you to create a free local number that is not tied to a particular carrier, person, location, etc. Perfect value proposition for someone who’s trying to hide who they are.
Fifth red flag came to me when I went back to the local buyer/seller app to look up the user, and their account was already gone. Someone must have either reported them to the app moderators, or they were successful in scamming someone and deleted their account, or some other reason.
As a side note: please check the profiles of the users with whom you are communicating. If possible, check their ratings, see if they have other connections with whom you can verify the user’s legitimacy.
Lesson 3: Limit your communication only via the platform you’re using
I’m sure some of you may be thinking: this all sounds so obvious, how could you have fallen for such a stupid scheme? Well, to dig myself into the stupidity of the situation further – I actually fell into their trap of sharing my personal number to communicate with them directly over text.
If you are even a glimpse suspect of the situation you’re in, do not give out your personal information. Communicate with the user given the platform that you first established contact. This will allow you to share the conversation with the platform moderators, report and remove the user.
Lesson 4: Use only a VALID payment method
As I mentioned in Lesson 2, the “buyer” did actually send a check to my P.O. Box, which was even further more questionable. The name that was on the check sounded like a business name, rather than an individual. This was the last draw.
I actually texted the “buyer” why they’re using a business account (rather than a personal check), and why was their business was located in Illinois. They never responded after that.
And for those that are wondering – no, I did not deposit the check. In one of my previous jobs, I was working closely with large financial institutions and had a good understanding of what takes place behind the scenes of “check processing.”
According to FTC, banks are required by law to make the check’s funds available within days. There is no pre-authorization that takes place, equivalent to that of credit cards. Therefore, it takes WEEKS for banks to identify a fraudulent check. And if it turns out to be fraudulent, you are responsible for repaying the bank.
Be cautious about what payment methods that you accept from people online, and always lean towards caution. Here is a list of acceptable and NEVER-acceptable (highly risky) payment methods.
Acceptable and Valid (ONLY):
- Visa/Mastercard/American Express/Discover (fraudulent protection build-in)
- Apple Pay
- Checks (business or personal)
- MoneyGram/Western Union/PayPal/Venmo
- Gift cards
- Wire transfers
- Any other methods are UNACCEPTABLE, as they pose a risk of losing your money. Reputable companies and sellers will not ask you to pay by any other method.
Lesson 5: Under no circumstances, DO NOT hand out your social security number
Although this was not something that the “buyer” was asking for at any point, but I do occasionally receive phone calls from the supposed “Social Security Administration” letting me know that someone was fraudulently using my Social Security Number. I guess I’m supposed to believe that SSA has the systems in place to watch ALL the fraudulent activities that are occurring and to notify them directly.
See, I am learning!
Scammers often pretend to be from an agency that you trust – Social Security Administration, Department of Motor Vehicles, etc. – in order to get personally identifiable information from you. They will also often act in a hurry to make you give out information quickly without thoroughly thinking through what’s actually happening.
If you are feeling rushed and feel like “something’s not right” about the situation, take your intuition’s advice and hang up. And if at any point that someone asks for you to reveal something very personal to you, like you Driver License ID, Passport ID, Social Security ID – do not, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES hand it out. If they are from a “trusted public agency,” they should have your mailing address to mail you more information.
Again, be critical of everything that’s happening. Protect your personally identifiable information like you would your pet, child, loved one, or whoever/whatever else you value.
- Believe it, when you see it. You should never pay upfront for a product, service or even prizes. Scammers will try to convince you to pay something down to “reserve” your spot in whatever it is.
- Search online about your situation. Chances are, there are others like you getting scammed via the same scheme.
- Hang up on RoboCalls. Often, there will be a prompt to press a digit on your phone to speak with someone. If a real person didn’t have the time to speak with you personally, don’t waste your time on them.
- Don’t fall for “One Ring” scams. Similarly, scammers may trick you into calling them by dialing you first and hanging up quickly without leaving a voicemail. You’ll think that someone was trying to reach you, and you’ll want to call them back. If they didn’t take the time to leave a voicemail, then it must have been unimportant.
- Sign up for FTC’s latest scam alerts. Or simply reference it when you are in a questionable situation. There is a chance that someone has been in your situation and has reported it.
Technology (I use):
I use TrustedID by Equifax that is offered through my work for free. It’s an awesome benefit that I extend to my family. The service includes:
- 3-Bureau credit file monitoring;
- Monitors website for activity with your Social Security, Passport, Credit Card, Bank, and Insurance Policy Numbers;
- Monitors for suspicious activity on your banking and credit card accounts;
- and others!
I would highly recommend using this service. The closest package to what I’m using is Equifax Complete™ Family Plan which is about $20/month. I still think that this is a great value considering that you can use this service for 2 adults and add up to 4 children to the plan!
Consider These Other Identity Protection Programs:
- LifeLock – $10-30/month (depending on plan)
- Experian – $10-20/month (depending on plan)
- myFICO – $30/month
Be critical of everything that happens online. It’s better to be overly cautious than trusting someone you’ve never met online. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Make sure that the individual with whom you’re interacting legitimately exists. Do not hand out your personally identifiable information, including your phone number. Most importantly, do not accept the questionable methods of payments!
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I love hearing from you and as always would love to learn your ideas, perspectives, and comments. And if you just want to say “hi” – would love to take the opportunity to say “hi” back!