DO NOT ever send gift cards to a company or someone you don’t know! No business will ask for gift cards in lieu of payment. Don’t read the identifying number over the phone or send via text/email unless you are 100% certain you are speaking to the person receiving the GIFT (not payment!!). Mesa residents have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to gift card scams.
AGAIN -- NO BUSINESS WILL EVER ASK YOU TO SEND GIFT CARDS IN LIEU OF PAYMENT FOR ANY REASON. ONLY USE GIFT CARDS FOR PEOPLE YOU ARE ACTUALLY PRESENTING A GIFT TO.
Bogus Calls Using Your Phone Number
Scammers can clone your phone number. They assume your identity and communicate with your contacts—often asking for financial help (perhaps a boss asking a subordinate for help financially, or a friend, and often over texts so the voice is unverified). It does not come from your phone, it only shows your phone number as the contact. Before giving any information over the phone, hang up and call the friend/contact back to confirm their need for the funds. Another method of using your phone number is call a “port-out scam.” This is where someone has actually gone into the phone store and “hijacked” your phone number, moving it to another phone carrier as a new customer.
Another variation is when someone goes into your current carrier and requests a new SIM card, which disables your current SIM card and takes over your phone number. They then have access to all of your texts/messages and use your number as their own. The way to prevent this “hijacking” is to attach a PIN number to your account that must be used in order to make any account changes. Check with your individual carrier for more information on preventing your phone from being “hijacked.”
Credit Card/Debit Card Fraud
This is more prevalent than you can imagine and can happen in many different ways. The common denominator is thieves getting access to your debit card number or bank PIN and using it to steal cash or make expensive purchases. Criminals can copy down your debit card in restaurants, bars, or other establishments where they possess your card for a minute or two. When you use a debit card, the money is immediately taken from your bank account, as soon as the transaction is completed. Using your credit card, you will have the opportunity to check your account for billing errors or transactions you did not initiate before you pay your monthly bill. You will not have to pay the disputed amount until it has been investigated. Normally the credit card company will refund losses incurred in a credit card fraud scenario. While the banks may also refund losses made on a debit card fraud, remember you are out the money until the end of their investigation.
New technology and Wi-Fi have allowed criminals to access your debit card number and PIN when entered at the gas pump. It is highly recommended that you never use your debit card, only a credit card or cash for purchases at gas pumps. Credit card “skimmers” have been installed on pumps which can extract your card’s information. Watch for the security strip seal near the card slot, which says something similar to “if this sticker is removed or is broken…” If the seal is ripped or broken, do not use it. Avoid using gas pumps that are out of the sight of the clerk, especially if you are traveling or taking road trips. If you are ever in doubt, pay at the cashier instead of at the pump. Do not leave your purse, backpack, or wallet in the car unattended, even if you are running in for a few moments.
Your mail, the phone book, the Internet, any organization you belong to, any business you may frequent, your bank, your credit card company and, yes, even the credit reporting agencies, all collect your data, save it, use it and, yes, even sell it. Whoa!! What’s a person to do to protect his/her personal information?!
- ALWAYS review bank statements and credit card statements on a monthly basis.
- Review your credit report at least once a year (annualcreditreport.com).
- Put alerts on your credit cards for notification of transactions which allows you to spot any unauthorized activity immediately.
- Place a freeze or lock on your credit with the three credit reporting agencies
- To check on your own social security information and order a copy of your Social Security Administration earnings and benefits statement visit https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/statement.html.
Identity theft monitoring programs - They are worth looking into as they pick up fraudulent activity and notify you so you do not become a victim! They monitor your credit and the dark web, alerting you if sensitive information is in the wrong hands. They may also offer the ability to lock or unlock your credit reports instantly (you can also do this yourself), and notify you immediately if anyone applies for credit in your name, alerts you to aliases associated with your social security number, and more.
Remember, if you use a credit reporting agency there will be a charge. Check with your personal bank or credit card companies to see if they offer this service, there may still be a charge, but it will be with someone you are already doing business.
Here are some of the more prevalent scams Mesa residents have fallen victim to, costing many of them several thousands of dollars.
We still see multiple victims each year. The scam claims you are a winner of a lottery (most often from a foreign country, but sometimes not) with a ticket you DID NOT BUY or DO NOT REMEMBER BUYING (you can’t win if you don’t play!).
In order to claim your prize, often millions of dollars, you must pay for the “contest fee,” taxes, processing, transportation, etc. Some victims even give out their banking information.
In another scenario you might receive a check to cover taxes and fees, with information on how to collect the rest of your money. Instruction are to deposit the check and write a personal check to cover any additional fees on the uncollected amount!
STOP! You did NOT win a foreign lottery! PLAYING ANY KIND OF A FOREIGN LOTTERY IS A FEDERAL VIOLATION!
Did You Win A Free Vacation?
How much do you have to pay for it? If you have to pay any money at all, it’s a scam! It may be legal, but then you didn’t win it, did you? If you actually do win a FREE vacation, you will still have to pay taxes on it at the end of the year. The cost of the trip will be added to your income as a gift and taxed accordingly. FREE? We think not.
Personal Loan Scam
There are a number of “red flags” that you should be aware of when looking for a lender for a personal loan. Lender guarantees you’ll be approved no matter what your credit history. “No credit—No Problem“ is a sure sign that this loan will have many “red flags” and is not in your favor -- high interest, short loan terms, etc.
Here are some of those "red flags":
- Lender not registered in Arizona. Call the State Attorney General’s office to confirm registration.
- Lender does not have a physical address, only a P.O. Box. See if there is a website. If not, look up the address on the Internet and see if it exists.
- Lender charges a “fee” such as processing fees or insurance BEFORE you will be approved for the loan.
- Check the lender’s website for security. If you don’t see an “s” after “http” on their site address or a padlock symbol on pages that request personal information, their site is not secure and may be a front for a scam.
Money Order Scams
There are several different kinds of money order scams. It is important to know, the only time you should get a money order is if you are handing the money order directly to an individual—do not mail it and do not accept it by mail.
Always wait until a money order or check clears before releasing an item or funds to the buyer. Websites such as eBay no longer accept money orders, wire transfers or checks as payment. They now require a third-party such as PayPal to process their sales. Sellers, buyers and any business should have their own PayPal account.
Here are some common money order scams:
- Bogus Buyer - Thieves send bogus money orders to purchase merchandise and after the seller ships the items, the seller realizes the money order is fraudulent and they are out the money and the item.
- Bogus Buyer's Remorse - Scammer fakes a money order as payment for a purchase, but before the seller has time to ship the item or often before the money order is received, the buyer tells the seller an emergency is forcing them to renege on the purchase, then tells the seller to keep part of the money and return the rest. They make it seem like an emergency so the victim sends the money without letting the money order clear. The owner is out whatever money is sent to the buyer.
- Rental Reversal - The scammer sends a fake money order that covers a non-refundable security deposit, plus some or all of the payment for the reservation. Then they cancel and request a refund, hoping the owner will deposit the money order or check, take out the deposit and send the rest back as a refund. Owner eventually finds out the check or money order was fraudulent and is out the money that was refunded.
- Over-payment Ploy - Also known as the “excess” scam. A scammer agrees to buy an item for sale online and pays with a fake money order or an amount larger than the price. Then the buyer asks the seller to send back the over-payment. Anytime a payment exceeds the amount asked for “red flags” should go off. The owner should never deposit the money order or return the money.
- Deposit Assistance Ploy - Also known as the “Prince Needs Help Scam.” Scammer contacts you and claims to have no bank account or is unable to open one because their home country cannot be trusted, they are corrupt, etc. Asks a “kind” stranger to make a deposit on their behalf and then forward them the funds. They promise to share their money with the “kind stranger.” Never make a deposit for anyone not personally known.
- Sympathy Scam - Claims that cash is needed for medical emergencies or bills– often proved to be scams. Check with friends, newspapers, or media to see if the need is legitimate. If donating for disasters, fires, or weather-related emergencies, donate only to well known agencies such as Salvation Army, American Red Cross, etc.
Purchasing or renting a home is a major monetary purchase. Yes, everyone wants to save money on these “big ticket” items, but that leaves one open for a huge loss if they are the victim of a scam. Protect yourself when purchasing a home or renting a home by always using a licensed realtor.
Rental Credit Report Scam - A scammer posts a false rental ad for a property they don’t own. When the victim replies to the ad, the scammer asks the victim to obtain their credit score by clicking on a link. When that happens, the link (run by the scammer) sends the victim to the credit score company and they get a commission for the referral. You can get a free credit score each year from one the three major credit bureaus. (See Reference section at end.)
Cloned Rental Scam - A scammer posts information obtained from a legitimate rental with a lower price. Then after setting up an appointment to see the property, the scammer comes up with an excuse for not being able to meet with the customer, but still wants him/her to look at the property from the outside and send a deposit and first month’s rent, due to the high demand for the place. Requests for wire transfers via Western Union are most common, but are also going through other transfer companies, always without meeting in person. Most legitimate landlords will ask for a personal check, a cashier’s check or a money order and will meet you in person to exchange the lease and the keys. Do a walk through before signing any documents and make sure everything works according to the contract.
Realtor Service Scams - This involves a special type of realtor service, such as pre-foreclosure or rent to own rentals. If any company requires a payment for an “initial fee” to get access to the property database. Often the data base lists properties that are not under foreclosure at all.
Ticket Fraud can be prevented by only purchasing tickets from a reputable ticket broker. Buyer beware when buying tickets on open on-line sites and from scalpers.
- Counterfeit Tickets - Scammers make fake tickets or multiple tickets for the same seat. One way to find out if the tickets being considered might be counterfeit is to search on-line for the event using keywords such as “fraud,” “scams,” “counterfeit”, or “fake”. The results will reveal if others have had problems with the website or tickets. Also, check out the promoters. Tickets that appear to be less expensive than the original price, may be fake. Legitimate companies often accept payment through payment services, such as PayPal, which gives an extra layer of security.
- Fake Event Scam - Scammers have been known to create an event and sell tickets, even though there really is no actual event.
There are scammers out there that will take advantage of any and all unsuspecting sellers or buyers. If there is a way to make money off of someone else, they will find it. Many times, what seems like a new scam is just a variation of an old one, changed enough to make it work with new available technology. The following are just a sampling of the scams that are being used in Arizona.
Fraudulent App Purchases - This is a basic “phishing” scheme. Victim is sent an email or link to a website that appear to be from a legitimate business (Apple, Microsoft, etc.), that either a personal account needs to be updated or it may look like a receipt for a purchase from the App Store, iTunes, etc. Never use web links supplied in an email to complete any personal information, even if the sender sounds legitimate. Genuine purchase receipts include current billing addresses which scammers are unlikely to have, or a purchase can be verified by reviewing personal purchase history by accessing the website outside of the email.
Over-payment Fraud - The new variation of the classic over payment scam offers a job instead of selling something. Posting a resume on one of the legitimate on-line employment sites such as monster.com or careerbuilder.com may result in being a target for the over-payment scam. Generally, the applicant is offered a job to become a “financial representative” of an international company. The company appears to have problems accepting money from U.S. customers and the responsibilities of the job are to handle the payments, offering 5% to 15% to take care of these payments. However, the victim not only supplies personal information to get the job, they also supply their bank account information. Applicants should be wary of any “job” where financial information is shared and never agree to handle financial transactions for anyone, especially an internet-based company. Until you actually start working at a job, do not sign up for automatic deposits of your pay check.
Computer Scams - Pop up warnings informing the user that the computer has a virus and files will be lost unless the user clicks on the link, or one that says the Microsoft subscription is overdue and the computer will not be operational after a certain date, are both forms of computer scams. Many times, just turning the computer off and then on again will get rid of the problem, but often it is because malicious software has been downloaded and needs to be removed. Taking the computer to a reputable company for repairs and having a virus protection program installed will eliminate the virus and give future protection against them.
Grandparent Scam - Scammer calls claiming to be a grandchild needing money quickly (car accident or in jail are examples) and says the famous “please don’t tell mom” line. Often the request is to have money wired to help them out. NEVER wire money to a stranger, but get a phone number to call them back, name of jail, etc. Then call the child on their personal cell, if available, not one furnished by the scammer, or call their parent for confirmation, regardless of the “don’t tell mom” request.
Credit Card Scam - Forget all the free stuff offered to sign up for a credit card at a kiosk. Giving personal information to a stranger should be avoided. Always go on-line and open the account through a more secure means. The free stuff may not make up for the loss experienced from being the victim of Identity Theft .
In a Nutshell...DON’T BE A VICTIM!
- If it’s too good to be true, it's probably is a scam!
- NO company will ever accept gift cards as payment!
- Foreign lotteries are illegal. You didn’t play and you didn’t win!
- If you are looking to buy or sell a house, use a licensed realtor.
- Don’t use your Debit card where it will leave your hands into the hands of someone else.
- If your computer has a virus, take it to a legitimate store. To test it, turn it off for a few minutes. If the message continues to appear, take it in. NEVER pay on-line for someone to remotely fix your computer
- Grandparents - your grandchildren are all safe and if you have any doubt, call them. As a courtesy to their parents, let the parents know about the phone call. Don’t get scared and start wiring money.
- NO company will accept gift cards as payment!
- Don’t ever wire or send money to someone you don’t know
- Don’t get manipulated or scared into thinking the police or anyone else will arrest you if you don’t pay for something. You will not be arrested for non-payment. If in doubt, ask a friend or relative to help you
- If you want to buy something on-line, like tickets to an event, or items, make sure it’s a legitimate company, not one found on a search engine site because the cost is less. Anyone can create a website
- If you receive a check you did not expect, don’t cash it, unless you read the small print! Take it to the bank if in doubt and NEVER write a check to cover a discrepancy that was not your fault!
- NEVER give out your bank account, social security, or credit/debit card information unless YOU made the initial contact and know who is receiving that information
- NEVER send gift cards as payment!
- Just for good measure, if you are requested to send money to someone you don’t know (even if it is a company you are used to dealing with) please call your crime prevention officer. We will help you verify if it is legitimate or not.
On a side note, if you have a friend or relative who is lonely, they may very easily be targeted and fall for these scams. Many of our victims had no one to confer with or run it by, and reacted quickly. Please touch base with them on a regular basis. This problem affects ALL ages. Many of our victims are in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s!
For more information, or for a group presentation, please contact your crime prevention officer.
FREE CREDIT REPORT - annualcreditreport.com—This will give you the credit report of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year. However, it does not give you the credit score.
- Equifax - 1-866-349-5191 (to talk to a person , say AGENT or press 5) Credit Monitoring + credit scores for all three - $4.95 first month then $19.95 /mo.
- Experian - 1-800-509-8495 (Enter SSN, say Credit or Press 2, Say Credit Report or press 1, Say Credit Question or press 1) Credit Monitoring + credit scores for all three - Free for 1st 30 days then $19.99 /mo.
- TransUnion - 1-800-916-8800 (Press 0) Credit Monitoring + credit score - $24.95 /mo.
TO REPORT IDENTITY THEFT, UNAUTHORIZED USE OF A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER, OR UNAUTHORIZED USE OF A CREDIT CARD, call the Mesa Police Department at 480-644-2211.
TO REPORT BEING THE VICTIM OF A FRAUD SCHEME OR SCAM, call the Mesa Police Department at 480-644-2211.
TO REPORT ID THEFT AND GET A RECOVERY PLAN, visit www.identitytheft.gov
TO CHECK ON UNAUTHORIZED USE OF YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER AND ORDER A SOCIAL SECURITY STATEMENT - www.socialsecurity.gov/statement/