By Danielle Kane
Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific spends a lot of time talking to local media outlets about national, regional and local scams. But did you know there could be scams taking place in your very own neighborhood?
Since November 2017, there have been 42 scams reported in the Tri-Cities with an estimated total of $3,000 lost.
What’s even more astounding is the amount attempted sits at nearly $12,000. Scam artists are targeting consumers of all demographics and a large geographic territory and getting their hands on a lot of money.
The most common type of scams reported fell into four categories: imposter and employment scams, phishing schemes and online retailers/counterfeit products.
Imposter scams can include con artists pretending to be tech support services, credit card companies, the IRS, lottery organizations or utility companies. These scammers pose as these different entities to steal consumers’ money.
Have you ever seen a pop-up ad on your computer from Microsoft claiming your computer has been infected with a virus and to call the number listed below? Or, maybe you received a voicemail from Apple claiming someone has hacked into your account and you need to call back with your credit card credentials to verify your identification. These all have one thing in common: they are tech support scams in which con artists pretend to work for known companies.
One Richland consumer lost $200 in a tech support scam in February. In her report, she stated that a pop-up blocked her out of her computer, telling her to call tech services at the listed number. When she did, she spoke to a tech support “employee” who told her that she needed to pay $200 to unlock her screen and “fix” the issue. Afterward, she realized she had been ripped off.
Tech-support scams are common in the business world, too. Scammers and hackers attempt the same strategy by knowingly targeting a company’s employees. The idea behind this is that a business is considered a “bigger fish,” with the potential to compromise a higher volume of personally identifiable information.
Employment scams look similar to imposter scams in that they also commonly come from a person claiming to work for a reputable company. In these scenarios, BBB often sees consumers tricked into thinking they’ve been recruited for a new job. Scammers will send checks to the “new hires” to make it seem like they will pay them up front, then ask the consumer to wire back, $250 of a $1,000 check for “onboarding costs,” or “new software” to be installed. Of course, the check will bounce a few days after the consumer deposits it, leaving the consumer on the hook for $250.
A Pasco consumer fell victim to this scam in April, losing $1,500 to a con artist pretending to work for a company called Widex.
Phishing scams also were reported several times throughout the Tri-Cities. Phishing is any type of scam where a con artist calls or emails a consumer in hopes of attaining personally identifiable information. They are quite literally “fishing” by emailing or calling thousands of consumers and seeing who bites.
Today, phishing scams are common via electronic delivery, such as emails and social media messages, where a scammer poses as a person or entity the consumer recognizes and trusts. Phishing scams target both consumers and businesses. In the business world, the term spear-phishing applies to hackers who target executives in hopes of gaining access to a higher volume of employees’ personally identifiable information.
Take this scenario for instance: You are a human resources employee and you get an email from the company’s president or CEO claiming he needs all the employee’s W2 forms right away for tax purposes. We can spot some common scammer tactics here: The scammer poses as someone higher up than the HR employee to make the request seem legitimate. The scammer then asks for information an HR employee would already have access to, and, finally, the scammer establishes a sense of urgency hoping the employee will act immediately without verifying the request.
Finally, Tri-City residents reported falling victim to several online retail scams. These scams primarily dupe consumers into buying a phony product from a fake website.
One Kennewick consumer reported losing $76 after attempting to order the popular Instant Pot, only to find out the website she ordered it from was fake.
Keep in mind, online scams are evolving. The BBB is seeing more fake advertisements on social media – hackers can create ads for Facebook and Instagram that appear legitimate and entice consumers with trendy or highly discounted items. These phony social media ads look real, but when the order is placed, the product never comes.
The BBB wants consumers to be able to identify the red flags for any of these scams, many of which overlap.
Start with these tips, which can be applied to small business owners and consumers alike:
Danielle Kane is the Tri-City marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific.
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