Beware of Spooky Scammers in Disguise this Halloween

Consumers report losing millions to scams

One of America’s favorite holidays, Halloween, is right around the corner! People love Halloween because of the amusement of dressing up as someone or something else. Whether you become a monster, hippie or TV character for the night, taking on a different persona can be a lot of fun.

For scammers, however, Halloween serves as a time to trick individuals. Unfortunately, scams happen year-round. Fraudsters are always coming up with new disguises to trick their victims into believing they’re legitimate. Almost every scam involves a person claiming to be someone that they’re not – and a lot of the time it works. In fact, consumers have reported losing almost $45 million to scams to BBB Scam Tracker as of October 2016.

Research shows knowing about a scam beforehand is the best way to avoid falling for it, so make sure to read up on these common masks that scammers typically like to wear:

  • IRS Agent. The IRS or US Treasury agent is scammers’ favorite disguise. Since BBB Scam Tracker was launched about a year ago, more than 10,700 “tax collection” scams have been reported nationally – accounting for about 26% of reports! This scam is very common and follows a pretty consistent script. The fraudster calls you and claims to be from the “IRS” or an “Agent of the US Treasury”. According to them, if you don’t wire money for “tax evasion” or “lawsuit against you”, the police will come and arrest you! This disguise is sometimes clever. Scammers often state official-sounding badge numbers to seem more legitimate – but don’t be fooled. The IRS won’t call you to initiate contact. To learn about these threatening phone calls, click here.
  • Hotshot Celebrity. Ever dreamed of being a wealthy businessperson like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg? Apparently, they’re so rich that they’re giving away money or prizes to a few lucky winners: all you have to do to receive your millions or new car is wire a few hundred dollars to cover taxes and processing fees. Consumers nationwide have reported more than 3,000 similar “sweepstakes and lottery” scams to BBB Scam Tracker as of October 2016. Scammers will pretend to be celebrities, wealthy individuals, well-known businesses, and government agencies offering grants – but beware, they aren’t who they say they are! If you have to pay to receive a free and unsolicited prize, it’s probably a scam.
  • Tech Support. Dressing up as a tech support agent is easy for computer-savvy scammers – and it’s profitable. Since BBB Scam Tracker’s launch, North American consumers have reported losing almost $375,000 to this scam. This scam plays out in a few ways. You may receive an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be tech support from a well-known company like Apple or Microsoft – sometimes spoofing the caller ID to make their disguise more convincing. They’ll claim that you have a “virus” and need their help. They might also alert you to this “virus” through a computer pop-up or locking you out of your device. They want remote access to your computer to be able to steal your personal information – don’t fall for it!
  • Hiring Manager. Scammers love to dress up in a suit and pretend to be powerful business people. They’ll reach out to you with enticing employment offers: you can work from home, no experience is required, and you’ll make thousands each month. To appear more legitimate, scammers will create fake emails, websites, online job postings, and social media accounts. Be careful if you’re asked to fill out forms disclosing personal or financial information, asked to wire money for supplies or upfront expenses, or your “job” consists of receiving or sending packages or money.

Scammers will always come up with new disguises to wear, so stay alert! If something seems fishy, do your research online before responding. Never give away personal or financial information to someone who contacted you out of the blue. If you think you’ve been in contact with a scammer or a victim, report it to BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.

Pearl is the Communications Specialist for Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California (BBB Oakland). She works to advance BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other by being proactive in the community and developing relationships with business and consumer groups. Pearl represents BBB at events throughout the Bay Area to educate a wide variety of people. Pearl also manages BBB Oakland’s social media channels.

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Posted in Consumer Tips, Consumer/Business Services, Scams

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