November 4, 2022

Scammer Round-up: Holidays 2022

Written by kevin-c

Online Safety

We're back to take a look at recent calling and texting scams being perpetrated by bad actors targeting phone users of all kinds (not just TextNow). We work very hard here to keep scammers and fraudsters off our platform, but with millions of messages and calls sent every day, it's a big job. All carriers are in the same boat of trying to restrict their platform to legitimate users.

With the 2022 holiday season is upon us, let's go over some of the common scams that go around this time of year.

Delivery Scam

The winter holidays are when we tend to see a big uptick in delivery scams. Truly a classic, the delivery scam can start as a fake delivery text, email, phone call, or even a fake delivery tag on your door**.** The notice claims that UPS, FedEx, USPS, DHL, or another delivery service was unable to deliver your package. To fix the issue, they tell you to click a link, complete a form, or call a phone number to reschedule your delivery.

When you follow their instructions, it might download malware to your phone, or lead to a fraud site asking you to “verify” your credit card information. These fraud websites can look very legitimate, so it’s best to ignore any link in any communication you get about a missed delivery.

Charity Scams
Charity scams take advantage of people’s generosity and kindness. The scammer may contact you by telephone or by knocking on your door, speaking to you on the street, or emailing you. They may have counterfeit letters or other materials, fake collection boxes, or a fake website, all of which look realistic.

The scammers might pretend to be helping victims of a recent natural disaster or claim they are from a charity that helps animals or sick children. The truly horrible thing is that these scams don’t just hurt the victims of the scam, but also take needed money away from legitimate charities.

If you get a text from a charity out of the blue, the very first thing to do is to see if the charity is real. Often a simple google search will reveal the truth, and you can also use the IRS’ website to search their database of charitable organizations in the US.

Romance Scams
The colder weather brings a phenomenon called “cuffing season” – the drive for people to date exclusively during the winter months – and with it, the prevalence of romance scams.

Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps or contact you through popular social media sites like Instagram or Facebook. The scammer strikes up a relationship with you to build up trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. Then, they make up a story and ask for money. Unsuspecting victims of romance scams were bilked out of about $400 million in the US in 2021, so the problem is both serious and widespread. Two red flags that might mean you’re a target of a romance scam:

  • You’ve never met the person asking for money. If someone you’ve never met in person asks you for money, that’s a scam. Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person – even if they send you money first.

  • They ask you to send gift cards or other currencies. Only scammers tell you to buy gift cards, wire money, or send cryptocurrency. The FTC warns that once you send that money, you won’t get it back.

Company email scams

Another classic phishing scam that’s been making the rounds recently. This one, like most scams, relies on you sending gift cards to the scammer. Gift cards equal untraceable money for the scammer. Where this scam differs is they target you at work.

The scammer sends you an email or text pretending to be from your boss. They fabricate a story that they need you to buy some gift cards for some “clients” they’re trying to close a deal with. Usually they ask you to buy the cards and just send them the codes from the cards.

Needless to say, the scammer then keeps the gift cards. On a humorous note, the news organization Axios got hit with one of these recently and wrote up a story about it. In the past we ourselves have been hit with these types of phishing scams – especially funny as we have an open office, so I had a direct line of sight to my boss who was supposedly asking for gift cards.

Axios’ conclusion to their story is a solid one: If you receive a suspicious text or email from your company, contact your company’s IT department immediately.

More about phishing scams

And of course, it’s not just your work email or text you have to watch out for. Phishing (so-called because the scammer is fishing for information that can be used to scam you) can be targeted to your personal email and text as well. These texts and emails will look perfectly legitimate unless you look closely. Here’s an example:

Now for tech-savvy people, this instantly raises a bunch of red flags. For one thing product testing is a real job, and not something that would be sent out to a random selection of people. Secondly, IP addresses are not a way to identify people. And finally, the URL we've hidden is clearly fishy as it's a random collection of letters and numbers and not a trustworthy domain.

Here are some things to look out for if you think you’ve received a phishing message.

  • The message contains a strange link. Phishing scams try to take you to a fake website or infect your device with malware.

  • There are other signs of a phishing scam, such as strange spelling, grammar, and formatting issues.

Remember: Ignore emails and texts from people you don’t know, and never click on unfamiliar links. When in doubt, log in to your account or contact the company directly to see if the message is legitimate.