February 22, 2024

Scams to look out for: Feb 2024

Written by valeria

Online Safety

Just like our technology is constantly evolving, so are online and phone scams. Which is why we make it a point to stay on top of the most commonly used ones every few months, and pass on that knowledge to you, so you can stay informed and more importantly – protected. So let's get right into it:

1. Student loan forgiveness scam

This may only apply to a subset of people, but it's one of those "I sure wish it is true" scams that makes it so dangerous. In this scenario, you will receive either a call or an email from a generic business name or a federal loan service that offers either loan consolidation or complete forgiveness. They claim they can speed up the loan repayment process or lower monthly payments – for a fee of course. Along with the money lost on paying these fees, you may also unwittingly give away personal information like your social security number, or financial information (like your banking login) in the process of "signing up for loan forgiveness" on their (usually well disguised) phony website.

Protect yourself from this scam by never trusting any authority that claims to be a financial institution or loan service that reaches out to you first. Hang up the phone, don't reply to the email. Instead, look up your official loan service directly (either on their website, or in your billing statements) and contact them directly first to verify it's a legitimate offer. If it is, they'll still take your call and give you all the details, so there's literally no reason not to take the extra precautionary step.

Bonus tip: Learn how to spot a fake website.

2. Bogus contest/sweepstakes scam

I remember the days of answering a phone call only to be met with a loud boat horn, signalling the beginning of a recorded message that notifies me I've won a free cruise trip. How did I enter? When did I enter? How do they have my number? Can I bring a friend? All questions I had, and I must admit, I stayed on that phone call a little longer than I should've due to the slight possibility I had in my mind that this could be true. Unfortunately, it wasn't true then, and it isn't true now.

Nowadays, these fake sweepstakes happen mainly online, via a DM on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, or even a comment on any of those platforms. The prize can be anything from a free iPad to a trip to Hawaii. You're encouraged to click on a link to "learn more," where you're then told you have to pay a small fee to claim it, which is either for taxes, shipping and handling, or "processing." Going through this can also make you vulnerable to having your credit card information stolen, or even your email hacked so they can send spam emails from your account.

Protect yourself from this scam by using the age-old mantra: "If it's too good to be true, it usually is." A good way to think of it is this: Sweepstakes or giveaways of any kind legally have to be consented to with a review of terms & conditions. When you're not given any, and are immediately asked to pay for something you supposedly won – that should be a glowing hot red flag. In general, it's a good habit to make to never click on a link without first confirming the source it's coming from. If it's a DM or a comment, check out that person's profile. Do a little digging into the "company" they claim to be from. Scammers are smart, but you're still smarter.

3. Google Voice scam

This is an interesting one. It targets people who posted something for sale online – either via Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or otherwise. The scammer in this case would message you saying they're interested in buying it. They then put on a whole show of being worried that you are a scammer (sometimes under the claim it's because they've been scammed before), and ask you to verify your identity first before they can buy your item. They do that by sending you a verification request from Google.

Now, the request itself is actually real. What they do is ask for your phone number so they can send you a code. Once you get the code, you're supposed to give it to them so that they can prove you're real. What they're doing is taking your number and setting up a Google Voice account with it. Google sends a 2-factor authentication code to your number, you give that code to the scammer and the scammer uses it to complete the set up of their account. Now, they have a Google Voice account they can use to send spam calls and texts, but it's technically under your name. And you'd never know about it.

Protect yourself from this scam by very simply sticking to real life verification. If someone messages you worried about your validity, offer to send them more pictures of the item from different angles, but never provide them with any more personal information, or consent to a code verification. Remember: you have just as much reason to be wary of their legitimacy as they do of yours.

Want to learn more? Stay up-to-date on all the ongoing scams, and how the government is addressing them by checking out these pages regularly:

USA scams: https://www.usa.gov/scams-and-fraud

Canada scams: https://antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/index-eng.htm