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Don't Have a Fraudulent Valentine's Day

Romance is in the air, but so is fraud.

I hate it when scammers take advantage of you on holidays. In fact, I don’t much like being the person responsible for telling you that fraud goes way up during holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. But it’s my job, and it’s important to me, and you have nothing to worry about if you are using common sense. In case your common sense is lacking due to all of the chocolate, here are some thoughts on Valentines Scams.

In happy and/or busy moments, people tend to let their guard down. Consumers are happier, more trusting, generous and hopeful around Valentine’s Day. This is a good thing. We want people to be happy, in love and celebrating each other.

I just don’t want you to be so distracted that it gives an identity thief an opening to take advantage of you. Around this time there is a rise of online scams, especially where thieves send out malicious links that direct you to a site where you are tricked into giving personal information.

The problem with malicious links is that they appear to be sent by someone you trust, especially when they come from a friend on Facebook or another social netowork. Most people click on them because they look like they are from a friend, legitimate company, bank, or other business that you have dealt with in the past. Also, around Valentines day, the message might appear to be from a  flower, candy or gift company that is giving you some amazing offer, and all you have to do is click!

While these malicious links can be sent by email most people don’t realize you can get them via Facebook, Twitter, IM, or even text message. Scammers have gotten more sneaky and creative with their methods of attack. With Valentines Day right around the corner they will be disguised as friends or businesses tapping into your romantic, loving, and trusting side.

Watch out for companies offering you 50% off on 1-800-flowers if you purchase them from their (phony) site. Maybe it’s a free offer from Match.com or link a “friend” has sent to check out the best Valentine’s Day gifts this year. In other words, just be extra careful about anything you click on that has to do with the holiday. You are better off typing the URL of where you want to go (flower store, chocolates, etc.) in the address bar.

Here are a few ways that criminals hid Malicious links so that you have a harder time spotting them:

  • A slight misspelled version of a trusted URL
  • Using a URL shortener (Tiny, bit.ly) to hide the actual URL
  • Use simple HTML formatting to hide the real URL. This is very common and hard to spot because while you are clicking on www.firstbank.com it is actually a dangerous link in disguise that takes you to a malicious site.

Here are a few ways that you can protect yourself for being duped this Valentine’s Day.,

  1. Always type the website you wish to visit directly into the browser. Do not click on a link and just assume that it is safe.
  2. Don’t click on anything that has been sent from someone you don’t know or from someone you do know but seems out of character.
  3. Don’t click on anything that said it was sent by your bank or any other bank. Call the bank up directly to verify the email and type their web address into your browser.
  4. Don’t click on a link that says it is an urgent situation. Many times, scammers will try to scare you into thinking you have to click now or something bad will happen. That is never the case. Call the company directly on their known phone number to handle the situation.
  5. And most importantly, unlike true love, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Research it further.

On this Valentines Day, make sure that you don’t get swept up in the moment and taken advantage of by a scammer. No matter what the holiday is, always make sure that you are thinking with your head and not just with your heart when protecting your most important asset… your identity.

John Sileo loves Valentine’s Day because he gets to celebrate with his wife, whom he has had a crush on since he was 8. He is the author of Privacy Means Profit and earns his keep delivering highly motivational identity theft speeches.

Identity Theft Scam Stole Millions – Pennies at a Time

The FTC just busted a long-running internet scam where offshore thieves set up virtual companies and stole millions of dollars from US consumers  one small charge at a time.

“It was a very patient scam,” said Steve Wernikoff, a staff attorney with the FTC who is prosecuting the case. According to him, the scammers found loopholes in the credit card processing system that allowed them to set up fake U.S. companies that then ran more than a million phony credit card transactions through legitimate credit card processing companies.

The fraudsters were able to fly under the radar for so long because they only charged consumers between $ .25 and $9 and set up over 100 fake companies to pull off these transactions. In this specific case they charged over 1.35 million credit cards a total of $9.5 million dollars – those nickles and dimes really add up! Shockingly, 94% of these charges went undetected by the credit card holder because they didn’t notice an unusual charge on their credit card statements and fraud detection agencies rarely detect anything under $10.

With more and more credit cards being accepted for smaller purchases (e.g., soda machines and parking meters) thieves have taken this opportunity to cash in on the frequency of these charges. While 6% of the charges were detected and reported, the huge number that didn’t even realize they had an unauthorized charge shows how lax we are about checking our statements. Here are some simple steps you can take to catch fraud early:

  • Set up automatic account alerts to monitor your daily credit card purchases. That way, anytime money is spent on the card, you receive an email or SMS text to your phone alerting you to the charge. If you didn’t use your credit card, you immediately know it’s a fraud and you can call and shut down your card.
  • A more basic step is to simply monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements closely. Rather than trusting that all charges are accurate you should make sure you know exactly when the charge was made, for what, and by whom.
  • If you aren’t sure about a charge, call the bank and ask them to confirm it is a legitimate charge.
  • Sign up for an identity monitoring service that can help with this. Although these victims only lost a few dollars here and there those small charges can add up – to the scammers it added up to $9.5 million!

Read more about how this scam was able to become so profitable to the thieves.

John Sileo became America’s leading Identity Theft Speaker & Expert after he lost his business and more than $300,000 to identity theft and data breach. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FTC and the FDIC.  To learn more about having him speak at your next meeting or conference, contact him by email or on 800.258.8076.