Ever-inventive identity thieves are turning the “Can you hear me?” scam on consumers and also continuing to prey upon people using tax scams, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The national BBB Scam Tracker had 30,000 scam reports in 2016, with tax scams ranking first for the second year in a row and accounting for one-quarter of all complaints. Debt collection scams ranked second, followed by sweepstakes/prizes/gifts scams, according to data provided by John North, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau Dayton/Miami Valley.
The “Can you hear me?” scam has long been used by fraudsters to trick businesses into purchasing office supplies and directory ads they did not order. Now consumers are in the cross hairs.
In the last few days of January more than half the calls to the BBB Scam Tracker were from consumers being targeted by that scam.
North said the scammers call and say, “Can you hear me?” When the consumer gives the typical “yes” response the scammer makes a recording of it and then later edits it to make it sound like the person has authorized a major purchase. Consumers have told the BBB that the call are often about vacation packages, cruises and warranties.
“So far, none have reported money loss, but it’s unclear how the scams will play out over time, or if the targets will be victimized at a later date,” according to the BBB alert, which warns people to not say “yes” if called.
North said the scammers are taking advantage of businesses’ increasing use of automated systems to handle customer requests using voice or push buttons.
“We’re being groomed to make everything more and more convenient for us,” said North. “Scammers say, ‘Hey, this is a great way to scam.’”
North warned people to not give out personal information over the phone or go to links in emails which could be “phishing” attempts to fraudulently gain access to identifying information.
“They may ask you to verify your social security number, they may ask you for a bank account number or they may send you to go get a green dot card - a prepaid credit card,” North said. “Other ways they try to get your information are sweepstakes - they may ask you for your social security number to be able to claim the prize.”
Gas pump skimmers continue to be an issue as well. Thieves put equipment onto a gas pump and then steal credit card information when consumers pay.
“I don’t know of any gas pumps that actually have the (credit card security) chip so you’re still doing that the old-fashioned way. We’ve seen many skimming scams,” North said.
He recommends consumers wiggle the part of the pump where the credit card is inserted. If it wiggles it could be the work of a skimmer, he said. He also said it is wise to use gas pumps in clear view of attendants, which are harder to modify without being caught.
Nationwide data breaches from companies and other institutions increased by 40 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Information stolen in the breaches included names, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, medical or financial records, user names, emails and passwords.
The ITRC found 1,093 data breaches of data kept by businesses, banking/credit/financial entities, government/military, educational facilities, and medical/health care entities.
Fifty-two percent of those data breaches exposed social security numbers, according to the 2016 report. This is the second time that the health care industry had the most records exposed of all types of businesses and entities with breaches.
One bright spot was that data breaches of credit card and debit card information went down to 13 percent. Credit card companies have aggressively fought back against breaches, including switching to more secure chips on credit card.
But the report said that means consumers are vulnerable to even “more diverse hacks.”
North said the good new is that people can protect themselves by being super careful with their personal information. Shred paperwork, keep physical copies of personal information secure, don’t put private information on unknown websites or unsecured ones, don’t click on links in email and do use anti-virus protection on your computer.
“And monitor your checking account, banking account and statements regularly,” North said.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s ID Theft Unit handed 1,057 complaints of ID theft last year, and was able to clear more than $890,000 in fradulent charges, said Kate Hansen, spokesperson for DeWine.
“In one case there was a medical debt that was showing up in (a consumer’s) name for over $200,000,” Hansen said. “In some cases it’s a very significant amount.”
She said the office handled 1,676 ID theft complaints in 2015 and she thinks the decline in the total is related to the state of Ohio’s crackdown on tax scams, leading to fewer complaints of that type of scam. The AG’s office cleared $658,000 in fraudulent charges for consumers in 2015, Hansen said.
DeWine said the ID Theft Unit works one-on-one with victims to clear the debt “so they can move forward with their lives.”
“Scam artists, who could be halfway across the world, will cast a wide net, knowing they won’t get everyone, but they’ll get some,” DeWine said. “It can be very frustrating. What we try to do is warn people and to help them.”
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