We see it in the news every week – some unsuspecting grandmother tries to withdraw money from an imposter ATM, and instead of getting cash, she loses her life savings as scammers clean out her bank account. “That would never happen to me!” you think – until you become the victim of a “faceless” crime. You won’t even know it is happening until it’s too late. As technology becomes more sophisticated, so do the schemes of those who seek to steal your hard earned savings. A little awareness now can save you a whole lot of time, money and aggravation in the future.
The “Free” Trial
You’ve probably already been tempted to (unwittingly) participate in this common scam. A revolutionary new product (eye cream/weight loss pill/acne fighter/teeth whitener) is yours for FREE – you pay only a minimal shipping and handling charge. Eager to experience the miracle for yourself, you click the “I agree to these terms” without actually reading the fine print. Suddenly, your credit card is taking a hit of $75 a month, for a product that performs dubiously at best, or at worst, that you never even receive.
What happened? Scammers count on the fact that you won’t take the time to read the fine print. They know that people will skim the terms, looking for dollar signs and indicators of a specific time frame, and they do their best to hide it. Frequently they will spell out the monthly sales price, omitting the dollar sign, so your eye skips right past the critical information. Thus, $75 per month becomes seventy five dollars monthly, and you don’t even see it. Sometimes they will even make the text just a couple shades lighter than the background, nearly obscuring it altogether.
The remedy: If you are dealing with a reputable company, you will be allowed to cancel. If there is any doubt, however, cancel your credit card immediately and report the fraud to your credit card company.
The Hot Spot
You’re at a coffee bar or the mall or the airport, and you log into the local Wi-Fi. You have no problem getting connected, and everything seems fine. However, while you’re happily surfing the web, a nearby criminal on a laptop is capturing your banking, password and credit card information, which he either uses to his own advantage or resells on the dark web for a profit.
What happened? Fake hotspots are being set up everywhere, and it’s difficult to distinguish the false sites from the real ones. Savvy criminals are able to reproduce the web pages of legitimate Wi-Fi providers, making it appear that you’ve accessed a provider’s service, when in reality your personal information is being sent to a thief’s laptop.
The remedy: First, go into your settings and make sure you aren’t set up to automatically connect to non-preferred networks. Second, check the URL when you connect to a Wi-Fi network. Check for “https” in the URL (the s stands for secured) or look for a padlock icon in the lower right tray on your screen, indicating that you are on a secure network. If you are in a location that requires payment for Wi-Fi service, protect yourself by purchasing a pre-paid Mastercard or Visa ($20 should be sufficient) so you aren’t broadcasting your credit card information. Airports tend to have pay-to-access Wi-Fi, and you can check the Wi-Fi services at any major US airport at Travelpost.com before leaving home.
The Skimmer Scam
This ploy has been getting a lot of press lately, due to the widespread nature of the scam. Thieves install a skimming device on a gas pump or ATM, which captures all critical information when a magnetic stripe card is inserted. This technology is very sophisticated, and can be nearly impossible to identify. Here are a few ways to protect against this crime.
At a gas station:
- Pay inside, using cash or a credit card
- Select a pump closest to the building – pumps out of the station attendant’s line of sight are more vulnerable to being hacked
- If you must pay at the pump, use a credit card, NOT a debit card. Credit cards provide a layer of protection by using the bank’s money – unlike a debit card, which provides direct access to your bank account
- Pay attention to the security seal on the pump itself. The seal is located near the card reader. If the pump has been opened, the seal will be broken or the word VOID will appear on it. Do not use the pump if you see either of these clues, and report the incident to the station attendant
- Pay attention to the “feel”. If the card reader feels loose or your card sticks in the reader, cancel the transaction and pay inside the station instead
At an ATM:
Usually there are no physical signs that a machine has been tampered with. Experts suggest that you pay attention to the “feel”, as with the gas station card reader. You can even grasp the sides of the card reader and attempt to wiggle it. If there is a significant amount of movement, it may mean that a dummy reader has been installed on top of the actual reader. If anything seems amiss, do not use the ATM and report it to the financial institution or the police immediately.
As we move deeper into the digital age and technology continues to evolve, criminals will continue to figure out ways to steal your hard earned money. Financial institutions are continually introducing new measures to protect consumers from being ripped off, but nothing is foolproof. Consider obtaining a credit and ID monitoring service. Achieva Checking Plus offers comprehensive ID Theft Protection plus many other premium benefits for a lower monthly fee than what you would pay for just credit and identity monitoring services from other providers.
Be aware of the threats surrounding you, and go with your gut – if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it! You may be inconvenienced for the moment, but you could be saving yourself a whole lot of frustration in the long run. And please report anything suspicious to the retailer, the financial institution or the police.