By Linda Nwoke
As the digital world advances, scams and fraud become more sophisticated and occur more frequently. While many people consider themselves tech-savvy and advanced, scammers are becoming more sophisticated and daring, discovering newer ways to exploit their victims’ trust and steal their personal information.
Some ways a consumer can protect themselves and their loved ones from scammers and fraudsters include raising awareness and reporting any fraudulent activity. By sharing knowledge, supporting one another, and reporting scams promptly, consumers can make the online environment safer.
In a recent meeting organized by Ethnic Media, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a dedicated government agency that safeguards American consumers, revealed some of the latest tactics employed by scammers who use text messages and email to scam or steal the victim’s Social Security numbers, passwords, or account numbers, otherwise called “phishing,” or use evolving technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), to clone family members voices and catfish people into a family emergency, which they use to rob them. New Yorkers can protect themselves from being phished or scammed in various ways.
What is Phishing, and How Did it Start?
Phishing describes a fraudulent practice involving sending emails and other messages disguised as coming from a reputable organization and inducing individuals to reveal personal information. It is a deceptive practice that steals people’s personal and financial information. While email-based phishing attacks have existed for some time, scammers have adapted to new technologies and methods, making them more challenging to detect.
The term originated in underground hacker communities and describes attempts to steal someone’s contact information. One of the participants, Benjamin Davidson, an attorney with the Division of Marketing Practices at the FTC, explained that phishing scams have evolved and presented his role in preventing their occurrence.
“I’ve sued business opportunity schemes, moneymaking, investment, tech, companies that help them accept payments, and companies that help them make phone calls. It is important to warn consumers immediately about fraud and new trends because education is vital to what we do.”
He explained that scammers use email and texts to create a false sense of urgency, convincing individuals to click on links or reply with personal information. Furthermore, AI technology enables scammers to use voice cloning, mimicking a family member’s voice, painting a dire situation, and coercing the person into giving up their information or money.
Davidson emphasized the importance of education and raising awareness to prevent phishing attempts. “The best defense is to spread the word about phishing, so the audience doesn’t get tricked or scammed,” he advised.
Phishing Data in Numbers
To understand the scope of the problem, the FTC collects fraud reports through its Consumer Sentinel Network. Between January and June 2023, there were over one million fraud reports. Although the number of messages may be decreasing, the amount of money consumers report losing is increasing.
Davidson stated, “We’ve had 1.1 million reports from consumers who have lost $4.5 billion over the last few years. We’re seeing a trend that the number of reports is going down, but the amount that consumers report losing is going up.”
One of the most common phishing tactics is Imposter fraud, which centers on impersonation by scammers. They mimic reputable and popular corporations and government agencies to elicit sensitive information from their victims. The second-most prevalent scam is online shopping fraud. “I think the most familiar form of phishing to everyone is an email-based phishing attack,” added Mr. Davidson. He also explained that they send emails to you and claim to be from Microsoft or attach a PDF of an invoice, attempting to gain your trust and convince you to engage with them.
Text-based Phishing is on the Rise
Thus, while email phishing remains a concern, text-based Phishing keeps increasing. In 2022, text messages became the leading contact method for fraud complaints, indicating that scammers are shifting focus. They use various tactics to trick recipients into clicking on malicious links, like impersonating banks, offering fake gifts, posing as delivery services, advertising phony job opportunities, or using Amazon-related scams.
According to Davidson, “40% of fraudulent text phishing scams fall into five categories. The first is bank impersonation. Bank phishing texts are the leading example that we’ve seen. The second category is gift texts; of course, there is no gift, and the fraudsters are just trying to phish the consumers and steal their information. The third category is fake delivery scams, whether the US Postal Office, UPS, FedEx, or fraudsters impersonate these companies and say, We tried to deliver you a package.”
He also mentioned other categories, including Amazon fraud texts, where they pretend to be representatives from Amazon and say your account is about to be debited. They will ask you if you intend to purchase an item, and if you don’t, place a call.”
Davidson advised individuals on ways they can protect themselves from falling victim by following five steps: Recognize, Caution, Verify, Block, and Report.
- Recognize the rush: Phishing messages often create a sense of emergency. Always take a moment to evaluate whether the news is genuine before responding.
- Thread Cautiously: Resist the pressure to act quickly. Verify the authenticity of the message before taking any action.
- Verify Independently: Contact the company or organization directly through trusted means to confirm the message’s legitimacy. Don’t trust the contact details provided in the suspicious statement. Verify through their websites, not the ones they send.
- Block unwanted messages: Use your phone’s built-in filters or third-party apps to block unwanted text messages. This proactive approach can prevent many phishing attempts from reaching you.
- Report phishing: Forward suspicious texts to 7726 (SPAM) or use your phone’s reporting features to help authorities track and combat phishing scams.
“The first piece of advice is to know that spotting these scams isn’t easy. These text messages often look very much like they’re from a company. The second piece of advice is to slow down.”
AI-Based Scams: Family Emergency Scams & Recommendations
The experts also discussed scams enabled by AI technology. Scammers use technology to clone voices and make their fraudulent calls sound convincing. A key example is the family emergency scenario. Mr. Davidson recommends asking challenging questions or seeking additional verification to confirm the caller’s identity before taking action.
Other ways of protecting against Phishing include regularly updating electronic devices operating systems, such as computers and mobile devices, and using up-to-date security software to safeguard against known vulnerabilities. Furthermore, adding an extra layer of security is crucial, like enabling multifactor authentication for one’s email, social media, and financial accounts.
He advised, “While the tactics employed by scammers are continually evolving, being informed and cautious can go a long way in protecting yourself and your loved ones from Phishing and AI-based scams. Spread the word and remain vigilant to stay one step ahead of the scammers who seek to exploit your trust and personal information.”
Understanding Romance Scams
Another form of scam is Romance scams, which are on the Rise and prevalent in some communities. Scammers create fake online profiles to establish romantic relationships with their victims and then manipulate them into sending money. The experts advised being cautious with online demand for cash, as legitimate individuals will only sometimes make such requests.
Reporting Scams to the FTC
Concerning reporting scams, especially in immigrant communities, Norma Condray was worried that some individuals might be afraid to report scams due to their immigration status. However, Rosario Mendez, an attorney with a consumer and business education at the Federal Trade Commission, assured people they could anonymously report scams to the FTC. “People should register online at reportfraud.ftc.gov, and individuals can choose to withhold their contact information,” he said. Additionally, legal aid attorneys can help victims report scams on their behalf.
For more information on protecting yourself from scams and what to do if you fall victim, visit FTC.gov/scams. The FTC provides valuable resources in multiple languages to help consumers stay safe in the digital landscape.
Remember, education is your best defense against Phishing and fraud.