Last week, a couple of my team members got emails, from me, that said, “Would you do an errand for me?” One of the recipients is in Arizona, and she was ready to go out and do my bidding — which would have been completely unethical of me. She called me and asked what she needed to do, and we pieced together what was happening. As it turns out, four of my team members got that email. Whoever did it was able to replicate my email exactly.
What’s worse, I personally almost fell for a scam a few weeks ago. I was looking for a place in New York City, and saw an ad for an amazing apartment — and the rent was just fantastic. I actually went back and forth with someone for an hour when I found out they wanted me to pay the security deposit to reserve it, sight unseen. Luckily, my brain finally woke up and I ended that little email chat with a block.
- There’s now a Google Voice scam making the rounds. The fraudsters call you and tell you that a verification code from Google Voice is about to be sent to you. When it comes through, they will ask you to read it back. What they’re really doing is setting up Google Voice accounts in your name — accounts which they will use to do other scams while pretending to be you. If you get a verification code, don’t share it with anybody.
- Gift cards play a central role in the scam ecosystem. A scammer might ask you to buy gift cards and then call them back with the account number, and promise to pay you back with interest. They’re anonymous to use, and once they are purchased, they cannot be refunded. I have a sneaking suspicion that the scammers who asked my employees to run errands were going to have them buy gift cards.
- There are still a lot of fraudsters operating via email, often purporting to be from Amazon, Adobe, and Norton. They typically ask you to confirm some detail. Always look at the email address very carefully whenever you interact with anyone — especially when what they’re saying is too good to be true.
- IRS imposters are as evergreen as the great Pacific Northwest, still hitting the phones hard despite the real IRS being mere months behind them. This advice is also evergreen: the real IRS will never call you and solicit sensitive information from you. So when you get calls threatening to revoke your driver’s license or your passport, just hang up.
- Then there are also random people demanding payments from Venmo, Zelle, or Cashapp. I was always a little queasy at the idea of sending requests for payment over Venmo, but that’s actually a core feature of the app. Predictably, people are abusing it — and the apps are so easy to use, people are sending money first and thinking it through later.
- Another thing to avoid is your local, free standing ATM. Whether it’s in a bodega or country club, these are the ATMs most vulnerable to fraud and identity theft scams, like skimming. Skimming involves secretly recording the bank account data of whoever uses the ATM. Additionally, if you’re using your debit card for a point-of-sale purchase, always use it as a credit card when it asks. That way you’ll have more identity theft protection and purchase protection.
Scams have a lot in common with contagions. They’re constantly changing and becoming new beings unto themselves. The strategies to combat scams will need to be adaptive above all else. Unfortunately, that falls on us — but you don’t have to know each scam to detect it. By following general principles, you can give yourself broad spectrum prevention.