Ethnic Media Services
It’s a sad fact of life: If it seems too good to be true, beware!
In this Wild West era of still largely unregulated online portals such as Instagram, WeChat, Tik Tok and others, the Federal Trade Commission is battling a new crime wave: huge networks of criminals offering fake but real-seeming ways to make money.
“There’s a whole range of different, horrible business practices scammers use,” Kati Daffan, of the FTC’s Marketing Practices division, said at an Aug. 9 press briefing hosted by the FTC and Ethnic Media Services.
“These schemes are having an incredible impact,” Daffan said. Already this year, the agency has fielded 26,000 fraud reports describing $223 million lost to fake job and “big opportunity” scams.
And that’s just the ones that have been reported, she noted, adding later that fewer reports come in from Black or Spanish-speaking victims. “We know that’s just a fraction of what’s actually happening to people,” she said.
The scams range from offers of what appear to be job opportunities to “coaching scams” that claim they’ll quickly teach you how to make money investing in real estate, the stock market, or various self-employment strategies, and more.
She described one FTC shut down, “My Online Business Education.” In that case, the FTC last year was able to return $23 million to people who’d been scammed trying to learn how to make money.
The FTC has more information on this particular type of rip-off available at ftc.gov/IncomeScams.
Go the extra mile to avoid being scammed
Although Black and older consumers are disproportionately victimized, Daffan said, we’re all potentially vulnerable to the increasingly sophisticated and varied ways people and organizations all around the globe are tricking people out of their hard-earned money.
She and her colleague, Rosario Mendez shared some examples of these tricks and some strategies for avoiding them.
High among their suggestions: Be careful, and do your research. For instance, Daffan said, when it comes to bogus job offers that could eventually cost you money, scammers are getting better and better at looking legitimate.
If you’re contacted by someone claiming a company wants to hire you, or that they’re helping an employer find workers, check it out. Go the extra mile, research that company, find their telephone number without relying on the numbers you were given, and call them to ensure they’re truly hiring for this position you’re considering – and that the people you’re talking to are really the ones doing the hiring.
“It takes the extra step of reaching out to the company to know it’s legitimate,” Daffan said. “That really is the safest thing to do these days.”
There’s more on this type of scam at ftc.gov/JobScams.
And never send money to someone expecting you’ll soon be able to earn even more back. Or if you’re asked to buy equipment up front, don’t!
Be careful what you disclose
Another common crooked strategy has been to get people to agree to mail out gift cards after receiving a check seemingly worth more than the value of those gift cards.
But here’s the problem: It’s not enough to see the deposit was made to your account; it takes banks days at least to actually clear that check deposit. And if the check proves to be no good, you have to pay that money back to your bank.
And meanwhile, guess what? Those gift cards you sent out went right back to the scammers and are almost impossible to recover by the time you learn their check bounced.
Sometimes something as simple as providing personal information winds up costing you. Sure, it seems reasonable that someone offering you a job might want your Social Security number, or information on where you bank so they can pay you with a direct deposit to your account, or other personal information such as your name and address, information for a background check, etcetera.
But the people requesting the information might only be doing so to then sell it to another criminal operation, and making their money that way. So be very careful about what you disclose until you’re confident you know who you’re dealing with.
Coming forward to report scams
And don’t fall for claims there’s been a problem delivering something you maybe didn’t even order. Clicking on a link accompanying such a text or email just provides the scammer new ways to reach you and collect your data, or know you might not be wise to them yet.
In general, if you get emails, text messages or telephone calls from names or numbers you don’t recognize, your safest bet is just to ignore them.
Mendez described the case of a recent immigrant, eager to work, who was taken in by a Spanish-language TV ad for “Moda Latina,” that got people to put up money for luxury goods they could then sell at a profit.
When she became interested and called the advertiser, she was soon threatened that she’d made a commitment, and had better have a money order ready when they delivered the box of jewelry for her to sell.
So, she got the $299 money order, but the package she got in exchange didn’t live up to Moda Latina’s 14-carat promises. When she called them on it, all she got was an offer to sell her pricier things, with similar promises.
Considering how often victims don’t even want to report having been robbed to people whose job is to help them, it was noteworthy that this particular person intended to tell her story herself at the briefing, an unusually brave move.
Making a report won’t impact anyone’s immigration status, the FTC speakers said, and they strongly encouraged everyone to report any suspicions they might have to ReportFraud@ftc.gov and ReporteFraude/ftc.gov (ReporteFraude.ftc.gov-presentar-reporte), whether they’re the intended victim or only worried for a friend, neighbor or relative.