As inflation rises, scammers have new tricks for trying to steal your hard-earned money. Indeed, Americans lost more than $5.8 billion to fraud last year, an increase of more than 70 percent over the previous year. Fortunately, there are easy ways to thwart the latest cons to keep your cash safe.
Skip ‘free’ gas offers
Spotted a giveaway on social media or in your email inbox for a free gas card worth hundreds of dollars from a well-known gas station? Don’t take the bait! Scammers are hoping to lure you in with their phony gas card offers, but they steal by asking you to pay a small shipping fee with a credit or debit card to receive the gas card, then charge a much larger amount to your account! Or they may ask you survey questions designed to help them break into your online accounts by enabling them to answer commonly asked security questions. They may require you to share personal information (your name and date of birth) to steal your identity.
Tip: If someone calls you, sends an email, or knocks on your door saying they’re from the government and asking for your Social Security or Medicare number, don’t share it! IRS and Medicare reps will never contact you out of the blue to ask for it
Avoid interest rate fakers
New reports show that the average credit card interest rate is set to rise to a historic 18 percent. As a result, scammers are trying to take advantage of folks by calling and promising they’ll lower your credit card interest rate for a fee. To sway you, they’ll claim to have special connections with banks and credit unions that allow them to get this lower rate. But in reality, they just take your money and run.
The good news: You don’t need anyone to negotiate a better rate on your behalf. Instead, call your credit card company by using the phone number on your card and request a reduction in interest yourself. According to a survey from CompareCards.com, eight in 10 cardholders who asked for a lower percentage actually got one!
Dodge phony housing fees
You probably know a shortage in the housing market has pushed rent and mortgage prices way up. And so fraudsters are using the shortage to swindle renters and home-buyers out of their cash by copying photos of real homes that aren’t actually available, then listing them in fake ads at low prices on Craigslist, Zillow, and other sites. Red flags? They’ll ask you to send money via a wire transfer or to share your bank information before you even see the home. Or they may allow you to view the outside of the home on your own and claim they can’t meet you because they don’t live in the state or country. Then, if you want to rent or buy the property, they’ll promise to send you the keys…if you send them money first.
To stay safe: Insist on meeting the homeowner or property manager in person, ensuring they have a key to get in.
Foil car-selling fraudsters
A lack of electronic chips and a manufacturing slowdown has led to low inventory of new and used cars and a sharp rise in price. It’s no wonder thieves are trying to convince you that you’ve finally found a great car at a low cost in ads on reseller websites or social media. The fraudster then pressures you to pay in full (via wire or gift card, which can’t be refunded or traced) before you can see the car in person. Then, once you pay, you never hear from them again. To stay safe, say “no” to making a payment until you see the car (to verify that it’s real), check the name on the title to ensure it matches the seller’s ID (to avoid buying a stolen car), and bring it to a mechanic for inspection (to be sure it’s in good condition).
Bonus: Not-a-scam alert!
Receive a phone call, letter, or email from someone representing a law office saying you’re due money from a class action settlement? Don’t ignore it! It may sound like a scam, but many companies (like retail stores, car manufacturers, and ticket sellers) are court-ordered to pay settlements to customers. And as part of the settlement, they’ve got to track down folks who can make a claim. To double-check if yours is legitimate, you can search here.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.