A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

BBB Trends: A look back to look forward — but both ways, there are still scams to be aware of

By Sandra Guile
Better Business Bureau

As the year comes to a close, now is the time that many people look back and reflect on all that happened in order to get ready for the year ahead, and BBB is no different. Unfortunately, scammers stay the same from year to year and will continue to work to steal important information from people. To help consumers deter them, BBB has compiled scam information from 2018 to give everyone an idea of what to watch for in 2019.

The three scams that were reported most often to BBB’s Scam Tracker this year were phishing scams, sweepstakes scams, and government grant scams.

Phishing scams are typically committed using email messages or phone calls that appear to come from legitimate businesses or known email addresses. They often use crude social engineering tools designed to induce panic and trick the reader or caller into a vocal response or clicking on a link in the message. From there, the respondent is then convinced to divulge private information that the scammer then uses to commit identity theft.

Sweepstakes and government grant scams are usually conducted by phone and include a claim that the recipient of the call has been awarded a prize or grant only if they pay an upfront fee. People that pressure you for payment should be treated with caution, and if they ask for money through prepaid means – refuse. These payments are untraceable and money lost typically can’t be recovered.

While they weren’t necessarily scams, several news stories broke this year about data breaches of retailers that customers thought they could trust. The best advice? Make sure to keep an eye on your accounts and change your passwords periodically in order to keep your personal details secure. Instead of using a password, consider using a password keeper or a passphrase and double check you’re not giving any hints away on your social media postings.

Cyber Experts are predicting that next year’s Internet of Things may be at higher risk of not being able to securely retain consumer’s personal information. Any of the new electronics that were intended to make our lives easier should probably be looked at and used with more caution. The days of simply updating a password are evolving to using a passphrase and constantly updating hardware or software will become the norm. It will become more of a necessity to keep our information personal and we’ll have to become diligent on who and with whom we share our email, phone and mailing address in order to protect against cyber thieves.

Many of these large-scale breaches announced in the news are caused by phishing scams; they’re a simple and easy way to gather a lot of profitable information quickly. Customer and employee education should improve awareness of the latest attacks and scams, so training is an especially important measure for business owners to take.

Before we move on to the New Year, here’s one more fun fact to digest: 2019 will see 40 billion mobile phone calls. Half of those calls are expected to be from scammers. The best advice? Hang up or if you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer it and perhaps they’ll leave a voicemail. If they do leave one and you don’t recognize it, delete it.

As you look back on your 2018 and think about resolutions for New Year’s, BBB recommends making it a goal to protect your personal information and step up your online security. Listen carefully to calls that request money of you, and update the software on all of your mobile and electronic devices. Keep a close eye on bank statements, watch out for pop-up ads, emails, and text messages from unfamiliar sources and research any apps before downloading them.

Keep up with the latest scams on scamtracker.org affecting your community and learn about methods to keep yourself safe by visiting bbb.org in 2018.

Sandra Guile is the Community Outreach Specialist for BBB. She promotes BBB’s message of marketplace ethics through public speaking engagements, presentations, media relations, press releases, web content, and other written materials. Your BBB is located at 1 East 4th Street Suite 600 Cincinnati, Ohio 45202 – to reach the office, call (513) 421-3015.

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