Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns consumers to beware of unsolicited or unexpected communications asking consumers to provide personal information, download an attachment, or send money.
Many of these communications are from impostors masquerading as trustworthy businesses and organizations. They may be “phishing” for Social Security numbers, passwords, credit card information, or other personal details for use in identity theft. They also may allege the consumer owes money for a delinquent account.
More than 100 phishing scams in the St. Louis area were reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2019. They are among about 4,800 phishing scams nationwide reported to Scam Tracker last year.
A Cahokia, Illinois, woman told BBB in December 2019 an unknown caller had requested the last four digits of her Social Security number, telling her someone had “used my number and purchased items in Texas.” She said the caller told her to get a new Social Security card and then threatened to have her arrested. The woman told BBB the caller hung up when she asked to speak to a supervisor.
Fraudsters use a creative array of cover stories to disguise their true intentions. The message may promise a reward (a gift card, free item); threaten a punishment (unpaid taxes, missed jury duty, deactivated bank account); or appear entirely mundane (such as a file from the office scanner).
Phishing scams tend to follow a pattern. The victim receives a phone call, email, or text message (called “smishing” or SMS phishing). In the communication, the scammer urges the target to share information, send money, click a link, or download an attachment, which likely contains malware. In the case of an email or text, the link frequently leads to a form, which prompts the target to enter personal information.
Think twice before downloading anything from the Internet, especially if it’s an attachment from an anonymous sender. Scammers will hide malware in an attachment and once it is downloaded, it can wreak havoc on computers or steal personal information.
BBB advises following these tips to avoid phishing scams:
- If something sounds suspicious, confirm it by calling the company directly or checking the company website. Don’t click on links in an unexpected email – type the URL for the company into your browser or do a web search to find the right website. Call a trusted phone number for the company other than one provided by the caller to verify the caller’s identity.
- Don’t click, download, or open anything that comes from an anonymous sender. This is likely an attempt to gain access to your personal information or install malware on your computer.
- Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake emails. Always be wary of unsolicited messages that don’t contain your name, last digits of your account number or other personalizing information.
- Be cautious at work. Some phishing scams specifically target CEOs, executives and managers in an effort to get company information or personal details on all employees of a company. BBB published an in-depth investigative study on such scams in 2019.
For assistance, go to bbb.org or call 888-996-3887.
BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information.