Scams happen all year long. But according to multiple federal agencies, the summer months can be prime time for a number of scams nationwide.
Just Friday, the Internal Revenue Service warned taxpayers about a summer surge of tax scams, in which thieves send out “a barrage of email and text messages promising tax refunds or offers to help ‘fix’ tax problems.”
A constant fight
At the FBI’s Seattle office, however, the scams never seem to let up.
“We’re always very busy — 12 months a year,” FBI Special Agent Ethan Via said.
Summer doesn’t seem to be particularly busy, he added. But he does see more charity scams and romance scams around the holiday season and Valentine’s Day.
For those suspecting they might have fallen prey to a scam, Via has a few tips.
“A simple phone call to verify who they are speaking with or even just looking something up on the internet can prevent a lot of this,” he said.
Via frequently sees social engineering scams come through his office with initial contacts being made over text message, email or a computer pop-up.
Nearly once a week, Via encounters a victim of a romance scam or investment scam.
“To protect yourself,” he said, “if you have never met a person in person, you probably should not send them money.”
There have been reports locally of thieves directing victims to take money out of their bank accounts and deposit them into local cryptocurrency kiosks, according to recent search warrant affidavits.
The victims in these cases were responding to virus protection scams, claiming that the software companies first overcharged the victims and then the companies mistakenly refunded thousands of dollars into the victims’ bank accounts.
The thieves then convinced the victims to withdraw the supposedly refunded amounts from their bank accounts, before the money was laundered through the cryptocurrency kiosks. Victims even disregarded the warnings of bank employees asking if they were being scammed.
The law enforcement imposter scheme has been around for a long time, Via said. If police are investigating a person, law enforcement won’t call them on the phone; they’ll show up at the person’s house with credentials and a badge.
“We would never reach out to you on the telephone or text message or anything like that,” he added.
In a statement Friday, the IRS reminded taxpayers that it also would never reach out via email, text or social media regarding a bill or tax refund.
A nationwide problem
Scams can be detrimental to people who have unintentionally handed over hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to thieves.
And it’s not any particular region of the country being hit with them.
“It’s everywhere,” Via said. “It’s a nationwide problem.”
Wendy Smith is senior vice president and chief risk officer at Columbia Credit Union. Her financial institution is in the trenches of scams circling around Clark County.
Some have risen from the past — like stolen mail and associated check fraud. Others are new — like the rise of chat bots making initial contacts with victims.
One current trend is particularly alarming, however.
“The fraudsters are now instructing the victim on how to mislead their financial institution, so that the transactions are approved,” Smith said.
On top of that, more and more small to midsize businesses are being compromised. While scams have been an issue for a long time, Smith said, it has seemed to escalate since the pandemic.
To adapt to ever-changing frauds, Columbia has had to add tips and tricks over time.
“We have a culture of fighting fraud,” Smith said, adding that many other financial institutions also do.
Columbia’s staff is knowledgeable about fraud and how to work with businesses and people in spotting red flags.
“Our goal is really not only to do the external awareness but to do the internal awareness, so that everyone in the organization can help members of our community to protect their identities,” Smith said.
The credit union has also added a program for vulnerable senior citizens. It encourages adding a trusted person to an account, so the credit union can contact that person with concerns. The trusted person does not have access to the accounts, however.
Via advised reporting a scam to a victim’s financial institution even before reporting it to the FBI. The three priorities he said to follow: First, admit to yourself you were scammed. Second, call your financial institution and tell it to request the money that was sent back. And finally, report the scam to the FBI.
There are tips to prevent fraud in the first place. Columbia advises customers to not respond to unidentified calls, texts or emails. Don’t give out PINs or card information, even to trusted sources. (Trusted sources, Smith said, will already have this information.) Monitor your account balances and your credit.
“Fraudsters prey on fear and greed,” Via said. Sometimes they prey on loneliness, he added. “They’re very good at what they do.”