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Eight ways scammers are scamming New Yorkers and how to protect yourself from them.


Alina Prikhodko

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Office of Public Safety of New York held a briefing at which employees from various departments spoke about the most common fraud schemes in New York and methods of combating them.

Fraud by phone

There are all kinds of scams where people try to get your money, your personal information over the phone. Typically, it goes like this: They call you and offer you free medical devices, medications, or other gifts. But to get them, you must provide your address, credit card information and other key data that cannot be shared.

Specific examples:

  • Prize scam: You find out you've won a big prize (cash or a car), but there's a catch: to claim it, you need to send a small amount of money somewhere.
  • Accident scam: they call you in the middle of the night and say that a loved one urgently needs help (he had an accident, got sick, etc.). He allegedly urgently needs money, and only you can help.
  • Law enforcement scam: you receive a call supposedly from the police. Some pretend to be an FBI agent, others pretend to be a local police officer. You are told that a loved one needs money for bail, or that there is an arrest warrant against you and you need to pay bail over the phone.

Captain Spiro Papavlasopoulos, commander of the Police Department's Crime Prevention Division, said they take a three-pronged approach to such scams. The first is interaction with the public, the second is educating the population and the third is the capture and punishment of criminals.

Carlos Ortiz, assistant commissioner of the Consumer and Worker Protection Commission, offered some tips to protect yourself from such scams: “If it sounds too good or too unusual to be true, it's not true. Another sign of a scam is urgency. And third, remember, the bank or police will not call you or send you an SMS asking you to provide personal information.”

Fraudsters can spoof the number and caller ID. Therefore, the call may appear real and come from a real agency or department. You should never give banking information to strangers about whom you know nothing. When you receive calls like this, remember: it’s better to just hang up and call back yourself at the number of the department that supposedly called you. It is better to get a call back number on its official website.

Photo: Shutterstock

IRS Fraud

Authorities warn not to discuss tax issues over the phone. If you received a letter from the IRS, make a call yourself to the number listed on the agency's website, or go to your local tax office.

Even if you have tax debt, the IRS NEVER calls you on the phone and demands you pay money right away. Remember this the next time you receive a call like this from a scammer.

Card skimming

Skimmers are devices that fraudsters install on ATMs or point-of-sale terminals. Skimmers take data from your card, and then scammers take money from it by creating clone cards (fake cards that withdraw real money from your accounts).

To avoid this, before using your card, carefully inspect the terminal you are using. Is it damaged? If it looks unusual, it's better to move on to another one.

Frauds targeting migrants

There are companies that can help you organize and translate your documents, but it is important to remember that they are not lawyers and cannot (and should not) provide legal advice, including regarding your immigration status. Many firms in New York prey on migrants by giving them false promises and unfounded and dangerous legal advice.

Tips: Be very wary of organizations that do not have an office. Often, especially in immigrant communities, you may hear advice from a distant friend, your paternal grandmother's cousin. Double-check all tips and recommendations in official sources. Avoid those who claim to have special influence over immigration authorities, and avoid any business that will not provide you with a written contract and ask you to leave the original documents with them.

Trust your eyes, ears and intuition: if something looks suspicious and implausible, nine times out of ten it is a scam.

Jewelry scam

As a rule, scammers act as follows: a car pulls up to a person at a bus stop. She may look completely normal, and there may even be children sitting behind her. The criminal sitting in the car then tells the victim: “Your chain reminds me of a loved one who passed away.” Of course, this will immediately arouse emotions in the victim. The effect is enhanced by displaying another piece of jewelry with the words: “My mother gave this to me.”

At this point, the criminal will try to hug the victim. During this hug, the criminal will remove the chain without the victim even noticing. These are professionals. They make a living from this. In 99,9% of cases, the victim is not even aware of what happened until he notices his chain disappearing a few hours later.

Three simple tips: Step number one – hide your jewelry, don’t show it off. Tip number two - do not approach any car, even if there are children sitting in the back and it looks like they might need help. And tip number three: never let people look at or touch your jewelry.

Donation scam

Often, these types of scams involve teenagers between the ages of 13 and 20. They approach the victim and say, “Would you please donate to our basketball team?”

At this moment, the goal of the criminals is to take possession of the victim’s phone. While the victim is trying to donate $5 to a local basketball team, the criminals take her phone and add a few more zeros to the amount. There were cases when the amount of such “donations” was $5.

How to prevent: Add two security measures to your phone and banking apps (PIN code, facial recognition, etc.).

Gift card scams

There are several variations of such schemes, but usually attackers attack places where gift cards are publicly available.

Criminals typically print their own security barcode and place their own sticker on the back of a genuine gift card. So when a potential victim takes that card off the shelf and goes to the teller to deposit money on it, using the scanner the money is actually transferred to the criminal's account.

Tips: first, if you're buying a gift card, don't take the one that's sitting on the counter. Secondly, check the back of the card to see if there is a sticker on it or if you can scratch it. The actual numbers on the back have two different types of barcodes. The barcode on the card itself must match the barcode on the barcode.

ATM fraud

One type of ATM scam involves a group of scammers lining up right behind the victim and waiting for the victim to initiate a withdrawal transaction. At this moment, the criminals throw some currency on the floor, attract the victim’s attention and say: “Sorry, I think your money fell out.” At this point, another person involved in the scam tries to steal the card.

Tips: Be aware of your surroundings. Before you insert your card into the ATM and enter your PIN, look around to see if there is anyone or anything suspicious there.

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