As either a business or as an individual, losing financial resources to scams and fraud can be deeply difficult, distressing and disconcerting. While scams have been around since time immemorial, they’ve recently increased in terms of frequency, ferocity and financial impact.
To that effect, in 2022, U.S. consumers lost almost $8.8 billion to scammers, a nearly 30% increase from the year before, according to Federal Trade Commission data. As if those numbers aren’t high enough, because fraud is often under-reported, the actual numbers may be much higher.
Scammers can surface from out-of-the-blue and it’s easy to get caught off-guard. Those who are under stress or experiencing life transitions are particularly vulnerable, although scams can affect anyone. In this article, we’ll delve into the season’s most slippery scams, offering valuable insights, tips and strategies for protecting both businesses and individuals alike.
10 top scams to watch out for this fall
1. Voice fakes targeting bank accounts. Cutting-edge scammers are now artificially generating consumers’ voices and, over the phone, attempting to trick banking service providers to move money. According to The New York Times, the issue is so new that no one knows its exact extent at the moment.
However, at least one enterprise responsible for monitoring the audio traffic on behalf of the U.S’ largest banks reports a significant increase in voice fraud attempts this year, as compared to prior years.
The velocity of AI development and relatively low costs of generative AI programs, along with the wide availability of voice recordings on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere across the web, create the perfect set of conditions for voice-related AI scams.
2. Student loan scams. During the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education offered an automatic student loan forbearance program for 44 million Americans with outstanding federal student loans. This longstanding payment freeze is coming to an end and borrowers must begin making payments in October.
Scammers are looking to take advantage of borrowers who may be confused about new repayment rules or the new income-driven repayment program. U.S. federal agencies note that borrowers will never need to pay for advice or help with student loans, and that if you, as an individual, have not expressly solicited information from a loan service provider, don’t share personal information.
3. Looker Studio cryptocurrency attacks. Looker Studio is a Google-owned tool that businesses deploy to develop custom, easy-to-understand reports about data. According to Check Point, scammers are now leveraging the tool to construct fake cryptocurrency pages that are delivered to victims via email.
Victims are told that the fake pages will offer investment strategies designed to yield significant returns. After email recipients click on a link, they’re taken to a login page, which says that they must log into their cryptocurrency account, otherwise risk losing access to it. However, the login page is designed to steal credentials.
In brief, because the Looker Studio scams are sent through Google, they pass all standard security checks, and individuals may experience theft involving large sums of money. Recipients of emails from Google/Looker Studio are encouraged to stay vigilant.
4. LinkedIn (and other) job scams. More than 100 million open positions are submitted to LinkedIn each second, and teasing apart the real from the fake can be tough. Nearly two-thirds of job seekers in Britain have been targeted with fake opportunities, reports the BBC. Fake job listings aren’t limited to LinkedIn, despite its popularity – they exist across job-search sites.
These kinds of scams predominately follow two main patterns. A) They eventually take users to some kind of landing page, where users are asked to download a resource, login and then provide personal details. B) They request for “successful” job applicants to provide financial remuneration ASAP, promising that applicants will be paid back (advance fee scams).
Job seekers are advised to remain wary, to ensure that a given organization actually exists, and to confirm that the organization’s contact details are authentic.
5. Emergency call from ‘loved ones’. Scammers are weaponizing artificial intelligence to clone voices and to sound like a target’s loved ones. In at least one horrifying and heartbreaking incident, a cyber criminal called a young woman’s mother, pretending that he had the woman in his custody and that he would kill her unless the mother intervened. The kidnappers demanded a ransom of $1 million.
Police initially brushed off the incident as a prank call. However, the mother has since urged Congress and technology leaders to take action; to help prevent criminals from abusing emergent AI technologies. As it turns out, these types of imposter scams are not uncommon in the United States, and out of 36,000 reports, more than 5,000 victims have lost over $11 million.
To protect against voice cloning scams, CISO Pete Nicoletti recommends that families adopt a “code word” system. Family members who suspect a scam should always call a person back to verify the authenticity of the call. Further, social media accounts should be set to private, as publicly available information can easily be used against people.
6. Fake supplier scams. In Asia, new impersonation scams have recently led to business disruptions and financial losses. Scammers have been impersonating school staff, and tricking businesses into making payments to fake suppliers. If that sounds outlandish, here’s how it works:
School employee impersonators call or text businesses to ask for supplies to be delivered to the school on short notice. Because the businesses don’t have the required volume of supplies on hand to fulfill the requests, the scammers provide the businesses with the contact details for fake suppliers.
The victims would then pay the fake suppliers for orders. The businesses have discovered the deception after the actual school refused to pay them for a fictitious order. One business owner lost $27,000. Businesses around the world are encouraged to adopt precautionary protocols to help employees detect and avoid scams.
7. Craigslist scams. For prospective renters, navigating real estate scams is now part of the process. Between inflation, high costs of living, and a shortage of housing stock, people have become vulnerable as they scramble to find what they need on a tight budget. Scammers are preying on people’s fear, doubt and desperation through elaborate Craigslist scams.
To avoid these types of scams, individuals can start by Googling a unit’s address, ensuring that the landlord or real-estate agent’s name matches that of the dwelling. If meeting with a landlord, individuals can seek proof that the landlord owns the property by contacting a local tax assessor’s office, county clerk or relevant local agency. Also, individuals should be aware of rushed timelines and demands for payment ahead of seeing a property.
8. Home improvement contractor scams. According to a new study, 10% of Americans have fallen victim to a contractor scam. These types of scams prey on people from every socioeconomic background and affect every variety of home owner.
One common scam involves overcharging for materials. A contractor will buy an excessive quantity of a material, charge the entire cost to the home owner, and then return unused materials to the store – keeping the refunded. In similar types of scams, contractors will charge home owners for materials from previous jobs, substitute cheaper materials…etc. In yet other cases, contractors will take large upfront deposits and then disappear.
There are an endless number of ways in which bad contractors can scam home owners. Red flags to watch for include unsolicited contractors claiming to be ‘in the neighborhood’ and available to work on certain types of projects, contractors who ask individuals to obtain work permits, contractors who don’t offer written estimates, and contractors who fail to provide a contract altogether.
9. Jury duty scams. These types of scams are often creatively executed and, as with many of the scams on this list, vary in their exact nature. A caller may claim to be a representative of the court or a county official, such as an administrative judge.
Victims may be informed that they owe money to a particular entity for missing jury duty and/or that payment is the only way to avoid imminent arrest and potential incarceration. Victims then feel forced to make payments over the phone.
While this type of fraud isn’t new, officials say that scammers are becoming more sophisticated and persistent in relation to these scams. Law enforcement officials advise anyone who receives this type of call to hang up immediately. Consider reporting suspicious calls (or emails) to law enforcement.
10. Fuel scams. This type of scam is cyber-physical. In this type of scam, scammers are approaching unsuspecting individuals who are refueling their vehicles at gas stations, offering to pump gas or to return the nozzle back to the pump for them. Instead of returning the nozzle, the scammers use the still-active nozzle to pump gas for a new customer, who they charge for service.
Thus, the scammer not only drains money from the initial victim’s bank account, but they earn revenue from a second victim. Some suspects have aggressively taken gasoline nozzles from victim’s after the victims declined an offer of assistance.
These scams cover a wide range of tactics and prey upon a variety of vulnerabilities, pointing to the importance of remaining vigilant and adopting preventative measures.
Beyond that, scammers are constantly evolving their tactics. Thus, staying informed is critical when it comes to pushing past fraud and scams.
For more insights into cyber scams, please see CyberTalk.org’s past coverage. Lastly, to receive timely cyber security insights and cutting-edge analyses, please sign up for the cybertalk.org newsletter.