Scammers are getting smarter. Here's how to avoid becoming a victim

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An expert offers suggestions on how to stay safe

It's not something you want to hear, but consumer scammers are getting faster; and smarter. We have Artificial Intelligence (AI) tech to thank for that as the main driver behind the scourge, making these scams more sophisticated and harder to detect. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning job seekers about wicked job-hunting scams. AARP called out AI for the stampede of One-Time Password (OTP) bot scams. And with tax season upon us, the IRS raises concerns about tax fraud scams

John Gilmore, head of research at DeleteMe, told ConsumerAffairs that the scams of 2023 aren’t the same ones that plagued grandma a decade ago.

When it comes to speed, scammers now have an improved ability to quickly target specific groups of people based on relevant, short-term, real-life events that people may feel the need to respond to quickly – changes in economic trends or specific new benefits programs such as the Covid-19 stimulus checks. 

“Fraud organizations have become better at quickly adapting old methods to new contexts in increasingly convincing ways,” he said.

When it comes to being “smarter,” Gilmore said that the days of heavily misspelled phishing messages from Nigerian princes are long gone, but they have been replaced by organizations that can develop email communications, websites, and log-in or checkout forms that are barely indistinguishable from legitimate, official organizations.

Employment scams

Gilmore said that when it comes to employment-related scams, his company is seeing a glut of fake job offers. Unfortunately, many job-seeking sites are unable to reliably filter out the fake from legitimate employment opportunities.

What scammers have their sights on in an employment scam is getting someone to submit PII (“Personally Identifiable Information”) that can be used in fraud or identity theft (like social security numbers and bank account details for payroll) or try to gain upfront payments from applicants for ‘background checks’ or to pay for hardware the employer promises to provide

How do you prevent being hit by an employment scam? “Always verify the company identity and location from 3rd party sources,” Gilmore said. “Try and call a human being associated with the company before communicating via application platforms. Avoid pursuing job offer links from social media solicitations, [and] do not share any PII other than what is already in your public resume.”

He said that if it’s a legitimate offer, then it’s wise to see if the same company has the same opportunities on its website or on other registered job-seeking sites.

Delivery/shipping scams

ConsumerAffairs has written about delivery scams in the past, but Gilmore says that there’s a growing range of variants around package delivery fraud:

  • Fraudulent pre-paid shipping labels; 

  • Being notified of a missent item’ where a consumer is asked to forward a package to another destination (often stolen goods themselves already misdirected); or

  • Offers of payment to serve as an entrepot for goods being shipped overseas; or eBay-related scams where items are purchased and then returned for refunds as part of money-laundering efforts.  

To prevent any of the new angles from worming their way into your life, Gilmore says to verify any and all messages about package tracking with the original vendor website; make sure any payments sent or received are done via platforms that allow chargebacks in event of non-delivery; and be wary of people who insist on communicating solely on platforms that leave poor records, and are difficult to verify identity, like messaging apps or text-message only.

Tax-benefit/refund-related scams

“With every new federal or state benefit program, fraud organizations see new opportunities.  And new tax-benefits programs bring a range of methods of abuse,” Gilmore advised.

“Scammers are usually faster than the government at communicating with millions of people, and will often get ahead of new programs before they’re even completely implemented – like promised Student Debt Relief which hasn’t yet fully materialized.”

He said the current wrinkle is for scammers to try and convince a person that there’s still an opportunity for them to take advantage of things like an inflation relief fund even though those programs are closed and no longer sending out checks.

“Many special tax credits implemented over the last two years may have expired already – but fraud organizations know that consumers may still be susceptible to claims that they are owed unpaid benefits, and the lure of ‘free money’ remains one of the easiest ways to get people to hand over information,” Gilmore said.

How to avoid scams like this? First and foremost, remember that government tax agencies don’t communicate via phone, email, or text. “If you’re receiving electronic communications about benefits, you can assume they are fake,” he warned, then added three things consumers can do to protect their personal information private and themselves out of an embarrassing situation.

  • Keep your account and tax information secure and do not share with any unverified third parties

  • Verify the website details of anyone purporting to be a government agency

  • File your taxes early: many fraud methods involve the early submission of returns in victims’ names; the earlier you file, the more likely the scammers will be identified.

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