Smartphone users warned over common text and phone scams

World News

Billions of smartphone owners are falling victim to a text scam luring them into a vindictive money trap, consumer watchdogs have warned.

It is critical to practice caution when wiring money online, as a growing number of scams are orchestrated by online criminals posing as legitimate companies, according to US watchdog service FTC.

Dangerous texts and phone calls have seen thousands of people hand over their hard-earned cash to fraudsters pretending to be a promotion company or have a romantic interest in their victim.

Scammers apply pressure tactics to convince victims to send over money, often going to great lengths to ensure smartphone users complete a transaction.

The scams are wide-ranging, but some of the most common include:

  • Fake prizes which you can claim by paying money to cover taxes
  • Being selected for a mystery shopping assignment that requires you to rate a wire transfer service
  • Being overpaid for something you’ve sold online and being told to reimburse the extra funds
  • Getting a job you applied for and being asked to send a check to buy supplies

A convincing element of these scams is that fraudsters often wire some money to the victim first by depositing a fake cheque.

Once the money appears in the receiver’s bank account, a scammer will try to convince them that there has been an overpayment and that a refund is warranted, which sees many people fall into the trap.

“The money appears in your bank accounts, so you do it. But the cheque is fake,” explained The FTC, adding: “It can take weeks for the back to figure it out, but when it does, the bank will want you to repay the money you withdrew.”

“Scammers pressure you to wire money to them because it’s easy to take your money and disappear. Wiring money is like sending cash – once it’s gone you probably can’t get it back. Never wire your money to a stranger.”

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According to the watchdog, the rule of thumb is to remain highly suspicious of anyone you don’t know asking to transfer money online.

This should even include any romantic interest you’ve met online, as many con artists try to toy with their victim’s affection and trust.

Known as “romance scammers”, the fraudsters create fake profiles on dating apps and sites to create the illusion of a close relationship before asking their victims to send them money, because they’re in a predicament.

Their intention is to forge a connection as quickly as possible, in some cases even proposing to marry their victim or meet in person before eventually asking for money.

FTC said: “They strike up a relationship with you and work to build your trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. A romance scammer might also contact you through social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts.”

The watchdog advises anyone who has sent money to a scammer to contact their bank or wire transfer company immediately, as they might be able to reverse it.

To avoid falling victim to these scams, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) advises being wary about what you post online and which personal information you made public.

“Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you,” it adds.

“Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image name or details have been used elsewhere.”

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