Summer is a hot time for scams; here’s how to avoid them

Don't be shy! Challenge service providers; divulge personal data sparingly

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Sum­mer is a time for sun, fun, explo­ration and relax­ation. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as we unwind there are those who gear up to take advan­tage of our moments of diver­sion and dis­trac­tion. Scam­mers love sum­mer, too.

Here are a few sum­mer scams that can turn a much-need­ed break from work into a break-the-bank moment or make for a tru­ly unhap­py hol­i­day, and some sim­ple tips to avoid get­ting got.

  1. The front desk scam

You arrive late at your hotel and all you want to do is check in, take a show­er and go to bed. As you set­tle in, or just after you turn in, the phone in your room rings. The “front desk” is call­ing to tell you that your pay­ment card was declined. Would you be so kind as to con­firm your account num­ber, or pro­vide anoth­er card? You oblige then prompt­ly for­get all about it … that is until your month­ly state­ment arrives (or when­ev­er you check your account) and you get a rude awakening—the “front desk” wasn’t asso­ci­at­ed with the hotel at all and was real­ly a scammer.

TIP: If you get a call from the front desk, hang up and call them back or go down to con­firm your pay­ment method in person.

  1. The hotel take-out scam

Room ser­vice is closed, and you’re starv­ing. There’s a restau­rant fli­er either on or near the door to your room—it could be for a din­er, piz­za joint or Chi­nese restau­rant. It doesn’t mat­ter. You order and give them a cred­it card num­ber. You wait with eager antic­i­pa­tion for your food, but noth­ing arrives. When you call again, there’s no answer because the per­son who took your order and asked for your cred­it card is busy max­ing it out.

TIP: Call the front desk to make sure the fli­er is not a scam, or go online to check for reviews.

  1. The sum­mer rental scam

sh_summer rental_400You find the per­fect late-sum­mer rental. Excit­ed, or maybe a lit­tle anx­ious about los­ing out on this gem, you con­tact the per­son iden­ti­fied in the list­ing and—score—you get the place. On the appoint­ed day, you show up at the right address, at the right time with bags in hand. You ring the bell and the door opens. The per­son stand­ing in the door­way looks at you in won­der­ment as you hap­pi­ly announce that you have arrived. It might be the own­er or maybe a ten­ant. Equal­ly dis­turb­ing, you dis­cov­er an office build­ing, a park­ing lot or vacant field at the address you were giv­en. Oh, and did I men­tion that the scam­mer and your mon­ey are long gone?

TIP: If you used a real estate agent, ask for the agent’s license num­ber and check it, request ref­er­ences if there are no reviews online and con­firm that the address is real and the premis­es are tru­ly avail­able for rent. Some home-rental web­sites have their own vet­ting process­es and offer guar­an­tees that will pro­tect you in case of fraud. Be sure to read through the details, however.

  1. The Wi-Fi scam

Many des­ti­na­tions, trav­el stops, restau­rants, retail­ers and pub­lic venues pro­vide free Wi-Fi. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, free Wi-Fi by no means guar­an­tees secure Wi-Fi. Before you con­nect to any­thing that is free, con­firm the exact name of the Wi-Fi net­work and that it is secure. Always be on the look­out for fake net­works cre­at­ed by scammers.

TIP: Always check with the net­work provider or some­one of author­i­ty at the venue before log­ging on to any new wire­less connection.

  1. The sum­mer job scam

You apply for a sum­mer job and your prospec­tive employ­er informs you that you’re hired, but before they can make a for­mal offer they have to do a back­ground check. Sounds log­i­cal, right? So, you pro­vide your information—including your Social Secu­ri­ty number—but nev­er hear back about the job. The rea­son: You were the job and your iden­ti­ty has been stolen.

TIP: Due dili­gence here is key: Nev­er pro­vide sen­si­tive per­son­al infor­ma­tion to a job site or any­one claim­ing to offer a job as a pre­req­ui­site to start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion. Always make a few calls or poke around online to make sure the com­pa­ny and the offer are legit­i­mate. Then inter­act with an autho­rized rep­re­sen­ta­tive. If at that point you want to move for­ward, it is appro­pri­ate to sup­ply iden­ti­fy­ing data.

  1. The excur­sion scam

When book­ing an excur­sion, dou­ble check that the com­pa­ny you’re work­ing with has a good rep­u­ta­tion. Call and make sure the num­ber match­es con­tact infor­ma­tion online, and that there are reviews from hap­py cus­tomers. Oth­er­wise, you could be just giv­ing a stranger your cred­it card infor­ma­tion and the abil­i­ty to take you for a ride.

TIP: Read reviews, and make sure the com­pa­ny is legitimate.

  1. The mover scam

Sum­mer is the time to move. Your search for a mover yields a com­pa­ny that can do it fast, at what appears to be a rea­son­able price: but com­pared to what? Check with the Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau to make sure that you are get­ting a deal rather than being the deal. Many of these sketchy movers will force you to ran­som back your belongings.

TIP: Always read the reviews before hir­ing a mover.

  1. The con­cert tick­et scamsh_concert tickets_400

Tay­lor Swift is rolling into town with her cel­e­brat­ed “1989” tour. You just have to have tick­ets. Are you sure you’re on a legit­i­mate tick­et site? You don’t want to find out the hard way.

TIP: Go to rep­utable tick­et sell­ers (also check with the con­cert venues) to make absolute­ly sure you are deal­ing with some­one who can and will actu­al­ly deliv­er the goods to you rather than sell you a bill of goods.

  1. The home main­te­nance scam

Every­one has a punch list of home repairs that needs to get done before win­ter rolls around.

A guy shows up at your door, and tells you that his crew is work­ing in the area and about to fin­ish a job with some mate­ri­als to spare. He offers to give you a deal because it will save him time and you mon­ey. No con­tract, no fuss; you agree to hire him and pay a deposit. Then he and his imag­i­nary crew—along with your dough—are gone with the wind.

TIP: Check out poten­tial hires through friends, neigh­bors and online reviews. Also, get a writ­ten con­tract that spec­i­fies deliv­er­ables, includ­ing a defin­i­tive start and com­ple­tion date. Note that many states require home improve­ment con­trac­tors to be licensed and pro­vide writ­ten contracts.

Keep­ing your sum­mer scam-free

There’s also a cheat sheet on the best prac­tices that can help you keep your sum­mer safe from fraud, cour­tesy of the Con­necti­cut Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau:

  • Don’t wire mon­ey to strangers: When book­ing a vaca­tion or rent­ing a prop­er­ty, avoid any­one who only accepts pay­ment by wire trans­fer. Use a secure method of pay­ment such as a cred­it or online pay­ment system.
  • Be skep­ti­cal about giv­ing out your infor­ma­tion: That includes your cred­it card num­ber. Ignore food fliers under your hotel room door and remem­ber that the front desk at the hotel will nev­er call to ask you for your cred­it card num­ber over the phone.
  • Is the vaca­tion real­ly free?: It may appear to be, but like any­thing else, a free vaca­tion is not free if you have to give out your cred­it card number.
  • Call your finan­cial insti­tu­tions before leav­ing town: It may not be enough just to call your cred­it card com­pa­ny to tell them you are leav­ing town.  Call your bank as well, since your bank gen­er­al­ly sets the lev­el of secu­ri­ty asso­ci­at­ed with your cred­it card.  If you don’t do this, your cred­it card trans­ac­tions will prob­a­bly be declined, espe­cial­ly if your pur­chas­es don’t match your usu­al spend­ing pat­tern, for exam­ple, using your card in anoth­er state or country.
  • Care­ful­ly check your receipts and state­ments: As soon as you get home, rec­on­cile your cred­it card and bank­ing state­ments with your receipts.  Extra charges are not nec­es­sar­i­ly fraud­u­lent. Mis­takes do hap­pen, and regard­less of whether a charge is an error or unau­tho­rized, you should report the prob­lem as soon as possible.

We also want to add to this: Just because you’re on vaca­tion, don’t go on hia­tus from check­ing your cred­it reports and cred­it scores. If some­one fraud­u­lent­ly opens an account in your name, you may not know about it until it has done a seri­ous num­ber on your cred­it. Bet­ter to catch it as soon as pos­si­ble so you can deal with it before it becomes a big prob­lem. You can get your cred­it reports for free every year from each of the three major cred­it report­ing agen­cies at AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can get your cred­it scores for free from many sources, includ­ing through Credit.com, which updates your scores every 30 days. A larg­er, unex­pect­ed change in your cred­it scores can tip you off to poten­tial fraud.

Full dis­clo­sure: IDT911 spon­sors Third­Cer­tain­ty. This sto­ry orig­i­nat­ed as an Op/Ed con­tri­bu­tion to Credit.com and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the com­pa­ny or its partners.

Adam Levin is chair­man and co-founder of Credit.com and Iden­ti­ty Theft 911. His expe­ri­ence as for­mer direc­tor of the New Jer­sey Divi­sion of Con­sumer Affairs gives him unique insight into con­sumer pri­va­cy, leg­is­la­tion and finan­cial advo­ca­cy. He is a nation­al­ly rec­og­nized expert on iden­ti­ty theft and credit.

More on iden­ti­ty theft:
Iden­ti­ty Theft: What You Need to Know
3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
How Can You Tell If Your Iden­ti­ty Has Been Stolen?


Posted in Cybersecurity, Data Security, Guest Essays