Financial scammers are as old as money itself, but they are continually adapting to changing times. For 2022, cybersecurity firm Norton Labs predicts that some of the top scams will revolve around cryptocurrency, natural disasters and deepfake technology.
With criminals continually innovating, staying informed is the key to protecting yourself and your family. Here’s a look at some of the scams you might encounter this year and how to avoid them.
Natural disaster scams. Natural disasters always bring out people’s generosity—and the fraudsters who prey on it. With extreme weather events rising sharply in recent years, natural disaster scams seem likely to proliferate.
These often take the form of fake charities bent on stealing victims’ donations or their personal information. After Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, a charity called the “Hurricane Sandy Relief Effort” raised $600,000 that went, not to the storm’s victims, but to pay off the scammers’ credit card debt. To avoid such cons, heed these tips:
- Confirm that organizations you donate to are legitimate. Watchdog groups like CharityWatch, CharityNavigator and the Better Business Bureau are good places to start.
- Google the charity’s name and the word “scam” to see if others have had bad experiences with it.
- Beware of phone solicitors pressuring you to give money immediately. Legitimate charities don’t do this.
- Never send donations through wire transfer, cash or a gift card. Requests for these hard-to-trade forms of payment are a hallmark of scammers.
- Delete solicitation emails with attachments, which can contain ransomware.
Deepfake scams. In these scams, fraudsters create a video that superimposes a computer-generated face, typically of a real person, on another person’s body. In 2019, criminals scammed a California woman out of about $300,000 using an elaborate, two-pronged deepfake scheme. The victim met a person on an internet dating site whom she believed to be Sean Buck, a U.S. Navy vice admiral. The two had regular video calls via Skype.
Meanwhile, the woman developed a separate, months-long relationship with another fictional person, who at one point convinced her he was imprisoned abroad. Conveniently, “Buck” was available to serve as the conduit for thousands of dollars from the victim to a “lawyer” supposedly helping secure the prisoner’s release. “Buck,” the authorities would discover, was a deepfake constructed using publicly available video of the real-life Navy admiral.
Deepfakes have been used for blackmail as well, in cases where the victim’s face is superimposed on another person’s body. In Russia, identity thieves posted on social media a deepfake video of a well-known bank founder promising a cash reward for using the bank’s investment services. The operation lured users to a fake website, where they entered personal information. To guard against deepfake scams:
- Don’t answer video calls from strangers.
- Be on guard against requests for money.
- Identify deepfakes through their typical imperfections, including eyes set too far apart, slight lags between facial and lip movements, and distortions around pupils and earlobes.
Cryptocurrency scams. As cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have exploded in popularity, scammers have moved to defraud inexperienced crypto owners. Between October 2020 and April 2021, nearly 7,000 victims reported losses totaling more than $80 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Crypto scammers try to trick victims into sending them coins or revealing access codes for their crypto wallets. They pose as government officials, tech support employees or even celebrities dangling fraudulent investment or business opportunities. In the six months starting in October of 2020, more than $2 million in cryptocurrency was transferred to Elon Musk impersonators. Romance scams have entered the crypto era as well: Nearly one-fifth of money stolen in these cons is now in the form of cryptocurrency, according to the FTC. Some tips:
- Don’t own cryptocurrency without understanding how it works.
- Don’t buy or trade cryptocurrencies on the advice of those you only know online.
- Don’t believe social media posts promoting cryptocurrency giveaways.
- Never share your private crypto wallet keys, and store them offline, where they’re safe from hackers.
Scams are forever changing and evolving. But the criminals behind them always seek to exploit our deep-seated instincts—to help others, to enrich ourselves and to connect with other humans. The best way to protect yourself is to be skeptical, do your research, and trust your gut when it tells you something isn’t quite right.