Chances are that you or someone you know has received an unsolicited email from a prince in a faraway land asking you to help move millions of U.S. dollars? If so, you’ve been on the receiving end of an email phishing scam. While your spam filter may do a reasonably good job recognizing these emails as garbage, your home mailbox doesn’t have this capability.
Mercury Insurance recently had a run-in with a Canadian-based fraud ring where thieves are using letters with Mercury’s official logo printed on them to target unsuspecting consumers.
These letters inform the consumer that their $75,000 “winning settlement” has been approved and a printed check that looks to be issued from Mercury is enclosed in the envelope. The fake check is made out for a lesser amount “strictly to be used only to pay for all the processing fees.” The letter makes clear that there is a time limit to respond and to call the “designated clearing agent,” whose contact information is provided.
These letters, however, were not issued by Mercury Insurance and the checks are counterfeit.
“Swindlers and con artists often hijack the names of reputable companies like Mercury to lend credibility to their scam,” said Dan Bales, national director of special investigations for Mercury Insurance. “Don’t fall for it. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
U.S. consumers had $15 billion stolen out of their pockets in 2015 alone, as reported in the 2016 Identity Fraud Study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research. These scammers come from all walks of life, and they all want the same thing – your hard-earned money.
What can you do when scammers take on the identity of companies they know you trust? Here are a few simple tips to avoid getting ripped off:
1. Never Pay
You might be tempted, but a good rule of thumb is if you have to pay to receive funds, chances are that it’s a scam. Don’t let greed overcome commonsense.
2. Look for Fake Names
Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to give you confidence in their statements or offers. Never trust a name at face value – do your research instead. Were you contacted by someone with an official title? Searching the internet for these individuals’ names and titles may reveal they aren’t who they say they are. Is there a phone number provided? Reverse search the number to find the source. These quick clicks of your computer keys may just protect you from fraud.
3. Don’t Give Scammers Access to Accounts
Disclosing bank account or credit card numbers over the phone for an unsolicited product or service that is being sold, is a sure-fire way to get scammed. Don’t give these crooks access to your money. If you really want to buy a product, contact a legitimate seller yourself.
Mail fraud is a crime and a serious international problem. Mercury recommends that fraudulent letters and checks be turned over to local law enforcement, as well as the US Postal Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And, you should always verify the authenticity with the company represented on the letter. Don’t call the numbers provided on it, but go to the company’s corporate website for contact information and call that number.
Emails are also a popular method used by scam artists. They contain official looking links, but look very carefully at these links, because they will often give the scam away. For example, it could be www.companyname.gmail or another tag at the end. Big companies will almost always have a .com URL. Misspellings and incorrect grammar are also indications that the email is a scam.
Never click on a link or open an attachment contained in an unsolicited email. It may connect to a malicious link or open a malicious attachment and compromise your computer. If you receive an official looking email and you want to make contact with the entity to validate its legitimacy, look up their official contact information and initiate the communication yourself.
4. Hire Professionals to Protect Your Identity
The average loss per victim is $2,294 and consumers spend roughly $400 in out of pocket expenses and more than 11 hours of their time resolving a case, according to Javelin’s 2016 Identity Fraud Study.
Mercury Insurance offers a solution to help educate and help avoid identity theft, Identity Management Services. This includes document replacement assistance, online resources, fraud resolution assistance and unlimited 24/7 access to a fraud specialist.