Scam Alerts

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Here are a few real life examples of common scams. If a phone call, letter, or online contact strikes you as strange, or even a bit unusual, DO NOT proceed. Our goal is to help protect our customers, which means helping you stop these scams before they ever happen.
 
Scammers are rarely caught and victims are personally liable to reimburse First Columbia Bank when fraudulent checks are returned. Remember, being vigilant and avoiding “too good to be true offers” is one of the best ways to keep scammers away from your personal information and your money.

Scam Alerts
Grandparent Scam             

The Grandparent Scam is a way in which fraudsters prey on the elderly by taking advantage of their love and care for their grandchildren. A grandparent may receive a call or an email from someone claiming to be their grandchild. The imposter indicates they are in trouble or have been arrested in a foreign country and that they need money wired right away to make bail or pay fines. They may ask you not to disclose this information to their parents because "they will just get upset".

Calls often occur late at night or early in the morning when victims may be groggy or not thinking clearly from just having been awakened by the phone call.

With all the social media sites readily accessible via the internet, scammers are able to acquire personal information about their targets which make their stories more believable.

Scammers often tell the victims to send the money using Western Union, Money Gram or Wire Transfers. Once money is wired or sent via Western Union or Money Gram, there is no way to recover the funds.

Other common scenarios include:

  • Instead of the "grandchild" making the phone call, the scammer pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person calling on behalf of your grandchild. Other times, the "grandchild" will talk first and then hand the phone over to an accomplice to further spin the fake tale.
  • Military families can also be victimized. For example, after perusing a soldier’s social networking site, a con artist may contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to resolve.
  • While it’s commonly called the "Grandparent Scam", fraudsters may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.

Should you receive a phone call stating your grandchild has been arrested or is in trouble:

  • Resist the pressure to act quickly.
  • Ask the scammer questions only your grandchild would know. This sometimes catches the scammer off guard, and they will end the call. Below are some examples of questions you could ask the caller:
    • Where did the family go on vacation when you were 12 years old?
    • At what restaurant did we celebrate your birthday last year?
    • What was the color of your first car?
    • What was the name of your childhood dog?

These are called out-of-wallet questions, meaning the answers can’t be found in a wallet or on the internet. They would be something only the actual person would know.

  • Attempt to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine if the story is legitimate.
  • Never send money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail, especially to a foreign country.

If you feel you have been scammed, contact First Columbia Bank immediately at 570-784-1660 so that we can help you take appropriate action.

Lottery Scams             

You won the lottery! Sounds great, right? It's a fraud! Foreign lottery scams target millions of Americans each year, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars. These scams usually occur one of two ways.

  • In the first scenario, the victim will receive a letter and check in the mail congratulating them on winning the lottery in a foreign country. Checks that come with these letters are fraudulent. It may take 3 or more days for the bank to be notified that a check is fraudulent, after it has been cashed by the victim or deposited into the victim's account. By this time, the victim probably already sent the money to the fraudster for the taxes and up-front processing fees. The individual negotiating the check would then be out the money and responsible for repaying the funds to the bank. Because the item is fraudulent, the chance of the funds ever being recovered is slim to none. Legitimate lotteries and prize giveaways do not require you to pay fees or taxes in advance to claim your winnings. This should be a dead giveaway that you are dealing with a scammer.
  • In the second scenario, the victim will receive a phone call, e-mail or direct mailing enticing consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries. Typically, the foreign countries are places like Canada, Australia and Europe, but this is just a sampling. These lottery solicitations violate federal law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. Simply put, ignore all mail and phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions.

Don't fall for fantastic offerings of foreign lottery winnings, dream vacations, exciting prizes of money, a new car, a shopping spree or new technology, especially if you don't recall entering to win such offerings. Be extremely careful when you receive postal mail, e-mails and phone calls identifying you as the winner of a lottery that you didn't enter. Unexpected prize and lottery scams rely on your excitement, to dupe you into paying fees to claim your prize, or into providing private personal, banking and credit card information for purposes of identity theft. Keep this information to yourself!

Consumer Tips:

  • Keep track of all contest, lottery and prize entry forms that you fill out. Make sure you know what items you may be eligible to win, when the award will be announced and where it is coming from.
  • Never send money via wire transfer, Western Union or any other money service in order to claim a prize.
  • Use caution when phoning to claim a prize.
  • Know that some long-distance phone numbers charge a premium rate and can be very expensive to call.
  • Don't give out credit card or private personal information to claim a prize.

Bottom line: If you did not purchase a lottery ticket in a foreign country, then you could not have won their lottery.

If you feel you have been scammed, contact First Columbia Bank immediately at 570-784-1660 so that we can help you take appropriate action.

Romance Scam             

Do you think you've found your one true love? Think again. Your love interest may be an imposter. Romance scams occur when a new love interest is met through a social networking site, like Facebook or Instagram, or through an online dating service. On social networking sites, the victim being scammed often gets contacted via private message or through a friend request. Similarly, scammers with fake online dating profiles will ask you to immediately leave the online dating website and instead communicate by email, phone, text or instant message.

Scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people; even stolen pictures of real military personnel. Who doesn't love someone in uniform? These imposters weasel their way into your life, learning your favorite foods, favorite color, etc. They declare their love quickly and tug at your heartstrings with made-up stories about how they need money; for emergencies, hospital bills or travel.

The scammer will often say he or she is from the United States, but is traveling or working overseas; perhaps as a contractor. The fraudster will quickly profess his or her love for you. They will often make excuses as to why he or she can't talk on the phone, or will make, and then cancel, plans to meet you. If a friend voices suspicion, the scammer will say the friend is jealous and tell you to stop talking to your friend.

Scammers may operate in teams and may work off scripts. Their correspondence may contain spelling and grammatical errors. They typically work around the clock, keeping their victims up all night communicating. They get the target in such a fog, he/she is no longer thinking clearly.

You may think you legitimately care for this person. In your head, you may be planning your life together. All the scammer is planning though is how to steal your money. Romance scammers might persuade you to drain your bank accounts, max out your credit cards or even sell your home; all to send them the cash.

Victims include everyone from doctors and lawyers to CEOs and cops. In many cases, these victims are lonely after a divorce, the death of a spouse, or their kids are grown and have left home. It's usually those who are middle-aged and older, and an equal number of men and women, who tend to fall victim to scammers.

More than 12,500 people filed romance scam complaints with the FBI in 2015, losing more than $200 million to fraudsters. The bottom line is don't send money to someone you met online; for any reason. If your online sweetheart asks for money, you can bet it's a scam. Think with your head, not your heart.

If you feel you have been scammed, contact First Columbia Bank immediately at 570-784-1660 so that we can help you take appropriate action.

Selling an Item Online Scam             

If you have a big ticket item to sell, you might want to list it through an online auction or website, like Ebay or Craigslist. Sellers need to beware, because fraudulent cashier checks are being used for scams involving internet purchases.

Scammers are also fooling sellers with fake emails that appear to be a payment confirmation from PayPal. Be cautious of buyers asking you to complete a transaction outside of the site, as well. Selling online can be easy, as long as you remember that nothing is free and no one will pay more for something than they have to.

How the Fake Check Scam Works:

The buyer offers to purchase the product being sold, but at the last minute makes up an excuse about why he/she needs to send you a check for more money than the cost of the item. The scammer may ask you to wire (or send via Western Union/Money Gram) the excess funds or purchase and mail them a bank issued treasurer's check, money order or prepaid debit/credit cards.

You agree, deposit the check, send the excess funds and ship the goods. A few days later (approx 3-7 days), the bank tells you the check bounced because it was a fake. Your bank account is now overdrawn and the item is gone.

This scam works because most people believe that a cashier's check is as good as cash. This is false. With today's computer and printer capabilities, almost anyone can make a very realistic looking fake check.

How the PayPal Scam Works:

You post your item with an online sales site. An interested buyer contacts you and says that he or she wants to buy the item right away and arranges to meet for the exchange.

When you arrive, the buyer doesn't have cash. Instead, they claim to have sent the money through PayPal. You check your email and have what appears to be a message from PayPal confirming the transfer. The scammer may even claim that the transfer is "invisible," and that's why you can't see it in your PayPal account.

There is no such thing as an "invisible" transfer. The scammer didn't send any money, and is just trying to take your item without paying for it. Some versions of this scam also have the overpayment twist mentioned above. In these situations, the scammer "accidentally" overpays you for the item. For example, he or she "sends" you $2,000 for the item you are selling for just $200. Then, he/she requests that you wire back the difference. By the time you figure out the PayPal transfer was a fake, the scammer is long gone. 

Tips to avoid online sales scams

  • Don't accept checks or money orders. When selling to someone you don't know, it is safer to accept cash or credit card payments.
  • Do not accept overpayments. When selling on Craigslist, eBay or similar sites, don't take payments for more than the sales price, no matter what convincing story the buyer tells you.
  • Always confirm the buyer has paid before handing over the item. Don't take the buyer's word for it.
  • Be wary of individuals claiming to be overseas. In many different types of scams, con artists claim to be living abroad to avoid contact in person. Consider this a red flag.
  • Meet sellers/potential buyers in person and in a safe place. Meet in a public area and never invite buyers/sellers into your home. Suggest meeting in the parking lot or lobby of a police station. This might be enough to scare off a scammer.

If you feel you have been scammed, contact First Columbia Bank immediately at 570-784-1660 so that we can help you take appropriate action.

Tech Support Scam             

Scammers make contact claiming to be computer techs working for reputable companies like Microsoft or Apple. They may call you, email or send instant or pop-up messages claiming a virus has been detected on your computer. Passing themselves off as "tech support", they ask for remote access to your computer. They will diagnose a non-existent problem and ask that you pay for unnecessary or even potentially harmful services.

Legitimate tech support companies will never get in touch with you to say you have a virus on your computer, unless you have a current contract with them.

The Tech Support Scam usually goes something like this:

  • The scammer will ask you to go to a particular website to download and install software. They will either email you a link to click on or provide you with the website address.
  • The con artist will then ask you to grant remote control access to them by running the software. Typically, they identify errors as "proof" of the so-called virus on your computer. To accomplish this, they may have you go to the "Event Log" in order to show you the errors. Be advised, that it is expected for errors to be in this log, and these errors are not indicative of a virus.
  • After remote access has been granted, the scammer will typically install their own virus or they will set the program you previously installed to run automatically so they can gain access to your computer at any time.
  • When installing the virus, they may also install a "Keystroke Logger", which will record every key you press on the keyboard. This allows them to identify your usernames and passwords for various sites.
  • The scammer can then browse your computer to look for files that contain more usernames and passwords, or other items that contain personal, non-public information; such as tax returns.

After revealing the computer problem to you, the scammer will offer you a "solution" to your problems. The product offered will generally have prices for a 1-year, 3-year, 5-year or lifetime subscription. The price and timeline of subscription for this product will vary based on the fraudster running the scam. Many forms of payment may be accepted; they include Credit/Debit Card, Wire Transfer, Bank Account Automatic Withdrawal, Bank Issued Check, Western Union/Money Gram, Pre-Paid Debit/Credit Card.

Once money is sent, there is virtually no way to recover the funds. Money transmitted through Western Union is very hard to trace because all you need to provide is a name and address, and the scammer picks the funds up at a different location. Usually the names and addresses given are not the scammers's actual name and address. Pre-Paid Debit/Credit Cards are electronic gift cards that can be purchased at a variety of locations. The information for these cards can be given to the scammer over the phone or via email. They are then able to use that information to obtain the value of the card and steal the funds.

If you get an unexpected pop-up, phone call, spam email or instant message regarding a computer problem, STOP. Don't click on any links. Don't give control of your computer to anyone. Don't send any money.

If ever you feel that you are being or have been scammed please contact First Columbia Bank at 570-784-1660 for help in what your next steps should be.

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