Local experts weigh in on dangers of online fraud

Local experts weigh in on dangers of online fraud

Online scams have become more common in recent years with the Federal Trade Commission reporting record losses from victims in 2022.

Cullman native Jimmy Young nearly joined the 2.4 million victims to report an online scam after his 1992 GMC Sonoma broke down in February. Young is a disabled senior citizen surviving on a fixed income which he said provides $131 each month after he pays his bills.

Young said he began seeking out resources online, looking for charities to either repair or replace his broken pickup when he stumbled across an ad on Facebook promising vehicles to those in need from what appeared to be The Kelly Clarkson Show.

He said he clicked on the ad which linked to a video where a person presumed to be Clarkson, discussed the details of the giveaway and he submitted his name for consideration. After a bit of back and forth, Young said he was sent a picture of a brand new F-150 which could be his as long as he pre-paid a $500 shipping and handling fee.

Young said even if he wanted to, he would have been unable to provide the payment and told this to whoever was receiving his messages. When they began asking details about his most recent income tax returns, Young said he abandoned the conversation.

Of the reports submitted during 2022, the FTC reported this type of scam, known as “imposter scams”, were at the top of what it calls the “Fraudlent Five” list of most common methods used to target unassuming individuals. Last year alone consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to scams and fraud last year, a 30 percent increase over 2021’s losses.

Cullman Area Manager for the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama, Jacqueline Schendel, said she was unable to verify any charity associated with Clarkson which fit Young’s description and believes “whoever he spoke with definitely was doing this without her knowledge.”

Before his role as public relations officer with the Cullman Police Department, Adam Clark worked in the Financial Crimes unit and said scammers would often take on the appearance of legitimate charities and giveaways to trick consumers into sending small payments in exchange for extravagant prizes.

Clark said over the course of a single year during his time with the unit, Cullman residents lost more than $1 million to online fraud.

The BBB website provides the following tips to differentiate between real and fake online giveaways:

  • Look for the blue checkmark verifying the social media page.
  • Beware of recently created accounts.
  • If the giveaway requires you to complete an elaborate list of tasks, it is likely fake.
  • The giveaway should include a list of terms and conditions.

Clark said legitimate giveaways will almost never require any type of up-front payment before collecting a prize.

Schendel said the BBB would be partnering to host a Health Fair and Fraud Prevention Summit on Thursday, Sept. 7 at the Donald E. Green Center from 9 a.m. until noon. Several of the event’s speakers will be available to answer questions and offer advice.

Patrick Camp can be reached at 256-734-2131 ext. 238

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