Protecting Yourself Online
Just as you pay attention to your surroundings and valuables when walking around “in the real world,” it is crucial to protect yourself online as well. Criminals are constantly finding new ways to manipulate and trick people into handing over sensitive information and, in some cases, even extort them.
Fortunately, there are actions we can all take when using our favorite websites and apps that mitigate the chances of becoming a victim. Below you’ll find a list of some of the more common online scams we’ve come across. Please read each one carefully to learn more about how you can protect yourself online.
If you do happen to become involved with an online scam, remember that you are not alone. Campus Safety is here to help you navigate the process and can even recommend outside organizations that may be able to assist you further.
How It Starts
This scam usually begins on social media or through receiving a random text.
On social media, the suspect will create a fake account and then build up “friends” to give the account credibility. They will then have friends in common with you and use these mutual friends as part of the ploy to gain your trust. Often, the fake account is female and the victim is male. The fake account will begin a dialogue with the victim that turns sexual in nature and will send explicit photos to the victim. They will then ask for explicit photos in return.
Please note that the same scenario can happen over text message. The suspect will pretend to have texted the wrong number but then start a conversation to develop rapport and gain your trust.
Whether on social media or through text, another variation of this scam is a third party will enter the conversation. They will claim to be a parent and accuse you of sending explicit content to a minor. They will threaten to call law enforcement and have you arrested if you do not pay.
Photos and extortion
If you send explicit photos, the extortion starts. They will demand money and threaten to send your photos to all your friends, school, work and other public domains if you do not pay.
Even if you pay, they will continue the threats and will ask for more money.
If you did not send any photos, they will use your available social media photos to create fake explicit photos of you. They will then threaten to release them the same way if you do not pay.
What You Can Do to Prevent This
- Never send any explicit photos of yourself to anyone, EVER!
- Do not talk to strangers or accept friend requests from unknown parties.
- Remember that accounts get hacked all the time. Even if you know the person, that person may not be who you think it is.
If You Are Being Threatened with Extortion
- Do not respond.
- Block the number.
- Notify the authorities immediately:
- Campus Safety: (914) 633-2560
- We can provide resources and help you navigate the process.
- New Rochelle Police Department: (914) 654-2300
- FBI: 1-800-CALL-FBI
- Campus Safety: (914) 633-2560
Most suspects are located overseas and it may be difficult for local law enforcement to prosecute them. It is likely you will be referred to the FBI. While there is little chance of recovering any money you may have already sent, reporting the crime and sharing your story may help ensure this does not happen to someone else.
This scam targets parents and grandparents, but more often it is the grandparents. The suspects will gather information on you and your family from public online domains and use it to scam them out of money.
This is the more common one.
The grandparents or parents will get a phone call from someone stating they are an attorney or law enforcement, that the grandchild/child has been arrested, and that you need to send money for bail and/or attorney fees. A lot of people fall for this one as they tend to panic and quickly send money.
In one case in New Rochelle, out of state grandparents could not figure out how to send the money electronically or how to share the gift card codes. They sent $50,000 cash in a cardboard box to a vacant home in New Rochelle. Fortunately, the delay caused by shipping the money allowed the grandparents to talk to the grandson and discover it was a scam. New Rochelle Police were able to intercept and recover the money. You will not be this lucky sending money electronically or by using gift cards.
This scam has gotten so elaborate that the suspects have will actually call the grandparents and impersonate the grandchild. The impersonator will say they are in jail, injured, very scared and will be crying. They will then ask the grandparents to pay right away so they can get out. The impersonator will then tell the grandparents not to tell the parents. This tactic will keep the grandparents from calling the parents to verify the story.
The grandparents will get a call from someone reporting an accident has occurred and they need money for the emergency medical services for the victim (child or grandchild of the target). Grandparents, being loving individuals, will send thousands of dollars electronically in an attempt to help. Once it is sent, there is very little chance to recover it.
This scam usually targets immigrants who may be from countries where kidnappings are more common than in the U.S.
This scam very simple, they will call and identify a family member they claim they kidnapped and demand a ransom. They will threaten harm if you do not pay.
They will tell the target that they are watching them and not to call or talk to anyone.
The threats are menacing and can cause enough panic that people will send money.
In this scam, they may also use an actor to pretend to be the kidnap victim. The person will be crying, say they are scared, injured, and beg the target to send the money.
What you can do
- Remember that if a gift card is requested for payment, this pretty much guarantees it is a scam.
- Make all your social media accounts private, do not accept friend requests from unknown parties.
- If you have to maintain an open social media account for business purposes, have two accounts. Keep the business one all business and do not post personal items such as family pictures and names. Lock the personal account down by making it private and limiting “friends.”
- Tell your family members about these scams and all the others on our site. They should ALWAYS call the person (allegedly injured/arrested) directly or someone close to that person to verify the story.
- Never send any money to anyone pretending to be from the government, lawyers, doctors, Con Edison, etc. These groups will never call you to ask you to send them money electronically.
- Do not take phone calls from unknown phone numbers. If it is important, they will leave a message.
There are several variations of this scam. One version targets your identity and the other targets your money. The identity theft version is covered under Phishing and Identity Theft on this site.
The Money Scam
In this scam they usually offer a way for you to make money by advertising for them. The common scam is putting a sticker or sign on your car. They will claim to pay you to drive around with this advertising. They will send you a check for say $5,000 and tell you to deposit it. Next, they tell you that you have to use their approved marketing company to install the advertising on your car. The marketing company will contact you to set up an appointment. They tell you to pay the advertising company $1,000 for their work and you keep the rest.
The advertising company will call you and set up the appointment. They will demand payment upfront to make the appointment. You think you already got paid $5,000 and send them the $1,000 requested. 2-3 weeks later, the bank will contact you to tell you that the $5,000 check is fraudulent. The bank takes their $5,000 back plus fees and you are out the $1,000.
What You Can Do
- Remember that no employer should be asking you to pay for anything upfront as a condition of employment.
- If you are looking for a job, use the Iona University Career Center. They do all the hard work for you. They vet all their prospective employers.
- Never send money electronically. If this was a real job, they would pay the advertising company themselves instead of having you do it.
- You can find more information here.
Finally - if it is too good to be true, it probably is.
Online Private Sales
This scam is similar to the above. The scammer will agree to buy something from you at asking price or more. He will send you a check for more than the asking price. The scammer will then tell you some story that he is too busy to come pick it up and will ask you to ship it (usually it’s a car sale). He will have his transport/shipping company reach out to you to make the shipping arrangements. As in the above, the shipper will contact you and demand payment upfront. You are to use the extra money that was sent to you via check. As above, it is usually a $1,000 and a few weeks later, the bank will discover the check to be fraudulent and you are out of the $1,000 you sent the "shipper."
A more recent trend is where scammers will advertise something for sale, usually a car. When you go meet them to look at this car, they will rob you knowing you are bringing money with you.
What You Can Do
Sell locally. Meet the people in person in a safe location.
The safe location should be in a populated, well-lit public space.
Never accept checks.
Some police departments have designated parking spots at their police stations for in-person, online sales transactions. Contact your local police department to see if they offer this service. If they do not, you can still use the lobby of your local police station.
If the sale is for a large amount of money, consider meeting at your bank with the other party. Assuming you are the buyer, you can obtain a certified bank check and the seller will know it’s real since he will witness the transaction. This protects both the seller and the buyer from fraud and robbery.