As millions of Californians endure financial hardship and fall prey to pandemic-inspired frauds and scams, Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez-Valladares, R-Santa Clarita, held a seminar Friday in an effort to provide tools that safeguard personal and financial information.
In partnership with The Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI), the seminar was open to all Santa Clarita residents via zoom Friday in an effort to inform the public on fraud trends frequently occurring throughout the valley, including illegal internet lending and “sweetheart swindles.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon for fraudsters and scam artists,” Valladares said. “While we’re working in the legislature to crack down on these criminals, it’s also important for us to learn how to protect ourselves and that means protecting our personal information.”
Having expressed the increase in scams since the onset of the pandemic, Valladares allowed for speakers to break down some of the trickiest schemes.
“Lonely and isolated since the pandemic, more than 3,000 Californians fell victim to international sweetheart swindles last year, totaling $184 million in losses,” said Jackie Wiley, education and outreach coordinator at DFPI. “(Scammers) manipulate victims and take their money, sometimes in the form of cryptocurrency… and this is just one of the dozens of scams we’ve seen occurring most often.”
Precautionary measures are more important than ever in navigating romantic relationships online. Take steps by verifying people’s photos through reverse image searching, asking a lot of questions and remaining cautious if the person has consistent excuses as to why they cannot see you in person, according to Wiley.
“Never send money to anyone you’ve only conversed with online or over the phone,” Wiley said. “Their sole purpose could be gaining access to your personal information, which is identity theft, and ultimately your money.”
While DFPI speakers identified the sweetheart swindle scam as one of the trendiest frauds and scams, others take the form of affinity fraud, credit and debit card scams, home improvement fraud, illegal internet payday lending, investment fraud, money transmitter fraud and mortgage modifications and foreclosures, according to Wiley.
“I was recently talking to a woman who was shopping on Amazon.com and received an email about an issue with shipping,” Wiley said. “They asked for a reentry of her credit card information, and right after she submitted it, she noticed the email response was sent to the copycat site of Amazon.con.”
When seemingly reputable sites request additional information, it is crucial to hover over the link and clarify whether or not the email is accurate, according to officials.
To make sure you’re on a secure network, notice the https at the beginning of a URL. The “s” stands for secure, or notice a lock on the upper left of your screen, which also means you are on a secure site.
“Be aware of TurboTax and other sites,” Wiley said. “Copycat sites can mirror official IRS websites and carry malware that tracks computer keystrokes and tracks private information.”
During the pandemic and as the war in Ukraine heightens, false charity organizations are also gaining traction and scamming good samaritans by soliciting money over the phone.
“Government agencies are not going to call you,” Wiley said. “Police, charity and fire departments do not call and facilitate for money and it is always best to just hang up.”
During the 2022 tax season, Californians are more susceptible to fraud and while these tips can serve as preventative measures, the DFPI can investigate crimes that have already occurred.
To file a complaint with the department, click here.
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