When the Johnson C. Smith University student got an email from a giant consumer products company offering an internship, he wasn’t going to blow the chance.
All he needed to do, the email instructed, was deposit the $8,000 cashier’s check they would send to him, then wire that money to affiliates in Florida to buy a software program he’d need for the job.
Later, when the young man’s bank notified him that the check was fraudulent and he was overdrawn by $8,000, he realized he’d been had.
This local incident, shared with Tom Bartholomy, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont, illustrates one top trend affecting consumers in the year ahead: scams against millennials.
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Anxiety over finding a job and paying off student loans, and a feeling of invincibility, creates a formula that makes millennials especially vulnerable, Bartholomy says.
“It comes down to that aura of ‘That’s not going to happen to me,’ ” Bartholomy says. “Especially with millennials, they are tech savvy, but they’re not very scam savvy. One of our new jobs at BBB is to get millennials more in tune with what scams are being set up specifically to prey on them.”
This upcoming year, consumers will see continued warnings about identity theft, more local competition among internet providers, and rising home prices and interest rates. Here’s a preview of consumer topics you’ll hear about in 2017, according to the local BBB, Federal Trade Commission and Internal Revenue Service:
▪ Identity theft: This remains a significant threat, even a decade after President Bush formalized the fight by creating an identity theft task force. Nearly 500,000 consumers filed identity theft complaints last year that affected their banking, medical and other personal information, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Earlier this month, Yahoo acknowledged it had experienced the world’s biggest hack three years ago, affecting 1 billion users, which could mean trouble for any users who reused their Yahoo password for other online accounts.
Consumers can help themselves by taking certain measures, from shredding banking, credit card and medical statements, to destroying prescription labels before throwing out bottles, to mailing letters via the post office or collection box instead of their personal mailbox, according to the FTC. And if you’re changing over to a new mobile device you’ve received over the holidays, the FTC urges making sure you’ve permanently removed your information before disposing or selling the old one.
▪ Rising mortgages and interest rates: Mortgage rates have jumped since the Nov. 8 election of Donald Trump. And earlier this month, the Federal Reserve, citing improvement in the U.S. economy, raised short-term U.S. interest rates for only the second time in a decade.
Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on 30-year fixed-rate loans jumped to an average 4.30 percent from 4.16 percent last week and the highest since April 2014. The average for a 15-year mortgage rose to 3.52 percent from 3.37 percent last week and the highest since January 2014.
With rates moving back up, Bartholomy warns that consumers can expect a surge of fraudulent online loan “offers” – “get it now before the rates go higher.” A big warning sign that the offer is fake: there’s a fee that has to be paid up front, he says.
▪ Back-to-school season stings: Callers are targeting college students and parents via phone calls to pay non-existent taxes, such as the “federal student tax,” according to the Internal Revenue Service.
There’s also a surge of “friendly fraud” among millennials in August and September, when students go off to college, according to the BBB: Students meet new roommates and friends, who spy credit cards and drivers licenses left out in the open, and use them to make online purchases and open up new lines of credit.
Also be on the lookout for emails or direct mail involving student loans and fraudulent offers for refinancing, according to the BBB. Big warning signs that these are fake are requests for application fees to be paid by wire or prepaid debit cards.
▪ Competition among local internet providers: Google Fiber’s expansion into Charlotte this year sparked competition for high-speed service, with AT&T and Time Warner Cable rolling out faster speeds.
While BBB hasn’t heard of a downside yet from other cities that also have a lot of competition, it will watch to see what develops in 2017, Bartholomy says.
▪ “Free money from the government” offers: This month brought a surge in phony offers related to a new president taking office, similar to what happened in 2009 when President Obama took office, according to the BBB.
An example: calls or email saying federal money and government grants up to $10,000 need to be dispersed before Obama leaves office – with the solicitor requiring an $800 application fee to assist in getting the grant.
▪ Ransomware on cell phones: Instead of a phishing attack via email, Bartholomy calls it a SMShing attack via cell. These texts look like they come from major retailers, and urge recipients to click a link for a $1,000 gift card. That link instead downloads ransomware, which remotely locks a user’s phone until they pay money.
That attack can also come in a reverse form of sorts, Bartholomy says. A message from what appears to be a real company says your account password has changed, and if you didn’t do this, click here. “You invite them in by clicking that link,” which can shut down your phone or computer.
The Associated Press contributed.