Business, consumer organizations warn of new scams

BIG RAPIDS — Business and consumer protection groups are warning residents throughout the state of a new scam by someone positing as your favorite celebrity.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), these types of imposter scams are similar: a scammer pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money. These celebrity imposters are trying to do the same — separate people from their money.

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Imposters are posing as celebrities and asking fans to send money for all kinds of supposed reasons — claiming prizes, donating to charities or giving help of some kind.

While some celebrities do raise money for legitimate causes, the FTC points out residents should do their research for sending any money and making sure the charity and person asking for support are real.

Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Director Jim Eddinger said it’s important for people to remember scams of any nature offer something too good to be true.

“Nothing in life is free,” he said. “No mater how good it sounds, don’t think you’re above or beyond being duped. These individuals come at you hard and fast. And it goes back to our childhoods, to want to be agreeable with others.”

If someone should receive a call from someone asking for something, it is better to hang up the phone.

“Don’t wait around and find out,” he said. “If you don’t recognize the person asking you for something, just say no. The IRS doesn’t call to collect money from you, your relative visiting Mexico hasn’t been arrested. If you are still concerned after hanging up the phone, call the police.”

Eddinger said it’s important for people not to send anything over the phone or internet.

“It’s important to take a vigilant stand,” he said. “You have to concentrate on these words: Everyone can be tricked in the right situation.”

The FTC is offering these tips to consumers:

• Do some research: search online for the celebrity’s name plus “scam.” Do the same with any charity or cause they’re asking for support — and learn more about charity scams here.

• Never send money, gift cards or prepaid debit cards to someone you don’t know or haven’t met – even celebrities you meet on social media.

• For those who sent money to a scammer, contact the company used to send the money (a bank, wire transfer service, gift card company or prepaid debit card company). Tell them the transaction was a fraud. Ask the company to reverse the transaction, if it’s possible.

• Report your experience to the social media site and to the FTC.

Along the same line, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued a warning Friday to businesses about “whaling,” a variation on phishing which impersonates the CEO or other top official in the company to fool employees into sending the scammer money.

These attacks on management are sometimes called whaling, in reference to the “big fish” targets. The goal is to steal sensitive information such as financial data or personal details about employees. Whaling attacks specifically target senior management who have complete access to sensitive data.

“We believe there has been a recent uptick in whaling scams aimed at businesses, and we want to warn companies to alert their employees about this potential fraud,” says Katherine Hutt, BBB national spokesperson.

By targeting lower-level employees, scammers can gain general access to a business’s inner workings, the BBB said. But by targeting high level executives — the “big fish” — scammers can gain complete top down access to all of a business’s operations.

The BBB offers the following tips to businesses to prevent and prepare for whaling attacks:

• Be wary of short, generic messages. Scammers won’t write a long email; they’ll try to pass off something short and generic as harmless, hoping you’ll click quickly without thinking.

• Double-check before clicking or downloading. A mouse click is all it takes to inadvertently grant access to your computer, accounts and information, or unleash malware on your systems.

• Think about how you share. Never send sensitive, personal or proprietary information via email regardless of who’s asking you for it.

• Watch out for emails to groups. Sending an email “from the CEO” to a staff or employee email list is the fastest way for a scammer to attack and affect an entire business.

• Set up processes. Make sure your company has a procedure for all requests involving sensitive information or payments, and make sure that procedure is followed. For particularly wide-reaching requests or large payments, require employees to check with their manager first.

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

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