The following article was written by Capt. Robert Cipolla of the Wilton Police Department.
Financial fraud is one of the more prevalent crimes investigated by our officers year-round. The holiday season presents increased opportunities for fraudsters. So, with the holiday season upon us, the Wilton Police Department would like to take the opportunity to inform residents about some popular fraud schemes. In addition, we’ll advise on current trends in financial fraud we are seeing in town and provide tips to prevent victimization.
The proliferation of technology has provided many efficiencies in our day-to-day lives, such as shopping online during the holidays. Unfortunately, it has also given rise to technology-enabled fraud.
Looking for a bargain this holiday season? Be wary of deals that may just be too good to be true. If you are locating deals by browsing social media and unfamiliar websites or receiving bargain e-mails or text messages, take pause. Fraudsters can impersonate or appear to be ambassadors for legitimate companies and provide links to “spoofing” websites that serve as a vehicle to harvest your personal identifying information.
Rather than clicking the link or opening an attachment, go to your web browser and actually find the business that is supposedly offering the deal. Also, hovering your mouse over any links will provide you information on the actual URL. For example, hover your mouse over the link below and look in the lower-left corner of your web browser.
While it appears to be a link to Amazon.com, you can see that when clicked it will actually land on our Wilton Police Department webpage. Fraudsters can “spoof” the landing pages to appear as the legitimate website of the vendor they’re impersonating. Once you begin to enter personal identifying information such as passwords and account numbers, the fraudster can collect the data and later use it or sell it on the dark web to facilitate identity theft and account takeover schemes.
The same applies to incoming e-mails. While a person, business, or financial institution’s name may be the most prominent identifier when an e-mail enters your inbox, be sure to examine the full e-mail address of the sender. If the e-mail address is not readily displayed, hovering your mouse over the name should provide you with the full e-mail address. An e-mail address with a foreign domain is a red flag. It is not always who you think it is.
Quite simply, gift cards are for gifts, not for payments. Whether via e-mail, text or phone, if you are being asked to make any payment via gift card, it’s a scam. Often the fraudster will ask the victim to purchase a particular type of gift card (e.g. Apple iTunes, Google Play) and then request the card and PIN number. Don’t do it. Similarly, requests for payment via cryptocurrency, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payment apps or wire transfers are also red flags that it is a scam.
Mail and Package Theft
Even with technology, fraudsters still rely on some very basic, non-tech-enabled methods to facilitate their schemes. Every holiday season we see an increase in the reporting of legitimate package deliveries that are stolen from residents’ front porches. Being aware of when you are expecting a delivery and not leaving it unattended for a prolonged period of time is a good safeguard against losing that special gift to a thief.
In addition, if you are keeping the surprise gift hidden in the trunk of your vehicle, make sure you lock your car. Remember, Lock it or Lose it.
Notwithstanding the holiday season, the most prevalent crime trend we have experienced in Wilton over the last several months is theft from residential mailboxes, where personal checks are stolen, washed/forged, and deposited into unintended bank accounts.
The main image of this article is a map of reported mail theft incidents in the Town of Wilton over the last 60 days.
The United States Postal Service offers some great tips on how to avoid being a victim of mail theft, which can be found in the resources listed at the bottom of this article. The best safeguard is to not mail personal checks from residential mailboxes, but instead bring them directly to the post office to send.
The Hallmarks of a Scam
No matter the type of scam, most fraud schemes follow the same principles to exploit their victims.
- Whether impersonating a family member, friend, co-worker, business or financial institution, scammers will attempt to gain your confidence by impersonating a person or entity familiar to you.
- The scammer will present an opportunity that is often too good to be true or a problem that induces fear.
- A sense of urgency will be created through pressure to act immediately.
- Request for payment will be made via unconventional means such as cryptocurrency, gift cards, wire transfers, and P2P apps.
Remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Do not provide any personal identifying information. Most importantly, slow down, there is no need to act immediately. Discuss it with family, friends or even one of our officers. Often speaking about it out loud with someone will quickly help you realize it is a scam.
If you do find yourself a victim of a scam, don’t be ashamed. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission received 2.8 million fraud reports from consumers. To report anything, please come see us at the Police Department (240 Danbury Rd.) or call us at 203.834.6260.