You may be heading off for vacation this summer, but scams don't take a break. In fact, scam calls are up 60 percent so far this year and are expected to hit record-setting levels this summer.
Robocalls tend to spike this time of year, according to according to the YouMail Robocall Index. While not all robocalls are scams (some companies do place legitimate automated calls), YouMail estimates that over 27 percent of the 16.3 billion robocalls received in the first five months of 2018 were scams. And the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker shows the number of scams reported to the organization this May and June is almost double the number flagged in 2017.
"There seems to be a pattern of robocalls spiking in the summer following tax season,” Daniel Smith, head of security research at security company Radware, tells CNBC Make It. Criminals are hoping that a few of the people they call daily are actually in debt with the IRS, which could give them leverage to draw in victims, Smith says.
Summer typically brings an influx of travel scams and student loan cons in particular. Here’s how to avoid them.
Travel scams occur year-round but they typically increase during the vacation high season and have gone up 162 percent over the past two months, according to YouMail.
They work because scammers play on people’s desire for something of worth, or the fear that they are losing something of worth, YouMail’s CEO Alex Quilici says. “Travel scammers don’t promise a $100 gift certificate — they promise free cruises and free hotel stays, something with real value,” he explains.
A major red flag is when a “free” trip requires you to pay up. If a company offers you a free vacation but then requires a fee or the purchase add-ons, it’s probably a scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Also, be suspicious of any offers that require you to “verify” your personal information or if you're asked for your credit card number.
“If you receive a call from an unknown caller offering you a free vacation or something else, chances are it is a scam and you should immediately hang up," Smith says.
With college graduation season wrapping up, fraudsters are targeting borrowers with scams promising to eliminate or reduce their debt. Student loan scams are up 23 percent since March, according to YouMail.
“Scammers are very opportunistic,” Dotan Weinman’s, assistant director of the FTC’s division of marketing practices, tells CNBC Make It.
Generally, these scams will promise to negotiate with loan providers to reduce or eliminate your balance. But Weinman says there’s nothing an outside company can do for you that you cannot do for yourself. Promises of “$0 monthly payments” or a chance to wipe out your debt are generally bogus.
"Both criminal robocallers and student loan repayment services can be ruthless in their attempts to contact consumers, even to the point of aggressively calling a single person more than a dozen times per day,” Smith says.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should never pay an upfront fee for a debt forgiveness service. It’s actually illegal for companies to charge anything before they show any results of reducing or eliminating the loan balance, according to the FTC.
One red flag is when a company offers loan forgiveness right off the bat. This process usually takes time and a lot of background information, so be very cautious of anyone promising otherwise. Also, don't work with a company just because they're using a Department of Education seal or boast some other government affiliation. Scammers routinely fake these credentials.
Remember, never give out your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID. If an unknown company asks for it on a robocall, hang up. “Scammers could use it to take control of your personal financial aid information on U.S. Department of Education websites,” says the FTC.
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