Scams are on the rise, and many people don’t realize that airports are a common place for scammers to exploit. AVL has encountered some of these scams firsthand. It’s important to be aware of common scams and to look for red flags.
The “Puppy” Scam
One scam involves someone purchasing an animal (usually a dog) online and being told that it is being shipped to the airport and being held at a specific terminal or hangar. The “purchaser” may be told they must pay customs to retrieve their “cargo.” When they arrive to pick up their animal, they haven’t been given a flight number or airline – this is a red flag. In most cases, the “seller” does not name a known airline, another red flag.
Locally, please be aware that AVL does not have customs, nor a cargo facility. There is no process for freight to be received. Be cautious when purchasing pets (or anything) online and do your research. If someone is unable to give you a flight number or carrier, or if they ask for additional money before you can claim your pet, it’s a scam.
The “Overseas” Scam
Sometimes someone will call AVL and say that they have been trying to fly someone in from overseas, yet will not have a flight number, name, or exact time. The scam victim will have met the person on a pen pal or dating site and will only have communicated via text or e-mail. They will have been told their “friend” is being held at customs and they need to pay a fee to get them out of customs. And new tactic scammers have been using is telling the scam victim that there is a health insurance fee because of COVID, and that their “friend” or cargo is being held in quarantine.
The “red flags” in the Overseas Scam are similar to the Puppy Scam: victims will be given vague information, told that their friend is being held at the airport, and that they need more money in order to complete the transfer. Generally, the victims of these scams will have sent money already, and when asked for more, begin to panic and call the airport to ask questions.
What should you do if you find out you have been scammed?
The first thing to do is report any money you have sent as a fraudulent charge and try to get your money back. If it was via credit or debit card, contact your bank; if it was via wire transfer (like Western Union), contact the service you used. If you sent money via a gift card, contact the company that issued the gift card and tell them it was used in a scam.
Sometimes scammers will try to get you to use a specific app: this is always a red flag. Contact the company behind the app and contact your bank if your credit or debit card was linked to the app. If you sent cash by U.S. Mail, contact the U.S. postal Inspection Service (1-877-876-2455) and ask them to intercept the package.
The most important thing to do if you were scammed is to report it to your local law enforcement and to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-382-4357. There are also websites available to report fraud. Remember that time is of the essence and the sooner you report it the better the chance of holding the person who was responsible accountable and getting your money back.
How do you prevent yourself from being scammed? Before sending any money, look for common red flags that indicate that it might be a scam:
- Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know and trust: Scammers often pretend to be contacting you on behalf of the government. They might use a real name, like the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or Medicare, or make up a name that sounds official. Some pretend to be from a business you know, like a utility company, a tech company, or even a charity asking for donations. They use technology to change the phone number that appears on your caller ID. So, the name and number you see might not be real or even connected to the business that is calling. Use caution when receiving a call claiming to be from a company, especially if they request sensitive information like your social security number or banking information. You will never receive a legitimate phone call from these agencies asking for money or sensitive information.
- Scammers claim there’s a problem or a prize: They might say you’re in trouble with the government. Or you owe money. Or someone in your family had an emergency. Or that there’s a virus on your computer. Some scammers say there’s a problem with one of your accounts and that you need to verify some information. Others will lie and say you won money in a lottery, sweepstakes or inheritance but have to pay a fee to get it. Once again, use caution any time an organization or individual contacts you asking for money. Most often, these calls are scams.
- Scammers pressure you to act immediately: Scammers want you to act before you have time to think. If you’re on the phone, they might tell you not to hang up. This is to keep you from checking out their story or business. They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s license or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted and that all your personal information is at risk. Don’t be pressured. A legitimate organization will give you time and won’t expect you to respond immediately. Take the time to research and see if what is taking place is fraudulent.
- Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way: They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card from Target, Wal-Mart, or even a Visa Prepaid and then giving them the number on the back either over the phone or by text. Some will send you a check (that will later turn out to be fake), tell you to deposit it, and then send them money. By doing this, you may be held responsible to the bank for the amount of the check and any fees. They may even advise you to download a specific app on your phone and send payments through this app. This could give the scammers access to your bank accounts. A legitimate company or organization will not have you pay in an unusual way.
Always do your research when making purchases online or sending money—make sure to look out for red flags and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.