5 Scary Wedding Scams to Avoid This Season

The wrong call can mean the difference between an unforgettable wonderful day and a day that makes you angry every time you think about it.

Weddings require many important decisions and the wrong call can mean the difference between an unforgettable wonderful day and a day that makes you angry every time you think about it.

The often unreasonably high expectations of families and friends and at least one spouse-to-be only makes matters more fraught. With such a high level of stress, it’s only a matter of luck that mistakes don’t get made. Scam artists are counting on that.

There will be a repeating theme in this article, and it’s this: Be certain you know who you’re dealing with, and when you think you’re sure, check some more. Here are five wedding scams you want to avoid.

1. Sham Wedding Planners

Scammers take advantage of distraction, and there are few things in life so exquisitely discombobulating as the planning of a wedding. Add to that the high likelihood that the bride and groom may not be overly familiar with different kinds of transactions that help make an event run smoothly — purchases, contracts, rentals, hiring — and you have fertile ground for fraud.

It is a good rule of thumb to look for trouble when anything out of the ordinary comes up. I’ve heard of scams that were run through radio stations, where the “planner” offered a free wedding to a couple who couldn’t afford one and then raised the money from listeners. That counts as out of the ordinary, but the scam that lands in your inbox may be subtler. In the radio scam, vendors are hired but never paid. The “planner” skips town with all the money.

Another familiar scam involves blank checks and the flakiness of many vendor hires. A “planner” will ask the couple for checks written out for a specific amount but without filling in the payee because, they are told, it’s up in the air as to who’s going to get the gig. The scammer cashes all the checks, no one is hired and the wedding doesn’t happen quite so wonderfully as planned. (Here’s what you need to know about bounced checks.)

2. Pricey Wedding Photographer Scams

A photographer shows up and takes pictures. He sends proofs to you. They are tiny and low-resolution, but you can see they are fantastic. Next comes the bill.

Now, wedding photography is expensive, but we’re talking crazy-town prices here. One scammer banked $140,000 before getting nailed. The ruse: Take the money and never deliver the goods or extort a huge payment in exchange for them. The variation on this theme is taking a size-able deposit and simply not showing up.

3. Missing Flowers

When it comes to flower scams, we’re talking about a different line of business but very similar types of fraud. Maybe this scam takes the form of an independent contractor who assures you they make breathtaking arrangements for a fraction of the cost other places charge. All you have to do is write them a check for the flowers you need and show up to your wedding. They’ll handle everything. They never show up, and you can guess the rest.

How to Avoid Vendor Scams

There is no substitute for checking references. You should look for reviews online, but know that this will not help detect a fraudster with several aliases. Ask for references, no fewer than five, and then call them.

Bear in mind that a quality scammer may have a wing man or two, but not five. That said, you never know. Maybe they’ll give you what you request. You still have some agency here. Listen carefully to the references when you call, because if they’re not for real you’ll be able to tell. Get detailed. Be friendly. You’re getting married. They know how great and frenzied that can be (if they are for real).

Additional tactics: Ask about the reference provider’s honeymoon or for the name of another vendor used at their wedding. Be creative. Do your homework, and you won’t get got by these kinds of scams.

4. Gift Theft

According to Vogue, the average cost of a wedding gift in 2016 for a co-worker or distant relative was $50 to $75. For someone closer, it was $75 to $150. While some gifts are purchased online and sent straight to the home of the newlyweds, many are brought to the wedding. And you guessed it — thieves are waiting to steal them.

To avoid the tragedy of walking wedding gifts, make arrangements to either have all the gifts watched or stored somewhere secure.

5. Home Invasion

Nothing like a wedding to signal to a home-invasion specialist exactly when you and your relatives will for sure not be home. The best rule of thumb here is to avoid making public the precise plans for your wedding.

But assuming word gets out, what should you do? Let your neighbors know you’ll be away and ask them to keep an eye on things. If you have an alarm system, make sure it’s armed. It’s also worth calling your local police department to explain your concern. It depends where you live, but they may send a car out to check on your house while you’re away.

Weddings bring out the best and worst in people, but there are ways to ensure you protect what should be one of the most joyous occasions of your life. Avoiding scams is 99.9% a matter of approaching transactions with caution and common sense. When planning your wedding, take the time to make it the time of your life.

Finally, if you have reason to believe you’ve been the victim of fraud, don’t shrug it off. You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: maximkabb

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Boss Asking for Wired Money? It Could Be a Scam

impersonating-CEOS

It’s much easier to steal $1 million from one person than $1 from a million people, so naturally that’s where identity thieves have taken their “industry.” Small-dollar credit card fraud is old, tricking corporations into wiring millions of dollars overseas is in.

At the root of the latest scariest trend in identity fraud is a new twist on an old scam routine: impersonation. But in this con criminals aren’t impersonating a teenager in trouble to trick Grandma into wiring $1,000. They are impersonating executives with urgent requests to pay multi-million-dollar invoices. The scam works because employees naturally want to please their boss.

How the Scam Works

“Glen, I have assigned you to manage file T521,” read one such message sent by a scammer impersonating an executive. It was provided by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in a recent report on this kind of fraud.

“This is a strictly confidential financial operation, which takes priority over other tasks,” the message continued. “Have you already been contacted by [name of person and company]? This is very sensitive, so please only communicate with me through this email, in order for us not to infringe SEC regulations. Please do not speak with anyone by email or phone regarding this.”

Thirty minutes later, the “executive” convinced the employee to make an upfront payment toward an acquisition in China. “Glen” wired $480,000, and didn’t become suspicious until the “boss” asked for a second payment worth millions.

In professional circles, the crime goes by the pedantic name “business email compromise,” but there’s nothing bland about the trend. Reports of the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center have soared — from 1,198 incidents during 2013 to a total of almost 16,000 in the FBI’s most recent report in 2014. Worse yet, losses have grown 1,300% since January 2015, to almost $1 billion.

Individual firms have been hit hard. One technology company reported in an SEC filing last year that it had been hit by a con that led to “transfers of funds aggregating $46.7 million.”

In its report, the AICPA said the scam is so successful because criminals do a lot of legwork to prepare.

“Cybercriminals conduct extensive research online to mimic a company’s email protocols, design and structure. They monitor social networks to target employees who have a working relationship with the senior executive attributed to the fake email,” the report said. “It’s all meant to be plausible enough to persuade the employee to be responsive to the senior executive’s request and to bypass the controls associated with a wire transfer.”

Other elements that make the crime work so well, according to the report:

  • The email address is substantially similar to the purported sender’s address, with very minor, subtle differences. The email display name may appear correct, but when the cursor hovers over the email address, a different underlying address is displayed. For example, if the actual address is CEO@victimco.com, the impersonator address might be CEO@vicitmco.com. (Note the misspelled domain.)

  • Requests occur when the executive is traveling and cannot be contacted.

  • There is an element of urgency or secrecy regarding the disbursement.

  • The amount is within the normal range of transactions so as not to arouse suspicion.

  • Other employees are referred to or copied in the email, however, their email addresses are also modified.

Executive ID theft can take two main forms, the report says. In the first, an employee receives a rather panicky email from a supervisor saying a transaction must be ordered immediately to complete some kind of secret business deal. In the second form, dubbed “strong-armed vendor request,” a criminal pretends to be a vendor with an outstanding invoice — often based on a real invoice. The criminal then asks the payment be redirected to an account they control.

“The fraudulent email contains a PDF file of an invoice that appears to be from the trusted supplier, and the email text and header information appear to contain the hallmarks of an actual business communication from the supplier,” the report said.

At its core, business email compromise is the same old internet scam: There’s the usual time pressure technique, designed to confuse targets so they drop their guard, and the usual irrevocable payment method, such as a wire transfer.

“This sophisticated type of cyberattack is stealing millions of dollars from companies in a manner that should be particularly concerning to company stakeholders because it persuades employees to ignore internal controls,” said Annette Stalker, owner of Stalker Forensics and chair of the AICPA’s Forensic and Litigation Services Committee. “Executive impersonation bypasses the security systems that company IT departments have put in place to neutralize cyberattacks by going where companies and their employees are most vulnerable: their email systems.”

How to Protect Yourself

The time-tested internet fraud advice still holds true: If you ever feel unusual pressure from someone to make any kind of payment, back away from the computer and take a stroll around the block. Hit the pause button. Nearly all scams would fail if victims didn’t bow to time pressure that criminals utilize as their tool of choice. And stick to procedure when making payments, be they $10 credit card transactions to buy a pair of winter gloves or $10 million payments to overseas vendors. Don’t let someone talk you into doing an end-around — such as a one-time wire transfer to a new account — when you are dealing with money. Pauses and procedures are your best fraud-fighting tools.

If you do fall victim to a scam and your personal information is compromised, be sure to keep an eye on your credit, as this can indicate possible fraud. A sudden drop in credit scores, for instance, is a big sign that your identity has been stolen as are mysterious credit inquiries on your credit report. You can view a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: monkeybusinessimages

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