Avoiding Scams in Costa Rica
It is clear that during the pandemic criminals have streamlined and specialized their tactics in order to take better advantage of governments and its citizens. Scams, for example, have become more common over the past
It is clear that during the pandemic criminals have streamlined and specialized their tactics in order to take better advantage of governments and its citizens. Scams, for example, have become more common over the past year.
Experts such as David Hernández, director of Security at Banco Nacional, clarify that susceptible victims don’t fit a single profile. On the contrary, scams affect people of all socio-economic backgrounds and education levels, making it evident that at-risk users are often too trusting and usually exhibit a low level of digital literacy, regardless of their age.
In 2020 alone, complaints of computer fraud in Costa Rica exceeded 13,000, which represents an increase of 160% compared to 2019 statistics, according to data from the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office for Frauds and Cybercrime. This represents an economic impact of more than ¢7,500 million.
It is impossible to list all of the tricks devised by criminals to achieve their goals since the possibilities are as vast as the imagination. That said, we can, in fact, determine the main characteristics of the scams as well as which scamming procedures stand out as among the most common in Costa Rica.
The Most Common Scams
During the last year, phishing has been the preferred method of fraudsters. This is a technique in which scammers impersonate security officials, relatives, and payment and banking platforms to steal sensitive information or even money. Strategies are varied and always include contact via phone, email, private messages on social media or SMS. Some of the most common tactics are:
False bank or municipal officials: Scammers commonly contact victims by phone to warn them about a sensitive situation or to give them some kind of reward. They will say that it is not necessary to give them any personal data. Instead, they will send an email or text message with a link that will allow them to steal your data.
Fake employer: Criminals create profiles on social media networks to offer fake jobs and gain access to their victims’ information, either at the time of the job application or by contacting you later to tell you that you have been hired and that it is necessary for you to provide your data to continue with the process.
Digital Signature: In this case, scammers call their target to indicate that they can obtain their digital signature without leaving home, despite the fact that this procedure has always been in person. They tell them it is only necessary to visit a almost identical website to a bank page and follow the steps indicated.
Other techniques used by criminals do not necessarily include identity fraud. Many of the most serious scams include actions that seem common and that in the face of carelessness or overconfidence leave the victim compromised. Some of them include:
False buyer, false seller: By buying products online or from a door-to-door salesperson, people might end up falling for a scam by paying in advance for products or services that never arrive, or, alternatively, a customer might send false proof of payment.
Fake lottery tickets and fake checks: The scammer indicates that they cannot cash in on a prize or cannot cash a check and asks for help by offering a monetary reward.
Identity theft: Stealing someone’s personal information to commit actions on their behalf.
Registry fraud: Gangs working with fraudulent notaries use false documents to illegally take ownership of properties or vehicles.
Immigration procedures: Criminals offer services to obtain legal immigration status in the country by posing as immigration employees, recognized companies, or by offering related services.
How do I identify and avoid a scam?
Unfortunately, scammers prey on our emotions and manipulate our trust and fears to take advantage of us. Even so, scams tend to share some characteristics that can help you determine if the interaction is anomalous.
Typically, scammers create a sense of urgency. Whatever the fraudster is warning you about or reporting is urgent and requires immediate action. In addition, the scammer will almost always contact you and may come across as overly nice, respectful, and even innocent. When it comes to online scams, you will likely receive the messages on various platforms, like Facebook Messenger, e-mail, and SMS, among others.
Scammers take advantage of news moments, turning any hot topic into a tool to take advantage of the needs or desires of victims. This is why the situation is generally too good to be true. Both when they are warning you about alleged breaches of the law or offering a reward—whether financial or otherwise—the ease with which the matter is resolved is usually suspiciously fast.
It is important to consider some tips from fraud experts to help protect yourself when contacted by criminals.
– Be wary of any calls from banks or public institutions, even if the phone number seems legitimate.
– Never provide personal or security data such as your username or passwords, ATM PIN, security codes, tokens, card numbers or accounts.
– Install updated antivirus and caller ID software such as TrueCaller on your devices.
– Avoid following links that arrive in your mail or inbox without verifying that their origin is secure.
– Do not install software of unknown origin on your electronic devices.
– Check the reputation of the businesses and services, especially if they require you to make payments or if they are going to handle your sensitive personal information.
– Only carry out payment procedures on trustworthy and previously verified websites.
– Take your time. Above all, avoid falling into the rhythm and urgency of the scammer.
– Always ask for the full name of the person calling you, institution and identification number. If they did it at the beginning of the interaction, ask them to repeat it. Make excuses if necessary, indicating that you need to be spoken to slowly and calmly.
– Protect your social media networks and keep your publications and photos private. Share this information only with your close circle.
– Periodically change your passwords, using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters for added security.
They ripped me off, now what?
If you are the victim of a scam, it is advisable to file a complaint before the OIJ as soon as possible and, in the case of phishing cases, contact the impersonated institution. The officials will guide you through the process but unfortunately, as Yorkssan Carvajal, head of the Fraud Section of the OIJ indicates, there are only a few cases in which it is possible to recover the money or lost goods. Hence, prevention is the best strategy.