Friday 27 January 2023

The 10 most common scams of December in Costa Rica

Scams, robberies and fraud increase in December because there is a lot of money in the hands of many in a short time frame

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27 January 2023 - At The Banks - BCCR

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QCOSTARICA – Starting last Friday, December 4, a large number of breteadores (employees) receive the Aguinaldo, Christmas bonus, followed up by the regular salary on the 15th and 30th for the month of December.

The aguinaldo puts a lot of cash in people’s pockets in December and scammers, thieves, fraudsters are ready

Corporate dividends and year-end bonuses are common in December, which means there is a lot of money in our hands in a very short time frame.

Scammers, fraud artists and thieves are well aware of that and use this time of the year to part to put into practice their craft, to part you with your money, that include falsifying profiles and banks and public institutions, offer false prizes, travel promotions, inheritances and other scams to obtain sensitive information to use it empty your bank account or allowing you to willingly hand over your hard-earned salary.

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Though anti-socials operate year-round, come November they prepare and improve their skills for the start of December.

Every salaried employee, in the private and public sector, will receive 13th month salary. While the law requires it to be paid by not later than December 20, many employers pay well ahead of that date, some even in the first days of the month, such as the Central Government did on December 4, depositing some ¢220 billion colones to public employees bank account.

“During these times the bank reinforces their physical security measures and transactional monitoring,” explained Carlos Astorga Gamboa, manager of Corporate Services of the Bank of Costa Rica (BCR).

Here are 10 of the most common scams and frauds:

  1. Phishing: a cybercrime in which a target or targets are contacted by email, telephone or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution to lure individuals into providing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, banking and credit card details, and passwords.
  2. Vishing: One form of phishing, which is any type of message — such as a phone call, text message, or direct-chat message — that appears to be from a trusted source, but isn’t. The goal is to steal someone’s identity or money. It’s getting easier to contact more people, too.
  3. IBAN account change scam: They use real or false names of officials of a bank or government and tell their victims of the need of personal bank data to “give” a new bank account number.
  4. Ransomware: A malicious software that infects your computer and displays messages demanding a fee to be paid in order for your system to work again. This class of malware is a criminal moneymaking scheme that can be installed through deceptive links in an email message, instant message or website.
  5. Counterfeit money scam: The scam artist approaches their victim with a ¢20,000 colones bill, for example, and asks for an exchange to smaller bills. The victim is short changed in the transaction. This scheme works well in Costa Rica because many places won’t accept a ¢20,000 bill for payment, ie paying a bus fare.
  6. Wrong deposit scam: A guy calls and tells you that he had problems with a deposit and that is why he/she needs more information to be able to deposit. People drop their guard and provide the sensitive information to the smooth talker.
  7. Cashing false or altered checks: Due to alleged “lack of time” or lack of documents, the scammer says he cannot cash a check and offers the victim a nice reward for fast cash. This works well in Costa Rica as checks, even drawn at the same bank, take a few days to clear.
  8. Deposit scam: This scam works well because many people do business through social networks: the customer arrives with a false copy of an alleged bank deposit and asks to be given them their purchase, then instantly disappears with the merchandise. This scam works because of the difficulty of small businesses to obtain a card processing account, asking customers to do a bank deposit prior to picking up their purchase. The scammer is betting on the merchant not verifying the deposit before handing over the merchandise.
  9. Change of fake lottery: Due to some urgency – misplaced cedula, for example, they cannot cash in the lottery and ask for help offering a monetary reward.
  10. Identity Theft: This crime consists of using the personal information of another individual to commit fraud on their behalf.

Protecting yourself

The following advice applies to nationals and ex-pats alike, though foreigners can be more easily duped for being ingenuous, unsuspecting or lacking malice to the ways of Costa Rica.

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Never share, with anyone, data such as your password, security key, dynamic key, virtual Key, debit and credit card number, or other personal information with any person, no matter who they say they are or from where. No bank will ask you for this confidential information either by phone or by any other means.

Do not download applications from untrusted websites, use official stores, and use passwords with at least 12 digits (considering a combination of uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters). Memorize your password, change it from time to time, and do not share it with anyone.

The above applies to pin numbers as well. In my case, all the cards I carry in my wallet have the same pin number. However, I also carry, in the same wallet, a series of pin numbers (matching the number of cards in the wallet). None of them work on any card. Most ATMs or websites limit the number of tries before blocking the card.

Emails with links to web pages with nasty viruses can part you with your confidential information and money. Check the header of the email, never click on a link if you suspect the email. The link will direct you to fake sites, but then too late, your computer or cell phone has been hacked.

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Do not tell anyone that you are going to withdraw money from a bank. Not even your most trusted and closest friend. At the bank, keep your wits about you, scan the surroundings before entering the bank.

If using an ATM, do not do it at night or in isolated areas.

Post your experiences and/or advice on our official Facebook page, Twitter or send me an email.


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"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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