Once an obscure program, TSA PreCheck gained a lot of popularity due to its travel rewards credit cards offering credits for enrollment. Unfortunately, this popularity has a downside: scammers.
Just in time for vacation travel, scammers have begun targeting travelers with fraudulent emails and fraudulent websites aimed at renewing TSA PreCheck. The goal is to get the renewal fee And the Your personal information for potential future fraud.
We spoke to former FBI analyst Crane Hasold, who now serves as director of threat intelligence at Abnormal Security, to get more information about how to spot these scams and what to do if you find yourself the target of one.
Detecting TSA PreCheck scams can be difficult
Perhaps the most disturbing part about the new scams is that they are very detailed. Hasold says the scammers took a lot of time and effort to deliver accurate fakes that closely mimic TSA’s original emails and websites. This can make it difficult to know if you have a legitimate website or a fraudulent one.
“Unlike other scams we see every day, these fraudulent TSA PreCheck emails are actually quite sophisticated,” Hasold said. “The normal red flags we ask people to look out for don’t really exist.”
On the plus side, Hasold says there are still things you can look for to decide if you’re dealing with scammer bait. The most obvious one will be the sender’s email address. You should also watch out for payment requests that appear to be broken.
“Actual emails from the TSA will be sent from a government email address, while these fraudulent emails will be sent from a .com address,” Hasold said. “Official payments to government services in general can also be made using a variety of methods, but the only ‘application fee’ payment method required in the scam is PayPal.”
Since the TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may also receive emails or notifications from DHS. These should also contain a .gov address.
Use a trusted search engine to find direct links
Given how difficult it can be to distinguish a fraudulent email from a legitimate email, the best advice is to avoid using email links to access your account. Instead, use a trusted search engine to go directly to the TSA or DHS website.
As with TSA email addresses, the official website will have a .gov domain, rather than .com or .org. You should also look for the lock icon near the website bar in your browser to ensure that you are on a secure website.
Once you click on the Apply or Renew links on the TSA website, you are taken to the Global Registration page. This is part of the DHS website and should contain the DHS.gov domain.
Report account fraud to the police and the Federal Trade Commission
Despite your best efforts, you may end up a victim of one of these complex scams. When asked what to do if you suspect a scam, Hasold agrees with advice from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that you should follow these steps:
- Report the fraud to your local police department
- Submit a report to the Federal Trade Commission website (ReportFraud.ftc.gov)
- Alert your credit card issuer or bank about fraudulent charges
This last step is especially important if you want your money back. The TSA website specifically says that TSA is not responsible for reimbursing anyone who attempts to register or renew a TSA PreCheck account through a fraudulent website.
Scammers may get smarter, but there are still things we can do to thwart their efforts. With a little extra vigilance, you can avoid falling victim to fraud this holiday season.
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