These scams lure victims by telling them that they will be paid to shop at various stores and then report on their shopping experience to market research firms that work for the retailers to help them evaluate and improve their customer relations.
How the scam works is that once the victim signs up for the program, he or she receives a certified bank check to cover the cost of the purchases (which the mystery shopper is allowed to keep) as well as the payment to the mystery shopper for his or her services. The scam artist further instructs the victim to wire back to the scam artist the balance remaining of the funds sent by the certified check. Many victims have thought they were being careful by waiting for the check to clear before making their purchases and sending back the remainder only to find that banks routinely give provisional credit for checks of less than $5,000 within five days. Once the certified bank check is discovered to be a forgery, the bank deducts the amount of the check from the victim’s account. Unfortunately, also deducted from the victim’s account are the funds that the victim wired to the scam artist under the mistaken impression that the certified bank check indeed was an actual certified bank check.
Whenever you are provided payment by check, always wait for the check to truly clear before trusting that the funds are legitimate. One reason that mystery shopping scams work is that there are legitimate mystery shopping jobs although they are relatively few. A good place to check out if a mystery shopping company is legitimate is with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, a trade organization of legitimate mystery shopping companies. Their website can be found at http://www.mysteryshop.org/
As always, you should also check into the particular mystery shopping company you are interested in with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and your local state attorney general.
Working at home sounds very appealing. No commute and you get to work in your pajamas. What could be more convenient than that? Stuffing envelopes, a common work at home scam from the past has been updated to offers of being paid to read emails. The range of work at home scams is constantly changing and evolving, but the result is always the same – rarely are these work at home schemes legitimate nor do they provide any income except for the scammers who operate them. Often the advertisements for these work at home scams appear in legitimate media who have not properly checked out the legitimacy of the advertisement.
As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Check out work at home scams with the big three – your local attorney general, the Better Business Bureau and the FTC. And as always, you can Google the name of the particular company offering you the work at home program with the word “scam” next to it and see what turns up.
For various reasons many people find themselves in debt and in desperation turn to whatever and whomever it takes to help them out. Although there are legitimate credit counseling agencies, there are also many scammers using your financial troubles as an opportunity to steal money from you. They may make unrealistic promises as to being able to fix your credit report immediately, they may attempt to use illegal tactics such as “file segregation” that involve obtaining a new Employer Identification Number for you to substitute for your Social Security number in an effort to illegally hide your past credit history.
Check out any credit counseling or credit repair agency you may be considering with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies along with the Federal Trade Commission and your own state’s attorney general to make sure that they are legitimate.
Your credit report is an important document that can affect not only your ability to get a loan, but even your ability to get a job, an apartment or insurance. Federal law provides for you to be able to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies annually. This is an important thing for everyone to do to make sure their credit report is accurate and that you have not become a victim of identity theft which is often first noticed on your credit report.
Scammers use the free credit report law to scam you in two ways. “Legitimate” companies may offer you a free credit report, but if you read the fine print, you will learn that you also have signed up for services that you may not wish to have that the companies charge you for each month. True scammers will set up realistic looking websites that appear to offer a free credit report, but when you input the necessary information to obtain your free credit report, such as your Social Security number, you actually are providing it to an identity thief who uses the information to steal your identity.
Criminals often flunked grammar so one thing to look for to determine if you are on the legitimate website to obtain your free credit report is to look for misspellings and grammatical errors that scammers often make. Although the domain names for websites offering what appear to be free credit reports appear to be legitimate, the actual official free credit report website address is www.annualcreditreport.com.
Skimmers are small devices that can read a credit or debit card and capture the information on the card for scam artists. They may be installed on an ATM or a gas pump or any other device into which you directly swipe your credit card or debit card. They may also be used as a portable device by a criminal clerk or waiter who takes your card and not only runs it for the legitimate charge for whatever you are purchasing, but also runs it through the skimmer to capture the information to steal access to your credit card or debit card.
As much as possible, when giving your credit or debit card to a clerk or waiter, watch the card to make sure that it is not swiped through a skimmer as well as through the legitimate credit card processing machine. Many restaurants now bring the card processing apparatus to you at your table to avoid this type of criminal activity.
And while you are at it, you should consider using your debit card less because unlike a credit card, the laws that protect you in the event of fraudulent use of the card are greatly limited. While your liability for fraudulent use of your credit card is limited by law to no more than fifty dollars, your potential liability for fraudulent use of your debit card that you do not catch in a timely fashion could be the emptying of the checking account to which your debit card is attached.
Using an ATM is a very convenient way to access your bank account. Unfortunately, it is also a very convenient way for scam artists to access your bank account as well, often with your assistance.
The primary way ATM’s are compromised is through the use of a small device called a “skimmer” which fits over the slot where you put your bank card. The skimmer reads the information embedded in your card, which is half the battle to accessing your account. Often criminals will install cameras by the ATM to read your PIN as you input it into the ATM. These cameras may even appear to be the security cameras used your bank. Other times they may even install a keyboard over the regular keyboard to capture your PIN.
Always check an ATM before using it to see if it appears to have been tampered with and when you input your PIN, shield the keyboard from any cameras or prying eyes.
Social Security like all complex federal programs is ripe for scammers taking advantage of people’s confusion. Whether it is someone contacting you by telephone purporting to be from the Social Security Administration to confirm your Social Security number and your bank account number for direct deposit of your Social Security check to someone telling you that they can get back all of your contributions to Social Security on your behalf in one check to someone telling you that you need to provide information to them to be eligible for Cost of Living Adjustments, the end result is the same, you get scammed, lose money and become the victim of identity theft.
Never give your personal information to someone whom you have not called and are not sure who they are. If you think a call may be legitimate (and it won’t be if they are looking to confirm your direct deposit information), just call Social Security at a number you know is accurate. As for getting all of your contributions in one lump sum, it is a total scam. The law does not provide for such a payment. And you never have to apply or provide any information to anyone to get your Cost of Living Adjustment. The increase is automatic.
Tax scams are rampant although they do spring up more in the Spring as we get ready to pay our income taxes. Most of the scams prey on two conflicting motivations. The first is our fear of the IRS and doing something wrong in filling out our taxes and the second is the desire to avoid paying taxes. Either way, you are a potential victim of the tax scammer.
First and foremost, don’t believe the scammer who tells you that the income tax is illegal and that he or she can show you why you don’t need to pay taxes. The income tax is legal. That is all there is to it. People with contrary opinions have gone to prison for tax evasion.
Some people may receive forms from the IRS on line, often asking personal information such as your Social Security number or even your credit card number. The IRS does not communicate with taxpayers on line so don’t fall for this scam.
Consider the source for any tax advice you get. Don’t rely on people telling you that you don’t have to pay taxes because that is what you want to hear. Always check out the qualifications of any tax adviser. And if you are contacted by someone purporting to be the IRS asking for information, if you have any concerns that the contact may be legitimate, contact the IRS at a number that you know is legitimate.
Caller ID is a great service that permits you to see who is calling you on your phone so you can determine whether to answer it or just let it go to voice mail. It also is a great service to scam artists who use it to lure people into providing personal information that can lead to identity theft by appearing to be from your bank or local court or some other trusted institution. They then trick you into giving them personal information, such as your Social Security number that leads to identity theft.
Don’t trust caller ID. Never give out personal information to anyone who calls you unless you are absolutely sure of their identity. If you have any doubts, call the real institution that they claim to be at a number that you know is accurate and you can confirm whether indeed your original call was legitimate.
Have you ever heard of area code 809? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t because it probably is not an area code with which you would be familiar unless you make a lot of calls to the Caribbean. Similar to the 900 scam, you may receive a call in your voice mail telling you that you have won a contest or even that someone you know has gotten into difficulties and needs your help. In any event, you are prompted to call a number beginning with the area code 809 which at charges of $25 per minute can run up your phone bill to outrageous levels quite quickly.
Always be skeptical of any call instructing you to call the area code 809 unless you truly do know who is calling and that they are in the Caribbean.