Skimmers

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.

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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.

Social Security Scams

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.

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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.

Phony Caller ID

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.

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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.

900 Numbers

We all know that 800 telephone numbers represent toll free calls, but you should be equally aware that a telephone number that starts with 900 is a pay per call.  Scammers will call you and leave a message to call them in regard to a contest you have won or any other ruse to get you to return the call.  Once they have you on the line, they do everything possible to prolong the call and increase the charges on your phone bill.  Some scammers will have you call an 800 number, but then have you press the number 9 to verify your phone number without realizing that you have just transferred the call to a 900 number.

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Consider having your phone service provider block access to 900 numbers from your phone.   The FTC regulates 900 numbers and requires that you be asked at the start of the call to pay with a credit card or to make billing arrangements at that time.  If you have been scammed by a 900 number charge that appears on your phone bill, call your phone provider as tell them to remove the charge from your bill.

Cramming

Cramming is the term for unauthorized charges appearing on your telephone bill.   These charges may be one-time affairs or they may be regular monthly charges.  Today’s telephone bills are pretty confusing and scammers who use cramming bank on the fact that many people just don’t pay enough attention to the details of their bills.  So how do these charges get on our bills?  The sad truth is that we authorize them, often by signing up for sweepstakes of other contests.  Booths offering free trips or free merchandise are found frequently at sporting events and other public gatherings.  Read the fine print on the card that you use to sign up for the drawing and you may see that you have also signed up for a telephone service.

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Always read the fine print.   Rarely is their ever anything fine to be found in fine print.  Always be skeptical of free contests.  Make sure they indeed come without obligation and be careful of what personal information you give out to enter a contest.  It also is smart to check out your phone bill each month.  To determine if you have been crammed, look for terms such as “Miscellaneous charges and credits,” “member fee” or other charges that you don’t recognize.

Security while shopping online

Shopping on line can be a tremendous convenience.  It also can be an easy opportunity for a scammer to steal your identity or your money.  Here are some simple tips to keep in mind when shopping on line.

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Never shop on a website unless its domain name starts with “https.”  The extra “s” is the key letter because it means that the site is secure and the data is encrypted for your safety.

Consider using a temporary credit card number for online purchases.  Purchases will be charged to your regular credit card number, but even if the temporary number falls into the hands of identity thieves, it cannot be used to access your credit card.  You can get a temporary card number from your credit card issuer.

Don’t shop on your computer in public places where you cannot be sure of the security of the Wifi.

Keep your computer security software up to date

Don’t let websites where you shop store your credit card and other information because in the event of a breach of their security, your security also gets breached.

What is an Ebay scam?

The tremendous popularity of eBay, the Internet auction website has made it a frequent target of scammers.  One of the more common scams that keeps occurring involves the receipt by the victim of an email purporting to be from PayPal informing you that there has been a computer problem and that you need to log on to your account to confirm your personal information in order to keep your eBay account operational.  The link provided in the email to connect you to PayPal’s website is an excellent example of phishing because although the website to which you go to if you click on the link looks like eBay, it is a phony website that exists merely to harvest your personal information if you provide it to the scammer.

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If you ever get such an email and you are tempted to respond, merely contact eBay independently rather than by clicking on the address provided in the email.

What is Malware?

Malware is the term for malicious software that you unwittingly download on your computer when you click on links in emails from scammers or fall prey to phishing and download the program from a phony website to which you were lured in the belief that it was a legitimate website.

One of the most common and dangerous types of malware is the keystroke logging program which is often referred to as a Trojan horse.  Once this malware is installed on your computer, the scammer is able to access all of the information on your computer and can provide the scammer with access to your bank accounts, credit cards, brokerage accounts or any other information that is contained on your computer.

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Never click on links unless you are absolutely sure it is legitimate.  Also make sure you have an operating firewall on your computer and your computer security software is up to date.