Scam of the day – March 5, 2012 – Spring Break Scams

Scammers exploit every opportunity and the upcoming college Spring Break vacation period is a tremendous opportunity to scam students and their parents.  Similar to the Grandparent scam which I have described in an earlier Scam of the Day, it often involves the parents or grandparents of a student who is away from home on vacation receiving a telephone call from a third party telling them that their child or grandchild has had a medical emergency or has been arrested and needs cash for emergency expenses, bail or a lawyer.  Generally, they advise that the cash be wired, which is always a cause of concern because once money has been wired, it is gone.  It is not like a credit card charge that can be put back on to your credit card if the charge is shown to be fraudulent.  Often the scammers get the names and telephone numbers of the vacationing students and their parents from the students’ cell phones which they may leave unattended on a beach, in a backpack or some other unsecure location.

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Never wire money unless you are absolutely sure about to whom you are wiring the money and it is not a scam.  If a claim about a medical or legal emergency is made, contact the hospital or legal authorities in the area to confirm that the information is accurate.  Make sure that you have the cell phone numbers of anyone with whom your child or grandchild is traveling so you can confirm any calls claiming that an emergency has arisen.  Call the child directly on his or her cell phone to confirm the story.  Students traveling abroad should register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/.  This program can help with communications in an emergency situation.

Scam of the day – March 4, 2012 – Phony Sweepstakes

I recently received an email from the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes telling me that I had won a major prize.  There is only one problem.  Publishers Clearing House does not notify winners by email.  Phony contests and sweepstakes have been a common and lucrative scam for many years and people still fall victim to them.  It is hard enough to win a contest that you enter, however, it certainly is difficult to win a contest you have not even entered.  Scammers use phony contests to gather personal information from you, such as your Social Security number to make you a victim of identity theft.  Other times they require you to send in money for taxes or administrative fees.  This is a tip off that the contest is a phony.  Real contest holders never ask you for tax money to be paid to them.

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Don’t pay anything to anyone who has told you that you have won a sweepstakes and of course, do not give out your personal information to anyone telling you that you have won a contest that you have not entered.  You can contact your local Attorney General or the FTC for information about purported sweepstakes.

Scam of the day – March 3, 2012 – Tax credit scam

It may not be rabbit hunting season as Daffy Duck said in an old cartoon nor is it duck hunting season as Bugs Bunny said in the same cartoon, but it certainly is tax scam season and will be right up until (and past) the tax filing deadline.

The latest scam which the IRS has uncovered involves scammers telling people that they are eligible for tax credits based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit when the victims are clearly not eligible for the credit.  The  real American Opportunity Tax Credit program provides tax credits to parents and students to pay for college expenses.  However, scammers are telling people that they are eligible for the tax credits even though they have not gone to school for many years.

Many low income Americans as well as members of particular churches have been specifically targeted by these scams.

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Always be wary of people or companies offering your religious or fraternal organization tax services in which they promise refunds or credits.  Always check the credentials of anyone who offers to assist you with your income taxes.  You can check with the IRS or your state Attorney General.  As for this particular scam based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a good place to start in evaluating whether the program applies to you is if you are not enrolled or paying for college, you are not eligible.  It is as simple as that.

Scam of the day – March 2, 2012 – Tornado scams

Natural disasters such as the recent tornados in the Midwest bring devastating destruction of property and loss of life, but unfortunately, they also bring scammers looking to take advantage of the situation for their monetary gain.  Victims of the storms should be wary of people claiming to be government officials, representatives of disaster relief organizations or insurance adjusters.  Always confirm their identity and never give personal information, such as your Social Security number to anyone whose identity you have not confirmed.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Also beware of people claiming to be loan brokers who represent that, for a fee, they can guarantee a low interest loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  When it comes to home repairs, check out the reputation of any contractor you are considering with the Better Business Bureau and your state Attorney General.  Also, make sure that they are fully bonded.  Finally, for people who are considering giving to charities to help the victims, make sure that you are giving to a legitimate charity and not a phony one set up by a scammer.

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To check out the legitimacy of a charity or even to see how much of what you contribute actually goes to the charitable purposes of a legitimate charity go to www.charitynavigator.org.

Scam of the day – March 1, 2012 – iPad3 scam

Ahead of Apple’s expected announcement next week of the release of the iPad3, the Internet is full of scams, many of them found on Twitter and Facebook for free iPad3s.  They are all scams.  Generally, these phony offers are used as lures that either take you to the relatively harmless, but still annoying surveys for which the scammer is paid by commission for each person who takes the survey or, in a more serious vein, results in your unwittingly downloading keystroke logging software, sometimes called Trojan Horses, which are able to read all of the information on your computer, including credit card information, bank passwords and other financial data that can result in you becoming a serious victim of identity theft.  Many people trust the offers because they appear on their Facebook page without realizing that it is a relatively simple matter for a Facebook page to be hacked into and an offer can appear to be forwarded to you by a trusted friend when, in fact, it is coming from a scam artist.

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The old adage still holds.  If it appears to good to be true, it generally is.  never click on any link that is not from a source that you are absolutely sure is legitimate.  If you are not sure, but still want to consider going to the link, make sure that you confirm that any link you are clicking on is absolutely legitimate.  Otherwise the risk is too great.  And always keep your firewall and security software up to date.

Scam of the day – February 29, 2012 – Identity theft update

Yesterday, the Consumer Sentinel Network, which compiles data received from many federal agencies that deal with scams and other fraud released its annual report which again showed the number one scam in America continues to be identity theft.  Also high on the list of consumer complaints were sweepstake and lottery scams.  According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, Americans lost more than 1.5 billion dollars to scams and these figures actually less than the true figures because they only reflect the data received by the various federal agencies reporting tot he Consumer Sentinel Network.  Many scams go unreported.  The most common identity theft scams involved government documents and benefits, credit card fraud, phone or utility fraud and bank fraud.

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Don’t be a victim.  Protect yourself from the various ways that clever identity thieves steal your identity.  Check out the list of common identity theft scams on this website for tips as to how to protect yourself and for more detailed information, get a copy of “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity and Your Credit” and “The Truth About Avoiding Scams.”

Scam of the day – February 28, 2012 – Justin Bieber Facebook Scam

Everyone is on Facebook and that includes scammers.  A common scam that utilizes Facebook to scam its victims involves a notice on your Facebook page promising to lead you to something that many people would be interested in.  The most recent incarnation of this scam is a posting that promises to provide you with a hidden camera sex video of Justin Bieber and his girlfriend Selena Gomez.  If you click on the link, it may take you to an online survey that earns money for the scammer who makes a commission off of every click to the survey.  Although being sent to an online survey is annoying, the potential problems you could encounter by clicking on such a link can move from the annoying to the dangerous because some of these links download key stroke logging malware on your computer that allows the scammer to read everything on your computer including your Social Security number, bank account information and credit card information.  The effect on your finances can be devastating.

Teh Justin Bieber ploy is nothing new.  It is only the most recent of this ilk.  Recently a number of such links promised to provide pictures surrounding the death of Whitney Houston.  Whatever and whomever is in the news will be used by scammers to lure you into being a victim of their crime.

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Never click on a link from a source of which you are not totally convinced is legitimate.  Even links that you may receive from friends on Facebook can turn out to be from someone who hacked their account.  Always confirm before clicking.

Scam of the day – February 27, 2012 -Grandparent Scam

Although this scam is by no means new, it is having a bit of a resurgence lately with recent reports of the scam reappearing in nineteen states.  Law enforcement believes that many of the scammers inflicting this scam upon unwary grandparents are located overseas.  Generally the scam starts when a grandparent receives a telephone call from someone purporting to be their grandchild, who has encountered problems, such as an automobile accident, an arrest or other emergency while traveling in another country.  The “grandchild” then pleads with the grandparent to send money to assist the grandchild in need.  The money is requested to be sent by wire.  Often the scammer will provide details that “prove” he or she is the grandchild, however, this proof may have been merely taken from social media sites or other easily accessible sources.   A significant number of grandparent scam calls have followed a death in a family where family names may have appeared in an obituary.

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If you receive such a call, contact the parents or other source of accurate information as to the correct whereabouts of the grandchild.  Always be wary of requests to wire funds because once money is wired, it is almost impossible to get the money back.

Scam of the day – February 26, 2012 – Mortgage Settlement Scams

Whatever is in the news is always fodder for scammers.  Whether it is scams that lure people in with claims of photographs of Osama Bin Laden following his fatal shooting or photographs of Whitney Houston dead in her bathtub, scammers always manage to appeal to our curiosity about whatever is current in the news.

Many people were harmed by the actions of major banks in regard to their mortgage loan and foreclosure practices.  Following legal action by the federal goverment and the state attorneys general, a partial settlement was reached with Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial (formerly known as GMAC) by which these banks will provide 1.5 billion dollars in cash payments to 750,000 former borrowers whose homes have been foreclosed upon and another 20 billion dollars to be paid to provide some financial relief to some other distressed homeowners who have not been foreclosed upon.

But no good deed goes unpunished and the scam artists are right there taking advantage of the confusion brought about by people not understanding how the settlement works.  Recently, scammers have been calling homeowners posing as representatives of the banks.   They tell their victims that they are eligible for the settlement and that they have to pay a fee to participate in the settlement.  They go on to ask for bank account information in order to be able to deposit the settlement funds into the homeowner’s account.  However, their real goal is to take the fees as well as access the homeowners’ bank accounts and never be heard of again.

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The mortgage settlement is complicated, however, you should be aware that there are no fees for particpating in the program.  The best place to go for information upon which you can rely is the website of the mortgage settlement which is www.nationalforeclosuresettlement.com.  You will find the real story behind the mortgage settlement there as well as directions as to how to determine whether you are eligible for any of the funds and how to claim any funds for which you may be eligible.  As always, be careful when typing in the domain name in your browser to insure that you are not being sent to a website of the scammers that is just slightly different from the proper website.  You also can contact your own state’s attorney general for help and guidance.

Scam of the day – February 25, 2012 – Internet Employment Scam

The FBI is warning people about a new scam in which people who have either posted their resume on line looking for work or responded to an on line advertisements for employment are contacted by scammers claiming to be a research company seeking to hire the unwary victim to complete a survey on wire transfer services provided by various wire transfer companies, allegedly in order to evaluate the efficiency of these money transfer services.  Upon agreeing to do the work, the victims are sent a certified check by mail which they are instructed to deposit into their own checking account.  They are further instructed to wire a portion of the funds back to the company and keep the balance as their fee within twenty-four hours or they will be reported to the FBI and face a penalty of up to twenty-five years in jail.  It is only after the victim has forwarded money from his or her checking account that he or she learns that the original “certified check” was counterfeit and worthless, but the funds that they wired to the scammer is gone forever from their checking account.  Most victims have lost at least $2,500 as a result of this scam.  To make things worse, the counterfeit checks look real and, according to federal banking regulations,  banks will give provisional credit to the counterfeit check within five days of its deposit so the unwary victim may believe that the check has actually cleared while the truth is that the credit to his or her account will later be reversed when the check fails to clear and the victim, who thought the money to cover the funds he or she wired to the scammer was in his or her account, will learn that the check he or she received was a worthless counterfeit.

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Always be wary of any business transaction that asks you to wire money.  Once you have wired money it is gone.  If you receive a purported certified check, contact the bank issuing the check to confirm that the check is legitimate and that there are sufficient funds in the account.  Finally, wait for the check to fully clear before doing anything with the money contained in a certified check.