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.

ATM Scams

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.

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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 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.

Tax Scams

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.

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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.

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.

Area Code 809

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.

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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.

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.

Romance Scams

Online dating services can be a great way to meet people and most of them are legitimate, however, there are a number of phony websites that offer to find that special person for you, but only end up breaking your wallet as well as your heart.  In particular, many of the scams are based outside of the country.  The Russian Republic of Mari El is renowned for its scam romance websites that lure unsuspecting people into sending money to bring over their new loves from overseas only to learn that the entire thing was a scam.

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Check out any dating or romance website with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau or even one of the simplest scam tests is to Google the name of the website with the word “scam” next to it and see what comes up.

Phony Diplomas

A College degree can help you land a good job, but a phony diploma from an organization granting worthless college degrees that require you to do little, if any academic work, but gives you large credit for your “life experience” is just a diploma mill that can, in fact, hurt your chances of getting a job.  There also are easy to recognize scams that just lure people into being a part of the scam by selling you counterfeit diplomas of legitimate colleges.  Either way, you should avoid these education scams.  Some states, such as Oregon have even made it a crime to use a diploma from one of these phony colleges.

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“What’s in a name?”  If you studied Shakespeare in college, you would know that quote comes from “Romeo and Juliet.”  Always check the name of phony colleges because the names may be quite similar to legitimate colleges.  Columbia State University is a diploma mill.  Columbia University is an Ivy League college.  Check out the school at the U.S. Department of Education’s website at www.ope.edu.gov/accreditation to see if the particular institution of higher learning is an accredited college.