Scam of the day – April 7, 2017 – Criminal identity theft victim sues police deparment

The problems encountered by someone whose identity has been stolen by a criminal who then commits crimes in the name of the identity theft victim are tremendous.   Victims of criminal identity theft have been arrested for crimes they never committed and often have had difficulty having the crimes, committed by someone who stole their identity, removed from their records.  John Ganley is suing the Albuquerque police department after being arrested for crimes committed by someone who had stolen his identity.  Ganley, who has no criminal record alleges the police were negligent in prosecuting him and that the entire matter caused him great distress and a worsening of his Crohn’s disease which can be affected by stress.

TIPS

If you find that you are a victim of criminal identity theft, you should hire a lawyer and contact the police as well as the District Attorney’s office to straighten out the matter.  File a report indicating that you are the victim of identity theft.  It will be necessary for you to confirm your true identity through photographs and fingerprints. In addition, show law enforcement authorities your driver’s license, passport or any other identification that you might have that contains your photograph.

Get a letter from the District Attorney explaining the situation to have available if you are ever stopped for a traffic violation and your record is checked.  A few states have Identity Theft Passport programs through which anyone whose identity has been stolen by someone who uses it to commit crimes can, upon proving their identity, receive an Identity Theft Passport that protects them and confirms their true identity .  Even if your state does not have an Identity Theft Passport program, get a letter from the law enforcement agency that arrested the person using your name known as a “clearance letter” which indicates that you have not committed the crimes which were done by the identity thief who used your name.  Keep this document with you at all times.

Scam of the day – April 6, 2017 – New service being offered by the US Postal Service

Starting April 14th you will be able to sign up for a free service of the U.S. Postal Service that will send you an email each morning with images of the mail you will be receiving later that day.  This service had been done on a pilot basis since 2014 in parts of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C..

Identity theft through the stealing of mail such as credit card statements and bank statements from your mailbox is a significant problem and this new program will both alert you as to when to look for important mail, as well as let you know if such important mail has been stolen from your mailbox so you can respond more quickly.

TIPS

Unless you live in one of the areas involved in the pilot program, you cannot sign up for the program until April 14th.  Here is the link to go to sign up.  https://informeddelivery.usps.com/box/pages/intro/start.action

It is important to note that if you do sign up for the service, you should use a unique and complex password to prevent identity thieves from hacking your account to let them know when important mail that they can exploit for identity theft purposes will be arriving to your home.

Scam of the day – April 5, 2017 – iCloud phishing scam

Reports are surfacing of scammers posing as Apple employees calling people and telling them that there has been a security breach of their iCloud accounts.  They are then instructed to provide their login information in order to receive help in fixing the problem.  Unfortunately, these telephone calls are not from Apple, but from scammers who, when provided with the personal information from their victim, are able to access all of the information and material contained in the victim’s iCloud account for purposes of identity theft, extortion or other nefarious goals.

It was through a similar iCloud phishing scam done through emails that many celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence had nude photos stolen from their iCloud accounts when they turned over their usernames and passwords to hackers.

In the present phone call phishing incarnation of the scam, many of the calls are coming from the 844 area code which is a toll free number used in many instances by scammers.

TIPS

Apple does not contact its customers by phone if there is a security problem.  It is also important to remember that whenever you are contacted by telephone, you can never be sure who is actually making the call which is why you should never provide personal information to anyone over the phone whom you have not called.  Even if your Caller ID indicates the call is legitimate, scammers can use a technique called spoofing to trick your Caller ID into indicating that the call is from a trusted source when, in truth, it is coming from a scammer.

If you do have a problem with any Apple product, you can call Apple tech support at 800-275-2273.

Scam of the day – April 4, 2017 – iTunes gift card scams

The Securities Division of the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office has recently issued a new warning to consumers about scams in which payment is asked for through iTunes gift cards.  I have been warning you about this type of scam for years.  The scam comes in many variations, such as phony demands for payment for income taxes or utility bills, but the essence of the scam is  always that the scammer demands that the victim immediately purchase iTunes gift cards and then provide the 16 digit code on the back of the card in order to avoid some dire consequence.

Scammers demand payment in this fashion because it permits them to readily turn the iTunes gift cards into purchases that can, in turn, be sold and turned into cash.

TIPS

The simplest way to avoid this scam is to merely remember that iTunes gift cards can only be used to buy goods and services at the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store or for an Apple Music membership.  Therefore any one asking for payment of overdue taxes, overdue utility bills or on behalf of any business or governmental agency by way of iTunes gift cards is a scammer.

Scam of the day – April 3, 2017 – Scary email scam

Scammers are always finding ways to take what is in the news and make it the basis of a scam.  The reasons for doing so are obvious.  If you are aware or even concerned about something in the news, you are more likely to fall victim to a scam related to that newsworthy matter.  Such is the case now with a scam related to the recent Congressional passage of a bill that would overturn  Internet Service Provider privacy regulations enacted last year.  With the imminent overturning of these regulations, Internet Service Providers will be able without your specific knowledge to maintain records of everything you do online and sell that information to companies who may wish to use that information.  In its more benign form, you may find yourself receiving online advertisements for products that you may have searched for online, however, the threat to your privacy presented by the rescinding of the previously enacted privacy protection regulations cannot be overstated.

Now scammers are taking advantage of this concern and are sending out carefully crafted spear phishing emails directed to you personally by name that indicate that you have been found to have committed fraudulent conduct online by a company monitoring your online usage and that the information is going to be sent to law enforcement.  The email purports to provide the incriminating evidence in an attachment for you to see.  It is easy to imagine how someone confronted with such an email would immediately download the attachment to find out details. Unfortunately, anyone downloading the attachment would only succeed in downloading keystroke logging malware that would enable the scammer to steal all of the information in your computer and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Never click on links in emails or download attachments unless you have absolutely confirmed that they are legitimate.  In this instance, a little research would have shown that the email was a scam.

It is also important to remember that the privacy regulations recently rescinded only related to Internet Service Providers.  Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have been gathering and selling information about you for a long time.  Unknown to many people, every time you click “like” on Facebook, that information is stored and used by Facebook.

For enhanced privacy online you should go to Facebook,  YouTube, Google and every other website you use and see what privacy rights you have and how you can set your preferences to a level with which you would be comfortable.

You also should consider using a Virtual Private Network while doing online browsing.  This will enable you to maintain your anonymity online. Here is a link to information about some free VPNs.  http://top5-vpn.com/free-vpn-services/

Scam of the day – April 2, 2017 – FTC charges World Patent Marketing with fraud

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged the people behind World Patent Marketing with fraud alleging they misrepresented their services and cheated their customers out of millions of dollars of money paid to the company to promote their customers’ invention ideas. Making things worse, the FTC alleges that when customers attempted to complain or seek refunds, the company threatened them with baseless criminal charges.  The case is still pending, however, a federal judge has already shut down the company while the litigation is going on and froze the company’s assets.

TIPS

While there are legitimate companies that may help you if you have an idea that you wish to patent, there are also many scammers who will take your money and give you little, if anything, in return.  Merely because you may hear an advertisement for such companies on the radio or see an advertisement on television or on the Internet does not mean that the company is legitimate.  As always, you should be particularly skeptical if the company promises you that your idea can be patented and that you will make a lot of money from the patent.

If you are looking for guidance regarding a patent, you are better off consulting with a patent lawyer who can evaluate your idea and let you know what you need to do.

Scam of the day – April 1, 2017 – ATM deposit scam

Today’s Scam of the day seems particularly appropriate for April Fool’s Day because it involves a simple scam that takes advantage of trusting people.  The Boston University Police Department is warning members of the BU community about a scam in which the victim is approached at ATMs by scammers who ask the intended victim to deposit checks made payable to the scammer into the victim’s account and then withdraw the amount of the check from the victim’s ATM account minus a small payment for their trouble and give the cash to the scammer.  Scam artists, the only criminals we call artists are quite adept at convincing their victims that they don’t have a bank account and they need the cash for an emergency.  Of course, the check is counterfeit and will bounce after going through the check clearing process which can take days or even weeks. Unfortunately, the money withdrawn from the victim’s account to give the scammer is long gone when the victim finds out that their good deed has led to their becoming a scam victim.

TIPS

Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  A bank would not cash a check for a stranger and neither should you.  Forged checks and counterfeit checks can appear quite legitimate.  The only way to know if a check is genuine is to wait until it has fully cleared and you can’t do that in this situation.

Scam of the day – March 31, 2017 – FTC settles yo-yo auto scam complaint

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled a complaint brought against the Sage Automotive Group of nine Los Angeles based car dealerships with Sage agreeing to pay more than 3.6 million dollars to cheated customers.

The basis for the FTC’s complaint is what is commonly called yo-yo scams which occur when a car dealer leads a consumer into thinking that the financing for the purchase of an automobile is finalized, but then later contacts the customer pressuring him or her to agree to a new financing agreement or return the car.  Making the matter worse, dealers using this deceptive and criminal tactic will often tell the customer that his or her deposit was non-refundable or that their trade-in was already sold and threaten the customer with criminal prosecution if they did not agree to the new more expensive financing terms.

Often these scams target people whose English skills may be limited and initially entice them with false advertising and  phony representations of low prices and low monthly payments.

TIPS

Whether you are a native English speaking person or not, the legalese involved in car financing and purchasing contracts can be daunting.  Make sure before you sign anything that you understand the terms of any contract and that it comports with what the dealer represented to you.  If you need to take the contracts to someone to review on your behalf, you should do so.

Scam of the day – March 30, 2017 – Deputy sheriff pleads guilty to identity theft

Despite your best efforts to keep your personal information safe and secure, you are always at the mercy of rogue employees of companies or governmental agencies that have access to your personal information. This has proven to be a difficult problem in many places including the banking industry where there have been many instances of criminal employees providing information to other criminals who use the information to make their bank customers the victims of identity theft. For more information about how bank customers are being affected by this type of scam, check out the Scam of the day for April 17, 2016.

Government officials, particularly those in law enforcement have tremendous access to data banks containing large amounts of personal information that, in the wrong hands, can lead to identity theft which is just what happened when Palm Beach County Florida Deputy Sheriff Frantz Felisma was convicted of identity theft.  Felisma was contacted by another criminal looking for personal information about people driving expensive automobiles in order to use that information to make them victims of identity theft.  Felisma’s accomplice provided him with the license plate numbers of cars owned by wealthy people and Felisma would use his access to restricted data bases to provide his accomplice with the Social Security numbers and other personal information of the targeted victims.

TIPS

There is little that you can do to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of this type of identity theft other than to limit as much as possible the companies and institutions to which you provide personal information such as your Social Security number, which is a key piece of information for accomplishing identity theft.  Many companies and others with which you do business may request this information although they have no real need for this information.  For example, your doctor does not need your Social Security number although many physicians ask for it.  When asked, you should politely offer another form of identification.  Although I certainly wouldn’t advise it, for years I heard that people who did not want to provide their Social Security number to various institutions would give Richard Nixon’s Social Security number.  Out of curiosity I looked up Richard Nixon’s Social Security number through the Federal Death Master Index and found that the number that was floating around on the Internet 567-68-0515 was indeed Nixon’s Social Security number.

Scam of the day – March 29, 2017 – Phony IRS agent meets his match

One of the most common and effective scams is the phony telephone call purporting to be from the IRS telling you that you owe them money and must pay immediately or there will be dire repercussions. I have been warning you about this scam for years.  Often the calls from these scammers will even appear on your Caller ID to have come from the IRS which can be done through a technique called “spoofing.”

Recently Kyle Roder a police officer in Wisconsin received such a call on his voicemail and then, knowing full well that it was a scam, called the scammer back.  he recorded the entire phone call and posted it on Facebook.  Here is a link to the entire call.

There always was a simple way to know if a collection phone call was from the IRS or a scammer.  The IRS never initiates collection proceedings through phone calls so if you got a call, it was not from the IRS.

But that will be changing this Spring.

Congress, in its infinite wisdom, is authorizing designated private collection companies to collect overdue taxes and contact people by phone in order to do so.  The National Taxpayer Advocate office, which is an office within the IRS estimates about 380,000 taxpayers’ accounts will be turned over to these collection agencies.

Having private collection companies attempt to collect overdue taxes on behalf of the IRS was done in past years, but was not cost effective.

TIPS

If your account has been transferred to a private collection agency by the IRS, you will be notified by regular mail before you receive any phone call. So if you receive a call attempting to collect money from you for overdue taxes before receiving such a notice, you can be sure that the call is a scam. However, even if you account has been turned over to a collection agency by the IRS, you can never be sure when you are called on the phone, that the person calling you is really from one of the IRS authorized collection agencies so the best course of action is to tell them politely that you cannot be sure that they are who they say they  are and contact the IRS directly to straighten the matter out.

Complicating the matter is that while there are various tax forgiveness programs the IRS operates, these private collection agencies, who are paid on commission, are not required to tell you about these programs when they call, so you are always better off dealing with the IRS directly rather than through a collection agency.