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.

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.

Lotteries and Contest Scams

Year in and year out, lottery and contest scams are some of the most lucrative scams for conmen.  You may be told that you have won a large lottery or contest.  To further gain your confidence, you may even be told that the contest or lottery has been approved by the FBI or that the contest is sponsored by a big company with which you may be familiar, such as Clorox, a legitimate company whose name was used by scammers to steal money from unsuspecting victims.  Most of these lottery scams involve you having to pay various processing fees or even income taxes to the lottery sponsor.

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It is hard enough to win a contest you enter, so you should be particularly wary when told that you have won a contest that you never even entered.  Legitimate contests and lotteries do not have processing fees that you have to pay and they do not collect income taxes from you.  The sponsor either would pay the taxes on your behalf or provide you with an IRS Form 1099 informing you of how much money was paid on your behalf to the IRS or you would be responsible to pay the IRS directly.  You would not pay the income taxes on the prize to the contest sponsor.

And beware of your winnings coming to you in the form of a certified bank check.  Unsuspecting victims have deposited these checks and waited for the check to clear before sending processing fees only to find that the check was a forgery and their own bank had only given them provisional credit for the check so that once it bounced, the victim not only lost the “winnings” but also the processing fees.

Hotel Scams

Scammers are always taking advantage of travelers and staying at a hotel carries many opportunities for scam artists to separate you from your money, starting when you check in and provide the clerk with your credit card.  Watch you card carefully throughout the initial check in process to make sure that the clerk does not run your card through a small device called a skimmer that can take all of the information from your card and enable the scammer to use your credit card without having the actual card in hand.  Make sure that the card does not leave your sight and that the only swipe of it done is through the hotel’s terminal.

Another scam that occurs in hotels happens when you receive a call from the front desk telling you that there was a problem with the credit card that you used when checking in.  The front desk clerk will tell you that you need to verify the information from the card over the phone.

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The call from the clerk is a scam and it is not from the clerk.  If you have any doubt, call the manager directly at a number that you know is accurate.

What is a Chain Letter?

This is another scam that keeps on returning with slight changes to appear to be something new and even legal, but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is most likely a duck and a chain letter is easy to spot unless you are blinded by greed.

At its most basic a chain letter involve you receiving a letter that contains the names of a number of people, often five.  You are asked to send a sum of money to the first person on the list, take his or her name off of the list, add your name to the list as the last person and send it to five more people with the same instructions.

The problem is not only are chain letters illegal, they are also doomed to failure as they will rather rapidly run out of people to participate.

Chain letters are sometimes disguised to resemble legitimate business operations and you may even be sent some inexpensive item as part of the scam to make it appear to be a legitimate business proposal.  However, it is easy to see that it is the pyramid that drives the chain letter and nothing of value is done to put oneself in a position to receive compensation.  A scam by any other name is still a scam.

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Never get involved with chain letters regardless of their format.

What is the Hitman Scam?

This scam keeps reoccurring around the country and people still are falling victim to it.  It starts when you receive an email from a purported hit man who informs you that he has been hired by someone you know to kill you.  However, the hit man then tells you that he will refrain from killing you if you pay him a sum of money.  In the past the amount has ranged from $80,000 to $150,000.  Not only is this a scam, but the FBI has traced many of these emails to Eastern Europe, far from where you may live.

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If you get one of these emails contact the FBI and the Internet Crime Complain Center at www.ic3.gov.

What is Smishing?

Smishing is similar to phishing on your computer, but this time the scammers message comes as a text message on your cell phone.  Often it comes purportedly from your bank telling you that your account has been frozen and then asks you to provide personal information or your account will be frozen.  Smishing is also used by scammers, particularly during the holidays to appear to provide free coupons or free coupons.

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Never respond to a smishing message.  By so doing you only succeed in telling the scammer that you are out there.  Never provide personal information in response to a text message from anyone.  If you believe the message may be legitimate, contact the entity at a telephone number or website that you know is accurate.  Don’t download coupons from emails or text messages.  Again, if you think it may be legitimate, go to the website of the company that you know is legitimate and download the coupons there.