Scam of the day – September 17, 2017 – Scammers attempting to exploit Equifax data breach

As I often say, things aren’t as bad as you think – they are far worse.  It is not bad enough that 143 million Americans are at heightened danger of identity theft due to the massive data breach at credit reporting agency, Equifax, but now scammers are seeing the concern of people about the data breach as an opportunity to scam them out of their money.

Scammers are contacting people by phone, email and text messages posing as Equifax claiming that they are there to help the victims of the data breach, when the truth is that the scammers merely want to lure you into providing personal information and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.   You can’t trust your Caller ID because through a technique called “spoofing” it can be manipulated to make a call from a scammer appear to be coming from Equifax.

TIPS

It is a good rule to never provide personal information of any kind to someone who calls you on the phone.  If the call appears legitimate, call the person, company or agency back at a telephone number that you know is accurate.

The same rule applies to emails and text messages you receive.  Never provide personal information until you have confirmed that the communication is legitimate.

In this case, Equifax is not contacting victims by email, phone or text messages asking for personal information or credit card information.

Scam of the day – July 5, 2017 – IRS private collection scams

Many people have been scammed by criminals calling them on the phone purporting to be from the IRS making various threats unless the targeted victim immediately pays alleged overdue taxes.  For years, I have been telling people that the simplest way to know that the person calling you is not from the IRS is to remember that the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer about overdue taxes through a phone call.  But that has changed.  In 2016 I told you about a new law Congress passed requiring the IRS to use the services of private collection agencies to collect some outstanding taxes.  This law is flawed on many levels including, as was pointed out by the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service, the fact that this program not only had been tried unsuccessfully twice previously, but also is not cost effective.  But from my perspective, perhaps the greatest problem with this new law is that it increases the likelihood of scammers being able to pose as tax collectors and lure unsuspecting victims into paying these scammers money.

The law has now gone into effect and the IRS is sending letters by regular mail to people whose overdue tax accounts have been turned over to one of the four private collection agencies authorized by Congress to collect overdue taxes for the IRS.  The IRS is also at this time warning people to be wary of people claiming to be working for one of these companies who are, in truth, just scammers.  Of course, the IRS did not give any concrete advice as to how to know if the caller is legitimate or not.

TIPS

As I have often said, whenever you get a phone call, you can never be sure who is really on the other end of the line.  Even your Caller ID can be fooled by a technique called Spoofing by which it can be made to appear that your call is coming from someone other than the real caller.  It is for this reason that I advise you never to give out personal information such as your Social Security number or credit card information to anyone who calls you on the phone unless you have absolutely confirmed that they are legitimate.  In the case of a call from someone purporting to be collecting a debt on behalf of the IRS, you should not give them any information or agree to do anything on the phone.  Ask them to send you written information about the alleged debt and then call the IRS to find out if the debt is legitimate or not.

In addition, the debts assigned to the private collection agencies are tax debts that are many years old and about which the taxpayer would have been contacted by mail previously by the IRS.  Also, be aware that none of the Congress authorized collectors will ask you to make a payment by credit card over the phone and certainly not ask you to wire money or pay by an iTunes card or gift card as some tax scammers have done.

Scam of the day – January 24, 2017 – Utility bill scams

Scams regarding payments of utility bills are occurring with greater frequency now that Winter has arrived.  The Nebraska Public Service Commission is warning consumers about a number of these scams, but these scams are certainly not limited to Nebraska.

In one version of the scam, potential victims receive telephone calls purportedly from their utility company informing them of a special company promotion for which they are eligible.  They just need to provide some personal information.

In another version, potential victims are called on the phone and told that their utility service will be terminated for non-payment unless they pay by credit card over the phone.

In a third version of this scam, potential victims receive an email that has a link to take them to their bill.

All of these are scams.  In the first, there is no special promotion and the victim ends up providing personal information that leads to identity theft.  In the second, the victim is coerced into giving their credit card information to a scammer and in the third, merely by clicking on the link to go to the phony bill, the victim ends up downloading keystroke logging malware or ransomware that can lead to identity theft or worse.

TIPS

You can never be sure when you get an email or a telephone call if it is really from a legitimate source.  Email addresses can be hacked to appear legitimate and even if you have Caller ID, a scammer can use a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is from a legitimate caller.

Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Never provide personal or financial information to anyone in response to a telephone call, text message or email until you have independently confirmed that the communication was legitimate.  In the case of a utility bill, merely call the number on the back of your bill and you will be able to confirm whether or not the communication was legitimate.  Also, never click on links unless you have confirmed that they are legitimate.  The risk is too great.

Scam of the day – November 11, 2016 – Brazen debit card scam

Florida law enforcement authorities are warning people about a scam recently being perpetrated on unwary victims which starts with the victim receiving a phone call,  purportedly from their bank, informing them that there is a problem with their debit card and that a new debit card with a chip will be issued by the bank to replace the former debit card.  Here, however, is where the scam becomes particularly brazen.  The scammers then actually go to the house of the victim to pick up his or her  present debit card.  The new chip enabled debit card is promised by the scammer to be sent in the mail shortly.  Unsuspecting victims are turning over their debit cards and their PINs to the scammers who have been using them to steal cash from ATMs and make purchases at retail stores.

TIPS

This scam starts with a phone call and it is always important to remember that whenever you receive a phone call, you cannot be sure who is really calling you even if your Caller ID says the call is coming from your bank or some other legitimate source.  Caller ID can be tricked by a technique called “spoofing” to make a scammers call appear to be legitimate.  For this reason, you should never provide personal information over the phone to someone that you have not called unless you have absolutely confirmed that the call is legitimate.

As for this particular scam, no bank is going to send someone to your home to retrieve your debit card.  If you needed to confirm this fact, all you have to do is call the customer service number on the back of your debit card to find out that this is a scam.

Scam of the day – October 29, 2016 – IRS impersonation scam busted

Following an exhaustive three year joint investigation by numerous federal agencies  led by the Justice Department, indictments were announced Thursday of 56 people and 5 illegal call centers accused of posing as IRS agents, calling unsuspecting victims in the United States and threatening them if they did not pay phony tax bills. Although the people indicted, including 20 who have already been arrested, were in both the United States and India, the call centers were all located in Ahmedabad India.  The alleged scammers obtained the names of their potential victims from various legitimate data brokers.  These indictments were not related to the police raid earlier this month in India which resulted in the arrest of 70 people charged similarly.

According to the Justice Department,the scammers used a network of co-conspirators in the United States to launder the funds obtained from the victims, most commonly through prepaid debit cards or wire transfers.  The prepaid debit cards were laundered using information stolen from thousands of identity theft victims.  The biggest amount paid by a victim of this scam was paid by a Californian who paid $136,000 to the scammers.

TIPS

This scam is easy to avoid.  Don’t trust your Caller ID because by using a technique called spoofing, a scammer can make his or her call appear to be from the IRS on your Caller ID.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  The easiest way to recognize if a call from the IRS demanding money is a scam is to be aware of the fact that the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer to collect overdue taxes by a phone call, email or text message. Any such communication is from a scammer so you should just ignore it.   Additionally, unlike the IRS, the scammers often demand that payments be made immediately by prepaid debit cards, wired funds or even iTunes gift cards, which is something that the IRS will never do.

Scam of the day – October 20, 2016 – Utility company scam

The electric utility company National Grid is warning its customers about phony telephone calls in which scammers posing as National Grid employees are calling customers and threatening to turn off their electricity if payment is not made immediately by wired funds or prepaid cash cards such as Green Dot MoneyPak.  Whenever you receive a call regarding anything in response to which you are advised to make a payment by way of a Green Dot MoneyPak card or any other prepaid card you should be skeptical because these prepaid cards are a favorite method for scam artists to scam you out of your money.  This is because once the scammer has the card number, it is the same as cash and you cannot stop the payment nor trace to whom the payment was made.   The scammers making these calls posing as National Grid are often quite intimidating and threatening.  Your Caller ID may even indicate that the call is indeed from your utility company, but it is an easy thing for a scammer to “spoof” or make it appear that a call from them is coming from your utility company.  You can never be sure when you receive a telephone call as to who is really calling you which is why you should never provide personal information or make a payment to someone over the phone unless you have absolutely verified that the call is legitimate.  Although National Grid is warning its customers about this scam, this type of scam is going on with other scammers posing as other utility companies, as well.

TIPS

Never make a payment to a utility company in response to a telephone call you receive demanding immediate payment.  No utility will require immediate payment by way of a prepaid cash card, such as the Green Dot MoneyPak card or iTunes gift cards.  If you are behind in your utility payments, call the utility company at a number that you know is accurate and discuss a payment plan with a legitimate representative of the utility company.  If you receive a call about your account that you think might be legitimate, merely hang up and call the customer service number for your utility which you can find on the back of your bill.

Scam of the day – October 8, 2016 – Indian scam call center busted

India is a hub for call center support for many companies’ customer service.  It also is a center for phony IRS phone calls in which the caller, claiming to be an IRS representative, demands immediate payment of overdue taxes and threatens dire repercussions if the payment is not paid.  Earlier this week in India, police raided three buildings in a Mumbai suburb and arrested 70 people they allege to have managed approximately 600 people who made thousands of calls each day to the United States posing as IRS agents demanding money.  This particular call center had been operating for about a year before an informant went to police a few weeks ago.  Posing as the IRS, the scam call center sent out approximately 10,000 text messages to unsuspecting Americans prompting their victims to call the scammers who identified themselves as IRS employees named Christopher or Daniel.  Authorities are estimating that this particular IRS scam call center took in as much as $150,000 every day.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received more than 1.7 million complaints about these kinds of calls  during the last three years and the real number of calls is certainly quite higher.

It was just last year that Sahil Patel was convicted of operating a similar IRS phony phone call scam using call centers in India.

TIPS

This scam is easy to avoid.  Don’t trust your Caller ID because using a technique called spoofing, a scammer can make his or her call appear to be from the IRS on your Caller ID.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  The easiest way to recognize if a call from the IRS demanding money is a scam is to be aware of the fact that the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer to collect overdue taxes by a phone call, email or text message.  Any such communication is from a scammer so you should just ignore it. Additionally, unlike the IRS, the scammers often ask that payments be made with iTunes gift cards, which is something that the IRS will never do.

Scam of the day – September 5, 2016 – New warning about phony IRS phone calls

I have been warning you for years about phony IRS telephone calls by which a scammer, posing as an IRS agent calls you and tells you that unless you send a payment immediately by wired funds, credit card, iTunes card or some other form of immediate payment that you will be sued or arrested.  Sometimes, they also ask for your Social Security number over the phone which no legitimate IRS agent will do.  Unfortunately although there have been many warnings about this type of scam including warnings from the IRS, they continue to be an effective scam by which scammers manage to trick people into sending them money.

Here is a link to an audio of an actual scam call from an IRS impostor  (although the IRS misspells the word “impostor” on the visual that accompanies the audio) attempting to lure someone into falling for this scam.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/voicemail-irs-imposter

TIPS

This scam is easy to spot.   The IRS will never initiate communications with a taxpayer by phone so if someone calls you purporting to be from the IRS in an initial effort to collect overdue taxes, you should hang up because it is a scam.   The real IRS will always make a first contact by mail.  Even if your Caller ID appears to show that the call is from the IRS, this does not mean that the call actually is from the IRS.  Through a technique called “spoofing” a scammer can make the call appear to be legitimate, but it is not.  The IRS will never demand payment by credit card, debit card, cash card, iTunes card or wired funds through an initial telephone call and they won’t threaten to sue you or arrest you. If you think that you may owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to speak to a real IRS employee.  If you receive a scam call, you  also may wish to report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

Scam of the day – May 5, 2016 – Telephone call from no one scam

We have all experienced telephone calls where you pick up the phone and there is no one on the other end of the line.  This is a scam, but how does it work and how are you harmed?  With computers that can be programmed to make massive amounts of telephone calls,  scammers will often first test their lists of telephone numbers by making these calls to determine which telephone numbers are valid numbers for them to call back later with automated robocalls such as from the infamous Rachel from Card Services  by which they will attempt to either sell you something worthless or gather information from you that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.

In another version of this scam,  people with Caller ID are often tempted into calling back the number to see who called them, thinking that the call was legitimate.  Instead, unwittingly they make an expensive premium service call to an adult entertainment service that charge as much as $20 for the first minute.  Many of these calls originate in the Caribbean Islands from area codes such as 268, 284,809, 473,876 or 649.

TIPS

It often is a good idea not to answer the phone if you have Caller ID and you do not recognize the number calling you.  If it is legitimate, they will generally leave a message.  In any event, if you do answer the phone and there is no one on the other end of the line, do not call the number back.  The chances of your getting assessed charges for a premium phone call are too great.

Scam of the day – January 3, 2016 – Congress passes law that will increase identity theft

Mark Twain once said that the opposite of “progress” was “Congress” and it is hard to disagree with him when you consider the law recently passed by Congress requiring the IRS to use the services of private collection agencies to collect outstanding taxes.  This law is flawed on many levels including, as was pointed out by the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service, the fact that this program not only had been tried unsuccessfully twice previously, but also actually is not cost effective.  But from my perspective, perhaps the greatest problem with this new law is that it increases the likelihood of scammers being able to pose as tax collectors and lure unsuspecting victims into paying these scammers money.

During the last two years, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration received more than 736,000 complaints by people about telephone calls received from scammers posing as IRS agents attempting to collect overdue taxes.  The Treasury Inspector General also noted that approximately 4,550 victims paid more than 23 million dollars to criminals using this scam and this figure is probably low.  Until now, it was easy to know if the person calling you attempting to collect an overdue tax bill on behalf of the IRS was legitimate.  If you received a call, it was a scam.  The IRS does not initiate attempts to collect overdue taxes by telephone.  Now, however, collection agencies will actually be calling on behalf of the IRS to collect overdue taxes making it very difficult to know if the call you receive is legitimate or not.

TIPS

As I have often said, whenever you get a phone call, you can never be sure who is really on the other end of the line.  Even your Caller ID can be fooled by a technique called Spoofing by which it can be made to appear that your call is coming from someone other than the real caller.  It is for this reason that I advise you never to give out personal information such as your Social Security number or credit card information to anyone who calls you on the phone unless you have absolutely confirmed that they are legitimate.  In the case of a call from someone purporting to be collecting a debt on behalf of the IRS, you should not give them any information or agree to do anything on the phone.  Ask them to send you written information about the alleged debt and then call the IRS to find out if the debt is legitimate or not.