Scam of the day – November 25, 2016 – Holiday scams

Today is Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year and the kickoff to the 2016 holiday shopping season.  There are many scams that attempt to turn our holiday awareness into scams.  They include malware contaminated e-cards, phony charitable solicitations and, of course a myriad of shopping related scams.  Over the next few weeks, I will be warning you about these scams and telling you what you can do to protect yourselves.

TIPS

For those people shopping in the malls and stores around the country today, remember to use your credit card  instead of your debit card. While federal law limits the amount for which you are liable when fraudulent charges are made using your credit card to no more than $50, with a debit card, if you do not recognize that your account has been compromised right away, the identity thief could potentially empty the entire bank account tied to your debit card.  In addition, even if you do notice the fraudulent use immediately, your account will be frozen while the bank does its investigation into the matter, thereby limiting your access to your funds.

Also, if you are using your credit card in a store that is not equipped to take the EMV chip credit card, be on the lookout for skimmers, which are small devices that a criminal uses to steal your credit card information by swiping the card through a portable skimmer before running it through the store’s credit card processing equipment.  In addition, some skimmers are surreptitiously installed on the credit card equipment of the stores and other times, the store’s processing equipment has been hacked to steal this information as your card is being processed. Keep an eye on your credit card every minute that the clerk has it in his or her possession to make sure that he or she only swipes it through the store’s credit card processor and doesn’t do that extra swipe through a skimmer.  Also, check your credit card account balance periodically online to detect if there have been any security breaches.  Don’t wait for your monthly statement.

Scam of the day – October 11, 2015 – South Carolina flood scams

Many people have been touched by the photographs and videos showing the plight of the victims of the recent flooding in South Carolina and are responding by making donations to charities helping the flood victims.  Unfortunately, such natural disasters also bring out scammers seeking to put the touch on charitably inclined people by setting up phony charities to take advantage of the situation.

Scammers are setting up phony charities or using the names of legitimate charities to steal charitable donations that should be going to help those in need.  In addition, there are some “legitimate” charities that spend an inordinate amount of what they collect in donations on their own salaries and administrative costs rather than use the funds to meet the needs of the people the particular charity is supposed to be helping.

TIPS

Be very wary of telemarketers seeking charitable contributions.   Whenever you receive a telephone call that purports to be from a charity, you can never be sure that the caller is legitimate.  In addition, even if the caller is a legitimate solicitor on behalf of a charity, they work on commission and some of what you donate will be going to the telemarketer.  If a telemarketer arouses your interest in a particular charity, ask the telemarketer to send you written information that you can review before making a contribution directly to the charity that you know will go entirely to the charity.

As for email and text message solicitations from charities, be particularly careful because not only can you not be sure if they are legitimate or not, they may be even worse than that.  The email or text message may contain a link or attachment that has malware that can steal the information from your computer or smartphone and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

Many phony charities have names that are deceptively similar to those of legitimate charities so it is always a good idea to investigate a particular charity before you make a donation.  Charitynavigator.org is a great resource.  It is a free website at which you can look up any charity to which you may be considering making a donation.  Not only will Charitynavigator.org tell you whether or not the charity is a scam or not, it also will tell you how much of the money given to the charity goes toward its charitable works and how much it pays in salary and administrative costs.

Scam of the day – May 23, 2015 – FTC shuts down huge charity scams

Earlier this week, the Federal Trade Commission in cooperation with law enforcement officials from all fifty states and the District of Columbia filed a complaint in federal court against four phony charities and the people operating them accusing the charities of misapplying hundreds of millions of dollars of donations and using all but 3% of the donations for their own individual benefit.  The charities named are the Cancer Fund of America, the Cancer Support Services, Inc, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, Inc and the Breast Cancer Society, Inc.  Also charged were officers of these charities, James Reynolds, Sr., Kyle Effler, Rose Perkins and James Reynolds II.  According to the FTC’s complaint, the funds collected from people thinking they were helping people with cancer went to huge salaries to the charities’ insiders along with payments for cars, luxury cruises, college tuition, gym memberships, ski outings, tickets to sporting and entertainment events and even dating site memberships.

The Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society, Inc along with their principals Rose Perkins, James Reynolds II and Kyle Effler have all agreed to settle the charges.  As part of the settlements The Children’s Cancer Fund of America will pay $30,079.82 to the FTC which represents charitable donations made between 2008 and 2012.  The Breast Cancer Society, Inc.  will pay $65,564.36 which represents donations made between 2008 and 2013.  In both cases, this money will be turned over to legitimate charities.  Litigation will go on against the other charities and individuals charged.

TIPS

There are many lessons for all of us as individuals interested in making charitable donations.  The first lesson is that merely because the name makes a charity sound legitimate does not make it so.  Second, when you are considering making a donation to a charity, it is important to investigate the charity to find out whether it is an outright scam or whether it is one where very little of the money donated goes toward the announced charitable purposes of the charity.  You can find the answers to both of those questions by going to www.charitynavigator.org, which, by the way rated these charities extremely low.

Scam of the day – August 24, 2014 – Ice Bucket Challenge scams

According to the old saying, “no good deed goes unpunished” and this phrase could apply to the ALS Bucket Challenge, which has been taking the country by storm.  As everyone knows by now, people are dousing themselves with buckets of icy water as part of a national fund raising effort to support the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, which is also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  We have all seen videos online and on television showing various people doing the challenge in entertaining and unusual ways.  Many celebrities and politicians have also been caught up in this viral campaign.  Unfortunately, as with anything that captures the public’s imagination, the Ice Bucket Challenge has also captured the imagination of scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists who are sending emails and text messages that purport to provide links to videos of particularly enticing and entertaining examples of the Ice Bucket Challenge, such as purported videos of popular celebrities, politicians, or athletes being dowsed, but, in fact are links that when clicked upon will download keystroke logging malware that will steal all of the personal information from your computer and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

Another Ice Bucket Challenge related scam relates to websites or links for you to click on in order to make a charitable contribution.  Scammers have been busy setting up phony ALS charities and soliciting online and through telemarketing for phony ALS charities where your contribution will not go to ALS research and prevention, but rather to line the pockets of a scammer.

TIPS

In regard to avoiding the Ice Bucket Challenge video scams, my advice is the same as always, which is to never click on links in emails or in text messages unless you are absolutely sure that they are legitimate.  Even if they appear to come from a real friend of yours, you cannot be sure that your friend’s email account had not been hacked by a scammer sending you a tainted text or email.

As for avoiding the ALS charitable contribution scams, my advice is the same in regard to all charitable solicitations which is that whenever you are contacted by phone, mail, email, text message or any other form of communication, you can never be sure that the sender is actually from a legitimate charity.  In addition, many phony charities have names that are quite similar to legitimate charities and you can be fooled into giving a contribution to a scammer.  The first thing you should do before making any charitable contribution is to first check out the charity at www.charitynavigator.org where you first can find out whether or not the charity is actually legitimate.  Charitynavigator.org also provides information as to how much of the particular charities contributions go toward its charitable purposes and how much goes toward its salaries and administrative costs.  Once you have ascertained that a charity is legitimate, you should go online to the charity’s website to make your contribution directly.  In the case of the ALS Association, its website is http://www.alsa.org/

Scam of the day – May 1, 2014 – Disaster relief scams

Six states in the Southeast suffered serious storm damage from tornadoes and floods earlier this week.  Mississippi and Arkansas were particularly hard hit, but the devastation was widespread throughout much of the Southeastern United States.  This kind of natural disaster brings out the best in us as many people are quick to make donations to charities to help the survivors of the storms and the families of the victims.  This kind of natural disaster also brings out the worst in scammers  who are quick to take advantage of the generosity of people by contacting them posing as charities, but instead of collecting funds to help the victims of the storms, these scam artists steal the money for themselves under false pretenses.   Charities are not subject to the federal Do Not Call List so even if you are enrolled in the Do Not Call List, legitimate charities are able to contact you.  The problem is that whenever you are contacted on the phone, you can never be sure as to who is really calling you so you may be contacted either by a phony charity or a scammer posing as a legitimate charity.  Similarly, when you are solicited for a charitable contribution by email, you cannot be sure as to whether the person contacting you is legitimate or not.

TIPS

Never provide credit card information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called or in response to an email.  Before you give to any charity, you may wish to check out the charity with www.charitynavigator.org where you can learn whether or not the charity itself is a scam.  You can also see how much of the money that the charity collects actually goes toward its charitable purposes and how much it uses for fund raising and administrative costs.  If you do wish to make a donation to a charity, go to the real charity’s website or call them at a telephone number that you know is accurate in order to make your donation.  If you wish to donate to the American Red Cross, you can do so through your smartphone by texting the word “redcross” to 90999.  You may also donate directly on their website at www.redcross.org.

Scam of the day – October 8, 2013 – Charity fraud trial of John Donald Cody

Yesterday, lawyer and former military intelligence officer John Donald Cody, who has used the alias, Bobby Thompson went on trial for scamming people around the country out of more than one hundred million dollars in regard to a fraudulent charity, the United States Navy Veterans Association, which through which Cody collected millions of dollars from people who thought they were contributing to a charity to help veterans and their families only to later learn that the charity was a scam.  Like many phony charities it has a name that both sounds legitimate and resembles that of real charities that help members of the military and their families.  The charity is now disbanded following investigations and charges in a number of states.  Already one person has pleaded guilty to corrupt activity, money laundering and tampering with records in regard to this phony charity.

TIPS

The most important thing to remember before contributing to any charity is to make sure that the charity to which you are considering making a donation is a legitimate charity.  I suggest that you go to the website www.charitynavigator.org where you can find out for free whether the charity is a scam or not.  You also can find out how much the charity spends on its charitable purposes and how much of what it collects goes toward salaries and administrative costs.  Too many “legitimate” charities spend much too much on their own salaries rather than directing the donations toward the charitable purposes for which they were organized.

Scam of the day – April 16, 2013 – Boston Marathon attack scams

The horrible events at yesterday’s Boston Marathon where two bombs were detonated, killing and maiming innocent people is bad enough, but now scammers will be taking advantage of the curiosity of people about the event to make them victims of identity theft.  Every disaster, whether it is a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina or the Japanese Tsunami or unnatural horrible events such as the shootings in Newtown Connecticut bring out the scammers who will be looking to take advantage of both the public’s curiosity and its generosity to turn them into victims of identity theft and scams.  You can expect emails and Facebook messages that promise links to unique video footage of the events that will come laden with keystroke logging malware that can steal all of the information contained in your computer that will, in turn, make you a victim of identity theft.  Even if the emails or Facebook messages appear to come from someone you know, you can never be confident that someone has not merely hacked into your friend’s email account or Facebook account.  Phony charities will also be springing up to help the victims and once again, you can be sure that the scammers will be setting up many of these charities to play on your heartstrings and steal your money.

TIPS

Never click on links or download attachments unless you are absolutely sure that they are legitimate and even then, your friends and family may be unwittingly passing on links and attachments tainted with malware.  If you have any doubts as to the source of an email or a Facebook message, contact that person at a telephone number that you know is accurate to inquire if indeed they actually contacted you as well as to check on the source of the material that they, in turn, are passing on to you.  When it comes to videos of newsworthy events, stick  with well established, legitimate websites.  You can’t trust the other material found on the Internet.  As for charities, never give to a charity unless you have confirmed both that it is a legitimate charity and that it does not use too much of its contributions for payment of salaries of executives within the charities and fund raising activities.  You can find this critical information at www.charitynavigator.org.

Scam of the day – November 7, 2012 – Disaster investment scams

Following in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and tonight’s projected Nor’Easter which is expected to hit many of the areas already devastated by Hurricane Sandy, there will be many scams as scam artists and identity thieves attempt to further victimize the victims of the storm.  I have already warned you about the scams involving phony contractors, phony FEMA representatives, phony insurance adjusters and phony charities, but with history as a guide, you should also be wary of the next round of scams which will take the form of scam investment opportunities.  As previously happened following Hurricane Katrina, you can expect to receive emails and other communications offering to let you in on fool-proof investments in companies that have developed products or are providing services that will be part of the massive clean-up and reconstruction of the storm affected areas.  These investments may be in a revolutionary new type of generator, a water-removal system or other storm related technologies or products.  Many of these investments will be scams and you should be very careful before making private investments.

TIPS

First you must ask yourself, why is this stranger contacting me to invest in this fool-proof investment that is guaranteed to deliver a huge profit?  You should also never underestimate the power of a fool.  Nothing is fool proof and no investment can guarantee a huge profit.    Before investing with anyone, you should investigate the person offering to sell you the investment with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Central Registration Depository.  This will tell you if the broker is licensed and if there have been disciplinary procedures against him or her.  You can also check with your own state’s securities regulation office for similar information.  Many investment advisers will not be required to register with the SEC, but are required to register with your individual state securities regulators.   You can find your state’s agency by going to the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association.   You should also check with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for information about the particular  investment adviser.  It is also important to remember that you should never  invest in something that you do not completely understand.  This was a mistake that many of Bernie Madoff’s victims made.  You also may want to check out the SEC’s investor education website at www.investor.gov.  Scammers can be very convincing and it may sound like there is a great opportunity for someone to make some money, but you must be careful that the person making money is not the scam artist taking yours.

Scam of the day – October 28, 2012 – Hurricane Sandy scams

It is expected that within the next couple of days, Hurricane Sandy will hit the United States and early estimates put the cost of damage at more than 15 billion dollars.  Much of the East Coast of the United States and inland states as far west as Ohio are predicted to sustain serious damage from wind, rain and even snow.   Much misery will be caused by the storm, but on top of the misery caused by a  natural disaster will be the misery caused by scam artists and identity thieves who will take the opportunity of the storm, being deemed Frankenstorm by many, to wreak further havoc on both victims of the storm and charitably inclined Americans who may wish to donate to charities that will be present to aid storm victims.  The scams will be many including, scammers and identity thieves who will pose as Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) employees and insurance company representatives in order to take personal information from victims to turn them into victims of identity theft.  There will also be phony contractors looking to steal the money of victims for repair work that never gets done or is done in a shoddy fashion.  Finally, there will be phony charities that will appear or charities with names confusingly similar to legitimate charities seeking your contributions while in fact, these “charities ” are just stealing your money and robbing the storm victims of a chance to get much needed help

TIPS

Never give out personal information to anyone of whom you are not absolutely positive as to their identity.  Federal and state agencies will not ask for fees in order to be eligible for assistance and neither will insurance companies.  Also beware of people who pass themselves off as insurance adjusters promising to get you more money.  Insurance adjusters are licensed in each state and you should check out any person claiming to be an adjuster before hiring them.  Make sure they are who they say they are and that there are not numerous complaints against them.  Never give personal information to anyone passing themselves off as a FEMA or other emergency aid agency employee regardless of how good their identification card looks.  ID cards can be forged.  Rather, call FEMA or any other agency that they purport to represent and confirm whether or not they are legitimate.  The same goes for a representative of your insurance agency.  Call your insurance company to confirm the identity of the person purporting to represent the insurance company.  Don’t hire any contractors, particularly those who contact you personally at your home, by phone or over the Internet unless you have verified that they are properly licensed, insured and that there are not numerous complaints against them.  This information can generally be obtained online from your state’s licensing board.  Finally, never give your credit card or other information to a telephone caller soliciting for a charity.  It is important to remember that although legitimate charities may call you even if you are on the federal Do Not Call list, you never can be sure when a telephone charitable solicitation is made as to whether the particular caller is legitimate or not.  If you are interested in donating to a particular charity that contacts you, first go to www.charitynavigator.org to find out whether or not the charity is legitimate as well as to learn how much of your donation will actually go toward the charitable works of the charity and how much goes to salaries and administrative costs of the charity.  Once you have determined if you want to donate to a particular charity, the safest way to do so is by going to their website directly.

Scam of the day – July 3, 2012 – Disaster scams

With the recent damage caused by Tropical Storm Debbie and the Colorado wildfires, you can expect to see scammers following in the wake of these disasters with scams to further victimize the people who have been harmed by these natural disasters.  Some scams will be when the criminals pose as insurance adjusters who need payments before doing their work while other scams will be scammers posing as government agents there to help  you who merely need your personal information such as your Social Security number to make you eligible for assistance programs.  Additional scams will involve phony contractors who will take your money and vanish without doing any work.  Finally, even if you have not been victimized, but merely want to help out the victims through charitable donations, you may end up giving to a phony charity.

TIPS

Don’t trust insurance adjusters until you have confirmed their identity with the insurance company independently.  Neither should you provide personal information to anyone until you have confirmed that they are legitimate.  In regard to FEMA or other federal agencies, a quick call to FEMA can confirm that the person speaking with you is legitimate. Don’t trust IDs.  They can be forged.  As for contractors, confirm independently that they are licensed, bonded and have not had complaints made against them.  All states provide this information.  Finally, in regard to any charity, check it out first on www.charitynavigator.com where you can find out if it is legitimate or not and even how much of your charitable donation will actually go toward charitable purposes and how much will be used for salaries and administrative expenses.