Scam of the day – December 2, 2016 – FTC settles with debt relief scammers

A group of defendants including Steven D. Short and his wife Karissa L. Dyer  have settled Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  charges that they operated a scam debt relief business.  Under the terms of the settlement the defendants are barred from conducting debt relief services in the future and must also surrender assets frozen by the court while the charges were pending.  The scam originated with a phone call to victims in which the defendants identified themselves as “card services,” “credit services” or “card member services.”  They represented that they were doing business with the victims’ credit card companies and promised the victims that they would reduce the victims’ credit card interest rates and reduce the amount that they owed within 90 days for a fee of between $500 and $1,500.  In addition,  they promised  a full money back guarantee if there were not successful.  Unfortunately, it was all a scam and no one got anything in return for the money they paid to the scammers nor did anyone receive a refund.  The scammers managed to steal more than 12 millions through this scam.

TIPS

You should never give personal information such as credit card numbers or Social Security numbers to someone who calls you on the phone because you can never be sure who is really on the other end of the line.  Even if your caller ID indicates the call is from a legitimate source, your Caller ID can be manipulated through a technique called spoofing to make it appear that the call is legitimate when it is not.

While there are some companies that provide debt relief services for a fee, the law requires that you not be required to pay any fee before your credit card rate is reduced or your debt lowered. Some of the legitimate debt relief companies may require you to deposit money into a special bank account to be administered by an independent third party who will charge you a reasonable fee for paying funds from your account to your creditors and the debt settlement company after settlements have been reached.  Generally, you are better working directly with your credit card company to restructure your debt or using the services of the legitimate American Consumer Credit Counseling, a non-profit corporation that can help you with debt relief.

Scam of the day – November 29, 2016 – Giving Tuesday scams

Following the major shopping days referred to as Black Friday and Cyber Monday now comes Giving Tuesday which was first designated as a special day to focus on helping out people in need through charitable gifts in 2012.  This is a time of the year when many people are receptive to solicitations from charities.  Unfortunately, not all of those solicitations will be from legitimate charities.  Many of those calls, letters and emails will be from scammers posing as charities.

Even if you are on the federal Do-Not-Call List, which I strongly recommend unless you want to talk to telemarketers, the law permits charities to contact you by phone.  Unfortunately, whenever you receive a telephone call, you can never be sure who is really calling you.  Even if your Caller ID indicates that the call you are getting is coming from a charity whose name you recognize, the call actually may be from a scammer using a technique called Spoofing to make it appear that the call is legitimate when it is not.  The truth is that the call you receive may or may not be from a legitimate charity or a telemarketer on behalf of a legitimate charity and you have no way of knowing who is really on the other end of the line.

TIPS

When you receive such a call from a telemarketer or someone purporting to represent a charity, if you are interested in the particular charity, the best thing you can do is just to ask them to send you written material.  Do not provide your credit card number over the phone to anyone who calls you because you cannot be sure that they are legitimate.   Also, as I have warned you in the past, many phony charities have names that are similar to real charities so it is always a good idea to investigate a charity before you make a charitable contribution.  In addition, when you receive a charitable solicitation telephone call from a telemarketer, the telemarketer is generally being paid a commission for the money he or she collects.  Thus, your contribution to the charity is diluted by the amount that goes to the telemarketer although as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “not that there is anything wrong with that.”    However, if you really want to make your charitable contribution go farther, you will  be  better served by first checking out the particular charity at www.charitynavigator.org where you can find out not only if the particular charity is legitimate, but also how much of your contribution goes toward administrative costs and how much actually goes toward the charity’s charitable work.  Charitynavigator.org will also show you the best address to send your contribution.  Then you can make your contribution directly to the charity without any amount being deducted for fund raising expenses.

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 24, 2016 – Phony political poll scam

Political polls have been a major part of our election process for many years.  Generally, people are contacted by telephone to answer questions about the candidates and their policies.  Because it is so common at this time of year to be called by a political pollster, scammers also will call posing as pollsters in an effort to trick their victims into providing information that can be used for purposes of identity theft.  Often they will dangle the reward of a gift card or other prize to lure people into participating in the scam poll.  Scammers can also manipulate your Caller ID through a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that their calls are coming from legitimate pollsters.

TIPS

Legitimate pollsters do not offer prizes or other compensation for participating in their polls.  They also will never ask for personal information such as your Social Security number, credit card number or banking information.  Anyone posing as a pollster asking for such information is a scammer and you should hang up immediately.

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 – June 25, 2016 – Federal Student Tax scam

For years now I have been warning you about phone calls from scammers posing as IRS agents demanding immediate payments for unpaid taxes.  I continue to warn you about these scams because they continue to work.  According to the IRS, thousands of victims have paid millions of dollars to the perpetrators of these scams.  The form of the scam changes slightly from time to time.  In the most recent incarnation of this scam, people are receiving calls demanding payment of the non-existent Federal Student Tax.  The scammers generally demand payment by credit card, wired funds or even iTunes gift cards which is a major indication that the call is a scam.

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.   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 gift card  or wired funds in an initial telephone call.  If you think that you really may owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to speak to a real IRS employee.  If you receive a scam call, you may wish to report the call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.

Scam of the day – June 4, 2016 – New EMV chip card scams

Although October 1, 2015 was the deadline for retailers and credit card issuing companies to switch over to using the new EMV credit cards containing a computer chip that creates and encrypts a new number every time the card is used, a recent study shows that 30% of Americans still don’t have an EMV chip enabled card.  Ingenious scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, are taking advantage of the situation by contacting people by email posing as their credit card company and prompting them to either provide personal information in response to the email or click on a link in the email in order to update their account to get a new smart EMV chip card.  If you provide personal information to the scammer, you will end up becoming a victim of identity theft.  If you click on the link, you may also download keystroke logging malware that will steal your information from your computer or smartphone and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

But individual consumers are not the only ones being targeted by EMV chip card scams.  Merchants are also being contacted by phone by scammers posing as employees of MasterCard or Visa who tell the merchant that the merchant’s credit card processing equipment is not compatible with the latest changes to the credit card processing requirements necessary to use the EMV chip cards, but that the credit card processing equipment can be reprogrammed at no cost to the merchant to bring it into compliance.  However, if the merchant cooperates with the reprogramming of the credit card processing equipment what will happen is that each transaction will be redirected to an account of the scammer, which results in double billing to the consumer and major problems for the merchant.

TIPS

So how do you know as a consumer if you receive an email purporting to be from your credit card company that it is legitimate?

First check the address of the email sender.  If it appears to come from someone or some company wholly unrelated to your credit card issuer, it is a scam.  Many scammers use hijacked email accounts that become a part of a network of controlled computers referred to as a botnet to send out their emails so that it is difficult to trace the scams back to the scammer.

Merely because the email appears legitimate, is written in proper English and even carries the logo of your credit card company does not mean that it is legitimate.  It is easy to copy the logo of a company on to an email.  If you get an email from your real credit card company it will generally be addressed to you specifically by name rather than a generic greeting of “Dear Cardholder.”  In addition, the email to you will generally reference your account by including the last four digits of your account.  However, even paranoids have enemies so if you do get an email that appears legitimate, but you still have concerns, merely call the company at the number found on the back of your credit card to confirm that the email is legitimate.

As for merchants, you cannot trust a phone call purporting to be from your credit card processing company even if your Caller ID indicates that the call is from MasterCard or Visa.  Caller ID can be tricked through a technique called “spoofing” to make a scammers call appear to be legitimate.  Never provide sensitive information to anyone over the phone who calls you unless you have verified that the call is legitimate.  In the case of a call from your credit card processing company telling you to reprogram your credit card terminals, you should hang up and call your credit card processing company at a telephone number that you know is legitimate in order to determine whether the original call was a scam.