Scam of the day – August 23, 2017 – National Institutes of Health grant scams

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning people about an upsurge in phone calls from scammers posing as employees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in which the scammers inform their targeted victims that they have been selected to receive a $14,000 grant from the NIH.  All they need to do is pay a processing fee through an iTunes card or a Green Dot money card.

This is a total scam and even if your Caller ID makes it appear that the call is from the NIH, your Caller ID can be tricked through a technique called “spoofing” to look like the call is from the NIH when it is not.

TIPS

You will never be called by the government to tell you that you have been awarded a grant for which you have not applied.  In addition, government grants do not charge a processing fee of any kind.  You can find out more information about federal grant providing agencies at www.grants.gov, however it is important to remember that grants are not given for personal purposes, but only for public projects.

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 – June 19, 2017 – New IRS phone scam

A new version of the long running scam of people receiving telephone calls from scammers posing as IRS representatives demanding payments for overdue taxes is being reported by the IRS.  In this new version of the scam, the intended victim is told by the scammer that two certified letters sent by the IRS to the intended victim were returned as undeliverable and that payment must be made immediately over the phone through providing the numbers from a prepaid debit card.  The phony IRS agent also tells the potential victim that the purchase of the prepaid debit card is linked to the IRS’ Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).

The EFTPS is a real system used by the IRS for payment of income taxes electronically over the Internet or by phone, but it does not require the use of prepaid debit cards and the systems are not linked.

Another major indication that this is a scam is that the caller also tells the intended victim not to contact their lawyer, tax preparer or their local IRS office until after the payment has been made.

TIPS

By using a technique called “spoofing” a scammer scan trick your Caller ID into making it appear that the call is originating from the IRS.  Even though Congress foolishly recently authorized private collection agencies to contact taxpayers by phone in regard to overdue taxes, neither the IRS nor any of these private collection agencies will ever demand immediate payment over the phone by credit cards, prepaid debit cards, iTunes cards or wire transfers.

If you receive such a call you should hang up immediately.  If you think you owe money to the IRS, you should contact the IRS directly to deal with this matter.

Scam of the day – June 4, 2017 – New Medicare card scam

Medicare has used a person’s Social Security number as his or her Medicare number since the inception of Medicare and despite the rest of the country recognizing that this puts Medicare recipients in serious danger of identity theft, Medicare resisted changing the Medicare number to a safer random number for many years.  In the Scam of the day for April 23, 2015 I first reported to you about a new law requiring Medicare to start using randomly generated numbers for Medicare identification.  The effective date for that law, however was pushed into the future.   Now we are approaching the effective date of the law and scammers are springing up to take advantage of confusion about the switch to new Medicare numbers to make people victims of identity theft.

Starting in 2018, new cards will be sent by regular mail to all 60 million Americans enrolled in Medicare.  Between April 2018 and December 31, 2019 a Medicare recipient can use either his or her old number or the new, more secure Medicare number.  Starting in 2020 only the new numbers will be used.

Scammers are already taking confusion about this transition to the new Medicare numbers by pretending to be Medicare employees, calling Medicare recipients and telling them that they need to register on the phone to get their new card or they will lose benefits.  They then ask for their intended victim’s Medicare number which is the same as their Social Security number and use that information to make them a victim of identity theft.  In another variation of the scam, targeted victims are told they need to pay for the new card through a credit card or by giving the caller their bank account number.  The truth is that there is no charge for the new card, but anyone providing this information to a scammer will quickly become a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

If you are a Medicare recipient, you will get your new card in the mail. There is nothing you need to do and nothing you need to pay to get your new card with your new number in the mail.  As for phone calls purporting to be from Medicare, you should never provide your Social Security number, credit card number or any other personal information to anyone who calls you on the phone because you can never be sure they are legitimate.  Even if your Caller ID indicates the call is from Medicare, the IRS or some other legitimate organization, through a technique called “spoofing” your Caller ID can be tricked into making it appear that the call is legitimate.  If you get a call asking for personal information that appears legitimate, merely hang up and call the company or agency at a number that you independently know is legitimate to find out the truth.

Scam of the day – April 29, 2017 – Eight people arrested for IRS phone scam

Eight people were arrested this week for perpetrating a familiar scam. They are accused of impersonating IRS personnel in phone calls to victims in which they threatened the victims with being arrested if they did not immediately make payments.  The method of payments requested by the alleged scammers were MoneyGram, Walmart2Walmart Money Transfer and iTunes cards.  According to the IRS the alleged scammers stole more than 8.8 million dollars from more than 7,000 victims.

Arrested were Yosvany Padilla, Elio Carballo Cruz, Esequiel Bravo Diaz, Ricardo Fontanella Caballero, Alejandro Valdes, Angel Chapotin Carrillo, Alfredo Echevarria Rios and Joel Leon Pando.

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.

If you do become a victim of this scam, you should report it to the IRS at this website address: https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml

Complicating the situation, however, Congress, in its infinite wisdom, is now 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.

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.

Scam of the day – April 26, 2017 – New survey indicates Americans lost 9.5 billion dollars to phone scams last year

A recent survey done by Harris Poll on behalf of Truecaller, a company that provides phone security services concludes that during the last twelve months approximately 22.1 million Americans were victims of various phone scams both on their landlines and smartphones with an average loss of $430 per victim which is a 56% increase from a similar survey done in 2015.

Phone scams come in a variety of forms including phony charity solicitations and fake IRS calls, but they all have one thing in common. They can easily steal your money if you are not careful.

The survey also showed who was being scammed and the results were interesting.  American men were almost twice as likely to become a victim of phone fraud as American women and millennial males were the most vulnerable group of all.

The survey also pointed out vulnerabilities of people on their smartphones where 72% of the fraudulent losses occurred.  In 2014, smartphones accounted for just 29% of fraudulent phone call losses.  Of course, with increased use of text messaging, fraudulent text messages open up a new venue for scammers.

TIPS

The first defense against phone scammers is skepticism.  You can never be sure when you receive a phone call or a text message as to who is really contacting you.  Even if you have Caller ID, scammers can use a technique called spoofing to make the call appear to be originating from a legitimate source.  Never provide personal information including credit card information to anyone who calls you or text messages you without confirming the legitimacy of the call or text message.  You also may wish to use services like nomorobo which screens robocalls or Truecaller which screens your phone calls and text messages.

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.