Scam of the day – April 15, 2016 – Tax scams multiply as filing deadline approaches

Today, April 15th is the usual deadline for filing your federal income tax return, however, as many people know, if the 15th falls on a weekend, the filing deadline is pushed back to the next Monday.  If April 15th is a holiday, the filing date is also pushed back.  This year, April 16th is Emancipation Day, which is a legal holiday in Washington D.C. and because it falls on a Saturday, federal employees have the preceding Friday, April 15th, off from work which pushes the filing deadline to the next business day, which is Monday, April 18th.  If that isn’t complicated enough, if you live in Massachusetts or Maine, you have until April 19th to file your tax returns because April 18th is Patriot’s Day, a state holiday in those two states.

In any event, scammers and identity thieves don’t take off holidays and the IRS is warning people again about an increase in income tax scams that are occurring in the final days before the income tax filing deadline.  There are a number of various scams tied to income tax filings, but they generally fall into four categories.  The first is when you get a telephone call purporting to be from the IRS informing you that if you don’t send them money right away, you will be arrested or suffer some other serious penalty.  The second is when you receive an email or text message apparently from the IRS requiring you to verify information in order to receive your refund.  You supply this information by clicking on a link.  The third is when you receive a telephone call apparently from the IRS asking you to confirm personal information over the phone in order to receive your refund.  The fourth is when you receive a call, text message or email from your online tax preparation company requiring you to confirm personal information.

All of these are scams that will either directly steal your money or provide the identity thieves with personal information they can use to make you a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

The IRS will not call you and threaten you in order to collect outstanding taxes and they will not require you to wire money to them.  Even if your Caller ID indicates it is the IRS calling, scammers using a technique called “spoofing” can make it appear on your Caller ID that it is the IRS calling when it is not.  If you get a call from someone purporting to be from the IRS initiating contact about collecting overdue taxes, it is a scam.  It is that simple.  Just hang up.

The IRS will not be contacting you by phone, email or text messages to confirm information regarding your tax return, so never provide personal information in response to being contacted in these ways by someone pretending to be with the IRS.  In addition, merely by clicking on a link contained in such electronic messages could download malware that could steal your personal information from your computer and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

Phony emails or text messages from your online tax preparation company requesting personal information is a very prevalent scam this year.  Whenever you get an email or text message from anyone asking for personal information, do not provide it unless you have independently confirmed that it was legitimate.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.

Here is a link to the IRS’ recent warning.  https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Warns-of-Continued-Scams-and-Varied-Tactics-as-the-Tax-Deadline-Nears

Scam of the day – February 16, 2016 – Bank vishing scam

Vinton County National Bank in Ohio is warning its customers of a vishing scam presently being done in Ohio although everyone, regardless of where you live should be aware that this type of scam is also turning up throughout the country.  Vishing is a combination of the word “voice” and the word “phishing” and it refers to phishing scams done over the phone.  In this particular instance, people are receiving telephone calls purportedly from their bank telling them that there has been a security problem with their debit card and their account has been frozen.  They are then directed to a phony security department that persuades the intended victim to provide personal information about their bank account in an effort to resolve the problem.  Unfortunately, if the person called falls for the scam and provides personal information, he or she ends up becoming a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Although in the case of the Ohio vishing calls, Caller ID indicates that the calls have not originated with the bank, more sophisticated scammers are able to trick Caller ID into indicating that the call indeed is coming from your bank through a technique called “spoofing” so you cannot trust your Caller ID to screen legitimate calls from those scammers.  No bank will ever ask for your personal information by phone, email or text message so the easy way to avoid becoming a victim of vishing is to just refrain from ever giving personal information to someone who contacts you by phone, email or text message requesting personal information.  If you think that the communication might be legitimate, merely hang up and contact the bank at a telephone number you know is accurate.

Scam of the day – January 15, 2016 – Powerball lottery scams

By now everyone is aware that three winning tickets for the 1.6 billion dollar record Powerball lottery were sold in California, Florida and Tennessee.  However, merely because the lottery drawing has been completed, does not mean that scams related to the drawing have ended.  Year after year, lottery scams are one of the most common and profitable scams for scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists.  What is now happening is that people are being contacted by emails or phone messages and told that although they did not win the top prize, they did win one of the lesser prizes which can be as much as a million dollars.  The only catch is that you need to prepay administrative fees or income taxes on your winnings before your prize will be sent to you.

TIPS

Because hundreds of millions of tickets were sold for this latest Powerball drawing it is a good chance that when you are contacted by a scammer posing as a Powerball lottery agent, that you may have purchased a ticket or two, however, it is important to remember that the lottery commissions that operate Powerball do not have any information as to who purchased particular tickets so if you get a call or an email from someone saying that your ticket is a winner, it is a scam.  In addition, administrative fees are never assessed as a condition of receiving a legitimate lottery prize.  As for income taxes, legitimate lotteries never collect taxes from you as a condition of claiming your prize.  Either,as Powerball does, the taxes are deducted from your prize before you receive the prize or, as some lotteries operate, the entire prize is sent to you and you are responsible for paying the taxes yourself to the IRS. Finally, it is important to remember that even if your Caller ID indicates that the call you receive is from the lottery commission, scammers can use a technique called spoofing to make it appear that their call is coming from the lottery commission when it is really coming from a scammer.

Scam of the day – November 19, 2015 – Verizon Wireless robocall scam

Scammers are now making robocalls that purport to be from Verizon Wireless in which they promise a “bonus reward” payment of $54.  All you have to do in order to claim your “bonus reward” is go to a Verizon Wireless website and verify your personal information.  Of course, the website you are directed to is not a Verizon Wireless website although it appears genuine.  The account information you verify is actually being turned over to a scammer who uses this information to access your account, steal more information and make you a victim of identity theft.  Making the problem worse is that through a technique called “spoofing,” your Caller ID can be fooled into showing the call coming from “technical support” and the number that it shows, 800-922-0204 is an actual Verizon Wireless customer assistance number although the call is not coming from Verizon Wireless customer assistance.

TIPS

As I have mentioned many times, regardless of what your Caller ID may indicate, you can never be sure who actually is calling you when you receive a phone call and you cannot trust your Caller ID.  Of course, whenever you are promised something for nothing, as in this scam, you should always be skeptical.  If you have any thought that the offer may be legitimate, you can always contact the real company by going to a website address or calling at a phone number that you know is legitimate, not the phone number to which you are directed in the scammer’s telephone call, email or text.

Scam of the day – November 6, 2015 – Sears television scam

Police in Clarkstown, New York are warning citizens of a new scam in which people are receiving telephone calls purporting to be from Sears with offers of tremendous discounts on the purchase of a television.  The intended victim is told to go to a nearby Sears store where they are greeted at the entrance of the store by the person who called them.  He is dressed as a Sears employee and even is wearing a phony Sears name tag.  Upon paying the phony Sears employee, the victim is given a receipt and is told to wait while the scammer goes into the store to retrieve the television.  That is the last that the victim ever sees of both his money and the phony Sears employee.

TIPS

Although this scam is being reported in New York, similar scams are going on throughout the country.  Some people trust the original phone call because, in some instances, Caller ID indicates that the call is indeed coming from Sears, however, unfortunately, through a technique called “spoofing,” Caller ID can be fooled to make it appear that the call is coming from a legitimate source when in truth it is not.

No Sears or other retailer will have employees meet you at the door to their store seeking you out, so you should also be skeptical of that aspect of the scam.  In addition, as always, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  If you have any thought that such an offer might be legitimate, you should call the customer service office of the company at a number that you know is legitimate before you take a trip to a store to lose your money.

Scam of the day – October 15, 2015 – Medicare open enrollment scams

The open enrollment period for Medicare begins today, October 15th and continues until December 7th.  This is the only time during the year that people enrolled in Medicare can change their Medicare health plans, Medigap plans and their prescription drug plans.  By now, people already enrolled in Medicare should have received an Annual Notice of Change from their health insurance providers describing any changes to their plans such as the dropping of particular drugs from their prescription drug plan.  If you are satisfied with your plans, you do not need to do anything.

Scammers and identity thieves view the open enrollment period as senior citizen hunting season as myriads of Medicare scams are common during this time.  Among the scams are phone calls or emails purporting to be from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) informing you that Medicare is issuing new Medicare cards and that in order to continue to receive benefits, you need to obtain a new card which can be done by providing the person contacting you with your Medicare number which is your Social Security number.  If you provide this number, you will end up becoming a victim of identity theft.  What makes this scam particularly troublesome is that there is a kernel of truth to this scam.  Under legislation finally passed this year, Medicare will be required to stop using people’s Social Security number as their Medicare identification number.  Unfortunately however, the legislation does not require Medicare to change the identifying numbers of people presently receiving Medicare benefits until eight years from now.

You also may be contacted by someone purporting to be from your insurance company asking to verify information.  Again, this is a common tactic of identity thieves trying to trick you into providing information.  You also may be contacted by people claiming to have supplemental insurance programs that will save you thousands of dollars.  Here too, you cannot be sure that they are legitimate when they contact you by phone, text message, email or even regular mail.

TIPS

Medicare is not issuing new cards to Medicare recipients at this time and they will never contact you by phone and ask for your Medicare number.  Never give personal information to anyone who calls you on the phone because you can never be sure who is actually on the other end of the line.  Through a technique called “spoofing,” a scammer can fool your Caller ID and make it appear that the call is from the government or some legitimate company when in fact, it is from an identity thief who is eager to steal your money.  If you want to get information you can trust about what insurance plans are available to you and at what cost, merely go to the “Plan Finder” section of Medicare’s website www.medicare.gov.  If you want to speak with someone on the phone, call Medicare at its 24 hour hotline 1-800-MEDICARE.

Scam of the day – October 13, 2015 – Dow Jones & Co. suffers apparent data breach

Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch and Barron’s has just announced that it apparently was the victim of a hacking and resulting data breach which occurred between August of 2012 and July of 2015.  Although it appears that the credit card and debit card information lost may have been limited to fewer than 3,500 Dow Jones customers, all of Dow Jones’ customers may have had their names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers stolen.  This raises the specter of spear phishing by which targeted individuals receive emails from companies with which they do business that come addressed to them by name and are tailored to appear legitimate and thereby more likely to entice the potential victims to provide personal information or click on links.  Clicking on these links or providing the requested information will lead to identity theft.  In this particular case, the victims may also expect to receive phone calls that appear to be legitimate requesting personal information under various guises.  In some instances, by using a technique called “spoofing” the identity thief can even manipulate your Caller ID to make it appear that the call is from Dow Jones.  Providing personal information in response to these calls will also result in identity theft.

TIPS

If you were one of the approximately 3,500 people whose credit or debit card information was compromised you will receive a letter, not an email, text message or phone call from Dow Jones with information about free credit monitoring services to be offered those people by Dow Jones.   If you wish to contact Dow Jones’ Customer Service department for more information, you can reach them at 800-568-7625.

As for the rest of us, whether you are a subscriber to any of Dow Jones’ publications or not, this is a reminder to never click on links in email or provide personal information in response to an email, text messages or phone calls unless you have confirmed that the communication is legitimate.  Regardless of how legitimate looking the communication may appear, you can never be fully confident that it is legitimate unless you independently confirm this fact.

 

Scam of the day – October 8, 2015 – FBI warns college students about phone scams

Phone scams by which  someone calls you posing as a governmental agent threatening dire consequences unless you pay money have probably been around for as long as there have been phones, however they seem to be occurring in much greater frequency with more and more people falling victims to these scams.  Calls purporting to be from the IRS threatening serious action unless a payment is made have been a particular lucrative scam lately.  Now the FBI field office in Atlanta is issuing a warning of phone scams particularly specifically targeting college students.  In these calls, the scammer threatens the student with arrest or not graduating if they do not pay various phony claims that may include student loans, taxes or even parking tickets.  Making the matter worse is that using a technique called “spoofing” which can trick your Caller ID, some of the calls in which the caller claims he is an FBI agent actually appear as if they are coming from the Atlanta field office of the FBI.

TIPS

It is important to remember that regardless of what your Caller ID may indicate, you can never be sure as to who is really on the other end of the line when you receive a phone call.  It is easy to spot a phony IRS collection call because the IRS does not initiate contact with you by phone, email or text message to collect overdue taxes.  If you receive such a call and think that the call might possibly be legitimate, you should merely hang up and contact the real company or agency at a telephone number that you know is legitimate to inquire as to whether or not the call you received was a scam.  These calls generally also ask for payments to be wired, which is almost always an indication that the claim is a scam because scammers prefer money to be wired because wired money is almost impossible to trace and get back after the scam is discovered.

Scam of the day – September 24, 2015 – Government grant scams

Recently there has been an upswing in telephone scams involving phony federal grants.  The scam begins with a telephone call from someone purporting to be from the Federal Grant Educational Department, US Grant Commission or some other real or phony government agency informing you that you are eligible for a substantial federal grant.  Your caller ID may even support the scam by indicating that indeed the call is from a federal agency, however, caller ID can be fooled by a technique called “spoofing” to make an illegitimate call appear genuine.  What you are told that you need to do in order to receive your money varies somewhat from scammer to scammer, but generally involves you paying a transfer fee or application fee before they can send you the money.  Some scammers request your bank account number so that they can electronically deposit your check.  This is a scam and any payment you make to the scammer is lost forever and you do not receive anything in return.  If you provide your bank account number, you will soon find your bank account emptied by the scammer.

TIPS

Whenever you receive a telephone call, you can never be sure who is calling you.  Never provide personal information, such as a bank account number to anyone over the phone.  It is also important to remember that the federal government does not call people about federal grants who have never applied for a grant.  Most importantly, the federal government does not charge any fee to apply for a grant.

People looking for legitimate information about grants, loans and other financial aid information for higher education can go to the federal government’s website www.StudentAid.ed.gov.   Information about federal loans for housing, disaster relief, education and veterans benefits can be found at the federal government’s website www.GovLoans.gov.  Finally For information about  a range of other federal benefits for which you may be eligible, you can go the federal government’s website www.Benefits.gov.

Scam of the day – September 5, 2015 – The phone call with no one on the line

I dare say that probably everyone reading this has gotten a call in which you pick up the phone with nothing but silence on the other end of the line.  The cynics among us, including me, tend to believe that this must be part of a scam.  Remember, as I always say, even paranoids have enemies.  However, it can seem confounding to determine how silence on the end of the call could be related to a scam.

The answer is that indeed these calls are the first step in a phone scam.  Scammers have huge data banks of phone numbers that are used to make robocalls using computers at little cost for millions of calls.  However before they make these calls, such as robocalls from Rachel from Card Services or other telephone based scams, the scammers first confirm that the telephone numbers that they are calling belong to real people and that is where the calls you get with no one apparently on the line come in.  These calls are just test calls by the scammers to confirm that the number is an active telephone number of a real person.

TIPS

I must admit that when I get a phone call from a number that I do not recognize, particularly from one outside of my area, I don’t even bother to answer the call.  I merely wait to see if it is from a legitimate caller who leaves a voice mail message or if it is from a scammer who doesn’t bother to leave a message.  As for robocalls, it is important to remember that commercial robocalls are illegal so that anyone calling to do any kind of business in this manner is already violating the law and therefore is not worthy of your trust.   It is important to remember that whenever you get a call from anyone requesting personal information from you, it is impossible to know if they are legitimate or even are who they say they are.  Through a technique called “spoofing” it is easy to fool your Caller ID to make it appear that a call from a scammer is coming from your bank, the IRS or anyone else the scammer wants to appear to be.  Consequently, you should never give personal information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called.  If you receive such a call and it appears legitimate, merely hang up and call back the company at a number that you know is legitimate.