Scam of the Day

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Scam of the day – April 9, 2021 – Investment Scammer Sentenced to 17.5 Years in Prison

Investment scammer Anthony Diaz was recently sentenced to 17.5 years in prison upon his conviction of eleven counts of fraud related to his scamming his clients out of millions of dollars.  Diaz was a financial planner who convinced his clients to invest in high risk, illiquid alternative investment products including real estate investment trusts, business development companies, oil and gas drilling companies and equipment leasing companies.  Diaz convinced his clients to invest their life savings with him though a series of false promises including that the investments were low-risk with guaranteed protection of principle and guaranteed rates of return and that the investments were liquid and able to be easily accessed if needed.  The truth is that the investments were high-risk and speculative with no guarantees.  Some of his investors lost all of their life’s savings.  Diaz often had his clients sign blank documents with the promise that the missing information would be filled in by his office.  Diaz would then insert false information into the forms, inflating his clients’ assets, risk tolerance and investment experience in order to qualify them as suitable investors for these high-risk alternative investments.  Diaz had also been suspended by the Certified Financial Planners Board of Standards as well as investigated and punished by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Pennsylvania Department of Banking.

There are many different investment scams, but generally, people often become victims of investment scams when, such as here, they invest in things that they don’t understand (a common thread with victims of Bernie Madoff), fall victim to affinity fraud by investing with someone merely because they share a similar background, invest with someone who is both the broker and the custodian of the asset which enables the scammer to be able to control the investments and the records of the deposits or fail to investigate the investment advisor before investing.

TIPS

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’s securities regulators.   You can find your state’s agency by going to the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association. https://www.nasaa.org/investor-education/how-to-check-your-broker-or-investment-adviser/ Many investment advisers will not be required to register with the SEC, but are required to register with your individual state securities regulators.  You should also check with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for information about the particular  investment adviser. https://www.finra.org/investors/protect-your-money/ask-and-check  If investors had looked into the history of Diaz, they would have seen numerous disciplinary investigations and sanctions imposed.  In addition, no one should ever sign a blank form with an investment advisor.

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 as well as the clients of Anthony Diaz.  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.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide was recently cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 8, 2021 – Important Update for Unemployment Compensation Scam Victims

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, unemployment benefit scams were already a major problem costing the states and federal government billions of dollars each year.  Part of the problem is that the federal government requires the states to pay claims within a few weeks even if the employer has not responded to confirm that the applicant for unemployment benefits is indeed eligible for those benefits.  As with so many identity theft crimes, this one starts with the theft of someone’s Social Security number.  Armed with that ammunition, the identity thief then applies on line for unemployment benefits, which are often paid before the legitimacy of the claim is confirmed.   The payments are generally made by debit cards or direct deposit into bank accounts controlled by the identity thieves which make this crime simple to accomplish.

Many states do not have the proper controls in place to properly screen applications and other states may be not be as stringent in following their own rules in an effort to speed up the sending of funds to needy applicants for benefits. Last May I told you about a private memorandum from the Secret Service indicates that a sophisticated fraud ring based in Nigeria was using stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to file phony applications for unemployment benefits in large numbers.

Victims whose names and Social Security numbers were used to file fraudulent unemployment compensation claims generally became aware of the problem when they would receive a letter from their state’s unemployment office informing them that their application for benefits had been approved.  These victims then would generally contact their state ‘s unemployment office, inform them that this was a scam and get their records there corrected.  Or so they thought.  Unemployment compensation is taxable income and states paying unemployment compensation payments are required to issue 1099-G forms indicating the funds paid and send those forms to both the IRS and the unemployment claimant.  Unfortunately, many state offices have not corrected their records and sent these notices to the people whose identities were stolen and used by the identity thieves to steal unemployment payments.  Unfortunately, the IRS also received these faulty 1099 – G forms.  The IRS initially advised people receiving these 1099-G forms for funds they did not get to contact their state unemployment offices to get a corrected form.  However, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the state unemployment offices to correct the 1099-G forms before the extended May 17th tax filing deadline.

Fortunately, as a part of the new American Rescue Plan which became law earlier this month, unemployment benefits up to $10,200 for individuals and $20,400 for married couples filing jointly will not be taxable if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $150,000.

TIPS

If you are still employed, but have received letters or other communications from your state’s unemployment office, your identity may have been used in this scam and you should report this to your state’s unemployment office right away.  As for dealing with your 2020 income tax return, the best way to protect yourself from income tax identity theft is to file your return as soon as possible.  If you were a victim of this scam you no longer have to include the funds indicated on the 1099-G issued by your state on your federal income tax return.  If you already filed and included the funds on your income tax return, you do not need to file an amended return.  According to the IRS, “any resulting overpayment of tax will be either refunded or applied to other outstanding taxes owed.”

Additionally, if you have been a victim of this scam, your Social Security number is in the hands of a criminal.  It may be used for other criminal purposes so you should get a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies to look for any irregularities and you should freeze your credit if you have not already done so.

Here is the link to use to get a free copy of your credit reports https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action

To get the maximum protection from identity theft, it is important to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here are links to each of them with instructions about how to get a credit freeze:

https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Once you have frozen your credit, be sure to keep the PIN and information on how to unfreeze your credit report in a safe place.

I also urge you to regularly go to the website https://haveibeenpwned.com/ where you can insert your email address and find what data breaches may have compromised your information.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 7, 2021 – Google Chrome Security Update

As was made abundantly clear by 2017’s  massive Equifax data breach which affected 148 million people and was perpetrated by exploiting a  vulnerability in Apache software for which Apache had already issued a security update, but Equifax failed to install,  constant updating of the software we all use with the latest security patches and updates is a critical part of avoiding scams and identity theft threats.  Whenever new security updates and patches are issued, we provide access to these so that you can update your software to provide better security on your computers, cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices.  Updating your software with the latest security patches and updates as soon as possible is important because identity thieves and scammers are always finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in the software that we all use.  Delay in updating your software could lead to disastrous results.  However, it is also important to be sure that you are downloading legitimate patches and updates rather than being tricked by an identity thief or scammer into downloading malware under the guise of downloading a security patch or update.  Today’s security update involves serious vulnerabilities in the popular search engine Google Chrome.  It is important to remember that while Google will automatically send your computer the updates as soon as they are issued, you need to restart your browser to install the updates.  Some people leave their browser open for days at a time so it is important to download and install any Google Chrome security updates as soon as they are available.

TIPS

Here is a  link to this recent security update as posted by the Department of Homeland Security: https://us-cert.cisa.gov/ncas/current-activity/2021/03/31/google-releases-security-updates-chrome

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide was recently cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 6, 2021 – Massive Facebook Data Breach

As I have reminded you many times, we are only as safe and secure as the security as the websites that have our personal information.  So even if you are extremely diligent in protecting your personal information, you can be in danger of identity theft and scams if your personal information falls into the hands of hackers which is just what happened to 533 million Facebook users whose cell phone numbers, Facebook ID, name, gender, location, relationship status, occupation, date of birth and email addresses were recently made available for free to criminals using a hacking forum located on the Dark Web where cybercriminals buy and sell goods and services.

The information which is now in the hands of criminals around the world was originally obtained through a data breach in 2019.  At that time it was sold on the Dark Web for as much as $30,000.  Since then the price has dropped periodically and now it is being given away to other criminals for free.  This is a common scenario where cybercriminals eventually give away, for no charge, information they have previously sold to others as a way of increasing their reputation in the cybercriminal world.

This personal information is used by cybercriminals to create specifically targeted spear phishing emails and text messages (called smishing) to lure people into clicking on malware infected links or providing personal information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  While many common phishing emails and text messages are easily recognized as phony, sophisticated spear phishing emails and text messages can be tailored by the criminals to our own interests using the information obtained through the data breach in order to appear to be trustworthy which makes them quite dangerous.

TIPS

One important lesson is to limit the amount of personal information that you provide to companies and websites whenever possible.  It is also critical that we all remember that whenever we get an email, text message or phone call, we can never be sure who is really contacting us so you should never click on links or provide personal information in response to such communications unless you have absolutely confirmed that the communication was legitimate.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 5, 2021 – Square Phishing Email

Phishing emails, by which scammers and identity thieves attempt to lure you into either clicking on links contained within the email which download malware or providing personal information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft, are nothing new.   They are a staple of identity thieves and scammers and with good reason because they work. Reproduced below is a copy of a new phishing email presently circulating that appears to come from Square.  Square is a financial services and digital payments company founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey who also founded Twitter.

Like so many phishing emails, this one attempts to lure you into responding by making you think there is an emergency to which you must respond. This is not a particularly convincing phishing email because it comes from an email address that is obviously not an email address of Square; it does not mention your account number; it does not contain a Square logo which would have been easy to duplicate and it does not contain your name.  The salutation is a mere “Hello.”

Here is a copy of the Square phishing email presently being circulated.  I have changed the links.

“Hello, 

I’m reaching out to let you know that we’ve detected some unusual activity on your Square account.  We’ve suspended deposits from your Square account to your bank.  You’ll still be able to process payments using Square in the meantime—however, the funds will just be held in your Square account.  We’d like to encourage you to resolve this, please click the link and follow the instructions to respond :

https.Square*********

If there’s a bit of hold time, you’re welcome to use the callback option so you don’t have to wait. We’ll keep your place in line and give you a call.

Best wishes,
Todd
Square Account Services”

TIPS

There are a number of indications that this is not a legitimate email from Square, but instead is a phishing email. Most notably, the email address from which this phishing email was sent has no relation to Square  Also, as I indicated earlier, there is no Square logo, no mention of your name in the email and no mention of your account number in the email.  Additionally, if you hovered your mouse over the original link provided in the email (which I have removed) you would have seen that the true address of the link is different from the link that appeared to be from Square.   As with all phishing emails, two things can happen if you click on the links provided.  Either you will be sent to a legitimate looking, but phony website where you will be prompted to input personal information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft or, even worse, merely by clicking on the link, you may download keystroke logging malware that will steal all of your personal information from your computer or smartphone and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

If you receive an email like this and think it may possibly be legitimate, merely call the customer service number where you can confirm that it is a scam, but make sure that you dial the telephone number correctly because scammers have been known to buy phone numbers that are just a digit off of the legitimate numbers for financial companies, such as Square to trap you if you make a mistake in dialing the real number.  It is important to know that Square will never ask you to provide sensitive information such as your username, password, Social Security number or credit card information through an email, phone call or text message.  If you need to reach Square customer support, you can use this link.  https://squareup.com/help/us/en/contact?panel=44E50F016449

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 4, 2021 – Roku Activation Scams

Roku is an extremely popular device that enables you to be able to watch free and paid video content on your television through the Internet. For cable cutters it is a good way to view television content and as someone who uses a Roku device, I can attest to its value.  Unfortunately, scammers are also aware of the ever increasing popularity of Roku and are scamming people when they set up their device or need technical assistance.  In many instances, people attempting to activate their Roku or seeking other tech support  will do a Google or other search engine search for the Roku website, but will be sent to a phony Roku website set up by scammers who manage to manipulate the algorithms used by Google and other search engines to have their phony website appear in the first position or pay for an ad that appears at the top of your search page.  When you go to the phony Roku websites, which look quite legitimate with easily counterfeited logos you are prompted to call a support phone number which will take you to a scammer rather than Roku.  The scammer will require you to make a payment by credit card or debit card to activate your device.  They may also attempt to charge you for setting up a Roku account.

TIPS

It may be difficult to distinguish a phony Roku website from a phony Roku website.  One good indication is that all legitimate Roku websites have domain names that end in roku.com.  Another thing you can do to check to see if the website is legitimate is to use  https://www.whois.com/whois/ where you can find out who actually owns the website you are looking at.  If the Roku website you are on is owned by someone in North Korea, for example, you can be pretty sure that it is a phony website.  Finally, the best news is that there are no charges to activate a Roku device, set up a Roku account or for assistance in setting up your account.  Roku has a webpage with a number of videos which can help you with all of this.  https://support.roku.com/category/115001360548

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 3, 2021 – Coronavirus Version of Nigerian Email Scam

Today’s Scam of the day is another version of the Nigerian email scam that continues to plague the online community. Although it may seem that the Nigerian email scam began in the era of the Internet, the basis of the scam actually goes back to 1588 when it was known as the Spanish Prisoner Scam.  In those days, a letter was sent to the victim purportedly from someone on behalf of a wealthy aristocrat who was imprisoned in Spain under a false name.  The identity of the nobleman was not revealed for security reasons, but the victim was asked to provide money to obtain the release of the aristocrat, who, it was promised, would reward the money-contributing scam victim with a vast reward that included, in some circumstances, the Spanish prisoner’s beautiful daughter in marriage.

In the most common version of this scam, you are promised great sums of money if you assist a Nigerian or someone elsewhere in his effort to transfer money out of his country.  Variations include the movement of embezzled funds by corrupt officials, a dying gentleman who wants to make charitable gifts or a minor bank official trying to move the money of deceased foreigners out of his bank without the government taking it. The example below of the email  recently received by a Scamicide reader involves funds from a non-existent United Nations program to provide financial assistance during the Coronavirus pandemic.  In all the variations of this scam, although you are told initially that you do not need to contribute anything financially to the endeavor, you soon learn that it is necessary for you to contribute continuing large amounts of money for various reasons, such as fees, bribes, insurance or taxes before you can get anything.  Of course, the victim ends up contributing money to the scammer, but never receives anything in return.  This particular version of the scam email contains numerous indications that it is a scam.  It is not addressed to you by name and it refers to a non-existent United Nations program.  Unfortunately, some people allow their greed to overcome their good sense and become victims of this scam.

Here is a copy of the latest scam letter:

Subject: Re:Compensation,
Date: Fri, 19 Mar 2021 17:00:51 +0100
From: United Nations Covid 19 Coordinator <test@testr.ru>
Reply-To: XXXX@XXX
To: Recipients <test@testr.ru>

Good Day,

Hope you are safe from this pandemic troubling the world. My name is Mrs. Priscilla Braver, United Nation Covid 19 Cash Aid payment Coordinator, I work with the United Nations.I am directed by the United Nations as COVID 19 payment Coordinator to compile names of ten [10] persons badly affected by Covid 19 to be compensated with [US$1M] One Million United State Dollars.

I have decided to fix your detail as one of the beneficiaries of the Covid 19 Cash Aid program to be paid the sum of [US$1M] One Million United State Dollars.We shall share the money 50/50%. [ie] 50% percent for you and 50% me. All I need is your trust that you will keep my share of the money safe.

I contacted you because we are not related and you are not my known friend, no one will suspect me you are included as a beneficiary, because we are not related. If you are interested,please mail me back for more detailed information.
Please I hope I can trust you to keep my share of the money safe.

Regard,
Mrs. Priscilla Braver,
United Nation Covid 19 Cash Aid payment Coordinator

TIPS

This is a simple scam to avoid.  It preys upon people whose greed overcomes their good sense.  If you receive such an email, the first thing you should ask yourself is how does this possibly relate to you and why would you be singled out to be so lucky to be asked to participate in this arrangement.  Since there is no good answer to either question, you should merely hit delete and be happy that you avoided a scam.  Often, as in this case,  the emails are sent from an email address that has no relation to the purported sender which is an indication that the email is being sent through a botnet of hacked computers. In addition, it is important to note that nowhere in this particular version of the scam email is your name mentioned. The scam email is obviously being sent out as a mass mailing.

Many people wonder why cybercriminals and scammers send out such ridiculously obvious scam letters that anyone with an ounce of sense would recognize as a scam, but that may be intentional on the part of the scammer because if someone responds to such an email, they are more likely to fall prey to the scam without much effort by the scammers.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 2, 2021 – Huge Increase in Investment Scams in Australia

Investment scams have always been with us, but the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the number of investment scams through scams involving companies and promotors claiming to have effective products that can prevent, detect or cure the Coronavirus.  The  Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has suspended trading of dozens of companies making false claims related to Coronavirus related products and services as well as bringing fraud charges against a number of companies

You can use this link to see all of the enforcement actions and trading suspensions brought by the SEC. https://www.sec.gov/sec-coronavirus-covid-19-response

Recently, the financial news company Finbold published a study indicating that Australians lost 65 million dollars to investment scams in 2020 making it the number one scam in Australia in regard to total lost funds.  Romance scams were a distant second place.  But as I often say, “things aren’t as bad as you think — they are far worse.”  It is estimated that Australians will lose 100 million dollars or more to investment scams in 2021.

Many of these investment scams are promoted on social media, emails and unsolicited phone calls.  Often the investment scams are operated as pump and dump schemes.  Pump and dump scams have been with us for hundreds of years, however recently they have evolved to keep pace with today’s technology.   A Pump and dump scheme is most often done with low priced stocks referred to as “penny stocks.” The scammers buy low priced stocks and then artificially inflate the price of the stocks by using text messages, faxes, Internet chat rooms and other means of communication posing as people with inside information that indicates that a stock is about to rise.  This prompts victims of the scam to buy the stock and temporarily inflate the value of the stock.  Meanwhile, the scammers sell their stock when the stock price gets bumped up and are long gone when the stock deflates and reverts back to its true value.

TIPS

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’s securities regulators.   You can find your state’s agency by going to the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association. https://www.nasaa.org/investor-education/how-to-check-your-broker-or-investment-adviser/ Many investment advisers will not be required to register with the SEC, but are required to register with your individual state securities regulators.  You should also check with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for information about the particular  investment adviser. https://www.finra.org/investors/protect-your-money/ask-and-check

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. Additionally, investing with someone merely because you trust them because you have heard them on the radio or television is dangerous.  Having the same person advise the investment and control the investment is a common thread among Ponzi schemers because it enables them to falsify documents to make the investment look profitable. Generally, for additional security it is desirable to have a separate broker-dealer act as custodian for investments chosen by an investment adviser.

Australians seeking information about investments can find much useful information on the blog of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, a government sponsored website https://www.feedspot.com/infiniterss.php?_src=feed_title&followfeedid=1349717&q=site:http%3A%2F%2Ffeeds.feedburner.com%2FAustrade

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is sign up for free using this link. https://scamicide.com/scam-of-the-day/

Scam of the day – April 1, 2021 – IRS Issues Warning to College Students and Educators

There could hardly be a more appropriate time to warn you about a new phishing scam targeting college students and professors than April Fools Day.  The IRS has issued a warning to college students and professors who are being targeted with a phishing email that appears to come from the IRS with a subject line that reads “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.”  The email itself carries the IRS logo which is easy to counterfeit.  In the email you are asked to click on a link in order to submit a form to claim your refund.   The form asks you for a wide variety of personal information including your name, Social Security number, date of birth and address.  If you provide that information in response to the phony IRS email, you will end up promptly becoming a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Whenever you get an email asking you to provide personal information, the first thing you should do is look at the email address of the sender.  While sometimes the email address may appear legitimate, in many instances the email addresses used to send these phishing emails are the email addresses of unfortunate people whose email accounts have been hacked and made a part of a botnet of zombie computers used by scammers to send out their phishing emails.  Obviously if the email address has nothing to do with the IRS, you can be confident the email did not come from the IRS.  However, there is another easy way to know if the email you receive purporting to be from the IRS is legitimate, which is that the IRS never initiates communications about anything with taxpayers through email, text messages or phone calls so if you do receive such a communication, you can be confident it is a scam and you should ignore it.

This is also a good time to remind you that the IRS recently expanded its Identity Protection PIN Op-In Program that provides individual taxpayers with a six-digit code that is required to be included on the individual’s income tax return.  This will protect someone whose Social Security number had been compromised from becoming a victim of identity theft because the identity thief will not know the six-digit code.

The IRS started the Identity Theft Protection PIN program almost ten years ago, but it was only available to people who were already victims of identity theft and to people living in a few specific states chosen by the IRS to test the program.  Now anyone can and should obtain an Identity Theft Protection PIN.  The PIN is only valid for a single year and must be applied for anew each year.  In order to obtain an Identity Theft Protection PIN for this year’s income tax return you should go to http://www.IRS.gov/IPPIN and use the Get an IP PIN tool.  The process will require you to verify your identity.  Victims of income tax identity theft who have filed an identity theft affidavit with the IRS automatically receive an IP PIN by regular mail from the IRS.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

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Scam of the day – March 31, 2021 – Check Washing: As if You Didn’t Have Enough to Worry About

What is old is new again.   Many people continue to pay their household bills by paper checks rather than electronic banking and even when shopping, some people prefer paying by check instead of using a credit card or cash.  While there has been much discussion in the news about data breaches involving credit cards, the problems encountered through check washing are still substantial costing consumers and banks more than a billion dollars each year and the problem is getting worse. Typically, how the scam starts when someone pays a bill with a check, mails the envelope containing the check and then somewhere in transit the check is stolen, washed clean and altered to provide a big payment from the victim’s checking account to the criminal. Check washing is a process by which someone steals a check you have already written and “washes” or removes the name of the payee, often using simple bleach, and also changes the amount. The criminal then cashes your altered check and steals your money.  It is a very simple thing for identity thieves to steal your check from your mailbox if you put it in an envelope to pay a bill and leave it in your mailbox outside your home for your mail carrier to pick up.  Identity thieves also break into corner mail collection boxes and steal mail with checks from there too.  Finally, rogue clerks at stores may steal your checks as well.  It is then a simple thing to take ordinary bleach, acetone or other similar liquids to wash clean the name of the person to whom the check is made out as well as the amount of the check and insert the identity thief’s name and a new amount.

TIPS

While businesses can protect themselves from check washing quite readily by using higher technology checks such as those containing three dimensional reflective metallic holograms or checks treated with chemicals that will make the world “void”  appear if the check is attempted to be altered, these are costly alternatives for individuals.  Fortunately however, you are not powerless and the solution, in fact is quite simple.  Instead of writing your checks using a common ball point pen, switch to a gel pen which is a commonly available type of pen whose ink will not vanish under chemical washes.  Fountain pens also do not use the type of ink that can be readily washed, but the gel pen is simpler and easier to use (and also less messy).  Another important thing to remember is to cross shred your personal documents including checks that you no longer need and are discarding.  Identity thieves go through your trash for their treasure including checks that they can use to make counterfeit checks using your account.  Also, check your banks statements promptly after receiving them for signs of theft.  If you do report checking account fraud more than thirty days after receiving your bank statement, the bank does not have to reimburse you for fraudulent, counterfeit checks.  Finally, if you already aren’t doing so, you should consider paying your bills electronically which can be done in an extremely safe manner.

For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.”  Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.

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