Scam of the Day

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Scam of the day – January 11, 2023 – Income Tax Identity Theft Remains a Big Threat

Income tax identity theft, by which identity thieves file phony income tax returns with counterfeit W-2s using the Social Security number and name of their victim is still a major problem for the IRS and taxpayers costing us all billions of dollars each year.  However, when someone has stolen your Social Security number and filed an income tax return using your name, the problem becomes particularly personal.  When you are a victim of income tax identity theft it can take many months to straighten out the matter with the IRS and receive your income tax refund.  The IRS is expected to announce that it will start accepting electronically filed income tax returns on January 23rd. Taxpayers should be thinking of filing their income tax returns as soon as possible because the best way to prevent becoming a victim of income tax identity theft is to file your income tax return before an identity thief does so using your name.

Last year the IRS announced an expansion of 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. Here is a link to the section of the IRS’ website where you can apply for a PIN.  https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/get-an-identity-protection-pin The PIN is only valid for a single year and must be applied for anew each year.    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.

TIPS

In addition to protecting the privacy of your Social Security number, the best thing you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of income tax identity theft is to file your income tax return as early as possible.  A criminal can successfully make you a victim of income tax identity theft only if he or she files an income tax return using your Social Security number before you file your legitimate income tax return.  Therefore the earlier you file your income tax return, the more likely you are to avoid becoming a victim of this crime.

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.

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Scam of the day – January 10, 2023 – FCC Proposing Biggest Fine Ever Against Automobile Warranty Scam Robocaller

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is seeking a fine of almost 300 million dollars against Roy Cox Jr. and Michael Aaron Jones who, the FCC says, have been operating a huge automobile warranty scam through illegal robocalls through their Sumco Panama company.  In 2021, the FCC says they made more than 5 billion illegal robocalls to more than a half a billion phone numbers during just a three month period.

The Federal  Trade Commission (FTC) has also issued warnings about extended car warranty scams being perpetrated through robocalls.  Many of these robocalls appear to come from “Susie” of the “Vehicle Service Department.” Often the caller even knows the make, model and year of your car.  They will tell you that your car’s warranty is about to expire, but that you can purchase an extended warranty that will provide tremendous benefits.  Unfortunately, the only one getting  tremendous benefits is the scammer that sells you a worthless contract.

Extended warranty scams have been with us for years.  Actually, they are not “extended” warranties at all because if you read the fine print in postcards used to perpetrate this scam you will notice that although the notice that although the postcard looks official,  it is not from either the car manufacturer who issued your original warranty or the car dealer who sold you the car.  The warranties themselves vary from scammer to scammer with some of the “extended” warranties being relatively worthless, but with all of them based on misrepresentations.

If you are registered for the Do Not Call list and you do receive a call from a telemarketer attempting to sell you an extended warranty, you can be confident that the call is a scam because no legitimate telemarketer would call you if you are enrolled in the Do Not Call list. It is also important to note that while telemarketing is not, in and of itself, illegal, commercial telemarketing, such as the sale of these “extended warranties” through robocalls is always illegal.

TIPS

In regard to car warranties, it is always a good idea to check with your  local auto dealer as to what warranties cover your car. Never trust anything that comes to you by way of an illegal robocall or telemarketing call if you have enrolled in the federal Do Not Call List.  Never feel pressured to act immediately when someone calls you on the phone with an unsolicited offer and never give any personal information including your credit card over the phone to someone who calls you because you can never be sure who is actually calling.

Registering for the Do Not Call List is easy and free.  Merely go to http://www.donotcall.gov to register your phone number.

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 – January 9, 2023 – Jury Duty Scams Increasing

I have been warning you about the jury duty scam for ten years, but it continues to snare many unwary victims.   Recently, Judge Timothy Corrigan of the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued a warning to Florida residents about an increase in this scam, however, the increase in instances of this scam are not limited to Florida. They are being perpetrated around the country. This scam has been used effectively for years by scammers to con people out of their money or make them a victim of identity theft.

The scam starts with a telephone call that you receive purportedly from a law enforcement officer informing you that you have failed to appear for jury duty and that a warrant has been issued for your arrest.  You are told, however, that you can avoid arrest and greater fines by paying a fine through a credit card or or prepaid cash card.  Other times they ask for your Social Security number to confirm your identity.  Of course, the phone call is a scam.  Even if you have missed jury duty, you will never be called by legitimate court officers and shaken down for a payment.

Often the scammers will use a technique called “spoofing” to make the call appear on your Caller ID as if it is coming from a legitimate law enforcement agency or court.  In some instances of the scam you are asked to confirm your identity by providing your Social Security number which will then be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  Recently the scam has evolved to where people are also being contacted by text messages or emails from scammers posing as a representative of the local court system.

TIPS

Initial contacts from courts regarding jury duty are always in writing through the mail although some systems will permit you to receive future notices through email.  Under no circumstances will you receive telephone calls or text messages indicating that you have failed to report for jury duty.  No court will demand payment over the phone for failing to appear for jury duty.  If you do receive such a call and you think that there is even the possibility that you might have forgotten to report for jury duty, merely call the local clerk of courts in order to  get accurate information. Of course anyone calling you and telling you that you can pay your fine to them over the phone using your credit card or a gift card is a scammer.

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Scam of the day – January 8, 2023 – FTC Sending Checks to Victims of Student Loan Debt Relief Scam

More than forty-two million Americans have student loans with an outstanding balance of more than 1.4 trillion dollars so it is no surprise that scammers are focusing their attention on these students and former students through scams that falsely promise to provide debt relief.

In October of 2017 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), working with the Attorneys General of eleven states, launched what it cleverly calls, Operation Game of Loans to jointly target these scams.   Some scammers promise dramatic reductions of debt of 50% or more in return for upfront fees of between $500 and $2,500.  Often these scam companies have names that make it appear that they are endorsed by the federal government in order to trick people into trusting them.

In 2020 I told you that three companies SLAC (which also uses the name Aspyre), Navloan, Student Loan Assistance Center and their owner Adam Owens agreed to be permanently banned from the debt relief business in order to settle charges brought against the companies by the FTC.  These companies had charged an initial upfront fee of $699 and a monthly fee of $39 in return for false promises that these companies would permanently lower or eliminate student loans.  The companies also paid consumers for positive Better Business Bureau reviews.

Now the FTC is sending checks to victims of the scam.  For more information about this refund, go to the middle of the first page of the Scamicide.com website and click on the icon where it says “FTC Refunds.”

TIPS

The old adage still is true.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.  Many of these student loan debt relief scammers promise quick loan forgiveness, which is unrealistic.  In addition, you should never pay any upfront fees for student loan debt relief assistance.  Those fees are illegal and are a sure indication that you are being scammed.  Also, remember my motto, “trust me, you can’t trust anyone.”  Don’t trust scammers merely because they use names that sound like they are affiliated with the government.

For information you can trust about federal student loan repayment option, go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans .  There you can learn about loan deferments, forbearance, repayment and loan forgiveness programs and there is never an application fee.  If you owe private student loans, contact your loan servicer directly.

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Scam of the day – January 7, 2023 – Tech Support Scams Getting Worse

Tech support scams in which consumers are tricked by scammers into believing there is a problem with their computers that require the expensive services of scammers constitute a major problem.  Tech support scams are increasingly common and victimize consumers 60 years or older about five times more often than people between the ages of 20 and 59 according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  According to the FBI, the problem is getting worse with almost 24,000 people victimized by this scam in 2021 which was a 137% increase over 2020.

The most common tech support scams start with popups on your computer that provide notices of security problems that contain telephone numbers for you to call to fix the problem,  Whenever you get a pop-up, email, or text message that appears to tell you that you have a security problem with your computer, you should never click on any links contained in the message or call the telephone number provided. If your screen freezes, all you need to do is just turn off your computer and restart it. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing a real security problem you can contact tech support at the real tech companies directly by phone or by email using the phone number and email addresses you find on their respective websites.

If you call the scammers in response to concerns about your security, they often ask for you to enable them to get remote access to your computer to assess the problem.  Providing remote access to anyone to your computer can lead to a myriad of problems including identity theft and the downloading of ransomware.  Neither AOL, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft or any of the other tech companies ever  ask for remote access to your computer to fix problems.

Remembering my motto, that “things aren’t as bad as you think, they are far worse,” the names and contact information for people victimized by this type of scam are often shared with other scammers so, if you are a victim of this scam, you should expect to be targeted by many more scammers.

TIPS

Often when your computer is frozen and you receive a pop-up ad purporting to tell you that you have a major security problem and warning you that you should not shut down or restart your computer because, they tell you, it would cause serious damage to your computer, the best thing you can do is shut down your computer and restart it.

If you are truly concerned about a security problem, contact tech support at the real tech companies you use at a phone number or email address that you have confirmed is accurate rather than a number or email address from the pop-up.

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 to go to the bottom of the initial page of http://www.scamicide.com and type in your email address on the tab that states “Sign up for this blog.”

Scam of the day – January 5, 2023 – Dual Factor Authentication Scam

The headline of this Scam of the day may be a bit confusing because dual factor authentication is not itself a scam, but rather a tool to avoid being scammed.  It is not unusual for passwords to be compromised, particularly if you use the same password for all of your accounts, which we strongly urge you not to do.  Using the same password puts all of your accounts in jeopardy if a data breach at one account results in your password being stolen.  Here is a link to a Scam of the day in which I describe how to choose strong, unique passwords that are easy to remember. https://scamicide.com/2021/12/29/scam-of-the-day-december-30-2021-millions-of-passwords-stolen-how-does-that-affect-you/

However, regardless of how careful you are to protect your passwords, it is inevitable that your passwords will become compromised which is why I always suggest that people use dual factor authentication which protects your accounts even if your password is stolen.  In the most common form of dual factor authentication, when you go to an online account and put in your password, a text message with a one-time code is sent to your cell phone for you to provide in addition to your password to gain access to your account.  This system works well, but nothing is foolproof.  Never underestimate the power of a fool.

Recently scammers have been sending text messages that appear to come from a company with which you do business informing you that there has been suspicious activity on your account and that you need to confirm your identity or else your account will be locked.  You are then told that in order to do so, you will receive a text message with a code that you should, in turn, text back as a reply to the scammer.  Unfortunately, what is actually happening is that the scammer has already managed to obtain your password and has just tried to log in to your account which is protected by dual factor authentication, so if you do send the code to the scammer, you will have defeated dual factor authentication and enabled the scammer to access your account.

TIPS

This is an easy scam to avoid.  First of all, as I have said many times, whenever you receive an email, phone call or text message, you cannot be sure as to who is really contacting you so you should never provide personal information of any kind or click on a link provided unless you have absolutely confirmed that the text message was legitimate.  You can do this by contacting the real company that the text message purports to be from.  However, if you receive a text message such as the one described above, you can be sure that it is a scam because no company will ever ask for your dual factor authentication code through an email or text message.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive  free daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is to go to the bottom of the initial page of http://www.scamicide.com and type in your email address on the tab that states “Sign up for this blog.”

Scam of the day – January 4, 2023 – Lesson of Identity Thief’s Sentence

Recently Jared Wilkes Post was sentenced in the Alaska Federal Court to prison for defrauding banks and people of more than $100,000 through a sophisticated check kiting scam.  For four years Post contact people on social media and convinced them to share their bank account information.  Post told his victims that he didn’t have a bank account and he needed to deposit a legitimate check into his victim’s account who he then told that he would pay them a portion of the check for allowing him to use their bank account.  Once the check appeared to clear, Post told his victims to pay him through some form of a cash app or a Western Union funds wire.

The truth is that the checks being deposited were stolen and altered, however, the banks would not discover this fact until after money had been withdrawn and paid to the scammers, leaving the banks and the individual bank account holders at a loss.  The provisional credit initially given by the bank in the initial days after the deposit of the check may have made it appear to the individual victims of the scam that the check had cleared, but when the fraudulent nature of the check was later discovered, the provisional credit was removed from the account, leaving the account holder having paid his or hers own funds to the scammer.

TIPS

The two lessons of this scam are first, that you should never allow anyone else, particularly someone you do not know, to use your bank account for any purpose.  There are multiple ways for someone who does not have a bank account to cash a check without your getting involved.

Second, it is critical to remember that whenever you deposit a check, the provisional credit you are given, a few days after deposit may make it appear as if the check has cleared, but the provisional credit is as the words imply only provisional.  As soon as the check fails to truly clear, the provisional credit is removed from your account and if you have paid funds relying on the provisional credit, you have lost those funds out of your own money when the check eventually bounces.  Never consider a check to have cleared until it has actually totally cleared which can take weeks.

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Scam of the day – January 3, 2023 – Facebook Marketplace Scams

Facebook Marketplace is a free service on Facebook where millions of people buy and sell all manner of goods  Often people can get some tremendous bargains and sellers can get an easy, low cost way to sell things.  Around this time of year, we often see an increase in use of Facebook Marketplace as some people use it to sell unwanted gifts they received during the holiday season.  Again, as always, anything popular with many people is popular with scammers and there are a number of scams related to Facebook Marketplace

Counterfeit goods selling for ridiculously low prices are a constant threat.  Another scam involves buyers sending fake receipts or screenshots that indicate that the payment has been made by the scammer to you if you are listing something for sale on Facebook Marketplace.  A third scam often appearing on Facebook Marketplace is when the scammer pays you for something you have listed on Facebook Marketplace with a check in excess of the amount you are owed and asks you to wire him or her the balance.  Of course, the check the scammer uses to pay you is a counterfeit check, but the money you wire the scammer from your bank account is not so you lose your money.

TIPS

The old saying still holds, “if it looks too good to be true, it usually is.”  Always be skeptical if someone is offering to sell at a ridiculously low price something you know from your research should be selling for a much higher price.  It is also a good practice to actually meet the seller in a public place and examine the goods before buying them.

When you are selling something on Facebook Marketplace it is a good policy to use the official Facebook Marketplace payment method or PayPal in order to confirm that payment has actually been made.  When making a payment, never use Zelle, Venmo or gift cards.

The counterfeit overpayment check is a feature of a myriad of scams, but at its core it is always the same.  You receive a legitimate looking check and deposit it into your bank account.  After a few days it appears as if the check has cleared, but in truth you only have received provisional credit as required by federal law.  Once the check bounces, the provisional credit is removed from your account and if you have already wired money to the scammer, it is gone forever.  There is never a legitimate reason to accept a check for more than what is owed you and to send back the balance.

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 – January 2, 2023 – Should You Use a Password Manager?

Having unique, complicated passwords for each of your accounts is an essential element of online security.  However, remembering all of your passwords can be a difficult task for many people, which is why so many people use online password managers, which store all of your passwords for you.  These companies, however, are tempting targets for identity thieves. In 2015 I told you about online password manager company LastPass suffering a data breach in which customers’ email addresses, password reminders and encrypted master passwords were taken.  Last year there were initial indications that LastPass had been hacked although it was later determined that no individual accounts were hacked.  Rather, cybercriminals appear to have attempted to use the master passwords of LastPass customers to access their accounts and gain access to the passwords for all of the sensitive accounts of LastPass customers.  Fortunately, LastPass recognized that the attempted access to the accounts was coming from Brazil and determined that what was happening was that due to data breaches at other websites, passwords used at those websites were compromised and, in the situation where LastPass customers used the same password for multiple accounts, they put themselves in jeopardy.  Recently, however, we learned that LastPass was again hacked and 33 million people had much personal information stolen that could lead to identity theft.

In 2018 researchers at Aalto University and the University of Helsinki discovered security flaws affecting the technology used by all of the password managers. The researchers disclosed their findings to the affected companies which took steps to remedy the problem, but the bottom line is that while using a password manager is helpful, it will always be a target of hackers and you may be more comfortable using unique, complex passwords for each account that you can readily remember without using a password manager. This is not as difficult as it sounds as you will read below.

TIPS

First, if you are interested in using a password manager, here is a link to an article  from PC magazine that compares many of the legitimate password managers available to you. https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-password-managers

If you do decide to use a password manager, you should remember not to use your password manager master password for any of your other accounts.  You also should use dual factor authentication so that even if someone were to gain access to your password manager master password, your password manager account could not be accessed.

However, if you would like to use the helping hand you find at the end of your own arm and generate unique, complex passwords for each of your accounts that are easy to remember, here is a strategy that is very effective. You can start with a strong base password constructed from a phrase, such as IDon’tLikePasswords that has capital letters, small letters and a symbol, add a few symbols at the end so it may read IDon’tLikePasswords!!! and then adapt it with a few letters for each particular account you have so that you will have a secure and easy to remember password for each of your online accounts.   Thus, your Amazon password could be IDon’tLikePasswords!!!AMA.

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 to go to the bottom of the initial page of http://www.scamicide.com and type in your email address on the tab that states “Sign up for this blog.”

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