Holiday Scams

When you talk with friends and family over the holidays, you may hear about new puppies, old sports rivalries, and dreams of the next vacation. As you join the conversation, why not share some ideas to protect the people you care about from scams?

Solutions

1. Hang up

2. Do not disclose information during the call

3. Obtain free credit report (click here)

4. Do not call registry (register here)

Identity Theft

Someone gets your personal information and runs up bills in your name. They might use your Social Security or Medicare number, your credit card, or your medical insurance — along with your good name.

How would you know? You could get bills for things you didn’t buy or services you didn’t get. Your bank account might have withdrawals you didn’t make. You might not get bills you expect. Or, you could check your credit report and find accounts you never knew about.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Protect your information. Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Where would they find your credit card or Social Security number? Protect your personal information by shredding documents before you throw them out, by giving your Social Security number only when you must, and by using strong passwords online.
  2. Read your monthly statements and check your credit. When you get your account statements and explanations of benefits, read them for accuracy. You should recognize what’s there. Once a year, get your credit report for free from AnnualCreditReport.com or 1-877-322-8228. The law entitles you to one free report each year from each credit reporting company. If you see something you don’t recognize, you will be able to deal with it.

Unwanted Calls

Here’s how they work:

You pick up the phone and hear a recorded message — a robocall — or a live person selling something. Maybe it’s not who your caller ID said it was. It’s frustrating, and you just want it to stop.

Recorded sales calls are illegal, unless you give a business written permission to robocall you. If your number is on the Do Not Call Registry, you’re not supposed to get any sales calls — live or recorded. But scammers ignore the rules about when and how they can call you.

Scammers can use technology to make their calls look like they come from anywhere: the IRS, a business you know, a neighbor, or even your own number. Because phone numbers can be faked, you can’t trust your caller ID. So now what?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Hang up. Don’t press a number. Just hang up the phone on unwanted calls. Consider call-blocking services to reduce the number of unwanted calls you get. Ask your phone carrier about call blocking and read expert reviews about your options. Learn more at ftc.gov/calls.
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You may know what to do about unwanted calls, but chances are you know someone who doesn’t.

Imposter Scams

You get a call or an email. It might say you’ve won a prize. It might seem to come from a government official. Maybe it seems to be from someone you know — your grandchild, a relative or a friend. Or maybe it’s from someone you feel like you know, but you haven’t met in person — say, a person you met online who you’ve been writing to.

Whatever the story, the request is the same: wire money to pay taxes or fees, or to help someone you care about. But is the person who you think it is? Is there an emergency or a prize? Judging by the complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the answer is no. The person calling you is pretending to be someone else.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop. Check it out — before you wire money to anyone. Call the person, the government agency, or someone else you trust. Get the real story. Then decide what to do. No government agency will ever ask you to wire money.
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You may not have gotten one of these calls or emails, but the chances are you know someone who has.

IRS Imposter Scams

You get a call from someone who says she’s from the IRS. She says that you owe back taxes. She threatens to sue you, arrest or deport you, or revoke your license if you don’t pay right away. She tells you to put money on a prepaid debit card and give her the card numbers.

The caller may know some of your Social Security number. And your caller ID might show a Washington, DC area code. But is it really the IRS calling?

No. The real IRS won’t ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers. They also won’t ask for a credit card over the phone. And when the IRS first contacts you about unpaid taxes, they do it by mail, not by phone. And caller IDs can be faked.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop. Don’t wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card. Once you send it, the money is gone. If you have tax questions, go to irs.gov or call the IRS at 800-829-1040.
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You may not have gotten one of these calls, but the chances are you know someone who has.

Tech Support Scams

You get a call from someone who says he’s a computer technician. He might say he’s from a well-known company like Microsoft, or maybe your internet service provider. He tells you there are viruses or other malware on your computer. He says you’ll have to give him remote access to your computer or buy new software to fix it.

But is the caller who he says he is? Judging by the complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, no. These scammers might want to sell you useless services, steal your credit card number, or get access to your computer to install malware, which could then let them see everything on your computer.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Hang up. Never give control of your computer or your credit card information to someone who calls you out of the blue
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You might know these calls are fakes, but chances are you know someone who doesn’t.

Online Dating Scams

You meet someone special on a dating website. Soon he wants to move off the dating site to email or phone calls. He tells you he loves you, but he lives far away — maybe for business, or because he’s in the military.

Then he asks for money. He might say it’s for a plane ticket to visit you. Or emergency surgery. Or something else urgent.

Scammers, both male and female, make fake dating profiles, sometimes using photos of other people — even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They build relationships — some even fake wedding plans — before they disappear with your money.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop. Don’t send money. Never wire money, put money on a prepaid debit card, or send cash to an online love interest. You won’t get it back.
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You may not have gotten one of these calls, but chances are you know someone who will get one — if they haven’t already.

Health Care Scams

You see an ad on TV, telling you about a new law that requires you to get a new health care card. Maybe you get a call offering you big discounts on health insurance. Or maybe someone says they’re from the government, and she needs your Medicare number to issue you a new card.

Scammers follow the headlines. When it’s Medicare open season, or when health care is in the news, they go to work with a new script. Their goal? To get your Social Security number, financial information, or insurance number.

So take a minute to think before you talk: Do you really have to get a new health care card? Is that discounted insurance a good deal? Is that ‘government official’ really from the government? The answer to all three is almost always: No.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop. Check it out. Before you share your information, call Medicare (1-800-MEDICARE), do some research, and check with someone you trust. What’s the real story?
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You probably saw through the requests. But chances are you know someone who could use a friendly reminder.

“You’ve Won” Scams

You get a card, a call, or an email telling you that you won! Maybe it’s a trip or a prize, a lottery or a sweepstakes. The person calling is so excited and can’t wait for you to get your winnings.

But here’s what happens next: they tell you there’s a fee, some taxes, or customs duties to pay. And then they ask for your credit card number or bank account information, or they ask you to wire money.

Either way, you lose money instead of winning it. You don’t ever get that big prize. Instead, you get more requests for money, and more promises that you won big.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Keep your money — and your information — to yourself. Never share your financial information with someone who contacts you and claims to need it. And never wire money to anyone who asks you to.
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You probably throw away these kinds of scams or hang up when you get these calls. But you probably know someone who could use a friendly reminder.

Home Repair Scams

Here’s how they work:

Someone knocks on your door or calls you. They say they can fix your leaky roof, install new windows, or provide the latest energy-efficient solar panels. They might find you after a flood, windstorm or other natural disaster. They pressure you to act quickly, might ask you to pay in cash, or offer to get you financing. 

But here’s what happens next: they run off with your money and never make the repairs. Or they do shoddy repairs that make things worse. Maybe they even put you in a bad financing agreement that puts your house at risk.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop. Check it out. Before making home repairs, ask for references, licenses and insurance. Get three written estimates. Don’t start work until you have a signed contract. And don’t pay by cash or wire transfer.
  2. Pass on this information to a friend. You may see through these scams. But chances are you know someone who could use a friendly reminder.

Money Mule Scams

Here’s how they work:

Someone might offer you a job. Or say you’ve won a sweepstakes. Or start an online relationship with you. Whatever the story, next they want to send you money – and then ask you to send it on to someone else. They often say to wire the money or use gift cards.

But that money is stolen. And there never was a job, a prize, or a relationship – only a scam. That scammer was trying to get you to be what some people call a “money mule.”

If you deposit a scammer’s check, it might clear. But later, when the bank finds out it’s a fake check, you’ll have to repay the bank. And if you help a scammer move stolen money – even if you didn’t know it was stolen – you could get into legal trouble.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Keep your money to yourself. Never agree to move money for someone who contacts you, even if they promise a relationship, job, or prize. You could lose money and get in legal trouble.
  2. Pass on this information to a friend. You may see through these scams. But chances are you know someone who could use a friendly reminder.

Work-at-Home Scams

Here’s how they work:

You see an ad saying you can earn big money at home. Or one that offers help starting an online business – with a proven system to make money online. Or maybe your resume is on a job search website and someone calls: they want your driver’s license and bank account numbers before they interview you.

What happens next? If you answer the ad to work from home, they’ll ask you for money – for training or special access. But there’ll be no job. If you buy that proven system, you’ll get pressure to pay more for extra services. But you won’t get anything that really helps you start a business or make money. And if you give that caller your driver’s license and bank account numbers, they might steal your identity or your money.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop. Check it out. Never pay money to earn money. And don’t share personal information until you’ve done your research. Search online for the company name and the words “review,” “scam” or “complaint.”
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. You probably know how to keep your money and information safe. But you may know someone who could use a friendly reminder.

Charity Fraud

Someone contacts you asking for a donation to their charity. It sounds like a group you’ve heard of, it seems real, and you want to help.

How can you tell what charity is legitimate and what’s a scam? Scammers want your money quickly. Charity scammers often pressure you to donate right away. They might ask for cash, and might even offer to send a courier or ask you to wire money. Scammers often refuse to send you information about the charity, give you details, or tell you how the money will be used. They might even thank you for a pledge you don’t remember making.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Take your time. Tell callers to send you information by mail. For requests you get in the mail, do your research. Is it a real group? What percentage of your donation goes to the charity? Is your donation tax-deductible? How do they want you to pay? Rule out anyone who asks you to send cash or wire money. Chances are, that’s a scam.
  2. Pass this information on to a friend. It’s likely that nearly everyone you know gets charity solicitations. This information could help someone else spot a possible scam.

Solutions

1. Hang up

2. Do not disclose information during the call

3. Obtain free credit report (click here)

4. Do not call registry (register here)

Much information in this Fraud Alert was derived from the Federal Trade Commission

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Vic Hartman

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