The following scams have come to our attention at Consumers Empowered. If you are a victim of a scam, contact your local police department and also the state and/or federal agency that they recommend. If you believe personal information has been compromised, follow the steps outlined in MA Attorney General’s Guide to ID Theft for Victims and Consumers.
– Email Scams –
Bank phishing scams. In these scams, you receive a spoof email complete with official logo that appears to be from a financial institution or credit card company. The email may say that the institution needs you to verify some personal information in your account or that a new service is being offered. The trap is that it directs you to click on a link in the email in order to verify the information or take advantage of the offer. It then prompts you to sign in with your account ID and password. Once the scammers capture this information, they can empty your bank account. You should delete this email. If you have an account with the institution, contact it only by using a phone number or web address on your statement or credit card, not by clicking on a link in an email.
For example, there is an email that appears to be from Chase that has an “Action required” subject line. The email states that the company has been trying to reach you to no avail and wants you to confirm recent account activity for your credit card ending in two random digits. It says if you have already taken care of the matter, then no action is required. Otherwise, the scammers want you to “Click here” to log into your account and follow their instructions. The email tries very hard to look and sound legitimate. It includes the blue Chase logo and states that if you have any questions, you should call the phone number on your credit card. The email continues and says, “We are here to assist you anytime.” And, it asks that you update your contact information by clicking into your account from the “Click here” link.
This email is a phishing scam and the scammers are trying to trick you into clicking on their links so they can steal your passwords, account numbers and other personal information you reveal to them. Your computer itself can be at risk, since clicking on links in phishing emails often leads to viruses and malware being installed on your computer. No matter how urgent or official these emails may look, don’t click on links in the email or open any attachments. Instead, report the email to your credit card company by using the phone number shown on the back of your credit card.
Package Notification Scams. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, some customers are receiving bogus emails about a package delivery or online postage charges. The emails contain a link or attachment that, when opened, installs a malicious virus that can steal personal information from your PC. The emails claim to be from the U.S. Postal Service and contain fraudulent information about an attempted or intercepted package delivery or online postage charges. You are instructed to click on a link or open an attachment. But, Postal Inspectors warn: DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK OR OPEN THE ATTACHMENT! Like most viruses sent by email, clicking on the link or opening the attachment will activate a virus that can steal information—such as your user name, password, and financial account information. What to do? Simply DELETE THE MESSAGE without taking any further action. Postal Inspectors advise that if you have questions about a delivery or wish to report spam, call 1-800-ASK-USPS or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Romance Scams. The scammer tries to build a relationship of trust with the victim through emails or phone calls. Personal data found on social media may even be used to start relationships. At some point the scammer starts to spin a sad story about needing money. It may be because of a health problem, hard times or for a relative in need. The scammer usually lives in another country and requests that money be wired to the scammer via a money gram or the scammer wants the victim to purchase a Green Dot prepaid debit card and provide the scammer with the security codes. If successful the first time, the scammer will ask the victim for more money. After being found out, the scammer may even pose as a “bank” and offer to help the victim recover money that the scammer claims is deposited in its bank.
Traffic Ticket Scams. The Federal Trade Commission is warning drivers about a scam involving fake traffic tickets. Official looking emails prompt recipients to complete a linked form. Once the link was clicked, malware installed itself and infected the consumer’s computer.
– Identity Theft Scams –
Medical Identity Theft Scams. Is a medical identity thief calling you? In an incident reported to CEI, a senior citizen received a call from a person claiming to be the director of the local council on aging. The caller began asking the senior to verify personal information that she said the council on aging had in its files. When the caller asked for the senior’s Medicare identification number, the senior sensed that something wasn’t right, refused to give the information and hung up the phone. So what was the purpose of this call? More than likely, the caller was a medical identity thief and once the caller had the Medicare number, would use it to obtain medical services in the senior’s name and/or commit Medicare fraud.
Unfortunately this incident is part of a growing trend and highlights the importance of not giving out personal information over the phone, unless you have initiated the call yourself. Medical identity theft victims can be left with large bills for medical services, which the identity thief incurred in their name. Battling with hospitals and service providers to straighten out these bills and trying to correct medical records can take months or years if at all, as reported by Stephanie Armour in a recent Wall Street Journal article (WSJ, Saturday/Sunday, August 8-9, 2015) on this subject.
If you think you have been a victim of medical identity theft, notify your local police and tell your friends and relatives, too. The more the public knows about medical identity theft and how to protect themselves, the less likely these thieves will be successful. Lastly, be sure to keep a close eye on your medical statements and report any suspicious billing activity to the provider.
Unemployment Claim Scams. In this scam, a criminal applies for and collects unemployment benefits in your name. A scammer who has gained personal information about you, including your place of employment and social security number, files a claim for unemployment saying that you are no longer employed by your employer. The scammer relies on the fact that large employers many not routinely check all correspondence it receives from a state’s unemployment division. Likewise, it is betting on state unemployment divisions not having systems in place to adequately check unemployment claims against current state tax records or verify if a claimant is still employed. Some scammers have realized that it is easier and more profitable to scam government agencies than individuals. If the scammers are able to redirect your mail, they receive the unemployment checks instead of you. This can be a difficult scam to easily discover. You may not realize you are a victim until you receive a letter announcing you have been approved for unemployment at a job where you still work, or a change of address from your state
IRS Phone Scam. The IRS is warning the public of scam phone calls which it continues to see in every part of the country and is urging people to be careful when they get these threatening phone calls. These scam callers say you owe the IRS money and that you will be arrested and all your property seized if you do not pay up. They demand you pay immediately with a prepaid card or supply your credit or debit card account numbers over the phone. These threats often start with a voicemail message, telling you to call a number immediately. When you call back, a person claiming to be an IRS agent or supervisor demands that you pay a certain amount or the sheriff will be at your door to arrest you.
To make the public more aware of these scams and decrease the risk that someone will become a victim, the IRS has created a new Tax Scams video which describes some basic tips to help protect taxpayers from tax scams. The video can be viewed on IRS social media sites and on YouTube. In addition, the IRS website outlines some telltale signs of a scam. These include a demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe, requiring that you use a specific method of payment, and threatening to bring in local police or other law informant groups to have you arrested for non-payment. The IRS advises that if you have any questions about amounts you may owe, to contact them at 1.800.829.1040. Tax scam incidents can be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
Unclaimed Property Scam.The MA Treasurer’s Office has issued a warning that fraudulent letters have been sent to residents across the state saying that the recipient may be entitled to unclaimed property winnings and that a fee would be required in order to receive the monies. According to Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, these letters are not being sent by either the Massachusetts Office of the State Treasurer or the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). Official unclaimed property notices never direct owners to pay money, whether for processing fees, tax payments, or otherwise, when searching unclaimed property or filing a claim. Information on unclaimed property is available on the Treasurer’s Official Website.
– Mystery Shopper Scams –
Counterfeit Check Scams. In this scam, victims are “hired” to work as mystery or secret shoppers. Their assignment is to evaluate a store’s money wiring service. A cashier’s check is received with instructions to deposit it into the mystery shopper’s checking account. Once deposited, instructions are given to withdraw a lesser amount in cash and to wire it to the scammer, usually someone outside the U.S. and often in Canada or the United Kingdom. The victim is told that after the transaction is complete, he or she will be required to fill out an evaluation of the store’s transfer service and will be allowed to keep the difference between the cashier’s check and the amount wired. The problem is that the cashier’s check is counterfeit. The shopper is out the money wired to the scammer and any other monies that he or she has spent. To learn more about check scams, visit the FTC.
– Telephone Scams –
Debt Collection Scams. With the downturn in the economy, scammers have devised a new scam to prey on unsuspecting consumers. The scammer, posing as a debt collector, calls and informs you that you owe a bill from perhaps ten years ago that has never been paid. The amount isn’t large, but the scammer is very persistent and threatens that your credit will be severely affected. He or she insists that you must pay now and demands your credit card or bank account information. Since the debt is usually around $50, the scammer is betting that you will comply, just to get rid of him.
Jury Duty Scam. Scammers posing as federal court officials and U.S. Marshals are targeting citizens and threatening them with arrest because of failure to appear for jury duty and demanding that they pay a fake fine. These scammers are more aggressive and sophisticated than in past years and are setting up call centers, establishing call-back protocols and even using specific names and designated court hearing times in their effort sound legitimate. Victims are told they can avoid arrest by paying a fine using a reloadable credit card, and are urged to call a number and provide their own credit card number to initiate the process. The U.S. Marshals Service does not call anyone to arrange payment of fines over the phone for failure to appear for jury duty or any other infraction. It is urging the public not to divulge personal or financial information to unknown callers, even if they sound legitimate and to report any calls to local law enforcement.
Microsoft Technician Scams. A person purporting to be a Microsoft technician calls and tells you there is an issue with your computer that they would like to fix. To do so, they need to obtain remote access to your computer. Once they have access to your computer they can install malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They may even ask for credit card information to bill you for their services or direct you to fraudulent websites that ask you to enter credit card and other personal information. Neither Microsoft nor its partners make these unsolicited phone calls.
Requests for Money for a Relative in Trouble. In this scam, you receive a call that your grandson, nephew or other relative is in great difficulty and desperately needs money for a particular reason. Examples may include an accident, arrest or an unexpected hospitalization. The scammer tells you that he is calling on behalf of the relative because the relative is in distress and unable to call. You may be tricked into giving information such as a name or the exact relationship. You are then requested to send money to the scammer or give credit card or bank account information that they claim to need in order to help your distressed relative. Some social network subscribers have also been affected. Scammers have gotten access to their accounts and emailed requests for money to their friends.
Robo-Callers Looking for Personal Information. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has issued a warning about a “robo-calling” scam. Scammers may pose as a bank employee and attempt to get personal information and social security numbers from consumers. Do not give out personal information over the phone. The Attorney General’s Office recommends that if you receive one of these calls, hang up and report the call to its hotline: (617) 727-8400.
Scam That Targets Immigrants. The Internal Revenue Service is warning consumers about a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a preloaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. For more information, visit the IRS website.
– Work-at-Home Scams –
Beware of emails that start with “Nice opportunity” or classified ads or fancy websites that claim you can make thousands of dollars a month working from home. These may be a ploy to get you to buy into a work-at-home scam where, instead of you making money, you end up paying money. The Federal Trade Commission as part of its Scam Watch has compiled facts for consumers on Work-at-Home Businesses. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission’s website provides information on how to evaluate whether a business opportunity is genuine or bogus.
NOTE: If you would like to stay abreast of the latest scams via email, check out the Federal Trade Commission website and sign up for their Scam Alerts by Email.