Top scams and how to avoid them
Most likely you may have received one or more calls from fraudsters posing as IRS agents calling to inform you that you have back taxes and that you must wire the funds immediately or risk going to jail.
The tax impostor scam was the most prevalent scam of 2015, according to Better Business Bureau, which just released its list of the Top Scams of 2015. Other impostor scams on the list used debt collection, sweepstakes, tech support and government grants as bait to snare potential victims.
“”It’s no surprise to us that the tax scam is No. 1,” said Shelley Polansky, vice president of communications for BBB serving Northern Colorado and Wyoming. “We’ve been fielding calls from concerned taxpayers not only during tax season, but all year-round.”
She noted that in almost all impostor scams on the BBB Top 10 List, the fraudster is adept at building a rapport and a relationship with you, whether online or off. “Scammers often have many of the same skill sets as legitimate sales professionals,” she added.
The Top Scams in 2015 – and which are expected to be around next year – are:
• IRS. Fraudsters claim you owe money in back taxes and will be arrested or face legal consequences if you do not pay, usually via wire service or prepaid debit card. Caller ID is spoofed to appear to be a government agency or the police.
• Debt collection: You receive a phone call from someone claiming you have an unpaid debt. You’re threatened with garnishments, lawsuits, even jail time if you don’t pay immediately. The scammer will often use caller ID spoofing and pretend to be a government agency or law enforcement in order to further invoke fear.
• Sweepstakes/prizes/gifts: You receive a call, letter or email claiming you’ve won a prize in a sweepstakes, but you’re instructed to first pay a fee to cover expenses associated with delivery, processing or insurance of “the prize.” BBB advises that you should never have to pay money to claim a prize you win legally.
• Tech support: You’re contacted by “technicians” claiming to have detected a virus or security threat on your computer and, for a fee, can login and correct the problem remotely. These callers are actually hackers trying to steal money or sensitive computer passwords and/or damage computers with malicious software.
• Government grant: You receive a phone call, email or letter informing you that you’ve qualified for a government grant. In order to receive the funds, however, you’re instructed to pay an upfront fee via wire transfer or prepaid debit card to cover processing and/or delivery charges.
• Advance fee loan: While searching for loan information, you see an enticing ad and click through to the website. You fill out an application and soon receive an email or phone call advising that you are approved for the loan, but you must first send a processing fee, security deposit or insurance. You pay the “fee,” but never see the loan.
• Credit cards: The scammer pretends to be from your bank or credit card issuer and claims that you are now eligible for a lower interest rate. In other instances, you’re told a recent transaction needs to be verified using your credit card number and three-digit security code.
•Work from home: While looking for a job online, you answer an ad for making big bucks while working from home. The job may be stuffing envelopes, posting advertisements or shipping packages. You could have your identity stolen when you fill out the employment forms, or even end up handling stolen merchandise.
• Fake check/money order: You receive a check in the mail that is larger than the amount owed, and you are asked to deposit the check and wire the difference. The check is a fake and when it bounces, you’re out the money.
• Lottery: You receive a call, letter or email advising that you have won a large amount of money in a foreign lottery, but you have to pay up front for taxes and fees. Such lotteries are illegal. Sometimes you may be sent a check as partial payment, but the check will be counterfeit.
Your BBB offers the following tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of a scam in 2016:
• Never provide personal information – address, date of birth, bank information, ID numbers – to people you don’t know.
• If unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business directly using the number on your bill or credit card.
• Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
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Chef Hunter Hale went into business with his parents to bring an American bistro to Carbondale.