Don’t Get Caught in a Grandparent Scam

Scammers will capitalize on anything to pull off another ruse, even the special bond between a grandparent and grandchild. Grandparent scams are not new, but they have gotten a lot more sophisticated in recent years, so they can be difficult to spot. Here’s what you need to know about grandparent scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out

There are several variations of the grandparent scam. In each one, the caller will claim to be a grandchild of the target. The scammer will often spoof the grandchild’s number so it shows up on the grandparent’s phone. 

  • The legal trouble scam. In this ruse, a scammer who claims to be the grandchild of the target will call and claim to have been arrested. The “grandchild” will ask their grandparent to send money to post bail. They may also ask for funds to pay for legal representation. They’ll pass the phone to an alleged representative to accept the funds via wire transfer or gift cards. Of course, this is just another scammer who is in on the crime.
  • The medical trouble scam. This version of the grandparent scam involves a “grandchild” calling up Grandma or Grandpa and claiming to be seriously injured. They’ll ask for money to help pay the medical bills. 
  • The international trouble scam. Most common during times when teens and/or young adults are likely to be traveling, such as during spring break or summer vacation, in this scam, a “grandchild” will call and claim they’re in deep trouble while in a foreign country. Of course, they’ll ask for a large sum of money via wire transfer or prepaid debit card to help them get out safely. 

If you’re targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by any of these grandparent scams or a similar ruse, follow these steps to keep yourself safe:

  1. Don’t take immediate action. The grandparent scam, like most scams, relies on creating a false sense of urgency so the target has very little time to stop and think about what’s taking place. Beat them at their game by taking a step back and thinking rationally about the call you’re receiving.
  2. Ask a personal question. Your grandchild’s name is on the Caller ID and the caller sounds just like them – but are they really on the phone? Ask the caller to answer a personal question only your grandchild would know, such as a family memory, an important date or a private joke you share with your grandchild.
  3. Check your grandchild’s whereabouts. If you’re still unsure if your grandchild is really calling you, use another phone, or hang up on the call, and call your grandchild on your own. Chances are, your grandchild is perfectly safe and fine.
  4. Hang up and report the crime. Once you’ve verified that you’ve been targeted by a scammer, hang up and report the scam to the police. Share as much information as you can. It’s also a good idea to alert the FTC about the scam. If you’ve lost money through the scam, the FTC can help you determine your best next steps.

Safety rules to know

It’s a good idea to follow these rules for protection from grandparent scams and other ruses:

  • Never share personal information online or on the phone with an unverified contact. 
  • If you’re asked to pay for something via money transfer or prepaid gift card, you’re likely dealing with a scammer. 
  • Put your number on the no call list to limit the number of scammers who target your phone. 
  • Keep your social media privacy settings at their strongest and limit what you share on public forums. 

Grandparent scams are especially nefarious as they exploit the special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. Use the tips outlined here to stay safe. 

Your Turn: Have you experienced being targeted by a grandparent scam or something similar? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Beware of Job Scams

It’s an amazing employment opportunity – or is it? Scammers often hijack the job market and ensnare hopeful job seekers into their schemes. If you’re job-hunting, it’s a good idea to review the way these scams play out and how you can avoid them. To help you out, we’ve put together a short primer on what you need to know to stay safe from job scams. 

How the scams play out

There are several variations of job scams. Here are the most common ones: 

  • Bogus job listing. There’s a Help Wanted ad for a dream job, and the job-seeker applies with great optimism. They’ll share their information and even pay a small fee to submit their resume, or to cover alleged job supplies. Sadly for them, the job doesn’t actually exist and they’ll never hear from the “employer” again.
  • Imposter hiring. An alleged rep from a well-known agency, government institution or hiring firm reaches out to a target asking them to send the funds to cover a screening fee to be considered for a job. While the job does exist, the representative is a scammer, and the money the victim has shared will go directly into the scammer’s pocket. 
  • Phishing emails. Like any phishing scam, a victim is targeted directly via email. The email will offer the victim a fantastic job, but first ask that they share confidential information. If the victim complies, they’ll be giving their personal information to a scammer.  
  • Inflated payment scam. In this ruse, a target will be hired for a remote position. When payday arrives, the victim will receive a check written for an amount that is for more than the “new employee” should have received. The employer will ask them to cash the check and mail back the extra funds. Unfortunately, a few days later, when the check doesn’t clear, the victim realizes they’ve been scammed. 

How to spot a job scam

Learning to identify the signs of a job scam can help you avoid them and find gainful employment. Here are some red flags to watch out for while job-hunting: 

  • Unprofessional emails. If the emails you receive from a would-be employer or HR rep are riddled with spelling mistakes and typos, or are formatted in an unprofessional manner, you may be dealing with a scammer. 
  • No physical company mailing address. Even a business that mostly hires remote employees needs a street address. If you can’t seem to find one on the company’s site, and your “employer” refuses to share this information with you, the company may be a cover for a scam ring. 
  • Upfront fee. Most legitimate employers will not ask a new hire or hopeful employee to pay a fee for supplies or to submit a resume. If you’re asked to do so, you may be looking at a scam. 
  • Inflated checks. If you receive a check from a new employer that is made out for more than your wages or salary, and you are asked to send back the surplus, you’re being scammed. Don’t cash the check and terminate all contact with the “employer”.
  • Premature request for information. While it’s perfectly okay for an employer to ask a new employee to share their Social Security number, date of birth and even their checking account information, these details should not be shared until an official contract is signed and the employee is sure the job and the employer are legit. In fact, it may be a good idea to hold off on signing up for direct deposit of your paycheck until you’ve been employed for a while and you know the job is a keeper. 
  • You’ll be underworked and overpaid. If a job is promising a high salary for very little and/or very easy and unskilled work, it’s likely a scam. 

Before applying to or accepting a job offer, do thorough research. Ask for references of past or current employees and check out the company website to see if it’s secure and has real information about the firm, including a street address. Check out the company’s social media pages, like LinkedIn, as well. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask the employer, or the person doing the hiring, any questions you may have about the company or the job.

Job-hunting can be stressful, but getting caught in a job scam can bring that stress to a whole new level. Stay alert and stay safe by following the tips outlined here. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a job scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Don’t Get Caught in a QR Code Scam

Scammers never take a break from dreaming up new ways to con people out of their money. Recently, they’ve even been hijacking QR codes to pull scams on innocent victims. Here’s all you need to know about QR code scams and how to avoid them. 

What’s a QR code? 

Before we can explore the details of these scams, let’s understand what a QR code is and how one works. A QR code, which is an acronym for “Quick Response code,” is a square barcode that can be scanned using a smartphone. It leads directly to a website or app. Businesses use QR codes for any number of reasons, from posting online menus, to scanning coupons, to processing payments and more. In the no-touch era following the coronavirus lockdowns, QR codes are more ubiquitous than ever.  

Ironically, QR codes should help prevent fraud, since they take the user directly to the desired site, leaving no room for misspellings or for scammers to lure victims to a bogus website that has a URL that is similar to the legitimate website. Unfortunately, though, scammers have found a way to weaponize QR codes, too. The technology necessary to create a QR code is not accessible for anyone, making QR code scams easy to pull off and difficult to identify. 

How the scam plays out

In a QR code scam, a scammer will replace a legitimate QR code with their own code. A target will then scan the code and make a payment for a transaction. Unfortunately, the target has sent their money directly to the scammer and has not made a payment for the transaction as they believe they have.

In a recent QR code scam, fraudsters replaced dozens of QR codes on public parking meters in San Antonio, Texas with their own codes. Drivers seeking to pay the meter costs scanned these codes and sent their payments to scammers. To make matters worse, many victims also unknowingly shared access to their phones with the scammers, setting themselves up for future scams as the criminals use the information on the phone to pull off additional schemes. 

How to avoid a QR code scam

QR code scams can be challenging to recognize. For this reason, the FBI has advised against downloading an app from a QR code and/or downloading a QR code scanner app. However, there are ways to keep yourself safe from these scams. 

When scanning a QR code, it’s a good idea to treat the link like any other email or text message. Proceed with caution and practice online safety measures as you would with any other online transaction. Check the source of the QR code and the URL that the code directs you to for common signs of a secure site, including a lock icon, an “s” after the “http,” and whether the URL matches with the URL of the intended site destination. 

If the webpage or app the code sends you to seems suspicious in any way, leave it. You can access the payment portal you need by visiting the app or website on your own. 

When using a QR code, look for these red flags that can indicate a possible scam:

  • The URL is different from the home site.The QR code is posted on a public sign or notice that seems to be tampered with.The site or app the code directs you to is full of typos. 

Knowing how to recognize a QR code scam can help prevent you from falling victim to this emerging and quickly growing scheme. 

If you were scammed

If you’ve used a QR code to pay for a transaction and subsequently received an email from the company claiming you’ve never completed the payment, or that the payment failed, you may be the victim of a QR code scam. Let the company know that its QR code has been tampered with and alert the FTC as well. 

Stay alert when using a QR code and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a QR code scam? Share your experience in the comments. 

Beware of Sport Ticket Scams

There’s nothing quite like watching sports live. The energy, the cheers, the game! But tickets to live sporting events can be pricey, and scammers know this well. They’ve come up with all sorts of scams involving the sale of sport tickets, and often, they succeed at conning innocent victims out of their money. Here’s what you need to know about sport ticket scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out

In a sport ticket scam, a target searches online for tickets to a live sporting event. An ad appears on screen, offering tickets to this event. When the target clicks on it, they find their way onto the alleged seller’s webpage. They enter their information, choose seats, and then notice that the tickets are ridiculously overpriced. At this point, they’ll either opt-out or decide they really want to go to this event, so a ticket is worth any price to them. They’ll input their credit card info, complete the payment and expect to receive confirmation of the sale. They’ll wait for it to come… and wait… and wait. Unfortunately, the virtual tickets aren’t coming and the victim will  never hear from the seller again. To make matters worse, the scammer now has their personal information and credit card details so they can scam them even more. 

In another version of the sport ticket scam, the victim receives an e-ticket after completing the transaction. However, this ticket is useless because it is either counterfeit with forged barcodes and logos or a duplicate of an actual ticket that has already been sold to other buyers.

The do’s and don’ts of purchasing sport tickets:

Ticket scams can be challenging to spot because scammers use sophisticated methods to create look-alike sites, bogus tickets and more.  Don’t get scammed! Follow these tips to avoid getting caught in a sport ticket scam:

Do:

  • Use payment methods that come with a level of protection, such as credit cards.
  • Shop local. If you’re trying to purchase a ticket at a bargain price from sites like Craigslist, eBay Classifieds or OfferUp, ask to meet the seller in person at a well-populated area or near a local police station. 
  • Buy tickets at the venue box office.
  • Buy tickets from authorized brokers and third-party sellers once you have verified contact information. For optimal security, contact the original promoter of the ticket directly to verify the ticket’s authenticity. 
  • Research the seller carefully by looking for a safe website and a legitimate physical address and phone number. 
  • Complete a quick online search for negative reviews about the seller. Just input the seller’s name, email address and phone number, along with the words “fraud,” “scams” and/or “fake tickets” to see what the internet has to say.
  • Check to verify that the tickets have the correct date and time printed on them before confirming your purchase. It’s also a good idea to check that the section and seat number actually exist at the venue.

Don’t:

  • Don’t wire money or use uncommon payment methods (such as gift cards) to pay for tickets.
  • Don’t pay for a ticket before seeing it.
  • Don’t meet a private ticket seller alone or in a low-traffic area.
  • Don’t trust online search results for ticket sellers without researching each one carefully.  

If you’ve been scammed

If you believe you’ve been targeted for or become a victim of a sport ticket scam, there are several steps to take to mitigate the damage and help stop the scammers. First, if you’ve paid with a credit card, be sure to dispute the charge, cancel the card and ask for a new one. Next, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can also file a complaint against the bogus ticket company through the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker. Finally, let your family and friends know about the circulating scam. 

Don’t let a live sporting event go foul! Stay alert and stay safe. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a sports ticket scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Beware of Debt Relief Scams

High debt can be a beast, taking huge bites out of a household or personal budget and destroying any chance of financial wellness. To make matters worse, being in high debt can mean being stuck in a desperate cycle that never ends, as payback is often accompanied by high interest rates that make it nearly impossible to get ahead. Unfortunately, scammers know this well, so they target victims with debt relief scams to get at their money.

Here’s what you need to know about debt relief scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out

Debt relief scams target consumers who may have significant levels of credit card debt using any, or a combination, of the following false premises: 

  • Debt repair service that greatly increases their credit score in a short time 
  • Service to remove negative credit report information
  • Student loan debt reduction
  • Promise to reduce credit card interest rates 

The target, who is desperate to get rid of their debt, will pay any price for these services. The scammer demands a non-refundable upfront fee before getting started and happily pockets this money. The scammer then fails to come through as promised, leaving the consumer even deeper in debt. 

In a variation of this scam, the bogus debt relief company will collect payments in small increments, promising to bring the target’s credit score up and their debt balance down over a short period of time. The target will continue making payments to the fictitious service until they finally smell a scam, which might ultimately cost them thousands of dollars in losses. 

Red flags

Debt relief scams can be difficult to spot because there are legitimate debt relief services available for debt-straddled consumers. However, there are several signs you can watch for to let you know when you’re being targeted by a scammer. Most importantly, it’s crucial to remember that overcoming a significant amount of debt takes lots of time. 

Look out for these red flags to help you identify a debt relief scam: 

  • The service guarantees to bring your credit score up by a specific amount of points in a short amount of time.
  • The service promises to get rid of factual credit report information that’s on your credit file.
  • The service demands an upfront payment.
  • The service claims to be affiliated with a credit card company, but the card company does not recognize the service. 
  • The service advises you to cut off all communication with creditors. 

The do’s and don’ts of credit repair

If you’re looking for a legitimate credit repair service, these tips can help. 

Do: 

  • Research the debt relief service you consider using very thoroughly. Look for a secure site, a phone number and street address on their website, as well as positive reviews from past clients. You can also do a quick Google search of the company’s name and the word “scam” (such as, “ABC Debt Saviors Scam”) to see what the internet has to say about them. 
  • If the service claims to be affiliated with a credit card company, give the card company a call to see if this claim checks out. 
  • Ask for a clear explanation of all fees and conditions of the service before signing up. This includes the timeframe for the service, the total you can expect to pay and any risks you should know about before using the service. 
  • Consider other options for paying down debt, such as credit counseling, negotiating for a lower interest rate from your creditors or taking out a [debt consolidation loan] [or personal loan] from Advantage One Credit Union.

Don’t:

  • Never pay an upfront for a debt relief service.
  • Don’t believe a service that guarantees to bring up your score by a certain amount in a specified timeframe. There are no guarantees when it comes to debt relief. 
  • Don’t agree to let a company enroll you in a debt relief program without fully knowing any details. 
  • Don’t believe a service can get rid of negative information on your credit file. There are laws dictating how long specific information must stay on your credit report, and a debt relief service can’t change that. 

  • Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a debt relief scam? Share your experience in the comments. 

Don’t Get Caught up in a Tax Return Scam!

It’s tax season, and while that may mean you’re drowning in forms and paperwork, for scammers it means millions of taxpayers they can potentially dupe out of refunds or scare into making irrational moves. Here’s what you need to know about tax return scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out

In a tax return scam, a fraudster steals a taxpayer’s personal information and files a fake tax return on their behalf. The scammer will direct the refund to be deposited into the taxpayer’s checking account. After the refund is deposited, the scammer will call the victim, impersonating the IRS and claiming the refund was mistakenly inflated. They’ll instruct the victim to return the alleged extra funds via gift card or wire transfer. Of course, this money will go directly into the scammer’s pockets. 

In another variation of a tax return scam, a fraudster steals a taxpayer’s personal information and files a fake tax return on their behalf, as described in the first scenario. However, instead of directing the refund to be deposited into the victim’s account, the scammer has the funds deposited into their own account. When the taxpayer tries to file a legitimate return, the IRS will inform them they’ve already filed one – and collected the refund.

Unfortunately, tax return scams are relatively easy to pull off. Scammers need only to get their hands onto a victim’s name, Social Security number and date of birth. All other information, including income and employment details, can be fabricated. Often, scammers get the information they need for the scam from employees who work at the same company as the target and are willing to sell information about their co-workers to fraudsters.

Protect yourself

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to limit your vulnerability to tax return scams. Here’s how to keep your money and your information safe this tax season: 

  • File early. This gives scammers less time to use stolen information. 
  • E-file with care. Only use a secure computer to file an electronic tax return. Do not use public Wi-Fi to e-file your taxes. 
  • Keep your tax returns in a secure location. Remove your returns from your computer after you’ve filed, and store hard copies of all tax forms in a safe place. 
  • Never download links or attachments from unverified sources. These may contain malware, which can infect your computer and deliver your information right into the scammer’s hands. 
  • Never share personal information with an unknown contact over the phone or online. Personal information should always be kept personal. 

It’s also important to be aware of the following information to help you identify possible scams:

  • Refund checks will never be deposited into a taxpayer’s account if they have not filed taxes. If a refund lands in your checking account and you know you haven’t yet filed taxes, you are likely the victim of a tax return scam. 
  • The IRS never demands payment by a specific method. If you’re asked to wire money to the “IRS” or pay by gift card, you’re talking to a scammer. 

If you’ve been targeted

If you receive a phone call or letter from someone claiming to represent the IRS and informing you that you owe tax money, you can verify the claim by calling 1-800-829-1040. Emails allegedly sent by the IRS are scams, as the IRS does not reach out to taxpayers via email. 

If you haven’t received your tax refund within one month of filing, you can check your refund’s status on the IRS webpage. If the site shows that your refund was issued but you haven’t received it, you may be the victim of a tax return scam and identity theft. Alert the IRS at 1-800-908-4490.

Stay alert this tax season, and stay safe! 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a tax return scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Don’t Get Caught in a Romance Scam

Love is in the air, and that means scammers are out in full force trying to con love-seekers into giving up their hearts — and their money — for a love interest who doesn’t actually exist. Romance scams have been around for a while, and they’re unfortunately on the rise: a record  $304 million in losses related to romance scams was reported to the FTC in 2020, up by nearly 50% from 2019.

Here’s all you need to know about romance scams and how to protect yourself from getting your heart and wallet crushed by one of these schemes. 

How the scams play out

In a romance scam, a scammer will create a bogus profile on a dating site or app, or reach out to their target on popular social media platforms. They’ll strike up a remote relationship with the target and work to gain their trust. The scammer will claim they can’t meet their new “dating partner” in person, citing any number of reasons from serving in the military, to working on an oil rig, to being stuck overseas and unable to travel. 

After several weeks have passed, the scammer will invent a story aimed at persuading the target to loan them a significant amount of money. After several weeks have passed, the scammer will invent a story aimed at persuading the target to loan them a significant amount of money for any of these alleged costs, or a similar phony expense:

  • A plane ticket or other travel expenses
  • Emergency surgery or other medical expenses
  • Customs fees to retrieve a lost item
  • Gambling debts
  • A visa or other official travel documents
  • Bail for an arrest

Unfortunately, at this point in the relationship, the target may be in too deep to recognize a scam and will often part with their money. The scammer, of course, will ask for the funds to be given via prepaid gift card or wire transfer, making it nearly impossible to reverse the payment or trace its destination. Once the payment has been made, the scammer may disappear from the target’s life. They may try their luck again by asking for more money a few weeks down the line, repeating the scam until the victim finally grows suspicious. 

Red flags

Protect yourself from falling victim to a romance scam by looking out for these red flags when searching for a dating partner online:

  • The dating profile is too perfect to be true
  • When asked about an in-person meeting, the “date” is evasive 
  • The love interest seems super-eager to build a relationship

How to avoid romance scams

In addition to looking out for red flags when browsing online dating apps and websites, there are several steps you can take to keep yourself safe.

First, if a dating profile seems suspicious, do a reverse image search on the photo. If the photo turns up in another profile under a different name, or is revealed to be a stock image, you’re likely looking at the dating profile of a scammer. 

Next, you can look up the name on the profile with words that are relevant to their alleged background, like “US Army scammer” or “heart surgery scammer”. If the scammer has pulled off this scheme in the past, a search should bring up enough breadcrumbs to confirm your suspicions. 

Finally, never send a prepaid gift card or wire money to a contact you haven’t met. If asked to send funds to a love interest you’ve never seen in person, you’re probably being scammed.

If you’ve been scammed

If you’ve fallen for a romance scam and sent the scammer a prepaid gift card, immediately contact the company that issued the card and let them know about the scam. Some card issuers can refund the money spent on a fraudulent charge. It’s also important to notify the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Finally, alert the customer service of the website or app where you met the phony single so they can take appropriate action. 

A new love interest is always exciting, but don’t let your feelings cloud your judgment. Stay alert when seeking a new dating partner through an online forum and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a romance scam? Share your experience in the comments. 

Identity Theft: What to Know and How to Protect Yourself

We live in an increasingly digital world. People use devices and technology to shop for everything from groceries and clothing to furniture and electronics. We sign in to multiple websites and apps to communicate and share photos with family and friends, manage personal and business finances, plan vacations, and everything in between. While increased accessibility helps make so many activities quick and convenient, having so much of our personal information online leaves us vulnerable to cyber criminals who are eager to steal and benefit from our personal information. As the multitude of online services has expanded, so has the rate of fraudsters engaging in identity theft.

Data breaches within major companies have exposed hundreds of millions of consumers to hackers. In 2020 alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) monitored almost 1.4 million complaints of identity theft, with over $3.3 billion stolen by identity thieves. Many scammers claimed to be officials from government departments and accessed victims’ pandemic unemployment benefits.

Cyber thieves who access one’s personally identifiable information (PII), such as birthdate, Social Security number, home address, driver’s license number, passport number and credit card or financial account information can use it to open new accounts, buy expensive items or pay their bills — and unsuspecting victims often won’t find out until weeks (or months) later. Often, it is only when (and IF) they closely read their account statements. The impact is not only the actual dollars stolen, but also hits to credit scores and time spent restoring security to one’s life and online footprint.

Identity thieves always evolve their tricks to disguise their efforts and access desirable information. They do “spoofing,” using phone numbers, or “phishing,” using email addresses, that look legitimate or seem connected to official agencies — such as the government, police or major companies from which you have likely made purchases. Variations may include sending voice or text messages or directing web surfers to websites for bogus products or services.

Credit cards are a bit safer than debit cards when it comes to fraud, as the Federal Fair Credit Billing Act protects consumers from liability in cases of credit card fraud over $50. However, as currency itself diversifies through the advent of cryptocurrency, some fraudsters are now demanding access to victims’ crypto accounts because it’s difficult to trace and helps them in evading law enforcement.

The age group most vulnerable to scammers is the elderly, as they are less likely to create strong online passwords and are less likely to be wary of prank callers posing as tax collectors or relatives purporting to be in dire financial straits. They also often provide extensive personal information to many doctors or caregivers, with access by many staff members at facilities.

But even those who consider themselves tech-savvy and invincible can fall prey to skilled scammers. Even a child’s information can be stolen, and parents may be unaware of that until many years later when trying to open or access accounts for them.

How to Avoid Identity Theft:

  1. Require a PIN or strong password to unlock devices and accounts, plus 2-step verification. Also, do not use the same password for multiple accounts.
  2. Always use updated security software (such as Norton) on your devices.
  3. Regularly sign in to online accounts to monitor transaction accuracy.
  4. Switch to paperless statements so there is less sensitive information in your mail.
  5. Put alerts on your financial accounts so you get reports for each transaction, or transactions exceeding a set dollar amount.
  6. Put a freeze on your credit report so others can’t open accounts in your name.
  7. Shred old documents, such as bank or credit union statements, tax forms and medical bills.
  8. File your tax returns early.
  9. Do not open emails, click on links or answer calls from suspicious addresses or numbers.
  10. Do not carry your Social Security card or documents including your SSN on them.
  11. Do not tell anyone your SSN by phone unless you are 100% sure who they are and why they’re asking for it.
  12. Do not use public Wi-Fi when making any financial transactions, such as online banking or shopping, or to check your email or browse social media.
  13. Do not leave personal information in your car, even if it is locked.
  14. Invest in an identity theft protection service (such as IdentityGuard or LifeLock) to monitor, detect and alert you about attacks on your identity or finances and reimburse you for losses.

If you are a victim of Identity Theft:

  1. Contact at least 1 of the 3 main credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax.
  2. Report it to the FTC at www.identitytheft.gov or call 877 438 4338.

Your Turn: Which of these steps will you take to further secure your online identity?

All You Need to Know About the Metaverse and NFTs

If a time-traveler from the 19th century landed in your living room, you’d likely have a hard time explaining the way our world works – especially the way we deal with finances. Your visitor can watch as you hold an oblong object in your hands and proceed to order a full summer wardrobe, new bedroom furniture or maybe even airline tickets. Who would have imagined we’d be able to do all that and more or without ever touching a dollar bill, coin or even a credit card?

But the changes to the way we handle our money continue, and the world of finance evolves along with technology in the most incredible ways. Let’s take a look at two major innovations in the world of technology and finance, as well as how they may affect us in the very near future: the metaverse and NFTs. 

The Metaverse

What is the metaverse?

The term “metaverse” has generated many curious Google searches since Facebook rebranded itself as Meta in October of 2021. In short, the metaverse is a scaled, interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced simultaneously by an infinite number of users. In addition, the metaverse has continuity of data, which includes identity, objects, communications and payments. In simple English, the metaverse is an all-immersive digital universe where users can live, connect and even make financial transactions through virtual reality and augmented reality. If you played “Second Life,” you’ve already had a taste of this.

Does the metaverse exist?

While some forms of the metaverse already exist, the full experience that tech giants envision likely won’t be ready for consumer use for another five to 10 years. However small aspects of the metaverse, including ultra-fast broadband speeds, online worlds that are always “on” and virtual reality headsets to bring the user into another world are already quite common across the internet and gaming world. 

What are some examples of the metaverse?

Here’s where you can get a feel for what the metaverse is actually about: 

  • Meta. Formerly known as Facebook, the platform’s CEO speaks openly and often about the metaverse and the role Facebook will play in its rollout. 

“The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied than the internet, where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it, and we call this the metaverse,” Zuckerberg said after the company’s rebranding. 

  • Microsoft. Similarly, the software giant has made no secret about where it believes the future of technology lies. Microsoft is already developing mixed and extended reality applications through its Microsoft Mesh platform, which blends the real world with augmented reality and virtual reality. Of course, Xbox Live already connects millions of gamers across the globe in a small-scale metaverse. 

 How will the metaverse affect the world of finance?

Experts envision a world where a consumer can enter a massive virtual shopping mall, purchase a unique digital item and sell that item in a different virtual world, such as on Twitter or eBay. In addition, the expected meteoric rise in popularity of the metaverse creates a unique investment opportunity for the savvy investor. 

NFTs

What are NFTs?

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a kind of crypto asset in which each token has a unique value. This is as opposed to “fungible” assets like Bitcoin and dollar bills, which all have exactly the same value. Because every NFT is unique, they can be used to authenticate ownership of digital assets including artworks, recordings and virtual real estate or pets.

How do NFTs work?

NFTs are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, but its blockchain can support NFTs as well. It’s important to note that other blockchains can easily implement their own versions of NFTs. 

NFTs can be anything digital, like music, videos or drawings, but digital art has been monopolizing NFT trading since its inception. NFT art collecting is not unlike fine art collecting in the real world: Millions of people can buy a Monet print, but only one person can own the original – and pay for it. Similarly, while anyone can own a copy of a digital piece of art, the original can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, or in some cases, even millions. The irony here is that while the owner of an authentic Monet has a genuine piece of art, there is no real difference between owning a copy of a digital artwork and owning the original.

As bizarre as it may sound, NFTs are gaining popularity at record speed. A 50-second video by Grimes sold for $390,000, a tweet by the founder of Twitter sold for just under $3 million, and a video by Beeple sold for $6.6 million.

What’s the purpose of NFTs?

NFTs present a world of financial possibilities for artists and collectors alike. 

Digital artists with real talent can earn a pretty penny through NFTs. Instead of posting a creative meme they designed on their Facebook page, digital artists can now try selling their work as an NFT. The good news is the artist will continue enjoying dividends of their work far beyond its sale. Every time the NFT changes hands, the artist gets paid a percentage of the profits. This way, if the work only becomes popular a while after it’s created, the artist can still pocket their share of its ultimate value. 

Collectors can use NFTs to purchase unique digital artwork as a financial asset. A work of art always carries with it the possibility of becoming wildly popular and spiking in value. Digital artwork is no exception. In addition, owning an NFT comes with some basic rights, which include being able to post the image online or use it as a profile picture.

The world of finance is constantly evolving as technology races to stay ahead of current trends and futuristic visions. The metaverse and NFTs are just two mediums that can change the way we handle our finances in the near future. Use the primer here to learn all about these technological wonders so you are better prepared to participate in and invest in the future. 

Your Turn: Do you think the metaverse and NFTs will play a major role in our finances? Why, or why not? Share in the comments. 

Beware Tax Filing Scams

It’s tax season, so it’s time to get your paperwork in order and hire a tax preparer. Unfortunately, though, there are thousands of scammers looking to steal your information and your tax refund by posing as authentic tax preparers. It’s important to learn how to recognize the signs of a fraudulent tax preparer so you don’t fall victim to a tax filing scam. Here’s all you need to know about these scams and how to keep your money and your information safe.

How the scam plays out 

In a tax filing scam, a victim hires an alleged tax preparer to do their taxes. They may be pulled in by the nominal fee the “preparer” is charging, or lured by the scammer’s extensive advertising which makes a frequent appearance on their social media platforms and on websites they often visit. Or, they may be tempted by the large return the “preparer” promises to secure for them.

The victim then shares their information with the supposed tax preparer without suspecting anything is unusual. Unfortunately, though, when the scammer has the taxpayer’s information, they’ll use it to file a tax return in the victim’s name while changing important details, such as a checking account number or mailing address. They’ll swap in their own information and collect the victim’s refund. By the time the victim realizes what’s happened, they’ve lost the money owed to them by the IRS and are at risk of falling prey to identity theft. 

Protect yourself

The best way to stay safe from a tax filing scam is to do your research carefully before hiring a tax preparer. 

First, avoid pop-up ads when choosing a tax preparer, especially those riddled with typos and spelling errors and those that market their services aggressively. Research any preparers you consider hiring by asking for references of previous clients, Googling the name of the preparer and/or their agency and looking for a physical address and phone number on their website. Be suspicious, as well, if they promise a large return without knowing the first detail about your finances.

Second, before hiring an individual or an agency to do your taxes, ask to see their Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Every legitimate tax preparer must have one of these federally issued identification numbers. If the “preparer” refuses to share their PTIN, you’re being scammed. 

Finally, if you’ve already hired a preparer but you are harboring some doubt about their authenticity, look for these red flags that can prove your suspicions are likely on-target:

  • The preparer inflates numbers that directly affect your tax liability, such as charity donations and business-related expenses. 
  • The preparer claims ineligible individuals as your dependents. 
  • The preparer asks you to sign a blank or partially completed form while promising to fill out the remainder after you sign. 
  • The preparer refuses to sign your form.

 If your tax preparer follows any or all of the above practices, terminate your relationship with them immediately.

If you’ve been targeted

If you’ve been targeted by a tax filing scam and you’ve only recognized that you were being scammed after your form has already been filed, report it to the authorities as quickly as possible. Let the FTC know about the scam, alert the IRS and tell your friends and family about the circulating scam, too.

If you’ve shared your personal information with the scammer, take some additional steps toward protecting yourself from further implications of the scam. For example, if you’ve shared your financial information with the scammer, such as your checking account details, you’re best off closing your account and opening a new one. Also, if the scammer knows your Social Security number, you are now vulnerable to identity theft. Check out the federal government’s page on identity theft recovery to learn what steps to take next. 

Stay alert during tax season and keep your money and your information safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a tax filing scam? Tell us about it in the comments.