Beware the 2020 Census Scam!

2020 census sheet being filled outEvery 10 years, the Census Bureau makes an effort to count every person living in the U.S. Though the process won’t start until mid-March 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is already warning of scammers exploiting the process to con you out of your sensitive information. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the census procedure; so you know what to expect and so you can easily spot a scam.

We have answered all your questions about the 2020 census.

What’s the purpose of the census?
The U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years to provide the federal government with an accurate count of every living person in the country. This number will affect the amount of federal funding each area receives. This, in turn, pays for Medicaid, affordable housing, mass transit, schools, parks and more. It also affects the degree of congressional representation each area receives.

How will the 2020 census invite people to respond?
To obtain accurate information, the US Census Bureau will reach out to every household, giving residents the option to respond online, via mail or by phone.
Here’s how those invitations will be distributed throughout the country:

  • 95 percent of households will receive their census invitation in the mail.
  • Close to 5 percent of households will receive their census invitation through personal delivery by a census taker.
  • Less than 1 percent of households will be personally counted by a census taker instead of being invited to respond on their own.
  • There are special procedures in place to account for individuals who do not live in households, such as university students and the homeless.

Households that do not respond to the invitation delivered via mail will receive reminder letters, postcards, and questionnaires until they do respond. If they still have not participated in the census by May 2020, the household will be visited by a census taker, who will count them in person. If no one answers the door when they come by, the census taker will leave a door hanger with a phone number for the household residents to call for scheduling another visit. The census taker will continue trying to reach the household personally, or by phone, up to six times.

What kind of questions will I find on the census form?
True to purpose, the census questionnaire will primarily focus on the number of people living in the household at the time the form is completed. You will also need to note each household member’s sex, age, race, ethnicity, relationships to the other residents, phone number and whether you own or rent the home. There will not be a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

How can I determine if a census taker is really a scammer?
One of the most widely anticipated census scams involves a fraudster posing as a census taker, obtaining sensitive information from unsuspecting residents and then using that information to commit identity theft.

You can easily verify a census taker’s legitimacy by asking to see their required photo ID.
Authentic ID will include a U.S. Department of Commerce seal and an expiration date. If you’re still feeling doubtful, ask for their supervisor’s contact information. You can also call the census regional office phone number to verify your census taker’s authenticity.
The most suspicious behavior a census scammer will exhibit is asking intrusive and inappropriate questions. Be wary of answering anything that sounds suspicious and read through the checklist below to learn how to spot a scammer.

A census taker will never ask you:

  • If you are a U.S. citizen
  • For your full Social Security number
  • For credit card numbers or checking account information
  • For a donation
  • To pledge your support for a political party
  • For personal information, such as your mother’s maiden name or the name of the elementary school you attended

A scammer might sometimes try to reach you by phone. By using caller ID-spoofing technology, it may appear as if they are actually calling from the Census Bureau. Remember, though, that a census taker will not reach out to you by phone unless you have failed to respond to several mailed invitations and reminders, and you have not answered the door when a census taker visited you personally. Be wary of any suspicious questions being asked over the phone. If you have reason to believe you are speaking with a scammer, hang up immediately.

If you suspect fraud, call 800-923-8282 to report the incident to a local Census Bureau representative. You also can file a report with the FTC . Your reports will help law enforcement agencies stop the scammers from committing additional crimes.

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

Learn More:
abc7chicago.com
abclocal.go.com
consumer.ftc.gov

Beware of Coronavirus Scams

Man staring menacingly at camera while wearing a medical maskScammers are notorious for capitalizing on fear, and the coronavirus outbreak is no exception. Showing an appalling lack of the most basic morals, scammers have set up fake websites, bogus funding collections and more in an effort to trick the fearful and unsuspecting out of their money.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published on its website a warning against email scams connected to the coronavirus. The agency claims it has received reports from around the world about phishing attempts mentioning coronavirus on an almost daily basis.

Closer to home, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning against a surge in coronavirus scams, which are being executed with surprising sophistication, so they may be difficult for even the keenest of eyes to spot.

The best weapons against these scams are awareness and education. When people know about circulating scams and how to identify them, they’re already several steps ahead of the scammers. Here’s all you need to know about coronavirus-related scams.

How the scams play out
There are several scams exploiting the fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus. Here are some of the most prevalent:

The fake funding scam
In this scam, victims receive bogus emails, text messages or social media posts asking them to donate money to a research team that is supposedly on the verge of developing a drug to treat COVID-19. Others claim they are nearing a vaccine for immunizing the population against the virus. There have also been ads circulating on the internet with similar requests. Unfortunately, nearly all of these are fakes, and any money donated to these “funds” will help line the scammers’ pockets.

The bogus health agency
There is so much conflicting information on the coronavirus that it’s really a no-brainer that scammers are exploiting the confusion. Scammers are sending out alerts appearing to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the WHO; however, they’re actually created by the scammers. These emails sport the logo of the agencies that allegedly sent them, and the URL is similar to those of the agencies as well. Some scammers will even invent their own “health agency,” such as “The Health Department,” taking care to evoke authenticity with bogus contact information and logos.

Victims who don’t know better will believe these missives are sent by legitimate agencies. While some of these emails and posts may actually provide useful information, they often also spread misinformation to promote fear-mongering, such as nonexistent local diagnoses of the virus. Even worse, they infect the victims’ computers with malware which is then used to scrape personal information off the infected devices.

The phony purchase order
Scammers are hacking the computer systems at medical treatment centers and obtaining information about outstanding orders for face masks and other supplies. The scammers then send the buyer a phony purchase order listing the requested supplies and asking for payment. The employee at the treatment center wires payment directly into the scammer’s account. Unfortunately, they’ll have to pay the bill again when contacted by the legitimate supplier.

Preventing scams
Basic preventative measures can keep scammers from making you their next target.

As always, it’s important to keep the anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer up to date, and to strengthen the security settings on all of your devices.
Practice responsible browsing when online. Never download an attachment from an unknown source or click on links embedded in an email or social media post from an unknown individual. Don’t share sensitive information online, either. If you’re unsure about a website’s authenticity, check the URL and look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” indicating the site is secure.

Finally, it’s a good idea to stay updated on the latest news about the coronavirus to avoid falling prey to misinformation. Check the actual CDC and WHO websites for the latest updates. You can donate funds toward research on these sites as well.

Spotting the scams
Scammers give themselves away when they ask for payment via specific means, including a wire transfer or prepaid gift card. Scams are also easily spotted by claims of urgency, such as “Act now!” Another giveaway is poor writing skills, including grammatical errors, awkward syntax and misspelled words. In the coronavirus scams, “Breaking information” alerts appearing to be from health agencies are another sign of a scam.

You can keep yourself safe from the coronavirus by practicing good hygiene habits and avoid coronavirus scams by practicing healthy internet usage. Keep yourself in the know about the latest developments.

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

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
wsj.com
blog.malwarebytes.com

Why You Should Never Abbreviate 2020

Business person handing pen over for viewer to signIt may be a new year and a new decade, but scammers are still looking to con you out of your money. In fact, experts are warning of a new scam that is as simple as changing the date on a personal check, financial document, or another important paper.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:

The 2020 scam
The newest scam of the decade involves the dates on important documents. Most of us are accustomed to abbreviating the date by using the last two digits anytime we need to write it. For example, if we were dating a document for March 2, 2019, we might write it out as 3/2/19.

While it was fine to do so in the past, continuing this practice in 2020 can be problematic. With the two sets of digits that make up the new year being identical, abbreviating the date on important documents opens us up to all sorts of scams. It only takes a few seconds for a scammer to change the “20” on a document to “2021” or to “2019.” This can lead to multiple problems for the document signer.

What kind of damage can be caused by this scam?
There are endless ways that date modification can be employed in a scam.
First, let’s take a look at what happens if the date is changed to an earlier year. If a scammer gets their hands on a check that was made out to you and decides to backdate it, the check may no longer be valid. Similarly, if you signed a legal document or a contract this year and a scammer adds “19” to the end of the “20” that you wrote to indicate the year, it now looks like you signed this document in 2019. As a result, your contract may no longer be valid. If this scam is pulled off on paperwork for an outstanding debt, your debt will now appear to be overdue. Thanks to this ruse, you might be charged late fees for a loan that is not yet due, or you may be charged a monthly fee for a time when you did not yet owe any payments.

The other way this scam can be executed is for the date to be changed to a future year. To pull this off, criminals will use the “20” you scrawled for the year, and change it to “2021” or later. If someone signed a document agreeing to start paying you for services you rendered in 2020, they can make it appear as if they don’t owe you any money until next year. Also, if you’ve neglected to pay a debt that is already past the statute of limitations, a scammer can modify the year on the relevant documents to make it appear as if you are still accountable for the debt.

While this scam is as new as the new year, and it’s still too early to know what kind of damage it can cause, financial experts agree that the threat is very real and precautions should be taken.

Avoiding this scam
As scams go, the 2020 scam is fairly easy to prevent. As you work on breaking free of bad habits and making improvements, add this to your list of New Year’s resolutions: Don’t abbreviate the year. Train yourself to write out “2020” in its entirety anytime you need to date a check, financial document or important paperwork of any kind. This simple precaution will keep you from falling victim to a date manipulation scam. It’s also a good idea to write out the full month when dating an important document, especially in January and February, since “1” and “2” can easily be changed to look like you wrote 10, 11, or 12 as the month. The stroke of a pen can push off the date on your document by nine full months or more.

Remember, the habit that was harmless in 2019 could make you vulnerable to fraud in 2020.

Your Turn:
Can you think of any other ways scammers can manipulate a date to their benefit? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
usatoday.com
mentalfloss.com
clark.com

Take Precautions with Connected Security Cameras

Adult viewing a child on a connected security deviceWhen parents hear, “Mommy!” yelled from their child’s room, it’s usually the result of a minor ouchie, or perhaps a stomach ache.

But, for recent users of a doorbell security camera, hearing, “Mommy!” come from their daughters’ bedroom turned their dreams of peace of mind into a nightmare.

Hackers have recently been gaining access to users’ homes via their systems’ two-way talk features. Two-way talk allows users to see what’s going on in their homes and talk to the occupants from a remote location via smartphone or tablet.

One recent attack involved an 8-year-old girl who was told by a male voice over the Amazon Ring security camera in her bedroom that he was Santa Claus and wanted to be her friend—all after calling her racial slurs and telling her it was OK to mess up her room and break her television.

The frightened girl could be seen and heard calling for her mother in the video provided to the media.

In another instance, a woman was awakened while sleeping in her bedroom by a strange voice coming from her Ring security camera. The voice was yelling for her to wake up and calling her dog.

Google’s Nest Cam security cameras are not immune to hackers, either.

One couple experienced hearing a man’s voice over the camera system. It was talking to their baby and then yelling obscenities at them before asking why the homeowners were looking at him (the crook). They also reported that the hackers had made adjustments to their thermostat.

In yet another Nest Cam incident, hackers warned a family about a supposed North Korean missile strike.

A spokesperson for Ring told The Washington Post in a recent statement that the Santa incident “is in no way related to a breach or compromise of Ring’s security. Customer trust is important to us and we take the security of our devices seriously.”

They added that the hackers “often re-use credentials stolen or leaked from one service on other services.”

Nest’s parent company, Google, told CBS News that Nest’s system was not breached, adding that reported incidents stem from customers “using compromised passwords … exposed through breaches on other websites.”

The Ring spokesperson told the Post, “Consumers should always practice good password hygiene and we encourage Ring customers to change their passwords and enable two-factor authentication.”

To prevent these incidents from occurring, CNET.com urges companies to require two-factor authentication (2FA), not just suggest using it.

“2FA would need a second form of identity, often a one-time code sent to a phone after a username and password are entered, or a physical token that’s plugged in,” according to CNET.

The report adds that hackers are using a technique called credential stuffing, a practice of acquiring lists of stolen usernames and passwords and then trying to use them on different accounts. Software tools have been created to specifically hack Ring cameras.

Ring’s representatives told Vice, “As a precaution, we highly and openly encourage all Ring users to enable two-factor authentication on their Ring account, add Shared Users (instead of sharing login credentials), use strong passwords, and regularly change their passwords.”

Take precautions before hackers take your peace of mind via your home security system.

Your Turn:
How do you protect yourself from home security camera hackers? Tell us in the comments.

Learn More:
wsbtv.com
washingtonpost.com
cbsnews.com
cnet.com
vice.com

How To Dispute An Error On Your Credit Report

Woman on phone with credit bureauQuick-what’s your credit score?
As a financially responsible individual, you should be checking your credit on a regular basis. You can do this by signing up for free credit monitoring on a reputable website like CreditKarma.com, requesting your annual complimentary credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and reviewing your monthly credit card statements.

If all goes well, your report will hold no surprises and your score will be in excellent shape, or steadily increasing. Sometimes, though, you may find an error in your report. It might be a sharp decline in your score when you know you haven’t changed your spending or bill-paying habits, a large transaction you’re sure you’ve never made or an unfamiliar line of credit. While it can be disconcerting to find a mistake in your credit report, the good news is you can contest errors like these and fix your score.

Mistakes you may find on your credit report
Credit report errors are quite common. In fact, 26% of participants in a study by the Federal Trade Commission found at least one error on their credit reports that brought down their score. A lower score can mean getting hit with higher interest rates on loans, and can prove to be an obstacle when applying for a new line of credit or a large loan.

Most of these errors can be traced back to clerical mistakes, though some are caused by a lack of action on your part, or by criminal activity.

Credit report errors include the following:

  • You’re mistakenly identified as someone with a name similar to yours.
  • A credit account was never included in your report, weakening your perceived credit worthiness.
  • Your loan or credit card payments were applied to the wrong account.
  • A legitimate credit account or debt has been reported and recorded multiple times.
  • Your name is still linked to your ex-partner’s accounts and debts.
  • Identity thieves have used your name and credit file to open accounts and take out loans you knew nothing about – and it’s unlikely they have been making payments on those loans.

To avoid credit report errors, make sure to use your legal name on every line of credit you open, to remove your name from any accounts you are no longer associated with and to have all of your creditors report your open accounts to the major credit bureaus. As mentioned above, it is also crucial that you monitor your score to find mistakes as quickly as possible.

3 steps to disputing an error

If you’ve spotted an error on your credit report, don’t panic. Follow these three steps to dispute the error and fix your credit:

Step 1: File a dispute with each of the major credit bureaus.
You’ll need to inform all three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, about the error. All three bureaus allow you to file disputes online.

In your written dispute, you’ll need to clearly identify each disputed item in your report, explain why you are disputing these items and ask that the errors be deleted or corrected. Include your full contact information, as well as copies of any documents that support your claim. You can also include a copy of your credit report, highlighting the items you are disputing.

To file your dispute online, follow these links for each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, Experian.

You can also file your disputes by mail to Equifax and TransUnion; Experian currently accepts online disputes only. If filing by mail, it’s best to send your letter via certified mail with a requested return receipt. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of your correspondence for your own records.

    • Mail your Equifax dispute to the following address:
      Equifax Information Services LLC
      P.O. Box 740256
      Atlanta, GA 30348
    • Mail your TransUnion dispute to the following address:
      TransUnion LLC
      Consumer Dispute Center
      P.O. Box 2000
      Chester, PA 19016

Step 2: Contact the creditor
After you’ve contacted each bureau, you can also reach out to the creditor that’s linked to the error in your report. This step isn’t necessary, but it may speed up the correction process.

Most creditors will provide a link or an address for disputes. When filing your dispute, follow the guidelines above and include all relevant information and documentation. Be sure to let the creditor know you’ve also contacted the credit bureaus, as they’ll want to include this information and a copy of your dispute if they report their findings to the bureaus. You can also ask to be copied on all correspondences between the creditor and the bureaus.

Step 3: Follow up in 30 days
Expect to be contacted by the bureaus and the creditor within 30 days after filing your disputes. If all goes well, your dispute will be accepted and your credit will be restored. In many states, you are eligible to receive a complimentary credit report following a registered dispute.

If one of the credit bureaus or a creditor refuses to accept your dispute or does not resolve the error in your favor, you can ask the bureau or creditor to include a copy of your dispute in your file and in all future credit reports. This way, a lender or creditor will be made aware of the alleged error when reviewing your credit. You may be charged a small fee for this service, but it is generally worth the price. If you feel the error is too significant to ignore, consider hiring a lawyer to help you contest the report and fix your credit.

Disputing an error on your credit report is fairly simple. Always monitor your score and be vigilant about correcting errors. The payoff can affect your financial wellness for years to come.

Your Turn:
Have you ever filed a dispute for an error found on your credit report? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn more:
creditkarma.com
myfico.com
consumerfinance.gov

Beware The Fake Check Scam Targeting College Students

Young man standing in line at a credit union with a 2' x 4' checkMaking the transition from high school to college isn’t easy. You need to deal with a whole new set of rules, adapt to dorm life and get to know your new classmates, teachers and roommates. Then there’s the financial aspect: applying for financial aid, grants and scholarships; paying for school supplies, electronic devices and textbooks. And don’t forget about budgeting for food costs, clothing and more.

Unfortunately, scammers are making this transition even more challenging than it already is. There’s recently been an uptick in fake check scams targeting new college students. Young adults make excellent targets. In fact, according to the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, consumers ages 18 to 24 are three times more likely than seniors to fall prey to a scam. In addition, the BBB’s ScamTracker Risk Report of 2018 found that 41.6% of students reported a loss when exposed to a scam as compared to 28.3% of non-students.

Don’t be the next victim! Here’s how you can recognize a fake check scam and take steps to keep yourself safe.

How does the scam play out?
There are several variations of the fake check scam, but all of them ultimately lead to the victim cashing an extra-large fake check and returning the difference to the scammer.
In one scenario, the scammer will send a bad check to a potential new roommate. The check allegedly secures the renter’s spot in the room, and will be made out for an amount that is greater than the requested holding deposit. The victim will be asked to deposit the check and send the extra funds back to the “renter.” Unfortunately, the check won’t clear and the victim will never see that money again.

In another variation, a young college student will be offered a remote position working for an alleged business. The student will receive a check to use for purchasing supplies or to cash as their paycheck. Here, too, the check will be made out for more money than necessary, and the victim will be instructed to send back the difference to the scammer.

Again, the check will ultimately not clear and the student will be out the money they sent.

In yet a third variation of this scam, students will receive phone calls or messages from companies promising to lower their student loan payments. After applying for this “service,” the student will be sent an extra-large check. The rest of the scam will follow the same script described above.

How can I spot a fake check scam?
Watch out for these red flags which likely indicate a scam:

  • You’re asked to cash a check that is made out for more money than necessary and to return the difference to the sender.
  • The alleged roommate, employer or loan company insists on paying you via check only.
  • You cannot find any information online about your potential new roommate, employer or loan company.
  • The alleged roommate, employer or contact from the loan company refuses to answer any of your questions about their location and refuses to meet face to face.

If you suspect a scam, cut off all contact with the scammer and report it to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov and to the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org. It’s also a good idea to warn your friends and classmates that this scam is circulating so they don’t fall prey to it.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your credit. As a young student, you are a primary target for scammers. If your financial information has been compromised and a scammer is helping themselves to your credit file to open loans or lines of credit in your name, you may not learn about this fraudulent activity until extensive damage has been done. You can monitor your credit via a free service like CreditKarma.com, and by requesting your annual complimentary credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Review your monthly credit card statements as well and check for suspicious activity on your accounts.

Adjusting to college life is hard enough without dealing with scams. Proceed with caution and be wary of anyone offering you more money than you’re expecting for whatever reason. Stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a fake check scam? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

Learn More:
abc7chicago.com
whnt.com
affordablecollegesonline.org

All You Need to Know About Data Breaches

hands on a computer keyboard with security lock icons superimposedIf you follow the news, you’ll note that there seems to be another major data breach monopolizing headlines every week. The details vary, but in each breach, thousands, millions or even billions of victims’ sensitive information is compromised, and they’re now vulnerable to identity theft unless they take immediate action.

Here at Advantage One Credit Union, your financial success and safety is our primary goal. To help keep your information and your finances secure, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on data breaches.

What is a data breach?
Data breaches occur when sensitive information is accessed or used without authorization. Factors like a wealth of online data and sophisticated hacking tools have spurred a steep increase in data breaches in recent years, causing tremendous damage to individual consumers and businesses across every industry.

Data breaches occur by exploiting vulnerabilities in a company’s security system. Alternatively, an employee can be tricked into giving a cyber-criminal access to the company’s network.

The goal of most data breaches is to obtain personal information, like names, email addresses and passwords, as well as financial information, like credit card numbers and account details. This information is used by criminals to steal identities and empty accounts, or sold to other criminals who will then do so.

While major data breaches make headlines, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there is an average of three data breaches each day, most of which will never even make the news.

After a data breach
Whenever you hear about a major data breach that can possibly affect you, it’s best to monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. In most cases, you will be notified by the victimized company if your data has been compromised; however, it helps to keep an eye on your accounts even if you haven’t been contacted so you can minimize your loss by acting quickly if your are among the unfortunate victims.

If you’ve been victimized by a breach
If you’ve been informed your information is compromised by a data breach, take the following steps immediately:

  1. Freeze your credit
    Placing a freeze on your credit is the most crucial step you can take to stop scammers from getting at your information. A credit freeze will not bring down your credit score, but it will serve as a red flag for lenders and credit companies by alerting them to the fact that you may have been a victim of fraud. This added layer of protection will make it difficult, or impossible, for hackers to open a new credit line or loan in your name.

    You can freeze your credit at no cost at all three of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, Transunion and Experian. You’ll need to provide some basic information and you’ll receive a PIN for the freeze. Use this number to lift the freeze when you believe it is safe to do so.

  2. Change your passwords
    Most people are on the alert following a major data breach, but they tend to let their guard down once the heat is off and things calm down. Hackers know this, and they’ll often hold onto victims’ information immediately following a data breach and then sell it months down the line to other identity thieves. To protect your accounts from a delayed-reaction hack, change all of your passwords after a breach that possibly has affected you.
  3. File an identity theft report
    Unfortunately, these protective measures can sometimes be too little, too late. If your accounts have been compromised, and you believe your identity has been stolen, file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as soon as possible. This will assist the feds in tracking down your hacker(s) and returning your finances to their usual state as quickly as possible.

Protecting your information
There’s no fool-proof way to protect yourself from a data breach, but following these simple steps can help keep your information as safe as possible:

Monitor your credit.
Check your credit accounts for suspicious activity on a regular basis. You can request a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. You may also want to consider signing up for credit monitoring, a service that will cost you $10-30 a month for the promise of notifying you immediately about any suspicious activity on your accounts.

Use strong, unique passwords.
Use a different password for each account, and choose codes that are at least eight characters long. Also, use a variety of numbers, letters and symbols. Vary your capitalization use as well, and don’t utilize any portion of your name, phone number or a common phrase as your password. Using a password manager like Dashlane or iPassword can also help keep your information safe. It’s also a good idea to choose two-factor authentication when possible, and non-password authentication, such as face recognition or fingerprint sign-in, for stronger protection.

Browse safely.
Never share sensitive information online and always keep your security and spam settings at their strongest levels. Make sure your devices are fully updated at all times. It’s also a good idea to keep your social media accounts as private as possible.

Hackers never stop trying to get at your data, but with the right protective measures in place, you can keep them from seeing success.

Your Turn:
How do you protect yourself from data breaches? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
forbes.com
malwarebytes.com
searchsecurity
experian.com

Beware Car-Wrap Scams!

Two auto-body techs apply a vinyl wrap to a car fenderScammers never stop dreaming up new ways to con you out of your money-and reinventing old tricks that work. The fake-check scam is a tried-and-true scheme with dozens of variations. One such variation, the car-wrap scam, has recently become more widespread and successful.

Here’s all you need to know about the car-wrap scam and how you can protect yourself from becoming the next victim.

In this scam, well-known “brands” post ads or send mass emails promising consumers generous compensation for allowing the company to use their car as advertising space. The consumer simply needs to have their vehicle shrink-wrapped with an ad for the company to get paid, usually, around $500 a week.

Unfortunately, the ad is bogus and does not really represent the promoted company. When the victim is awarded their first “paycheck,” it will be made out for an amount that’s far larger than what was promised. Alternatively, the victim will be supplied with the funds to pay the car-wrapper; only the amount on the check is a lot larger than necessary. In both scenarios, the victim will be instructed to cash the check and mail back the surplus to the sender. You can probably guess the ending: The check will not clear and the victim will never see that money again.

Like every successful scam, this one tries to bait its victims with the promise of easy money. Luckily, there are loads of red flags to alert you to the fact that you’re looking at a scam.

First, the ad will be written poorly and riddled with typos and spelling errors.
Here is the actual text used in one of these scams:

Bull light are currently seeking to employ car owners world wide. You will need to carry this promotional advert on the exterior of your car and you will be compensated with $500 per week which is essentially a “rental” payment for letting our company use the space of your car, no application fees required from you. We would be paying you by check and would want you to get back to us with your Name: Street Address: City: and cell phone State: Zip code: to send you the check and also send your Age: Current Occupation: Make of car/ year:. We will contact you immediately we receive this information Note: We take full responsibility for placing and remove decal on your car and it will not resort to any damage. Thanks.

A brief look at the ad should clue you in to its shady intent. Legitimate brands know their spelling and grammar.

Another clue is the ridiculously high compensation being offered for essentially renting out your vehicle for an alleged company to use as advertising space. You know what they say about things that are too good to be true …

Also, if the offer actually was legitimate, the company would likely be bombarded with hopeful applicants instead of sending out mass emails begging people to consider this lucrative, no-sweat opportunity.

If you fall for the scam and sign up to have your car shrink-wrapped, you can still pull out when you get your first paycheck or funding to be used for the car wrap. Legitimate companies do not mistakenly “overpay” you and then ask you to refund the change.

“If you get a message urging you to deposit a check and wire money back, it’s a scam,” says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “Every time. No matter the story.”

If you receive a check that matches this description, rip it up and cut off all contact with the sender.

It’s equally important to note that many of these car-wrap scams are being pulled off in the name of well-known beverage companies like Monster Energy, Pepsi, Bud Light and Red Bull. Most of these companies have confirmed that they do not run any programs like the one promoted in the scam.

If you come across a car-wrap offer that sounds legitimate, a quick online search of the company that’s allegedly associated with the job can help you determine whether it is truly authentic. If it turns out to be a scam, be sure to warn your friends and to file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov.

Always be on the alert for possible scams and keep yourself informed of the latest schemes. A little education and a lot of common sense can go a long way toward keeping you safe from scams.

Your Turn:
Have you spotted a car-wrap scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
latimes.com
consumeraffairs.com

How To Recognize And Protect Yourself From Scams

Excited young woman reading a phamplet that says "You won!"Scammers are always trying to con victims out of their information and money. They are, unfortunately, often successful. Scammers are expert impersonators, using sophisticated technology and their best acting skills to convince you they represent a business, institution or government agency you may trust. They also tend to prey on the most susceptible victims, including those who are down on their luck or are exceptionally naïve and trusting.

Here at Advantage One Credit Union, our biggest priority is your financial wellness, and that includes keeping you and your money safe. To help you achieve it, we’ve put together this guide about recognizing the signs of fraud and protecting yourself from scams.

Five red flags of scams
While the details surrounding the way a scam plays out can vary greatly, most follow a similar theme. They try to get victims to share personal information or to pay for a service or product that doesn’t exist. Here are five ways to spot a scammer:

They demand detailed information before agreeing to process an application. A favorite ploy among scammers is asking for sensitive, non-public information like your date of birth, Social Security number and login information for online accounts. They will typically do this before processing any application for an alleged product, service or job.
They insist on a specific method of payment. If an online seller or service provider will only accept payment through a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card, you’re likely looking at a scam.

They send you a check for an inflated amount. Another favorite trick among scammers is to overpay a seller or “employee,” and then ask the victim to return the extra money. In a few days’ time, when the original, inflated check doesn’t clear, the victim realizes they’ve been conned but it’s too late to get back the “extra” money they returned.
You can’t find any information about the company the caller allegedly represents. A scammer representing a bogus business can easily be uncovered by doing a quick online search about the “company.”

You’re pressured to act now.
Scammers are always in a rush to complete their ruse before you catch onto their act.

Who are the targets?
Scammers usually cast a wide net to ensnare as many victims as possible. However, lots of scams focus on a subset of highly vulnerable targets. Here are some of the most common targets of scams:

  • The unemployed. The internet makes it easy for scammers to learn that you’re looking for a job. If you’re job hunting, be careful not to respond to any emails offering you a “dream position” you never applied for or even knew about.
  • The aging. Older people are another favorite target for scammers. Retired individuals often spend lots of time online, making them more vulnerable to scams. Also, as relative newcomers to the online world, they may be less aware of the dangers lurking on the internet.
  • Children.
    Sadly, the youngest members of society are another huge target pool for scammers. Children are naturally trusting and will more readily share information with strangers, which can then be used to steal their identity. Small children will likely not be checking their credit for years, which means a stolen identity can go unchecked until the child grows into a young adult. By that time their credit can be wrecked, almost beyond repair.

What do scams look like?
Here are some of the most common scams:

  • Cyber-hacking In this scam, hackers gain remote access to your computer and proceed to help themselves to your personal information.
  • Phishing scams Scammers bait you into sharing personal information via a bogus job form, an application for a service they allegedly provide or by impersonating a well-known company or government agency.
  • Mystery shopper A bogus company will “hire” you to purchase a specific item in a store and then report back about the service experience. Before you get started, though, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee, which you’ll never see again.
  • Job offers Scammers “hire” you for a position and then scam you by sending you an inflated check, as detailed above.
  • Sweetheart scams A scammer pretending to be an online lover will con you into sharing your personal information and/or sending them money and gifts.
  • Fraudulent investments Scammers reach out to potential investors with information about lucrative investments that don’t exist.

10 ways to protect yourself from scams
Keep yourself safe by following these rules:

  1. Never share personal information online.
  2. Don’t open unsolicited emails. If you already have, don’t click on any embedded links.
  3. Never send money by insecure means to an unknown party.
  4. Protect your devices by using the most up-to-date operating systems, choosing two-factor authentication and using strong, unique passwords for every account.
  5. Choose the strongest privacy settings for your social media accounts.
  6. Keep yourself in the know about the latest scams and learn how to protect yourself.
  7. Educate your kids about basic computer safety and privacy.
  8. If you have elderly parents who spend time online, talk to them about common scams and teach them to protect themselves.
  9. Don’t take the identity of callers at face value, even if your Caller ID verifies their story. If a government agency, utility company or financial institution reaches out to you and asks you to share personal information, tell them you’ll contact them on your own and then end the call.
  10. Never accept a job or agree to pay for a purchase or service without thoroughly researching the company involved.

Above all, remember the golden rule of scams: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.

Once an individual falls prey to a scam, there is very little that can be done to mitigate the loss. Full financial recovery can take years. It’s best to protect yourself from scams before they happen by educating yourself and asking Advantage One Credit Union for help.

Your Turn:
How do you keep yourself safe from scams? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Don’t Get Scammed At The Gym!

Personal trainer in a gym reviews the exercise & diet with her clientAs soon as the calendar hits Jan. 2, the gyms are packed with people who are eager to make good on their New Year’s resolutions. If you’re one of the thousands of newbies making your way to fitness centers this month, beware of these five subtle scams that can end up thinning your wallet more than your physique.

The free trial
Free trials at fitness centers are super-popular right after the holidays. It sounds like a no-brainer: no money, and you get to try out the gym for free! Unfortunately, though, free trials can ultimately end up costing you a pretty penny. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns against sharing your credit card information with a gym that’s offering a free trial because many will start automatically charging you a monthly fee unless you remember to cancel your “membership” by a certain timeframe. You may even find yourself committed to a full year!

The fix: Read the fine print carefully on any free trial offer. If possible, only take advantage of a free trial offered without asking for any financial information.

The no-cancellation policy
Gyms depend on strong membership numbers. This can sometimes translate into high-pressure sales tactics-or worse. Lots of fitness centers will not let you out of a contract until a full year is up, no matter what. You’ll be stuck paying that membership all year even if you find the gym is not the right fit for you, if you develop a medical condition that makes use of the gym impossible or you end up moving out of town.

The fix: Before signing up for a gym membership, ask about their cancellation policy. If it’s too rigid, look for another gym.

“Certified” personal trainers
Another way gyms get you is by charging you extra for the service of an on-staff personal trainer. The catch? Lots of these “trainers” have not completed their certification process, or may even be completely untrained! This means you’re essentially paying through the roof to have a glorified coach help you work out. You can also end up getting injured if the trainer puts you through a workout that is overly strenuous for your personal capacity.

The fix: Before signing up to work with a personal trainer, ask to see their certification. Look for NSCA, ACSM, NASM and ACE.

No health-history form
In our litigation-happy society, every business and service provider is deathly afraid of being sued. Gyms are no exception. To help them avoid getting dragged to court for injuries incurred while using their machines, many fitness centers have stopped making new members fill out a health-history form and/or a PAR-Q-a standard questionnaire for exercise readiness. This way, instead of reviewing members’ health histories and lifestyle details so they can direct them toward appropriate machines and workouts, gyms have effectively absolved themselves from exercise-related injuries.

The fix: Be wary of signing up at gyms that don’t ask any questions about your medical history or personal lifestyle.

Equipment-maintenance fees
Many fitness centers have started charging members a quarterly or monthly equipment-maintenance fee on top of their membership dues. This practice begs the question: If you’re paying a fee for the upkeep of the exercise equipment, why are you also paying a membership fee?

The fix: Ask about any additional fees before signing up for a gym membership.

Get fit without the gym
If you’re looking to shed some pounds and build muscles this year, you don’t need a gym. You can download some great workout tutorials online, invite some friends over and exercise at home! There are also lots of exercises you can do without any expensive equipment, like squats, lunges, T-handle swings, push-ups, pull-ups, dips, stretches and more. For an aerobics workout, you can bundle up and go for a walk, sprint or jog outdoors instead of running nowhere on a treadmill in a noisy gym. You can get fit without paying a small fortune!

If you need the commitment to working out that a gym membership can give you, go for it, but proceed with caution. Avoid getting scammed at the gym by looking out for the less-than-savory business practices, and by doing extensive research on any fitness center you might want to join.

Best of luck on your fitness quest in 2020 from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union!

Your Turn:
Have you had an unsatisfactory business relationship with a fitness center? Share it with us in the comments.

Learn More:
joe-cannon.com
nattyornot.com
witn.com