Second Wave of Stimulus Checks Brings More Scams

The second wave of stimulus checks only started hitting checking accounts a few weeks ago, and the BBB  and the FTC are already warning of related scams.

According to the FTC, American taxpayers lost more than $211 million due to COVID-19 scams, with $20.9 million of that amount connected to the first round of stimulus checks.

Don’t get scammed! Protect yourself by learning all about these scams so you know when you’re being targeted.

How the scams play out

Stimulus check scams can take the form of phishing scams, in which a criminal asks victims to provide personal information to receive their check, and then instead uses that information to empty the victim’s account.

In other variants of the stimulus check scam, a victim receives an email prompting them to download an embedded link to receive their check.The link, of course, will infect the victim’s computer with malware.

In yet another stimulus check scam, a criminal impersonates an IRS official or a representative of another government office demanding a processing fee before the check can be sent.

Finally, there have been reports of taxpayers receiving checks that appear to be authentic stimulus checks, but are actually fraudulent. They deposit the check and, soon afterward, a scammer reaches out to them to inform them the check amount was incorrect and they must return some of the funds. Unfortunately, a few days later, the financial institution finds that the check is fake and it will not clear. The victim is now out the money they returned to the “IRS.”

Red flags

Unfortunately, technology has made it easy for scammers to spoof a Caller ID and to create bogus websites that look authentic. If you know what to look for, you can beat them at their game and recognize a scam before it gets past the first step.

Here are five red flags of stimulus check scams:

1. Unsolicited calls or emails

It’s best to avoid answering unsolicited calls and/or emails from unknown contacts to protect yourself from a stimulus check scam. Similarly, never click on a link in an unsolicited email or text message, as it may contain malware.

According to the BBB Scam Tracker, scammers have also been contacting people through robocalls and leaving messages about the stimulus checks and direct deposits. These calls should likewise be ignored.

2. Messages that ask you to verify or provide sensitive information

The BBB is warning of emails and text messages asking citizens to verify or supply information to receive their stimulus checks. Sometimes, the victim will receive an email instructing them to click on a link to receive their benefit payments. This, too, is a scam. The IRS will not call, text or email any taxpayer to verify their information.

3. High-pressure tactics

If a phone call or email demands immediate action on your part and uses a threat of losing your stimulus payment, you’re likely looking at a scam. There is no action you need to take to receive your check.

4. Fee solicitations

There is no processing fee or any other charge attached to the stimulus payments.

“If you do answer a call, and it’s about your stimulus payment, keep in mind that U.S. government agencies won’t ask you to pay anything up front to receive your funds. Anyone who does is a scammer,” cautions Jennifer Leach, associate director for the FTC’s division of consumer and business education.

There’s also no way to pay extra for receiving your stimulus payment earlier.

5. Inflated check amount

“We’ve seen a lot of scams involving bogus checks that look like government checks in the past year,” says Paige Schaffer, CEO of global identity and cyber protection services at Generali Global Assistance.

For the best way to protect yourself from this scam, the BBB recommends that all taxpayers receiving their stimulus payment via paper check verify that the check is authentic before depositing it in their checking account. Look up the agency or organization that allegedly sent the check to see if it really exists, and check the status of your payment to see if you actually should have received it.

Stay safe!

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

Learn More:
wwmt.com
marketwatch.com
cnbc.com
bbb.org

Four Super-Scary Scams To Watch For This Halloween

woman in witch contest holding jack-o-lantern in front of her faceDon’t let a Halloween scam spook you! Stay a step ahead of those crooks by looking out for these four scams this season.

1. The shipping scam
The internet is brimming with Halloween-themed stores in the months leading up to Oct. 31. Lots of these retailers offer an impressive selection of costumes, accessories and decorations at great prices.

Unfortunately, though, some of the retailers that own such sites will never deliver the ordered goods. That’s because, though the company may exist, and will appear legit, at the end of the day there was never a real intent to ship the item(s). The delivery date may be postponed until after Halloween, or the order might get canceled without notification. Sometimes, the shopper will receive the promised package on time – only the package is empty!

Before placing an order with a seasonal store, look for the company’s physical address and phone number. Check what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has to say about it and look for information about return and refund policies in case things go south. Finally, as always, be careful about sharing your credit card information with an unsecure site. Look for the lock icon near the URL and the “s” after the “http” in the web address; both indicate you’re on a secure site.

It’s also a good idea to order your costumes and décor in September. This way, you’ll have time on your side if you need to return a costume or a product that didn’t turn out as expected. You’re also less likely to purchase goods from iffy retailers and vendors you don’t recognize when you aren’t pressed for time. Finally, you won’t be forced to spend a ton of money on last-minute shipping costs when you make your purchase early in the season.

2. The fraudulent offer
In this scam, a bogus company advertises a “Super Special Deal” for “Today Only” offer, or something similar. It will offer amazing Halloween goods for prices that are too good to be true and lure lots of unsuspecting customers into the trap. Unfortunately, the company is bogus and the offer doesn’t actually exist. If you purchase the advertised product, you’ll never see the product – or your money.
As with all potential scams, check out a company’s authenticity and a website’s security before purchasing.

3. The fake ticket scam
Planning to take a trip to an amusement park, attend a concert or take in another event on Halloween? Be wary of the fake ticket scam, in which third-party vendors sell bogus tickets to unsuspecting customers right before an event. They’ll also tack on an exorbitant commission, claiming that they need to charge extra because of the last-minute purchase. Of course, the ticket is bogus and they’ll pocket the ticket money, plus the commission.

Make sure to get your tickets to any event you’d like to attend well in advance. Contact the event organizers directly to make sure you’ve reached the right address. If you find tickets being sold online near Halloween time, do a quick online search to see if the event has already sold out. Check for spelling mistakes and erroneous information about the date and time of the event on the ticket, as well.

4. The bogus purchase scam
In this scenario, scammers try to convince you that you ordered something you have no recollection of purchasing just to get you to share your personal information. Once the scammers have this data, they’ll do anything from emptying your accounts to taking out loans in your name or committing full-blown identity theft.
If you receive any emails, phone calls or text messages asking you about a costume you never ordered or a ticket you never purchased, do not engage with the sender or caller. Delete the emails or flag them as spam. Also, block the contact from calling or texting you again. With any luck, the scammer will get the message that you’re not an easy target and leave you alone.

Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and frightfully fun Halloween from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union!

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

Learn More:
scam-detector.com
help-center.pissedconsumer.com
legalshred.com

8 Ways To Spot A Home Improvement Scam

feet sticking down through sheetrock ceiling, electrical light box hangingIt’s home improvement season! Contractors of all kinds, from painters to builders, electricians, roofers and more, are hard at work sprucing up homes across the country.

If you’re hiring anyone to make improvements on your home, be alert! Home improvement scams are more common than you may think. And they can be difficult to spot. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), home improvement scams in 2017 cost Americans more than $600,000 in losses. A contractor can con a homeowner in a number of ways, from doing sloppy work that requires more repair down the line to leaving a job unfinished, or even making off with their pay and doing no work at all.

Don’t let this happen to you! Read on for 8 ways to spot a home improvement scam:

  1. The contractor insists on being paid up front
    While most contractors will ask for a deposit toward their final fee when you hire them, be wary of any contractor who demands you pay more than a third of the total fee up front. This is likely a scammer who is trying to cover their bases in case of shoddy work or even a no-show.
  2. The contractor refuses to supply references
    Never hire a contractor without speaking to someone who’s used their services in the past. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises homeowners to ask past customers detailed questions about a contractor’s work, including the projected and actual project timeline, as well as final cost. If a contractor is in the middle of another job, ask if you can check out their work yourself. If a contractor refuses to furnish names and contact information of previous clients, it may be best to seek a new option.
  3. There’s negative information about the contractor on the BBB site
    Before hiring any small business you’ve never used, it’s a good idea to check them out on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website. Once there, you can read reviews and ratings and see if any complaints have been filed against the company.
  4. The contractor demands payment in cash
    The FTC recommends paying contractors with a check or credit card so you can contest the charges if something goes wrong. Cash leaves no trail and makes it easy for a scammer to walk away from a job without doing much (or any) work at all.
  5. The contractor will do the work for an insanely cheap price
    Don’t get conned by a contractor who severely underbids all competitors. You might get lucky and find someone who is just starting out and can still do great work, or you might be dealing with someone who will cut every corner and end up costing you more than you thought you were saving. If you’re offered a bid that is a lot lower than the going price for the work, ask a lot of questions. If you only get evasive answers, look elsewhere.
  6. They show up at your door … uninvited
    The smiling contractor at your door claiming to have recently done work in your neighborhood just happened to notice your home can use some repairs, too. They suggest you hire them to do it for you–all for a great price, of course. Don’t fall for every house call. There’s a small chance you’re looking at a rookie contractor just starting to build a referral base, but it is far more likely that your uninvited visitor is a scammer who will do sloppy work, leave the job half-finished or disappear with your money. If the contractor does seem legit, look them up on the BBB site and ask for references before hiring.
  7. The contractor refuses to put anything in writing
    Never hire anyone to do work on your home without a written contract. The BBB advises homeowners to include as many details as possible in the contract, such as payment terms, a definitive date for the start and completion of the project, warranty information and a clear description of the job.
  8. They try to avoid permits
    A contractor who tries to convince you there’s no need to pull permits is one who wants to avoid the authorities at all costs. You’re likely dealing with an unlicensed worker or who will cut corners wherever possible. The lack of proper permits can also cause you problems down the line when you try to sell your home.

Don’t get ripped off by a scammer! Do your homework well before hiring any contractors this (or any) season. It’s one surefire way to ensure your home improvement project goes smoothly and without unpleasant surprises.

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a home improvement scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

SOURCES:

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/home-improvement.html

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/the-ultimate-list-of-the-years-worst-scams/

https://www.thespruce.com/common-home-improvement-scams-4163354