Don’t Get Caught In A Pyramid Scheme!

Man in suit looking worriedly at computer screenPyramid schemes are just one of the many ways scammers capitalize on human greed. These business-centered schemes have been around for years, but scammers are still growing rich off victims. Recently, the state of Washington sued LuLaRoe, a massive pyramid operation that had collected millions of dollars from small business owners who believed it to be a legitimate organization.

Pyramid schemes are especially dangerous because they can be difficult to spot. They make every effort to appear legitimate, and are often confused with authentic multi-level marketing (MLM) companies.

Let’s take a look at what constitutes a pyramid scheme and how to avoid falling into their trap.

What is a Pyramid Scheme?
A pyramid scheme is a system in which participating members earn money by recruiting an ever-expanding number of “investors.” The initial promoters of the business stand on top of the pyramid. They will recruit additional investors, who will each also recruit even more investors. At each level, the number of investors multiplies. Investors earn a profit for each new recruit, and pass on some of the profit to their recruiters. The further up on a pyramid an investor is, the more money they will earn.

Sometimes, pyramid schemes involve the sale of a product, but that is usually just an attempt to appear authentic. The product will typically be faulty, and will obviously not be the focus of the business. The main object of all pyramid schemes is to recruit new investors in a never-ending quest for expansion.

It may be difficult to spot the crime here—and pyramid schemes are actually legal in some states. However, there are definitely underhanded tactics you’ll want to be aware of with every pyramid scheme.

First, new investors need to pay a fee for the right to sell a product or service, and to recruit others for monetary reward. This fee can be quite steep. Essentially, the recruiter is paying the salary of their superiors.

Also, as mentioned, if a product is sold, it is likely faulty or damaged and will not sell well. Recruiters might be required to purchase the product themselves. To make it even worse, the company will refuse to take back products that are deemed unsalable.

Finally, every pyramid scheme is set to fail because they are dependent on the ability to recruit more investors. Because there is a limited number of people in any community, every pyramid scheme will eventually collapse, leaving only those at the top with a profit.

What is Multi-Level Marketing?
MLM companies are often confused with pyramid schemes, but there are some distinctions that set them apart.

First, MLM companies work by selling products directly to consumers without a retail store or website. Distributors or salespeople will market the products on their own and will also train and recruit additional distributors. Each distributor earns a commission on each sale, as well as commission on the sales of the distributors they’ve recruited.

You might have unknowingly encountered an MLM business or even purchased their products. Some MLM companies include Avon, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Amway, and Scentsy. These are all completely legitimate businesses, with no devious intent.

The primary difference between MLM companies and pyramid schemes is the reliable line of products or services that stand behind each MLM company. The bulk of the company’s profits come from sales, not from recruiting new investors.

Also, authentic MLM businesses will never leave their distributors with unsold products. They will gladly buy back unsold merchandise, though often at a discounted price.

How Can I Spot a Pyramid Scheme?
Watch out for these red flags which immediately mark a business as a pyramid scheme:

  • High-pressure tactics.
    Pyramid schemes work by ensnaring victims whose judgment is clouded by hopeful ambition and don’t bother to read the fine print.
  • Recruitment-based income.
    If your promised income is completely tied to recruiting more members for the business, you’re looking at a pyramid scheme.
  • Unsubstantiated income claims.
    If you’re promised a 6-digit salary within a year while working a low-skill job that requires no experience at all, opt out.
  • Outrageous products claims.
    Are you being asked to sell a cream that will make wrinkles disappear overnight? Or maybe a pill that makes people drop five pounds in a week? If the product is accompanied by outlandish claims that are hard to prove, you’re being targeted for a pyramid scheme.
  • You need to buy the product to sell it.
    A company that requires its salespeople to purchase its products is a company that is desperate for business. Run the other way and don’t look back.

If you think you’ve been targeted by a pyramid scheme, check your state laws and report the scheme to the authorities if a law has been broken. Also, warn your friends about the circulating scheme so they know to avoid falling into its trap.

Stay alert and stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a pyramid scheme? Tell us about it in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.fraud.org/direct_sale_pyramids

https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes/pyramid-schemes

https://ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/pyramid-schemes

8 Ways To Avoid Getting Scammed On Craigslist

woman visibly upset and closing eyes while on the phoneThe arrival of spring and the deep house cleaning it inspires means more people are putting their old furniture, devices, sports equipment and clothing up for sale. That’s why the amount of items like these on sites like Craigslist swells considerably during this season. If you have the time and patience to sift through the offerings, there are wonderful treasures to be found. Conversely, if your own spring cleaning unveils hordes of sellable stuff you don’t use anymore, you can make good money selling them online.

Unfortunately, though, when there’s money to be made, the scammers are never far behind. Craigslist is riddled with scammers looking to make a quick buck off people’s naivety. Stay one step ahead of scammers and keep your money safe by following these eight tips when using Craigslist.

1.) Be familiar with Craigslist and the services it offers
Lots of Craigslist scams can be avoided by knowing basic information about the site. Before using Craigslist, make sure you know the following:

The Craigslist URL is http://www.craigslist.org. Scammers often use fake sites to lure buyers into paying for items that don’t exist. Always check the URL before finalizing a purchase.
Craigslist does not back any transaction on its site. If you receive an email or text trying to sell you purchase protection, you’re looking at a scam.
There is no such thing as a Craigslist voicemail service. If a contact asks you to access or check your “Craigslist voicemails,” you’re dealing with a scammer.

2.) Deal locally.
The “barely used” couch that’s up for sale a couple of states over might be better-priced than the one being sold just a 10-minute drive away, but it’s always safer to deal with locals on Craigslist. According to the site’s advice on avoiding scams on their platform, you’ll avoid 99% of the scams on Craigslist by following this rule.

Keeping your transaction local will enable you to finalize a sale in person. Plus, there’s less of a chance of there being a language barrier blurring the details of the deal.

3.) Examine the product(s) before finalizing a sale.
Never rely solely on pictures to get the full scope on what you’re buying. Ask to look at the item in person. If you’re purchasing an electronic device or something else that needs to work in order to be valuable, ask to try it out as well.

4.) Don’t accept or send a cashier’s check, certified check or money order as payment.
Fraudulent checks can be impossible to fight. Also, a bad check can seem to clear on sight, so you’ll agree to the sale and use the money that’s supposedly in your account. A few days later, though, you’ll realize the check bounced. By that time, the buyer has vanished with your goods, leaving you responsible for covering the funds you used while presuming it cleared.

On the flip side, if you pay for an item with a money order or wire transfer, you’ll have no way of recouping your loss if the seller fails to come through with the goods.

5.) Use cash—safely.
The most secure way to pay or collect funds for a Craigslist transaction is with cold cash. If the idea of handing over a large sum of money to a stranger scares you, you can make the exchange of money and goods in a safe place like your local police station or even at Advantage One.

When accepting cash for a sale, bring along a counterfeit detector pen (which can be found at most office supply stores and online) to be certain you’re not getting scammed with bogus bills. These retail for as little as $5, but they can save you from big losses.

6.) Never share your personal information with a buyer or seller.
As always, when online, keep your personal information to yourself. There’s no reason a buyer or seller needs to know your checking account number, your date of birth or even your mother’s maiden name. If a contact is asking too many questions, back out of the deal.

7.) Be wary of fake escrow service sites.
Escrow services, in which a company holds onto a large sum of money for two parties in the middle of a transaction, can be super-convenient when buying and selling things online. However, they can also be a clever trap for unsuspecting victims. Scammers often create bogus escrow service sites to lure victims into dropping their money right into the scammers’ hands. The site will be a copycat of a reputable escrow service site, with some slight deviations you wouldn’t notice unless you looked for them.

When using an escrow service site, it’s best to find the site yourself instead of following a pop-up ad or a link. Check the site carefully for spelling mistakes and poor syntax. Also, make sure the URL is secure and matches the site of the service you intend to use.

8.) Create a disposable number.
When conducting business on Craigslist, you may need to share a working phone number. You can create a cost-free, disposable number on Google Voice instead of giving out your real number. Your Google Voice number will be untraceable and will expire within 30 days of non-use.

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

SOURCES:

https://www.fraudguides.com/internet/craigslist/

https://www.craigslist.org/about/scams

https://www.thestreet.com/amp/personal-finance/craigslist-scams-14707309

https://www.efraudprevention.net/home/templates/?a=96

Simple tips for protecting your parents from financial fraud

daughter helping elderly father check his account onlineAccording to the Federal Trade Commission, older adults are disproportionately affected by fraud.

Whether it’s a phony phone call, phishing scam, or mail fraud, seniors often become targets for scammers who perceive them as easy marks.

While you alone can’t put an end to this shady illegal activity, you can empower you parents with the knowledge to keep themselves—and their finances—safe.

Remind them about “stranger danger”
Your parents probably taught you the concept of “stranger danger” at an early age—and for good reason. Don’t interact with suspicious people. It’s an important lesson that’s relevant to adults as well as children.

If someone you don’t know asks for personal information, it’s probably a scam. Remind your parents to never give out credit card or account information, passwords, or social security numbers unless they can verify the identity of the person or business making the request.

Add their number to the Do Not Call List
When you add your phone number to the The National Do Not Call Registry, the government informs telemarketers not to call you.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous organizations and scammers ignore the registry and may continue to harass your parents, but they should see a reduction in unsolicited calls and text messages from those who abide by the law.

Give them a crash course in online literacy
If your senior parents use technology but aren’t completely familiar with how scams work online, they might not understand what to click and what to avoid.

Spend some time going over how to navigate the internet safely. Most importantly, explain email phishing. Emphasize that they should never click links in unsolicited emails from people or companies they don’t know.

If they use social networks like Facebook, warn them not to share anything too personal as scammers might use this information to impersonate friends or family members online.

Used with permission. © 2019 BALANCE. All rights reserved.

Tax Scams 2019

Each year, the IRS publishes the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 scams that are rampant during that year’s tax season.

This year, the IRS is cautioning taxpayers to be extra vigilant because of a 60% increase in email phishing scams over the past year. This is particularly disheartening, since it comes on the heels of a steady decline in phishing scams over the previous three years.

Typically, an email phishing scam will appear to be from the IRS. Once the victim has opened the email, the scammer will use one of several methods to get at the victim’s personal information, including their financial data, tax details, usernames and passwords. They will then use this information to steal the victim’s identity, empty their accounts or file taxes in the victim’s name and then make off with their refund.

Scammers have several means for fooling victims into handing over their sensitive information. The most popular tax-related phishing scams include the following:

  • Tax transcript scams
    In these scams, victims are conned into opening emails appearing to be from the IRS with important information about their taxes. Unfortunately, these emails are bogus and contain malware.
  • Threatening emails
    Also appearing to be from the IRS, these phony emails will have subject lines like “IRS Important Notice” and will demand immediate payment for unpaid back taxes. When the victim clicks on the embedded link, their device will be infected with malware.
  • Refund rebound
    In this scam, a crook posing as an IRS agent will email a taxpayer and claim the taxpayer was erroneously awarded too large a tax refund. The scammer will demand the immediate return of some of the money via prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Of course, there was no mistake with the victim’s tax refund and any money the victim forwards will be used to line the scammer’s pockets.
  • Phony phone call
    In this highly prevalent scam, a caller spoofs the IRS’s toll-free number and calls a victim, claiming they owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. Those taxes, they are told, must be paid immediately under threat of arrest, deportation or driver’s-license suspension. Obviously, this too is a fraud and the victim is completely innocent.

If you’re targeted
When targeted by any scam, it’s crucial to not engage with the scammer. If your Caller ID announces that the IRS is on the phone, don’t pick up! Even answering the call to tell the scammer to get lost can be enough to mark you as an easy target for future scams. If you accidentally picked up the phone, hang up as quickly as possible.

Similarly, suspicious-looking emails about tax information should not be opened. Mark any bogus tax-related emails that land in your inbox as spam to keep the scammers from trying again.

If you’re targeted by a tax scam, report the incident to help the authorities crack down on these crooks. Forward suspicious tax-related emails to phishing@irs.gov. You can also alert the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.

Protect yourself from tax scams
Stay one step ahead of scammers this tax season by being proactive. Protect yourself with these steps:

File early in the season so scammers have less time to steal your identity, file on your behalf and collect your refund.
Use the strongest security settings for your computer and update them whenever possible.
Use unique and strong passwords for your accounts and credit or debit cards.
Choose two-step authentication when conducting financial transactions online.

Remember, the IRS will never:
Call about taxes owed without having first sent you a bill via snail mail.
Call to demand immediate payment over the phone.
Threaten to have you arrested or deported for failing to pay your taxes.
Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes.

Ask you to share sensitive information, like a debit card number or checking account number, over the phone.

Be alert and be careful this tax season and those scammers won’t stand a chance!

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

SOURCES:
https://clark.com/personal-finance-credit/taxes/beware-of-these-common-irs-scams/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2018/12/04/irs-warns-on-surge-of-new-email-phishing-scams/amp/

https://www.businessinsider.com/irs-phone-scam-what-to-do-if-you-get-scam-call-2018-2