Don’t Get Spooked by One of these Scams this Halloween!

That cackling, long-haired witch might send your heart fluttering with fear, but these Halloween scams are even spookier! Here’s what to know about these common Halloween scams. 

 1. The Joker

Desperate for money before the holiday shopping season hits? Looking to pad your pockets with a bit of extra cash? Scammers know this all too well, and target consumers with messages promising loads of money for very little work. All you need to do is send a small amount of money to a designated digital address via CashApp, Venmo, or another money transfer app, and your money will be doubled, tripled, or more. 

Don’t fall for the tricks! Much like another variation of the money-flipping scam, they’ll ask you to share your account information so they can withdraw the money and then “treat” you with the cash you’ve earned. It’s like getting free money – which, of course, doesn’t exist. 

Spot a money-flipping scam through the amateur writing and too-good-to-be-true promises. Any request for you to share your banking information is another dead giveaway. 

2. Night of the Living Dead

This scam can be pulled off at any time of year, but it takes on an extra level of spookiness when yards are decorated with ghosts and cobwebby graveyards. In the deceased identity theft scam, scammers actually steal the identity of someone who is no longer living. They may empty the decedent’s accounts, pass off their credit history as their own and use their Social Security number to collect benefits, apply for a job, and more.

Protect a loved one’s identity from being stolen after they pass on by taking steps to lock down their social media accounts, credit report, and Social Security number. Keep an eye on their accounts until their assets have been lawfully divided. 

3. Trick or Treat

You found the perfect costume online, and for a bargain price! You happily pay up, complete your order and wait for the package to arrive. And wait. And wait. Unfortunately, you’ve been tricked. 

In a variation of the online order scam, the package arrives on your doorstep as promised, but has little resemblance to the way it looked online. The quality may be lacking, the size and color completely off, or important components missing. You may try to find a customer service line, but there’s no working number listed. You may also try returning the purchase, but a street address for returns will be more elusive than the invisible man. 

Don’t get tricked! Only order from reputable sites that display complete contact information for the company. Ignore all offers that scream “Hot Deal! Act Now!” and feature prices that are way below the average sale price. Shop with caution and you’ll only walk away with treats.

4. Hitman

There’s a hitman at your door – and no, this is no disguise! 

In the hitman scam, scammers pretend to be assassins who were hired to take out a target. They’ll send the target extortion emails and messages, promising to spare their life for just a few thousand dollars. Often, they’ll even drop the name of the friend or family member who allegedly put a hit on the target’s life. 

Don’t get scammed! If you receive an extortion message of any kind, contact local law enforcement. Never share money with an unverified contact. And finally, if the scammer shared the name of the person who allegedly hired them, reach out to this person to verify that no, they didn’t put a hit on your life. 

It’s a frightening world out there, but being aware of these scams and following smart precautions, you can protect your money and your information. 

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

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

Beware of Gift Card Scams

Everyone loves a gift card for their favorite retailer or restaurant. It’s like getting money to spend in any way you please! Unfortunately, scammers also love gift cards, but for all the wrong reasons: They often use gift cards to pull off scams. Here’s what you need to know about gift card scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

There are several ways scammers utilize gift cards to con victims out of their money:

  • The IRS gift card scam. In this scam, a target receives a threatening message that’s allegedly from the IRS and claiming they are at risk of arrest for tax evasion if they do not pay up immediately. However, they insist that payment can only be made in the form of a gift card. Often, the scammer will ask specifically for an iTunes gift card, because, as you know, the IRS always asks for tax payments in the form of digital music. 
  • The tech support gift card scam. In this variation, a caller pretends to represent tech support at a recognized company, like Apple or Microsoft. They’ll insist there is something wrong with the victim’s computer and offer to “assist” in fixing the problem. Payment can be made with a gift card, of course. Lucky for you, there is nothing wrong with your computer, but you’ve just been targeted by a scam and are at risk of getting tricked. 
  • The romance gift card scam. A new dating partner found through a dating website asks for money in the form of a gift card to help them out of a sticky situation. Believe them and you’ll lose both your date and your money. 
  • The sweepstakes gift card scam. Congratulations — you’ve won a trip to the Cayman Islands! But first, you have to pay the small processing fee via gift card. Follow directions and you’ll never see that vacation or the money you spent on the gift card again. 
  • The utility gift card scam. You don’t want your gas or electricity cut off, do you? If you don’t pay up with a gift card, the lights might just go out. They won’t, but if you fall for the call, you’ll be out the money you spent on the gift card.
  • The balance-check gift card scam. You spot a discounted gift card up for sale online and happily purchase the card. The seller will send you the card, but then ask you to read the numbers over the phone to confirm the balance. If you comply, the seller now has all the information they need to use up all the funds on the gift card. 

How to spot a gift card scam

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in recognizing gift card scams:

  • The IRS will never initiate correspondence by phone call, text message, or email. Instead, they will send a letter to taxpayers through the U.S. postal system. 
  • No authentic business or government agency will insist on payment by gift card. 
  • If you don’t recall entering a sweepstakes, chances are you didn’t win it either.
  • A caller or message claiming a matter is urgent and demands immediate action is nearly always a scam. 

In general, gift cards should be used for purchases or to send as gifts, and not as payments. Also, as with all sensitive information, the numbers on your gift card should never be shared over the phone or online. Finally, it’s best to only purchase gift cards through reputable sellers or those that have excellent customer reviews and/or offer a cash-back guarantee.

If you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam

If you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card or shared your gift card information after being taken by any of the above ruses or similar schemes, take immediate steps to mitigate the damage. 

First, contact the company that issued the card as soon as possible. You can find the customer service number for most companies on the card itself or through a simple Google search. Tell the representative what happened. If you still have them, hold on to the receipt and the actual card for proof should it be required. 

Next, if the scammer continues to contact you by phone, text message or email, do not engage further. Block the scammer’s number from your mobile device and mark their emails as spam. 

Finally, report the incident to the FTC and alert your family and friends about the scam. 

Stay safe! 

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

Lottery Scams – How to Spot Them!

Everyone dreams of winning the lottery, but scammers enjoy turning the dreams of others into nightmares. Lottery and sweepstakes scams are always popular, and often catch victims unaware by promising incredible wins and appearing to be from authentic sources. Let’s take a look at lottery scams, how they play out and how to avoid falling victim.

How the scams play out 

In a typical lottery scam, the victim is notified that they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes they may not remember entering. They may be contacted by mail, phone call, text message, or social media alert. The allegedly won prizes can be a pile of cash that numbers in the high millions, a tropical vacation, or even expensive electronic devices. The scammer often piggybacks on recognized lottery names to appear authentic, such as “Mega Millions Mobile Lottery.” 

It all sounds wonderful, but here’s where things get tricky. To claim the prize, the victim is told they must pay a fee, which will allegedly cover the cost of processing the prize, taxes, courier charges, and insurance. Of course, the money can only be wired to a specific bank account or furnished via a prepaid debit card. If the victim falls for the scam and pays the fee, the scammer will continue collecting these fees and stalling the delivery of the prize. Or, they may actually send a check for a small percentage of the prize, but the check will bounce after being deposited. 

In other variations of the scam, the target is asked to call a phone number or click on a link to claim the prize. If they do so, they’ll then be asked to provide personal information, such as their Social Security number, checking account details, and date of birth. All of this, they’ll be told, will enable them to receive the prize. Unfortunately, this information will actually make the victim vulnerable to identity theft and more. 

Recently, scammers have started hacking into people’s social media accounts and then contacting their friends and family members through their platforms to tell them they’ve won money in a lottery or sweepstakes. The victim, believing the message has been sent by someone they trust, is more likely to fall prey to the scam. 

Red flags 

To avoid falling prey to a lottery scam, look out for these red flags: 

  • You’ve been notified that you won a lottery, sweepstakes or competition you know you’ve never entered.
  • The lottery you’ve allegedly won was drawn overseas.
  • The email, text message, or social media alert informing you of your win is riddled with grammar mistakes and typos. 
  • You are warned to keep your “win” confidential.
  • You’re asked to pay a fee to collect your winnings. 
  • You’re asked to share confidential information over the phone or online to claim your prize. 
  • You’re instructed to call a specific number or click on a link to verify your prize.

Protect yourself

Follow these basic safety measures to protect yourself from a lottery scam and/or similar ruses: 

  • Never share personal information over the phone or online with an unverified source.
  • Don’t click on links in emails from an unknown sender. 
  • Never wire money to an unknown contact. 
  • If a friend or family member appears to have sent a suspicious message, contact them directly to verify that it is actually from them. If they haven’t sent the message, let them know their social media account has been hacked. 

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted and/or victimized by a lottery scam, take immediate steps to protect yourself from further harm. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov to let them know about the scam. If you’ve already shared information and/or money, contact your local law enforcement agencies for assistance and visit the FTC’s page on identity theft to start the recovery process. Finally, let your friends know about the circulating scam. 

Playing the lottery can be a fun way to toy with chance, but falling victim to a lottery scam can be an expensive and frightening ordeal. Play it safe!

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

Beware Back to School Scams

As the store aisles fill up with pencils and crayons and the frantic back-to-school shopping season begins, scammers are ready to strike. Whether you’re a college student preparing for the fall semester, a high school student ready to make the most of the coming school year or the parent of a student of any age, beware of these trending back-to-school scams.

The student tax scam

In this scam, a crook posing as the IRS calls a college-bound student informing them that they have failed to pay the student tax. If it is not paid up immediately, the “agent” says, the student will not be allowed to attend school and may even face jail time.

IRS scams like this one can happen at any time of year, but are especially common before the start of a new school year. Here are three things to know to help you avoid this scam: 

  • The “student tax” does not exist. 
  • The IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer through a phone call.
  • The IRS will never demand payment through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.

Scholarship scams

Another school-related scam that can be more prevalent this time of year, the scholarship scam cons students and their parents into paying money for government student loans or financial aid, or promises a scholarship for a fee. Follow these rules to avoid falling for scholarship scams: 

  • Never pay to apply for a government student loan or financial aid. There is no fee for applying for government aid and there is help available for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms at fafsa.gov
  • There’s no way to guarantee a scholarship or grant. If you’re targeted by a company promising to get you approved for either one by paying a small fee, you’re being targeted by a scam. 
  • There is generally no fee necessary to receive a scholarship. If you are offered a scholarship for a fee, opt out. 

School supply giveaways and freebies

Between backpacks, new clothing and loads of supplies, back-to-school shopping can cost a lot. Messages promising a free back-to-school shopping spree can be most welcome, if they’re legit. Unfortunately, they too often are not.

Back-to-school giveaway scams will ask the victim to visit a website and provide their email address to claim their prize. The victim will then be rewarded with an endless stream of emails, texts, robocalls and more from the company that now has their information and other companies they’ve sold this information to, with no true rewards or prizes in sight. 

In some cases, the scam is a lot more nefarious, and the “company’s” website will infect the victim’s device with malware. Or, the scammer may demand a “processing fee” before the victim can claim their supposed prize. 

Protecting yourself from a giveaway scam is easy when you remember this simple rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, legitimate contests will rarely select a winner at random; you’ll have to enter it first by providing your email address or another way the company can contact you if you win. They are also not likely to make you jump through hoops or provide all sorts of information before claiming your prize. Finally, there is generally no payment necessary for claiming an authentically won prize. 

Social media scams

In these scams, victims are targeted through their social media platforms and offered incredible deals or offers on school supply shopping. This can be presented in the form of deeply discounted gift cards at favored stores, expensive technology at bargain prices and more. Of course, these deals are bogus and if the victim clicks on the embedded link, their device will be infected with malware. 

Here, too, stay alert and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it’s almost certainly a scam. No, you won’t be scoring an iPad for just $19.99 and you can’t buy a $1000 gift certificate to Abercrombie for just $250. Ignore all ads like these and, if you can, opt out of receiving them in the future. 

It’s back to school season, and the scammers are at it again. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a back-to-school scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Scam Free Summer

Hello, summer! It’s the season of flip-flops and ice pops, of sun-drenched afternoons and lazy days at the beach. And, unfortunately, summertime is also prime time for scammers. People are more relaxed, schedules are looser and vacationers are traveling in unfamiliar locations. All of this can lead people to let their guard down during the summer, and the scammers know it. 

Don’t get scammed this summer! Follow these tips to stay safe. 

1. Never pay for a “prize” vacation

So you won an all-expense-paid trip to Aruba? Or a vacay in a remote French chalet? Sounds like a dream come true, but if you follow through, you’ll be caught up in a nightmare.  If you’re asked to pay even a small fee to claim a free vacation prize, you’re looking at a scam. A legitimate company will never ask winners to pay a fee for a prize.

2. Use a credit card when traveling

A credit card will offer you the most protection in case something goes wrong. You’ll be able to dispute unauthorized charges, and in most cases, reclaim your lost funds.

3. Ignore celebrity messages

Celebrities might have a direct line with the public through their social media platforms, but don’t believe a private message appearing to be from your favorite movie star, singer or athlete. A direct message from a celeb asking for money for a charity, or claiming you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a processing fee, is a scam.

4. Check for skimmers at the pump

If you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road this summer, and pumping gas in unfamiliar places, it’s a good idea to check the card reader for skimmers before going ahead with your transaction. A card skimmer will read your credit or debit card information, enabling a scammer to empty your accounts. Here’s how to check for a skimmer on a card reader:

  • Try to wiggle the card reader; this should dislodge a skimmer if there is one. 
  • Check the keypad to see if it looks newer than the rest of the card reader.
  • Touch the surface of the keypad to see if it’s raised.

5. Research vacation rentals carefully before booking

With so many vacationers now booking stays at private homes instead of hotels, scamming travelers is easy. All it takes is a few fake photos, a bogus address, and you’ve got yourself a fake vacation rental. In other vacation rental scams, scammers will falsely advertise a rental as a beachfront property when it’s not, claim that it’s larger or more up-to-date than it is or promise amenities that are missing when you arrive. 

Don’t get scammed! Before booking a vacation rental, read the reviews left by previous guests. If there aren’t any, or they don’t sound authentic, you’re likely looking at a scam. You can also look up the address of the rental to see if it in fact exists and if the location matches the description in the listing. As another precaution, you can ask the owner for more details about the property just to see their reaction; if they sound vague or uneasy, it’s likely a scam. Finally, as mentioned above, use a credit card to pay for the stay so you can dispute the charges if it ends up being a scam.

6. Vet potential contractors well

Contractors who go from door-to-door looking for work are a fairly common summertime sight. Unfortunately, though, some of these “contractors” are actually scammers who are only looking to con innocent homeowners out of their money. They’ll deliver shoddy work at an inflated price, go AWOL once a down payment on the job’s been made or do more harm than good with their “home improvement” work.

It’s best to only hire contractors whom you’ve personally reached out to instead of waiting for one to come knocking on your door. Also, before hiring, thoroughly research a potential contractor, asking for contact info of previous clients, checking out their online presence and looking up the business on the BBB website. Finally, it’s best not to agree to pay more than a third of the total cost of a job before the work commences. Even then, only pay when you see the materials arrive. 

Don’t let summertime turn into scam-time. Stay alert, follow the tips outlined above, and stay safe!

Your Turn: What are your tips for a scam-free summer? Share them with us in the comments. 

Scam Alert: Beware Child Tax Credit Scams

The Child Tax Credit, a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that takes effect in July, is already drawing the attention of scammers. The newly expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) will provide monthly payments of up to $300 per child for approximately 40 million households across the country. Payments will be issued via direct deposit, paper check, or debit cards, providing a plethora of opportunities for scammers to get in on the action.

Here’s what you need to know about Child Tax Credit scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

There are several variations of the Child Tax Credit scam, each ultimately designed to trick parents and guardians out of their rightful CTC funds.

In one variation of the scam, victims receive phone calls, emails or social media messages appearing to be from the IRS and asking them to authenticate their personal details or share sensitive information in order to receive their CTC funds. In lieu of pretending to represent the IRS, the scammer may also claim to be in the position of “helping” the victim receive their funds. Unfortunately, in either scenario, if the victim follows the instructions of the contact, they will be playing right into the hands of a scammer.

In another variation of the scam, victims land on a spoofed government website where they are prompted to input their personal information. This scam is especially common, as the IRS has announced that it will be launching two web-based portals for families who’d like to update their information for the CTC: one for taxpayers who file annual returns and would like to share their banking details or a change in the number of dependents they have in their household, and one for taxpayers whose income level falls below the threshold for filing returns. While the two separate sites will make the application process smoother for the IRS, they also open the door for more bogus sites to spring up and snag unsuspecting victims in their trap.

What you need to know about the Child Tax Credit

As always, knowledge is your best protection against potential scams. Here’s what you need to know about the CTC and the way the IRS operates:

  • The IRS does not make unsolicited calls or emails. All official communications from the IRS are sent via standard USPS mail. The IRS will never call, email, text, or DM you asking you to share sensitive information.
  • You do not need to take any action or share personal information to receive the Child Tax Credit. If you’ve filed taxes in 2020, or even in 2019, and you’re eligible to receive the CTC funds, they will arrive via paper check, debit card or direct deposit without any action on your part. You only need to update information on one of the upcoming IRS portals if you’ve had a change in income, the number of dependents in your household or you’d like to share your banking information with the IRS.
  • Only the IRS will be issuing the Child Tax Credits. Anyone else claiming to “help” you receive the payments is a scammer.

If you’ve been targeted

As the date of the first advanced CTC approaches, scams are exploding everywhere. If you believe you’ve been targeted by a CTC scam, follow the cardinal rule of personal safety by never sharing sensitive data with an unverified source. Triple-check the URL on any IRS webpage you visit, as these are easily spoofed. Note that all authentic government sites will end in .gov. Finally, report all suspicious activity to the IRS and the FTC immediately.

For additional information on the upcoming Child Tax Credits, to check if you qualify or to update your dependent or banking information, visit the IRS’s CTC webpage directly at IRS.gov.

The advanced Child Tax Credits will help millions of families struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic, but scammers can ruin it all. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!

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

Micro-Deposit Scams

It probably doesn’t surprise you to know that scammers are always coming up with creative ways to con people out of their money. Recently, there’s been an uptick in an old scam in which crooks reach out to targets and try to gain access to their accounts through micro-deposits. Unfortunately, too many people have already fallen for this scam, and we don’t want our members getting caught in the trap. To that end, we’ve compiled this guide on micro-deposit scams, how they play out and what you can do if you’re targeted.

What is a micro-deposit?

Before we can explore the actual scam, it’s important to understand how a micro-deposit works.

Micro-deposits are small sums of money transferred online from one financial account to another. The purpose of the deposits is to verify if the account on the receiving end is actually the account the sender intended to reach. Micro-deposits are generally less than $1 and can be as small as $0.02. They are also typically deposited in pairs; within one to three business days of linking accounts, two micro-deposits should appear in your account.

As mentioned, micro-deposits are primarily used to verify account ownership. For example, if you’d like to link your checking account at Advantage One Credit Union with an investment account, the investment brokerage firm will want to verify that it’s sending your dividends to the correct account. Before sending any of your investment earnings, it’ll do a test run by sending a pair of micro-deposits to your checking account. You’ll be notified that the firm has sent these deposits, and asked to verify the amount of the deposit by logging into your newly linked account. Once you’ve completed this step, the brokerage account will withdraw the small amount of money sent through the micro-deposits and proceed with regular deposits of investment dividends, as planned.

How the scams play out

Micro-deposit scams can take one of two forms.

In one type of micro-deposit scam, a crook will open as many investment accounts as they can, linking each one to one of a handful of bank accounts. When the micro-deposits begin to come in, the scammer will quickly transfer the money to another account before the brokerage company withdraws the deposits. Though each micro-deposit is small, when multiplied by thousands, the scammer can pull in quite a lot of money  — until they get caught, that is.

But it’s the other type of micro-deposit scam that concerns us more — and should concern you as well. In this scam, crooks will link brokerage accounts with strings of random numbers, hoping to hit a valid account. When a deposit is verified from an account, they will use additional information about the account holder to withdraw funds from this account as they please. Unfortunately, many people are uninformed about this scam and innocently verify the micro-deposits, giving the scammers free access to their accounts.

[Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we’ve had an alarming number of micro-deposits made to some of our members’ accounts. To protect our members and their money, we’ve started sending automatic text message alerts to members when they’ve received a micro-deposit. This way, the member knows about the deposit and, if they don’t recognize the sender, they can let us know they’ve been targeted by a scammer. We can then refuse to let the deposit clear and consider placing a fraud alert on the member’s account. Most importantly, the member will know they’ve been targeted and they can refuse to verify the deposit.]

What to do if you’re targeted

Micro-deposits are small enough to fly under the radar and you may unknowingly verify one of these deposits with an uninformed click. [However, now that we’ve initiated our micro-deposit alert system, you will know when to be on the lookout for a micro-deposit and the verification request that follows it.] Here’s what to do if you’ve received a micro-deposit from an unknown source:

  • Do not verify the deposit. Without verification, the scammer won’t know they’ve hit an authentic account.
  • Do not click on any links embedded in the verification request message or download any attachments.
  • Let us know you’ve been targeted.
  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov so they can do their part in catching the scammers.
  • Let your friends and family know about the scam so they can be on the alert as well.

Scammers are using micro-deposits to gain access to our members’ accounts, but Advantage One Credit Union is doing everything possible to stop them before they can do any real damage. Together, we can beat the scammers at their game and protect your accounts and your money. Stay safe!

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

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Beware of the USPS Smishing Text Scam

Your phone pings with an incoming text. You swipe it open to find a message from the USPS. They’re texting to let you know that the scheduled delivery time for your package has been changed. Unfortunately, though, the message is not from the USPS and you’ve just been targeted by a scam.

Here’s what you need to know about the USPS smishing text scam.

How the scam plays out

In the USPS smishing text ruse, a target will receive a text like the one described above. The message prompts the victim to click on a link to reschedule the delivery. However, if the victim follows the instructions, they’ll be falling victim to a smishing text scam.

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is warning of an uptick in smishing scams that use the USPS as a cover, conning unsuspecting victims into downloading malware onto their phones or sharing personal information with scammers they assume is the USPS. The scammer will then go on to empty the victim’s accounts or steal their identity.

Individuals who’ve recently made online purchases and are expecting a package delivery within the next few days are especially vulnerable to this scam. To the uninformed, the text looks legitimate, and with just one careless click, the scammer has access to the victim’s device and personal information.

However, with one crucial bit of information, you can protect yourself from falling victim to the USPS smishing scam: The USPS never sends out unsolicited text messages about a package. The company will only send a message when a consumer has signed up for alerts about a package’s delivery. If you have not signed up for messages from the USPS, and you receive a text like the one described above, you know you’re being targeted by a scam.

What to do if you’re targeted

If you’re targeted by a smishing text scam, the USPIS recommends taking the following steps:

  • Verify the sender. Confirm the identity of the message sender by checking with the USPS if you actually have a delivery schedule change. Don’t call the number on the text. Instead, reach out to your local USPS office directly.
  • Don’t reply or click on links. Replying to the message or downloading an embedded link can install malware onto your phone.
  • Delete. Save a screenshot of the text to share with law enforcement agencies and then delete the message.
    Block the number and update the security on your device. Prevent a recurrence of the scam by putting the number on your “Do Not Call” list and beefing up the security settings on your phone.
  • Keep personal information personal. Never share sensitive information, like your Social Security number or financial account details, with an unverified contact.

Report the scam

Do your part to stop the scammers by reporting it to the proper authorities.

First, you can report smishing scams that impersonate the USPS to the Inspection Service Cybercrime Team at the USPIS by email. Take a screenshot of the text and send it to spam@uspis.gov. Make sure your screenshot shows the number of the sender as well as the date it was sent. You’ll also need to include your name in the email so the team can reach you, along with any other relevant details about the scam, such as money you may have lost, links you may have downloaded, and personal information you may have shared. The USPIS will contact you if it needs any additional information to help nab the scammers.

You can also report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov and let your friends and family know about the circulating scam.

Stay alert and stay safe!

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

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Beware Stimulus and Tax Scams

It’s stimulus season and tax season at once, and scammers couldn’t be happier. They know that taxpayers are eager to get their hands on their stimulus payments and tax refunds. As consumers are working to file their taxes before the May 17 deadline, all that paperwork and payments mean people may be letting their guard down. For a scammer, nothing could be better!

The IRS is warning of a surge in scams as the tax agency continues processing tax returns and distributing stimulus payments to eligible adults who have not yet received them. Here’s all you need to know about the latest round of stimulus and tax scams:

How the scams play out

In the most recent IRS-related scams, scammers will con victims into filing phony tax returns, steal tax refunds or stimulus payments or impersonate the IRS to get victims to sign documents or share personal information, such as Social Security numbers or checking account numbers. The scams are pulled off via email, text message or phone. Sometimes, victims will be directed to another (bogus) website where their device will be infected with malware. Other times, the victim receives a 1099-G tax form for unemployment benefits they never claimed or received, because someone has filed for unemployment under their name. Unfortunately, the losses incurred through most of these scams can be difficult or impossible to recover.

What you need to know

As always, information is your best protection against these scams. Here’s what you need to know about the IRS, the stimulus payments and tax returns:

The IRS will never initiate contact by phone or email. If there is an issue with your taxes or stimulus payment, the agency will first communicate via mail.
There is no “processing fee” you need to pay before you can receive your stimulus payment or tax refund.
The IRS is not sending out text messages about the stimulus payments. If you receive a text message claiming you have a pending stimulus payment, it’s from a scammer.

There is no need to take any action to receive your stimulus payment. Likewise, aside from filing your tax return, there is nothing additional you need to do to receive your tax refund.

If you’ve been targeted

If you receive a suspicious phone call, text message or email that has allegedly been sent by the IRS, do not engage with the scammer. Block the number on your phone and mark the email as spam.

If you are a victim

If you are the victim of identity theft related to taxes or stimulus payments, there are steps you can take to mitigate the loss.

If you received a 1099-G for unemployment benefits you’ve never filed for or received, it’s best not to ignore it. Contact your state’s unemployment office to report the fraud. It should be able to send you a corrected 1099-G showing you did not get any benefits.

First, report the scam to the correct authorities. If a fraudulent tax return was filed in your name, the IRS will mail you a Letter 4883C or 6330C to verify your identity. You may also need to call the toll-free number provided on the letter and visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center . After reporting the fraud, you’ll likely need to file a paper tax return. Complete an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039) and attach it to the back of your paper return.

If you’ve mistakenly shared your information with a scammer and they’ve stolen your stimulus check, you will likewise need to let the IRS know. Visit Identitytheft.gov where you will receive a personal recovery plan that will hopefully minimize the damage done by the scammer and help you reclaim your lost funds.

It’s tax season and stimulus season, so it’s also scam season! Keep your guard up and follow the tips outlined here to prevent yourself from falling victim to one of the many circulating scams. Stay safe!

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

Learn More:
wfmz.com
freep.com
cnbc.com
irs.gov

Beware the Amazon Watch Raffle Scam

Everyone admires Amazon’s scope and efficiency. Scammers are no exception. Recently, they’ve been piggybacking on Amazon’s reach and excellent name to pull off a scam that’s already taken in thousands of innocent victims. The scam – also known as the “fitness watch text” or the “Apple Watch raffle scam” – involves a congratulatory text message pop-up on consumers’ phones and the fraudulent promise of a big win.

Here’s all you need to know about the Amazon watch raffle scam:

How the scam plays out

In the Amazon watch raffle scam, the target receives a text message that appears to be from Amazon and tells them they’ve won an Apple Watch, or a similar prize, such as Airpods or a Garmin Fitness watch.

The text may look like this: “Amazon: Congratulations [your name], you came in 2nd in this week’s Amazon Apple Watch raffle! Click this link to arrange delivery: t3fzv.info/7047VldUlg.”

The text appears to be sent by Amazon, and the victim, thinking they’ve just landed a big one, will happily click on the embedded link. Unfortunately, this move will lead the victim to another page where they will be asked to provide their personal information to claim the prize. Alternatively, clicking on the link may download malware onto the victim’s device. In either scenario, there is no prize waiting at the end of the rainbow.

Red flags

For the informed consumer, it isn’t difficult to identify the signs of a scam.

First, it’s important to note that Amazon will never ask a consumer for their personal information, such as their Social Security number or account information, or for remote access to the consumer’s device.

Second, familiarize yourself with the red flags that can help you know when you’ve been targeted by an Amazon watch raffle scam or a similar ruse:

  • The text message includes an unusual link.
  • The text message promises an instant and/or large reward.
  • The text message urges you to act now. If the prize is authentic, there’d be no rush.
  • The text appears to be sent from Amazon, but you know you have never signed up to receive text messages from this company. In general, companies cannot send you unsolicited text messages.
  • The text appears to be sent from a suspicious-looking number, such as a number that ends in “5555.”

Avoid the scam

Follow these precautions to protect yourself from becoming the next victim of the Amazon watch raffle scam.

  • Never click on a link sent in a message from an unverified number. This is likely an attempt to access your personal information, or to install malware on your device.
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re still not sure, you can try calling the number to verify if it is legitimate.
  • Never respond to suspicious-looking text messages. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), it’s best not to even reply “STOP” or “NO” to messages that are likely fraudulent, as every interaction can encourage the scammer to target you further. Instead, block the number.
  • If you receive a text message that appears to be sent from Amazon, update the login credentials on your Amazon account. If you’ve already clicked on the link, you may want to do a security sweep on your device for viruses and malware.

If you’re still unsure whether a text message has actually been sent by Amazon, you can check out Amazon’s scam information page here to help you verify the authenticity of the message.

Stop the scam

Do your part to stop those scammers by reporting all scam attempts to the FTC and the BBB. You can also warn your friends and family about the circulating scam.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by an Amazon watch raffle scam? Share your experience in the comments.

Learn More:
scam-detector.com
richmond-news.com
nerdsonsite.com