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.

Lean More:
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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.

Learn More:
wmbfnews.com
keloland.com
wkbw.com
link.usps.com

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:
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Don’t Get Caught in an Auto Warranty Scam

Another phone call, another scam.

It can sometimes feel like scammers have some kind of competition going to see who can hit you with the most robocalls in a day. In fact, according to Truecaller, scams and robocalls account for 67% of all phone calls in the U.S. Each American will receive an average of 28 of these calls a month. More than just an annoyance, scam calls cost 56 million Americans a financial loss in 2020.

One of the most common scams pulled off over the phone is the auto warranty scam. Here’s all you need to know about this scam and how to protect yourself from falling victim:

How the scam plays out

In this ruse, scammers posing as representatives of a car dealer or manufacturer will call to tell you that your auto warranty is about to expire. The scammer will then segue into a pitch for renewing your warranty. During the call, you may be prompted to press a number to stay on the line, and then are asked to provide personal information to continue the process of renewing  your warranty. If you follow instructions, you will be playing right into a scam.

How to spot a scam

It is possible for legitimate auto warranty companies to call you about purchasing or renewing a warranty. Look out for these red flags to help you pick out the authentic calls from the scams:

  • Hello, it’s Mr. Robot calling. When it’s a robocall on the line, you’re almost certainly talking to a scammer. A legitimate company will hire a live salesperson to promote their services.
  • Feel the pressure? Scammers notoriously lead victims to act without thinking by claiming their offer is available for a limited time. If a caller pressures you to act now, you’re likely talking to a scammer.
  • Just a small fee … Is the caller demanding a small processing fee, or a down payment on the plan before supplying you with real details and information on it? If yes, you’re being scammed.
  • You’ve got mail! Scammers aren’t content with playing games over the phone; they’ll often send bogus documents in the mail, too. These can be disguised to look like genuine alerts from the DMV or auto manufacturer, prompting you to act now because your auto warranty is expiring. Of course, when you call the number on the letter, you won’t be connected to the DMV or auto manufacturer, but to a full-blown scamming operation.

Protect yourself

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from auto warranty scams and similar ruses:

  • Never share your personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit card information or checking account details, with an unverified caller.
  • It’s also a good idea to screen all incoming calls by checking the Caller ID before answering the phone. Legitimate telemarketers are required to display their phone number and the name/or phone number of the company they represent. If this information is missing, it’s likely a scam.
  • It’s important to note that scammers often spoof authentic phone numbers to make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate company. If you suspect spoofing, you can always ignore a call, and then call the number of the company that allegedly reached out to you, to ask about the contents of the call. If the call was indeed spoofed, the company will not be aware that the call was made.
  • If those robocalls are not letting up, consider blocking the number on your phone. You may have to do this several times, as scammers often use more than one phone number to carry out a scam.

Alert the authorities

If you are targeted by a suspected scammer, you can alert the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the FCC complaint center . These calls likely violate telemarketing and robocall regulations, and by alerting the FCC, you can help them identify the scammers.

If the call you received involved fraud, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.

Robocalls are incredibly annoying, but getting scammed is more than just an irritating experience. Follow our tips to protect yourself from auto warranty scams and similar ruses.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by an auto warranty scam? Share your experience in the comments.

Learn More:
fcc.gov
thebalance.com
cylanda.com

If You Hear This, You’re Talking to a Tax Scammer

It’s tax season, and scammers are working overtime to get your money. Tax scams are as varied as they are common, but when you know what to look for, you can beat fraudsters at their game and keep them from getting your money and your information.

If you hear or see any of the following 12 lines this tax season, you know you’re dealing with a scammer:

1. “We’re calling from the IRS to inform you that your identity has been stolen and you need to buy gift cards to fix it.”

If your identity has indeed been stolen, no amount of purchased gift cards will get it back. Unfortunately, there is also no way to reclaim funds that are lost through this kind of scam.

2. “You owe tax money. We’ll have to arrest you, unless you purchase iTunes gift cards.”

Yes, this really happened. A 20-year-old college student was tricked into putting $500 onto three separate iTunes cards and $262 on a fourth, when she received a call from an “IRS agent,” USA Today reports. As unbelievable as it sounds, when threatened with arrest, people will believe or do almost anything.

In this ruse, the scammer will make sure to get the access numbers of the iTunes card, which gives them easy and untraceable access to cash.

3. “If you don’t pay your tax bill now, we’ll cancel your Social Security number.”

Your Social Security number cannot be canceled, suspended, frozen or blocked.

“If taxpayers receive a call threatening to suspend their SSN for an unpaid tax bill, they should just hang up,” the IRS says.

4. “We’re calling you about a tax bill you’ve never heard about before.”

The IRS will never initiate contact about an overdue tax bill by phone; they will first reach out by mail.

5.  “This is the Bureau of Tax Enforcement. We’re putting a lien or levy on your assets.”

The Bureau of Tax Enforcement does not exist. If you receive a call from this, or a similar bogus agency, hang up.

6. “This is a pre-recorded message from the IRS. If you don’t call us back, you’ll be arrested.”

The IRS does not leave pre-recorded voicemails, especially those claiming to be urgent and/or threatening.

7. “You must make an immediate payment over the phone, using our chosen method.”

The IRS says that its agents will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. If you hear this, you’ll know you’re talking to a scammer.

8. “Click here for more details about your tax refund.”

The IRS will never send emails with information about tax refunds. Emails worded like this will lead the victim to an IRS-lookalike site that is actually created by scammers. Clicking on the link will load the victim’s device with malware.

9. “We represent the Taxpayer Advocate Service and we need some information.”

Although the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is a legitimate organization within the IRS to assist taxpayers, representatives of the TAS don’t call individuals out of the blue. The TAS also will not ask taxpayers to share sensitive information, such as their Social Security number, over the phone.

10. “You owe the federal student tax.”

The federal student tax is yet another invention of tireless scammers. It does not exist, and if you receive a call about it, you’re being targeted by a scammer.

11. “This is an SMS/social media post from the IRS. We need more information.

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers, or ask for sensitive information, via text message or social media.

12. “We don’t need to sign your tax return even though we prepared it.”

A legitimate tax preparer must sign your tax return and will have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). If a tax preparer is reluctant to sign yours, or to share their PTIN, you are likely dealing with a scammer.

If you’ve been targeted by any of these tax scams, you can fight back by reporting the scam to the proper authorities. Phishing emails that appear to be from the IRS can be forwarded to phishing@irs.gov. Alert the FTC about IRS phone scams and report Social Security Administration phone impostor scams on the Social Security Administration’s website.

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

Have you been targeted by a tax scam? Share your experience in the comments.

Learn More:
clark.com
nerdwallet.com
mybanktracker.com
irs.gov

Beware Romance Scams

With COVID-19 forcing more singles to meet and date online, America’s most expensive scam is on the rise. Romance scams are all over the internet and can be difficult to spot  While the data for 2020 is not yet available, according to the FTC, Americans lost a collective $201 million to romance scams in 2019.

Don’t be the next victim of a romance scam! Here’s all you need to know:

How the scam plays out

In a romance ruse, a scammer will create a bogus online profile and attempt to connect to singles on dating apps and websites, as well as through social media platforms. After a connection is formed, the scammer will work to build up the relationship with the victim, calling and texting often. Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, the scammer will spin a sorry story and ask the victim for money.

The scammer may explain that they cannot meet in person because they are currently living or traveling outside the United States. They’ll claim to be a doctor working for an international organization, a blue-collar worker in the middle of a construction project or to be part of the military and currently serving overseas. They may ask for money to help cover travel expenses, pay for medical treatment, cover customs fees at the airport or to pay for a visa or other official travel documents.

The scammer will ask for payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Once they’ve received the funds, they will disappear. Alternatively, the scammer will ask their “date” to share personal financial information and then go on to empty the victim’s accounts.

How to spot a romance scam

If you’re in the market for a new date and you’re hoping to meet someone online, look out for these red flags:

Profile is too good to be true. If a single’s profile has unrealistic credentials, including a magazine-worthy photo, you’re likely looking at a scam.
Single rushes into the relationship. If the contact comes on too strong, too fast, it may be a scam.

Single asks you for money. Don’t believe a money-starved story of someone you just met online, especially if they start asking you to help them out.

How to play it safe online

Avoid falling victim to romance scams and similar ruses by following basic online safety rules.

First, never share personal details online with anyone whose identity you cannot verify. This includes all financial information, credit card details and personal information that can be used to unlock a password on any of your accounts.

Second, only visit secure sites and keep all the settings on your social media pages private. Never engage in conversation with a stranger who reaches out to you on a platform you’ve just begun using, or who sends you personal texts or emails you without any prior communication.

It’s equally important never to send money to anyone online.

If you suspect a romance scam

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a romance scam, take these steps to avoid further damage:

Research the name on the profile to see if the details check out. You can also use an online background checking tool, such as BeenVerified or TruthFinder, to verify the credibility of the profile.

Do a reverse-image search of the profile picture to see if it’s a stock photo or an image that was plucked off the internet. You can also ask the contact to share a current photo of themselves.

If your research confirms your suspicions, stop all communication with the scammer immediately. Block the scammer’s number and flag their emails as spam. If you’ve already paid a romance scammer with a prepaid gift card, call the company that issued the card to ask them to refund your money.

Report the scam to the FTC. It’s also a good idea to alert the website or app that the scammer is using. You may also consider warning your friends about the scam.

Follow the tips outlined above to keep your love life scam-free.

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

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
romancescams.org
fbi.gov

Beware of PPP Scams

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a welcome relief for small businesses struggling to stay afloat while also keeping their employees’ incomes flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The program provides eligible businesses with unsecured loans to help them cover payroll, rent and other ongoing business expenses, with the possibility of partial or complete loan forgiveness. The loans are furnished by the Small Business Association (SBA) with applications processed by private lenders or other organizations. There have been many changes and updates made to the PPP since it was first passed on April 24, 2020. Most recently, the SBA began accepting applications for Second Draw PPP Loans on Jan. 11, 2021 from participating lenders.

Unfortunately, the PPP has been plagued by fraud since its inception. In these scams, criminals posing as representatives of the SBA, another government entity or a legitimate lender trick business owners into applying for a loan through their organization, sharing information that can then be used to hack their accounts and more.

Here’s what you need to know about PPP scams and how to avoid them:

How PPP loans are processed

The more you know about how PPP loans work, the stronger protection you’ll have against possible scams.

If you want to apply for a PPP loan, simply download the loan application through the SBA. Fill it out and submit it to an SBA-approved lender. You may also need to provide all or some of the following documents:

  • Tax returns for 2019
  • Payroll reports showing how you achieved your requested total loan amount
  • Documents proving your company’s structure, formation and ownership
  • Verifiable payroll expense documents and breakdown of payroll benefits
  • Payroll summary report with corresponding financial statements
  • Certification that all employees live within the United States. If you have employees overseas, you’ll need to provide a separate list of these workers and their respective salaries.
  • Most recent mortgage or rent statement and utility bills
  • Documentation about how COVID-19 has negatively impacted your business

If you’re applying for a Second Draw PPP Loan, you will also need documentation that showcases how you have used, or plan to use, your original PPP funds.

After you’ve submitted your application, you can sit back and wait for approval. There’s no need to share any additional information on the phone or via email.

How can I protect my business from PPP fraud?

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help keep your business safe from PPP scams.

 Do:

  • Be wary of any individuals demanding immediate payment from you, or asking that you make immediate contact with them to be eligible for a PPP loan. These are likely scammers.
  • Only use a lender that is accredited by the SBA. You can find a full list of SBA-approved lenders here.
  • Look for the .gov at the end of each email or website allegedly from the SBA or another government entity, such as http://www.sba.gov.
  • Reach out to your local and state government if you need help applying for a PPP loan.
  • Report any suspected scams to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and your state’s attorney general office. If a suspicious caller or email contact alleges to represent the SBA, alert the SBA as well.

Don’t:

  • Share any personal information, like your Social Security number or checking account details, with an unverified caller or email contact.
  • Pay for a program that promises to process or expedite a PPP loan request if the organization behind the program is not truly accredited by the SBA. Click on links or download files from an unfamiliar email address. These links could infect your device with malware.

Times are tough all around as the world grapples with the “new normal” and small businesses have been especially hard-hit. PPP loans can help struggling organizations get back on their feet, but scammers don’t want to let that happen. Use the tips outlined above to protect yourself and your business from a PPP scam. Stay safe!

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

Learn More:
sba.gov
bloomberg.com
ucbi.com
chicagotribune.com