Tips to Avoid Charity Scams
As people all over the world try to help survivors of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma with donations of food and water, clothes, shelter and money, we want to remind you to be aware of charity scams. Scammers will use any method to manipulate your generosity.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes:
- Chose a trusted organization. Avoid new agencies that have been established for the specific crisis. Be cautious of organizations with names similar to well-known charities.
- Be on the lookout for phony emails, phone calls, social media accounts and crowdfunding requests. That includes email attachments from familiar contacts.
- Evaluate the charity. If you are unsure about a particular organization, ask for the official name, phone number and website. Then you can verify the agency via reputable websites like the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, etc. (see list below). A legitimate nonprofit will be happy to give you time to verify their mission.
- Understanding crowdfunding requests. Some examples of crowdfunding websites are GoFundMe, YouCaring, Kickstarter, etc. Most of these sites do very little vetting in regards to donation requests. In some instances, scammers start donation requests for a “friend” or “family” that actually have nothing to do with that person. Unless you know the person personally and can verify that the funds will go to them, forgo that donation.
- Avoid giving cash. Cash can be lost or stolen. A check or credit card record is helpful for tax purposes. DO NOT give out your credit card/bank information to a solicitor. If you write a check, make sure it’s made out to the organization NOT a person soliciting on behalf of the agency.
- Ask questions. How will the money be spent? What percentage of donations go to the people and how much goes to overhead or fundraising? You may want to compare these costs between different nonprofits before making a decision. You also have the right to make your donation a “designated donation”, which means the organization can only use your donation for what you designate. Just make sure you notate that in writing.
You may report suspected fraud to The National Center of Disaster Fraud at 1-866-720-5721 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. This line is staffed 24 hours a day.
Verification Websites for Nonprofits
Sources: Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, TexasAttorneyGeneral.gov and the U.S. Dept. of Justice
Virtual kidnapping is where the caller states that the grandchild has been taken and you need to pay ransom for them to be released. In this situation, no one has actually been kidnapped. The scammer is attempting to use fear and deception to elicit a quick response before the scam falls apart.
The FBI has issued a warning that they have seen an increase in this particular scam. Years ago when this fraud began, Mexican prisoners specifically targeted a small group of people. Now, scammers are targeting anyone. The FBI offers several tips on how to recognize the scam and protect yourself.
Possible Indicators of a Virtual Kidnapping Call
- Scammers will attempt to keep you on the phone
- The calls will not come from the pretend victim’s phone
- They will try to keep you from calling the person who has been “kidnapped”
- The ransom money will need to be paid by wire transfer to Mexico
- The ransom amounts might drop quickly
Possible Options if You Receive a Virtual Kidnapping Call
- Hang up the phone
- Don’t use your loved one’s name
- Ask to speak with the “kidnapped” victim directly. If they do talk, listen to the voice carefully.
- Do not share information about yourself or family
- Ask only questions the “victim” would know
- Attempt to contact the supposed victim and ask them to call you from their cell phone
- Slow the scammers down by repeating their instructions, tell them you need time to get the money together
- Do not agree to pay the ransom demands, by wire transfer or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous
If you think a real kidnapping has taken place or you believe you have received a virtual kidnapping scam, call your nearest FBI office or local police immediately. You may also report suspected criminal activity online at tips.fbi.gov.
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI.gov)
NEW Social Security Scam
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has issued a warning to those receiving benefits. Scammers are calling from a 232 area code, claiming to be employees of the SSA.
The con artists are telling the intended victims that they qualify for an increase in their Social Security benefits. At that point, the caller is asking for personal information like date of birth, social security number, name and address for verification purposes.
This information is later used to change the victim’s direct deposit details, phone number and address. The Social Security Administration stated that they WILL call for customer service; however, they will not ask for private information over the phone. If you receive a suspicious call, you may report it to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271.
Sources: Office of the Inspector General Social Security Administration, AARP and Fortune.com
Card Skimming Theft and
How to Protect Yourself
Debit and credit card skimming is on the rise because it is easy for scammers. It is difficult to detect because the criminals place a skimming device over existing card slots at banks or gas stations. Once, you slide your card, the device captures your account information. Some also have a tiny camera to see your PIN as you enter it. Once they obtain your card information, it only costs scammers a small amount to order a card online that is linked to your account.
U.S. Secret Service estimates that identity theft scammers steal billions of dollars each year through skimming. They can be found anywhere. At ATM’s, gas pumps, even inside stores. Here are some suggestions from experts:
- If an ATM machine doesn’t look right to you, you can literally tug on the card slot to see if it’s loose. Crooks often install their skimming devices right over the real one, and many consumers have had them come off right in their hands.
- Cover your hand while entering your PIN number, so that if criminals have installed a surveillance camera, they will not be able to see your secret code.
- Experts suggest, “re-pinning”; which is changing your PIN; your credit and debit cards every six months.
- When it’s time for a new credit or debit card, you can ask for a fresh card number. This will stop the cycle of theft if your old card has already been compromised.
- Thieves often install skimmers inside gas pump credit card slots. To thwart them, pay inside or pay cash.
- Finally, consider using a credit card rather than a debit card, so that if crooks DO access your account, they are stealing the bank’s money not your own money. That way your own funds won’t be compromised while the bank investigates.
Sources: CyberGuy and ABC News
“Can you hear me?”
DO NOT respond instead hang up the phone. This is a new scam circling the country, one that only requires you to say “YES.”
The FCC has warned that if you receive a call with this question, disconnect the call immediately. Your response is recorded and later used as a voice signature to make charges to your credit card or bank accounts via the telephone.
According to the complaints the FCC has received, the callers may impersonate familiar companies or organizations to get you to answer and talk. If you have already received a call like this, make sure you check your financial accounts and bills to look for unauthorized charges. In addition, you can report the call to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker and the FCC Consumer Help Center.
Every month, 2.4 billion people are harassed by robocalls. The FCC voted last month to begin a rulemaking process to eliminate robocalls. Until then, use the steps below to protect yourself.
FCC Robocall Tips
- Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail
- Hang up if a caller asks you to hit a button to stop receiving calls. It’s often a recording. Scammers often use that tactic to identify and target live respondents.
- If you do answer a call that winds up being a scam, write the number down and add that to your FCC complaint.
- Ask your telephone company if it has a robocall blocking service. If not, encourage your provider to offer one. You can also visit the FCC’s website at https://www.fcc.gov/, for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help reduce unwanted calls.
- Register all of your telephone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry at 1-888-382-1222 or at https://www.donotcall.gov/
Sources: USA Today and ABC News
Spring is the season for home repair and home improvement. Some older homeowners may have a hard time physically and/or financially maintaining their homes. It is because of this that they are targeted by scammers. Most contractors are honest and hardworking but how can you tell? Here are five ways to identify if a contractor is trying to defraud you.
1. “You’ll Need to Pay First”
According to the Better Business Bureau, this is the most common scam reported. The contractor will tell you that materials and equipment need to be ordered. Once you hand over the money, a couple things can happen. One, they disappear. Two, they complete the work carelessly and haphazardly.
2. “Trust Me”
You have hired your contractor, you have sat down and discussed what work you want done and your expectations and the contractor agrees. Now it is time to sign the agreement. You notice some of the details and upgrades are not included. The contractor tells you to “trust me”; it will be taken care of. The next thing you know, the work is not done. Now the contractor tells you that he did not include those extras in the quote he gave you and you will have to pay more money.
3. “We Don’t Need a Permit”
Any significant construction project is required to have building permit. This allows officials to visit occasionally to ensure the work meets safety codes. Dishonest contractors will tell you that a permit is not required. Others will try to have you take out a homeowner’s permit. That would mean lying to authorities about who was doing the work and make you responsible for monitoring the inspections.
4. Unexpected Problems
The construction has started or even finished and suddenly the contractor tells you there were unforeseen issues like termites and now the price has skyrocketed. Sometimes additional fees are legit, but other times dishonest contractors will bid very low to get their foot in the door and then increase the cost later.
5. Extra Materials
This fraud usually comes from paving companies or roofers or painters. They tell you that they have extra materials and they can perform the work dirt-cheap. A couple things can happen. One, they actually do not do the work and take off with your money. Two, they start the work and the job is more involved than they thought and it will cost even more. Third, the work is completed carelessly and in one year your roof is leaking or driveway cracking.
The Legal Aid Society of Middle TN has a detailed booklet about what you need to know before repairing or remodeling your house. Legal Aid Home Repair Booklet. Here are just a few suggestions on how to keep from being a victim of contractor fraud
- Hire contractors currently licensed from the TN Board of Licensing contractors. Call 1-800-544-7693 to verify the license. You can also ask the Board if they have had any complaints.
- Ask the Board if the contractor has paid the insurance bond. This will protect you if the company goes out of business or does shoddy work.
- Use word of mouth. Ask friends, neighbors, etc. for suggestions who did great work.
- Ask for references and verify those references.
- Avoid using a contractor that only has a PO Box or answering service.
- Call the BBB at 615-242-4222 or TN Consumer Affairs Division at 615-741-4737 to see if any complaints have been filed
- Always get more than one bid from different contractors
- Never hire “on-the-spot”
- Never accept a verbal agreement. Always get a written agreement/contract.
- The contract should not have blank spaces.
- The contract should include the license number, address and phone numbers, what work is to be done, what kind of materials, estimated completion date, cost, how you will pay, and if there is interest to be paid.
- Read the contract
- Never pay cash
Sources: Legal Aid Society of Middle TN and www.houselogic.com
Recently, in Metro Nashville and Davidson County, there has been an increase in the Jury Duty Scam. The FBI first issued a warning about this swindle in 2006.
In this particular situation, a scammer calls and pretends to be a cop or a court officer and says that you have failed to report to jury duty and a bench or arrest warrant has been issued. To resolve the problem, the caller tells you that you will need to provide private information to “verify” your identity. Your birthdate, social security number, etc. or you can pay a fine to “cancel” the warrant. HANG UP! This is a scam!
Court officers typically correspond with prospective jurors by mail and they will NOT call asking for confidential information or for payment over the phone.
A Metro Nashville & Davidson County government website, http://juryduty.nashville.gov/, has also issued a warning on their jury duty page cautioning prospective jurors to disregard these scammers’ attempts and to report it by calling Metro Police Dept. non-emergency line at 615-862-8600.
Tips to protect yourself:
- Never give out personal information like social security numbers, DOB, etc.
- Never give out financial information like bank account numbers or credit card information
- Do not react out of fear. You have the right to verify any requests for information
Sources: FBI & Nashville.gov websites
There is a growing awareness of a common scam where someone claiming to be from the IRS calls, issues a threat and demands payment. The AARP Fraud Watch Network has issued a warning that a new twist on this scam is coming through the US Postal Service.
The scam is an “official looking” letter from the IRS stating that you owe taxes related to the Affordable Care Act from the 2015 tax year. This notice is labeled “CP2000” and instructs you to send payment to the “IRS” care of an Austin, TX post office.
If the IRS sends you a legitimate letter, you will always be given a telephone number for you to call and resolve the issue. Also, authentic letters instruct you to make the payments payable to the US Department of the Treasury, NEVER to the IRS. A CP2000 letter issued by the IRS is when income or payment information does not match what you submitted on the tax form; not the Affordable Care Act.
This scam is also been transmitted through email. Remember, the IRS will NEVER contact you via email or by phone.
If you receive a letter like this and have questions, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. If you know you don’t owe any taxes and want to file a scam report you can call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 or online at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Complaint Assistant www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Sources: AARP Fraud Watch Network
It’s important to know what to watch for during open enrollment, when the nation’s 55 million Medicare recipients have the opportunity to change their Medicare Advantage and Part D plans. In addition to the challenge of going through the many plan options, experts say Medicare open enrollment is prime time for scam artists. Here are a few tips to protect yourself.
- Guard your Medicare number, which is typically your Social Security number. Protect it as you would your bank and credit card information.
- Remember Medicare will NEVER call or email you requesting personal information or product offers. If you receive a call or email from someone claiming to be with Medicare that should be an immediate tip-off that you’re are dealing with a con artist.
- If an insurance agent visits your home to sell or endorse any Medicare product, they are acting illegally.
The Five Most Common Medicare Scams
- Switching plans is a must. No!Experts suggest that checking out your options each year is the best way to make sure you have the best plan for you. You are allowed to stay with your current plan and opt to make no changes.
- Medicare is changing cards. No! If you are approached by someone who says you need to update your information to receive your new card, you are dealing with a scam. Remember, Medicare will NEVER call or email you requesting personal information.
- For you, a special price. No!Con artists like to use time-sensitive sale pitches to scam seniors into acting quickly and not thinking about the deal. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. To shop or enroll in legitimate Medicare plans use the plan finder at www.medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE.
- Health fair scams. No!Another ploy scammers use is to offer a free gift. All you need to do is sign up with your name and Medicare number. Remember, NEVER give out your Medicare number.
- Phony organizations. No!Be alert when you receive calls from people that say they are from your doctor’s office or local health agencies. In some instances, scammers will illegally gain access to your medical information. Then, they call you with just enough details to ease your mind that they are authentic and cause you to reveal even more details, which then leads to fraud.
To report Medicare scams call 1-800 Medicare or the Office of the Inspector General at 1‑800‑HHS‑TIPS (1‑800‑447‑8477).
For free and objective Medicare assistance in Tennessee call SHIP (TN State Health Insurance Assitance Program) at 1-877-801-0044
Sources: US News and World Report