December Scam of the Month: The 12 Holiday Scams

Tis the Season for Holiday Cheatin’

While we shop and cook and hang holiday lights, scammers are busy looking for their next targets. The Better Business Bureau has issued a list of scams to be on the lookout for this holiday season and tips on how to keep yourself from being the next victim.  
1. Online Shopping: Most stores have switched to chip reading credit card machines to reduce the risk of fraud and skimming. However, scammers are now focusing their efforts online. To protect yourself and your money, financial experts recommend using a credit card instead of a debit card when making online purchases. 
2. Look-Alike Websites: It’s very easy for scammers to mimic real websites.  Look for the https and lock symbol at the top of the webpage; the “s” stands for secure. Also, look at the spelling of the web address. It is extremely easy for tricksters to change or add an extra letter to make it look legitimate.
3. Fake Shipping Notifications:  This scam is used with different techniques. You may receive an email with attachments or links that could download malware to your computer to steal your personal information. You could also receive a nondescript postcard where you are instructed to call the number on the card which could lead to you revealing private information and/or when the house is vacant. Don’t fall for it!
4. Phony Charities: Scammers like to take advantage of the holiday spirit by using fake charity solicitations in your email, by phone and on social media sites. You can verify charities at www.give.org or givingmatters.guidestar.org/.
5. Temporary Holiday Jobs: A lot of companies need additional help during the holidays. Steer clear of job postings that ask you to share personal information or pay for job leads.
6. Emergency Scams: Be extremely skeptical if you receive a call from a “relative” saying they have been arrested, kidnapped, or hospitalized while traveling. Never send money unless you can verify the information with another family member first.
7. Letters from Santa: There are several reputable companies that offer personalized letters from Santa Claus; however, scammers like to use this as a way to obtain personal and financial information from parents and grandparents.
8. Unusual Forms of Payment: Be wary of anyone asking for prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, etc. as a form of payment. These transactions cannot be traced or refunded.
9. Travel Scams: Use caution when searching for travel bargains. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
10. Social Media Gift Exchange: It sounds fun to purchase one gift and receive so much more in return; however, this holiday “fun” is actually a pyramid scheme which is illegal.
11. Gift Card Scams: Gift cards are always a great idea for the holidays. Just remember to be vigilant. Avoid gift cards displayed in the open. If you choose one that is in a package, inspect the package or open it in front of the cashier to ensure it has not been replaced with a phony. Keep your receipt and register the card online with a new PIN (if possible). 
12. Online Pet Shopping: During the holidays a lot of people look for the perfect gift which could be a pet. Be skeptical of online pet sales. You might receive a pet from a “puppy mill” which could increase the likelihood of poor health, or you may receive nothing at all.
Source: Better Business Bureau
Keep your holidays safe and jolly by not falling for these follies!

September Scam of the Month: Charity Scams Awareness

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 disaster@leo.gov. 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

November Scam of the Month: Virtual Kidnapping

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 scamcall 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)

August Scam of the Month: NEW Social Security Scam

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

July Scam of the Month: Gift Card Fraud

Gift Card Fraud

If you buy gift cards…use caution! Don’t judge the card by its package. Let me tell you about Kenneth.  He has two grandsons in another state that he does not get to see as often as he would like. So for holidays and special occasions he likes to send them a gift to say he is thinking of them. During Christmastime, he purchased a major brand gift card from a big box store and mailed it to his grandsons. Of course being so young, their mother was responsible for the gift card. Once, she opened the sealed packaging, she realized that her dad and sons had been scammed. A scammer took a photocopy of the original card’s barcode, affixed that to a different, worthless gift card, and put that into the packaging. Just with a quick glance, everything looked legit. Now all the scammer had to do was wait for money to be loaded on to it.  According to a unit chief with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it is very easy for scammers to see when the gift cards are activated because they use computer software that constantly checks the card balance.

A couple of extra seconds spent looking at the visible barcode and Kenneth would have noticed that it was a fake.  How many of us actually take the time to flip over a sealed, intact cardboard package?  What about the stack of loose gift cards that stare at us while in the checkout line? How simple is it to grab a couple and copy the numbers? Once again, the scammer just has to sit back and wait for money to be loaded on it. Here are some tips to protect yourself and the recipient of your gift.

  1. Double-check the packaging. Does it look like it has been tampered with?
  2. Look at the barcode on the back. It should be shiny not dull.
  3. The FBI suggests purchasing the gift cards straight from the retailer online. Scammers do not have access to these cards.
  4. Avoid purchasing gift cards displayed in the open. If you must, chose one from the middle of the stack.
  5. Always keep your purchase receipt AND activation receipt just in case there is a problem. Ensure that the gift card number matches the one on your activation receipt.
  6. Reputable bill collectors, online sellers, law enforcement and/or government officials will NEVER ask you to pay via gift cards.

Source: Consumer Reports, Giftcards.com & CBS News

June Scam of Month: Vacationing Tips

Avoiding Scams While on Vacation
Vacation means we can let our guard down and be carefree, right? Unfortunately, in this technological age, you simply cannot afford to do that. Scammers are everywhere and very good at what they do. Remember Benjamin Franklin’s words of wisdom, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?  Here are some tips to keep you, your family and identity safe while enjoying your vacation.
 

  • Notify your bank. Traveling out of state or overseas while using your bankcard could cause a fraud alert to appear and suspend your account.  A quick phone call can prevent this hassle.
  • Be cautious when searching for rental properties on websites like Craigslist. A legitimate rental will not ask for payment via wire transfer.
  • Avoid stand-alone ATMS’s. Scammers like these because they are able to attach a credit card skimmer with less risk of detection.
     
  • Stay on guard even in your hotel. If you receive a phone call from the “front desk” asking you to confirm your payment method, hang up. It’s a scam. If the hotel really has an issue, they will ask you to come to the front desk. 
     
  • Stay alert. Identity thieves’ techniques evolve. Especially in the technological age but some will always rely on good old-fashioned pickpocketing.  Safeguard your wallet, purse and phones.
     
  • Save the social media posts. Wait until you are home to share the photos of your family vacation. You don’t want to announce when your home will be empty.
     
  • Make sure you place a hold on newspaper and mail deliveries. A full mailbox or several newspapers in your driveway are sure signs no one is home.
     
  • Only take what you will need. Leave the extra credit/bank cards at home. Do you really need your social security card with you? Birth certificate? If not, leave it at home.
     
  • Take photocopies or a picture of all the information in your wallet. That includes front and back photos of your credit/bank cards, I.D., passport, etc. Keep the copies in a safe place, not your wallet or purse.  
     
  • Be wary of free Wi-Fi. Free means open airwaves and everything you do is transmitted over an unsecured connection and makes you vulnerable. Some Wi-Fi connections are fake and are set up by hackers just to steal your information. Always double check with the location to see if it is official.
     
  • Don’t leave expensive or important belongings in the hotel room. Use the safe if one is provided in the room. If not, ask the front desk for another alternative.
     
  • Many credit/bank cards are now equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, which makes stealing your information easier for high-techscammers. Consider using a RFID blocking wallet, purse or case.
     
  • Most importantly, if anything does happen, act fast. Contact the bank or credit card company as well as the credit reporting bureaus. If your ID is stolen, file a police report immediately. This is necessary for creating a paper trail as well as a timeframe for the theft. If traveling overseas and your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, they can help you with a replacement. You should also call the local police and file a report.
Sources: Lifelock and the Better Business Bureau 

March Scam of the Month: Contractor Fraud

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

Property Tax Freeze/Relief Program’s Deadline Fast Approaching!

The deadline is approaching for Nashville property tax assistance programs!
Visit these sites to get help applying for tax assistance:

March 4, from 2 to 4PM at the Farmer’s Market
March 11, from 10AM to 12:30PM at the south precinct of the Metro Nashville Police Department
March 25, from 10:30AM to 1:30PM at First Baptist Church of East Nashville

Jury Duty Scam on the Rise

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