September Scam of the Month

COA received a call from a concerned resident of Nashville, alerting staff to a scam targeting older adults in Middle Tennessee.  This scam is using the Publishers Clearing House (PCH) name and claiming that victims have won a special Senior Citizens edition of the sweepstakes and that you will need to pay $1,000 fee to cover the taxes. STOP! This is a scam. If you think you have won a prize, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • NEVER pay for winning a prize or sweepstakes or the lottery
  • PCH notifies MOST winners in person. They will NEVER call a winner
  • Never deposit a check and then send the money back. Once that check bounces, you’ll be out the money you sent
  • Check out PCH website for tips and warning signs at https://info.pch.com/tips-and-warning-signs/

If you have received any communication from PCH that you believe to be a scam, please call their toll free number 1-800-392-4190. To report any scam, please file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

 

Sources: PCH.com and Federal Trade Commission

August Scam of the Month

Rental Housing Scams

All across Middle Tennessee affordable housing is getting more difficult to find. Scammers have ramped up their efforts and rental housing scams have increased. Before starting your housing search, beware of these red flags:

 

  1. The owner will not meet you in person. Don’t fall for the “overseas” excuse for not meeting you face to face.
  2. Never wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card. That’s like sending cash and cannot be traced.
  3. The price is too good to be true. If the listing is significantly less than other homes in the neighborhood, move on. If it sounds too good, it probably is.
  4. You are not able to see the property. NEVER send money or sign any paperwork before seeing the property.
  5. Landlord asks for your banking information. There is no reason for the owner to ask for your personal financial details.
  6. The listing has poor grammar, word order and/or frequent spelling mistakes.
  7. You feel rushed. Scammers want to move quickly, so if you feel that the landlord is overeager and pressuring you, walk away.
  8. Cash only. You should NEVER pay any fee in cash. Scammers want to avoid creating a paper trail.
By being aware of these scam techniques, you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Sources: Better Business Bureau and moving.com

July Scam of the Month: Skimming is Out. Shimming is In.

Recently, banks and credit card companies created security chips and issued new cards to combat scammers and skimming machines.  In response, scammers have developed a new technique called “shimming.”

A shim is a paper thin, plastic device that has an embedded microchip and storage.  Scammers can insert the shim into an ATM, gas station pump, or any card reader without you knowing it, then your card information is copied when you put it into the same slot. Later, the scammer returns to download the personal information saved like your account number and PIN. 


                             Shim Card Example
The Better Business Bureau has issued some steps to protect consumers from shimming:
 
  • Keep a close eye on your bank accounts. It’s important to check your online bank accounts regularly, especially after using an ATM or a gas pump. 
  • Be vigilant. If you encounter resistance when sliding your card into the slot, cancel the transaction and notify your financial institution.
  • Use ATMs inside the bank. This step doesn’t guarantee safety but they seem to be less vulnerable than isolated ATMs.
  • Go inside. If possible, pay inside at the gas station or get your cash withdrawal from the teller.
  • Switch to contactless payment. Contactless payment is not vulnerable to shimming scams. Try using your card’s “tap and go” feature, if equipped. Apple Pay and Samsung Pay also offer an extra level of protection.

    Resources: Better Business Bureau, WSMV Channel 4

June Scam of the Month: Robocalls on the Rise

During April, in the U.S., 3.4 billion robocalls were placed. That breaks down to each person receiving 10 calls per month. At the very least, these calls are a nuisance, but for some they become a costly financial nightmare. The most recent robocall scam is called neighbor number spoofing. That means that the area code and the first three digits match your own number. Scammers hope that this trick will encourage you to answer the phone.

Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau to keep you and your money safe:

  1. Do not provide financial information. If you did not place the call, never give out bank account credit/debit card or social security numbers over the phone.
  2. Do not trust the Caller ID. Scammers can spoof numbers to make it look like the call is coming from a reputable company or even your own number.
  3. Hang up! Or don’t answer. Do not follow directives. When you answer, you are validating that your phone number is active and will probably receive more calls.
  4. Consider downloading an app that helps block robocalls. Some carriers like T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, etc. offer free apps.
  5. Register your number with the Do Not Call registry which will help stop sales calls. You can register at donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222 with the phone you want to register.
  6. Trust your gut feeling. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Sources: Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission & NY Times

May Scam of the Month: Summer Vacation Tips

Summer Vacation Tips

As summer quickly approaches, keep Benjamin Franklin’s words of wisdom in mind: “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.

 

  1. 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 would prevent this hassle.
  2. Be cautious when searching for rental properties on websites like Craigslist. A legitimate rental will not ask for payment via wire transfer.
  3. Avoid stand-alone ATMS’s. Scammers like these because they are able to attach a credit card skimmer with less risk of detection.
  4. 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 is scam. If the hotel really has an issue, they will ask you to the front desk.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Make sure you place on hold on newspaper and mail deliveries. A full mailbox or several newspaper on your porch are sure signs no one is home.
  8. 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.
  9. 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. One option is to email the copies to yourself so it will always be available.
  10. 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 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Many credit/bank cards are now equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, which makes stealing your information easier for high-tech scammers. Consider using a RFID blocking wallet, purse or case.
  13. 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

April Scam of the Month: Smishing

Smishing Scam Awareness

Scammers are now targeting people through text messaging. It’s called “smishing”. Like in all scams, these criminals prey on your sense of urgency. However, with “smishing” scammers also hope to catch you with your guard down. Most people have a tendency to trust their text messages.

This particular scam can come across your phone in various ways. Here are some examples:

Financial Institutions: Dear Bank Customer, Due to a possible breach of some of our account holders, we need you to verify your PIN immediately.

Personal Accounts: Did you request a password reset at youremail@google.com? If not, please reply STOP.  Or Dear Customer, Your Apple ID is set to expire, please follow this link to prevent loss of service.

Seasonal Opportunities: IRS Notice: Tax Return Overdue! Click here to prevent penalties.

Sweepstakes: Dear Walmart Shopper, you just won a $100 gift card. Click on www.fakewebsite.com to claim your prize. Type STOP to cancel.

Personal Message: Spring is finally here! Do you want to go? Jane gave me your number, check out my profile here at (fakelink).

These are all scams. If you receive a text message like these examples, do not text or call the number. By texting STOP, you are verifying that your phone number is valid. Just delete the text message. If you are concerned, call the company directly.

 

Sources: Brentwood Police Dept. (Facebook Page), fortune.com and USAToday.com

 

 

March Scam of the Month: New Medicare Cards

New Medicare Cards = New Scams

 

Beginning April 2018, Medicare will begin the year-long process of issuing new Medicare cards. The new card will have a unique Medicare number listed,not your social security number. You will NOT have to do anything to receive this new card.

This change will encourage scammers to try new tactics. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from Medicare asking you to confirm your social security number for the new card, it is a scam. If you receive a call telling you to pay for a new or temporary card, it is ascam. Here are a few reminders while Medicare changes to the new card:

  • A legitimate agency is NOT going to call and ask for your Social Security number in order to issue you a new Medicare card. 
  • If you are not sure if the call is authentic, hang up and call the agency back on their customer service line. Call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 and Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
  • There are NO fees associated with the new Medicare cards. You will NOT lose benefits while you wait for the new card. 
Sources: Detroit Free Press, AARP & Federal Trade Commission

February Scam of the Month: Utility Scams

Utilities are Rising and so are Utility Scams

Many businesses and individuals across the Middle Tennessee have filed reports about scam phone calls from utility companies. Scammers appear to be ramping up their efforts due to higher than average electric bills this time of year.

The scammers are cloning electric company phone numbers, like NES and MTEMC and reporting that customer’s accounts are past due and payment is due immediately or their service will be disconnected. In some instances, the customers are even given a reference number and/or phone number to call where the line is answered promptly and professionally and the past due amount is confirmed. Middle Tennessee Electric Management Corporation and Nashville Electric Service officials both issued warnings to all clients about this scam as well as some tips:

  • If someone calls threatening disconnection, hang up. Don’t pay
  • Do not use the reference number or phone number provided by the caller. For NES call 615-736-6900 and for MTEMC call 1-877-777-9020
  • Never give out personal and/or financial information
  • If you have doubts about a call, email, text or visit, call your utilities provider first

Sources: Tennessean.com, NES.com and MTEMC.com

January Scam of the Month: Tax Season = Tax Scams

 

Tax Season = Tax Scams

Last month, the IRS warned of a new email scam that seemed to target Hotmail account users. With this scheme, phishing emails were sent out under the guise of being from the IRS. If you used a link within that email, it redirected you to a Microsoft page, where the user was asked to enter personal and/or financial information.

The websites associated with this particular scam have since been disabled but it is still important to be vigilant. As a new tax season begins, keep in mind scammers will be revving up their efforts to steal YOUR money.

Here are some reminders about the IRS. They will NEVER:

 

  • call about past due taxes without having mailed several notices first
  • call to demand payment including threats to involve law enforcement and have you arrested
  • call or email asking you to divulge personal and/or financial information
  • require payment without allowing you to appeal or even question the amount due
  • require you to use a specific payment method like a pre-paid debit card
  • ask for your credit/debit card and/or bank information over the phone

Sources: Forbes and Internal Revenue Service

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!