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Description | Potential Opportunity for Scam Center
ONE IN 10 AMERICANS will fall victim to a phone scam this year, and millions more will be taken be a scam either online or in person. Older Americans are the top targets for scam artists so it’s time to stop the bad guys. To help, build out ScamCenter.com to reveal the top scams and tell the public how to defend their home, investments and identity, and how to be safer when they shop or travel.
Fraud costs Americans tens of billions of dollars a year, and the crimes keep getting more bold and sophisticated. Every couple of seconds, someone’s identity is stolen. That’s why ScamCenter.com can empower people to protect themselves and their family from fraud and scams.
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Have you been told that your utility service will be cut off because of unpaid bills? Expect that news, if legitimate, to arrive by mail—not via phone or through in-person demands for payment with prepaid debit gift cards. Have self-described technicians arrived unannounced for an emergency inspection? They could be burglars with fake IDs and rented uniforms. The latest utility scam: Impostor cable company reps offer a service discount if you pay months in advance with gift cards.
A home security system may thwart some crooks but attract others. Posing as technicians for security companies, some scammers claim they need to repair your alarm system. Then they deactivate it for a later burglary. Others tout free equipment to lock you into more expensive service. Reputable companies don’t operate that way. Also, if you have a GPS device in your car, don’t label your address as “home.” That steers parking lot thieves straight to your residence while you’re away.
Beware the unsolicited contractor who tells you he’s working in the neighborhood and just happened to notice a home repair that you need. Some seek upfront payment or large deposits to “go buy materials” before vanishing. Others pester you to do additional unneeded jobs. Most do shoddy work. A favorite trick is “resealing” your driveway by spreading used motor oil on it. Your town’s building and permitting department can tell you whom to avoid.
Fraud at Your Front Door
Whether its overpriced magazine subscriptions, home products on a “limited time” offer or a heartfelt plea for a charity, think trouble. Your best defense: Never provide a credit card, check or personal information to a front-door stranger. If you do and have buyer’s remorse, the Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling-Off Rule gives you three days to cancel for a full refund on sales of $25 or more.
Boiler Room ‘pump and dumps’
A high-pressure caller promises to let you in on a “can’t-miss” investment opportunity involving a low-priced penny or microcap stock. The more people who buy shares, the higher the share price rises—until the fraudsters dump their own shares, leaving the rest virtually worthless.
The companies whose stocks are being promoted often play off the latest trend du jour. Today’s pitch might tout a green energy company. Next week, it’s a company with a new product promising to take an emerging market by storm, such as the e-cigarette or legalized marijuana industries.
Traditionally, scammers worked from a list or dialed randomly, but there is a new twist to this con that doesn’t involve cold calls. “Account executives” may contact people who have visited a website that promotes low-priced stocks or publishes an investment newsletter.
Sadly, those who lost money in a financial scam are often targeted a second time. The crook who got you into the failed transaction offers to swap your bad investment for another to recover losses, or offers to buy your shares back at a premium—provided you pay an upfront administrative fee or otherwise provide upfront cash. You are often pressed to take immediate action in calls or letters that appear to be coming from official-sounding organizations. The documents can look extremely authentic, and criminals have no qualms about impersonating people who work for legitimate organizations. Another ploy—often targeting international investors—is to help you recover your losses for a fee described as a tax, deposit or refundable insurance bond. You pay the fee and the crook vanishes.
Simply put, a binary option is a type of options contract in which the payout depends entirely on the outcome of a yes-or-no proposition, such as whether the price of a particular asset will rise above or fall below a specified amount. When the option expires, it makes either a Add to dictionary amount of money or nothing at all, in which case the investor loses the entire investment.
That’s risky enough. But unregistered firms claiming to trade binary options may not deposit investor funds into the investor’s account, may deny requests to return funds or may require the investor to pay to get money back. If you have opened an account, be alert for signs of fraud, including pressure to send additional money and excuses for why the firm cannot credit purported gains to your account or return your funds. Trading binary options is made even riskier by fraudulent schemes, many of which originate outside the United States.
The IRS scam
The voice on the other end of the line claims to be an IRS criminal investigator. Arrest is imminent if you don’t immediately pay thousands of dollars in back taxes. Individuals are instructed to put $500 on multiple iTunes gift cards and give up the 16-digit codes. Don’t be fooled. The IRS would never ask a taxpayer to buy iTunes cards for any reason.
Internet scam artists create little boxes that pop up on your computer screen, telling you that you have a virus and need to call for technical support. Don’t believe it. Computer companies never notify customers of a problem through pop-ups, unless it is from virus-protection software that you installed.
The Fake Sheriff
You get a call from someone posing as a sheriff’s deputy claiming you’ve missed jury duty and owe the county a $1,000 fine. Pay immediately, the caller says, or you will go to jail. Rest assured, no sheriff or court will call you and demand payment like this for missing jury duty. If you get this call, hang up, then call the police and report.
A con artist calls and tells you that you have won the Australian (or Jamaican) lottery. All you have to do to collect is wire $1,500. Don’t do it. Lotteries never call to give money to people who haven’t even bought a ticket.
Credit Card Con
You get a call from your bank that there is a problem with your account. To straighten it out they need your account number, date of birth and the last four digits of your Social Security number.
The Samaritan Scam
You’re boarding a flight overseas and discover your wallet is missing. Your cellphone rings. A guy on the other end says he found it in the airport. But don’t worry, the Samaritan has your address from a business card and can drop the wallet in the mail today. No need to postpone your trip to deal with canceling credit cards.
The point of the call — which came from a disposable phone that can’t be traced — is to lull you into giving the thief a period of time to ravage your accounts while you wait for the mail that never comes, rather than taking the appropriate action of immediately reporting lost credit cards. You don’t find out you’ve been conned until the bogus charges show up.
Be careful at hotels. Make sure the doors have adequate locks. And don’t fall for this scam: You check into the hotel, and a few minutes later you get a call from someone pretending to be from the front desk asking you to repeat your credit card number and security code — claiming it was written down wrong. That’s a common ploy by crooks who were lurking when you checked in, to get information they need to rip you off.
Driver’s License Rip-Off
Watch out for unsolicited offers to help you get an international driver’s license — for hundreds of dollars. That happens to people who make internet travel plans. Check with AAA to see if you even need one.
The Phantom B&B
Beware of fancy websites describing lavish accommodations at a great price. All you need to do is sign a lease and send a cash deposit. But when you get there, no such address exists. Do your research — make a call to the Better Business Bureau or the chamber of commerce. In foreign countries, there is usually a tourist bureau that can tell you if the company making the offer has been caught victimizing others.
Be alert to strangers claiming that there is a spill on your clothes. This is often a ploy to get close enough to grab your wallet or purse. Also be careful at ATMs — if a bystander offers to help you with an unfamiliar machine, it’s likely a ruse to steal your code and your card. And don’t fall for an unsolicited offer to take your photograph with a friend or spouse. That’s a good way to have someone dash off with your camera or smartphone.
There are a few scams circulating that revolve around online memberships. The traditional one is to use the purchase of something to enroll a customer, without his or her knowledge, in a membership that requires ongoing purchases.
But there is a newer, more brazen wrinkle. Crooks are sending invoices for subscriptions or memberships you never ordered. When you click on the link to cancel it, you’ve opened a cyber door that exposes sensitive information to scammers.
Another con: You get an unsolicited offer to renew a favorite magazine or service for a rock-bottom price. It looks realistic, but when you enter your credit card information to take advantage, you end up handing that information to crooks who sent you the bogus offer.
You can be scammed in a gift-card purchase a couple of ways. The most common is the unwelcome realization that your balance has been shaved by undisclosed terms, conditions and fees attached by the card seller. But you can also be ripped off by thieves.
Most cards have unique 16-digit numbers stored in a magnetic strip for keeping track of the balance. Scammers can go to a store’s gift-card display and use a cheap scanner to read a card’s number. After you buy the card, the thief can call the issuer and check the balance, to see if it is below the original value. If so, the crook knows the card has been activated—and knows how much money is left to be stolen.
Be careful when you take a purchase back to the store—and be especially careful when you cancel an order online. Some merchants will charge a large fee for that privilege, which you may not catch when you check your account to make sure the money was returned from your credit or debit card.
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