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Advice & More April 2017

Dollar Sense

Scams and Scoundrels are Seeking Your Wallet: Know How to Shut Them Down

By Teresa Ambord

At the appointed time, vacationers show up on the doorstep with suitcases and sporting equipment. But instead of a vacant house, they’re greeted by a puzzled – and possibly angry – homeowner asking “who are you and what do you want?

You’ve heard the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The quote is attributed to Randall Terry, the founder of an organization known as Operation Rescue. It’s a great quote, and so appropriate for today’s ever-growing list of scams. To keep you from being fooled once or twice, here are a few scams that are currently making the rounds.


Targeting the Hearing Impaired

Do you or someone you know rely on video relay services (VRS) to communicate by phone? The IRS warns the public that thieves are also using VRS to steal information and money. And while hearing impairment isn’t limited to the elderly, a large number of the victims of this scam have been seniors. The IRS warns, “Do not automatically trust calls just because they are made through VRS. VRS interpreters do not screen calls for validity.”

Thieves have been known to impersonate IRS agents and call taxpayers (with or without the use of VRS) to demand money. They may tell you that you’re under investigation for tax issues, at risk of being deported or losing your driver’s license or some other threat, unless you pay immediately. Or they may say you’re due a refund, but it can only be paid by direct deposit. That means you must provide bank or credit card account information.

If you are deaf or hearing impaired and receive a suspicious call, report it to the IRS using VRS, at 800-829-1040. Operators will be able to direct your call. Or log onto the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint at


Vacation Rental Scams (a Cousin of General Rental Scams)

Spring and summer signal time for vacation, and most of us want deals. But for the past few years, scammers have been taking advantage of deal-hunters on sites like Craigslist. Here’s how they operate: they post pictures of attractive rental properties in inviting areas, and offer them for rent at below market prices. Would-be renters respond and are told they need to submit an immediate payment. At the appointed time, vacationers show up on the doorstep with suitcases and sporting equipment. But instead of a vacant house, they’re greeted by a puzzled – and possibly angry – homeowner asking “who are you and what do you want?”

The Federal Trade Commission warns, before you send a deposit to someone you don’t know, ask a lot of questions. Here are some points to watch for:

  • If you’re asked to immediately send a money order or wire funds, especially to a foreign bank account, consider that a red flag. Read the contract, including the fine print.
  • If the ad seems to come from a vacation rental firm but the message you get is from a personal address, that could be another warning.
  • If the owner asks for personal information for “verification,” such as your driver’s license, passport, Social Security number – don’t provide it.
  • Does the ad contain spelling and grammar errors? That could mean it was written by someone perpetrating a scam from outside the U.S. Many vacation rental scams originate in Nigeria or other places outside the country, even if the vacation property is in the United States.
  • The FTC warns deal-hunters to check the prices of vacation rentals in the same neighborhood. If the others are considerably more expensive for a similar home, beware. Also check to see if the property is listed on other vacation rental sites, and if so, is the information the same?

If you are the victim of a rental scam, contact your local law enforcement and the website where the ad was posted. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Read more about rental listing scams and how to report them on


General Rental Scams   

Most of the warnings above also apply to the general rental market. To attract a lot of attention, the rentals are usually in good neighborhoods for a bargain price, and may include a heart-touching detail. For example, the low price is explained by a note: “deployed to serve in the Middle East, needed to move quickly.” Or, “Home belongs to my mother who is now in a nursing home, must rent quickly.” If you suspect a scam, have been victimized, or know someone who has been a victim, the FBI urges you to report the problem on their Internet Crime Complaint Center at:


Western Union? Yeah They’re Still Around and They’re in Big Trouble

Western Union used to be one of the few ways to get money across the country or overseas in a hurry, to a friend or family member who needed some fast help. Their services got a lot of people out of jams. A friend of my son’s once got stuck in a bus station without enough money to get home. I used Western Union to get her funds right away, and all was well.

But Western Union, headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, became the thief’s best friend when scammers started using it to launder money and be a conduit for wire fraud. They started using Western Union to lure unsuspecting people into sending money for purposes such as to claim winnings from bogus contests, lotteries, sweepstakes, and more. Western Union also has been used by crooks sending hundreds of millions of dollars in “criminal proceeds” to China in ways that avoided detection by the U.S. government.

The Federal Trade Commission (FYC) reports that money siphoned through Western Union has not only helped thieves victimize innocent people, but also facilitated fraud, terrorism, human trafficking, drug dealing, and other crimes. Western Union, the largest money service business in the world, has admitted to failing to provide checks and balances to combat criminal practices. As a result, they will forfeit $586 million in a settlement with the FTC and the Justice Department. If you feel you’ve been victimized by a fraud scheme that involves Western Union, visit the Department of Justice’s victim website ( for instructions on how to request compensation through the Victim Asset Recovery Program.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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