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Money June 2016

Dollar Sense

Avoid these Money-Stealing Scams

By Teresa Ambord

One way to verify the sender is to let your cursor hover over the website address. The genuine address for the Social Security Administration is: ssa.gov. Thieves attempt to fool people by adding a character or two, hoping you won’t notice. For example, a fake website might look like this: ssa.gov2e.

Staying ahead of schemers isn’t easy. Some of them never rest from the constant effort to steal your money. The Federal Trade Commission warns of these three fraudulent schemes that are making their way across the country, how to recognize them and how to respond.

 

Help with Disability Applications: Not if You Know What’s Good for You

The Social Security Inspector General is warning people of yet another scam, this one targeting people who are applying for disability or who seek help with claims. Anyone who has applied for disability knows it’s not an easy process, and usually ends with denial, at least at first. Scammers know this too, and prey on people who feel helpless against a giant governmental system. They send out shot-in-the-dark messages, hoping to find people who are disability applicants, and they offer help with the process. Don’t be fooled. Thieves are counting on you to grasp at an offer of help, but chances are you’ll regret it.

They promise assistance to “complete the process.” But to do that, they’ll eventually ask you to give or confirm your Social Security number or bank account numbers. Of course they want the information so they can steal your identity, your assets, your benefits, or all of these. They may talk a good game, making a reasonable case for why you have to provide the information. That’s why you need to be a step ahead of them.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says:

  • Never give your Social Security number to someone who calls you.
  • Don’t send or wire money using a prepaid debit card, and in fact, never pay someone who calls you out of the blue.
  • If you are receiving disability benefits, regularly check the status of your benefits. Review your statements for anything that looks unusual. Contact your disability worker to confirm anything you’re not sure of.
  • Be aware that if anyone calls you and pressures you to provide or confirm information, that person is likely a thief. The FTC says, hang up immediately. Then report it to the Social Security fraud hotline, at oig.ssa.gov/report. You can also call the Social Security Administration to ask questions about disability benefits, 1-800-772-1213.

 

Debt Collection Calls

Fear and intimidation and embarrassment seem to be the tools of certain thieves. If you have a phone, there’s a good chance you’ll get a call at some point, telling you that you have delinquent debts and you’re in big trouble.

It’s true, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that debt collection companies will sometimes sell their uncollectable cases to other companies. So if you have legitimate uncollected debts, you may get a message from a company you’ve never heard of. But the FTC says thieves are using the names of real debt collectors – and others – to scare people who do not have real delinquent debts.

 

What should you do?

The FTC says if you get one of these calls, you need to assert your rights.

  • Tell the caller to send you a “validation notice.” This is a written document that lists the creditor and how much the debt is. The notice should contain instructions on how to dispute the debt. You probably will not hear from the caller again, but if you do receive this notice, the FTC says you should respond with a letter saying that you don’t owe the debt. If the debt is real, the notice should tell you how to arrange for a payment plan.
  • Get a copy of your free credit report at annualcreditreport.com and see if there is a debt you weren’t aware of. If you don’t believe you owe the debt, take the steps to dispute it recommended by the credit bureau.
  • Report the fake collection effort to the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

 

An Attack on Your Social Security Benefits

If you get an email message that appears to come from the Social Security Administration, proceed with caution. If the subject line says “Get Protected” or mentions “SAFE Act 2015” it’s a scam. In fact, regardless of what the subject line is, there’s a good chance it’s fake. The messages offer help protecting your Social Security number and/or benefits. But of course, the idea is to get you to provide them with your numbers so they can steal from you.

Thieves count on you to miss the warning signs. One way to verify the sender is to let your cursor hover over the website address. The genuine address for the Social Security Administration is: ssa.gov. Thieves attempt to fool people by adding a character or two, hoping you won’t notice. For example, a fake website might look like this: ssa.gov2e

If you click on the links in the bogus email, you may be taken to a site that looks official, but isn’t. Thieves try to convince you that they’re there to help you protect your benefits, but, in order to help you, they ask you to provide or verify your Social Security number, possibly you bank account numbers, and more.

The Federal Trade Commission warns you to not click any link or open any attachment. Doing so could download malware into your computer, giving thieves open access to your life.

Try to forward the message to the FTC at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and also to your email provider. However, you should know that another sign of an email scam is that you cannot forward it, or even copy it into a new email. Why? Because thieves protect themselves by imbedding codes into a message that make these actions fail. Even if it does allow you to forward it, don’t be fooled. That likely just means the thief is not just a criminal but also…dumb.

 

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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