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Money March 2017

Dollar Sense

Keep Up with the Latest Scams Designed to Steal Your Money

By Teresa Ambord

Suppose you never agree to buy anything, but soon you learn that you have indeed agreed to a purchase. When you dispute the charges, the scammers trot out a recorded sales pitch which includes you saying “yes” to the purchase. Of course, the conversation has likely been heavily edited, if not totally fabricated.

The Government Will Pay Your Bills for a Fee – Don’t Fall for It

Somewhere in dark, greasy basements live those who, rather than earn honest money, spend their lives coming up with new ways to steal yours. This one targets churches in largely black communities. Because it is brought to their attention in church, some believe it to be legitimate.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns: it’s fake.

Suppose you bought the lie and paid one of these scammers. What actually happens? The scammers create the illusion of reality because they actually do make your payments electronically. But then they cancel the payments, without telling you. You believe your bill is paid, until you get a notice that you still owe the original bill, plus a late fee because of the late payment.

That’s bad. But the worst part is, the scammers now have your bank and credit information. If you do need help with paying bills, there are legitimate government sites that provide free assistance and referrals not just for bill paying but many other topics. Visit this site: https://www.usa.gov/help-with-bills.

 

Can You Hear Me? The Right Answer to Protect Yourself Is… Just Hang Up

You guessed it – it’s another scam, and it’s pretty effective in catching people. When you get a call from someone you don’t know, don’t take the bait. They want you to answer questions, not to actually sell you something, but to record your voice saying “yes” or even “no” at times. So they may start with a question you’re almost sure to say yes to. That is, “can you hear me?”

For safety sake, the correct answer is, hang up. 

Here’s how this works. Your phone rings and the caller may be live or a robocall. But the caller asks “Can you hear me?”

Well, yeah, you can. So you naturally respond, “yes.” And the scammers now have a recording of your voice saying “yes,” say police departments. What follows may be a sales pitch for a cruise, an alarm system, or anything at all. Suppose you never agree to buy anything, but soon you learn that you have indeed agreed to a purchase. When you dispute the charges, the scammers trot out a recorded sales pitch which includes you saying “yes” to the purchase. Of course, the conversation has likely been heavily edited, if not totally fabricated.

Other similar scams get you to “verify” a purchase by dubbing in your “yes” answer, when the scammers already have your credit card information.

What to do?

Well, first of all, screen your calls and don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Be aware that scammers can use a fake area code to make it appear a call comes from your town, when it could be from anywhere.

If you do answer a call that you’re not sure of, instead of answering any questions, just hang up. If you’re in doubt about the legitimacy of the call but think it might be real, Consumerist.org (a not-for-profit subsidiary of Consumer Reports) suggests you try to answer questions without saying “yes” or “no.” One scam involves a caller saying he or she is from a company conducting a survey. They may even promise you payment or entry into a contest or a prize. If they ask, “Do you have a dog?” instead of answering yes, say “I have a dog.”

If a caller asks “can you hear me?” and you aren’t sure if the call is real or a scam, answer “I can hear you.” That gives you a little more time to check it out.

Bottom line though…Consumerist.org says the best answer is to never say “yes” to a telemarketer or other call from an uncertain source.

 

Newest Variation on the Theme of ‘Can You Hear Me?’

A variation on this scam is one where an automated voice immediately says “If you want to be added to the DNC (do not call) list, press 1.” Knowing how annoyed we all get by these unsolicited calls, the first inclination for many of us is to press 1… with a vengeance. But don’t! Just hang up. Pressing any key at all may do something sinister, for example, opening your phone line for overseas calls that will cost you a bundle.

Hang up.

 

Tax Scams Heat Up Again

As soon as tax season comes near, scammers start to salivate. Not that they don’t lie, cheat and steal all year round, but it heats up with tax season because Americans have taxes on the brain, and are more likely to be frightened by contact from the IRS. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reports that, since October 2013, phone scammers have stolen more than $54 million from the public. Although many recent arrests have slowed the roll of these scams, TIGTA warns Americans to beware.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, chances are it’s fake, and the caller intends to steal from you. This is most likely true even if your caller ID says it is the IRS calling.

Callers may also give you an IRS employee title and a badge number to convince you.

And in some cases they may have a little bit of actual information about you, for example the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Other times, the caller may not mention your name at all, but just begin telling you that you’re in trouble with the IRS. I’ve had three such calls, none of which used my name. Instead they just launched into a demand that I call a certain number to clear up a critical matter with the IRS.

Aggressive callers may tell you the matter is urgent, that you owe money and must pay or be arrested, deported, or have your driver’s license revoked. They demand that you pay through a wire transfer or a prepaid gift card, even an iTunes card. The IRS warns taxpayers that just when you learn what to watch for, scammers may vary their approach enough that you doubt yourself and possibly buy the lie. One variation is that the caller says, instead of owing money to the IRS, you are due a refund. Nice! But there’s just one little issue. To get your refund, you have to provide the caller with your bank account information so he or she can direct deposit the money. Don’t fall for it. Hang up.

With this problem growing, the IRS wants you to know what their agents WILL NOT do:

IRS agents will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you don’t owe taxes or think you do not:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage at https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.

For those who owe taxes or think they do:

  • Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help.

A call that seems to be from the IRS has the power to make even the toughest guy go weak in the knees. But don’t be fooled. Unless you’re already in touch with the IRS about a prior matter, hang up the phone without comment. Rest assured if the IRS wants to reach you, they will.

 

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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