Fraud doesn’t have a season like hunting and fishing, but it is seasonal in that the type of scams change with the calendar. During Spring Break and over summers the scams involve a friend or relative who is in trouble while on vacation and needs money immediately. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day it’s phony charities tugging on your heart and purse strings. For the next few months it’s tax scams.
There are several popular tax scams, both the kind people try to pull on the IRS and the ones people play on innocent taxpayers. Please know that the IRS approaches taxpayers through the U.S. Postal Service. After they are engaged with you there may be an agreed upon follow up by phone, but the IRS won’t initiate contact with you by phone, email, text messages, or social media. The IRS also doesn’t tend to scream at you, threaten you with arrest or deportation. They also do not demand immediate payment and most certainly not from prepaid sources such as wire transfers or Western Union. Police say that any person demanding money in the form of gift cards is trying to scam you.
Taxpayers also need to watch out for tax refund theft. There are several scams as well as some legitimate business practices that try to get some of your money by promising you a larger refund or a faster refund. There are also people who will very quickly file false returns with either your state or the IRS, which claim that you are owed a large refund, but not at your actual address. By filing early they can often cash your refund check before you even file your real tax forms. Guard your social security or taxpayer ID number throughout the year.
There are also some relatively new scams that have become popular with advanced technology.
Almost all modern phones, cell phones and land lines, have a display to show who is calling you. Did you know that Caller ID can be faked. Don’t trust it completely. It is legal in the U.S. to spoof Caller ID, as long as it’s not to commit fraud or cause harm, but that’s exactly what scammers do. Have you ever received a call where Caller ID said that that the call came not from a person or a company but from whole state, like Texas? No one other than a scammer will do that. Even the government of that state will show their department. The scammer is trying to get you to answer the phone thinking that it’s someone you know who lives in or is visiting that state. This is most commonly used in combination with robocalls.
The FCC reports on cell phone users receiving one ring hang up calls. This is an update on an old long distance phone scam that tricks consumers with answering machines into making expensive international calls. Here there’s just a human impulse to return a call to an area code that appears to be domestic, but is actually an international phone number than can charge a fee just for connecting, along with significant per-minute fees. These charges may show up on your bill as premium services. If you get a one ring hang up call and don’t recognize the number, do not return the call.
CBS News reports a new scam. It seems to be especially popular when combined with the latest version of robocalls. These calls are not just prerecorded scams or ways to direct you to a person who will write down your details. These are computerized, interactive voices that can respond to you and that sound almost real. The voice will ask seemingly innocent yes or no questions like, are you the man of the house? or, can you hear me? What they are doing is trying to record you saying the word “yes” so they can use your recorded voice to “prove” that you authorized some kind of transaction.
Have you ever been victimized by a scam? That money, along with some of your faith in humanity, is gone. Take some comfort, though. There is a website for people who are striking back at scammers. They aren’t law enforcement and they aren’t searching for scammers, but they try to win back a little bit of the stolen dignity that scammers have taken from their victims. Check them out.