"Can you hear me now?" is the once-popular tagline of Verizon commercials, but it's also the headline of a new scam. Scammers making robocalls will ask some innocuous question. Once the targeted person says "yes," a recording is made of the response and it is used to sign up the target for unwanted, expensive services. It's a scheme that's been targeted at businesses before, but it has now shifted targeting to individual consumers across the country.
Robocallers have gotten increasingly sophisticated over the years. They're doing everything in their power to mimic real sales calls. A pleasant-sounding voice might ask an innocuous question, like "Can you hear me?" or "Are you a homeowner?" The objective is to get you to say "Yes." That's all the scammer needs.
The scammer may then send you an invoice for a service. They may also bill your phone number directly, or attempt to make a charge using your credit card. When you call to contest the charges, the scammer will use your recorded "yes" to intimidate you into paying.
Even if the scammer doesn't successfully bill you, your "yes" can still be hurtful. Answering the phone and talking demonstrates that your number is a viable target for telemarketing. The scammer may bundle your information with other victims and sell it to other potential scammers.
The easiest way to avoid being a target in this scam is not to answer your phone if an unknown number calls. For many people, though, that's not an option. If you're job hunting, freelancing or even selling things on Craigslist, unknown numbers represent opportunities. Not answering your phone could mean missing out on the job of your dreams.
Until you can figure out if you're talking to a real person, it's best to avoid giving straightforward answers. If someone asks if you can hear them, say "I can hear you just fine." If they ask a personal question, ask them why they want to know. Both of these responses will throw a robocall or a call center employee off script, giving you an opportunity to see if it's a real person calling with a real opportunity or a scammer wasting your time.
It's also worth repeating that you should never give out personal information over the phone. Often, phone scammers will claim to be a representative of some government entity as an attempt to scare you into turning over your information. Don't believe them. Unless you initiate the call, government officials don't do business over the phone.
You can also register your number on the federal Do Not Call registry at www.donotcall.gov. That way, if scammers do call, you can report the number to the FTC. These complaints help the FTC to find and shut down people illegally using the phone system, and hopefully putting an end to these scams once and for all.
There's no way for a scammer to use a recording of your voice to do any serious damage, according to researchers at snopes.com. It's more likely that the scammer will try to intimidate you into paying by claiming that the voice recording is authorization of charges. Know your rights: Unless you've given someone your payment information and explicitly authorized them to charge you, you're not responsible for paying those bills. Don't be intimidated into giving up payment information because of threatening language. These scammers can't actually do anything to you.
It's still a good idea to keep a careful eye on your account statements and phone bills, just in case. Most phone providers have what's called "bill-through" service, where third-party charges will be placed on your phone bill. It's how some apps work, but it's also how an alarming number of scams work.
Through a practice called "cramming," third parties can pile unauthorized charges on your phone bill. By keeping the charges small and the names innocuous, third parties can rack in millions across the country for services that consumers don't want and didn't agree to purchase. While illegal, it's still a widespread problem because voice authorization can make it more difficult to dispute the charges.
Make sure you understand exactly the purpose of each item on your phone bill. If there's anything you don't recognize, call your phone provider immediately. Disputing charges early is the best way to get them off your bill and keep that money in your pocket.
What's your best practice for identifying robocallers? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!
Tax season is here, and unfortunately that also means that “tax scams” are here as well. Every tax season, there are more schemes targeting innocent taxpayers through phone calls, emails, in person, and even through social media channels. Some call to “verify” tax return information over the phone, some demand payments for a fake “Federal Student Tax,” and some impersonate tax preparers. Whatever the scheme, taxpayers need to vigilant against the scammers. Here are several tips to avoid being a victim:
Scams can sound convincing. These con artists use fake IRS identification badge numbers that appear to be legitimate. They usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.
Scammers might have your information. use online resources to get your information. They may know a lot about their target such as the victim’s name, address, and even the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security number. They will use this information to make the call sound official.
Scams use scare tactics. If the victim doesn’t answer, the caller will likely leave an “urgent” callback request. If the victim does answer but refuses to cooperate, the caller may become hostile and insulting. They will may threats of police arrest, deportation, or license revocation. They may call back from other numbers or send emails pretending to be the local police or DMV to support their calls.
Scams ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. Emails seek practically any information, from filing status to verifying PIN details. Scam emails can look like official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry. When victims follow the email links sent to them, the official-looking websites ask for personal information.
• Call you and demand payment. The IRS will not call you about your tax bill without first sending you a bill in the mail.
• Ask for your credit card or debit card information over the phone.
• Require that you use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
• Threaten you to have the police arrest you for not paying.
• Initiate contact with you by phone, text, email, or social media channels to request your personal or financial information.
• Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
• Report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
• If phone scammers target you, also contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report the scam. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
• Do not respond to the email or click on the links.
• Forward the scam emails to the IRS at
If you know or think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to talk about payment options.
For more information and resources, you can visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.
Every year had a new “it” toy. There’s always something so awesome, it just has to get under the tree. These toys are flying off the shelves faster than retailers can stock them, setting up an incredibly inflated second-hand market. People are willing to pay two or three times the retail price just to get whatever it is that’s sparked national attention.
This year, it was Hatchimals – those adorable stuffed animals in cloth shells. There’s an element of surprise involved because you don’t know exactly what they look like until they “hatch,” and they learn and grow in response to the care they get. It’s a more cuddly virtual pet.
Driving the adults crazy are a series of scams perpetrated by downright despicable people. Criminals are taking advantage of parents’ desire to make Christmas memorable for their children. Most recently, scammers set up fake Facebook pages, Instagram sites and Twitter profiles offering Hatchimal “giveaways” to people who followed them and downloaded a “fan app.” Of course, there were no Hatchimals to give away. Worse yet, the fan app was a piece of malware that stole personal information and transmitted it to scammers.
This is the most recent in a round of scams featuring the popular toy. If you’re Hatchimal hunting, be cautious. Practice these tips for safe searching.
The fastest way into a house isn’t through a broken window. It’s through the front door. The same is true for your computer. It takes serious sophistication to break modern encryption protocols and steal personal information from an internet user. It’s far easier to get them to send the information directly to you, and the easiest way to do that is to trick them into installing something on their computer.
Before you click any download link, ask yourself three questions:
If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then close the browser and walk away. If you’re not sure who’s at the door, you don’t open it. If you have any doubt about the safety of a piece of software, don’t download it.
These rules apply no matter what device you’re using. In this particular Hatchimals scam, the perpetrators intentionally targeted mobile users. Your mobile device has just as much personally identifiable information on it as your PC does; safeguard both!
Many scammers have gone a more conventional route to stealing money. They promise goods, take the money for an order, then don’t deliver the goods. While this is a common scam most times of the year, the insanity of Christmas shopping makes more people more vulnerable.
Somewhat more insidiously, some scammers have been posting “black market” Hatchimals and other hot toys. Factory defects are being sold by unscrupulous folk at many times more than retail prices. Such practices are even occurring on reputable websites such as Amazon and eBay. The best way to check against this practice is to look at reviews for the account. If someone’s selling a hot new toy but they’ve never sold anything before, it’s a good bet they’re running some kind of con.
If you decide you absolutely have to shop the second-hand market, try to deal locally. Never send or wire payment through unsecured means, like a cashier’s check or wire transfer. Try to meet your buyer in a public place and always inspect the goods before handing over the money.
Despite the popularity, many parents who got their hands on a Hatchimal are disappointed. The toy hatches too quickly and children lose interest. Some hatch in as little as 2 hours, leaving kids with just another stuffed animal.
Talk with your child about what they really want for Christmas. It may be they want something entirely different. Don’t assume the popularity of a toy will translate directly into joyful memories around the Christmas tree. Find something your child will really treasure. They, and your pocketbook, will thank you!
Don’t forget that the best things about the season don’t come from toy stores. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to build great holiday memories. You just need to spend time together! Happy Holidays!
Did you get your hands on the season’s hottest toy? How? Share your toy-hunting horror stories in the comments!
When a company has to recall a product, it’s never pretty. Organizing refunds, exchanges, and other considerations for customers takes time. Meanwhile, the customers just want the product they bought to work as advertised!
That combination of confusion and frustration creates the perfect opportunity for scammers to make an opportunistic buck. There are a number of ploys that criminals will use to steal money or information while using the cover of a product recall.
If you’ve been following technology news, you know the Samsung Note 7 phones became so hot, they were melting on the inside. Samsung issued a product recall, stating you could just take your phone to your carrier’s store and exchange it for a new one.
Not everyone thinks that’s such a great deal, though. Either they’re not the original purchaser of the phone, or they bought it online and are having trouble getting the exchange. To recoup losses, they sell it online.
In the days after the product recall was announced, thousands of Note 7 phones went up on auction sites like eBay. They were selling for as little as half their market price. Getting 50% off a smartphone might sound like a good deal, especially when the seller promises the ability to trade it in for a phone of your choice. But buyer beware. There’s no assurance that second-hand buyers of the phone are eligible to participate in any refund program.
Before you buy a steeply discounted product, check to make sure there’s no recall on it. A quick online search should be all you need to see to it that the potential deal you’re getting isn’t going to blow up in your hands. If it feels too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Sometimes, companies decide the best way out of a jam is to just write checks. They’ll compensate everyone who bought their product for the damages they caused, and move on to the next product. That’s been the strategy that car maker Volkswagen has employed in the wake of its emissions scandal.
Any time there’s money changing hands, scammers will be there trying to take advantage. In this case, it’s people trying to buy the recalled vehicles for less than the buyback price and hoping to turn a profit in the interim. In other cases, scammers have just posed as representatives of a company issuing a recall and pumped product owners for bank information so they could supposedly deposit the refund directly.
When getting a refund for a recalled product, only deal with the company directly. There are never processing fees or any other costs associated with getting a refund from a company, nor would any company refuse to send a check rather than making a direct deposit. If a product you recently purchased is being recalled, be proactive. Find out what steps you need to take to get your money, and take them. Then, you can safely ignore anyone who calls you with special instructions.
With large-scale product recalls, getting information from a company can be a headache. After all, everyone else who bought the same product is calling at the same time, and likely for the same reason. Long hold times can be a serious drain on your nerves and patience.
That was the thinking of a group of scammers after a major Toyota-issued recall. The scammers sent out an official-looking email instructing Toyota owners to call a number exactly one digit off from the official Toyota help line. Calls to this line were put on hold with a recorded message saying that all operators were busy. The message went on to explain that there was a premium help line available to recall participants. There was a $5.95 per minute charge attached to it, but that information went by so fast, many callers didn’t even hear it. Worse yet, people who called that fake premium helpline were then asked for personally identifiable information, like Social Security numbers.
Here, too, the best way to avoid being hooked in a scam like this is to do your own research. Find the company’s phone number yourself and call. Sure, you might have to wait on hold a while, but the alternative is to put yourself in jeopardy from scams like this one.
How do you deal with the frustration of a product recall? What tips do you have to keep your cool and keep yourself safe from scams like these? Let us know!
Living in a democracy is a wonderful privilege. As Americans, we get a say in the process of our government. It’s a great freedom and it comes with an awesome responsibility. We need to be informed about what candidates do and say, and we have to make sure our voices are heard on Election Day.
Unfortunately, many people see this exercise of democracy as a time to make a quick buck at the expense of others. Both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) are warning of an increase in fraudsters using the election as a pretense to get your money or personal information. Be on the lookout for these schemes!
This scam could come by email, telephone or even at your front door. Someone posing as a representative of a candidate you support asks for your help to make one more big push prior to the election. They need you to make a small contribution to help your candidate get out in front. Just make a $5 or $10 contribution, they say, and you can do your part to ensure your ideals are upheld on Election Day.
Of course, none of those funds will make it anywhere near your candidate’s campaign. The best case scenario is that the crook walks away with the money you give. The worst case scenario is they walk away with your credit or debit card information, setting you up for a huge bill down the road!
In most states, voter registration information is public. That means a quick search by address or name will reveal your party affiliation, and it’s not hard from there to guess your candidate preference, especially in state and local races. They may even take advantage of the signs you have posted in your yard. The scammer is using the reflected credibility of a candidate or party you identify with to gain your trust. Don’t let them get away with it!
The easiest way to avoid this scam is to be proactive in your giving. If you choose to donate money to a political campaign, seek out the candidate’s website and look for a donation option there. That way, you can tell anyone who asks that you’ve already given.
Going to vote is an anxiety-producing process for some. There are all kinds of rules and regulations. Unless you’re a constitutional lawyer or a political operative, those rules are way too much to keep track of. Did you remember to register to vote? Did you miss last election and aren’t sure about your registration status? That’s the uncertainty that forms the basis of this scam.
A scammer will contact you, usually over the phone. They’ll claim to represent either a party you’re connected to or some non-partisan “get out the vote” program. You’ll be told that your name has been accidentally removed from the voter rolls, but they’re here to help you correct that mistake. All they need is a little information, like your address and Social Security number. They tell you that, with that info, they can make sure you get heard on Election Day.
That will be the last you hear of the ordeal until you discover you’ve been the victim of identity theft. The person on the phone completed no voter registration form – nor was it even necessary. They just took down your information and used it for criminal purposes.
You can beat this scam using the same public records scammers use to target you. A quick search on your state’s Secretary of State website will reveal whether or not you’re registered to vote. You can also vote early, taking off the pressure entirely.
Everyone’s trying to get a sneak peek at election results. That means a near-constant stream of polls from May through November. Occasionally, to incentivize your participation, survey companies will offer small prizes, like gift cards or even cash, in exchange for your participation. That’s the “in” for this last scam.
A fraudster will call and walk you through a very general survey, focused on headline news. After it’s concluded, they’ll tell you you’ve won a prize as a thank-you for participating. All you need to do is pay a small “processing fee” using a major credit card, or give them your account information so they can directly deposit the supposed prize in your account.
Here, again, there is no prize, and there’s probably not even a poll. Scammers are using the pretext of a poll to gain access to your personal information. They’re taking advantage of an existing social script to get you to let your guard down.
As a rule, never give any personal information in a call you didn’t initiate. Unless you dialed the number, you don’t have any assurance about who’s on the other line. Also, never trust anyone who asks you to pay a fee or other charge before they’ll give you cash or other prizes.
No matter who you vote for this election day, it’s your right as an American to make your voice heard. Step up, make your decision, and be proud to live in a free country. Don’t let opportunistic criminals prevent you from doing your civic duty!
Keep your information secure!
New social media platforms seem to crop up all the time. The media moves at the speed of information, and it seems like overnight, Tinder and Snapchat went from complete unknowns to must-have apps. Each new technology offers something fun and unique to users, which is why the popularity of these apps has attracted so much attention.
Some of that attention has come from people with malicious intent. Scam artists take advantage of the newness of the medium and the lack of familiarity that people have with these apps. They’ve developed some cunning scams to harvest data, spread malicious software and commit identity theft.
Earlier this year, an Illinois man pleaded guilty to abusing social media site LinkedIn to sell more than $500 billion in fake securities. Make no mistake: Social media fraud is big business. While not all scammers set their sights that high, there’s a lot of money to be had (and lost) from illegitimate social media use. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common schemes.
The Fake App: You get an invitation to install an app that will give you instant likes and shares on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. The application does nothing, but buried in the user agreement is language which allows the app to broadcast messages without further permission. A scammer uses the app to make your profile broadcast links to phishing sites and other malicious web pages.
The Hidden Charge: A fun personality quiz pops up in your news feed and wants to use your cell number to text you the results. You enter your phone number and unknowingly sign up for a $9.99 a month “service,” which you won’t hear about until your next cell phone bill. Removing the charges will prove difficult, and stopping them from recurring will cause hours of frustration.
The Emergency Request: A friend sends you a message saying they’re on vacation and they’ve had their wallet stolen. They need money to get back home. Being the generous person you are, you send them money by following instructions they provide. When you next speak to your friend, he or she has no idea what you’re talking about. They didn’t send the request – a hacker compromised their social media presence and used it to spread the scam.
The Age Verification: Dating apps like Tinder have become a spawning ground for bots advertising “adult dating” services. These services will ask for your credit card number for “age verification.” These sites will promise racy pictures and adult cam chats, but will hide the charges they bill to your credit card. Sites like these may also attempt to entice married people onto their platform and later attempt to blackmail them.
The Lottery Winner: You may have seen stories on your social media feed about generous lottery winners who promise a share of their winnings to the first 1,000 people to share their good news. What you don’t see is people donating money for “postage,” or having their email addresses used to spread scams. Needless to say, the money never comes.
Profile Spy: Facebook or Twitter apps promising to let you see who’s been looking at your profile are another popular road for scam artists. The app will get permission, through the install process, to send messages to your friends, access your login information and post links to your profile. Any information the app provides you will be inaccurate and useless.
Identifying these schemes is half the battle. Thwarting them, then, is as easy as not doing whatever it is they want you to do. If you want to raise your social media security level, here are some steps you can take to protect your personal information.
1. Don’t install any social media application that can make posts to your feed, access your account information, or see your friends list. That way, your name won’t be the reason someone else clicks a malicious link.
2. Don’t enter your credit card information on any service if you don’t intend to buy something. Not only will this keep you safe from scams, but it will also help cut down on impulse purchases on reputable websites.
3. If anyone sends you a request for money through email or social media, get in touch with them through another means. Confirm they are in need, then send money via a service you know and trust.
4. Change your social media passwords every 6 months, at least. Use complex passwords that don’t contain information in your profile. Make sure someone can’t answer your security questions with information you put out there.
Social media has made the world smaller and helped bring people closer together. It’s now possible to keep up with friends who are all around the country and the world, while sharing cool experiences and stories with new, exciting individuals. At the same time, it’s also exposed us to some new dangers. Keeping up with the latest scams help make you a more responsible social media user and will make the world a little safer for all of us.
If you have questions about your financial security or are interested in taking more steps to protect your identity online, stop by or call Wasatch Peaks Credit Union today. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff can help you find out about services like credit monitoring, identity theft protection, and other financial security assistance. Visit wasatchpeaks.com today for a safer tomorrow!
Do you know if your parents have a will? If anyone is trying to sell them an annuity? If they are paying all of their bills? If you answered no to these questions, it may be time to have a conversation with them. You may be groaning right now – who enjoys talking about money? – but doing this can help ensure your parents’ well-being.
Many of us struggle to meet our monthly obligations, especially seniors, who often face diminished retirement savings and high medical costs. Ask your parents if they have been unable to pay any bills or purchase essential expenses, like medicine or food. If so, help them explore ways they can revise their budget. Are there any expenses that can be cut or reduced, like cable or dining out? Is there any way to increase their income, such as through a part-time job or reverse mortgage?
Encourage your parents to contact the creditors/service providers for any bill they are struggling to pay. (If preferred, you may be able to talk to them yourself with your parents’ permission.) Many creditors offer hardship programs – short-term arrangements that allow you to make smaller payments. Utility companies frequently have payment assistance programs for limited-income customers.
For aging parents suffering from memory problems, bills may go unpaid simply because they forget. Handling the bill-paying yourself is one possibility, but if you do not have the time, you may find it helpful to use the services of a daily money manager. Daily money managers assist with financial tasks, such as opening and paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and organizing and filling out paperwork. Professional daily money managers charge a fee for their services, but low-income seniors may be eligible for free assistance through a volunteer program. (You can contact your local Area Agency on Aging for more information.) Of course, since there is the potential for abuse, you should choose a daily money manager carefully and periodically check up on his or her work.
Long-term Care Costs
Sometime in the future, your parents will likely reach the point where they are no longer able to live on their own without help. Unless you or a relative plans to care for them, they will have to pay for nursing-home, assisted-living, or in-home care. It is not unusual for long-term care costs to exceed $50,000 a year, and Medicare and Medicaid only cover them in limited circumstances.
If your parents do not already have a plan for financing their long-term care, help them create one. Putting aside a set sum each month can help your parents amass a good chunk of change, but if they do not already have a significant amount of savings, it may be difficult to save enough now to completely cover their costs. Besides saving, another option is to purchase long-term care insurance. Many policies cover both nursing-home and in-home care costs. The best time to purchase this insurance is when you are in your 50s or 60s. Since there are many different provisions to consider, you and your parents may want to talk with a qualified insurance advisor about what would best meet their needs. Long-term care insurance is expensive, so it can be tempting to go with whoever offers the cheapest policy, but avoid purchasing one from a company with questionable financial health.
Unfortunately, there are many people out there looking to take advantage of others, and seniors are a popular target. If someone is trying to sell your parents an annuity, timeshare, or other investment opportunity, review it in detail to see if it would make sense financially. (It probably won’t.) Explain to your parents why you think it is not a good investment. If they are getting calls from telemarketers, sign them up on the National Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov or 888-382-1222). Discuss common scams, such as the promise of lottery winnings if you send a check for taxes, and encourage them to talk to you before sending money to someone.
The majority of Americans don’t have a will. No one wants to think about death, but having a will ensures your property goes who you want it to go to and reduces the likelihood of conflict breaking out between surviving relatives. If you are not sure if your parents have one, ask. Those with more complicated financial situations may want to have their will drafted by a lawyer, but others may be able to create one with the aid of a book or computer software.
Even if you know your parents have a will, you can talk to them about whether they feel it is up-to-date or if they want to make any changes. For example, if they left part of their estate to a sibling and he died, they may prefer now to leave their whole estate to their children. Also discuss if they have other estate planning documents, such as durable power of attorney for healthcare and finances.
Copyright © 2009 BALANCE
If you have a smartphone or tablet, you definitely have a collection of apps installed for your convenience and entertainment. An app or “application” is a useful and specific program that helps us perform a task. Apps are great. The right app can make life easier and a lot more fun, however, the wrong app can ruin your electronic device and steal your personal information without your knowledge.
In our ongoing effort to keep our members' data and personal information safe, Wasatch Peaks wants to make you aware of some of the hidden dangers of third-party apps. These are the types of apps that are downloaded by the consumer from a website other than Google Play (for Android users) and the Apple App Store (for iPhone/iPad users). Some are free and some are available for purchase.
Simply put, not all apps are helpful; some are downright dangerous. The dangers may include malware, viruses, and worms. What does that mean? It means you may be thinking you just scored an awesome free app, when in reality, you may have opened the door to a device-scrambling intruder who could gain access to your personal and sensitive data, location, messages, etc.
As tempting as a free app may be, the problem is that many are ad-filled counterfeits of popular apps or knock-offs that could pose a threat to the safety of your personal information. Not all third-party apps are malicious, but some are, and we need to know how to protect ourselves from hackers who have become very savvy at gaining access to our data.
How can you stay safe?
“When installing apps it is a good rule to avoid downloading them from anywhere that is not the App Store or Google Play, this can be tricky because oftentimes you will select a link that you think would send you the reputable app store, when in reality, it can send you to a completely different and often nefarious website. Also remember when purchasing from Google Play that each app is not fully vetted by google, so continue to use caution when selecting what to install on your device.” -Jed Weller, IT Department, Wasatch Peaks Credit Union
We often warn children about Stranger Danger, and the same caution should be used by smartphone and tablet users when dealing with Stranger, or third-party apps. Your best defense against the dangers of third-party apps is knowing how to avoid the bad ones.
At Wasatch Peaks, we’re staying vigilant against cyber-threats and breaches in security. Protecting your personal information is our priority and we are continually monitoring the safety of our members’ information.
We encourage you to be aware of malicious third-party apps and do your best to avoid them. If you have any questions about to how you can keep your information safe, give us a call at 801.627.8700.
By Joanna Bushell
Director of Public Relations
Sadly, some dishonest people have focused their attention on senior citizens. Taking advantage of fear, hope, and trust, these scammers bilk thousands of older Americans each year out of much needed cash. If you receive a call, letter, or a personal visit from anyone claiming the following, chances are you’ve been contacted by a rip-off artist.
“You need a new roof.”
Many cons target older Americans because so many seniors are homeowners. It usually begins with a spontaneous visit from a “contractor.” He will offer a special repair deal for seniors, a free inspection, or he noticed something terribly wrong with your home that needs urgent attention. If you take the bait, you’ll likely be charged exorbitant fees to fix something that needs no fixing, the job will be done shoddily or not at all, or the price of the repairs will increase dramatically in the middle of the job.
Before hiring someone to work on your home, ask to see his contractor’s license number and check it with your state’s Contractors License Board. Get at least three other bids before making a final decision.
“I can get you a loan for that new roof.”
If you need to finance those home repairs (or pay for property taxes, medical expenses, etc.), watch out for predatory lenders who target older Americans. These businesses have a way of finding cash-strapped homeowners, offering home equity loans that come with outrageously high interest rates, unnecessary fees, and unreasonable repayment terms. Be extremely suspicious of loans that are marketed to people with bad credit, offers that are only good for a very short time, telephone applications, next-day approval with an immediate payment, or having to pay upfront fees to cover the first payment and other expenses.
Avoid doing business with sales people who initiate contact: reputable lenders rarely solicit business over the phone or in person. If you really need a loan, contact your financial institution.
“We can fix your bad credit.”
Preying on many seniors’ desire to maintain good credit, some scammers promise to erase negative items from a report – for hundreds of dollars. However, no matter what the company advertises, bad credit cannot be magically transformed into good credit. The only real way to improve your credit rating is through time and effort: pay what you owe; keep your balances down; and use credit responsibly.
The cost of real “credit repair”? Free.
“You’re a winner!”
Get a call or a letter saying that you have won a prize, but in order to claim it you need to send money to cover a shipping or handling fee, or pay for taxes upfront? Nonsense. You don’t have to pay for something you’ve won. As much as you want to believe that Lady Luck has finally paid you a visit, with an offer like this she probably hasn’t.
To be a real winner, toss this “award” in the trash.
“I can help you recover your loss from the win that never was.”
A particularly vile scheme is one that targets seniors who have already been swindled. Called recovery scams, a con typically poses as a government agency representative who is working on your case. A large sum of cash (which must be wired or sent to him immediately) is needed to conduct the investigation. To earn damaged trust, he may even provide phone numbers for the Better Business Bureau or other consumer agency (which are false, of course). Oh, and how did he know you had been ripped-off? He either bought your information from the con that took your money, or was the original swindler.
Remember, no genuine FBI agent, police officer, or any other law enforcement agent will ever ask for payment to do their job.
“I want to help you pay your bills.”
Or do they want to help themselves to the money in your checking and savings accounts? Certainly some seniors need assistance managing their financial affairs. If you do, be highly selective with the person you choose to help, particularly if he or she suggests (or leads you into suggesting) becoming a joint account holder. That person will have as much power as you do to withdraw funds, and can arrange to inherit every dime in the account at your death.
Get professional, objective legal advice before letting anyone have this kind of power over your finances.
“This seminar will change your life.”
Yes, it probably will – by making you a lot poorer. If someone you don’t know invites you to attend an investment or estate-planning seminar (often with a prize just for coming), stay home. These are often bogus operations that market heavily to retirees wishing to prepare their estate or increase a fixed income stream. Slick-talking salespeople convince attendees to divulge personal information that they will later use, or sell expensive but worthless products and services.
The bottom line: if you would like to take a class, go to your local community college or university; if you need investment advice, visit a reputable financial institution or brokerage house; and if you want to set up your estate, see an attorney.
Before doing business with anyone, contact the Better Business Bureau to verify that they are legitimate. If you’ve been scammed, report the crime to the police and the Federal Trade Commission. Nobody enjoys admitting they’ve been taken, but it is important to take action to stop these people and companies – before they bilk other senior citizens out of a lifetime of earnings.
Better Business Bureau: 219.769.8053
Federal Trade Commission: 877.382.4357
Educated Credit Union Members Play Important Role in Cyber Security
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Jan. 7, 2015) – Credit unions have a new resource to educate their members about frauds, scams and cyber threats with the release today by the National Credit Union Administration of a two-part video on how to recognize, avoid and report cyber fraud.
"We all must contribute to protecting the broader credit union system," NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz said. "Ongoing member education on topics such as detecting, avoiding and preventing fraud not only protects a credit union's reputation, but it also helps members maintain their financial well-being. I encourage all credit unions to use these new videos when educating their members about protecting their finances and fighting cybercrime."
More information available on the NCUA's YouTube channel, the videos are part of NCUA's Consumer Report series developed by the Office of Consumer Protection.