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Check Fraud is surging! Don’t get scammed!

Check Fraud is surging! Don't get scammed!

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service as well as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has issued advisories relating to recent surges in check fraud.

Fraudsters are stealing paper checks from the U.S. Mail by targeting blue U.S. Postal Service (USPS) collection boxes as well as personal (home) mailboxes. There has also been an uptick in thefts of checks by USPS employees who work at mail collection and processing facilities.

Fraudsters are utilizing check washing methods to alter the stolen checks. In this scheme, they change the payee, check number and often the dollar amount of the check. They then utilize fraudulent identities to deposit checks and steal money from your account. In some cases, stolen checks are also counterfeited using routing and account information from the original check.

Do’s and Don’ts on How to Protect Yourselves and your Business:

Contact the United States Postal Inspection Service if you’ve been scammed: uspis.gov/report

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Preventative Tips for Avoiding Scams

Recognize Swindlers at First Contact

Scammers often pose as public servants, distant relatives, non-profit organizations, or representatives from familiar companies when approaching their targets. Verify who you are speaking with before sending someone money or communicating your personal information, especially if the unexpected request originates from text messages, phone calls, or emails.

Never Send Money to Strangers

Fraudsters likewise pretend to be people in despair or loved ones who require help. These thieves will create fake websites or phony profiles on social media with the intent to deceive honest people into sending them money. Don’t be a victim—never send cash to someone you haven’t personally met.

Beware of Caller ID

Crooks often use hi-tech gadgets to send fake phone numbers to caller ID equipment; this means the number that pops up on your cell phone may not be real! Hang up on people who ask you for money or personal information over the phone, even if you recognize the number—you can always call the person back if you believe the request is legit.

Google Bizarre Money Requests

Discovering if strange money requests are genuine is easy in today’s internet society. Launch your favorite search engine and type in the business name, product name, or name of the person soliciting the cash. Next, include words like “scam,” “fraud,” or “fake,” and watch what happens. You may also Google unusual incidents such as “fake free iPod text” or perform phone number searches to learn if others fell victim to similar scams.

Use Credit Cards and Never Wire Cash

Banks protect credit card purchases from fraud, and they can reverse charges for customers who were victimized. Other payment methods, however, hold no fraud protection; for instance, cash transactions via Western Union wires or MoneyGram vouchers are irreversible once the receiver withdraws the electronic funds.

Get Advice Before Sending Cash

Always talk to a trusted friend, family member, or a financial adviser before you surrender cash or give someone your personal information if you believe an offer is too good to be true. Thieves get paid when fraud victims make hasty decisions under pressure. Take it easy, investigate the offer, do online searches and talk to someone. If the offer is legitimate, it will be there tomorrow for you to accept.

Never Prepay for a Promised Good or Service

Fraudsters often demand their victims pay in advance for services like home repair, credit repair, low-interest loan offers, or job placement assistance. Scammers may even claim that you must pay a small fee or pre-pay taxes to collect prizes you’ve won—don’t do it; chances are you’ll never see this money again.

Scrutinize Free Trial Periods

Companies are in business to make money and not to hand out free products or services. Beware of free trial periods that give you something free for a month, then bill you every month afterward until you cancel. Examine free trial offers carefully and study the fine print that memorializes the cancellation rules. You should further review your billing statements for unauthorized charges after accepting a free trial offer.

Designate a “Trusted Contact” to Monitor Bank and Broker Accounts

Sadly, friends or family of victims commit ninety percent of financial fraud incidents in the US. You can lessen this risk by assigning a bank or brokerage account “trusted contact” (trusted relative or friend) to act on your behalf whenever financial institutions suspect fraud on your account — doing so will give you a pair of second eyes for monitoring fraud activity.

Never Send Money After Depositing Unfamiliar Checks

Bank checks often take weeks to clear and even more time if they’re drawn from overseas financial institutions. American banks may advance you the funds on deposited checks within days, but that does not mean the bank draft isn’t fake—you are legally responsible for repaying the bank when checks bounce, so never wire money back to people who send you suspicious bank drafts.

Remain Socially Active

Isolation is one thing that can contribute to a senior’s financial vulnerability, as being cut off from the outside world can make it more difficult for others to detect warning signs. An isolated individual may also feel that they lack the resources and relationships they need to feel financially secure. One of the best safeguards against financial elder abuse is to create a strong support system.

Avoid Joint Bank Accounts

Some seniors might open a joint bank account so that a family member can more easily make payments or withdrawals on their behalf and help manage their finances. But a joint bank account can also serve as an easy way for theft and abuse to occur.

Don’t Give Up Your Home

Particularly when moving into an assisted living facility, an older adult might consider signing over their home to a trusted family member in order to let that person handle the selling of the home. A home can be among a senior’s most valuable assets, however, and it may not be a safe idea to sign the home over to another person, no matter how trustworthy they might be.

Invoke a Power of Attorney

The risk of financial abuse heightens after a person develops a decreased capacity to make independent financial decisions. Invoking a power of attorney can be one proactive way to prepare for the future of one’s wealth and assets. Seniors can consider getting legal advice to help in this process.

Set Up a Revocable Trust

Placing a senior’s assets in a revocable living trust and naming a fiduciary can be one way to protect against outsiders getting access to any of the senior’s assets that are of significant value.

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Common scams used to defraud Older Adults

Medicare & Health Insurance Scams

In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for older adults at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

IRS Impersonation Scams

In this scam, IRS impersonators often accuse victims of owing back taxes that must be paid immediately. After an initial “payment” is made, con artists often convince victims to make additional payments to prevent arrest or other adverse actions.

The IRS Will Never

  • Call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without mailing a bill to the taxpayer.
  • Demand that a taxpayer pay taxes without allowing him or her to question or appeal the amount claimed to be owed.
  • Ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone.
  • Threaten to send local police or other law enforcement to have a taxpayer arrested.
  • Require a taxpayer to use a specific payment method for taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

Grandparent Scams

Scammers will place a call to an older person, and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the grandchild’s name the scammer most sounds like the scammer has established a fake identity without having done any background research. The fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.

Phone Scams & Robocalling

Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people. With no face-to-face interaction and no paper trail, these scams are tough to trace. Once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.

Robocalling is using equipment to mechanically, as opposed to manually, dial phone numbers in sequence.

Do Not Accept Robocalls – Unsolicited robocalls are illegal! Hang up immediately if you receive a pre-recorded sales pitch by phone and report the call to the FTC. Never attempt to opt-out of the call and never give the automated dialer time to forward the call to a live person. Robocall products are often a sham, and spending a lot of time listening could lead to more bogus calls later.

“Can you hear me?”

The scammer will ask, “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” to prompt the recipient to say “yes.” The scammers record the consumer’s voice, and thus obtain a voice signature, and use the recording to authorize unwanted charges on items like utility bills, phone bills, or even stolen credit cards.

You can reduce the number of unwanted sales calls you get by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry. It’s free! Visit donotcall.gov to register your number.

Charity Scams

One common scam involves someone impersonating a charity foundation to collect donations. This fraudulent appeal is especially common following a natural disaster.

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams

A scammer may claim to be associated with a prize or lottery commission. They may tell the victim that they won the lottery or a special prize and that they need to send money to cover the taxes on their winnings.

Email Scams

An email phishing scam can happen when a senior receives an email appearing to be from a legitimate entity such as the IRS requesting them to update or verify their personal information. When the senior reveals their social security number, credit card information, or other sensitive information, the scammer may use it for identity theft.

Forward unwanted or deceptive messages to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov. Be sure to include the complete spam email.

Banking Scams

Banking scams involve attempts to access your bank account. Some popular banking scams include:

  • Overpayment scams: A scam artist sends you a counterfeit check. They tell you to deposit it in your bank account and wire part of the money back to them. Since the check was fake, you’ll have to pay your bank the amount of the check, plus you’ll lose any money you wired.
  • Unsolicited check fraud: A scammer sends you a check for no reason. If you cash it, you may be authorizing the purchase of items or signing up for a loan you didn’t ask for.
  • Automatic withdrawals: A company sets up an automatic debit from your bank account as part of a free trial or to collect lottery winnings.
  • Phishing: You receive an email message that asks you to verify your bank account or debit card number.

Report counterfeit checks to the Federal Trade Commission, either online or by phone at 1-877-382-4357.

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Those urgent emails from MetaMask and PayPal are phishing scams

If you got an email that seems to be from MetaMask or PayPal, stop. They’re phishing scams. The MetaMask fake says your cryptocurrency wallet is blocked. And, if you don’t act fast, click a link, and update your wallet, they say your crypto will be lost. The phony PayPal message says BNC Billing cancelled your payment to Binance — and it gives you a phone number to reach PayPal…except that’s a scam, too. If you get one of the messages, delete it. But what then?

Most unexpected emails saying to act quickly, click a link, or call a number are phishing scams. They may look like they come from companies you know, but they’re from scammers who want you to think the message is real. That way, scammers think you’ll click into a fake website or call an actual scammer — all to solve a fake problem. If you click or call, the scammers will steal your financial or personal information, and that could lead to identity theft.

Here are examples of these fake phishing emails:
To spot and avoid a phishing scam:

Slow down. Ask yourself: Do I have an account with the company? Do I know whoever sent the email? If “no,” it’s a phishing attempt. If “yes,” still check it out. Contact the company using a number or website you know is real. And, if you own a cryptocurrency wallet and have a concern, contact the cryptocurrency exchange that holds your wallet.

Don’t click on any links. Links in unexpected texts or emails could lead to identity theft or let scammers install malware.

Update your security software. This will protect your phone and computer from security threats, which could expose your personal or financial information to scammers.

If you get a phishing email, forward it to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at reportphishing@apwg.org. Then tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

 
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Voice Cloning!  Scammers use AI to enhance their family emergency schemes

Unfortunately, Artificial Intelligence is now being used by scammers. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a family member in distress, be wary. If it sounds like your grandson claiming he just wrecked his car or is in jail, try to take a pause. It could be a scammer.

Scammers can now use a short audio clip of your loved one’s voice, obtained from online content, and a voice-cloning program to mimic their voice. This makes it difficult to differentiate between the real person and the scammer.

To protect yourself, don’t trust the voice on the phone. Instead, try to contact the supposed family member through a known phone number to verify the story. If you can’t get in touch with them, reach out to their friends or other family members. Caller IDs can also be fake, so don’t trust them blindly.

If the scammer discourages you from contacting the family member, try texting them while on the phone. Alternatively, insist on calling them back immediately. Scammers will often ask for money in ways that make it difficult to recover, such as wiring money, sending cryptocurrency, or purchasing gift cards and providing the numbers and PINs. These are red flags and may be signs of a scam.

If you spot a scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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The Contact Lens Rule

The Contact Lens Rule is a regulation issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States that governs the sale of contact lenses to consumers. The rule requires that contact lens prescribers provide patients with a copy of their contact lens prescription, and that contact lens sellers verify the prescription with the prescriber before filling the order.

Under the rule, contact lens prescribers are required to give patients a copy of their contact lens prescription at the end of a fitting, even if the patient does not ask for it. Prescribers are also prohibited from imposing additional conditions, such as requiring patients to purchase contact lenses from a particular seller, in exchange for providing the prescription.

Contact lens sellers, such as online retailers or brick-and-mortar stores, are required to obtain a copy of the patient’s prescription and verify it with the prescriber before selling contact lenses. The seller must also provide the patient with a copy of the prescription, and must not sell lenses that do not meet the specifications of the patient’s prescription.

The Contact Lens Rule is designed to promote competition and consumer choice in the contact lens market, and to ensure that patients have access to the contact lenses that are best for their needs. It also helps to prevent the improper use of contact lenses, which can cause serious eye health problems.

For more information, watch the video below. A full description of The Contact Rules can also be found on the FTC website.  

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Not Enough Baby Formula Means Plenty Of Scammers

Scammers exploiting the high demand for baby formula have sunk to new lows. They’re popping up online and tricking desperate parents and caregivers into paying steep prices for formula that never arrives.

Scammers may set up fake websites or profiles on social media platforms with product images and logos of well-known formula brands — all to make you think you’re buying products from the companies’ official websites.

Before you order from an unfamiliar online store, follow this advice to help avoid a scam and find help:

Check out the company or product by typing its name in a search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” See what other people say about it.

Consider how you pay. Credit cards often give you the strongest protections, so you can sometimes get your money back if you ordered something but didn’t get it. But anyone who demands payment by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency is a scammer.

• Know your rights. When you shop online, sellers are supposed to ship your order within the time stated in their ads, or within 30 days if the ads don’t give a time. If a seller can’t ship within the promised time, it has to give you a revised shipping date, with the chance to either cancel your order for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.

• Search for local resources. Call your pediatrician to see if they have formula in stock. Pediatricians often get samples of different formulas and may be able to help. If you are a participant in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance program, contact your local office to find formula.

If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC and your state agency. Go to ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your reports help the FTC and our law enforcement partners stop scammers.

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Social Security Is Not Trying To Take Your Benefits

We’ve seen a new twist on the Social Security Administration (SSA) scam recently. Scammers are using a robocall, which says your benefits will end. (Which is not true, by the way).

If you get a call like this, DO NOT PRESS 1. Instead, just hang up and remember:

• Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended.
• The real Social Security Administration will never call to threaten your benefits.
• The real SSA will never tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on a gift card.

The Social Security Administration scam is the number one scam reported to the FTC right now. People filed nearly 73,000 reports about Social Security imposters in the first six months of 2019, with reported losses of $17 million. (You can explore the data about imposter scams and losses at ftc.gov/exploredata.)

So if you’re getting these calls, you’re not alone. Tell your friends and neighbors about this scam. Tell them to hang up the phone. And then to report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Twelve Steps To Prevent Fraud

1) Recognize Swindlers at First Contact – Scammers often pose as public servants, distant relatives, non-profit organizations, or representatives from familiar companies when approaching their targets. Verify who you are speaking with before sending someone money or communicating your personal information, especially if the unexpected request originates from text messages, phone calls or emails.

2) Never Send Money To Strangers – Fraudsters likewise pretend to be people in despair or loved ones who require help. These thieves will create fake websites or phony profiles in social media with intent to deceive honest people into sending them money. Don’t be a victim—never send cash to someone you haven’t personally met.

3) Beware of Caller ID – Crooks often use hi-tech gadgets to send fake phone numbers to caller ID equipment; this means the number that pops up on your cell phone may not be real! Hang up on people who ask you for money or for personal information over the phone, even if you recognize the number—you can always call the person back if you believe the request is legit.

4) Google Bizarre Money Requests – Discovering if strange money requests are genuine is easy in today’s internet society. Launch your favorite search engine and simply type in parentheses the business name, product name or name of the person soliciting the cash. Next, include words like “scam,” “fraud” or “fake” and watch what happens. You may also Google unusual incidents such as “fake free iPod text” or perform phone number searches to learn if others fell victim to similar scams.

5) Use Credit Cards and Never Wire Cash – Banks protect credit card purchases from fraud, and they can reverse charges for customers who were victimized. Other payment methods however hold no fraud protection; for instance, cash transactions via Western Union wires or MoneyGram vouchers are irreversible once the receiver withdraws the electronic funds.

6) Be Cautious When Using Gift Cards – Rechargeable gift cards like MoneyPak and Reloadit and gift vouchers such as iTunes Pay or Google Play are likewise non-reimbursable after thieves redeem them. Remember that state officials and legitimate business will never ask you to use gift cards to pay for their products or services.

7) Get Advice Before Sending Cash – Always talk to a trusted friend, family member or a financial adviser before you surrender cash or give someone your personal information if you believe an offer is too good to be true. Thieves get paid when fraud victims make hasty decisions under pressure. Take it easy, investigate the offer, do online searches and talk to someone. If the offer is legitimate, it will be there tomorrow for you to accept.

8) Never Prepay for a Promised Good or Service – Fraudsters often demand their victims pay in advance for services like home repair, credit repair, low interest loan offers, or job placement assistance. Scammers may even claim that you must pay a small fee or prepay taxes to collect prizes you’ve won—just don’t do it; chances are you’ll never see this money again.

9) Do Not Accept Robocalls – Unsolicited robocalls are illegal! Hang up immediately if you receive a pre-recorded sales pitch by phone and report the call to the FTC. Never attempt to opt out of the call and never give the automated dialer time to forward the call to a live person. Robocall products are often a sham and spending a lot of time listening could lead to more bogus calls later.

10) Scrutinize Free Trial Periods – Companies are in business to make money and not to hand out free products or services. Beware of free trial periods that give you something free for a month then bill you every month afterward until you cancel. Examine free trial offers carefully and study the fine print that memorializes the cancellation rules. You should further review your billing statements for unauthorized charges after accepting a free trial offer.

11) Designate a “Trusted Contact” to Monitor Bank and Broker Accounts – Sadly, friends or family of victims commit ninety percent of financial fraud incidents in the US. You can lessen this risk by assigning a bank or broker account “trusted contact” (trusted relative or friend) to act on your behalf whenever financial institutions suspect fraud on your account —doing so will give you a pair of second eyes for monitoring fraud activity.

12) Never Send Money After Depositing Unfamiliar Checks – Bank checks often take weeks to clear and even more time if they’re drawn from overseas financial institutions. American banks may advance you the funds on deposited checks within days, but that does not mean the bank draft isn’t fake—you are legally responsible for repaying the bank when checks bounce, so never wire money back to people who send you suspicious bank drafts.

Read More
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