The more things change, the more they stay the same. As such we probably just have to accept the fact that people are always going to try to scam each other. As technology evolves, the methods will change, but no matter where you are or when you live, you always need to be on the lookout for scams.
Here are a few of the most popular scams going today.
This was big last year and will continue to be popular for as long as it works. The set-up is simple: someone calls “from the IRS” and claims that you owe back taxes. They then attempt to strong-arm you into making a payment over the phone.
The trick is that your caller ID may even show that the call is coming from the “IRS”. It’s important to keep in mind that caller ID information can be manipulated, so never accept that as evidence.
Also, the IRS won’t call you for back taxes. They will always initiate contact via mail.
If someone tells you that you owe taxes and you aren’t sure if it’s true, hang up and call the IRS directly yourself using the phone number listed on their official website IRS.gov.
Federal debt collectors
There’s a provision in the most recent budget bill that allows collection efforts on government debts using auto-dialers. This is key because previous to this bill passing, agents could not attempt to collect government debts (including federal student loans and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae mortgages) over the phone.
So where you could once say that anyone calling about a delinquent student loan or federally-backed mortgage was a scam, that’s no longer true. This opens a new door for scammers, who have already begun calling on delinquent government debts and demanding payment.
To protect yourself, always use the contact and payment information included on your billing statements to verify the status of your loans and make any payment. As a rule of thumb, never make a payment over the phone to anyone who calls you unsolicited.
This scam comes in a number of different shapes and sizes. It can be used to scam job seekers, people with rooms to rent, and anyone attempting to make a person-to-person transaction online. The set-up will change depending on the circumstances, but the heart of the scam is that someone sends you a check, asks you to cash it into your personal account, and then asks you to send a portion of the funds either back to the sender or on to a third party.
The trouble here is that the funds will very often show up in your account, making everything seem legitimate. This is because it takes time for the bank to verify that the funds are actually there in the other bank. By law, banks can only hold funds for so long, so even if they haven’t yet been able to verify that the funds are available, they’ll place the money into your account. By the time you’ve withdrawn that money and sent it off the bank is finally able to verify the check and…no, there was no money in that other account. So now you’re on the hook for all that money you just sent to a stranger.
If anyone ever asks you to cash a check and forward funds on their behalf, it’s almost certainly a scam.
Support your candidate
It’s an election year and you better believe scammers are going to use that to their advantage. In this case, the scam is an unsolicited phone call from the campaign of a major candidate. Usually it involves an invitation to attend some variety of virtual town hall meeting where you’ll hear comments from someone who sounds very much like the candidate in question.
Of course they aren’t the candidate and the call isn’t from their campaign. Eventually you’ll be given the opportunity to make a donation over the phone and that’s where the scam infiltrates your bank account.
Do not provide sensitive personal information over the phone, especially when you have no way of verifying the legitimacy of the person on the other end of the line.
Fake cry for help
You may not have a lot of sympathy for your everyday down-on-his-luck Nigerian prince in need of a helping hand, but what if that call for help comes from a family member? There are a lot of ways scammers can set this up. They can hack your email account and send a plea for help to everyone in your address book. They can also swipe information from your publicly available social media profiles, create a new profile with your photos and details, then send new requests to your friends and family saying that your account was disabled so you had to create a new one.
It’s sort of rotten to have to advise you to be cautious of requests from friends and family, but it’s a good idea to follow-up on any request for help by reaching out through a different contact method (if you’ve got their number try giving them a call). You can also try asking a personal question (something that wouldn’t be known simply through scanning someone’s social profiles). You don’t need to be paranoid, but you should be vigilant.