Scam of the day – June 20, 2018 – Car Wrap Scam

Reports are resurfacing of increased instances of the car wrap scam which has been around for a few years.  We have all seen car wraps, which are advertisements for a company wrapped around a car.  For someone looking for some money in return for very little effort, this may seem like a match made in heaven.  But if you are not careful, it could be a match made in scam hell.

Car wrapping is actually legitimate, which is part of the problem.  Scammers exploit legitimate advertising through car wraps by either putting an ad on the Internet or contacting you through a mass email in which they seek people to have their cars used for advertising through this technique called shrink wrapping.  Unsuspecting victims respond to the advertisement and are sent a check for  more than the amount that the victim is to be paid for the service.  The victim is instructed to deposit the check in his or her bank account and wire the rest back to the company.  This is where the scam comes in.  The check that the scammer sends you is a counterfeit.  However, unfortunately, the money that you wire the scammer comes right out of your bank account and is almost impossible to retrieve.  Recently, in Maine, April Burgess received what she thought was an email from Budweiser recruiting her to wrap her car in their advertising for which she would be paid $400 a week. However, the check she received was for $1,850. She was told to send the $1,450 remainder of the check to the wrap artist. This made her suspicious and led to her being told by her bank that the check was counterfeit in time to keep her from falling for the scam. This scam of sending you a check for more than what you are to be paid and having you wire the balance is the basis of many different scams.

TIPS

While there are legitimate companies that pay for car wrapping. None of them will ever send you an unsolicited email offering to pay you a specific amount to have your car wrapped. In addition, the FTC warns people about being particularly wary of car wrap opportunities that appear on social media and job boards. They are generally scams.

Always be wary if someone asks you to wire money to them as a part of a business transaction.  Scammers do this all the time because it is quick and almost impossible to stop.  In addition, even if you get what appears to be a certified check and wait a few days for the check to clear, you will still be out of luck because it takes weeks for a check to fully clear.  Banks are required by law to give you conditional credit after a few days, which means that ultimately when the check turns out to be counterfeit, the credit is removed from your account and if you have, in turn, made checks or wired funds from you account assuming the check was legitimate, you are out of luck and will have lost your own money.  A check sent to you by someone with whom you are doing business for whatever purpose that is more than the amount you are owed that comes with a request for you to send the overpayment amount back is always a scam.  Don’t fall for it.

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Scam of the day – June 19, 2018 – Critical Microsoft Updates

Constant updating of the software we all use with the latest security patches and updates is a critical part of avoiding scams and identity theft threats.  Whenever new security updates and patches are issued, we provide access to these so that you can update your software to provide better security on your computers, smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices.  Updating your software with the latest security patches and updates as soon as possible is important because identity thieves and scammers are always finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in the software that we all use. Many major data breaches and malware attacks such as the WannaCry malware attack and the data breach at Equifax were due to hackers exploiting vulnerabilities for which security updates had already been issued.  Delay in updating your software could lead to disastrous results.  However, it is also important to be sure that you are downloading legitimate patches and updates rather than being tricked by an identity thief or scammer into downloading malware under the guise of downloading a security patch or update.  The best way to make sure that you are always updating your software in a timely fashion is to have it done automatically.

TIPS

Here are the links to a list of all of the recent security updates as posted by the Department of Homeland Security. The links to important updates of Microsoft Word programs are particularly important. https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/bulletins/SB18-169

Here is a link to Microsoft which describes the steps you need to take to have the latest updates downloaded automatically which is the best thing to do. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/311047/how-to-keep-your-windows-computer-up-to-date

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Scam of the day – June 18, 2018 – Breakthrough in Child Identity Theft Protection

Child identity theft has grown as a problem in recent years. According to a recently released report from Javelin Strategy and Research, a million American children became victims of identity theft last year at a cost of 2.6 billion dollars in total losses to the families. Children have become a prime target of identity thieves who, if they are able to get identifying information on a child, such as the child’s Social Security number, can open a credit report on behalf of the child and obtain credit in the child’s name.  The identity thief never pays back the money accessed through the child’s credit and the child is burdened with a bad credit report that can have a harmful effect on the child when he or she applies for credit, applies for a job, applies for a scholarship or seeks to rent an apartment.  Often the identity theft is not discovered until years after it first happens which makes it more difficult to remedy.  A credit freeze is a tremendous tool for fighting identity theft because it prevents an identity thief who even has your Social Security number from accessing your credit report for purposes of establishing credit in your name. Unfortunately, the credit reporting agencies do not generally permit credit freezes for minors except in the 28 states that have laws permitting parents to put credit freezes on the accounts of their children.

But this is now changing. The new federal law, which I first told you about in the Scam of the day for June 6th, that allows you to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports for free also has a provision for parents or guardians of children under 16 to set up a credit report and then freeze it at no cost. This law goes into effect in September. I will remind you again as the effective date of the law approaches although frankly, the cost of initially putting a credit freeze on your credit reports is small enough such that you should consider doing so before then. Presently the cost is determined by the state in which you live.

TIPS

If you live in one of the states that already has a child identity theft law and have minor children, you should contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion in order to freeze your child’s credit.  In order to take advantage of these laws you need to set up a credit report for your child and immediately freeze the account. And while you are at it, you should also freeze your own credit reports as your best precaution against identity theft. For information about how to put a credit freeze on your own credit reports go to the Search for Scams tab at the top of the Scamicide home page and type in “credit freeze.”  

To get started, it’s best to first understand the laws and fees governing credit freezes in your state. Here is a link to a listing of the all of the state laws.

http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/consumer-report-security-freeze-state-statutes.aspx

To get the maximum protection from identity theft, it is important to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here are links to each of them with instructions about how to get a credit freeze:

https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Once you have frozen your credit, be sure to keep the PIN and information on how to unfreeze your credit report in a safe place.

Parents also should, as much as possible, try to limit the places that have their child’s Social Security number and become familiar with the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act which helps you protect the privacy of your child’s school records and enables you to opt out of information sharing by the school with third parties.  Finally, the security company AllClear ID (www.allclearid.com) provides a free service called ChildScan which not only searches credit records tied to your child’s Social Security number, but also checks employment records, criminal records and medical records to recognize at an early stage if your child has become a victim of identity theft.

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Scam of the day – June 17, 2018 – Grandparent Scams Surging

Reports of the infamous grandparent scam are increasingly coming in from around the country including New York, New Jersey, Florida and Arizona. Many of you are familiar with the grandparent scam where a grandparent receives a telephone call from someone purporting to be their grandchild who has gotten into some trouble, either a traffic accident, legal trouble or medical  problems in a far away place.  The caller pleads for the grandparent to wire some money immediately to help alleviate the problem.  However the caller also begs the grandparent not to tell mom and dad.  One would think that no one would be gullible enough to fall for this scam, but don’t be so hard on the victims of this scam.  Scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, have a knowledge of psychology of which Freud would have been envious and are able to use that knowledge to persuade their victims to send money right away. Often the scammers obtain information from social media accounts of the grandchildren and use that information to make them more believable when they call their victims.

TIPS

Sometimes the scammers do not know the name of their victim’s grandchildren, but often they do.  Sometimes they get this information from perusing obituaries which may name grandchildren by name so merely because the correct name is used in the call is no reason to believe the call.  Don’t respond immediately to such a call without calling the real grandchild on his or her cell phone or call the parents and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.  If a medical problem is the ruse used, you can call the real hospital.  If legal problems are the ruse, you can call the real police.  You can also test the caller with a question that could be answered only by the real grandchild, but make sure that it really is a question that  only the real grandchild could answer and not just anyone who might read the real grandchild’ s Facebook page or other social media.  As I always say, “trust me, you can’t trust anyone.”

Never wire money unless you are absolutely sure about to whom you are wiring the money and it is not a scam.  Once you have wired money, it is gone forever.  Also,  students traveling abroad should register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui.  This program can help with communications in an emergency situation.

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Scam of the day – June 16, 2018 – U.S. Marshals Issue Warning About Phone Scams

The U.S. Marshals along with the FBI have issued a new warning to the public about phone scams in which the scammers call their victims posing as various government agents such as U.S. Marshals, court officers or local law enforcement personnel telling the targeted victims that they have an arrest warrant out for them, have missed jury duty or have committed a crime for which they will be arrested, however, they are also told that they can avoid arrest by paying over the phone through a credit card or prepaid cash card, such as Green Dot cards. Through “spoofing” many scammers manipulate Caller ID to make it appear that the call is actually coming from a legitimate source, which makes the scam more believable, but it is still nothing more than a scam. You will never be called by any law enforcement agency demanding a payment over the phone.

TIPS

You can never be sure when who is really calling you when you receive a phone call so you should never provide personal information to anyone who calls unless you have confirmed that the call is legitimate and it is necessary for you to provide that information. In addition, you will not be called by any law enforcement agency regarding outstanding warrants, missed jury duty or any other reason and asked to make a payment over the phone to avoid arrest by using a credit card, wire transfer or gift card.

Here is a link to the warning of the U.S. Marshals. https://www.usmarshals.gov/news/chron/2018/060118.htm

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Scam of the day – June 15, 2018 – Student Loan Scammers Settle FTC Charges

More than forty-two million Americans have student loans with an outstanding balance of more than 1.4 trillion dollars so it is no surprise that scammers are focusing their attention on these students and former students through scams that falsely promise to provide debt relief.

In October of 2017 the Federal Trade Commission, working with the Attorneys General of eleven states, launched what it cleverly calls, Operation Game of Loans to jointly target these scams.   Some scammers promise dramatic reductions of debt of 50% or more in return for upfront fees of between $500 and $2,500.  Often these scam companies have names that make it appear that they are endorsed by the federal government in order to trick people into trusting them. Such was the case with Strategic Student Solutions, which was one of two student relief companies that have just agreed to settle charges against them by paying millions of dollars and agreeing to be banned from debt relief services permanently. Among the names of companies used by the defendants in these cases were Strategic Credit Solutions, Student Relief Center and the Home Shield Network.

TIPS

The old adage still is true.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.  Many of these student loan debt relief scammers promise quick loan forgiveness, which is unrealistic.  In addition, you should never pay any upfront fees for student loan debt relief assistance.  Those fees are illegal and are a sure indication that you are being scammed.  Also, remember my motto, “trust me, you can’t trust anyone.”  Don’t trust scammers merely because they use names that sound like they are affiliated with the government.

For information you can trust about federal student loan repayment option, go to https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans .  There you can learn about loan deferments, forbearance, repayment and loan forgiveness programs and there is never an application fee.  If you owe private student loans, contact your loan servicer directly.

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Scam of the day – June 14, 2018 – Biggest Credit Reporting Agency You Never Heard Of

In the time since the massive Equifax data breach many consumers have frozen their credit reports at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, which is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself from identity theft. Recently, as a part of a banking deregulation law recently passed by Congress you will be able to freeze your credit for free. Until now, the charges varied from state to state. The new federal law allowing you to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports for free goes into effect in late September. I will remind you again as the effective date of the law approaches although frankly, the cost of initially putting a credit freeze on your credit reports is small enough such that you should consider doing so before then.

For more information about credit freezes check out this article I wrote for the Saturday Evening Post which described credit freezes in detail.

http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2017/08/23/health-and-family/business-and-technology/con-watch-credit-freezes-best-protection-identity-theft.html

However, many people are not aware of the National Consumer Telecommunications and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE) which is the credit reporting agency used by the major phone service companies. More and more scammers are able to open cell phone accounts in the names of their unwary victims who may have actually frozen their credit with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, but not with NCTUE. As for NCTUE, which is actually operated by Equifax, you can freeze your credit report with NCTUE over the phone at 866-349-5355. People trying to freeze their credit report with NCTUE online have experienced difficulties doing so, but it is a relatively simple process to do over the phone.

TIPS

To get started freezing your credit with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion it’s best to first understand the laws and fees governing credit freezes in your state. Here is a link to a listing of the all of the state laws.

http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/consumer-report-security-freeze-state-statutes.aspx

To get the maximum protection from identity theft, it is important to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here are links to each of them with instructions about how to get a credit freeze:

https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Once you have frozen your credit, be sure to keep the PIN and information on how to unfreeze your credit report in a safe place.

And don’t forget to freeze your credit report at NCTUE by phone at 866-349-5355.

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