File Under “Things That Were Just a Matter of Time.” New scams using Affordable Care Act to harvest personal information.

August 23, 2013

Okay, so if you live in these United States, you may have heard of a controversial little thing called the Affordable Care Act.

Yeah, okay, before you head to the bottom of the page to sound off, I’ve already turned comments off for this post. I’m not here to express my opinion of the legislation, and I’m not fielding others’, either. Our opinions are irrelevant for the moment. Besides, certain post topics generate TONS of bot-generated spam comments, and I have a hunch this might be one of them (you should’ve seen how many came in when I wrote about Açaí berry scams a few years ago…it was seriously ridiculous).

Here’s all we need to know, and it’s pretty easy to agree upon: The Affordable Care Act is a Thing That Exists. (That’s only a matter of opinion if you’re into really fabric-of-universe-level philosophical discussions.)

And, as a Thing That Exists, it was only a matter of time before someone started up a scam based upon it.

Lo and behold, the FTC is reporting exactly that. Scammers are calling potential victims to “verify” information. For example, “So I see here that your routing number is __________, is that correct? Okay, good, so now we just need your account number…”

Here’s the deal with the Affordable Care Act: if you’re one of the people who is going to need to use the exchanges to obtain insurance, you’re going to be the one contacting them. According to the FTC report, “If someone who claims to be from the government calls and asks for your personal information, hang up. It’s a scam. The government and legitimate organizations you do business with already have the information they need and will not ask you for it.”

That sums it up pretty nicely, both in this specific instance and as a general rule.


Make 2013 the year you take action against scams that target seniors

January 25, 2013

I know, you already made your New Year resolutions several weeks ago.

But I also know that you’re probably already using the treadmill as a clothes rack again, too, so it’s time to make some more.

This year, I am challenging you to take action against scams and identity theft that target older people.

Every year, seniors lose millions to scams that target them because crooks make certain assumptions:

  1. They’re wealthy
  2. They’re gullible
  3. They live alone
  4. They won’t tell anyone

And all too often, seniors who are victims of scams don’t tell their families, out of fear or shame. Too often, they do live without regular contact from their loved ones. That’s why it’s important to join in the fight against fraud.

Maybe it’s your parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles. Maybe it’s just a neighbor. Whoever you know, whoever you care about, talk to them. Tell them about the scams that target seniors—utility scams, the grandchild-in-jeopardy scam, the 419 scams, the phony investments (Iraqi Dinars), the fake sweepstakes calls, the work-at-home cons. You can find out more about these on this very site, and all over the Internet.

Visit more often this year. Have dinner together. Talk to them about life in general. Did they mention phone calls or letters that sound suspicious? You don’t have to pry or cajole—you don’t need to know every detail of their bank account, or try to convince them to add you as an authorized signer in most cases. But you need to talk more, be together more.

It’s important for other reasons, too, you know.

Can we all do that this year?


“Does this fit with the way the world works?”

June 21, 2012

I saw a video the other day that featured Michael Shermer, editor-in-chief of  Skeptic magazine, talking about questions you can use to evaluate claims when it comes to science vs. pseudo-science. With a nod to physicist Carl Sagan, he referred to the method as a “Baloney Detection Kit.”

The fourth question in the Kit was:

Does this fit with the way the world works?

In other words, does the claim being made jibe with how reality tends to operate across a variety of situations?

What an excellent question to keep in mind when it comes to avoiding scams.

As I perused my Google Alerts for the latest news items about different types of fraud, I found that a lot of them could be avoided by simply asking that very question before acting. Here are some examples:

From Connecticut: Scam Targets Payday Loan Borrowers

In this scheme, a caller claims to be collecting on a delinquent loan, and tells the victim they will be arrested unless they make a payment over the phone right away. Is this how the world works?

Not even close. First, lenders don’t have the authority to decide if you’ll be arrested or not. The police in the U.S. are not employed by private financial institutions. Sure, if you commit loan fraud, they can contact authorities, but being delinquent doesn’t usually fall under that umbrella. Debtors prisons went out quite a while ago in this country. Second, whatever the circumstance, they don’t call you and tell you about an impending arrest in advance. You generally only get to know about it two seconds before it happens.

From Arizona: New Scam Claims that President Obama will pay Consumers Utility Bills

So the President’s gonna pay your light bill for you, huh?

Just like Reagan and Nixon and Kennedy all did, huh?

And he’ll be over tonight at six for dinner, with a marble rye and Trivial Pursuit, right?

Folks, this is not how the world operates. Presidents don’t pay your utility bills. In most cases, that one’s all on you. Don’t fall for it. They want you to surrender information so they can commit identity theft.

From Everywhere: The Exiled Nigerian Prince Scam

I won’t go into details about these scams, since most of you probably already know about them (here’s an old article if you don’t), but suffice it to say they fail the “is this how the world operates?” question with flying colors. Rich people don’t just give massive amounts of money away to random strangers. It would be nice if they did, but wishing something were true doesn’t usually do much to change the facts.

From Everywhere Again: Secret Shopper Scams

Offers for jobs that pay lots of money for minute amounts of unskilled work don’t appear out of nowhere in your email inbox. People who make $150 for an hour’s worth of work have advanced knowledge, skills or education to make their time that valuable. Cashing a check then wiring the money to someone doesn’t meet those requirements. Also, finding a job usually requires you to take the initiative first.

From South Carolina: Charleston police warn elderly against ‘found money’ scam

I suppose it’s possible that someone could find a wallet or briefcase that contained a large sum of cash. It still seems more like something that would happen in a movie than real life, but wallets exist, cash exists, and people who lose things exist. There’s no physical barrier to someone finding a vessel of some sort, bursting at the seams with cabbage.

However, upon finding such an object, there is generally a binary, either-or course of action that will follow, depending on the person who found it:

Honest Person: they’ll call the police and turn it in.
Dishonest Person: they’ll keep it all and run away.

There’s really not a whole lot of variation here. That’s just how the world works.

What won’t happen is that an honest person will find the cash, then offer to split it with a random stranger. Their concern will be for the owner of the money, or for helping solve a crime (because, let’s face it, big wads of discarded money have a distinctly criminal aroma about them).

What also won’t happen is that a dishonest person will find cash, then offer to split it with a random stranger. Their concern will be for their own gains and their own gains only.

Neither of those fit with how the world works, so if anyone in a parking lot ever tells you they found a big stash of money, don’t believe a word they say. That cash is a decoy, and they’re trying to get you to part with a chunk of “good faith money.” Politely decline, get a description, go somewhere safe, and rat ‘em out. You just might save someone else from becoming a victim.


Yet another $1,000 Walmart Gift Card scam

March 22, 2012

I’ve already covered how you’re not getting a $1,000 Walmart Gift Card just for liking a page on Facebook.

Now there’s a text message version of the scam that directs victims to a website that asks for personal information.

At this point, I think we can call out a general identity theft and scam prevention tip, one you can keep in the back of your mind for all time:

You’re probably never going to get a free $1,000 Walmart gift card, ever.

Read that, then read it again. Remember it for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter which communication channel the alleged offer shows up through, it’s a scam.

Facebook or Twitter? Scam.

Email? Scam.

Text message? Same deal.

Phone call? You guessed it.

Pony Express? Scam, but you’d have to admire their dedication, if nothing else.

I suppose there might be a scenario in which you could win a gift card, such as a raffle at your church or other reputable organization. But you have to actively enter to be eligible for those. People don’t just contact you out of the blue to give away massive gift cards. It would be nice if they did, but wishing something is true does nothing to alter the cold, hard facts.


App Store Scam targets iPhone and iPad users

May 27, 2011

If you’re an Apple iPhone or iPad user, be on the lookout for a recently discovered phishing scam, reported by security firm F-Secure.

It seems users of these devices are receiving emails informing them that their recent App Store purchase has been successfully cancelled. There is a link for order information, but it actually takes users to one of those pharmacy websites where they try to mine personal information.

The above linked article tells you more about it, and they make an excellent point: while the emails currently direct you to a drugstore site, which most savvy Internet users will reject right away, what if they decide to build an App Store lookalike page? Lots more people will be tricked.

There was one part of that made me laugh, though:

[T]he phony Apple AppStore message appears in email inboxes immediately after you purchase an app from Apple’s legitimate App Store. F-Secure is not sure how the scammers know you just bought something from the App Store.

Oh, I can tell you right now how they know you just made an App Store purchase: people who have iPhones and iPad always just made an App Store purchase. Do you have one of these devices? You’ve been to the App Store today, haven’t you? Come on, admit it!

Maybe I’m just jealous of your neat-o phone. Or maybe I’m not. I’ll never tell. Welcome to the Fraud Prevention Unit: your source for ambiguous digs at vast swathes of popular culture.


Email links: perhaps I’ve been too alarmist

April 15, 2011

I have mixed feeling about something I heard about at the credit union recently. It seems that some of our members have taken my advice about links in email messages deeply to heart, to the point that they’re afraid to click a link in any message (even an expected, monthly newsletter from us!).

On one hand, I’m thrilled that some people are listening and learning. The vast majority of the traffic for this site comes from search engines (an unintended result; the original idea was to specifically reach people in our geographic area), so it’s good to know that local folks are getting hip to the fraud prevention tip as well.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m fomenting paranoia and fear with all the dire warnings.

Here’s the deal: if you’re getting a regular email communiqué, such as a monthly electronic newsletter, from a trusted source, it’s okay to use the links contained therein. No scammer is going to go through the trouble of creating a monthly newsletter, with constantly-changing articles about the latest promotions and happenings at a financial institution, and place low-pressure, soft-sell links at the bottom of the page (which is exactly what REGIONAL sends out during the first week of each month).

What you want to be wary of is those unexpected messages that try to jolt you into acting without thinking; “YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN SUSPENDED!” screams the message. “CLICK HERE TO VERIFY YOUR ACCOUNT!”

That’s the stuff you need to avoid—the unexpected, urgent-sounding message that addresses you as “Dear Customer” or “Dead Cardholder” or that contains poor spelling and/or grammar, and that instructs you to verify your personal information. If you’ve got an account at a bank, credit union or creditor, they already have your personal information. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t have an account.


Ten Tips for an Identity Theft-Free 2011

December 17, 2010
Modern Social Security card.

Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t been able to do much posting lately. They moved us to a different office here at the credit union, and it’s been a little nuts. However, everything is finally settling down, so I thought it might be good to do a little “top ten” sort of thing. Let’s start with what NOT to do:

1. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails

If you get an email that looks like it’s from a bank, credit card company, PayPal or other financial service, think before you click any links. Are they saying your account or card has been deactivated, and they need you to login to “verify” your personal information? That’s a common scam called phishing. The link will take you to a rogue website that may look like a real login page, but is designed to hand over your account and personal information to thieves.

2. Don’t give out your information to just anyone

You need to provide your personal information when you’re applying for a job, applying for a loan or opening a new financial account. If someone else is asking for your information, find out why before you even consider handing it over. And never give your information out to a person who calls you on the telephone, no matter who they claim to be, which brings us to…

3. Don’t implicitly trust Caller ID

With modern digital phone services, Caller ID can be manipulated to say just about anything. If they’re calling you and asking for nonpublic personal information, you could be looking at a scam.

4. Don’t carry your Social Security card with you

Look in your wallet or purse right now. Is your Social Security card in there? Get it out and put it in a lockbox or other secure location right now. If you get robbed, it’s bad enough that a thief has your cash and credit cards—do you need to hand them your identity as well?

5. Don’t leave personal information unsecured

In a quarter of identity theft cases, the victims know the person who stole their identity. Don’t leave personal information lying around, at home or at work.

Now, we all know that being reactive is only part of the equation; you have to be proactive as well. Here are some things TO do:

6. Buy a small paper shredder

With all the attention given to high-tech forms of identity theft, it’s easy to forget that a lot of it begins with dumpster diving and trash picking. A small shredder costs under $25. Not having one could cost you thousands.

7. Get a credit freeze

If you’re an Indiana resident, you have the right to place a credit freeze on your credit reports. This makes it impossible for a theif to open new accounts in your name even if they have all your information. More information is at www.in.gov/attorneygeneral/2411.htm.

8. Check your credit report

Ignore the commercials with the silly songs. You don’t really need your credit score or to enroll in any high-priced credit monitoring services. What you do need is to check your credit report at each of the three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Go to annualcreditreport.com and follow the instructions. Since the reports should all have the same information, it’s a good idea to stagger them—get TransUnion in January, Experian in May and Equifax in September, for example. Report any errors immediately.

9. Install virus protection on your computer

Norton, Kaspersky, McAfee: they’re all good, so pick one and use it. They cost money to buy, and you will have to pay annually to keep your software updated. I know, money doesn’t grow on trees, but spyware, viruses and keyloggers apparently do—you can’t afford not to have up-to-date virus protection software.

10. Educate yourself

Pay attention to news articles about fraud and identity theft. If you’ve got a question about something, research it online. Sign up for email alerts from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. And, naturally, keep checking right here for news, tips and other fraud prevention goodies. Have a secure and happy New Year.


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