Beware Of Holiday Fraud

Find out how you can become more aware of protecting yourself against fraud.

The happiest time of the year also is the most opportune for those who wreak fraud on the rest of us. With people spending more, traveling more and donating more to charities, they are looking for ways to dip into your holiday spending money, warns the Better Business Bureau.

The bureau advises extra caution. Don’t get so caught up in the season’s frenzy that you make yourself vulnerable to the predators. Here are some tips from the experts to help you negotiate the holidays without being victimized:

Online Shopping Issues

Online shopping has become popular because of the convenience, but it also can be the route to fraud if you aren’t careful. The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, warns of the most common ways in which criminals can steal your vital information or relieve you of your cash through fraudulent means. They create phony sites and email messages, intercept insecure transactions and target vulnerable computers.

Verify Good Deals

You can best foil them by using the good sense you apply to shopping year-round. Deal with vendors you are sure you can trust. Don’t be misled into error in your search for a good deal. Be careful of sites that mimic the reputable dealers by offering a brand that is slightly off. Avoid clicking on emails and links from unfamiliar senders. If you find deals that are too fantastic to be real, they probably are not. The most frequent complaints to the National Consumers League involve such come-ons that prove to be dishonest. Popular items such as electronics and clothing tend to be the most frequently offered in fraudulent online “deals.”

Charity Donations

The holidays bring out the generosity in many people. Charities tend to use that fact to reline their coffers. Give, but back your generosity with some solid research. The Federal Trade Commission suggests looking at the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and/or GuideStar before making your donation. Avoid any purported charity that won’t share pertinent information about its identity, mission and costs. Also beware of those that use a name that closely resembles a well-known charity in an attempt to misguide you. Never send cash or wire money. Pay be check made out to the charity or by credit card.

Travel Deals

Travel is an important item on the Christmas lists of many people. Keep the memories pleasant by avoiding hokey come-ons online offering hotel booking sites at a bargain. Stick with those whose reputations are firmly established. Use a good broker or make reservations yourself. Use only licensed taxi or ride services. Protect the details about sky miles and loyalty points as you would any other personal information. Using “free” Wi-Fi spots in the airport may make you vulnerable to exposure of the personal information on your phone, computer or other device.

Email Warnings

Some scammers even use Santa’s good name to do their damage. Be sure that the charming and personalized message you get from the North Pole is legitimate. Take the same precautions with electronic greeting cards. Gift exchanges online are just another variation on the old pyramid schemes and are illegal.

Keep your Christmas merry by thwarting the fraudsters who would make hash of your holidays.

Watch For Fraud At The ATM

Fraudsters take $650 from each person they successfully skim.

Fraudsters take $650 from each person they successfully skim.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that you could transact business at an ATM without worrying about fraud. But the crooks are always on the alert, according to an article in the June AARP Bulletin.

Thieves Focusing On ATMs

In fact, automated teller machines have become a focus for some of those determined to benefit at your cost. The introduction of chip-enabled credit and debit cards has made it tougher for thieves to steal your information at the cash register, so they have turned more attention to the ATMs, experts warn.

Increase In Compromised ATMS

FICO Card Alert Service keeps tabs on three in five debit cards used in the U.S. and they have reported a 500-plus percent increase in the number of ATMs compromised by thieves since 2014. The proliferation of inexpensive skimming technology has been used by fraudsters to fuel the increase.

Card-Reading Devices

On average, fraudsters take $650 from each person they successfully skim, according to the ATM Industry Association. They do it by illegally installing card-reading devices at ATMs, gas pumps and other debit-processing machines located in public places. When you insert your card, their device “skims” the pertinent data from the magnetic strip. A nearby hidden camera records your PIN number. The information is then used to make duplicate cards or sold on the black market.

Skimming Technology Constantly Upgraded

The skimming technology is constantly being upgraded, giving the crooks the advantage, the article reports. Banks can’t react fast enough to stay ahead of such tricks as the “shimmers” that crooks implant inside ATM slots to read your card, or the Bluetooth processes they use to transmit your stolen data to other bad guys.

What to do?

  1. Go inside the bank. They aren’t perfectly immune to fraud, but better than the ATM and are usually protected by cameras. The most susceptible ATMS are at convenience stores and other non-bank locations.
  2. Inspect ATM before using it. Be wary of those with card slots that are different colors than the rest of the machine. If there is unusual-looking equipment on the slot, keypad or overhead, avoid using it. If it is difficult to insert your card, stop the transaction. Newer ATMs have a flashing or steady light at the card slot. If it is obscured, don’t use it.
  3. Put your hand over the keypad when punching PIN numbers.
  4. Keep close tabs on cards. Most banks offer real-time alerts via text message or email if there are suspicious transactions.
  5. Create a separate account, smaller than normal and use it only for debit card transactions. That will cut your losses if you are illegally skimmed.
  6. Lower the limit on daily ATM withdrawals to a reasonable amount, say $100 per day so a crook cannot make multiple withdrawals within a short time.

Be Wary of Fake Debt Scams

Be wary of bill collectors claiming you owe them money.

Be wary of bill collectors claiming you owe them money.

When a thief gets your credit card info and runs up a huge debt, who is responsible for paying? Some scammers are making an art out of trying to get the money from the card holder and there are steps you can take to protect yourself. The elderly are particularly vulnerable since they tend to be less savvy about electronic finance issues.

One unfortunate retirement-age woman found herself being dunned for $8,500 after someone named “David” used her credit information illegally. She received more than 60 calls over a three-week period, often late at night, as she was hassled to pay the debt. The harassment didn’t end until she hired a lawyer.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports that 8,700 similar complaints were filed with the agency over a 15-month period, half from elderly persons who reported unrelenting attempts to collect money they didn’t owe.

In the period from July 2013 to December 2014, the agency received overall 110,000 complaints regarding debt collection. The Federal Trade Commission lists such complaints as its most consistent industry problem.

The debt collectors report they are trying to collect some $756 billion in debt. It isn’t possible to estimate how much of that staggering total involves “false debt” claims. But based on complaints by those 62 and older, there are several identifiable tactics that collectors use to weasel money not owed from the elderly, according to an AARP magazine article. They include:

Common debt collector scams:

Threats to garnish Social Security or veterans’ benefits if the person doesn’t pay the claimed “debt.” CFPB experts say this is not possible. Garnishees from these government sources are only possible for delinquent state or federal debt such as unpaid taxes, student loans or government-backed mortgages. Alimony or child support payments also can be withheld from Social Security payments, but Supplemental Security Income benefits cannot be garnished due to any debt.

Pressure to pay medical bills that supposedly were generated by a late spouse. Widows are the frequent victims of this particular scam, which are purposely imposed on them when they are emotionally frail, just learning to cope with their loss. Or the scammers may make repeated attempts to collect debts that they falsely allege were owed by deceased family members.

Frequently repeated calls, offensive language and threats of public shame are among the scammers’ arsenal to intimidate so-called debtors into paying. The experts stress that persons being subjected to these annoying tactics should not respond under pressure simply to be rid of the annoyance. Verify the debt before even considering payment. Be aware that collectors cannot collect on debt that has expired under statute of limitations provisions. The period ranges from two to 10 years, depending on state laws.

There are instances of mistaken identity in which legitimate collectors simply have their information wrong. In some instances, they are able to collect from the wrong party because those being dunned are reluctant to provide identifying information over the phone for fear of identity theft. But if you think you may have wrongfully paid a debt under such circumstances, contact the CFPB and your state’s attorney general to report your concerns.

To protect yourself against fake collectors, follow these steps:

Ask for specific information about the alleged debt. If the collector fails to respond, you can assume it is a scam. Visit go.usa.gov/Fsge for information about bogus collectors.

Keep close tabs on your credit transactions. You are entitled to three annual free reports from the three major credit reporting firms. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for information on obtaining these reports. Look for unrecognized debt in your name and report discrepancies immediately.

Visit go.usa.gov/FsY3 to get information about alleged debt. Dispute claims that are not correct. You can obtain sample letters from that address that you can use as patterns to report your disputes. Send the information by certified mail and with a “return receipt” to the collector and to the creditor. Copy to the CFPB, the Federal Trade Commission and your state attorney general.

If you are being dunned for alleged credit card debt, insist on written proof, such as statements detailing unpaid charges. If the collector claims medical debt, ask for documents detailing services, dates and names of providers. Cross-check with Medicare and private insurers.

Identity Theft Hits 15 Million U.S. Residents

Identity theft is a more rampant than ever.

15 million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year.

Identity theft hits 15 million residents. It seems that no matter what steps people take today to protect their identity against fraud, those who do the fraud have a quick way to get around them.

Jean Chatsky, an American financial journalist, author and motivational speaker, has made a list of the most recent methods identity thieves use to deprive you of your identity. Read them and then act accordingly to be sure you aren’t the next victim.

Approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year with financial losses totaling upwards of $50 billion.

Identity Theft Through E-Mail

The conman sends you a message saying it is from a retailer, the U.S. Postal Service or other common deliverer regarding a package that can’t be delivered. The message includes a fake email address that you are supposed to use to resolve the problem. It asks for details about your identity. Or it may ask you to fill out a form and take it to your post office. That download may install malware onto your computer that feeds more information to the bad guys.

Email Attachments

Never click on a link or attachment you receive in an email unless you know the sender. If, in fact, you have a delivery that couldn’t be made, you will receive written notice on your door or in the mailbox from the sender. Contact the shipper.

Smishing

Smishing is a new coined word that is first cousin to phishing. But instead of trying to get you to take their bait via email, the fraudsters use text messages. Usually it involves a message about a great deal, a deep discount. To take advantage of the “bargain,” you divulge your personal information, and set your self up to become a victim. Don’t pay attention to any text from someone you are not familiar with. Legitimate deals come directly from the company. Sometimes they come as a text, but you have to sign up to receive them.

Social Media Messages

The crooks pay attention to your social media messages to figure out how to steal your identity. If you post on Facebook or Twitter that you just had a great experience at a restaurant or retailer, they may call, text or email you pretending to be from the business with whom you were pleased. They may tell you your credit card didn’t go through and ask for the information. Then they have the means to set up a false account in your name. Bye-bye security.

Bogus Charities

Using fake addresses and websites to appeal to you to support a “good cause,” they weasel pertinent information from you. These scams often follow a highly-publicized disaster to take advantage or your empathy for those who have been negatively affected. Hurricane Katrina spawned thousands of fake “charities.” If you want to support good works, give via well-known and reputable websites. Or write a check. If you are solicited by email or text, never click on a link. Consider making your donation to a large, well-recognized entity such as Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or others that you know to be bona fide organizations.

The people who would use electronics means to cheat you make it a full-time job. Stay informed so you’re always a step ahead of them.

Watch Bank Statements For Fuel Fraud

Watch your bank statements to make sure there are no fraudulent charges.

Watch your bank statements to make sure there are no fraudulent charges.

The price of gasoline is lower than it has been for a while. Still, nobody wants to pay for gas someone else pumped into their vehicle and charged on your debit card. It happens more frequently than you’d think. In some areas of Florida it has become epidemic.

How does it happen and how do you avoid it? First and foremost, check bank statements regularly to spot any unexplained charges.

Suspicious charges on your card for gas tend to be in large amounts, often higher than the amount you could possibly put in your vehicle. In the industry, they call the unlawful activity “skimmer tampering.”

Thieves can get your card number in several ways, according to an industry spokesperson. They are skillful and inventive in lifting your numbers and putting them on a new card, she said. They use them frequently in gas stations or convenience stores. Often, they will purchase large amounts of diesel fuel that they can quickly unload for cash.

How to protect yourself? Check your bank statement weekly, watching for anything that seems unusual or out of place. A charge made in a neighborhood or at a gas station you don’t frequent or in an amount that is unusual is a dead give-away.

Stop using the card and alert the vendor immediately.