Recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have issued reports that older adults are being targeted by scammers using the COVID-19 health situation.
It is important for us to be cautious during this time because scams are coming through all forms of communication. Several different types of scams have been reported. Some are using the economic impact payments, others are trying to sell COVID-19 tests and miracle cures. Scammers will continually change their tactics to catch us off guard.
It is vital to remember that the IRS will NOT contact you regarding the economic impact payments. You DO NOT have to do anything in order to receive this payment. The IRS will automatically send these $1,200 payments to older adults who qualify.
The most common scams surrounding coronavirus are:
- Medicare Test Kits: Medicare will NOT call asking if you want test kits. This is an attempt to get your money and/or private information.
- Fake Cures: Currently, there is no cure or vaccine to treat coronavirus. Any claims that suggest otherwise are 100% false.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not go door-to-door gathering information about infectious diseases. If you encounter a person claiming to be from the CDC, contact your local police department.
- The U.S. Census Bureau is suspending in-person census takers until at least April 15th. This means that no legitimate census taker will be going door-to-door.
- Economic Impact Payments: There are reports that people have been receiving phone calls, texts, emails and social media posts about the economic impact payment to citizens during the COVID-19 situation. These are scams trying to get your private information and/or get you to pay a small fee in order to receive it. If you receive a check in the mail, DO NOT DEPOSIT IT. It is a fake. It will take weeks for people to receive a paper check and most will have their funds directly deposited into their banks. The IRS warns taxpayers that scammers might use the following tactics:
- Emphasize the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The official term is economic impact payment.
- Ask the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.
- Ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their economic impact payment.
- Suggest that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted through social media or even in person.
- Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
- Phishing emails: Recently, the Secret Service issued a warning about emails that appear to be sent from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The email contains a link that does NOT connect to the CDC or WHO. It is best to avoid opening emails from senders you do not know.
- Counterfeit products/price gouging: Many consumers have reported false product descriptions and increased prices while shopping online. It is best to read reviews and look into the seller’s history before clicking “buy now”.
- Phony fundraisers: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests researching charities before donating. You can verify nonprofits at GivingMatters.com.
Here are some tips to keep your money and identity safe:
- Scammers rely on fear and fear-based decisions in order to steal your information and money. Don’t be afraid to hang up and call someone for advice.
- If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Research and verify companies and organizations through the Better Business Bureau.
- Knowing about the scams reduces the likelihood of becoming a victim.
- Never share your bank account, routing or social security numbers.
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By the middle of March, we will all begin to receive information on how to complete the 2020 Census. By April 1, nationally referred to as Census Day, every home should have received their notice. You will have three options to respond, online, by phone and by mail.
The U.S. Census Bureau will make appropriate adjustments to their operations to ensure they cover any areas affected by natural disasters.
In May, census takers will begin making their rounds to homes that have not responded to ensure that every person is counted. If you are not home, a census taker will return up to six times, leaving a door tag with a number to call to schedule a return visit.
Census takers MUST show a photo ID that includes a U.S. Department of Commerce Seal and expiration date. It is important to note that questions about immigration status will not be included and census responses are ALWAYS secure, confidential and protected by federal law.
If you ask, the census taker will provide you with either the supervisor’s contact information or the number to the regional census location.
For a list of 2020 U.S. Census questions, visit https://2020census.gov/en/about-questions.html
If you believe you have been scammed, call 1-800-923-8282 to speak with a local Census Bureau representative.
For additional information, please visit https://2020census.gov.
Sources: 2020census.gov, consumer.ftc.gov
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TEXT SCAM ALERT
Last month FedEx issued a statement that scammers were using the company’s name to gather personal information through fake text messages. These texts included bogus links that would ask you to provide your credit card information. FedEx stated that they will never send unsolicited texts or emails to customers. If you receive a text that you believe to be a scam, delete it or you can forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many people also reported receiving similar text messages from Amazon. If you have concerns about your delivery, don’t use the phone number or hyperlink provided in the text. It is important to remember to use caution whenever you receive any form of communication, especially ones that include hyperlinks because they could be downloading malware to your device.
Sources: cnn.com & thehill.com
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As we start a new year, a new decade, here are a couple of concerns that you should keep in mind.
1. Date Abbreviations…Not A Concern
Several recent news sources have suggested that people should avoid abbreviating the year 2020, especially when signing a legal document. When we write the date 1/9/20, for example, someone else can add additional digits like 13, 17, etc., effectively changing the year. However, there have been no reports of any one being scammed in this manner.
2. Social Security Changes
January 1st marked the changes to Social Security’s cost-of-living benefits. Whenever there are large-scale changes, we see scammers creating confusion in order to steal your money or personal details. If you have questions, call Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
3. Medicare Card Questions
All Medicare recipients should have received their new Medicare cards by now. If you have not, call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). The new cards feature a unique alphanumeric identifier. Please keep this number private. Don’t forget, these new cards were/are free and any contact telling you otherwise is a scam.
Resources: AARP Bulletin, Apple News,
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A few months ago, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported receiving complaints from people receiving fake letters supposedly from the IRS. In the past, it was made clear to potential victims of IRS scams that the agency will never call or email regarding debt due. Mail was always the primary form of communication. Scammers have obviously caught on and have starting mailing fake correspondence. In some cases, real tax information has been included in these false letters which makes it harder for you to determine what is real and what is a scam. Keep in mind, some details, like a tax related lien is public record. Don’t allow scammers to frighten you into revealing additional information or paying money.
Here are some ways to spot the differences between a fake and real IRS correspondence:
- The IRS will NEVER threaten to arrest by any form of communication.
- An authentic IRS letter will include their toll-free 800 number. If a phone number is included, don’t call that one. Call IRS at 1-800-829-1040. When using any government website make sure the web address ends in .gov and starts with “https”.
- An IRS envelope will include the seal and legitimate letters will include your partial tax ID number.
- There will be information on how to make a payment and setup payment options. Payment will ALWAYS be made to U.S. Treasury. Asking for banking information over the phone or for gift cards as payment are sure signs that it is a scam.
If you believe you are a victim of an IRS scam, report it to Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online at https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact.shtml.
Sources: Business Insider, Forbes & IRS.gov
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The Better Business Bureau issued a warning notifying citizens that investment scams targeting older adults are increasing. Of course scams like this affect all ages; however, an uptick of complex investment opportunities are being directed at older investors. Some of these scams may include unregistered securities, promissory notes, charitable gift annuities, Ponzi schemes, etc.
Here are some tips for spotting investment scams:
- Don’t trust any claims where there are no risks. ALL investments carry some sort of risk.
- Disregard promises of big money fast. No one can predict how investments will pay out.
- Don’t make an immediate decision. Con artists love applying pressure for on the spot decisions.
- Get everything in writing prior to making any decisions. A legitimate company won’t have a problem with a paper trail.
Take the time to check out investment opportunities with your state’s securities regulator or the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at www.sec.gov or 202-551-6720
Sources: the Union Recorder & greenpath.com
Summer Vacation Safety
At one time, going on vacation meant we could let our guard down and be carefree. Unfortunately, in this technological age, you simply cannot afford to do that. Scammers are everywhere and very good at what they do. The Benjamin Franklin axiom, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” certainly applies. Here are some tips to keep you, your family and identity safe while enjoying your vacation.
- Notify your bank. Traveling out of state or overseas while using your bankcard could cause a fraud alert to appear and suspend your account. A quick phone call would prevent this hassle.
- Be cautious when searching for rental properties on websites like Craigslist. A legitimate rental will not ask for payment via wire transfer.
- Avoid stand-alone ATM’s. Scammers like these because they are able to attach a credit card skimmer with less risk of detection. The same applies for gas stations when paying at the pump. Give the card reader a quick pull. A fake one will not feel secure.
- Stay on guard even in your hotel. If you receive a phone call from the “front desk” asking you to confirm your payment method, hang up. It is scam. If the hotel really has an issue, they will ask you to come to the front desk.
- Stay alert. Identity thieves’ techniques evolve, especially in the technological age but some will always rely on good old-fashioned pickpocketing. Safeguard your wallet, purse and phones.
- Save the social media posts. Wait until you are home to share the photos of your family vacation. You don’t want to announce when your home will be empty.
- Make sure you place a hold on newspaper and mail deliveries. A full mailbox or several newspaper on your porch are sure signs no one is home.
- Only take what you will need. Leave the extra credit/bank cards at home. Do you really need your social security card with you? Birth certificate? If not, leave it at home.
- Take photocopies or a picture of all the information in your wallet, including the front and back photos of your credit/bank cards, I.D., passport, etc. Keep the copies in a safe place, not your wallet or purse. One option is to email the copies to yourself so it will always be available.
- Be wary of free Wi-Fi. Free means open airwaves and everything you do is transmitted over an unsecured connection and makes you vulnerable. Some Wifi connections are fake and are set up by hackers just to steal your information. Always double check with the location to see if it is official.
- Don’t leave expensive or important belongings in the hotel room. Use a safe if one is provided in the room. If not, ask the front desk for another alternative.
- Many credit/bank cards are now equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, which makes stealing your information easier for high-tech scammers. Consider using a RFID blocking wallet, purse or case.
- Most importantly, if anything does happen, act fast. Contact your bank or credit card company as well as the credit reporting bureaus. If your ID is stolen, file a police report immediately. This is necessary for creating a paper trail as well as a timeframe for the theft. If traveling overseas and your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. They can help you with a replacement. You should also call the local police and file a report.
Sources: Lifelock and the Better Business Bureau