Tax Scams to Look Out For This April 15th.

Tax Scams to Look Out For This April 15th.

A fool and his money are soon parted.

We’re definitely in the middle of tax time here in America, and most people are stressing about one of two things: how much they’re going to have to pay to Uncle Sam or how much he’s going to be giving back. No matter which camp you’re in, it’s always stressful to have to do a financial recap of your whole year while juggling receipts, donation stubs, and all the other joys of tax preparation.

The last thing you want (or need) during tax time is to be hit with some kind of tax scam. You know what I’m talking about; you’ve probably heard your local news mention something about it in a blurb between stories.

I could probably give you a whole slew of advice on how to avoid tax scams like we did last year with our blog post about “IRS tax and refund scams“, but I’m going to be distilling it even further this year and only give you two. The number of tips may seem a little thin, but you’ll see that these two scams account for the majority of all phishing/etc. attempts at tax time.

  • Email scams:

    These are rising in popularity across the board with scammers. Email is so cheap and easy to spread that they can send out millions with the push of a button. Be smart: know who the sender of an email is, and be careful about clicking on any links from emails. It’s not too difficult to create a convincing looking email. My suggestion is that if an email looks legit, trust but verify; Contact the agency that contacts you. And if it is a scam, report it to the IRS.

  • Website scams:

    These should be easier to discern because if the domain name doesn’t end with “” (or at the very least the “.gov” part, since only government agencies can register those domains), then it’s very likely a scam. The IRS and other government offices may direct you to a .com website for informational purposes, but never for anything important wherein you’d be requested to enter personal information. Be sure let the IRS know if you find a possible scam site by reporting tax scam web sites to them.

As a general rule of thumb, the IRS won’t contact taxpayers individually via unsolicited email. And more importantly, they aren’t going to be asking for your Social Security Number, your PIN numbers, or any other sort of personal financial information in said email.

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Holiday Scams for 2010

Holiday Scams for 2010

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… so they say. Right about now holiday scammers are ramping up their ho-ho-horrible trade and preying on unsuspecting folks who are trying to spread a little cheer to family, friends, and those in need.

Be on the lookout for people who are trying to take advantage of your generosity and your pocket book and you’ll be spending the holidays with friends and loved ones instead of on the phone with your bank or credit card company, trying to reverse the damage done by an online crook.

Here’s a sampling of some of the holiday scams you’ll find this year:

  • Gift Card Scams:

    There are all kinds of gift card scams, so your best bet is to actually buy gift cards from the actual store you get the card from versus buying them from eBay or off the guy on the sidewalk selling a (fake) $100 gift card for only $50. (Yes, that happens)

  • Charity Scams:

    This time of year is a traditionally popular time to give to charity, but no matter if you receive a phone call, an email, or a person knocking on your door, make sure they’re actually from the charity they claim to be. When in doubt, contact the charity yourself and give that way.

  • Name a Star Scams:

    My mom actually fell for this one. It was a sweet sentiment, getting our kids a “star” they can name, but the honest truth of the matter is that stars are only officially named, and recognized, by the International Astronomical Union, and they don’t commercially offer star names up to buy.

  • Wire Transfer Scams:

    One of the quickest ways to remove money from your bank account and get nothing back is through a wire transfer; especially if doing one overseas. Auction sites are especially notorious for these kinds of scams, so keep your money and don’t agree to a wire transfer, even if you did find that awesome toy from your younger days on eBay, still in the original package.

So with that, I hope you have a merry little Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or whatever you celebrate. Just make sure you do it safely both offline and online!

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Avoiding Nigerian Scam Emails

Avoiding Nigerian Scam Emails

“There’s a sucker born every minute.”

– P.T. Barnum (Attributed)

What is the Nigerian Email Scam?

I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of the Nigerian email scams that are still being emailed out to millions of people every year and claiming new victims. These scams continue to bilk innocent people out of their money and more, even though the basic scam itself has been around for hundreds of years.

These emails are a typical example of how fraud and various scams are easily disseminated among a large group of people. The Internet is a great distribution method for crooks who want to attempt this scam since emails are cheap and getting millions of email addresses to send their letters to is relatively easy.

What Are the Basics of This Scam?

The Nigerian scam emails are a variation on the old “Spanish Prisoner” con and they’re sometimes referred to as “Advanced Fee Fraud” or a “419 scam” (based on the article in the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud). No matter what name is used, the modern variant of these scams go roughly like this:

  • A Wealthy Foreign Patron

    A rich person from another country, or possibly a representative for said person, contacts you, generally via email (though fax and snail mail aren’t unheard of). Regardless of who contacts you, it’s actually a con artist and not a rich person or their rep.

    • NOTE Although are normally referred to as “Nigerian scam emails”, these emails can technically come from any foreign country.
  • A Large Sum of Money (Trapped)

    The rich person/con artist claims they’re trying to invest their money, or maybe just trying to get it out of the country (often due to political upheaval or pressure), but needs an external bank account to transfer it all to safely. That’s where you come into the equation.

  • The Deal

    In exchange for transferring a large sum of money and “helping” the con artist, you are guaranteed a percentage of the transaction. This is normally a large enough percentage that it’d be like winning the Lottery.

  • A Problem Arises

    If you should be so… unfortunate… as to accept the offer, you’ll no doubt be contacted and told that there is some kind of problem: Some official needs to be bribed, perhaps a transfer fee is needed, new or underestimated attorney fees, or something along those lines. The con will ask you to front a certain amount of money to take care of the problem and will assure you that you’ll either be compensated at the end of the transaction or that the amount you’re getting in exchange for the deal once it all goes down will overshadow the “small” amount of money you’re asked to put up.

    This is the part where they try to part you from your money.

  • Goodbye Money

    After you’ve fronted the money for the problems that arise, you’ll very likely be told of more problems that require additional money to be transferred until you’re either tapped out of money or the con artists decide to move on. Either way, you end up the loser in this con game.

Who Are Typical Victims of This Scam?

Unfortunately confidence scam victims come from all walks of life. Rich, poor, old, young… who you are and where you come from doesn’t matter to a Nigerian email scam artist. Out of the millions of emails they’ll send, they only need a handful of marks (e.g. victims) to make their email scam a success; the FBI estimates that millions of dollars are lost every year to these Nigerian/419 scams. They’ll take whomever they can get.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The first rule of Don’t Get Scammed Club is… use common sense. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Secondly, always be wary of any email, IM, or other communication from a stranger that involves money or personally identifiable information. If you think that you, or someone else you know, is currently being targeted by a Nigerian scam email proposition here in the US, contact the FBI or the Secret Service.

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6 Must-Do Tips for Avoiding Credit Card Scams

6 Must-Do Tips for Avoiding Credit Card Scams

When times get tough, the crooks start coming out of the woodwork. The last thing you need is to be hit by a Visa, Mastercard, etc. credit card scam when you’re already having a hard time making ends meet. With the current world economy, scammers are stepping up their game so you’ve got to be aware of what they’re up to and keep your credit, your money, and your identity safe.

There are probably a million ways to keep from being the victim of a credit card scam or fraud attempt, but the following six habits (and these are good habits to have) will go a long way in protecting you from Visa scams, Mastercard maliciousness, and Amex anomalies.

  1. Trust but Verify:

    If you receive a phone call from your credit card company, make sure you’re actually talking to your credit card company. Cardholders are increasingly reporting calls from “representatives” who sound official (even going so far as to present “badge numbers” and other official-sounding information) but end up being scam artists. If someone calls your home claiming to be from your card company, politely hang up and call the number on the back of the card itself and verify. At that point you’ve made sure you’re talking to a real credit card company rep and can address any issue they called about in the first place.

  2. Review Your Credit Card Statements:

    This is a no-brainer, right? I don’t even know why I mentioned this because you keep monthly tabs on your credit card activity, looking for odd charges, inconsistencies, and anything else unfamiliar. Reviewing your credit card statement may be the only indication you have that something’s wrong, so do it every time.

  3. Keep Your Card Hidden:

    At restaurants, the grocery store, or anywhere that a stranger might see your card, be sure to keep it under wraps. Visa debit card scammers (and other cards, too) have been known to sneak into legitimate businesses and install cameras to pick up either your card number or your PIN number. Keep them covered as much as possible. And don’t forget to be sure that, at a restaurant, your server actually picks up the “Merchant Copy” of your bill. Many places, but restaurants especially, print out the card number on the signed receipt.

  4. Use a Secure Site (https):

    We’ve already discussed how to spot a fake website, but now you’ve also got to tie that into the first item in our post “5 Simple Tips to Staying Secure Online“. The basic gist is this: When you’re submitting sensitive information, be sure to look in the address bar to make sure you’re on a secure, or “https” site.

  5. Keep One Card for Online Purchases:

    Using one credit card for online purchases will not only help keep your transactions easy to account for (“Honey, why did you put that flat screen TV on the Visa at Amazon?”), but it will also help reduce the hassle you’ll have if/when your card info gets stolen.

  6. Shred Old Credit Cards & Statements:

    It’s not enough to just toss out old cards and to put your old card statements in the recycling bin. Invest in a shredder, preferably a cross-cut shredder. They’re relatively inexpensive, safe, and easy to operate. And as an added bonus, they make it darn near impossible for crooks to get/read your credit card statements.

Keeping yourself free from the headache of identity theft, stolen credit cards, and unwanted purchases is your job. Sure, your card company may have monitoring in place, but only you truly care about the security of your account, so get proactive and learn to protect yourself from credit card scams.

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How to Avoid Craigslist Scams

How to Avoid Craigslist Scams

Gently used clothing, bartered services, even free books and bicycles… these are all commonly found deals you can luck into on Craigslist, one of the worlds most popular (mostly) free online sites for classified ads. But just like with any other popular website, the unscrupulous use Craigslist to scam folks looking for a great deal.

With all of the items and services being sold, bought, bartered, or advertised, there’s a lot of temptation for an e-crook to use Craigslist to scam people out of their hard earned cash. Luckily avoiding Craigslist scams mostly falls under common sense, but there are plenty of tricky grifters out there, so watch out!

To help you avoid scams on Craigslist, we’ve written down some of the commonly used tactics used by alert buyers and sellers to avoid hassles with scams. Hopefully these tips will help you avoid a big headache, too.

  • Meet Face To Face:

    Keeping things in the real world vs. on the Internet of via snail mail will help make sure that you actually get what you paid for. And this tip leads us to…

  • Locals Only:

    Only buy/sell from/to someone who is close enough to you that you could arrange to meet in a public place. Choose someplace like the parking lot of a grocery store or a department store, and only meet during the daytime. There’s no sense in letting a stranger know where you live and into your house just to save a buck on gas.

  • Cash Only:

    If you’re selling something, make sure to ask for cash only. Wire transfers and checks can be faked, but cash in hand is much harder to scam with.

  • Avoid 3rd Party Services:

    Many online escrow services are well-known to be run by scammers, so keep things nice and simple. If you’re dealing with someone who insists on using an online escrow service, save yourself the hassle of a headache and look for a new person to deal with.

For more details on Craigslist scams, check out the official word from Craigslist on their “about scams” page.

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The Most Dangerous Threat to Your (Internet) Security.

The Most Dangerous Threat to Your (Internet) Security.

There’s a threat lurking on your computer right now. A presence so fraught with security holes that to expose it to any malicious element on the Internet would likely result in things such as identity theft, spyware, hacked accounts, and worse. What’s this problem? The problem, my friend, is you.

“Only amateurs attack machines; professionals target people.” Bruce Schneier (computer security expert)

So you’re a danger to yourself and others around you when it comes to Internet security… don’t feel bad. We’re all guilty of it. As humans, we’re notoriously good at being bad: we forget to pick up the milk even though our significant other reminded us, we skip a meal and eat way too much later that night, and we certainly get complacent when it comes to Internet security. And that last thing, that’s what we’re talking about. You can deal with your SO and your doctor on those first two. 🙂

We’ve talked about social engineering before, which is an easy way for hackers and phishers to get information out of you. Instead of breaking into your computer they attempt to break into you, using emails, instant messages, and in some cases even phones or talking to you in real life (both of which are much more rare, but still possible). Once they have gained your trust they begin to break down walls and get at what they really want: your sensitive information. Passwords, account numbers, access codes… anything they can get their hands on that might prove valuable.

In order to stop these people from breaking into your life, you have to train yourself to jog your brain out of complacency when it comes to Internet security. Three of the easiest ways to lock out the bad guys are:

  1. Strong passwords:

    Maybe we’re sounding like a broken record here, but a good password is one of the easiest, and best, deterrents to attacks ranging from account privacy to identity theft. Build yourself a better password.

  2. Trust but verify:

    We’re not suggesting that you live your Internet life in a bubble, just use the same precautions you’d use in the real world. Use some of the tips we wrote in our blog post “5 Simple Tips to Staying Secure Online” and that should cover your bases.

  3. Lock down accounts:

    Your privacy is one of your most important assets online. For every service you use, from your bank to Facebook, make sure that you understand how their security and privacy policies affect you and lock down information such as your physical address and home phone number so that only people you want contacting you can do so.

Reducing the amount of information publicly available about you and keeping up with a few easy Internet security tips will go a long way to keeping you safe… from yourself. 🙂

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