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  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 26, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    Scams can bring federal programs to their knees 

    Scams can bring federal programs to their knees

    By Greg Collier

    Prior to the start of the pandemic, many of us looked at scammers as minor annoyances. “They might fool a few people, but they’d never be able to fool me.” many of us said. Then when the pandemic happened in full force, scammers were everywhere. Not only did every old scam have a new COVID-19 twist to it, but the scammers were now attacking federal and state governments to the tune of billions of dollars. You may not be fooled by a scammer, but as the unemployment scam showed us, you may not have a choice. Now, a federal relief program has yet to roll out due to the scams that may surround it.

    FEMA has a fund to help pay for funerals for people who were lost in certain disasters. This includes deaths related to COVID-19 for 2020. However, here we are near March 2021 and FEMA has yet to issue any assistant payments for these funeral expenses. With half a million people having passed from COVID-19, FEMA realizes that this could open them to the same amount of fraud that has affected the unemployment system. FEMA is working with the CDC to try to find a way to make sure that these assistant payments get to the people who actually need them.

    All it could take is a forged death certificate for scammers to start trying to collect money from FEMA. And with states reporting deaths in different ways, this could lead to a lot of confusion. The other aspect this scam shares with the unemployment scam is that FEMA will be dealing with a record amount of funeral reimbursement requests since the country has never dealt with this many deaths before due to one single disaster.

    If you’ve ever had to suddenly plan for a loved one’s funeral, you’ll know how expensive funerals can be. Thanks to scammers, more people will be out of more money until more safeguards are put in place to prevent such widespread fraud.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 25, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    Scam tries to extort medical professionals 

    Scam tries to extort medical professionals

    By Greg Collier

    Scammers still haven’t gotten tired of COVID-19 related scams yet. However, instead of targeting the general public, some scammers have decided to go after medical professionals in the scammer’s quest for ill-gotten gain.

    This scam is similar to the Social Security scam where the scammers claim that your Social Security number has been suspended due to some fictitious crime that your number was supposedly attached to.

    In this scam, scammers are contacting nurses, physicians and pharmacists posing as the state of New York to tell the victims that their licenses have been suspended. However, a substantial payment just happens to be able to revers the suspension and can avoid the licensee any future fines.

    It’s not lost on us that these scammers are going after frontline workers in a state that has one of the highest concentration of COVID-19 patients. This is an example of a couple of scammer tactics. One is to try to pressure and already overworked system and the other is to take advantage of any crisis no matter how horrible.

    In this instance, the scammers are flooding their victims with mounds of official-looking paperwork that appear to be from such agencies as the state, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, Trans Union and the New York state Office of Professions. The problem with this paperwork is that it can look legitimate since they contain information like the professional’s National Provider Identifier.

    In the long run, scammers may not be after money but instead after the personal information of medical professionals as most of the forms ask for Social Security numbers and the like.

    It is recommended that anyone receiving one of these calls or messages to ignore it and report it to the FBI if you’ve lost money, or the FTC and local police if you haven’t.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 24, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    When the grandparent scam meets virtual kidnappings 

    By Greg Collier

    We love it when scammers get extra creative and combine two scams into one new super-scam. And by love it we actually mean we despise it. At least one creative scammer has combine two of the more disturbing scams, making it an almost infallible scam. Not to heap any more ‘praise’ on this scammer, but they could potentially be the super villain of scam artists.

    This particular scammer combined the grandparent scam along with the virtual kidnapping scam. The grandparent scam is more well-known. This is where scammers call elderly victims and pose as a grandchild who is looking for some kind of emergency money. Usually, it’s supposed to be for bail money, but scammers have used various stories to try to get money from their victims.

    The virtual kidnapping scam is even more distressing for its victims. This is where scammers will have claimed to have kidnapped one of the victim’s family members. They’ll pressure the victim to keep them on the phone while trying to get them to make a phony ransom payment usually through gift cards or money transfers. Meanwhile, the supposed kidnap victim is actually safe and sound.

    This scammer targeted an elderly woman from Alabama. The scammer told the woman that they had her granddaughter hostage because she witnessed a drug deal. The scammer also told her that he was watching her every move. He then instructed her to make a money transfer to Mexico at Walmart. Even though the woman thought the threat was real she did two things that probably saved her from losing substantial amounts of money.

    She first tried to locate her granddaughter, and when she couldn’t, she contacted her local police. The woman even bravely stood up to the scammers telling them to bring her granddaughter to the Walmart if they have her. Luck was even more on the woman’s side when the money transfer service at Walmart was down.

    In the case of either scam or the new super-scam, your best bet is to try to locate the person who the caller is claiming is in trouble. While a grandchild could potentially have ended up in jail, nothing says that you can’t verify their story. Your grandchild won’t be in more trouble if you do. And as we always like to say about the virtual kidnapping scam, kidnappings for ransom are very rare in the US and the scammers are preying on people’s fears about what they see in entertainment.

    Always take a step back from the situation for a moment and try to regain your composure when dealing with these scammers. Also, never volunteer any information like a loved one’s name as scammers will be quick to use that to their advantage.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 23, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    Scammers threaten to turn power off in winter 

    Scammers threaten to turn power off in winter

    By Greg Collier

    Just as Texas slowly starts a return to normal, the scammers there are pulling out all the stops while they still can. The latest scam to descend on Texas is not a new one, and it’s one that can be perpetrated in any state that has cold weather. Even though Spring may be less than a month away, scammers will try this trick as much as they can until then.

    Residents of Austin, Texas have been reporting that they have been receiving calls from scammers posing as their local power company. The scammers threaten to have the power turned off in 30 minutes if the customer’s ‘bill’ isn’t paid right now. With stories of Texans receiving outlandish power bills after power was restored to the state, we can see how this could be such an effective scam. While the report we saw doesn’t state it, we imagine the scammers are probably asking for payment through gift cards or prepaid debit cards.

    As usual, there are a few red flags that tip you off that this is a scam. First off, most utility companies won’t call you demanding a payment. Secondly, no legitimate business or agency is going to ask you for payment in gift cards. Scammers always try to get their victims to pay in some form of untraceable means and gift cards appear to be the most untraceable. Next, most utility companies will send you a notice in the mail if you are in danger of having your service disconnected, and they’ll give you plenty of notice and not just 30 minutes.

    As we stated previously, this scam appears in just about every state. Scammers will even perpetrate the scam during heat waves as well by trying to pressure their victims into believing they’ll lose the cooling in their home during the warmer months.

    If you receive one of these calls, just hang up. Don’t engage the scammer as they can use the smallest amounts of information they receive for possible future scams. If you want to be absolutely sure that the call was a scam, contact your local utility company, and they’ll be able to give you the current status of your account.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 22, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    The scams after the storm 

    The scams after the storm

    By Greg Collier

    Even though temperatures are returning to normal in Texas, there is still a lot of clean-up that needs to be done in the Lone Star State. Power lines still need to be restored and many Texas residents experienced substantial home damage after frozen pipes burst in their homes. After any disaster, scavengers will descend upon the area looking to take advantage of those in need. The Texas winter storm is no different, and it’s not just Texas residents that have to look out for scammers.

    If you live in the affected areas of Texas, you might want to keep an eye out for shady or phony contractors who appear out of the blue offering to repair your home. If you receive unsolicited calls offering repair service or someone just shows up to your home, there’s a very good chance that they are a scammer. We’re obviously not saying that all contractors are scammers, however, there are many scammers who pose as contractors.

    If you were to accept one of these offers, you could be looking at unfinished work at best and loss of potential federal assistance funds at worst. The Texas Department of insurance recommends getting multiple bids from contractors before settling on one to repair your home. You might be tempted to go with the first offer since you want your home operating properly as soon as possible, but that could possibly lead to even more problems. In turn, that could potentially further delay your home from returning to normal.

    You should also avoid anyone who says they’ll waive your insurance deductible or asks for a large down payment or full payment up front. In many cases, these actions are illegal in Texas.

    For people living outside of Texas, you have to be wary of charity scams. If you receive a phone call, text, email, or social media message soliciting for donations, ignore them and delete them. Most scammers will use vague names of charities like ‘Storm Relief’. They’ll also try to pressure you into making a donation at that very moment. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t donate to a legitimate charity to help those in need in Texas. CNN has a list of legitimate charities assisting in Texas disaster relief. You can also go to Charity Navigator to make sure the charity you’re donating to will actually get help to where it’s needed most.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 19, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    More cold weather scams to be aware of 

    By Greg Collier

    When we think of natural disasters, we normally think of things like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes. However, the current brutal winter conditions that a large part of the country are currently enduring is also a natural disaster. As such, the current climate crisis is bringing scammers out of the woodwork. We’ve already touched upon how scammers are using the power outages to steal your information or gain access to your home, but other scams are starting to emerge as well.

    In Texas, where residents have been the hardest hit by the cold, FEMA is warning residents about a scam propagating on social media. In this scam, fake social media accounts are posing as FEMA and are listing a phone number for residents to call so they can be provided with a free hotel room. As of the time of this writing, FEMA is not providing any hotel room assistance, however, they are providing other emergency services to the Lone Star State. FEMA hasn’t stated what the purpose of this scam is, but one could assume it’s designed to steal your identity, money, or both.

    While Texas is feeling the brunt of the current weather situation, other states are dealing with the record-breaking weather as well. States in The Great Plains and Midwest are also dealing with rolling blackouts, just not on the level of Texas. Like any other natural disaster, this has the potential for some retailers and lodgings to start price gouging. Most states have laws preventing vendors from excessively raising their prices during a time of crisis. If you encounter price gouging, it’s recommended that you document the incident and report it to the state’s Attorney General office. Price gouging can also happen where an emergency has not been declared, so be on the lookout for that if you’re leaving your current state for a neighboring state that may not be going through the same crisis.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 18, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    Scammers send man ‘suitcase full of cash’ in lottery scam 

    Scammers send man 'suitcase full of cash' in lottery scam

    By Greg Collier

    Many of us dream about the day we finally with the lottery and have enough money to at least live comfortably for the rest of our lives. We know that the odds of winning the jackpot are astronomical, but we keep telling ourselves that someone has to win, so why not us? If you lean too heavy into that kind of thinking, it could leave you vulnerable if a scammer comes calling.

    For example, a man in Phoenix received a registered letter that said he had won $4.5 million and a Mercedes-Benz. The letter also stated that the man qualified for the prize because he paid his utility bills on time. The man was also sent a locked suitcase that contained $1 million. Here’s where the catch comes in.

    In order to receive the code to safely open the suitcase the mad had to send a series of payments. If the man tried to open the suitcase without the codes, dye packs would supposedly explode rendering the cash useless. Unfortunately, the man made $25,000 in payment to the scammers before realizing he had been swindled. He was eventually able to open the suitcase on his own, and it was filled with gardening magazines.

    The most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with scammers like this is, you can’t win a prize for a contest you never entered. It’s also illegal in the United States for any sweepstakes to ask for a payment before you receive any kind of prize winnings. Sweepstakes winnings are hardly ever that elaborate either. At the most, you might have a minor celebrity show up at your home with an oversized novelty check.

    While you may not fall for such an elaborate scam, you may know someone who is a potential target. If someone you know starts talking about how they’re about to come into a lot of money, you may want to make sure they’re not being scammed.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 17, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    Scammers take advantage of Texas power problem 

    Scammers take advantage of Texas power problem

    By Greg Collier

    Currently, most of the country is experiencing record-breaking cold weather. Probably the state that’s been the hardest hit by the below freezing temperatures is Texas. Millions of Texas residents have been without power for days now. The Texas power gird has been overworked since it’s easier to make a home 30 degrees cooler in the heat than it is to make a home 60 degrees warmer in the freezing cold. Many Texans are desperate to have their heat and power restored. Unfortunately, this leaves them vulnerable to scammers.

    The Electric Reliability Council of Texas is better know as ERCOT. ERCOT manages the power grid that supplies electricity to 90% of Texas. The Council has issued a warning about a scam that is currently preying on Texas residents.

    According to ERCOT, scammers have taken to social media posing as ERCOT telling residents that if they give their account numbers to the phony ERCOT social media accounts, residents will have their power restored. It’s unknown why scammers want the account numbers, however, with those account numbers, scammers can cause all sorts of havoc for the ERCOT customer.

    Meanwhile, reports from Houston are saying that scammers are impersonating utility employees to gain access to customer homes. Officials there say that no power utility employee will need to enter the home but may be by your outdoor power meter. They also suggest that real employees will drive a company marked vehicle and not an unmarked personal vehicle.

    With more winter storms supposedly headed to Texas, residents need to be on the lookout for these scams. Scammers love nothing more than a time of crisis and despair to try to take money, information of both from their victims.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 16, 2021 Permalink | Reply  

    How the unemployment scams could affect your taxes 

    How the unemployment scams could affect your taxes

    As we have posted previously on numerous occasions, unemployment scams have been a major problem in our country since the pandemic started. As we’re sure you’re aware of, overseas scammers have been applying for unemployment benefits using stolen identities. The majority of these identities were taken from major data breaches where major corporations had their customers’ data exposed. Employment benefits have been stolen from people who are both employed and unemployed. Nationwide, states have paid billions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims collectively.

    Now that it’s tax season, even more taxpayers are finding out they’ve had fraudulent claims filed in their name. As unemployment benefits are taxable income, many taxpayers all over the country are being surprised with 1099-G forms. Think of the 1099-G form as a W2 for unemployment. But again, the problem is that many of these taxpayers never filed for unemployment.

    If you receive a 1099-G form and did not file for unemployment, you need to contact a number of agencies to get the matter corrected. First, you would need to contact your state’s unemployment agency to report the fraud. You’ll also need a corrected 1099-G from your state that reflects you collected $0 in unemployment to correctly file your tax return. Do not claim the fraudulent benefits on your tax return.

    It’s recommended that you do not hesitate in getting a corrected 1099-G form. You could potentially miss the tax deadline of April 15th if you wait too long. While you can file for an extension, you should try to get your return filed as soon as possible to avoid identity thieves filing a fraudulent return in your name.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on February 15, 2021 Permalink | Reply
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    Don’t let strangers take Grandma to her vaccination 

    Don't let strangers take Grandma to her vaccination

    In most states, seniors age 75 or older are currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. One of the problems these seniors face is that they may not have reliable transportation to get to one of their state’s vaccination centers. In order to combat this problem, the state of Massachusetts has adopted a program where those who transport the senior citizen to the vaccination center can also receive the vaccine.

    The program was intended to give caregivers such as a spouse or adult child to take their loved one to get the vaccine. However, like most things that have good intentions at heart, there are those who look to take advantage of the program. Almost as soon as the program was announced, there were those who took to Craigslist offering money to seniors who would let them accompany them to the vaccination center. At least one person has offered over $1000 to allow them to accompany a senior to their vaccination.

    While it’s natural for people to be desperate to receive the vaccine, some of these offers could potentially be from scammers. Since seniors tend to be the largest target for scammers, this program has opened a golden opportunity for con artists. These scams could range from identity theft to a Medicare scam and anything in between. That’s not even taking the senior’s safety into account. Craigslist has been known to have a less than stellar reputation when it comes to user safety.

    When most of us were children, we always heard the warning of not getting into cars with strangers. If this is what we tell our children, then it should apply to our older family members as well. Do you really want a parent or grandparent getting into a vehicle with a stranger so they can get their vaccine?

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