Don’t Fall for These Sneaky Online and Offline Scams
2017 was a big year for internet hacks, with WannaCry, Petya, and the Equifax breach causing online headaches for people around the globe.
Nothing quite that widespread or dramatic has rocked the internet so far this year, but that doesn’t mean we can all start relaxing about cybersecurity. In fact, some of the scams that are making the rounds right now mix online and offline tricks to try to capture your most important information. I received one in my own home mailbox recently!
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Key Insights on Avoiding Scams
1. “I know what you did, send Bitcoin … or else!”
Here’s an excerpt from the letter I received. You can click here to read the entire scam.
“Dear Mr. Keen, my name is Blue Bear 44, and I know about the secret you are keeping from your wife and everyone else. More importantly, I have evidence of what you've been hiding. It is just your bad luck that I stumbled across your misadventures while working a job around Kansas City. Frankly, I am ready to forget all about you and Haley, and let you go on with your life. Simply follow the instructions below to pay me $3,700 in Bitcoin. The clock is ticking.”
Now, on the one hand, this letter is sort of amusing. The author uses a silly pseudonym. The writing is very dramatic. Haley is my daughter. Plus, after doing a little research, I discovered that earlier versions of these scams asked for as much as $7,500 – I guess Blue Bear’s original asking price was too high.
But on the other hand … Blue Bear also knew my name, my daughter’s name, and my home address. (Which granted, is public information, but still a bit scary.) At Keen on Retirement, we try to keep current and make our audience aware of certain scams so that they can recognize them and not fall victim. But I can imagine someone who doesn’t keep up on these scams as diligently as we do reading this letter and taking it seriously, especially if Blue Bear had gotten a couple details right. And especially if they actually had something to hide – oops!
In the end, I reported the incident to the FBI. And I still haven’t bought any Bitcoin, for myself or anyone else!
2. “I can get you a bigger tax refund than your old CPA!”
In finance, something that seems too good to be true probably is.
That’s certainly the case with the raft of unlicensed “CPAs” who entice folks with promises of bigger tax refunds than they’ve ever had before.
The IRS calls these scams “tax return preparer fraud.” The way it works is that fake CPAs rent offices, take your tax and financial info the way a real licensed CPA would, and then fudge details like eligible credits to artificially – and illegally – inflate the amount of your tax refund. The scammer then splits the money with you, but in many cases the transaction doesn’t end there. The fake CPA now has your banking info, your Social Security number, your address, etc. You can imagine the kinds of problems that ensue.
I’ve mentioned before how Keen Wealth helps “quarterback” financial planning, which can include introducing our clients to other financial professionals like reputable CPAs and estate attorneys. This is just one of the many ways that entering into a fiduciary relationship protects your best interests.
3. “Did you make this purchase? Please click here to verify.”
Recently, I’ve been receiving emails from “Apple” and “PayPal” asking me to verify purchases. Thing is, I haven’t bought anything from them. I don’t even have a PayPal account!
I did some more research and found warnings from the Federal Trade Commission about scams like this called “phishing.” What the scammer really wants you to do is click on the link inside the email or download the “invoice,” which will install a malicious piece of software that can steal your personal info and even brick your device.
PayPal offers some helpful tips on spotting phishing scams. In general, never download an attachment you aren’t sure about, and send any emails with funny looking TO or FROM addresses straight to spam.
4. “I’m calling from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I need to confirm your new ID number.”
Approximately 59 million people will be receiving new Medicare and Medicaid cards between now and April 2019 that no longer use recipients’ Social Security numbers. Instead, benefits will be tied to an 11-digit identification number.
With all those new cards going out it’s no surprise that scammers are targeting seniors. Hackers can fool caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from a government office and trying to “confirm” that new ID number. A variation on these scams involves calls that look like they’re from the police department, demanding a credit card or bank account number to pay for fake fines, like missing jury duty.
5. “I love you, please send money.”
Another hotbed of money transfer scams is, sadly, dating sites. It’s bad enough that someone would prey on a basic human vulnerability like wanting to connect with other people. But to encourage a fake “connection” just to convince someone to wire money is really heartbreaking. Older widows and widowers who are living alone without friends and family close by can be especially susceptible.
Many of the online safeguards we’ve discussed before apply to these scams: think before you click, protect your online info with secure passwords, and never, ever send money or your banking info to someone you don’t know face-to-face.
If you do receive one of these scams, consider reporting it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Compliance Center or the Federal Trade Commission.
Bill Keen on Avoiding Scams ...
“Think before you click, protect your online info with secure passwords, and never, ever send money or your banking info to someone you don’t know face-to-face."
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Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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