Tips To Avoid Internet Scams

Each day, more and more scams surface through computers, tablets, cellphones, and other smart devices. To protect your personal information and to avoid being a victim of fraud, the following actions are recommended:

  • Keep operating systems, browsers, programs, apps, and security components up to date.
  • Be aware of the latest scam techniques being used by fraudsters. Search online to learn about current scams.
  • Enable firewalls for your computer and router.
  • Install an antivirus program for your computer, tablet, and smartphone that updates automatically.
  • Create a guest network for visitors to your home to use, to avoid them having to access your home network.
  • Don’t click or respond to emails, phone calls, or text messages from strange addresses and those with unusual subject lines.
  • Update passwords often with a random, complex series of letters, numbers, and symbols; don’t use the same password on different sites. Consider use of a password manager. 
  • Use only reputable sites when shopping online. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for greater financial protection. Don’t click on links or pop-ups, which can be a fake, look-alike website; instead, go directly to the shopping website.
  • Adjust privacy settings on your devices, and for websites you visit for your best protection.  
  • Regularly back up your data in case of a malicious attack, so you don’t lose access to your information and files. If you encounter a ransomware attack, file a report with the FBI.
  • Avoid use of public Wi-Fi to prevent potential fraud and identity theft.
  • Be cautious with your social media posts, especially information about children and teens. Don’t post personal information, vacation plans, work and home schedules, address or other contact information. Don’t “check in” at the locations you visit. 
  • Be cautious about online gaming, which can result in identity theft, bullying, harassment and online predators. Children should use an avatar or nickname.

For additional information on avoiding online scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students search online for examples of recently-created online scams.
  • Have students create a video, poster, or slide presentation with common email scams and actions to avoid those situations.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are some reasons that a person might become a victim of an online scam?
  2. Describe actions to learn about new online scams. 

How to protect yourself from social media identity theft

If you use social media, you could be a target for identity theft. You can buy identity theft insurance – or it might be included in your homeowners or renters policy. But taking simple steps to protect your social media accounts can help you avoid most scams.

  1. Don’t post ID cards

It might be tempting to post a photo of a new license or ID card, but it may include your birthday and other identifying data.

2. Question quizzes and surveys

Watch out for quizzes that ask for personal information. Scammers ask questions with answers you might use for security login questions, such as the model of your first car, your first pet’s name, or your hometown.

3. Don’t overshare

Most social media sites and apps ask you about yourself, then display that information on your profile. Be careful what you give them. The more a scammer knows about you, the easier it is to create a fake account with your information. If an app allows it, keep your profile private.

4. Limit app sharing

Many apps let you sign in with a more popular app. But when you do, you usually agree to let the new app use data from the old one. If one app is hacked, scammers can get data from every app linked to it.

5. Close old accounts

Scammers look for old, unused accounts with outdated passwords that are easy to hack. If you don’t use an app, delete your account.

6. Protect family members

Teens are the most likely to overshare. They usually have clean credit histories, which makes their identities valuable. Seniors don’t use social media as often but might not know when they’ve been hacked. It’s a good idea to check the accounts of family members in those groups.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students how they protect their social media accounts.  What precautions are particularly useful to protect their identity on the Internet?
  • Why are teens more likely to overshare their personal information on the social media?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can regulatory agencies, such as, the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, do to protect your social media accounts?
  2. Should Facebook, Instagram, Whats App, etc. provide clear guidance on what to post (or not to post) on social media sites?  How it might be done to protect consumers?

New IRS imposter scam targets college students and staff

If you’re a college student, faculty, or staff member, pay attention to this scam. IRS imposters are sending phishing emails to people with “.edu” email addresses, saying they have information about your “tax refund payment.” What do they really want? Your personal information.

Scammers are sending emails with subject lines like, “Tax Refund Payment” or “Recalculation of your tax refund payment.” The email asks you to click a link and submit a form to claim your “refund.”

What happens if you click the link? The website asks for personal information, including your name, Social Security number (SSN), date of birth, prior year’s annual gross income (AGI), driver’s license number, address, and electronic filing PIN. Scammers can use or sell this information for identity theft.

The emails can look really real and include the IRS logo. But no matter what the email looks like or says, one thing stays true: the IRS will not first contact you by email. They will always start by sending you a letter. And, to confirm that it’s really the IRS, you can call them directly at 800-829-1040.

If you clicked a link in one of these emails and shared personal information, file a report at IdentityTheft.gov to get a customized recovery plan based on what information you shared.

If you spotted this scam, the IRS is asking you to forward the email as an attachment to phishing@irs.gov and at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students if they, their relatives or friends have received such scam emails.  If so, how did they respond to the scam?
  • Why have imposter scams increased so rapidly in the last few years?  What, if anything, can consumers do to avoid such scams?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is it important not to click on the links, even if they seem to be legitimate?
  2. If you clicked on such a link, what steps should you take to protect yourself and others from being scammed?

SCAM TRACKING MAP

Not everyone will be a victim of fraud, but everyone is a target. The AARP Fraud Watch Network offers a scam-tracking map to report fraud activity based on user-submitted information.

To help protect yourself and others, people are asked to report a scam they encounter.  The online form requests your zip code, method of contact (advertisement, door-to-door, Internet, e-mail, U.S. mail, or other), the type of scam, and the amount of money lost to the con artist. The list of scams includes more than 50 types, ranging from debt collection and charities to contests and online auctions.

Further assistance in reporting a scam is available at 1-877-908-3360.  AARP warns that it does not independently verify scam reports, nor guarantee the accuracy of reported scams.

Commonly suggested actions to avoid being taken by a scam include:

  • Only do business with reputable companies.
  • Understand contracts or other documents you sign.
  • Beware of impulse buying; con artists often tell you this is your last chance.
  • If it sounds too good to be true…it probably is!
  • STOP…WAIT…THINK…DON’T!

For additional information on the scam tracking map, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students locate examples of current scams that have surfaced in their area.
  • Have students create a video with suggested actions to take to avoid being taken by a scam.

Discussion Questions 

  1. What are reasons that some people are easily deceived by frauds and scams?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid scams and fraud.

Income Illusion

With record unemployment and the ongoing financial impact of the pandemic, many Americans are struggling to make ends meet — and scammers are pitching income scams with false promises of success and financial security.

In a typical pitch, scammers state that you can make a lot of money, for example, working from home with little time and effort, or starting your own online business. But those promises of big money are all an income illusion. In fact, in the first nine months of 2020 alone, Americans reported to the FTC that they lost at least $150 million. The total amount of alleged losses is over $1 billion.

Sometimes these scammers focus their pitches on particular communities.  In one case, a work-from-home scam targeted Latinas through Spanish language TV ads. In another case, an alleged investment scam affected older adults, retirees, and immigrants. And even veterans, students, and college-age adults are targeted with a business coaching scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found in income scams the average loss was less than $500. Americans who lost money were 44% more likely to live in majority Black communities.

How to Spot an Income Scam

Everyone can be targeted by income scams.  A scammer’s offer may tell you that:

  • Make money selling in your community. Be your own boss.
  • Learn from the experts how to generate guarantee income.
  • You got the job! Deposit this check and send money or buy gift cards.
  • Work from home and make money with little time and effort!
  • Just recruit more people to make big money!

Before you accept a business offer:

  • Take your time

Avoid high pressure sales pitches that require you get involved now or risk losing out.

  • Be skeptical about success stories and testimonials.

Glowing stories could be fake and online reviews may have come from made-up profiles.

  • Don’t bank on a “cleared” check.

If you’re told to send some money or buy gift cards, you can bet it’s a fake even if you see the   money in your account.

  • Do your research.

Search online for the company’s name plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaints.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their friends, or families have received such offers from scammers. If so, how did they respond?
  • Ask students what they would personally do to fight income scams and help people recognize and avoid them.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do scammers focus their pitches on particular communities?
  2. Why is it important to search online for company’s name plus words like “review”, “scams”, and “complaints” before making a decision”?

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

What to Do When Information Is Lost or Exposed

Did you recently get a notice informing you that your personal information was exposed in a data breach? Did you lose your wallet? Or learn that an online account was hacked? Depending on what information was lost, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft

What information was lost or exposed?

  1. Social Security number
  • If a company responsible for exposing your information offers you free credit monitoring, take advantage of it.
  • Get your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize.
  • Consider placing a free credit freeze. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name.
  • Try to file your taxes early — before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job.
  • Respond right away to letters from the IRS.  Don’t believe anyone who calls and says you’ll be arrested unless you pay for taxes or debt.
  • Continue to check your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com.  You can order a free report from each of the three credit reporting companies once a year.
  1. Online login or password
  • Log in to that account and change your password. If possible, also change your user name. If you can’t log in, contact the company. Ask them how you can recover or shut down the account.

3. Debit or credit card number

  • Contact your bank or credit card company to cancel your card and request a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly. Make sure no one misused your card. If you find fraudulent charges, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new card number.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

4. Bank account information

  • Contact your bank to close the account and open a new one.
  • Review your transactions regularly to make sure no one misused your account. If you find fraudulent charges or withdrawals, call the fraud department and get them removed.
  • If you have automatic payments set up, update them with your new bank account information.
  1. Driver’s license information
  • Contact your nearest motor vehicles branch to report a lost or stolen driver’s license. The state might flag your license number in case someone else tries to use it, or they might suggest that you apply for a duplicate.
  • Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

 

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask how many students check their credit report at least once a year. What is the importance of checking your credit report regularly?
  • Ask if any student has placed a credit freeze. If so, what was their experience?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert?
  2. What must you do if someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund?

IRS Dirty Dozen Tax Schemes

Each year, the IRS warns taxpayers about the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.  Some of these cons show up on the list each year, while others are new. Tax scams are most common during tax season or times of crisis. The COVID pandemic created opportunities to try steal money and information from taxpayers.

Taxpayers are reminded to beware of these ongoing swindles that include:

  • Phishing involves fake emails or websites to obtain personal information. The IRS never initiates contact by email. Do not click on links claiming to be from the IRS. Also be wary of keywords, such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “Stimulus.”
  • Fake charities are a reoccurring concern. Criminals often take advantage of natural disasters and other situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to set up a phony charity, and may even claim to be working with the IRS to help victims.
  • Threatening impersonator phone calls claim to be collecting money for the IRS. The scammer uses fear and urgency to demand immediate payment. Senior citizens and their caregivers should be especially alert for this type of fraud.
  • Unscrupulous return preparers, called “ghost” preparers, expose their clients to serious filing mistakes and tax fraud. Ghost preparers do not sign the tax returns they prepare, as required by law. While most tax professionals provide honest service, others should be avoided.
  • Fake payments with repayment demands involve scammers tricking taxpayers into sending them their refund. The criminal steals or obtains personal data to file a bogus tax return. Once the money is in the bank account, the criminal poses as an IRS employee to request that the money be returned immediately, perhaps in the form of gift cards.

Some recent tax scams that have surfaced include

  • Offer-in-compromise mills involves misleading tax debt resolution companies exaggerating their ability to settle tax debts for “pennies on the dollar.” The offer requires that taxpayers meet certain legal requirements. Dishonest businesses enroll unqualified candidates to collect hefty fees from taxpayers already deep in debt.
  • Economic impact payment or refund theft, in which criminals filed false tax returns or bogus information with the IRS to redirect refunds to a wrong address or bank account.
  • Social media scams may use COVID-19 to trick people. The scammer uses information on social media to send emails pretending to be a family member, friend, or co-worker, which can result in tax-related identity theft.
  • Ransomware takes advantage of human and technical weaknesses to infect a computer, network, or server. Invasive software (malware) can track keystrokes and other computer activity. An infected computer can allow access to personal and financial data. Or, a ransom request appears in a pop-up window.

To avoid these scams: (1) be aware of potential cons; (2) check with the IRS or your bank if something is suspicious; (3) keep your computer system and passwords secure, and (4) avoid deals that are “too good to be true.”

For additional information on tax scams, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students describe these situations to other people, and ask them what actions they might take to avoid these scams.
  • Have students create a video or visual presentation to warn others of these potential scams.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why do some people get taken by tax scams and other frauds?
  2. Describe actions that might be taken to avoid various tax scams.

Social Security Benefit Suspension Scam

The Inspector General of Social Security,  is warning the Americans about fraudulent letters threatening suspension of Social Security benefits due to COVID-19 or coronavirus-related office closures. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not suspend or discontinue benefits because their offices are closed.

The Inspector General reports that Social Security beneficiaries have received letters through the U.S. Mail stating their payments will be suspended or discontinued unless they call a phone number referenced in the letter. Scammers may then mislead beneficiaries into providing personal information or payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash, to maintain regular benefit payments during this period of COVID-19 office closures.

Even though local SSA offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, Social Security employees continue to work. Social Security will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID19 pandemic.

Remember Social Security will never:

  • threaten you with benefit suspension, arrest, or other legal action unless you pay a fine or fee;
  • promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment;
  • require payment by retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency, or prepaid debit card;
  • demand secrecy from you in handling a Social Security-related problem; or
  • send official letters or reports containing personally identifiable information via email.

If you receive a letter, text, call or email that you believe to be suspicious, about an alleged problem with your Social Security number, account, or payments, hang up or do not respond. The Social Security Administration  encourages you to report Social Security scams using their dedicated online form, at https://oig.ssa.gov. For more information, please visit https://oig.ssa.gov/scam. Members of the press may make inquiries to Social Security OIG at oig.dcom@ssa.gov.

For information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions:

  • Ask students if they or their family members have received calls from government imposter scammers. If so, how did you or your family respond to such calls?
  • Ask students to make a list of possible actions that individuals can take to combat Social Security imposters.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you believe you have been a victim of Social Security or an IRS impersonator scam, what actions should you take to prevent such calls in the future?
  2. How do scammers play on emotions like fear or greed to convince people to provide personal information or money in cash, wire transfers, or gift cards?
  3. Why do fraudsters often demand payment via retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency, such as Bitcoin, or prepaid debit card?

Top Frauds

Are you at risk for fraud?  What are some of the more common frauds and how much could it cost you?

  • In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) collected more than 1.4 million fraud reports, and Americans said they lost money to the fraud in 25 percent of those reports. Americans reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud – an increase of 38 percent over 2017.
  • The top reports in 2018 were: imposter scams, debt collection, and identity theft.
  • Younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. Of those people who reported fraud and their age, 43 percent of people in their 20s reported a loss to that fraud, while only 15 percent of people in their 70s did.
  • When people in their 70s lost money, the amount tended to be higher: their median loss was $751, compared to $400 for people in their 20s.
  • Scammers like to get money by wire transfer – for a total of $423 million in 2018. That was the most of any payment method reported, but there was a surge of payments with gift and reload cards – a 95 percent increase in dollars paid to scammers last year.
  • Tax-related identity theft was down last year (by 38 percent), but credit card fraud on new accounts was up 24 percent. In fact, misusing someone’s information to open a new credit card account was reported more often than other forms of identity theft in 2018.
  • The top 3 states for fraud and other reports (per 100,000 population) are Florida, Georgia and Nevada. The top 3 states for identity theft reports (also per 100,000) are Georgia, Nevada and California.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they, their relatives or friends have ever been victims of fraud. If so, what was the outcome?
  • Ask students to prepare a list of local, state, and federal agencies where fraud can be reported.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it possible that the reason more young people reported fraud is because older persons are less likely to report?
  2. Are older people not reporting fraud because they are not tech savvy, or embarrassed by their inability to know they were scammed?

Deceptive Stem Cell Therapy

People spend billions of dollars each year on health-related products and treatments that don’t deliver. People who buy them are cheated out of their money, their time, and even their health.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports  that California-based Regenerative Medical Group, Telehealth Medical Group, and Dr. Bryn Jarald Henderson, the founder of both companies, sold false hope at high prices.

These companies and Dr. Henderson used social media and websites to promote stem cell therapy for all kinds of health issues affecting older adults and children. Supposedly, it could treat and cure diseases and health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, dementia, depression, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, heart disease, macular degeneration, chronic kidney disease, osteoarthritis, and stroke. Dr. Gunderson  charged up to $15,000 for their initial stem cell therapy and up to $8,000 for follow-up treatments.

But, according to the FTC, these claims were not backed up by any scientific studies and, in fact, no studies have established that stem cells cure, treat, or reduce the severity of diseases or health conditions in humans. With the exception of a few FDA-approved treatments, stem cell therapy is still largely experimental.

Are you — or someone you know — thinking about stem cell therapy?  If so,

  • Be skeptical about amazing health claims.
  • Don’t trust a website just because it looks professional, uses medical terms, or has success stories from “real people.”
  • Talk to your health care professional before you consider any medical treatment.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  •  Help students understand that health information, whether online or in print, should come from a trusted source.
  • Let students make a list of the richest and most reliable sources of health information and share it with the class.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to seek a second or even third opinion from a qualified health care provider before trying experimental medical procedures?
  2. What can the FTC and other federal/state governmental agencies do to prevent such businesses to make deceptive treatments.