Common tech support scams exploit users’ inexperience to gain access to their devices and their credit cards

Imagine you’re surfing the web looking for an entertaining video to watch while you’re waiting for the kettle to whistle or a phone call or maybe to flip your laundry over to the dryer.

You pull up your browser and type in YouTube’s URL.

Suddenly, instead of the homepage you’re expecting, your browser loads a bright blue screen that says “your computer is infected—call Microsoft tech support immediately at this toll-free number.”  It may even say that if you don’t call within a certain amount of time, your hard drive will be destroyed.  Maybe there’s a pop-up window directing you to contact tech support complete with the Windows and Microsoft logos.

This is the gateway to a classic tech support scam.  And it starts as soon as you dial the number listed on your warning screen.

But for as threatening as that warning is what you’re looking at is simply a web page like any other.

In panic, many users don’t think to look at the address bar to notice they’ve accidentally mistyped www.youtube.com, leading them to a page created to catch traffic from millions of users flocking to a popular site and typing the URL incorrectly.

Your computer isn’t infected.  You can navigate away from the page at any time.

But many users, fearing they could lose their (likely not-backed-up) data in the next five minutes, fall for the trap and call the number.

There are many different flavors of the tech support scam, but the goal is usually to get remote access to your computer, fabricate evidence of a critical issue, and eventually get you to hand over your credit card number in exchange for “fixing” the problem.

Here is a great walkthrough of how a typical tech support scam works (warning: this video contains some profanity):

If you’re lucky, the scammer will only charge your card for the value of the “protection plan” they discussed with you prior to payment.  If not, the scammer could charge your card for any amount, sell your card number to other scammers online, steal bank and personal information from your computer, or irreparably destroy your entire machine out of sheer maliciousness.

A particularly angering feature of this scam is how much it relies on a user’s unfamiliarity with their own systems to function.  The “evidence” the scammer presents to prove the need for purchasing his “tech support services” is pure nonsense—he’s merely walking the user through a series of normal command prompts and system processes a very casual computer user might not recognize, totally lying to the user about what they’re looking at to scare them.

Though seniors aren’t the only targets of this scam (more Millennials fall prey to tech support scams than any other age group), they do tend to lose far more money overall to tech support scammers.  For many, the financial damages are devastating.  One large loss like this can completely change a retiree’s life.

Stay skeptical about warning pop-ups and sites you may come across while surfing.  Always check the URL in the address bar to make sure you’ve navigated to the correct place, and always click the back button, try navigating to another page, or try closing and reopening your browser before you panic—just because your browser may say your computer is locked doesn’t mean it is.

Never call a random tech support number some web page or pop-up gave you unsolicited.  If you suspect your computer has been infected with malware, the best thing to do is call a reputable local professional.

To put yourself at ease, consider investing in a good antivirus program so you can regularly scan your computer yourself for any unwanted activity.

EMPLOYEES AT MICROSOFT, DELL, SYMANTEC, MCAFEE, HEWLETT-PACKARD, OR APPLE WILL NEVER CONTACT YOU TO ALERT YOU ABOUT COMPUTER PROBLEMS. Many of these tech scammers and their pages will try to tell you they’re from Microsoft or some other reputable software company.  They’re not. These companies do not keep track of your devices’ health and will not contact like this you to warn you about problems.  Anyone telling you that is lying.  The only thing that will monitor your device and alert you in the event of infection is your firewall and your antivirus software.

With a fairly basic knowledge of their computer’s operating system, many victims of this scam may have been able to recognize some extremely obvious falsehoods the scammer probably told while trying to show “evidence” of an infection.  If you aren’t totally confident in your computer literacy, taking a few computing classes could go a long way in protecting you from these scammers. Check your local senior center, community college, or check out one of the many online computer courses available for seniors.

 

AND PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE BACK UP YOUR DATA REGULARLY.

Senators Moran and Casey introduce Senior Scams Prevention Act to prevent the most common forms of senior financial abuse

On September 27, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced S.3522, a bipartisan bill aimed at training financial establishments to stop senior scams.

S.3522, known as the Senior Scams Prevention Act, would create an advisory council at the federal level to develop and distribute information and training materials to the very banks and retailers most scammers use to conduct their crimes.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative we bring industry leaders together to examine ways and propose actions American businesses can take to help educate the public, specifically senior citizens, on how to identify and avoid these harmful scams,” Senator Moran explained in an October 1 press release.

S.3522 operates under the oft-uttered advice that the best way to protect yourself from fraud is to recognize and prevent the fraud before it happens.  In many cases, stopping the theft before it happens may be a victim’s only relief given the ways scammers most frequently extract money from their targets.

Among the vocal supporters of this legislation are Green Dot Corp., MoneyGram, and Western Union, prepaid debit card and wire transfer companies scammers love to use to keep their transactions with victims anonymous and irreversible.  Transactions made with gift cards, prepaid debit cards, and wire transfers are as good as dealing with cash—once the scammer has the number from the card or picks up the wire transfer at the pick-up location, the victim can’t ever get his money back.

In these situations, it behooves both potential victims and companies used to commit fraud to notice the red flags before the transaction is completed.  Catching these criminals is next to impossible after the money ends up in their hands.

And victims of scammers aren’t the only ones who lose.  In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice required Western Union to pay $586 million to victims of wire transfer scams using their services.

Not only will intensive education on blocking senior scams prevent millions of Americans from becoming victims, but it will save companies millions of dollars in investigations, refunds, and settlements.

Though these measures will benefit all Americans in the long run, S.3522 is specifically focused on protecting the most targeted and vulnerable population when it comes to scams: senior citizens.

“Far too many older Americans have been targeted by scam artists. These criminals threaten legal action against seniors or loved ones if ‘payment’ is not made immediately through a wire transfer or gift card,” said Senator Casey. “The Senior Scams Prevention Act would help stop a payment before it is ever made so that seniors don’t lose one more penny to a fraud or scam.”

Don’t worry, says the FTC. Your Social Security number can NEVER be suspended.

 

 

 

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission released an official statement regarding reports of a new phone scam telling targets their Social Security number has been “suspended.”

The caller, impersonating a government official, attempts to trick call recipients into giving up personal information, saying due to some kind of fraud their SSN will need to be reactivated.

In order to reactivate, the caller will press their victim into the classic account “verification” process with which we’ve become so familiar: asking for a ton of sensitive personal details the scammer can use later to steal their victim’s identity.

The key to avoiding this scam is understanding there’s no such thing as Social Security number suspension.  Neither the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, nor any other federal entity with which a scammer might claim to be associated will EVER suspend a Social Security number.  That’s just not how SSNs work.

No matter what a caller might say to you to intimidate you, if you hear that your SSN is suspended, the scam should be dead in the water. 

This one is absolute baloney.

As with any sketchy phone call asking you for personal information like your name, address, bank information, Social Security information, or the names of those close to you, hang up the phone immediately.

Don’t attempt to speak to, argue with, or insult the caller (not only are you giving them more opportunity to manipulate you, but also some phone scammers are known to record your voice so they can use it to authorize charges and changes to your accounts). Just hang up.

Make sure you register to vote for this year’s midterms! …Just make sure it’s not with an identity thief.

After years of abysmal turnout numbers in many places, several states boasted record-setting primary election turnout numbers.  Coloradoans cast 100,000 more primary votes than their previous 2010 record, Idahoans saw their highest primary turnout in 16 years,  and Iowans and Montanans busted their absentee ballot records.

If the results of this summer’s primary races are an indicator of what’s to come in November, the 2018 midterm elections could be some of the most impactful in recent memory.

Even well before the primaries–since the presidential election in fact–political leaders and pundits have acknowledged the 2018 midterms as being potentially game-changing.  Both parties as well as independent advocacy groups are calling on voters to step up this fall–and calling on eligible voters to get registered.

By all means, if you are not registered to vote, do so as soon as you can.  Voter turnout is an incredibly important thing–the more citizens that show up, the more election results will truly reflect the desires of the country.  Plus, you won’t have to worry about 325 million strangers making all of your decisions for you.

But if you’re planning to vote, be mindful of how you register.  Though it may not get talked about as much, election time can be as much of a feeding frenzy for scam artists as Christmas.  And with a likely contentious election on the horizon, they may be counting on a large influx of new voters to line their pockets this year.

Voter registration scams are nothing new. The goal can be either to bilk you out of cash or steal your identity.  Perhaps both.

In either case, in the weeks and months leading up to a crucial election, someone may contact you claiming to work with a nonprofit, a political party, or campaign focused on getting non-voters registered prior to the election.  Usually this person will contact you via phone or email, but it’s possible they could be posing as a door-to-door representative.

It’s the same scam we’ve written about a dozen times.  This person is going to pitch you a plausible narrative and ask you to provide all of the personal information they’ll need to steal your identity or your money.  They may even ask you for a small payment for their assistance.

But this one is tricky compared to the others.  For one, like we said, warnings aren’t widely circulated the way they are at Christmas time.  For another, there really are a lot of actual, safe organizations encouraging people to register before an important election.

And for a third, as far as narratives go, this one sounds extremely legit.  For someone registering to vote for the first time in their state, either because they’ve never been registered before or they’ve recently moved, they might not be familiar with the registry process where they live–just that it requires a fair amount of personal information to register.

To be fair, a lot of what someone would need to ask you to steal your identity IS what you’d need to prove your identity on a voter registration form: full name, date of birth, address, to name a few.

A “Social Security specialist” calling you asking for your SSN to sign you up for some new service might throw you (especially as the SSA will NEVER call you and ask you that–they already have your SSN), but a kind soul trying to sign you up to vote before a big election?  They might need that information to verify you.

So what do you do if someone contacts you and tries to recruit you to the voting ranks? How can you tell the grassroots outreach representative from the low-life identity thief trying hoping to destroy your credit in the very near future?

Nice try, phone solicitor

First thing’s first: as with all other flavors of this scam, ignore anyone asking you for personal information over the phone.  In most states, you need to provide a signature to vote, something you obviously can’t do over the phone.  In states where you can register online, the signature is simply pulled from your driver’s license or state-issued ID.

But for an independent advocate calling to help you register?  They don’t have access to information from your driver’s license.  And a government bureau will never call you just to see if you want to register to vote.  So how is some private person going to sign you up over the phone without your signature?  They aren’t.

…And since we’re on the topic of flat-out bogus solicitation methods, that door-to-door representative?  Check your local law.  Voter registration drives and campaigning like this may not even be legal where you live.

Social Security number?  They don’t need no stinking Social Security number.

Which brings us to another point: most states do pull much of your identifying information from your license–not your SSN.  Very few states require you to give your full SSN in order to register, and that’s only if you don’t have an active state-issued ID (those are Hawaii, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia).  In the other 44 states, you’ll only need to give the last four numbers.

Even though your state does have to be able to verify your identity, it is very likely they do it without asking you for your full SSN.  Your state doesn’t need your full SSN–they just need to know if you know it.  And if you have a current license?  It’s very likely they won’t ask for any part of your SSN.

But you know who absolutely will want your full SSN? An identity thief.  So as always, don’t give it to anyone you don’t know and don’t give it to anyone soliciting you out of the blue–no matter what method of contact they use.

You want what?

This might seem pretty obvious, but it’s worth mentioning.

Under no circumstances will any part of the voter registration process involve your bank account, your cash, your checkbook, or your credit cards.  Registering to vote doesn’t cost money.  Verifying your identity will not be done with your bank account or credit card numbers.

Anyone who tells you they need your bank account numbers to verify you is lying.  And anyone offering you registration paperwork for a fee is trying to rip you off (while this may be legal, you can find all of the paperwork needed to register for free at your post office or local election board office).

Door-to-door deception: stay vigilant for common summertime home repair, landscaping, and security system scams

For many of us, Winter 2017 was a cold that wouldn’t quit (and here in our Nation’s Capital, Spring 2018 has been a total wash).  With Summer Solstice less than a month away, we can finally trade the jackets and galoshes for sandals, sunglasses, and a tall glass of iced tea.

But shorts and flip-flops aren’t the only things making their 2018 debuts right about now: just like mosquitoes, you can expect seasonal scammers to start buzzing around front porches near you.

And while phone, mail, and email schemes are snow, sleet, and rain-proof, summer sunshine offers scammers yet another opportunity to bilk seniors out of money–one that can be incredibly lucrative if they’re willing to step up and ring the doorbell.

Door-to-door scamming uses the warm weather to take advantage of those thinking about big summertime renovation projects, like repairing the roof or fence, resealing the driveway, or installing a brand new security system.

It’s also a time of year homeowners are spending a lot more time out in their yards–especially retirees on weekdays when neighbors are off at work.  These scammers can screen neighborhoods, easily identify their preferred victims while they’re weeding their flowerbeds, and approach the victim right in their yard to make a high-pressure sales pitch.

As with many scams, senior victims are frequently ideal targets.  Imagine a victim living alone–someone who may have health, cognitive, or mobility challenges–being approached by several people incredibly eager to make a sale.  People of all ages struggle with aggressive sales situations, but seniors can be especially vulnerable.

The scammer can offer anything from fence repair to tree trimming to house painting or siding repair.  He might offer some kind of free inspection service for home security or pests.  Recently, many of these scammers even claim to be with a utility company offering some kind of new product, upgrade, or inspection.

But in the end, no matter what service they’re offering, their goal is to make you a promise, take your money, and run.

Particularly clever door-to-door scammers have even been known to base their scam narrative off legitimate work being done in the neighborhood.

For example, a con artist might give his driveway paving scam the semblance of legitimacy by knocking on doors when actual paving trucks are working down the block.  In a common version of this scam, the fraudster will make his pitch by saying, “we’re with the paving company working down the street and we have some extra asphalt–we noticed your driveway could use work and we’d like to offer you a deal.”

Like any scam, these “contractors” will usually ask for money up front–in cash–before work has even been initiated.  Once payment is secured, the scammer will either show up to do incredibly shoddy work or won’t show up for the scheduled work at all.  Though the latter may seem particularly bad, the former is often much worse–not only does a victim lose thousands of dollars in payment to the scammer, but it may also cost thousands more to hire a professional to correct the damage that was done.

Rule #1: as door-to-door scamming season approaches, don’t trust any kind of contractor, landscaper, or renovation specialist soliciting you without your inquiry.  This isn’t to say ALL door-to-door sales are sinister–it’s very possible a roofing company could try to drum up a little extra business near a work site by leaving their information with neighbors in need of a few repairs.  But you should be very skeptical and you should NEVER agree to any kind of work based on a doorstep solicitation.  Always, always, always research a company and read reviews before you schedule work.  Ask for information and time to consider the offer, but definitely don’t make the decision on the spot.

Rule #2: high-pressure sales tactics are the hallmark of scammers.  “We can only give you this low price if you schedule the work right now,” “this offer is only available today,” “if you don’t act now, we won’t be in this area again.”  These strategies are intended to make you go against your better judgment and make a split-second uninformed decision.  A legitimate contractor gives you time to consider a quote. Be wary of those who don’t.

Rule #3: do not pay contractors upfront.  While it is common and customary for homeowners and contractors to negotiate a reasonable down payment for major repairs or substantial work, don’t trust someone demanding most or all of their compensation upfront.  A scammer will try to squeeze every last drop of money out of a victim upfront as possible.  A professional will understand and expect that a client needs to see great work being completed as promised before making full payment.

Rule #4: whatever payment structure you agree on, get it in writing before you make payment.

Rule #5: be wary when asked to pay in cash.  Like Rule #1, this is not always a marker for a scammer.  Legitimate contractors take cash the same way a scammer will–some professionals may even offer a small discount on work if you pay in cash.  But the difference between a professional and a scammer is a professional accepts several forms of payment–scammers only accept cash.  Combined with demanding payment upfront, if a door-to-door solicitor only accepts cash for services, you’ve probably got a scammer on your hands.

These aren’t the only solid suggestions you should keep in mind to avoid being door-to-door scammed. Check out this article at AgingCare for some more common door-to-door scam tactics and key things to keep and eye on to avoid becoming another victim.

Gone phishin’: scammers’ favorite crime and what you need to know to protect yourself

Phishing scams–so-called because they bait victims into “biting” and handing over cash and personal information–are some of the fastest growing scams in the world. Phishing scams have grown by 65% in the past year, and 76% of businesses fall prey to phishing attempts every year. These scams cost individuals and companies millions of dollars in damages.

The most basic phishing attempt consists of a scammer reaching out in some way and presenting himself as someone he’s not in an effort to convince you to either give him money or information he can use to take your money later.  He might offer you a product, service, or some kind of counseling to entice you, or he might make threats to scare you into coughing up your information (think the latest “you owe the IRS” scams going around).

Phishers–like a great many other kinds of scammers–frequently target seniors due to their retirement accounts, assets, the variety of opportunities and narratives a scammer has to dupe seniors, and most importantly the isolation and loneliness that many experience with age.  And since the majority of phishers use the internet to contact and deceive their victims, it is likely thought many seniors won’t have the technical wherewithal to notice the red flags of a scam.

Here are three common ways you might encounter a phishing scam:

Phone calls 

Responding to recent data breaches and an overall increase in fraud related to identity theft, Medicare beneficiaries received replacement Medicare cards featuring new Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICN).  Previously these numbers were based on the cardholder’s SSN, making seniors vulnerable to identity theft should they have their card stolen or copied.

Ironically, scammers used this security update as an opportunity to extract tons of sensitive information–including the SSNs Medicare was trying to protect–from beneficiaries who believed they were providing a legitimate agency with details related to the card update.

In reality, they were being phone-phished by scammers pretending to work for Medicare.  In one scenario victims were told they’d need to pay for their replacement cards and were prompted for bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or asked to wire money for the fee.  In another, they were told in order to receive the updated card, they’d have to verify or provide personal information.

In both cases, these phone numbers were often “spoofed” to appear as though the call were coming from a legitimate source, and callers came prepared with the name of the target.

Websites

It is estimated 46,000 phishing websites are created every single day, with an average of 1.4 million every month.  These websites reach us via the email, social media links, and advertisements we view every day.  Most masquerade as seemingly legitimate online stores or services, and more insidious versions are designed to mimic and sometimes totally replicate a well-known company or agency website.

Take for example the Google login page.  Gmail is an incredibly popular web-based email service that millions of people log into every day.  We all know the simple yet highly identifiable white login screen:

Actually, this isn’t the Google login page.  This was a phishing site that was stealing users’ Google account credentials in order to gain access to their personal data.

THIS was the legitimate Google login page at the time:

This is how sinister these sites can be.  To recognize the fake from the authentic, the user would have had to notice the serif font in the Google logo (Google abandoned its famous serif font for the sans-serif font seen on the authentic image in 2015) and the lack of a two-prompt login process (meaning you are prompted to enter your email first and then your password on the next screen instead of both on one screen–another change Google made in 2015).

Would you have paid that much attention?  Do you even know the Google login that well?  Most people probably don’t.

Now imagine it’s a Medicare site.  Or a Social Security Administration website.  Or an online pharmacy offering amazing deals on critical prescription medications.  Maybe it’s a seniors dating service or a seniors travel club or a retirement community.  All you need to do to access your amazing deal or offer is enter your name, your address, your phone number, your SSN, your credit card number, your bank account number, or enter the login details to your existing my SocialSecurity account or email.

Email

According to the Canadian government, over 156 million phishing emails are sent every single day–and despite our best attempts to identify and destroy these mass emailings, as many as 16 million malicious emails sneak past spam filters daily.

Email is without a doubt the go-to weapon in every cyberattacker’s arsenal.  Not only is it a great way to communicate with a victim or coax a victim toward a phishing website, but it opens the door to just about every way an online attacker can access your data, your devices, and your network.

As much as 91% of ALL cyberattacks begin with a simple email.

Typically the goal of these emails is to use trick the recipient into clicking a link to a phishing website.  Like the websites, these emails can be cleverly disguised to mimic the branding of a trusted website, vendor, or online portal.  But a scammer may reach out directly to message and manipulate an intended victim–such as in the now famous “Nigerian Prince” scam.

But these emails can be particularly harmful when they act as vectors for malicious code. Some of the most devastating exploits and infections in the history of the internet were released into the digital wild via an innocuous-looking email attachment.

A sophisticated cybercriminal can disguise just about any flavor of data-stealing, device-damaging malware (Cofense estimates over 97% of phishing emails now contain some kind of ransomware, a particularly brutal and usually irreversible malware that encrypts your hard drive until you pay a ransom for the decryption key–if the attacker plans on giving you that key at all).

And don’t be too hasty in thinking you’d instinctively recognize a malicious message or attachment: Intel found 97% of users globally are not able to identify a truly clever phishing email.

How to recognize a phishing scam

  • Don’t trust anyone who contacts you and demands money or sensitive information on the spot. This is not how ANY legitimate business or agency does business.  Email and phone are unsecure–nobody looking out for your best interests will demand SSNs and bank account numbers over these channels.  And most of the agencies these people pretend to be from (like Medicare) will NEVER call you or email you asking you this information. They already have it.
  • Don’t trust anyone demanding payment with cash or cash-like methods. Wiring money, buying gift cards in round amounts and reading the numbers over the phone, and sending cash are ALWAYS signs of a scam.
  • Don’t trust anyone demanding payment or information with threats, pressure, or scare-tactics. Again, this is not how a legitimate agency does things.
  • Always, always, always look closely at website URLS. The #1 giveaway that you’ve been navigated to a phishing website is the URL.  Before you enter login information or credit card information into a site, check the URL to make sure it matches that of the legitimate site you’re trying to use.  Though a phishing site may look dead-on, you’ll often find the URL exposes you aren’t where you should be.  Dummy URLs often have long strings of gibberish, subtle misspellings or errors, are missing forward slashes, or don’t have the s in “https”.
  • Don’t ever trust forms embedded in emails.
  • Check the legitimacy of email links before clicking. Hover your cursor over hyperlinks in emails to show the true link URL.  What is displayed in the text may not match the true URL.
  • Make sure the sender email address is valid.The sender’s domain address may not be a legitimate email address of the company or agency the sender claims to be part of.
  • Ignore pop-up ads that ask for your login or information.
  • Use fake passwords to test the legitimacy of a login. A phishing site has no idea if the login credentials you’re using are correct–they will sign you in no matter what username or password you give because they are simply logging what you’ve entered.  If you enter a fake username and password into a login screen and appear to be successfully logged into the site, it’s probably a phishing site.
  • Don’t assume all links in an email are legitimate if one or two appear to be. It is a common tactic of phishers to hide bogus links in a cluster of legitimate links.
  • Don’t click suspicious email attachments for any reason. Unless you are absolutely certain of the identity of the sender, you should never download unsolicited email attachments.  The ONLY email attachments you should open are those you are already expecting to receive.  Businesses do not send attachments unsolicited.
  • Don’t trust display names or email address headers. In the same way a phisher by phone can spoof a phone number, an email phisher can spoof the name of the sender and the headers of email addresses.  Always look closely at domains and never take display names for granted.

Is this a scam? Pay attention to way someone asks you to pay

phone-449836_1920.jpgThe hardest part of preventing yourself from becoming the victim of a scammer is recognizing whether an offer or threat is a scam in the first place.

Many people fail to appreciate a seasoned scammer knows what he’s doing. The more confident you are no one can get one over on you, the more susceptible you are to a true professional.

A successful scammer is charismatic, very convincing, and failing all else, knows how to apply pressure and intimidate his target. He’s anticipated your questions and prepared responses–and he’s maybe even prepared to counter some of the well-known techniques recommended to identify a scammer.

That’s why we can’t ever fault someone for falling for these schemes. These people are very good at what they do. And anyway, if it were easy to recognize a scam, no one would be a scammer. There wouldn’t be any profit in it.

But even a brilliant social engineer can’t hide every telltale sign of fraud. At the end of the day, the scammer has to be able to make a financial transaction to receive his prize. And this transaction has to be done in a way that obscures his identity and can’t be reversed.

Basically, a scammer needs his victim to give him cash. Cash leaves no paper trail, can be picked up at anonymous locations, and payment can’t be stopped when the fraud is discovered.

No matter what the scam is or how good the scammer is, they will give themselves away when the time comes to ask a victim to pony up. Not only will he eventually ask you for a form of cash, he’ll probably also tell you it’s the only way you can pay.

Absolutely no trustworthy company or organization does business this way.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends watching for this very ask if you suspect someone who has contacted you for money is trying to trick you.


Just bear in mind it won’t always be paper currency. There are several payment options a scammer might suggest that essentially function the same as paper currency:

  • Wiring money
  • Sending or providing the number from gift cards, like Amazon, iTunes, Apple (the scammer will usually sell these gift cards to receive a profit)
  • Sending or providing the number from prepaid debit cards, like MoneyPak/Green Dot cards, Reloadit cards, or VISA gift cards

Again, keep this in mind: with the exception of small retailers and eateries you’d visit in person, almost no legitimate business deals in cash only (many won’t deal with cash at all). And no illegitimate business will deal in anything else.

No matter how good his “you owe the IRS a ton of money” game is, a scammer blows his entire setup when he has to ask you for cash–especially if it requires you to buy 13 iTunes gift cards at exactly $150 each and call him back to read him all 13 numbers (hahaha, the IRS wants you to do what?).

So ignore the offer, the personality, the threats, and the details. All you need to do to catch a crook is keep an ear out for the dead giveaway: scammers always ask for cash.

Once the caller demands a wire transfer or a VISA gift card, hang up the phone. Don’t argue, don’t reason with the scammer, and don’t let him know you find his demands for cash suspicious (as we’ve already said, top notch scammers know to finesse you and talk themselves out of corners). Don’t even say a word.

Just abruptly hang up the phone and block the number.

Kentucky lawyer pulls off $550 million disability con–the largest Social Security fraud in U.S. history

In 2010, small town Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn was the third-highest-earning disability lawyer in the United States, winning $3.9 million for his clients in their disability claims against the Social Security Administration.

By all appearances, Conn was a virtuoso. He boasted a 99% success rate in getting his clients their disability payments–collecting as much as $6,000 for himself per win. In his advertisements, Conn used the moniker “Mr. Social Security.”

But those were just appearances. While it’s true Conn successfully argued most of his cases, it had nothing to do with skill.

Well, not litigation skills, anyway.

Unbeknownst to his clients, the Social Security Administration, and just about everyone who knew his reputation, Conn was committing the single largest Social Security fraud in history.

His high win rate was purchased from a corrupt Social Security judge willing to approve anything Conn put across his desk in exchange for over a half million dollars in bribes.

For the next seven years, law enforcement built their case against Conn and his accomplice, Judge David Daughtery. While Daughtery plead guilty to multiple felonies regarding his role in the fraud, Conn fled the country to escape imprisonment.

Meanwhile, as many as 1,700 innocent people suddenly lost their Social Security disability payments, which they came to know in time were obtained illegally.

CNBC reports on the mind-boggling scheme, its impact on Conn’s victims, and how those seeking assistance with their own Social Security cases can guard themselves against unscrupulous third party claim representatives.

How a small town lawyer pulled off the biggest Social Security scam in U.S. history and why it could happen again from CNBC.

 

Brace yourself: popular health scam promises free medical equipment and fraudulently bills your Medicare

It can happen a few different ways: you might be contacted via a phone call, you might receive a notice or postcard in the mail, or you may choose to contact the individual yourself after seeing an ad in your local circular or newspaper.

And the person you end up speaking to won’t always have the exact same story. Sometimes he’ll be a Medicare representative. Sometimes he’ll say he’s an employee of a medical device manufacturer or supplier. He might even tell you he was referred to you directly by your personal physician.

But though the contact method and back story is variable, what’s definitely going to happen when you start going back and forth with this scammer is he’s going to recommend you take him up on an excellent medical equipment offer.

Has your back troubled you recently? Do you have aches in your knees at all? Well, a brand new back or knee brace might be just the thing to improve your stability and ease your pain in these areas.

And since this equipment is 100% covered by Medicare, you won’t have to come out-of-pocket at all if you’re a Medicare beneficiary.

…So are you currently receiving Medicare? Can I have your card number?

The problem with this scam isn’t that your Medicare won’t cover your new back brace–it’s that the “Medicare representative” on the other end of phone isn’t intending on sending it to you.

That’s because once the scammer has the number on your Medicare card and whatever other personal information he might need, he can bill Medicare for your equipment–whether he sends it to you or not.

Often, back brace scammers don’t stop at just billing for a device they never sent.

Not only do they bill Medicare far more than the device’s actual value, but they’ll go on to repeatedly bill Medicare over time for treatments and equipment you never asked for or received.

Medicare scammers can run up tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent Medicare claims in your name before they’re discovered.

The bottom line is this: when it comes to your medical treatments and therapies, put your trust in your caregivers alone. Only your doctor knows your history and what your needs are as a patient. All of your medical decision-making, including what therapeutic braces or equipment you might need, can and should be done through a trusted medical professional face-to-face.

Keep your Medicare and personal information private at all times. And never respond to ads, calls, mailings, or emails making medical offers or asking for your personal medical information. Direct all concerns and questions you have about your healthcare to your doctor alone.

“Just Hang Up”: Dan Rather Reports investigates the devastating impact of lottery and sweepstakes scams on seniors

They say “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” But saying something isn’t all that hard to do.

In theory, if a stranger reaches out to you and offers you the moon and stars out of nowhere, sure. It’s easy to say their promises probably come with a pretty big catch. After all, ain’t nothin’ free in this world.

But seasoned scam artists know you probably think that, so simply cold-calling, making the offer, and seeing who bites isn’t how they operate. Their challenge is to break through the wall of your common sense and good judgment by identifying the weak spots and chipping away until they gain entry.

They do this by selecting victims carefully and being willing to play a long game to gain trust and reap bigger rewards in time. Lottery scammers want lonely victims, victims who want to talk and trust, and victims who are likely to be in need extra funds. In most cases, this makes the ideal victim a senior.

Think about it: many seniors live alone, have few close friends, and limited contact with children and family members. Having few opportunities to sit and chat with someone, they’re likely to stay on the phone–and even more likely to share personal details and trust someone quickly.

These details and this trust are what the scammer needs to begin building a “relationship” with you. And it’s this relationship that makes the adage about looking gift horses in the mouth irrelevant–the scammer is just a helpful friend trying to give you a windfall of cash to help with medical and retirement expenses.

But once this trust is established, your “friend” will start asking you for money. To pay transfer fees. To pay taxes on your winnings. To pay for transporting your prize to your home. They’ll ask you to mail cash, to send Greendot or Visa gift cards, or wire money from your account.

And they’ll keep it going for as long as they can. The only thing you’ll ever receive from them are excuses–never your winnings.

Before a victim even realizes what happened, they’ve often lost thousands of dollars. In particularly heinous cases, seniors have lost their homes and nearly everything they’ve ever owned because of this scam.

In this three-part series from Dan Rather Reports, Rather and his team dive headfirst into the growing problem of senior lottery scamming. This investigation explores the lives of victims and confronts the lottery scammers face-to-face on their home turf.