Well, here we are at finally at the end of tax filing season and the fraudsters are more active now than ever. So far this year, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) scam tracker, there have been 4,151 scams added to their database. And many scams are repeated, often driven by life moments such as taxes. It is fairly common knowledge that IRS scams abound during tax season and the tactics are pretty much the same: you get a call from an ‘IRS agent’ claiming that you owe back taxes. And if you don’t pay up, (using untraceable gift cards), they will send agents out to arrest you on the spot. The news media has been pretty good about debunking this scam by communicating that the IRS never calls people demanding that they owe back taxes, even if in fact that they do owe them. In addition, they will never ask for gift cards for payment. This is an obvious tipoff to a ripoff.
But here are some other scams that are relatively new on the horizon or old scams with a new spin on them:
This scam involves users of the popular website AirBnB that lets travelers rent an apartment or house. The scam starts with an imposter home or apartment owner directing the renter towards a fraudulent website to finalize payment for the rental. Those fake sites result in lost money and no place to stay because the rental property is being ‘stolen’ by scammers.
“Can You Hear Me” and “Yes” calls
This scam happens when you answer the phone and the person on the other end asks, “Can you hear me?” When you respond “Yes”, your voice is being recorded to obtain a voice signature for scammers to authorize fraudulent charges over the phone. So far this year, the BBB Scam Tracker received more than 10,000 reports on the ‘Can you hear me?’ scam.
This scam starts with a criminal posting an online advertisement with a low price to get the attention of a buyer, including photos and contact information. When a buyer reaches out to the “seller” they send more photos and what appears to be a logical reason why the price is so low and a need to sell. Some of these reasons are divorce or the person is in the military and is being deployed to another location on short notice. The criminal then instructs the victim to purchase gift cards in the amount of the sale and share the prepaid codes. The victim is told that they will receive the vehicle in a few days. When the victim doesn’t hear back, they are left without their money and still in need of a car.
I covered the concept of cryptocurrency in last month’s column but not the scammers ripping off investors. As the price of Bitcoin skyrocketed in 2017, scammers jumped in to take advantage of the frenzy. My byline was that, being really nothing more then a computer program, cryptocurrencies are in my opinion the wild west. For example, up until recently, a web site called Prodeum was listed on several social networking sites that offered direct ownership of bitcoins. The problem was that the only purpose of the site was to steal client’s money, nothing more. And, such sites as Facebook and Instagram have banned advertisements of bitcoin investments.
Lastly, according to the FBI, the Japanese bitcoin exchange Coincheck was hacked in January and thieves were able to steal more than $500 million in cryptocurrencies. This is the largest cryptocurrency hack to date. So, as I mentioned in my last column, if you are considering bitcoins as an investment-be VERY careful. Better yet, avoid them altogether.
Death Threat Hoax
The FBI came out warning consumers about death threats being made through e-mails that state, ”I will be short. I’ve got an order to kill you.” The e-mail then demands money or bitcoin as a payout from the email recipients. Other versions of the scam could state that a hitman has been hired to kill them. This scam is very aggressive and threatening in nature to convince people to pay up or else.
Fake Bank Apps
Big banks have scammers posing as them in the form of computer applications or apps. A recent survey by Avast, a multinational cybersecurity firm, found that one in three worldwide users mistakenly believed that a fake mobile banking app was the real thing, putting their financial data at risk for theft. Thieves use the huge customer base of major banks to try to get past the secure app stores and collect personal information.
These are just a few of the major scams that are out there. There are many more and I will be covering them in next months column as well as tips on how to avoid being scammed.
If you have any questions about this article or if I can be of assistance to you with your investment portfolio please feel free to call me at 480-296-9556.
Rudy Eidenbock, Financial Advisor, RJFS
Office: 480-307-9909, Cell:480-295-9556
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