This afternoon I received a text message from my sister. We use the same credit union for our banking and she and her husband had just received the same text, supposedly from this credit union, notifying her of an “alert” on her account. My sister is smart. She was suspicious of this text. She sent me a text message to see if I had received anything similar. I had not. Then I checked my account online to see if there were any alerts there. Still nothing. So then my sister called the credit union directly….not at the number that came in the text, but instead on a number she found on the credit union’s web site. My sister’s suspicions were confirmed. This was a phishing scam.
Crooks have gotten pretty clever with their attempts at identity theft. Phishing scams are everywhere. It could be a text from “your bank.” Or an email from “your student loan servicer.” A phone call from “Microsoft.” A phone call from “the IRS.” It’s everywhere. Protect yourself. Be suspicious. Never just click on the link in the text or email. Find a genuine phone number for follow up. Never give out your personal information on a phone call that you didn’t make. Never let someone who called you have remote access to your computer. Be smart. Be suspicious. Don’t be scammed.
We’re in the heart of income tax season, and the scam artists are all over it. It happens every year. Scammers contact taxpayers by telephone, posing as the IRS, telling the tale that the taxpayer owes a back income tax debt of several thousand dollars. They will threaten things like arrest, deportation, or driver’s license revocation if the tax bill is not paid immediately. And they will insist that this bill be paid by credit card.
You can see where this is going. The victim gives the credit card number to the phony IRS agent on the phone and then the fraudulent charges happen. This leaves the victim with a huge mess to clean up.
So here’s what you need to know. If you are surprised that the IRS is contacting you, then it’s more than likely NOT the IRS contacting you. The IRS will never call you to collect a tax debt without having first sent a paper bill by US Mail. The IRS will never ask for a credit card number over the phone. If you think you may owe a tax debt, you should contact the IRS directly at their phone number, 1-800-829-1040. If you happen to hear from one of these scammers…hang up. Do not return their calls. And if you feel ambitious….report them to the authorities. You can learn more here.
I really haven’t paid attention to the idea of scammers for a while. Phishing. Smishing. Phone scams. Everybody knows about that, right? Do we have to still think about it? Apparently the answer is yes.
I have elderly parents. And last week they received a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The man on the phone said he knew that my folks had been having trouble with their computer and he wanted to help. My father, who always struggles with his computer (I blame Windows 8), was ready to listen. Luckily my father never gave out his credit card information (which is how this scam usually ends), but he did direct his computer to several websites. I haven’t been able to get to their house to examine the damage yet, but I’m fairly certain that viruses and malware have been released. I have my folks carefully checking their credit card activity every day to watch for fraudulent charges, as I know they have used their card for online purchases and that number is likely stored in their computer’s memory somewhere.
So fraud is out there. I guess it always will be. How do you protect yourself against it?
Here are some things you SHOULD do:
- Check your banking/credit card statements regularly to make sure every transaction is one you remember making.
- Check your credit report at least once a year (http://www.annualcreditreport.com).
- Change your online passwords regularly—to something complicated that includes letters, numbers, and symbols.
Here are some things you SHOULD NEVER do:
- Give your credit card number out on a telephone call that you did not initiate
- Click on a link in an email or text from someone you don’t know/trust
- Email sensitive information such as your Social Security number
- Call back the number of a missed call from someone you don’t know who did not leave a message identifying themselves
- Wire money to a stranger (yes….people still do this!!!)
I could probably go on and on. But instead I’ll leave you with this helpful information from the Federal Trade Commission.
Watch yourself! Scammers are still out there, and likely always will be.