FINANCIAL TIPS & ALERTS

IRS Warns Taxpayers of Summer Surge in Automated Phone Scam Calls; Requests for Fake Tax Payments Using iTunes Gift Cards

August 2, 2016


The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to stay vigilant against an increase of IRS impersonation scams in the form of automated calls and new tactics from scammers demanding tax payments on iTunes and other gift cards.

The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.” These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken. Once the victim calls back, the scammers may threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of the victim if they don’t agree to pay.

“It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live-person. Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remain alert for this summer surge of phone scams, and watch for clear warning signs as these scammers change tactics.”

In the latest trend, IRS impersonators are demanding payments on iTunes and other gift cards. The IRS reminds taxpayers that any request to settle a tax bill by putting money on any form of gift card is a clear indication of a scam.

Some examples of the varied tactics seen this year are:

  • Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax”--IR-2016-81
  • Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes or other type of gift card
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals--IR-2016-34
  • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone--IR-2016-40
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry--IR-2016-28

Since these bogus calls can take many forms and scammers are constantly changing their strategies, knowing the telltale signs is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.

The IRS Will Never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA (U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
Source: Internal Revenue Service, IRS Newswire, August 2016

BBB Warning: Enjoy Pokemon GO… with Caution

July 12, 2016

In just a few days, Pokemon GO has become the most downloaded phone app in the U.S. The app, which uses mapping software to create a virtual reality game, is getting children and adults out and about in their neighborhoods to “catch” the game characters as they pop up on phone screens from various locations.

Although the game can be a blast, BBB is warning players and parents to be aware of some nuances that go with GO.

Expenses: It’s possible to play completely cost-free by winning “PokeCoins” (the app’s currency) through gameplay, but you can also purchase the coins through an in-app purchase. The longer you play, the more spending money you need to store and “train” your gathered characters. The app also requires constant GPS access, and it uses a lot of data. After playing for hours every day, consumers with limited data plans may find themselves with a hefty bill at the end of the month.

Privacy: In order to play the game, users must allow the app to access other applications, such as maps and camera. Many users sign in with a Google account, and that has caused some concerns about privacy. The Android version of the game only accesses limited data (such as the user’s email address), but the iOS version for the iPhone can access all Google data. Niantic, the game’s maker, says no personal information has been accessed, and it is issuing a bug fix to correct the problem. Users can create an account through the app itself rather than using an email address to access the game.

Malware: So far, the app is only available in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, which has given cybercriminals an opportunity to capitalize on the demand. A malware version of the game has been found online; although no known infections have been reported. Users should only download the app through official app stores, not third-party sites.

Safety: Players should use the same safety precautions while playing the game that they would in any other outdoor setting, including caution in strange locations. A Missouri police department reported robbers using a secluded “PokeStop” location to rob unsuspecting game players. Players should be cautious as pedestrians and obey all traffic laws, and drivers should be on the lookout for children who may be distracted by the game. The app also drains phone batteries, so users should be careful not to get stranded far from home.

Infringement: PokeStops are supposed to all be on public property (or cooperative private sites), but at least one homeowner has reported that his historic house is mistakenly a PokeStop. Players should be respectful of others’ private property. Future commercial opportunities are anticipated, where stores can offer rare or unique characters to add to the game.

Source: Better Business Bureau, Press Release (click here to visit) - 7/12/16

Scam Using FBI Phone Number to Target College Students

April 7, 2016

The FBI Milwaukee Division is warning consumers to be on alert for a phone scam that primarily targets college students using the FBI’s phone number on caller ID.

The FBI has received multiple calls from college students at various universities in Wisconsin and their parents complaining of a phone scam from someone who claims to be representing the U.S. government and threatens to arrest them if they fail to pay thousands of dollars. In each case, the threats are associated with false claims ranging from money owed for student loans to delinquent taxes and overdue parking tickets.

During each attempt to gain personally identifiable information from the students, the caller claims to have specific student information. The originating number used by the fraudsters, which appears on students’ caller ID, is masked as the number for the FBI’s local office in Wisconsin. In some cases, the fraudsters will direct potential victims to the FBI Milwaukee homepage on the Internet, claiming they can “verify” the caller ID phone number in an attempt to keep victims on the phone and legitimize the scam.

The public is reminded that the FBI does not call private citizens requesting money. If citizens receive a call that seems suspicious, they should disconnect immediately and notify law enforcement.

If you receive these calls, do not follow the caller’s instructions. Rather, you should:

Notify your banking institutions.

  • Contact the three major credit bureaus and request an alert be put on your file.
  • Contact your local law enforcement agencies if you feel you are in immediate danger.
  • File a complaint through the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
Source: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) - Milwaukee Division Press Release, April 7, 2016

Rise of the Robocalls

March 17, 2016

Picture this: It’s dinner time. The kids are screaming. Then the phone rings just as you sit down. It could be important, so you run through the toys to the phone. You answer, but all you hear is silence. After a few seconds, a recorded message reminds you that it may be time to have your carpets cleaned and they offer a great deal this month. Or you’ve won a trip. Or you can lower your credit card interest rate.

Does this sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone. We hear from many people about these robocalls. If the call is a message from someone selling something, and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from that company, the call is illegal.

In fact, the FTC has stopped many companies from engaging in this illegal conduct. For instance, we just settled a case with USA Vacation Station because it made millions of illegal robocalls to sell vacation packages. Under the settlement, the company and its owner are banned from robocalling anyone ever again.

Do robocalls bug you, too? If so, watch this video to learn more about them, and the steps you can take to help slow them down.

Source: Bureau of Consumer Protection - Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information 

It’s Prime Time for Scam Shipping Emails

December 7, 2015

Online gift shopping during the holiday season opens up the market to scammers using fake shipping emails to spread malware or gather personal or banking information. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) warns consumers to be on the lookout for these fake emails and to avoid clicking links or opening attachments in these messages.

“Whether you shop online or not, expect to start seeing fraudulent package delivery and ‘order status’ emails in your account,” said Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “This ploy occurs year-round, but the holiday shopping season is a chance for scammers to increase their spam email output and sneak them in around legitimate shipment emails that consumers might also be receiving.”

Look out for emails or texts that warn you about a problem with a delivery, that ask for account information for security purposes, or that ask you to open an attached “shipment label” in order to claim a package from a local office. Scammers often use the names, logos and color schemes of major shipping companies and retailers to add legitimacy to their messages, and they may also spoof the company’s web address (URL) in the sender’s email address.

If you question whether an email link is legitimate, hover the mouse over the link (but don’t click it!). At the bottom of your browser window, you can view the URL where the link will actually take you.

Look out for the following red flags in your inbox this holiday season:

  • Messages claiming that there is a “problem” with a shipment or your account. These emails will ask you to provide personal or banking information or to complete a form on a linked page in order to fix the supposed problem. Do not reply or click any links in the email!
  • Poor grammar and spelling errors in emails that claim to come from major organizations. If the message is sloppy, it likely did not come from a legitimate business.
  • Sender addresses that don’t match the URL for the company that supposedly sent the email. For example, the “From:” line in a fake FedEx email read:
    • “From: FedEx Express Saver (support_@myfasthair.com)”
  • Shipment emails that lack specifics about the sender or the package’s supposed contents.
  • Emails asking you to open an attachment in order to review an order. Never open an attachment in an unsolicited or questionable email.
  • Emails containing threats that a package will be returned to the sender and you will be charged a fee for not responding to the message.

In actuality, there is no product waiting for delivery, and the alarming language in these emails is intended to make recipients act quickly without considering consequences. By clicking on any of the links in the email, a recipient risks downloading malware or handing over personal information to the scammers. If you receive a similar email, delete it and do not click any of the links contained anywhere in the message.

If you are expecting a shipment that may be delayed, contact the shipper directly to inquire. Some e-commerce companies offer package tracking features right on their website. If you made an online purchase, log into your account on the site and see if these options are available.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Information Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Press Release (click here to visit) - 12/7/15

Money Safety Tips for the Holiday Shopping Season

November 23, 2015

Scams, fraud and data hacks abound during peak shopping season. However, you can fight back against the criminals who may try to steal your identity and money with a few precautions and common sense. Protect your identity and your funds during the holiday shopping season by paying attention to the tips below:

Monitor Your Accounts
Proactively monitoring your financial accounts (such as bank and credit card statements) can help you catch errors and spot potential fraud at the first sign. To simplify this process, consider using a single credit card for all your holiday purchases. That way you will only have one statement to check instead of several. This practice has the added benefit of reminding you to stay on track with your budget, too.

Always Think Before You Click
To avoid infecting your computer or mobile device with malicious software, never click on a link to a deal or special savings on a social networking site or in an unsolicited email. Scammers will often disguise a social media post or email to make it seem as if it's coming from a known retailer, but the link will take you to a fake site and infect your device. If you see a link that supposedly leads to a sale you want to take advantage of, visit the retailer's website directly rather than clicking the link. From there you can verify if the sale is legit.

When Shopping Online, Avoid Public Wi-Fi
If you're doing some of your holiday shopping online to avoid the crowds, keep in mind that any purchases made online require transmitting your credit card and/or bank account information over the internet. Using a public Wi-Fi connection to do so puts that sensitive information at risk. Hackers can tap into unsecured Wi-Fi connections at hotspots like coffee shops and airport terminals to capture that information. The new, more secure EMV chip cards do not protect against this kind of fraud. If you're using a wireless connection to shop, be sure that it requires a password or WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) key.

Be Proactive
Finally, take action if you hear about a data breach or other fraud that could affect your accounts by changing your passwords. This is especially critical if you use the same password on multiple accounts. If you notice suspicious charges on your credit card or transfers from your banking account, contact your bank right away to notify them of the issue. They may put a freeze on the account to prevent further fraud, but this will keep the criminals from emptying your account.

Source: Wisconsin Bankers Association, Consumer Column published 11/12/15

How to Recognize Phishing Email Messages, Links, or Phone Calls

October 29, 2015

{While this post is applicable to most computer users, there is information at the end that pertain to those who have Microsoft.  If your computer has a different operating system, please contact the vendor directly.}

Phishing email messages, websites, and phone calls are designed to steal money. Cybercriminals can do this by installing malicious software on your computer or stealing personal information off of your computer.
Cybercriminals also use social engineering to convince you to install malicious software or hand over your personal information under false pretenses. They might email you, call you on the phone, or convince you to download something off of a website.

What does a phishing email message look like? Here is an example of what a phishing scam in an email message might look like.

Tip - Phishing 1

  • Spelling and bad grammar. Cybercriminals are not known for their grammar and spelling. Professional companies or organizations usually have a staff of copy editors that will not allow a mass email like this to go out to its users. If you notice mistakes in an email, it might be a scam.
  • Beware of links in email. If you see a link in a suspicious email message, don't click on it. Rest your mouse (but don't click) on the link to see if the address matches the link that was typed in the message. In the example below the link reveals the real web address, as shown in the box with the yellow background. The string of cryptic numbers looks nothing like the company's web address.

Tip - Phishing 2

            NOTE: Links might also lead you to .exe files. These kinds of file are known to spread malicious software.

  • Threats. Have you ever received a threat that your account would be closed if you didn't respond to an email message? The email message shown above is an example of the same trick. Cybercriminals often use threats that your security has been compromised.
  • Spoofing popular websites or companies. Scam artists use graphics in email that appear to be connected to legitimate websites, but actually take you to phony scam sites or legitimate-looking pop-up windows.  Cybercriminals also use web addresses that resemble the names of well-known companies but are slightly altered. 
  • Replying to email. If for some reason, you do attempt to reply to the phishing email, look at the reply to email. The email might have the person’s name the cybercriminal was posing as, but the email address will be a different email.

Beware of phishing phone calls

Cybercriminals might call you on the phone and offer to help solve your computer problems or sell you a software license. Neither Microsoft nor their partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes.

Once they've gained your trust, cybercriminals might ask for your user name and password or ask you to go to a website to install software that will let them access your computer to fix it. Once you do this, your computer and your personal information is vulnerable.

Treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism. Do not provide any personal information.

Report phishing scams

If you receive a fake phone call, take down the caller's information and report it to your local authorities.

Whenever you receive a phone call or see a pop-up window on your PC and feel uncertain whether it is from someone at Microsoft, don’t take the risk. Reach out directly to one of their technical support experts dedicated to helping you at the Microsoft Support

You can use Microsoft tools to report a suspected scam on the web or in email.

  • Internet Explorer. While you are on a suspicious site, click the gear icon and then point to Safety. Then click Report Unsafe Website and use the web page that is displayed to report the website.
  • Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail). If you receive a suspicious email message that asks for personal information, click the check box next to the message in your Outlook inbox. Click the arrow next to Junk and then point to Phishing scam.
  • Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 and 2013. Right-click the suspicious message, point to Junk, and then click Report Junk.
Source: Microsoft Safety & Security Center - click here to visit.

Computer Security Steps You Should Take

October 19, 2015

Scammers, hackers, and identity thieves are looking to steal your personal information – and your money. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself, like keeping your computer software up-to-date and giving out your personal information only when you have a good reason.

Find more information on how to protect your computer and your information from getting into the wrong hands by visiting the Federal Trade Commission's website.

 Source: Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information

Avoiding ‘Card Skimming’ at ATMs and Other Money Machines

June 16, 2015

Be wary when you use automated teller machines (ATMs) and other payment processing machines. Thieves may be using high-tech tools in scams to capture your account information to steal your money. These scams, known as “card skimming,” involve attaching devices to money machines that read the information on your debit and credit cards when you swipe them. When combined with a nearby concealed camera to record your personal identification number (PIN), the thieves can get everything they need to drain your account or to make unauthorized purchases. In addition to using the information directly, thieves may sell your information to others.

ATMs and automated payment machines in airports, convenience stores, hotel lobbies, and other well-traveled, public places may be most vulnerable to thieves who may think these machines are not regularly inspected by the machine owners. However, card skimming may take place at any ATM or card processing machine, including those on bank premises. As technology makes these devices smaller and more powerful, the risk of card skimming grows.

How High-Tech Thieves Operate
Thieves have many ways to steal your account information. They may attach a card skimmer that looks and acts like a genuine part of the ATM or other type of money machine. The device may be a simple, curved plastic sheath over the card slot. The skimmer reads the magnetic strip or computer chip on your card and transmits your account information to the thieves or saves the information until the skimmer is retrieved.

Thieves may also use a wireless camera concealed nearby in a box holding brochures or in a light fixture. The camera photographs or videotapes your fingers as they enter your PIN on a keypad or screen. Like a card skimmer, the camera can transmit images instantly or save them until the thieves retrieve the camera later. A camera and card skimmer can be used together.

ATM Skimming Graphic

Safeguarding Your Personal Bank Account Information
To help protect you, banks and retailers take measures to minimize the risk of fraudulent use of your debit or credit card, particularly when those purchases are made by telephone or online.

Before approving telephone purchases, retailers typically confirm your identity by asking for personal information. They may ask for your address, the last four digits of your social security number, or answers to security questions you created when you set up your account. Retailers also may ask for the three-digit security code printed on the front or back of your debit or credit card. To protect your online transaction from electronic fraud, many commercial Web sites require you to unscramble a word or a number displayed as a fuzzy or distorted image that is difficult for software to read.

Protecting Yourself With Common Sense Security Measures

  • Ultimately, you must protect yourself against thieves and the tools they use to access your accounts to steal from you. To protect yourself, follow these common-sense precautions.
  • Walk away from an ATM if you notice someone watching you or if you sense something wrong with the machine; immediately report your suspicions to the company operating the machine or a nearby law enforcement officer.
  • Before using an ATM, examine nearby objects that might conceal a camera; check the card slot for a plastic sheath before inserting your card.
  • Never keep a written copy of your PIN in your wallet or purse as it could be stolen; instead memorize your PIN and keep a paper record hidden at home.
  • When entering your PIN, stand close to the machine and hold your hand over the keypad or screen to make it more difficult for a person or camera to watch you.
  • Beware of strangers offering to help you with an ATM that appears disabled and notify someone responsible for the security of the machine.
  • Regularly review your account statements, either online or on paper, and check for unauthorized withdrawals and purchases. If you find one, immediately contact your bank or credit card provider, as this will limit your financial liability for fraudulent charges.

Federal laws limit your liability from debit and credit card fraud. Two federal laws, in particular, protect you:

  1. The Truth in Lending Act generally limits your liability to $50 for any unauthorized use of your credit card. However, you are not responsible for unauthorized charges on your account—if you report a lost or stolen credit card before the card is used. Also, you are not responsible if the fraud results from someone using your credit card number alone rather than your credit card.
  2. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act also limits your liability for unauthorized use of your debit or ATM cards—if you quickly report the lost or stolen card. You are not held responsible for unauthorized charges if you report the fraud before unauthorized transactions are made. If unauthorized transactions occur before you report your card missing or compromised, your liability depends on how quickly you report the loss.

Additional Information

The Federal Trade Commission provides more in formation on what to do if your card is lost or stolen in its fact sheet “Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM and Debit Cards."

Source: Comptroller of the Currency Administrator of National Banks, Consumer Advisory, 6/2011

Hijacked Computer: What to Do

June 12, 2015

Can’t turn your computer on or off? Is it acting up, running slow, opening pages you didn't click, or displaying pop-ups constantly? There's a good chance your computer's been hacked or infected with a virus. Here’s what to do...

Source: Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information

BBB Alert: Con Artists are Targeting Student Loan Holders

April 21, 2015

Fast and easy forgiveness of your student loans! Sound too good to be true? That's because it is. Watch out for scams that entice student loan holders by promising to erase their debt.

How the Scam Works:

You get a phone call, email or spot a post on social media that claims a company can erase your student loan debt. Many claim that their service is made possible by a new government program or policy.

The company asks for an upfront fee to negotiate with your student loan lender on your behalf. They will claim they've helped numerous other clients, but don't believe them! Student loans can only be forgiven under specific circumstances, which are not fast or easy. These scammers will take your fee and disappear.

In another version of the student loan scam, con artists claim that they can save you money by consolidating your loans. Some charge a fee for using a free government service. Others may actually move your loans to a private lender with a higher interest rate.

“Our office has been receiving an unusually high volume of calls from people inquiring about loan forgiveness offers,” said Ran Hoth, CEO and President of the Better Business Bureau. “We want to get the word out that these type of calls are making the rounds and to caution people to do some research before making a hasty decision.”

How to Spot this a Student Loan Scam:

  • Never pay upfront. Real lenders will take a percentage once their service is complete. You don't need to pay an upfront fee beforehand.
  • Know your options. If you are having trouble paying your student loans, contact your lender directly. You can research programs offered by the federal government.
  • Never give a 3rd party power of attorney. Don't sign anything giving a company the power to negotiate on your behalf. A scam company can use this to take control over your loans.
  • If it seems too good to be true... It probably is. Any company that claims it can erase your student loan debt in minutes is lying. Don't bother responding to the ad or email.

Learn more about student loans at Studentaid.ed.gov.

Source: Better Business Bureau (BBB) - Wisconsin News

Scammers play name game and get caught

March 27, 2015

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes it’s illegal. Just ask the people behind First Time Credit Solutions, who promoted their business as “FTC Credit Solutions” until the real Federal Trade Commission shut them down. The group claimed their credit repair firm was licensed by the FTC, and allegedly took thousands of dollars from people after promising to delete negative, but accurate, information from their credit reports. In fact, the operation wasn’t licensed by the FTC — no credit repair service is — and didn’t get true, negative information removed from credit reports, because that’s against the law. The FTC is working to permanently ban the operators from offering credit repair.

FTC Credit advertised nationwide — online, in print and on radio and social media. According to the FTC, the company preyed mostly on lower-income Spanish-speaking people who wanted to modify heavy debts or improve low credit scores. It took illegal advance payments of about $2,000 per person. The FTC said the company mis-used the Commission name and an altered Commission seal, and boasted that its connection to the FTC allowed it to lawfully “delete” true information about late payments, defaults, even bankruptcies. In the end, all it did was draft dispute letters full of false information for people to send the credit reporting companies, the FTC said.

You can improve your credit, with time and effort. You don’t have to use a credit repair company; you can do it yourself or with a credit counselor. It doesn’t cost anything to dispute mistakes or outdated items on your credit report. Some accurate negative information will stay on your report for a time, and there’s nothing you can do to make it go away sooner. Most accurate negative information stays on your report for several years. Bankruptcy information usually stays for seven to 10 years.

Source: Federal Trade Commission Blog Post, March 27, 2015

Effective Ways to Build Your Credit Score

March 13, 2015

If you ever plan on making a large purchase - such as a car, house, or large luxury purchase - building credit is essential. For younger consumers, or consumers who have a short credit history (or no credit history), building credit and raising your credit score before applying for a loan could save you thousands by securing a lower interest rate. Here are a few strategies for building your credit score:

Check and Monitor your Credit Report
By law, you are entitled to receive your credit report for free one time each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Take advantage of those free reports and thoroughly check for errors. In particular, watch for incorrect late payments or new accounts that you never opened. If you find any errors, the report will contain instructions on how to dispute them.

Get a Credit Card and Use it Wisely
Apply for a credit card with no annual fee, and then use it for a single recurring purchase (gas or groceries, for example). By paying off even a small balance on time each month, you'll prove to potential lenders that you are responsible and credit-worthy. The important piece of this strategy is to continue to make payments on time and to keep the credit card active for as long as possible. Closing accounts will not usually increase your credit score, and the longer you have the credit card open, the longer your credit history, which will raise your score.

Pay Down Debt
One significant factor that impacts your credit score is your credit utilization ratio, which is the amount of your debt compared to how much credit you have available. One way to improve this ratio is to work toward paying down your debt faster. Start by making two payments each month on the debt that has the highest interest rate. As your total amount of debt goes down, your credit score will go up.

Request a Credit Limit Increase
Another way to improve your credit utilization ratio is to increase the amount of credit you have available. The simplest way to do that is to request a credit increase on your credit card(s). You can do that by contacting your bank or the credit card company directly. They key, however, is to not use any of your new credit. If you do, it won't help you improve your credit score. The important thing is to have it available, but not utilized.

If you're struggling to raise your credit score, contact your bank for advice on how to increase your chances of qualifying for a loan. They also may have credit options available that will help you raise your score over time.

Source: Wisconsin Bankers Association, Consumer Column, February 2015

Package delivery scam — delivered to your inbox

December 18, 2014

Expecting packages shipped to your home this holiday season? You’re not the only one… scammers are, too.

We’ve learned of a phony “delivery failure notification” email making the rounds. It looks like it’s from the U.S. Postal Service — but it’s not. The email says you missed a delivery. But, it says, if you print the attached form and take it to your local post office, you can pick up your package and avoid penalties. The message might also include a link for more details.

Here’s the truth: the email is bogus and there is no package. And if you download the attachment or click on a link, you’re likely to end up with a virus or malware on your device.

Con artists often use the names and logos of familiar organizations to get under your guard. So how do you tell what’s legit and what’s a scam? Here are some ways to spot a bogus email:

  • It tells you to click on a link or download an attachment
  • It urges you to take immediate action
  • It asks you to “re-confirm” personal or financial information

Another sure sign an email is a scam? If you hover over the link in the email, it won’t show the official website of the supposed sender — in this case, the U.S. Postal Service website.

For more tips, check out our articles on phishing and malware. And if you have questions about a delivery by the U.S. Postal Service, visit usps.com or call 1-800-ASK-USPS.

Source: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information Scam Alerts, December 2014

Open Season for Identity Thieves

November 17, 2014

It’s open season for everyone who wants to switch health coverage. As you select your health insurance plan, watch out for scams. Whether you are on Medicare, selecting a plan through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or have private insurance, here are some tips to help you more safely navigate the open enrollment season.

Medicare

A variety of scams take advantage of Medicare recipients. Here are a few:

  • An “official Medicare agent” knocks on your door selling Medicare insurance that can save you money. Stop. It’s a scam. There are no Medicare sales representatives. It’s probably someone who wants to use your information to commit fraud or identity theft.
  • Someone calls and says you must join their prescription plan or else you’ll lose your Medicare coverage. Don’t believe it. The Medicare prescription drug plan (also known as Part D) is voluntary.
  • Someone calls claiming that you need to give your Medicare number in order for you to keep your Medicare coverage under ACA. It’s a scam. Don’t give your personal information over the phone. If you need help with Medicare, call 1-800-MEDICARE or go to medicare.gov.

Affordable Care Act

If you are shopping in the Health Insurance Marketplace, only shop at HealthCare.gov. People who try to sign you up elsewhere may be scammers. If you’re overwhelmed, you can find free official helpers at HealthCare.gov. Official helpers will never ask for money or try to sell you a particular plan.

Another important tip: the government will not call to sell you health insurance. And no one from the government will ask you to verify your Social Security number or bank information over the phone.

Private insurance

If you’re looking for health insurance, make sure that’s what you’re buying. Be on the lookout for medical discount plans. They’re not the same as health insurance, even though they sometimes pretend to be. Many of these plans are scams that don’t deliver on the services promised. Others are just a way for identity thieves to get your personal information. Your state insurance commissioner’s office can tell you if a plan isn’t insurance and whether the seller is licensed in your state.

Report health care scams

If you think you may be a victim of a health care scam, report it to the FTC. If the scam is Medicare-related, report it at medicare.gov.

If you gave our personal information, then call your banks, credit card providers, health insurance company, and credit reporting agencies immediately. The FTC’s website has more information on health care scams and medical identity theft.

Source: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information Blog, November 2014

Home Depot Data Breach Information

September 12, 2014

On September 8, 2014, Home Depot confirmed that their payment data systems have been breached, which could potentially impact Home Depot customers using payment cards at their U.S. and Canadian stores. There is no evidence that the breach has impacted stores in Mexico or customers who shopped online at HomeDepot.com. Additionally, while they continue to determine the full scope, scale and impact of the breach, there is no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised in transactions occurring from April 2014 until now.

What may be compromised are payment card information such as name, credit card number, expiration date, cardholder verification value and service code for purchases made at Home Depot stores in 2014, from April on.

As an Ixonia Bank customer,you can rest assured that we take events such as these very seriously and will do everything possible to protect your accounts. Our Debit cardholders are automatically protected from fraud through SHAZAM's Falcon Fraud Debit Card Monitoring System. For our Credit cardholders, you're protected by Elan's industry-leading fraud detection team.

If you have any questions about suspicious activity to your account, please immediately contact our Customer Solutions Department at 920-262-6952 or 262-567-5295.

Below are links to additional information from Home Depot and the Federal Trade Commission on what happened and what steps you can take to protect your identity and accounts in the future.

IRS Repeats Warning about Phone Scams

August 13, 2014

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) continue to hear from taxpayers who have received unsolicited calls from individuals demanding payment while fraudulently claiming to be from the IRS.

Based on the 90,000 complaints that TIGTA has received through its telephone hotline, to date, TIGTA has identified approximately 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million from these scams.

"There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS."

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Potential phone scam victims may be told that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS or they are entitled to big refunds. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.

Other characteristics of these scams include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim's Social Security number.
  • Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it's the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver's license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here's what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don't owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you've never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484.
  • If you've been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their "FTC Complaint Assistant" at FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
  • Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov.

For more information or to report a scam, go to www.irs.gov and type "scam" in the search box.

Source: Internal Revenue Service, IRS Newswire, August 2014

Important reminders regarding fraudulent telephone calls

June 11, 2014

Protect Your InformationHave you recently received a call from a person requesting information regarding your checking account, debit cards, etc?  If you have, please immediately contact your financial institution or your credit/debit card company directly to find out if the call is legitimate. In most cases, these calls are fraudulent. Credit card companies, financial institutions or other businesses you may have accounts with, will NEVER call you directly and ask for your confidential information.

Here at Ixonia Bank, we use Shazam as our debit card provider, and Élan as our credit card provider.  If you receive a call from a person claiming to be from Shazam or Élan, do not provide them with any information regarding your accounts.  If you receive a call like this, please contact our Customer Solutions Department at 920-262-6952 or 262-567-5295.

Here are a couple tips to consider:

  • Contact your financial institution, credit/debit card company, etc. using a phone number provided on a recent statement or the number on the website.  Never use a phone number provided by the person requesting your confidential information.
  • The only time you would be asked information regarding your Ixonia Bank debit or credit card, is if you were to report a lost or stolen card to Shazam or Élan.

Don’t get nailed by a home improvement scam

May 14, 2014

Spring has sprung, the grass is green, just watch out for scammers selling home improvement dreams.

If you’re thinking about building a deck, getting new windows, redoing the kitchen (like me!), repaving the driveway, or adding a fresh coat of paint to your home’s interior, it might makes sense to hire a pro rather than take on the job yourself. Finding a good contractor is important — a home improvement project gone wrong can cost you big time. Choosing the wrong contractor can cost you more than money; it can lead to delays, subpar work, and even legal problems.

Before you hire a contractor, get several estimates and ask plenty of questions, including:

  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?
  • Will my project require a permit?
  • What types of insurance do you carry?

And be sure to get a written contract. Contract requirements vary by state. Even if your state doesn't require a written agreement, ask for one. It should be clear and concise and include the who, what, where, when, and cost of your project.

How can you tell if a contractor might not be reputable? You may not want to do business with someone who: knocks on your door for business, just happens to have materials left over from a previous job, pressures you for an immediate decision, only accepts cash, asks you to pay everything up-front, or asks you to get the required building permits.

Source: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information Scam Alerts, May 2014

Fast Facts about Heartbleed

April 18, 2014

HeartbleedMany of you have read about the “Heartbleed” vulnerability and what affects it has had on many websites. We would like to reassure you that the research conducted thus far by our data processing center is indicating that our online services are not susceptible to the vulnerability. This includes our personal and business online banking.

Heartbleed allows cybercriminals to retrieve usernames, passwords or banking information. It can also retrieve a website’s cryptographic keys, which are used to impersonate that website and collect more sensitive information.

For a listing of sites that were and were not affected, click on the following link: http://mashable.com/2014/04/09/heartbleed-bug-websites-affected/

If you are using any of the affected sites, change your passwords immediately. This would also be a good time to start considering the use of a password vault tools or services. There are many sites that have not been affected by Heartbleed. Even though these sites were not affected, now is a good time to change your passwords. If you would like to verify a website you use frequently that is not listed in the link above, you may also visit online checkers to check its status.

Some services will notify you directly of the changes and urge you to change your passwords. Please be careful when doing this. The current situation will surely be an opportunity for phishers looking to impersonate legitimate services and trick users into sharing their login credentials.

If you receive such an email (legitimate or not), avoid clicking on links contained within, and change your password by accessing your account via the official login page.

Elder Financial Abuse: 9 Red Flags

April 4, 2014

Many Wisconsin elders are as mentally sharp as they were 20 years ago. Others are less fortunate and at risk for elder financial abuse, which can include exploiting money, property, or other assets in a variety of ways.

There are more than one million Wisconsinites over the age of 60, and 35,000 of them are financially exploited annually. That's according to a 2010 workshop ("Elder Financial Exploitation and Prosecution") published on the website of the Wisconsin Coalition of Aging Groups.

If you have concerns about how an elderly relative or friend is handling their finances, here are a few tips to consider, beginning with these red flags:

  • Larger than normal cash withdrawals
  • Excitement over winning a sweepstakes or lottery
  • Presence in their life of a new "friend" who determines financial decisions
  • Lack of knowledge about a newly issued credit or debit card
  • Confusion about account balances or transactions
  • Missed bill payments
  • Utility shut-offs
  • Concern about giving out personal information via phone or email
  • Caregiver paid too much or too often

If you spot a red flag, ask the elder about it. Ask to see the sweepstakes win confirmation or try to learn the details about how they met that new friend. Avoid prompting; let them answer in their own words. If their explanation raises questions, you may want to ask to see their check register, online account information, invoices, or other financial documents.

You might discover a simple answer to your concern. Maybe the elder did indeed win $500 on a scratch-off Wisconsin lottery ticket. Maybe that new friend is a neighbor who is just as uneasy as you are about the elder's welfare.

On the other hand, if the answers you receive only increase your level of concern, it's likely time to seek assistance. Contact your elder's attorney for added information and counsel. Or, take the elder to visit their local community bank office to straighten out any questions about accounts, transfers, or unexplained checks.

If you believe someone you know is being financially exploited, do not hesitate to call the Elder Financial Empowerment Project at 800-488-2596 for victim assistance and guidance. You can also call your local police or your county's Aging and Disability Resource Center. You can locate your county's office and contact information on the center's website: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/adrc/.

Once financial abuse has been documented, you may want to help the elder contact one of the nation's three credit bureaus if the abuse might lead to false or misleading reports. Help them request a copy of their credit report and place a fraud alert on the account. You can find contact information for the three nationwide consumer credit reporting firms (Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union) at www.annualcreditreport.com, or phone 877-322-8228 toll-free.

Source: Community Bankers of Wisconsin,Consumer Tips, April 2014

Fake feds get people to pay

March 13, 2014

Have you ever gotten one of these calls? Someone says they’re with a government agency or the sheriff’s office and threatens that you’ll be sued or arrested if you don’t pay a supposed debt.

But really, the people contacting you are imposters looking to scare you into sending them money.

Today the FTC announced a case against a group of third-party debt collectors for allegedly deceptive and abusive business practices. According to the FTC, Federal Check Processing and its related companies would accuse people of check fraud or other criminal behavior and threaten lawsuits, prison, and bank account seizure if people didn’t pay their supposed debts. Instead of telling people they were debt collectors, the companies would emphasize words like "federal" and "U.S." in their company name, the FTC says, or even claim they were federal or state officers. What’s more, the companies allegedly failed to give people information they’re legally entitled to, or to investigate the legitimacy of debts, even when they were told the consumers didn’t owe them.

If you get a call like this, you might be unsure of what to do. Here are some things you can be sure of:

  • Federal government agencies don’t ask people to send money for unpaid loans. If you still feel unsure, look up the official number of the agency the caller is pretending to represent so you can get the real story.
  • There’s no legitimate reason for someone to ask you to wire money or load a rechargeable money card as a way to pay back a debt.
  • Even if a debt is real, you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If the debt is legitimate — but you think the collector may not be — contact your creditor about the calls. Share the information you have about the suspicious calls and find out who, if anyone, the creditor has authorized to collect the debt.
Source: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information Scam Alerts, March 2014

Are you affected by the recent Target hack?

January 2, 2014

As many of you know, a breach of credit and debit card data at retailer Target may have affected as many as 40 million shoppers who made purchases with a credit or debit card between November 27, 2013 and December 15, 2013. Ixonia Bank takes such events very seriously and will do everything possible to protect your accounts.

If you have any questions about suspicious activity to your account, please contact our Customer Solutions Department at 920-262-6952 or 262-567-5295.

The Federal Trade Commission also has more information on the steps to take to protect your identity and accounts.

UPDATE - January 24, 2014

For updated and additional information on the Target security breach, we suggest reading this Q&A document on the steps you should take to help protect your accounts. This is also a useful resource on how to protect yourself from phishing scams that usually accompany situations such as these.

Holiday Budgeting Tools

December 10, 2013

It's the time of year for giving gifts, entertaining, hosting holiday parties – and for many, overspending and financial stress. Setting a realistic holiday budget and making sure to stick to it are the first steps to a more affordable and less stressful season. We recommend using the Holiday Budgeting Center by Practical Money Skills For Life™ to enjoy the season without letting holiday spending get the better of you.

IRS Warns of Pervasive Telephone Scam

October 31, 2013

The Internal Revenue Service today warned consumers about a sophisticated home scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

“This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country. We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves. Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” says IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.” Werfel noted that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail.

Other characteristics of this scam include:

  • Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.
  • Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
  • Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
  • After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov.

Source: IRS Newswire IR-2013-84, October 31, 2013

Don't Get Taken by Wire Transfer Scams

September 10, 2013

Using a bank or a money transfer company to "wire" funds electronically is an easy and convenient way to send cash to someone. And when consumers wire money to people they know, the transaction typically takes place without a problem. But wiring money to strangers — in the U.S. but especially in another country — is risky because often they could be scam artists.

How can you protect yourself against wire fraud?

  • Never wire money to people you don't know, regardless of how convincing or enticing their story may be. Scammers often win their victims' confidence with some "bait," such as a work-at-home offer, a great deal on a product for sale, or news that you have won some kind of lottery. Be especially careful with transactions over the Internet, where the other person's true identity can remain anonymous.

    But even if you get a request to send a wire transfer and it's supposedly from someone you do know, confirm that's the case some other way, such as through a separate phone call.
  • If you're being pressed to make a decision or send money fast, it's probably a sign of a scam. For example, crooks might frighten you with a phone call that a loved one is in trouble and needs cash sent to the caller immediately. Thieves may try to divert you away from using a more traditional means of money transfer, such as a credit card or check. To do this, they often stress the 'urgency' of the transaction to get the victim to act without thinking.
  • Walk away from any offer from a stranger who asks you to deposit a check into your bank account and instructs you to wire any of that money to someone else, perhaps in another country. Let's say you receive a check, cashier's check or money order for an item you are selling or to cover so-called processing fees, shipping costs or other expenses. But then you notice that the check is for more money — perhaps far more — than what you were expecting. The other party instructs you to deposit the check and wire a portion back to an associate in another country. Later you find out that the check was fake and you are out all of the money you wired. In this type of scam, victims may end up owing thousands of dollars to the financial institution that wired the money.

    Likewise, if you are selling something online, be wary of a request by a "buyer" to wire you the money because that may be a ruse to get your bank account information. Or, this person may plan to send you the money illegally using someone else's bank account number, and ultimately you'd be without your merchandise as well any payment. Always remember that wiring money is like sending cash, and because you voluntarily sent the money, you have fewer protections in terms of getting it back.
  • Never give out your bank account or credit card numbers in response to an advertisement or an unsolicited call, text message or e-mail. That information could enable someone to steal money out of your account by a wire transfer, before you have time to realize that the interaction was fabricated by a swindler.
Source: FDIC Consumer News, Summer 2013 edition.

Identity Theft Prevention Checklist

August 20, 2013

Identity theft can be scary, but knowing what to do can help put you in control. We recommend doing the following to minimize the threat of identity theft:

  • Check your credit report annually
  • Review your bills and statements on a regular basis
  • Guard your mail and trash from theft
  • Use caution when giving out personal information
  • Copy the contents of your wallet or purse
  • Report lost or stolen checks or credit cards immediately

To check your credit report, contact one of the following 3 major credit bureaus:

Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
Experian: 1-800-397-3742
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

We also recommend visiting the Federal Trade Commission's website on Identity Theft. At this website, they outline steps to be taken, as well as various resources to aid you in reclaiming your identity.

Robocall Scams Push Medical Alert Systems

July 18, 2013

The latest in unwelcome, illegal, prerecorded sales calls are from scammers pitching a safety alert system for older adults.

The callers spoof a phone number so it looks like a local call on caller ID. If you pick up, you'll hear a message saying you're eligible for an alert system, or system upgrade, or that someone bought a system for you. The message asks you to "press one" on your phone to talk to a live operator, who will quickly ask for a bank account, credit card, or Medicare number, and maybe an address, to "expedite shipping and handling."

The best response? Don't press a number, and don't speak to a live operator. People who gave their information have seen monthly charges of $35 and up for that "free" system. If you get a call with a recorded sales message and you haven't given the company your written permission to call, the call is illegal. Since the call itself is illegal, you can bet the offer is a scam. If you gave information to one of these callers, check your account statements. If you find unexpected charges, ask your bank or credit card company to remove them. Finally, contact the FTC online or at 1-888-382-1222 to report your experience.

Source: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information Scam Alerts, July 2013
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