FINANCIAL TIPS & ALERTS
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Accounting 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.
- Home Depot's Notice to Customers
- Frequently Asked Questions (compiled by Home Depot)
- Request Free Identity Theft Protection
- How to Prevent Identity Theft (compiled by the Federal Trade Commission)
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 email@example.com.
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
Have 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 Accounting 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
Many 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 Accounting 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.