8 new scams, including 2 tax scams, to watch out for
Even as the tax season draws to a climax, there's still time for con merchants to squeeze in new scams to try to get their hands on your rebate check or your personal details.
Two newly-surfaced tax-related scams head this week's Scamlines haul of 8 dodges and deceptions that aim to relieve you of your money or your privacy. On our ceaseless quest to expose scams, we also encountered a couple of new tricks and variations of established ones.
The first issue of our new Scamlines series last week was a huge success. We're following up with another round-up of the scams that are hitting the headlines this week. There are 8, including two last-minute tax scams -- one aimed at stealing someone else's refund, the other at infecting computers and stealing identities.
And remember that although these incidents may not have happened in your home town this time, the scammers could still be just around the corner waiting to try them out on you next time. Stay alert and don't let it happen to you.
1. Tax Scam #1: Who Got My Check?
The scam: A Charlotte, NC, resident looks forward to getting a big tax refund but the check doesn't turn up. She calls the IRS who tell her they already paid out. Someone has used her Social Security number to grab the refund. In this case, the victim thinks her number was stolen by someone offering her a bogus job. In another variation, the IRS warns, your Social Security number is stolen and used by the scammer in a job. You get their tax bill!
The solution: If your refund doesn't turn up, contact the IRS immediately. If they've been duped because someone stole your Social Security number, they say they will try to be "understanding". Hopefully, that means you should get your money -- eventually! Be wary about giving your Social Security to anyone, even a prospective employer if you don't know them, until you start your job.
2. Tax Scam # 2: Turbo Twister
The scam: Users of the tax software TurboTax get an email that appears to come from the software company, asking them to download updates, to comply with IRS requirements. You guessed it: the link takes them to a bogus site where they're asked to download the updates. But the download is a virus that wrecks computer security. Alternatively, the phony site asks for personal information -- a phishing scam.
The solution: TurboTax never solicits personal information by email and you can check for any required updates from within the program. The company, whose program is used by more than 15 million Americans, also invites users to check its own security tips.
TurboTax Security Tips
You can find out more information on phishing here.
3. The Show That Never Was
The scam: Businesses in Lower Southampton, PA, are invited to sponsor a car show in town. It all sounds convincing and exciting, so they eagerly pay their sponsorship fees. But the event is phony; the show never takes place. The "organizer" -- and the sponsor fees -- are never seen again.
The solution: If you're invited to sponsor any event, check out not only the credentials of the organizer but the success (or otherwise) of previous events from independent sources. Never take the word of someone you don't know.
4. Flood Victims Targeted
The scam: Just when they think they've hit rock bottom, flood victims in Watseka, IL, get a phone call supposedly from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or some other relief organization offering grants. The caller asks for personal financial information, which is then used to steal victims' identities. One victim claimed the caller even asked for money.
The solution: Although FEMA may seek account details if you want your grant to be paid directly into your bank account, the organization is equally happy to pay by check. FEMA does not solicit money by phone.
5. Quick Change Scammers
The scam: A store assistant in Lebanon, MO, becomes confused when a shopper tries to pay for a small item with a $100 bill. Then, while the assistant makes change, the shopper produces a dollar bill and asks for the hundred back, walking off with this -- and the change that was already in his hand when he pulled the trick. There may be a helper who tries to further distract the assistant.
The solution: Many stores don't accept $100 bills these days. That's a starting point. But in this situation simply do not return the $100 bill until the shopper has returned all the change.
6. Low Rent -- No House
The scam: An apparently successful businessman advertises his Maui house as a long-term vacation rental at a very low price, claiming he's being urgently relocated and just needs someone who'll take care of the home. The renter, from Oregon, must supply personal details and wire at least the first month's rent to get the keys. Either the house does not exist or, if it does, it's not owned by the scammer.
The solution: First, the age-old rule applies: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Second, don't take a rental from a private individual you don't know without first checking his credentials. Ask for references.
7. Cash for Kids
The scam: Residents of Phoenix, AZ, get door-to-door solicitations supposedly on behalf of the Phoenix Children's Hospital and a new hospital library. Sometimes, they claim to be raising funds to finance a magazine for the hospital's young patients. None of this is true. The hospital never raises money this way.
The solution: Be wary about giving money to anyone at your door, unless you know the collector or are 100% sure of the credentials he/she may present. Instead, if you decide you want to donate, check with the fund-raising organization and send a check directly to them.
8. Money for Nothing
The scam: You're asked to pay for something that's actually available free. An ad popped up on an Internet classified ad site this week, offering an update to the latest Apple Macintosh operating system. The seller wanted $20 but, in fact, the update is available free of charge from Apple.
The solution: It's not always illegal to sell this type of update but don't be the sucker who gets caught! Most software companies make minor updates and sometimes even major revisions available for free. Always check out their website or use the 'check for updates' option if it's available in the program itself.
Those are your Scamlines for this week. We will continue to scour newspapers and websites for the latest cons, so that we can keep you informed -- and one step ahead of the scammers. Stay safe!