The Grate Pretenders
From Carol Kando-Pineda from Consumer Information
We’re done with the Golden Globes and the Oscars but an entirely different kind of actor is still lurking around: scammers who pretend to be someone they’re not. Sometimes it seems we’re afloat in a sea of imposters who are trying to cheat you by pretending to be from legitimate organizations. Imposter scams play on your emotions. The scammers work hard to make you believe that you’ve won something or you have an unexpected problem. They say that, for a small fee, they’ll send you lots of money or make your troubles disappear. They might encourage you to pay them with a reloadable card or they may ask for your personal information. Here are the top ten imposter scams you told us about last year.
- A taxing situation. Internal Revenue Service imposters are the #1 imposter scam in Consumer Sentinel and they’re on the rise. Fake IRS agents may try to scare you into thinking that you owe back taxes or there’s a problem with your return. The real IRS won’t initiate contact by phone or email – instead they’ll start with a postal letter.
- Sur-prized? Did the Prize Patrol ring you up to say the only thing between you and a pile of winnings is a little processing fee? Before you call in the cameras, balloons and poster-sized check, hold the phone! If you need to send money to collect your prize, hang up. They’re just pretending to be from Publishers Clearinghouse.
- You need professional help. Maybe the con artist tries to persuade you that your computer is on the fritz. In this twist, scammers try to convince you that your computer has a serious and urgent technical problem and that you desperately need their help. Oh, puh-leeze.
- Mal-where? Another version goes like this: “I’m calling from Microsoft Technical Support. I’m looking at your computer and there’s dangerous software popping up.” In reality – and you have my “Word” on this – it’s a scam. Put down the phone or refuse to click the pop-up. The fee they demand is usually very low to avoid raising your suspicions. Sometimes they say they’re from billing and you owe money or they need your account information.
- Fake FBI. In an old twist on the Nigerian email scam, a phony G-man contacts you with supposed “certification” of the legitimacy of Prince So-and-So from the United Kingdom of Scamnation or some other official-sounding offer. The Prince supposedly wants you to help him move a, well, princely, sum of money out of his troubled country. Nope, not a chance.
- Kidnapped computers. You click on a link in an email that seems like it’s from a legitimate company. The window that pops up says a destructive program has locked you out of your files. The pop-up might tell you to click a link so an “FBI agent” can help you. Or they tell you to get a prepaid card and pay for a password that will unlock your files. More often than not, even if you pay the ransom, they don’t release your files. Regularly back up your files to minimize any damage these thieves could cause.
- I’ll grant you that… Imagine the caller posing as a government official – could be from the Treasury Department, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security or a made-up agency name with the word “federal” in it – with the surprising news that you’ve won a government grant for thousands of dollars. They encourage you to seal the deal by forking over hundreds of dollars in “taxes” or “fees.”
- Medicare masquerade. The sham government representative claims to work for Medicare or in connection with the Affordable Health Care Act or even a made-up agency that sounds a lot like Health and Human Services. They threaten your medical benefits to get your personal information or fees from you.
- Fueling fears. Another variation involves a phony Homeland Security caller who threatens immigrants with deportation notices. They offer, for a charge, to help you certify your immigration status. They hope scare tactics will get you off guard long enough to part with valuable information or money.
- Caller ID Don’t. An emerging imposter scam involves misusing caller ID. Sometimes they make it seem that the Caller ID number is your telephone number. Others spoof the caller ID with “Mom” to get you to pick up the call.