On November 22, 2016

Computer, phone are scam tools

The best weapon to stop fraud is you
By Karen D. Lorentz
Here’s a sample of a recent email (exactly as it appeared, with off-spacing), just one of several received that threatened something unless I responded:
Dear Client,
This is formal notice to you that your last month Invoice no: KT321U is already overdue and your     service will be suspended in next 24 hours.
To avoid service suspension, please pay the Invoice immediately. For details and payment details,     please download the Invoice copy here: Click Here
Sofia Cox
Manager – Account Dept.
I also got a very official looking email from “Apple Support” stating, “If you don’t confirm your account within 48 hours, your account will be permanently deleted.”
Thanks to AARP’s Scam Jam and to  Jason Duquette-Hoffman, program coordinator for the Attorney General Office’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP), who explained how computers are used to scam us, I didn’t click to find out anything and I forwarded the scams — numbers 2, 3 and 4 on the pie chart of Top Ten Scams — to a federal agency (spam@uce.gov).
I do have to admit that before the presentation I got a “computer fix” email and called the number but told the person I had to ask my son, who’s an Apple guru, before I would deal with him. Of course, he was a scammer and I followed my son’s advice to ignore him — only to receive several follow-up calls until I threatened to report him.
CAP tips
Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) operates a consumer hotline, mediates consumer disputes with businesses, tracks fraud and scam complaints, and recovers thousands of dollars yearly for consumers.
Duquette-Hoffman said CAP receives over 10,000 calls a year, with last May seeing 715 in just one day.
One of the biggest complaints concerns calls that the IRS is about to haul you into court, he noted, saying people hear demands like “send $8,000 in iTunes gift certificates” to fix their situation (usually demanding back taxes).
While caller ID might actually show a Washington, D.C., area code (caller IDs can be faked) and the caller might know some of your Social Security number, the real IRS won’t ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers—Ever! They also won’t ask for your credit card over the phone. And their first contact with you is by mail, not phone, he noted.
But thousands fall prey to this scam, wiring money or using a prepaid debit card.
The solution is for people to contact the IRS, either looking up info at IRS.gov (note: the IRS is a dot.gov and an email from IRS@verizon or any other address is a tip-off)or to call 800-829-1040 if you do think you might be in arrears. It’s also important to share information about this scam with others because being aware can prevent them from being victimized, he noted.
Duquette-Hoffman stressed that scammers “get people into an emotional state where they do what they would never ordinarily do.”
Unfortunately, he added, “We can’t stop these calls.”
Because global communications are such that calls are being placed from all over the world — a call from a beach in Thailand can look like it came from Grove Street in Rutland, Vt., he explained.
What people can do is report such calls, he said, noting that they come in waves and tend to spike, which allows his office to get in touch with the news media to remind people of what’s happening. (Current Vermont scams are listed on CAP’s website.)
Duquette-Hoffman suggested that “talking to friends, family and folks in the community and looking out for them” can be far more effective than dollars spent on a campaign to stop these scams. Call CAP to report scams, he added, and “leave a message if the line is busy, we’ll get back to you.”
Asked if there are any successful prosecutions of scammers, he said 70 arrests were recently made at an India call center of people doing the IRS scams. It was due to the co-operation of their government — we have no jurisdiction for debt collection scams originating in foreign countries, Duquette-Hoffman explained.
He also warned of the popular computer pop-up scam — “be suspicious of calling a number to fix a computer problem,” he said. Microsoft and Apple don’t monitor your computer for problems, so don’t click or call. You can run existing anti-virus software on a PC (Apple systems do not require it) and report the scam by forwarding to spam@uce.gov and/or consumer@uvm.edu (CAP’s email).
He also warned of emails with attachments as the main method to get malware into one’s computer and the rising threat of  virus-ransom-ware which has already struck many major companies.
With the potential for RFID cards to be read by scammers, he recommended they be kept in a protective sleeve.
As for people being targeted with too many calls despite being on the do-not-call list (it doesn’t apply to political calls, surveys or charities), he advised that CAP has received a grant for a limited pilot project to test call-blocking devices that can be given to eligible seniors for free.
For more information visit the CAP’s website (UVM.edu/scams), and if you’ve been scammed or have questions, call 800-649-2424 or email CAP at consumer@uvm.edu.

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