New scams to avoid
Scam artists have gone high-tech, but their decades-old goal hasn’t changed: to separate unwary consumers from their money.
The growing popularity of the Internet has also spawned an expanding list of “cons,” from bogus prescription drugs to fake federal investigations. A combination of tips from consumer watchdogs and state and federal agencies could keep you from getting burned.
People over age 50 make up just 11 percent of the population but account for 30 percent of the nation’s scam victims, notes the Federal Trade Commission. But people of all ages should be on guard, and especially if they often use a computer.
For example, con artists are sending bogus e-mails that appear to come from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which watches over bank deposits.
One e-mail informs the recipient that his or her bank account has been temporarily closed because of fraudulent activity. The consumer is asked to visit a link to review a file included in the bogus e-mail, asking for Social Security number and verifying the billing address. Don’t answer the e-mail, but contact the FDIC.
Medicare drug card scam
While Internet drug prices may be lower, the drugs could be counterfeit or contaminated.
So, ask your doctor about recommended on-line pharmacies or look for a pharmacy Web site that displays the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites seal of approval from the national Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
If you get an offer to order the new Medicare prescription drug discount cards—beware. Scam artists are collecting information from retirees, saying it is needed to obtain a card. The information is then used to register for credit cards in their victims’ names and steal from their bank accounts.
The real discount cards cost $30 each and are issued by private insurers approved by Medicare.
Registry & credit card scam
Scammers are playing on the success of the Do Not Call Registry by asking people to sign up for a “Do Not E-mail” registry. If you provide the information sought, you could be exposing yourself to identity theft, which now leads to nearly $1 billion annually in fraudulent transactions.
A new twist on a cruel old scam: bills sent from a Delaware-based debt-collection agency seeking payment for a deceased person’s credit-card debts. Many people pay the balance without question.
However, the agency is not listed with Delaware’s Division of Corporations.
Therefore, it’s best not to send money to a collection agency before checking with the credit-card company.
Some military families are targets of a tax scam in which a caller, posing as an IRS employee, says the family is entitled to a $4,000 refund because it has a member in the military. The caller even provides a real IRS toll-free telephone number to appear legitimate, then requests a credit-card number to pay for a postage fee, but proceeds to make other charges on the card.
The IRS stresses that it never requests credit-card numbers over the phone and does not charge for sending a refund.
“Today, you have to be a much smarter consumer than 20 years ago,” says Frank Abagnale, author of The Art of the Steal: How to Protect Yourself and Your Business From Fraud and a reformed thief himself. “You have to be careful where you go on the Internet, who you give information to.”
If something sounds too good to be true, don’t do it, chimes in the Better Business Bureau.
WHO TO NOTIFY OF SCAMS
There’s plenty of help available from local and federal agencies in battling illegal scams.
Tax scams: Treasury’s Inspector General’s Fraud Hotline, (800) 366-4484
Banking issues: www.fdic.gov or (877) 275-3342
Consumer fraud: Federal Trade Commission, www.ftc.gov or (877) 382-4357
Investment advisors or stock-brokers: National Association of Securities Dealers, www.nasd.com
—Research by Barbara Betts