Our local BBB office received thousands of phone calls in 2018. A major portion of the calls we received were from consumers inquiring whether a call, email or letter they received was possibly a scam. To help our readers avoid being scammed in 2019, we’ve assembled the top scams of 2018. Many are new twists on existing scams, but unfortunately, consumers continue to fall for them.
The Top Scams of 2018:
1. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Scammers posing as IRS agents claim you owe back taxes and threaten lawsuits and arrest if payment is not sent immediately. Keep in mind, the IRS does not make threatening phone calls, nor are you required to send payment via unconventional methods such as gift cards or wire transfer.
2. The Grandparent Scam: Typically, a con artist calls or emails the victim, posing as a grandchild in distress. The “grandchild” explains they are in trouble and needs the grandparent to wire them funds to be used for bail money, lawyers’ fees, hospital bills, etc. Before sending funds, consumers should independently contact the grandchild (or parent of the grandchild) to verify the legitimacy of the story.
3. Publishers Clearing House/Sweepstakes/Lottery: Winning the sweepstakes, a dream vacation or home sounds great, especially if you didn’t enter to win. Scammers rely on your excitement to winning unexpected prizes to lure you into paying fees for your prize. Typically, they require you to provide your personal information, then use it to steal your identity or money. Remember, you never win a lottery you haven’t entered, and you should never have to pay fees for winning a prize.
4. The Microsoft Scam: Victims receive a phone call from a “Microsoft tech” or an alert on their computer saying a virus has been detected. For a fee, and access to your computer, they can solve your problem. Be warned: Microsoft does not contact people out of the blue. It’s a scam!
5. Phone Number Spoofing: Scammers falsify a victim’s caller ID to trick them into thinking the call is from someone they trust, such as a government agency, police department, bank or other business. No matter what, do not give your personal or financial information to someone who calls. And never send money. If in doubt, hang up and call the agency or business yourself to verify.
6. Suspended Social Security Scams: Victims get a phone call saying their Social Security number “has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity” or that the consumer must verify their Social Security number. The con artist then asks for personal information in order to commit identity theft or fraud.
7. New Medicare Card Scams: During 2018 and in early 2019, Medicare is mailing out new identification cards to 59 million Americans. The old Medicare card used Social Security numbers as identifiers. The new card uses a unique, randomly assigned number. Scammers are using the new Medicare replacement program to target seniors. The most common trick is to call Medicare enrollees, telling them they must pay for their new cards, then request bank account information or Social Security numbers. In a related Medicare card scam, fraudsters claim to be a Medicare representative and ask victims to verify the new number as well as other personal information. Remember, Medicare sent the cards in the first place, so the call is a scam. Just hang up.
If you’ve already given out your banking or other personal information over the phone, talk with your bank or other affected agencies immediately. You should deal with any unauthorized activity on your account as soon as possible.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.