Welcome to prime tax scam season!


illustration of online crookWhen it comes to ID theft, you really can’t afford to relax – the criminals who are out to get you certainly aren’t slacking off: In 2014, there was a new identity fraud victim every two seconds. In the same year, $16 billion was stolen from 12.7 million U.S. consumers. (See III on the Scope of Identity Theft).

Between January and April, IRS impersonators and tax scammers are out in full force. Scams often happen via aggressive phone calls, email phishing and spam, phony online websites, or even via social media. Some of the common scam pitches to watch out for:

  • Get a bigger return and get it faster … just click or sign here
  • You need to update your online file .. give us your Social Security number
  • This is the IRS. You owe big bucks in back taxes – pay now or we’ll arrest you
  • You owe a small amount in taxes or fees, here’s a quick way to pay that online so you don’t hold up your refund
  • Please make a tax-free donation to <> charity or <> political fund.

Two particularly common types of fraud are IRS Impersonators – usually threats by phone – and tax preparer scams. You can read about the most common types of tax fraud from last year’s IRS Dirty Dozen.

Consumer Reports shares some good ideas to foil the scammers. We like this one:

Thieves usually claim tax refunds by filing taxes before their victims do. So another way to protect yourself is to file long before the tax deadline, which is Monday, April 18, this year (April 19 in Maine and Massachusetts).

Here are some other tips to avoid becoming an ID-theft victim:

  • Don’t trust the number that shows up on your caller ID or email identification. These can be spoofed. Don’t click on any links or give out any info. Instead, go directly to the website or call the organization yourself to make payments or donations.
  • Don’t give out credit cards, dates of birth, social security numbers or any other sensitive information to callers you do not know. Never send that information by email, which is insecure.
  • Create secure passwords. Use different passwords for any accounts involving sensitive information or payments. That might seem like a hassle, but this small inconvenience pales in comparison to the troubles you will have if someone steals your ID.
  • Review your credit card and bank statements regularly. Check free credit reports annually with this authorized site.
  • Avoid making financial transactions over insecure public wifi networks.
  • Ensure that your browser is up to date and security patches applied.
  • Keep an eye out for elderly relatives or friends – the elderly are often specifically targeted for fraud.

Does your new car have a spare tire? Don’t count on it!


flat tire
People don’t usually think about spare tires until they need them – and if you have a flat tire, that’s a pretty bad time to learn that the spare tire you thought was in your trunk isn’t there. Drivers have been conditioned to think of spare tires as a standard feature with all new cars – but that is changing and consumers need to re-calibrate their expectations. According to AAA, more than a third of all new car models are being sold without a spare tire.

Part of the reason that auto makers give is saving weight to achieve fuel efficiency standards. It’s also space saving, particularly for hybrids and sports cars. More and more new cars are eliminating the spare tire and including inflator kits instead. Some cars are equipped with “run-flat” tires, but these tend to be available only in luxury models.

So how much can you rely on the inflator kits? According to AAA, they have limited use:

“AAA tested the most common tire inflator kits in today’s vehicles and found that the units worked well in some scenarios, but they are not a substitute for a spare tire. For an inflator kit to work effectively, a tire must be punctured in the tread surface and the object must remain in the tire. Used correctly, the kit then coats the inner wall of the tire with a sealant and a compressor re-inflates the tire. If the puncture-causing object is no longer in the tire, a sidewall is damaged or a blowout occurs, a tire inflator kit cannot remedy the situation and the vehicle will require a tow.”

Plus, AAA says that inflator kits can be a costly alternative: “With some kits costing up to $300 per use, a tire inflator kit can cost consumers up to 10 times more than a simple tire repair and has a shelf life of only four to eight years.”

Buyer beware: If you are in the market for a new vehicle, check to see if a spare tire is included. If not, a tire may be available as a purchase option.

This video demonstrates how to use a tire inflator kit on a Chevy Malibu.

Meet the 2015 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame


2015 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. Image from www.insurancefraud.org

2015 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. Image from www.insurancefraud.org

Every year, the Insurance Fraud Bureau issues its picks for the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. If your image of an insurance fraudster is someone who inflates a claim by a few dollars, think again. Meet the 2015 insurance fraudsters, a frightening bunch of cold killers and brazen criminals who commit brutal crimes to try to cash in on insurance policies.

  • Consider nightmare neighbor Mark Leonard and his girlfriend Monseratte Shirley who rigged their home for a gas explosion so they could collect $300,000. Instead, two of their next door neighbors suffered horrifying, fiery deaths. In addition, 30 neighboring homes had to be demolished and 50 more were damaged. A dozen neighbors were injured, and $5 million worth of damage was caused.
  • Consider the nightmare neurosurgeon who performed needless spine surgery on patients to get the insurance money. The profile doesn’t say how many hapless victims came under his knife but it must have been quite a few: His bogus claims to health insurers totaled $32 million.
  • Consider the nightmare Dad who brutally killed his 10-year old son in a botched attempt to collect on life insurance.
  • Consider the nightmare pet boutique owner who tried to torch her store nearly burning a few dozen puppies alive, in the process. Fortunately, she was particularly inept.
  • There are more … a crooked lawyer, a furniture store owner, a cop, a Russian-American crime ring – 9 in all.

These are particularly egregious examples of fraud, but the less dramatic “every day” fraud takes an enormous toll on society too – about $32 billion a year in insurance fraud losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Businesses build the cost of losses into product pricing, so honest people end up paying about $32 billion a year to cover insurance fraud.

Overall, public tolerance for insurance fraud has been falling in recent years – fewer and fewer people now think of it as a victim-less crime or an OK practice. But beyond public and tolerance, has insurance fraud itself dropped? Not so much, experts say.

Reporting insurance fraud

If know about insurance fraud, here are ways to report it:

 

Security cameras turn the tables on taco thieves


If you skipped stories about robberies in California over the holidays, you probably missed a hilarious video showing how a Los Angeles area Taco shop is biting back at crime. It all started with a late-night break in at Frijoles & Frescas restaurant on December 16. Thieves threw a rock through the window to break in, ransack the place and make off with the registers. This was all depicted on security camera videos.

Clever owners Alberto and Francisco used this footage to create the following clip which has racked up more than 4 million views. See for yourself why it went viral.

It’s satisfying that they mocked the burglars while doing a fun self-promo, and it’s also a clever way to get the thieves’ images out in public. The perpetrators haven’t been found yet, but here’s hoping. Meanwhile, reports say that Frijoles & Frescas is seeing increased demand for their tacos!

Small food service shops and retailers like Frijoles & Frescas are generally covered for theft and robberies under BOP insurance or Business Owners Policies. But security cameras are a good idea, too – they help to deter crime and in the event that a crime does occur, can provide valuable information to help track down the criminals.

Here are a few resources to learn more about business security cams.

How to Deploy IP Cameras in Your Small Business

Setting Up a Security System For Your Small Business