Summer vacation safety: Avoiding travel fraud & scams


You may be on vacation, but rest assured, scammers never sleep – they are hard at work thinking of new ways to separate you from your money and your identity. Consumer Reports features an article on Summer Scams to avoid – a few of these are about travel: .

  • Vacation rental scams – you book a cute cottage via the web that requires advance payment. Except the cottage doesn’t exist. Remedy: stick to established online rental vendors.
  • Discounted hotel stays. Fraudent websites can look real and make bogus offers. Remedy: Watch out for third party sites selling hotels or other goods and services at a discount. Use reputable services and be sure to dig around on a site to make sure it is the real thing before you take out your credit card.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  talks more about vacation rental listing scams, common signs of a scam, and how to avoid being bilked. They also have an excellent
resource with travel tips designed to help you avoid scams during the travel planning and shopping process.

If you are traveling internationally, you could become an inadvertent victim of a common scam around International Driver’s license. This FTC tip sheet talks about what International Driving Permits are and what they aren’t. It says, “AAA and AATA are the only organizations authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue IDPs to U.S. residents. Both AAA and AATA charge less than $20 for an IDP. If you’re asked to pay more, consider it a rip-off.”

Rick Steves has certainly done his share of international travel over nearly five decades as a travel expert and author. He offers a great collection of common Tourist Scams and Rip-Offs. For another good resources, see this guide to other Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them.

Summer is a great time for travel but all too often, when in a new or relaxing place, it can be easy to lower your guard. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s more important that ever to be alert and maintain high situational awareness. If something seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

See more posts on common scams and frauds
And if you are going on vacation, here are 5 steps to secure your home while you are away!

Seniors: Be alert for a new Medicare scam


Nationwide, commissioners of insurance departments and state attorneys general are sounding the alert: there’s a new wave of Medicare scams.

Medicare is issuing new cards to beneficiaries – they started mailing them in April and it will take a year to distribute them all. The purpose of the new cards is to make them more secure and reduce the potential for identity theft by replacing a beneficiary’s Social Security number with a new, secure number. Here’s a picture of what the new card will look like.

picture of new Medicare card

These cards are issued by mail and they are free. You don’t need to do anything as long as your address is up to date. You can sign up at Medicare.gov to get an alert when your new card is in the mail. If you need to update your mailing address, visit your My Social Security account.

Of course, scammers are jumping into action to try to sow confusion and get between you and your new card. Medicare issues these tips to avoid scams:

  • Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give us personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card.
  • Scam artists may try to get personal information (like your current Medicare Number) by contacting you about your new card.
  • If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, hang up and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
  • Only give personal information like your Medicare Number to doctors, insurers acting on your behalf, or trusted people in the community who work with Medicare like your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).

Online purchase scams top the BBB list of 2017 consumer fraud


Mouse trap with dollars to depict online scams

Online purchase scams are now the riskiest form of consumer fraud, according to a new fraud report from the Better Business Bureau, jumping from #4 in 2016 to #1 in 2017. BBB says that online scams were most frequently related to pets, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, and automobiles. Free trials involving cosmetics or nutritional products were also common.

BBB’s top 10 scams of 2017 were:

1. Online purchase scam (up from #4 in 2016)
2. Investment scam (up from #6 in 2016)
3. Employment scam (no change)
4. Advance fee loan scam (up from #5 in 2016)
5. Fake check scam (down from #2 in 2016)
6. Home improvement scam (down from #1 in 2016)
7. Tech support scam (up from #8 in 2016)
8. Travel/vacation scam (new to top 10, #12 in 2016)
9. Family/friend emergency scam (no change)
10. Government grant scam (new to top 10, #11 in 2016)

This BBB chart shows the most common means of scammer contact. (See more charts from the report.)

One bit of good news is that although the number of reported incidents increased, the percentage of consumers who actually lost money fell from 18.8% to 15.8%, so maybe users are getting smarter about scams. One other interesting observation in the report is that young people are more susceptible to scams than older folks, but although susceptibility decreases with age, the dollar cost of the scam goes up with age.

To avoid scams, be on high alert for unconsolidated emails and phone calls. Some common tactics to trick you include:

• Deals that are too good to be true
• High pressure tactics
• Urgency – you must decide now; offer is expiring; etc.
• Threats or intimidation – you”re under investigation, you will be arrested if you don’t act now
• Isolation – trying to force a decision before you talk it over with someone else

To learn more about any of the top 10 scams of 2017, download a full copy of the 2017 BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report: New Trends in Scam Risk. Also, follow BBB’s scam tips to stay up-to-date on emerging threats.

The horrifying things people will do for insurance money


insurance fraud - roundup of perpetrators

Who wouldn’t like a little more money? But most of us have some limits about what we’d do to get extra cash. Not this year’s crop of criminals that the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud named to their 2017 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. The criminals seem to get worse every year but, fortunately, the insurance fraud investigators were smart and most of these criminals were dumb, stupidly brazen or both. Here’s a brief summary of a few from the lineup.

Some people will commit murder. Joseph Meyers and his wife wanted money for a new trailer and to jump start a trucking business. To get the money they burnt a disabled friend alive in his home in a foiled attempt to collect $165,000 in insurance. Joaquin Rams was deeply in debt so he killed his own year-old son, hoping to collect $550,000 in life insurance. How’d he get caught? Who takes out nearly a half million dollars in life insurance on an infant?

Others will run drug brothels disguised as treatment centers. Kenny Chatman ran several “sober homes” in Florida – but in reality, he kept residents addicted so that he could bilk insurers of $25 million. He kept some female residents locked up, pimping them out. Some residents overdosed, some died. Chapman was sentenced to 27 years and millions in restitution.

Some people will run dangerous, painful medical scams. Eye doctor Salomon Melgen bilked Medicare for up p $136 million by misdiagnosing and frightening patients into painful, botched laser and needle treatments that often left the poor patients with severe injuries. He treated up to 100 people a day, diagnosing them for expensive treatments whether they needed them or not.

Some people will build elaborate crime rings. Some fraudsters build such large, complex fraud rings, one has to wonder what they might have done had they turned their energy to good rather than bad. Attorney Eric Conn lived up to his name, scamming $600-million in the nation’s largest federal disability ripoff. The flamboyant lawyer called himself “Mr. Social Security.” He bribed a local judge, psychologist and doctors to rubber-stamp disability claims for clients, regardless of their health.

Some people will even crash a plane while in it. Theodore R. Wright III crashed his plane in Louisiana coastline waters to collect insurance money. He had a partner in crime who was with him and who sued for supposed injuries, so they collected on the plane and on the bogus injuries. Because he had recorded part of his crash “ordeal,” he was a media darling and might have pulled it off, but he and his co-criminals got greedy. They also wrecked another plane, a Lamborghini, and a 45-foot sailboat before being found out.

There are a few others that we didn’t cover. Most of these were huge news stories – you can Google names and learn more about any of these crimes. In all but a few cases, the perpetrators exploited trusting people in the commission of their crimes.

There are many, many fraud crimes that don’t reach this magnitude. With luck, you’ll never have friends, relatives or service providers in your life who are so larcenous and cruel. But even if you are not a direct victim of fraud, you pay an indirect cost – we all do. The Coalition reminds us that insurance fraud is an $80-billion national crime wave that is driving up your premium.

Posted in Fraud

Don’t let email scams hijack your holiday!


illustration of thief robbing santa

As seasonal shopping ramps up both on and offline, there are many opportunities for scammers and thieves to separate you from your hard-earned money.  Dial up your fraud awareness radar to the max – particularly when shopping online. Today, we’ll focus on email scams, a favorite tool for crooks. We’ve been monitoring our email spam folders and monitoring news reports to bring you some common scams this year.

Shipping status phishing emails: Be alert for emails telling you to login to check shipping status for recent purchases. This often works because it uses the names and logos of large retailers that you might actually have made a recent purchase from, such as Amazon or Walmart. Or it might be an email pretending to be Fedex, UPS, or another shipping service. Take the time to check these out carefully – did you make a purchase? Look at the information of the sender in the email header – is it legit? Hover over the link to read where it is taking you before you click. If there is any doubt, go back to the site where you made your purchase and check shipping info form there.

Emails using your name. There are many ways that scammers can get your name so that is no guarantee of legitimacy. They can even spoof your email address so that an email looks like it is coming from your own account. Here are some recent scams we’ve see using our name:

  • Cash advance for {your name}
  • Verify this charge to your {name of large retailer} account
  • Are you {your name)
  • We found your missing money {your name}
  • Hey {your name} !! Do You Remember me ?
  • Why did you text me (your name}

Gift card scams. Be alert for emails or phone calls telling you that you’ve been selected to get a $50 card or that you’ve been sent a card. In the last few weeks we’ve had malicious email attempts touting McDonald’s, Kohl’s, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, CVS, Apple and PayPal. Some of these mails can look very legit. Here are a few tips to stay safe:

  • Don’t buy gift cards from emails or from online auction sites. If you want to a purchase a gift card, go to the actual vendor site or their offline store.
  • When purchasing a gift card, never give private information such as your Social Security number, bank account number or date of birth.
  • Only use gift cards at the intended sites. If a caller or an online vendor tells you they only accept payments via gift cards, beware. Don’t give anyone gift card claim codes. Also, no reputable vendor or service will ask to be paid in Amazon or Apple gift cards, or any other gift cards.
  • If you purchase a gift card in a retail store, ask the cashier to scan the card to verify that the card actually reflects the stated amount and correct balance.

The TN Department of Commerce & Insurance has a good list of common holiday scams: Letter from Santa? Or is it bait from a scam artist? It’s worth glancing at their list of scams as well as  checking out their tips to stay safe.

Other common email scams and pitches we’ve seen in our spam folder lately that lead to malicious sites:

  • Check you Experian score
  • Letters from Santa offers
  • Instant loans: Get approved for $15,000 Immediately
  • Credit card offers
  • Pain drugs and medical marijuana offers
  • You have been selected for clinical trials
  • Please confirm receipt
  • Free samples

A few common signs of scams:

  • Offers that are too good to be true – they usually are fake.
  • Demands or threats to take action now to avoid consequences; emails saying “Final notice.”
  • Requests to update your information or change your password

Crooks have a lot of tricks and are good at exploiting human weaknesses. Here are a few sites that will help you learn more about current scams and improve your online safety savvy.