Fraud alert: This is (not) the government calling


senior man answering a scam phone call

Think you are too smart to fall for phone scams? Not so fast. In 2018, American consumers lost more than $488 million to a type of fraud that the Federal Trade Commission (FRC) calls “imposter scams.”

One particularly common and effective type of imposter scam is the fraudster posing as a government official. In fact, the FTC says that fake government calls now top the list of imposter scams. We’ve frequently posted about IRS tax season scams. In the Washington Post, Michelle Singletary warns that the latest hoax calls  tell you that your Social Security number is being suspended. There re several variations to the scam, often elaborate stories about how your Social Security number turned up in crimes.  The end goal is to either get you to reveal your number or to pay a fee to “reinstate it.” Some scenarios even threaten arrest. She quotes an FTC official:

“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Check out the tips and advice she offers for how to spot and avoid this scam. And here’s an FTC infographic for a typical telephone IRS scam – it’s a pattern that is common for SS# and other governmental scams, too.

IRS phone scam infographic

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.

How the web celebrated April Fool’s Day 2014


After a bit of investigating, we are prepared to state that our favorite April Fool’s Day fun is LinkedIn for Cats. We are totally disappointed that this is not a real thing.

kitty-linkedinWe considered pranking you, our readers, with an announcement of 20% MA auto rate increase but we didn’t want risk the wrath of the regulators or the actuaries. (It’s totally false, but there are some rumors afoot that actuaries are humor impaired. )

Instead, we offer a roundup of some of the Web’s best April Fool pranks of 2014. Be warned – we’ve tried to screen most, but we can’t be 100% sure that all of these are safe for work. It is April Fool’s, after all.

April Fools’ Day jokes 2014 – the best on the web
The Guardian gathers many global pranks, including announcements that a penguin at a zoo in Devon has laid a golden egg, that a new vegemite-flavored soda is being launched, that experts are baffled by a square egg, that farms are breeding lambs with six legs and that Great Britain is banning selfies, among others.We were amused by by this message from the Choir of King’s College Cambridge saying that, that from now on, high vocal parts will be performed by altos breathing helium.

Here in the US, Time.com offers The Best April Fools’ Pranks of 2014, including announcements about a new line of Presidential underwear line, a Cheetos-scented perfume, a travel service that reviews the best bathroom stalls, an edible Domino’s pizza box, a bourbon-scented sunscreen and more.

TNW covers some of The best tech April Fools’ Day jokes of 2014. We enjoyed many, but we particularly liked the new Opera browser designed specifically for cats.

And if you just can’t get enough, check out the Museum of Hoaxes huge April Fool Archives. It’s a year-by-year catalog of the entire history of April Fool’s Day. You can browse the archive by year and time-period, to find out what pranks, jokes, and hoaxes were perpetrated on all the various April Firsts throughout history. Or you can browse it by category.