Avoiding IRS Phone Scams

Internal Revenue Service

Tax season may be over, but IRS scams are still in full force. The Internal Revenue Service has announced a “new twist” on IRS phone scams. Criminals call unsuspecting targets and claim to work for the Taxpayer Advocate Service. Callers use a spoofed phone number from a TAS office located in Houston or Brooklyn. They may use robocalls, requesting a callback. When the person calls the fake office, they will be asked to provide their individual taxpayer identification number or Social Security number.

Who Is the TAS?

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization that operated within the IRS. They provide help to people facing an issue with the IRS such as issues filing a return, tax debt or problems working with the system. People seeking information from the TAS are directed to call the organization directly; the TAS does not initiate calls to taxpayers offering services.

The Scam

“Representatives” inform their victims that they owe taxes and must pay immediately or lose their driver’s license or face jail time. The caller, who is typically hostile or even abusive, demands payment through a pre-paid debit card or a wire transfer. The scammers take it one step further by placing a second call, supposedly from a law enforcement agency or Department of Motor Vehicles. If the victim uses an app for unknown number look ups, he will find that the number has been spoofed to match the organization’s official number.

There is a variation on the scam. The con artist may try to trick the person into believing he has a large refund due, but must provide personal information to receive it.

Other Tactics

Scammers have developed more tactics to fool the public. They include supplying fake names and IRS badge numbers, sending bogus emails to back up their claims, mimicking the sounds of a call center, or providing the last four digits of the person’s Social Security number.

Signs It’s a Scam

The IRS publishes a list of things that they would never do with the hopes of alerting the public. For example, the IRS never calls to inform a taxpayer that he owes money, nor do they make threats or involve local law enforcement. If you receive a call, do not give out personal information, nor should you engage the caller in any way. The longer you stay on the phone, the longer the scammer thinks you may fall for the scam.

The scammers may also attempt phishing to gain information via email. They will request personal information and payment, complete with threats.

Report the Fraud

If you receive an email, do not respond and report it immediately to [email protected] (Subject: IRS Phone Scam).

To report a phone call, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484. You can also file a complaint on the IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting webpage. Additionally, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant with “IRS Telephone Scam” as the subject.

 

Getting Revenge on Scammers

Answer bot deters scammers

Legitimate businesses have used automated telephone systems for many years. Techs designed the systems to reduce or eliminate the need for human operators and tech support personnel. Many websites feature systems in the form of conversational bots, i.e., robots or “bots” that answer questions based on keywords and phrases. For example, if you log onto Microsoft and ask a question about making your computer faster, the bot will give you a list of links to follow that may answer your question. Businesses use it as a time saving device. One report shows that these bots can answer 29% of a customer’s questions, saving 44% of time that would be otherwise used with live support.

Calling Systems

Automated phone systems are a part of every day life. They are used when you call a company for information so that you are directed to the right department. They can be annoying for the caller, but in other ways efficient. Another automated system that is popular is the ability to block or blacklist certain phone numbers that call unsuspecting people. Most apps blacklist phone numbers based on the number of people they call. If a phone number is used to call 1,000 people, it is obviously a robocaller and, therefore, should be blocked. These systems tend to be relatively effective.

Telemarketers and Scammers

Telemarketers and scammers waste our time and, in most cases, want to get our hard-earned money. You can download apps that will help you to trace unknown callers on your iPhone to ensure the caller is legitimate and will also block calls and texts. Users love these apps because they save time and prevent annoying people from calling. However, there is a new trend that takes it one step further. Robokiller has introduced a feature on their platform known as Answer Bot. Not only does it block unwanted calls, it plays a pre-recorded message to keep scammers and telemarketers on the phone.

Getting Revenge with Bots

We’ve all wanted to get revenge on scammers at one time or another. We learn to avoid saying “yes” and other things that can get us into trouble, but scammers are clever and relentless. Answer Bot blocks unwanted calls and allows users to play a pre-recorded message for the person being blocked. For example, a scammer calls your phone. Answer Bot blocks the number, so you are not disturbed. While you go on about your day, the scammer hears a recorded message that sounds like a regular conversation. The caller is engaged in the conversation, thereby wasting his or her time.

The Result

Many scammers and telemarketers are not permitted to hang up on a potential target, so they are forced to stay on the line. Robokiller reports that Answer Bot has prevented the scammers from making approximately 300 calls; the longest call recorded to date lasted 45 minutes.

What’s better than reducing or eliminating unwanted calls? The knowledge that you’ve had just a little bit of sweet revenge.

 

 

 

Dating Site Catfish

 Catfishing is pretending to be someone you're not

People using dating websites are familiar with the term “catfish.” Individuals who catfish people online are pretending to be someone else. They get people to believe that they are something they’re not to trick them. The scammer may trick a person for more than one reason. The catfisher could be a jealous partner, a stalker, someone playing a game, or worse. People who catfish often intend to steal your information for personal gain.

What is a Catfish?

Dating websites and social media apps are the most common places to uncover catfishing. Dating sites have the most instances of catfishing but it can happen on other sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.

This is how it could happen. Suzy signs up on a popular dating website. She posts a flattering picture and basic information. Suzy gets messages from men interested in talking to her. Suzy is excited by the attention she receives. She looks at pictures and answers a few messages. It isn’t long before Suzy notices some strange things about some of the messages. Here are some red flags:

No Profile Picture

Several people contacting Suzy don’t have a profile picture. Some say they don’t have a picture because of their job, but often, the person is married or not who he claims to be. It could be a catfish situation.

Too Good to be True

The sender seems too good to be true. He just might be. If his photo is professionally done or looks familiar, chances are it’s not real. Use a reverse image search to look for like pictures. Common apps include TinEye and Google Reverse Image Search.

Bad English

Scammers may not be native English speakers. They try to convince victims that they are American, but the language gives them away. They often use the wrong words or confuse things such as their, there, and they’re.

Too Much Too Soon

Those who catfish want their targets to act quickly. They try to gain your trust and get your money as fast as possible, so they will to go to any length to win your trust and affection.

The Request

If the scammer feels you trust him (or her), he will ask for something. It usually starts with something small but escalates quickly.

Common requests

Money. The rent or insurance is past due. There has been an accident. The boss fired him. He only needs a small loan.

Gift Cards or Prepaid Cards. These cards are a common request since they cannot be traced.

Take Steps to Protect Yourself

Use an internet phone number or email set up for the dating site.

Download a phone app that will allow you to record, block and/or trace phone numbers.

Never send money to a stranger.

Insist on seeing a picture. Use an image search to verify identity.

Never share personal information about yourself, your job or your family.

Always meet in a neutral, public place.

Get to know the person in real life before giving your complete trust.

 

 

The Dangers of Sexting

How Sexting Can Ruin a Person's Life

Reporters talk about sexting on a regular basis, usually involving politicians and public figures. Regular people, including teens, also sext and may not understand the implications of their actions. People have ruined marriages and relationships all in the name of fun and games. Teenagers and daters are targets for identity thieves and scammers. Kids are targets for kidnappers and pedophiles. Parents want to protect their children, but that may not be enough. Children should be educated about the dangers of sexting and contacting strangers online.

What is Sexting?

Sexting involves two people exchanging intimate information through text messages. Predators ask their targets for nude pictures or sexually-themed messages. The predators convince the victims to send the messages to get or keep their attention. Statistics show that 1 in 7 teens routinely sends “sext” messages and 1 in 4 receives sext messages. Parents should discuss sexting with their children. The child should be encouraged to share if they are being pressured by anyone to send sexts. It’s common for a person to receive a message containing a nude photo or sexual suggestion. If that happens, the child should report it. The parent can use an iPhone app to find out who owns a phone number and then report it to the authorities.

Dating Sites

Adults might send sext messages to people they meet on dating sites. Many people using online dating sites tend to move very fast in forming relationships. Hackers engage targets who get caught up by the romance and ignore their instincts. Hackers can use the messages to gain valuable information or threaten to post the messages or pictures unless the victim pays. The scammer can sell the information to another who will use it for financial gain and cause the target grief and legal troubles for years to come.

 Sextortion

“Sextortion” is a form of extortion or blackmail. The victim exposes him or herself to another through sexually-related messages or photos. The recipient uses that information and posts – or threatens to post – the information online or send it to the victim’s contacts. As a result, people can be targets of “revenge porn,” a method wherein the victim has personal information or photos posted online by a former friend or lover who wants to get revenge. The act can cause fights, embarrassment, loss of a job or worse. School officials might punish teenagers, causing them to be expelled or denied access into colleges of their choice. People put themselves and their families at risk, including their careers and relationships. Photos posted on the Internet stay there forever. You can’t delete them or get them back.

Sexting carries legal issues since the person taking or sending the photo can receive fines or jail time for distributing pornography.

Protect Yourself

If someone asks you to start sexting, refuse. It will help you to avoid embarrassment, hacking, and possible legal problems. Avoid storing intimate photos and videos on your computer. A hacker will trick his victim and access the other person’s computer, posting private photos on social media sites.

Protecting Your Kids Online

Parents Protecting Children on the Internet

Everyone knows that you can’t have your eyes on your children 24/7, especially if they are in school and spending time away from home. Sometimes it must be enough to educate your kids as best as possible, exercise reasonable care, and hope for the best. Parents should teach kids how to be safe online, especially since children spent a great deal of time on the Internet. It’s true that kids are generally more tech savvy than their parents. But that tech know-how doesn’t have anything to do with being safe online. Kids are trusting and naïve. They need watchdogs to protect them.

Safe Sites

There have been safeguards for kids almost since the Internet was invented. However, those tech savvy kids can get around those blocks with little effort. Before turning your kid loose on the internet, set strict guidelines including the amount of time spent online as well as which sites are acceptable and safe.

Steps to Take

  1. Use safety features on websites. Let’s use YouTube as an example since it’s one of the most popular sites. If you’re using a desktop, scroll down to the bottom of the screen to the “Restricted Mode” setting. This setting will hide videos that contain inappropriate content. For the mobile app, click on the three dots (top right) to get to Settings > General. Scroll down until you see the “Restricted Mode” option.
  2. Set privacy controls on social media accounts. First, make sure that the children are old enough and mature enough to use social media. Discuss what is appropriate and limit who can see their posts.
  3. Use separate accounts for adults and kids.
  4. Set up separate accounts for your kids on your computers
  5. Use kid-safe search engines and browsers.
  6. Limit the time your child spends online.
  7. Use only safe chat rooms
  8. Teach your children not to talk to strangers. While great friendships can be made online, there is a great danger that children are being approached by predators. Teach kids to maintain a safe distance. If the stranger wants your child to call or text, iPhone app to see who a phone number belongs to and note it just in case.
  9. Teach your children about “sexting.” The Justice Department has stated that the biggest threat to children is something called “sextortion.” People send graphic messages or pictures which can cause lasting psychological damage.
  10. Avoid file sharing. Aside from being illegal, sharing files, e.g., music, videos, etc. can be a doorway to getting a virus on your phone or computer.
  11. Discuss cyberbullying. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have reported that cyberbullying affects up to 15% percent of children. The percentage is higher for kids who are minorities, disabled, overweight, or LGBTQ.

For more tips, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information website.

Law Enforcement Phone Scams

Police Scams

Police officers warrant respect and obedience. Parents teach children to respect and obey the police. When a police officer calls and asks for a donation or informs you of an outstanding warrant, the impulse to comply is immediate. Unfortunately, the person calling may not be a member of law enforcement. The scammers posing as police, call and prey upon the victim’s fear. There are three common scams relating to law enforcement:

Bench Warrants

A bench warrant is a “go to jail, do not pass go” document. If you have a warrant against you, police will arrive at your door and cart you off to jail. The police do not call. Have you ever seen a cop show where the police ring up a dangerous felon?

Typically, the caller will order you to purchase a pre-paid card or arrange to send money via Western Union or MoneyGram. Don’t do it! If you suspect the call may be legitimate, call your local police station immediately.

Relative in Jail

Another common scam is the relative in jail scam. Senior citizens are usually the targets of this scam. The caller pretends to be a family member, saying he is in jail. The caller says a bondsman will be calling shortly. The target is expected to give out credit card information or to send money through Western Union or using a pre-paid card.

This is a scam. Like the kidnapping scheme, the target is not offered any proof that the story is true. The scammer plays upon the target’s fear that a family member is in distress. If you receive such a call, find out the name of the jail and call it directly. If a bondsman is required, meet him at his office or the jail.

Police Charity

Citizens may receive an annual phone call asking for donations to the policeman’s ball or to support the Fraternal Order of Police. Police do solicit funds for these and other charities, but will not ask for a credit card or wire transfer over the phone. If you receive this call, do your research and contact the organization directly for verification.

Detecting a Law Enforcement Phone Scam

It may be difficult to identify a false request asking for money, although it is not impossible. Scammers often use fake identities and use a spoofed caller ID to hide their real phone numbers. Scammers may be able to tap into phone numbers used by police to appear legitimate.

Ask for more information

If the caller asks for a donation, ask questions. Ask the representative for information about the organization. Callers should supply their full names and the organization’s legal name and address. You can require the caller to explain how donations are allocated. If the caller states that the request is coming from a specific chapter or precinct, call that location to verify before opening your wallet. Scammers faced with questions may be unable to give an answer, get defensive and hang up. You can also use an iPhone app to do a reverse look up a phone number to check if it’s related to scams.

Cyberstalkers and Their Victims

Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is the use of social media, phone calls, text messages, email, and other forms of technology to threaten, harass, pursue, intimidate or steal a person’s information for personal gain. For that reason, anyone who uses the Internet can be a target. Cyberstalkers are often driven by jealousy, anger, hatred, infatuation, revenge, and lust or obsession. Some might suffer from mental illness. Some cyberstalkers, known as Internet Trolls, will harass Internet users for no good reason. A cyberstalker could be a stranger, but most likely is someone the victim knows. The stalker could be an ex, someone from school, co-worker, someone with whom you’ve had an argument or fight, or even a fan or potential love interest.

The Four Types of Cyberstalkers

Cyberstalkers cause a lot of trouble for their victims with rumors, false allegations, lies, harassment, or even identity theft. Cyberstalking can include cyberbullying, which takes place between kids. Cyberstalking may also include inappropriate actions, including those of a sexual nature. Research has shown that there are four basic types of cyberstalkers. They are:

  • Vindictive: Cyberstalkers who want to get revenge or harm another person. They often engage in personal attacks;
  • Composed: Those whose want to annoy the victim;
  • Intimate: One who wants to have a relationship (friendship or love) with the victim. Therefore, cyberstalkers can turn violent if turned away;
  • Collective: A group of cyberstalkers who attack an individual or group for a specific cause.

The Harmful Result

Stalking causes a great deal of harm to the victim. It can ruin marriages, self-esteem, careers, or someone’s credit. Cyberbullies have been the cause of many children committing suicide. Obsessions can move from cyberspace to real-world stalking. Cyberstalkers may claim that they mean no harm, although what is being done may be extremely harmful and often illegal. Victims may not know they are being stalked. The stalker could use spyware or other means of tracking Internet use behind the scenes. You should increase your security if you think that you are being tracked in some way. Take extra precautions.

Precautions

Protect yourself by taking simple precautions. Regardless of how careful you are, it’s possible to become a target. However, you can avoid becoming a victim of cyberstalking, despite the method used to target you.

  • Restrict access to your computer, smartphone, and other devices. Leaving your computer open can allow hackers to alter the system and add software for tracking purposes.
  • Password protection. You should protect all devices with unique passwords to keep from being stalked. Use a web-based password vault to store passwords and change passwords often. Never use the same password for more than one program. Above all, avoid using passwords such as children’s or pets’ names or birthdays.
  • Sign out of computer programs when finished, especially on social media accounts.
  • Search your name online to see what information is available to the public. Do the same for family members.
  • Tell friends and family that you do not want your personal information on their social media accounts. Remove such info wherever possible.
  • Keep online calendars and plans private.
  • Post with care. If you post something, it is nearly impossible to take it back. This includes photographs.
  • Don’t announce travel plans or sharing where you will be on a certain date and time.
  • Use anti-virus, spyware, malware and anti-tracking software on all devices.
  • Teach children how to be smart about Internet use and to report any strange behavior immediately.
  • Don’t give out personal information such as your address, social security number, or bank information.
  • Hackers can obtain all information provided online.
  • Don’t get involved in online arguments.
  • Never open attachments from unknown sources.
  • Use screen names that are age and gender neutral.
  • Check the status of bank and credit card accounts on a regular basis.
  • Set up new emails for dating websites and social media accounts.

Cyberstalked? Now What?

If you see signs of cyberstalking, act right away. Police and other agencies often have cyber divisions that can help with the legal aspects of the crime and how to protect yourself.

  • Take suspicions seriously.
  • Report any possible illegal activity.
  • Avoid any contact with suspected cyberstalkers.
  • Record and block any email or phone numbers used to contact you with harassing messages. Use an iPhone cell phone trace app to check unknown numbers.
  • Change your account passwords.
  • Change email accounts.
  • Remove personal information on social media profiles and dating websites.
  • Reset privacy settings on all accounts and programs.
  • Delete online accounts if necessary.
  • Inform family and friends of the event.
  • Be aware of any real-life stalking activity.

In conclusion, it seems that cyberstalking is here to stay. However, if you are mindful, you can stay safe.

Online Romance Scams

Online romance continues to grow as a money-making opportunity; not only for the companies charging would-be daters, but the scammers that lie, cheat, and steal money as well as hearts. As technology grows, singles are more likely to pursue romantic liaisons online. It’s much easier to meet a wide variety of people with similar interests and you never have to leave home. The prospects are exciting, and some have found their soulmates online. Sadly, many seeking romance have been hoodwinked, robbed, and blackmailed.

Online Dating Scams

The Sob Story

The first conversations typically start out well. The scammer comments on how attractive you are and how many things you have in common. Invariably, a sob story develops to gain pity and, perhaps, access to your bank account. Some common stories:

  • Spouse and/or children killed in an accident
  • Significant other dies from disease
  • Lonely military personnel on deployment
  • Sad retiree
  • Stranded overseas
  • Was robbed and needs help

The potential romantic interest is often very good at garnering sympathy and playing upon the target’s ego with phrases like, “with you I think I can live again” or “you’re the one I’ve been waiting for.” Highly sensitive people tend to be more susceptible to this line of trickery because they genuinely feel bad for the scammer.

Online Scams

The Giveaway

It was once much easier to determine if someone was a scammer by doing a reverse look up on their phone. A cell phone number app lookup for iPhone can identify the region from which someone is calling. Common regions for scammers include Nigeria and Jamaica. Those tools are still valuable, but scammers are making it harder by employing local numbers or ones that will not send up any red flags. Still, if an online dating prospect gives his (or her) phone number, reverse search it immediately to verify the information you’ve been given.

Another giveaway is the time zone. If your romantic interest is only online in the middle of the night or at some other illogical time, take note. You may ask on occasion what time it is if you suspect the person is not located in the U.S.

Language is another telltale sign that someone isn’t being up front about his or her nationality. If the person claims to be American or from some other English-speaking country, it’s easy to tell by the way they write or talk. Bad English, typos, and poorly written sentences are a dead giveaway that the person does not speak the language.

 

Identity Theft

Protect Yourself

There are many ways to protect yourself in an online romance situation from using a nom de plum to using an anonymous email or phone number, if in fact you give out that information at all. Others may include:

  • Never give out your social security number, bank, or credit card information
  • Refuse to transfer money or make a financial transaction on behalf of the love interest
  • Do not reveal your street address
  • Don’t pay up front for a promise
  • Do not post any compromising photos or videos
  • Report any suspicious activity to the website and local police.

How to Make Your Phone Safer

It’s more important than ever to protect your personal and financial information from hackers and phishing scams. We’ll go over the best ways to make your phone safer.

Install a VPN

Safely browse the internet while on public Wi-Fi with the use of a VPN. We like to use TunnelBear. It’s simple interface allows you to choose which IP location you would like to use with the toggle of a button.

Make Sure You Have a Passcode Set

This may be obvious and you might already have one set up, but make sure that you have a passcode on your phone. If it’s ever lost or stolen this will ensure that any sensitive information on your phone will be protected.

Turn on Find My Phone

With iPhones you can turn on Find My iPhone which will allow you to remotely track your iPhone if it’s ever lost or stolen. Also, and most importantly, if a phone can’t be recovered this feature allows you to wipe the phone completely. If your phone ever gets stolen, this will protect you!

Use Stronger Passwords

After so many breaches, you’d think that people would start using stronger passwords. Unfortunately, we don’t because having too many different passwords can be too difficult to remember. In 2018 it’s important for you to start using unique, strong passwords for each of your many online accounts. We recommend using a password vault app, like LastPass, to generate all of your passwords and keep them safe.

Password vaults will create and then guard and pre-populate the sign-in fields whenever you go to a site that requires you to log in.

Block Spam on Your Phone

Lastly, make your phone safer by using a white pages iPhone caller ID app. These apps run in the background of your phone and will block calls from numbers that have been reported as spam.

Never deal with an annoying telemarketer or potential phone scammer ever again.  There are many different options and some carriers even provide their customers with free spam blocking.

How To Find Out Where A Call Is From

You probably get calls from random phone numbers all the time. Some might look familiar, while others might be completely unknown. The best way to identify these calls and where they’re coming from is by using a reverse phone lookup.

How Do They Get Your Number?

There are a lot of ways in which companies and scammers get your phone number. The most common way is via you giving it away to them. Whenever you sign up for something and are asked to give your phone number be sure to read the privacy policy first.

Many survey companies and realtors will often sell your information to third-party marketing companies that will then add your phone number or email to call and email lists.

Another way you may be giving it away is via your social media. Make sure that your profile information is public only to people who you know and trust. Many times we’ll unintentionally provide information in our social media profiles because we’re not aware of the privacy settings. Be sure to double check what’s visible to strangers on your social media profiles.

How To Find Where The Call Is Coming From

The easiest way to find out where a call is coming from is by looking at its area code. However, this isn’t always reliable do to caller ID spoofing. This technique allows a caller to disguise their caller ID as any number they wish.

This technique can sometimes result in you receiving calls from your own number!

The best way to identify an unknown call is by using a phone tracer app for the iPhone. These apps will allow you to look up any phone number, identify where it’s from, and even see other people’s experiences with the phone number. This means you can avoid all of those annoying robocalls.

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