By Elliott Greenblott
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! We’ve reached the final week of 2019 and seasonal holiday scams are wrapping up. You may not have noticed given the round of “End-of-Year” scams that have appeared. They likely seem familiar and tend to reappear at this time each year. Unlike many of the imposter scams that are focused on money (tech support, romance, grandparent, ransomware, lottery), some of these are “phishing” expeditions for personal information that can be used or sold on the Dark Web.
1. IRS, Social Security, Medicare — The caller, impersonating a government agency worker, usually follows one of two routes: “verification” of account information or “cancellation” of benefits. The intended victim must verify information such as Social Security or Medicare numbers, financial account numbers, on-line IDs, passwords, family names, income. Government agencies will not call to obtain information. Rather, notices and requests are made by mail so any calls requesting information by phone should be considered fraudulent. The best course of action is to note any names or phone numbers, hang up the phone, and notify the government agency referenced in the call. You can also call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline 877-908-3360 or contact the Federal Trade Commission website at ftc.gov.
2. Debt or Credit Card Consolidation — The call promotes consolidation of personal or credit card debt at an extremely attractive interest rate. The call usually comes as a robocall and once connected, a live operator will ask for information including account numbers, balances, account ID’s and account passwords. As with the previous example, the best course of action is to hang up, particularly when the call is unsolicited.
While both of these scams phish for information, more traditional financial fraud involving charity fraud, warranty fraud, benefits expiration, and license expiration continue but with an end of year twist.
The end-of -year twist in charity fraud is two-fold: the scammer promotes a fake charity as an opportunity to take advantage of a tax-exempt donation or the scam takes on a note of urgency related to the need to meet end of year expenses and obligations. As always, research the worthiness of charities on-line at charitynavigator.org, give.org, or guidestar.org.
Warranty fraud capitalizes on the lack of awareness regarding warranty status on products. Consumers fearing a lapse in warranty coverage purchase either worthless or incomplete coverage on products ranging from automobiles to home appliances and consumer electronics. Before making any purchase, determine if an extended warranty is even necessary. For example, an extended warranty may be provided automatically by the credit card used in a purchase. In addition, read the fine print before making any warranty purchase; know the terms of the warranty and its policy length and don’t take the word or promise from a stranger on the phone or internet. Often the price of an extended warranty and related expenses such as shipping exceed the value of the item. While an extended warranty may provide security, it is like any other insurance. The seller is counting on the quality of the covered item outlasting the warranty. Research the reliability of your intended purchase before spending the money.
In a similar manner, the perceived threat of suspension of a license or benefits results in victimization. Consumer receive notice by mail, email, or telephone that a benefit or a license, such as a software license from Microsoft, is about to expire. The notice, if written, appears to be official and indicates the need to make immediate payment to avoid any losses. In many cases, the victim makes payment without asking any questions. This scam has resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims losing millions of dollars to scammers in the United States alone. The best defense against loss is to maintain records of any licenses so expirations are easy to identify. If you are unsure of an expiration, contact the issuer of the license to verify and to report any attempted fraud.
Questions, comments, concerns? Contact me at email@example.com. You can also contact AARP’s Fraud hotline — 877-908-3360.
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He produces a feature CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, VT.
If you’d like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please
email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by
filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.