6/28/2016 – How to Stop Robocalls … or at Least Fight Back

Over 10 billion robocalls have been placed to U.S. phones since the start of 2016, according to YouMail, a provider of cloud-based telecom services including call blocking. Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about them are up nearly 50% since last year. Tax scams like the one I received are also up this year, according to the real IRS, and have netted the bad guys over $40 million since October 2013. The real reason for the recent robocall barrage? Technology. It’s so easy—and cheap—for scammers to dial thousands of numbers that they’re simply hitting more of us. They plug lists of phone numbers into software and fire off calls over the internet. The software also makes it easy to “spoof” numbers, falsifying caller-ID information so callers, even out of the country, can disguise their identity or location. Tax fraudsters even spoof the IRS’s own toll-free number.

Read the full WSJ story here.

6/27/2016 – TSR Update: New Banned Payment Methods Now In Effect

The FTC told companies last fall about impending prohibitions under the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) on certain payment methods that legitimate telemarketing businesses don’t use, but con artists have been known to exploit: remotely-created checks, remotely-created payment orders, cash-to-cash transfers, and cash reload mechanisms. Well, as of June 13, 2016, these prohibitions are in effect.

The changes to the TSR will stop telemarketers from dipping directly into consumers’ bank accounts through checks and payment orders that have been remotely created by the telemarketer or seller. Since they’re remotely created, they’re never actually signed by the account holder – and that makes it easy for telemarketers and sellers to dip directly into consumers’ bank accounts. And it’s then hard to reverse the transactions with consumers’ banks (again, a reason why con artists love using these methods).

Read the FTC bulletin here.

6/22/2016 – High-tech ways banks are trying to save seniors from having their money stolen

Wells Fargo & Co. began using new software for detecting abuse in some seniors’ wealth-management accounts during the first quarter of 2016 and is gradually rolling the technology out to more accounts. The technology closely tracks the investing behavior of the individual who owns the account and starts to recognize his or her unique habits, said Jimmie Lenz, the chief technology risk officer for Wells Fargo’s wealth investment management division. Elder financial abuse often has its own set of signs, according to a report issued by the CFPB in March 2016. These include suddenly insufficient funds or overdraft fees, activity in previously inactive accounts, change of address on an account, opening a new joint checking account or adding a joint owner to an existing account, an increase in total monthly cash withdrawals compared with historical patterns and electronic bill payments to new vendors. The Wells Fargo software can pick up on fraudulent or unusual behavior, even for small deviations in investing behavior, Lenz said. That can be particularly useful for detecting elder abuse, since abusers often try to make small withdrawals from a senior’s account over time, Lenz said. A thief who steals a credit card, in contrast, is more likely to make large withdrawals or purchases to steal as much money as possible before the card is canceled.

Read the full article on MarketWatch.

5/19/2016 – Bamboozled: Boost your college grad’s scam IQ

Fraudsters use their creativity to target certain populations, and new college grads are no different. In many ways, they’re ripe for the taking. Money is tight for most new grads as they look for work and a new place to live.

Read the full post here.

5/6/2016 – The Man Who Scammed Federal Agents

Scam artists are known for targeting a society’s most vulnerable, such as the elderly and the disabled, but fraudster Kenneth Wayne McLeod was different. His victims were men and women that many assume would be the least vulnerable to scams: federal law enforcement agents. McLeod, a broker and investment adviser from Jacksonville, Florida, spent some two decades luring dozens of unsuspecting investors, many of them federal agents, including agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to invest $34 million in a Ponzi scheme masquerading as a bond fund.

Read the full story here.

5/4/2016 – How To Solve The Elder Financial Abuse Epidemic

The most vulnerable among us need protection and guidance. Here’s what you can do:

* Never give out financial information, your Social Security number, or your Medicare number over the phone unless you initiated the call.
* Don’t respond to calls, letters or emails from “Medicare” officials. Medicare employees, and those of any legitimate business, will never ask for your full Social Security or Medicare number.
* Beware of pushy marketers–don’t hesitate to take down their contact information and do your due diligence. Just say no.
* Check the fine print when ordering products online or from TV ads. Many times the shipping and handling charges can be as much as the actual product you are ordering.
* Consult someone you trust if you’re feeling uncertain about requests for money or personal information. Don’t provide any personal information over the phone.
* Never send money today for the promise of more money later.
* Don’s sign on the dotted line for any complex investments you don’t understand.
* Don’t give away power of attorney to anyone unless family members and personal advisors such as lawyers, accountants and financial planners have reviewed the documents.
* There is no free lunch. If a firm invites you out to a meal, they want you to sign up for an investment, real estate or a pure swindle.
* Avoid sweepstakes, “money claim” offers and pleas to help a relative in a foreign country. These are all scams.
* Use “caller ID” features on your phone. If it’s a toll-free number you don’t recognize, don’t pick it up.

Read the full Forbes article here.

5/2/2016 – Chapter One: Who is behind one of the biggest scams in history?

For more than a decade, the scheme has preyed on sick, elderly and vulnerable Americans. Here’s how it worked: Millions of people received letters promising that psychic guidance and talismans from the French clairvoyant Maria Duval were the secret to turning their lives around. All they needed to do was send in money. And the payments that victims sent in really added up. In the U.S. and Canada alone, investigators allege that the operation raked in more than $200 million in the last two decades.

In a recent five-part investigation, CNNMoney found that this has been far from the work of one woman — exposing the massive business network that appears to be keeping the international scam alive. In fact, we even went to France and spoke to Duval’s son, who claimed his mother is a victim herself and that she lost control of the use of her name long ago.

Watch Part 1 here.

4/12/2016 – A Real-Life Tax Scam: This Is What IRS Phone Fraud Sounds Like

The Internal Revenue Service says it’s seeing a surge in phone scams. More than 5,000 victims have been duped out of $26.5 million since late 2013. It’s hard to know what exactly con artists are thinking when they target their victims. But now, we know what they are saying. Pindrop Security, an Atlanta-based company that investigates phone fraud, recently gave NPR a recording. It’s a grueling conversation, more than an hour long, between an active fraud ring and a presumed victim, who is in reality a Pindrop researcher. Pindrop set up honeypots — dummy phone numbers, some of which are entered into online raffles (win a free iPhone, anyone?) that are run by criminal rings. Pindrop has traced at least 28 fraud incidents to this specific ring.

Read the full NPR story here.

4/5/2016 – How to keep your ATM pin safe from a new threat

Getting your wallet stolen is stressful and scary enough, but did you know that there is now a way for would-be thieves to steal your ATM information without even laying hands on your card? No, this has nothing to do with online scammers. This threat is present in any grocery store, pharmacy or anywhere with a keypad for debit card PINs. Jet propulsion laboratory engineer Mark Rober explains this new threat, and most importantly, the simple way to keep yourself and your ATM code protected.

Watch the video here.

4/1/2016 – Fraudulent Student Debt Relief Firm Shut Down by Consumer Bureau

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this week acted to halt the activities of one such company, Student Aid Institute, saying that the company, based in San Diego, illegally tricked borrowers into paying fees for federal benefits. It was the latest in a series of actions against debt relief firms over the last two years. “We see more and more companies and websites demanding large upfront fees to help student loan borrowers enroll in income-driven plans that are available for free,” the bureau’s director, Richard Cordray, said in a statement. The bureau said Student Aid Institute reaped millions of dollars in advance fees from thousands of customers for its services. The company charged borrowers hundreds of dollars upfront — as much as $495 — in violation of federal law, which requires that at least one debt must be renegotiated or reduced before a fee can be collected for debt relief services, the bureau said. The company also charged maintenance fees of $39 a month. In an administrative consent order, the bureau directed the company to stop its debt relief operations and cancel all contracts with its customers. The company’s chief executive, Steven Lamont, must also pay a $50,000 fine.

Read the full story here.