Stealing Money & Identity.

Traitor ConceptThose who regularly read my blog know how serious I am about warning people about the latest scams and fraud designed to steal your money or identity. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of unscrupulous people who would not think twice about taking every last penny you have earned, regardless of your age, race or economic status. These people would just as well rip off an 85-year-old widow living on social security as they would a millionaire.

Early this month, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) released its annual summary of consumer complaints. The numbers are in for 2016.

The top scam of 2016 had to do with debt collection, with 859,090 complaints filed. Even legitimate debt collection agencies have to follow strict guidelines when dealing with consumers. Phony debt collectors can target people for debts they don’t even have, often using heavy-handed tactics, including threats and verbal abuse.

The 2nd most reported scam with 406,578 complaints filed had to do with imposters representing themselves as someone they are not in order to get money, information or access to a person’s home. Often people pose as IRS employees or other government agents. Other crooks pose as utility company workers in order to get into people’s homes.

The 3rd most reported scam involves identity theft, with 399,255 complaints filed. Criminals get hold of the victim’s personal information and use it steal money and/or commit fraud. Thousands of people a year have their bank accounts emptied or fraudulent purchases rung up on their credit or debit cards. Many people have their credit ratings ruined, and even if you can prove fraud, it may still take years to completely recover your good standing.

Of course there are many more scams, to see the complete list for 2016 see here.

Being that it’s tax season again, I must warn you once again against scammers who call or email you claiming to be from the IRS and demanding payment under the threat of penalty or arrest. The IRS does not contact people via phone or email, only via postal mail. So don’t fall for this scam regardless of how official the caller may sound.

Little things you can do to protect yourself from scammers include:

  • Keep your social security number and bank account numbers protected.
  • Make sure that nobody gets hold of your PIN numbers for your debit and credit cards. If you are not sure of an establishment, sign instead of using your PIN #.
  • Ask for proper identification if someone in an “official looking capacity” wants to enter your home. If you are not sure, call the company or agency they claim to represent, or call the police.
  • Stay on top of your banking statements and balances, as well as your credit scores.
  • And, of course, don’t open up emails from sources you don’t know or trust. Malware and spyware can be downloaded to your computer and personal information can be stolen.

Anyone has the potential to fall for a scammer, but you can lower your odds by staying alert and informed about what the criminals are up to. Use good ole fashioned common sense when shopping or dealing with solicitors. Remember that what seems too good to be true usually is, and what smells like a rat is usually just that…. a rat.

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