If it sounds too good to be true...It probably is

If it sounds too good to be true
It probably is
by Jennifer LB Leese

Have you ever noticed how scam artists never take time off? They are constantly on the lookout for ways to either get away with something or create havoc in people's lives.
Scammers will ask to repair your roof or pave your driveway. Some will ask for donations to local charities or pretend to be your mortgage holder. You can never be too careful.
You may not be aware, but major scams are hitting the Hagerstown area. Several unnamed individuals throughout the region have experienced the Canadian lottery scam, as well as the money order scam. Stay on your toes, and remember, if it sounds too good to be true...it probably is.

Canadian Lottery

Fraudulent telemarketers are calling unsuspecting Americans telling them that they have won a prize in the Canadian Lottery. Usually these calls are made from the Canadian cities of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, but have also originated in New York, near the Canadian border.
Scammers "usually target the elderly because they have the time [during the day] and are a bit more trusting than others," said Officer Michael Kretzer, an investigator from Maryland State Police. "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
Although there is a legitimate lottery in Canada, it works similar to lotteries in the United States, with individual provinces selling their own tickets. The "Canadian Lottery" is a scheme that is being used to fleece consumers in the United States. "There are penalties," said Officer Kretzer. This scam is not seen as a crime in Canada as United States residents are the victims. "With jurisdiction problems and problems identifying" the culprits, "it is difficult to pursue, resolve, and prosecute" the guilty parties." The Federal Bureau of Investigations recently estimated that $80 million to $100 million dollars are stolen by criminals using this scam.
There are two common variations of this scheme. In one a man who claims to be a lawyer from a prestigious law firm in Canada calls to inform you that the Canadian courts have been ordered to distribute millions of dollars from illegal telemarketers to American consumers who have played the Canadian lottery. You just need to send a processing fee, or legal fee, before you can be paid. The caller then will say that the judge has a gag order on this case and if you tell anyone, you will not receive the money.
In the second version someone calls to say that you have won a cash prize and then the caller lets another person, someone who claims to be a lawyer or a Canadian customs official, on the phone to explain how you have won the money in a special lottery. All that you have to do is send a cashier's check to pay for Canadian customs. The caller will warn you if your banker asks why you need the money, tell them it is for personal business.
Usually the callers are relentless. They will call and be friendly, call the person by their first name and ask for the person to do the same. They will continue to call until the person sends the money.
This is not how the legitimate lottery in Canada works.
"We've seen an increase of this scam within the past 6 months," said the manager of the Pony Mailbox in Hagerstown. "I don't like seeing our customers get victimized."


One of the newest scams is called vishing. That's because these vishing scams typically use VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phone numbers to trick Internet or telephone users into giving their private information. It's fairly simple to get a VoIP number anonymously, which is not the case for normal telephone numbers. That makes it easier for scammers to carry out these vishing scams. In some ways, vishing may be even more dangerous than phishing scams, because consumers are used to entering private information into automated phone systems. So, it's easy to imagine that many are going to wind up victims of identity theft and suffer financial losses from these vishing scams. Action: Never call a phone number you receive in a spam email. Do not give any of your private personal or financial information if you do make the mistake and call the phone number in these emails.
"This phishing scheme is exploding," said IRS Commissioner Mark Everson. "Last year we got wind of seven different kinds of schemes. That was in all of 2005. This year we've already seen 65."
Even the commissioner of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance got one of the phishing e-mails--on his government computer.
"It's a reflection of how brazen these crooks have become," Commissioner Andrew Eristoff said. "Here they are targeting a tax administrator with a tax refund scam. Unbelievable."
This brings me to...

Identity Theft

Identify theft often begins the same place charity does--at home.
You'd almost have to live in a cave not to know about identity theft. It's in the news on a regular basis. You may have already been a victim--or know someone who has been victimized.
Everyone also seems to be aware that electronic identity theft--through email, online banking or using credit cards online--costs consumers millions of dollars every year--the numbers are escalating. For the fifth year in a row, identity theft topped the list of complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2004, accounting for 39% of all complaints received annually by the FTC. It also tops our ScamBusters prediction list of the worst Internet scams for 2005. The consequences of becoming a victim of identity fraud include: having a scammer open up accounts in your name (and running up debts to those accounts), losing your job, being denied insurance, or even being arrested for crimes you didn't commit.
However, what you may NOT be aware of is that fully 50% of reported identity fraud is perpetrated by relatives, friends and neighbors, or acquaintances of the victim. That's a truly amazing statistic. And whereas many people think that computer crimes account for most identity theft, computer crimes, in fact, only accounted for 11.6% of all identity theft where the cause was known in 2004. According to a survey done by Javelin Strategy & Research, these 'close encounters' by friends and family are costing much more money--and time to resolve--than 'stranger' fraud would.
So how do you decrease your chances of your identity being stolen by a neighbor or a nephew? Here are 5 tips: 1. Don't give ANYONE access to your PIN #s. 2. Don't leave financial mail or statements lying around your house or your car--you'd be appalled at how much information can be gleaned from your checkbook, bank statements, credit card account statements and tax records. 3. When you are discarding things, shred any personal documents that may contain personal or financial information. 4. As much as possible, sign up for electronic banking and account monitoring, and then review your accounts regularly. Any fraud will be detected sooner--and more easily--than if you wait for monthly mail. 5. Review your credit report, bank accounts and credit card bills frequently. Self-detection is the best way to find out about identity fraud early.

Medicare Scam

Many scam artists are targeting senior citizens with the Medicare Scam. Don't fall for such rackets. It is against Medicare's rules to call a person with Medicare and ask for bank account or other personal information, or cash payments, over the telephone. No beneficiary should ever provide that kind of information to someone who just calls them. Such calls must be placed by the beneficiaries themselves or handled by a follow-up letter to which the beneficiary may choose to reply. If someone calls asking for personal information, or the call doesn't seem right for some other reason, a beneficiary should hang up the phone and contact Medicare or his or her local law enforcement or consumer protection agency.
Other con artists call to say that Medicare will be issuing new cards, so they ask personal information like Social Security numbers. They also ask for $79 to $399. Nonsense! Medicare and Social Security replacement cards "are free of charge!"
Here are some tips for Medicare recipients to protect against scams:
* No one can come into your house uninvited.
* No one can ask you for personal information during their marketing activities.
* Always keep all personal information, such as your Medicare number, safe, just as you would your credit card or bank account number.
* Whenever you have a question or concern about any activity regarding Medicare, call them directly.
Legitimate Medicare drug plans will not ask for payment over the telephone or the Internet. They must send a bill to the beneficiary for the monthly premium.
Beneficiaries can pay automatically with a monthly withdrawal from their Social Security check. Beneficiaries may also pay by monthly check or set up an automatic withdrawal from a bank account, but they must call their plan or respond to a mailed payment request from the plan to do this. If you have questions, call Medicare at 1-877-772-3379.

Phishing Scams Now Use Phones Instead of Fake Websites

In a new twist, identity thieves are sending spam that warns victims that their bank account or PayPal accounts were supposedly compromised. Nothing new so far. However, unlike typical phishing emails, there is no website address in these phishing messages. Instead, the victim is urged to call a phone number to verify account details. The automated voice message says: "Welcome to account verification. Please type your 16-digit card number." The goal is to get the victim to enter their credit card number. In these reported scams, no mention of the bank or PayPal is made.
Rachna Dhamija, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research on Computation and Society at Harvard University, said anyone can be duped. "In our study, users proved vulnerable across the board to phishing attacks," Dhamija said. "Neither their age nor their previous experience with the Web site nor their level of education had any impact on their ability to distinguish a phishing Web site from a legitimate Web site."
What to do: Never call a number you receive from a spam email, and certainly don't enter in any private information if you make a mistake and do call. If you want to call your bank, use the normal phone number you regularly use, not the phone number you get in an email.
Officer Kretzer spoke of two scams that have been rapidly hitting the area: home improvement scams and disabled vehicle scams.
With the home improvement scams, "workers request their fee up front; preying on elderly. Ask for references and don't pay up front," he suggested.
"The disabled vehicle scam is when a motorist approaches a local residence claiming their car has broken down and asks to use the phone. When inside they ask for water or to use the bathroom. When out of the homeowners' sight they look for anything of value.
"The best thing to do is bring them the phone, or offer to call for them. Do not let them in your home!
"If you have questions, contact your local law enforcement. We can look into it for you."
Of course, this list does not cover ALL the scams out there--so be aware! Be sure to check out other "scam" articles in this issue of the Picket News.

Source: Better Business Bureau, Becky Schmitz of Centsable Accounting, CNN, and Scambusters