As the country prepares for the 2010 Census, be sure you're prepared to protect your family against possible census scams.
While many seniors have reported the scam without falling prey to it, unfortunately, many others have been victimized. One well-meaning grandmother sent $15,000 to scammers, thinking she was helping a grandchild who had been in an auto accident.
"This scam is just despicable because it preys on the emotions of seniors who want nothing more than to ensure the safety of their grandchildren," said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. "The key to avoiding this scam is to remain calm despite the 'emergency' nature of the call and to verify the identity of the caller. Too often people are allowing themselves to get caught up in the false sense of urgency and they end up making emotional, instead of logical, decisions."
To protect themselves from this scam, and other scams that may use a distressed loved-one tactic, BBB is advising seniors to confirm the status of the individual - tell them you just have to check on something and you don't want them to have to pay for the call - ask for a number to call them back so you can pay for the call.
Then call local police and give them all the information you can about exactly what they said to you, and the number they gave you (most likely they will hang up when you ask for a number, but if they give you one, be sure to write it down and pass it on to police). By all means, if you think the call is legitimate, call them back directly or verify the story with other family members before taking any further action.
For anyone victimized by this type of distressed loved-one call, BBB recommends reporting the incident immediately to local police departments and state Attorneys General offices. If there is a request to wire money to Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre has established the PhoneBusters hotline and Web site to report such fraud. Reports can be filed easily online through the PhoneBusters site, or by phone, toll free at, 1-888-495-8501.
Red Cross Warns of Scam
This scam was first reported about a year ago (see below), but the Red Cross has just issued a new warning. Apparently, someone thought it was a good scam and decided to resurrect it with a slight twist. As always, be careful not to give ANY personal information to a stranger, even if he or she claims to be from the Red Cross. Remember, the Red Cross does not make notifications to the family when a service member is injured, the service member's command does.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 — The Office of Investigations, Compliance and Ethics has been alerted to a scam targeting the families of military staff. A caller contacts a spouse or another family member of a military staff person and identifies himself/herself as a representative of the American Red Cross. The caller states the military staff person has been injured while on duty in Iraq and is being or will be air-lifted to Germany for treatment and care.
The caller may ask for additional information about the military staff person; for example, date of birth or social security number. In a subsequent call, the caller updates the family member and asks for a donation to the Red Cross to help cover the cost of the air-lift and medical care.
This is a scam using the Red Cross brand.
American Red Cross representatives typically do not contact military members or military dependents when a service member has been injured or killed in action. Rather the service member’s Command or the casualty assistance branch of the respective Service contacts the primary next of kin when a service member has been injured or killed in action.
Military families are urged not to give out any personal information or money over the phone if contacted by unknown/unverified individuals, including confirmation that a family member is deployed. Should any military family member receive such a call, they are urged to report it to their local Family Readiness Group or Military Personnel Unit.
The American Red Cross ensures that the American people are in touch with their family members serving in the United States military by operating a communications network that is open 24/7. Through a network of employees and volunteers that link families during emergencies, the Red Cross provides communications for families left behind, assistance to veterans and preparedness courses for military personnel and their families. For more information or if you would like to make a donation to the Red Cross, only use the authorized Red Cross Website, www.redcross.org or www.icrc.org.
Jury Duty Scam Resurfaces
This one has been around since at least '05, but it must be circulating again, because we just got a notice about it from a retired Navy friend who is also a retired police investigator.
You answer the ringing phone. The caller identifies himself as an officer of the court. He says you failed to report for jury duty and that a warrant is out for your arrest.
You say you never received a notice. The caller says no problem, it can be cleared up right now, but he'll need some information for "verification purposes" -- your birth date, social security number, maybe even a credit card number. Or he might say that if you give him that info to pay a "small fine," the warrant will be dropped.
This is when you should hang up the phone. It's a scam.
And if you have caller ID, and it's shown you the number he's calling from, report it to your local police department.
Jury scams have been around for years, but have seen a resurgence recently. Communities in more than a dozen states have issued public warnings about cold calls from people claiming to be court officials seeking personal information.
Remember: As a rule, court officers never ask for confidential information over the phone; they generally correspond with prospective jurors via mail.
The scam's bold simplicity may be what makes it so effective. Facing the unexpected threat of arrest, victims are caught off guard and may be quick to part with some information to defuse the situation.
"They get you scared first," says an FBI special agent who has heard the complaints. "They get people saying, 'Oh my gosh! I'm not a criminal. What's going on?'" That's when the scammer dangles a solution -- a fine, payable by credit card, that will clear up the problem.
With enough information, scammers can assume your identity and empty your bank accounts.
"It seems like a very simple scam," the agent adds. The trick is putting people on the defensive, then reeling them back in with the promise of a clean slate. "It's kind of ingenious. It's social engineering."
The scam has been widely reported in the past couple of years, in Florida, New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, California, Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Hampshire, among others. The federal court system even issued a warning on the scam and urged people to call their local District Court office if they receive suspicious calls. The FBI's press release about jury scams suggested victims also contact their local FBI field office.
USA.gov, the federal government’s information website, posted details about jury scams in their Frequently Asked Questions area. The site reported scores of queries on the subject from website visitors and callers seeking information.
The jury scam is a simple variation of the identity-theft ploys that have proliferated in recent years. Scammers might tap your information to make a purchase on your credit card, but could just as easily sell your information to the highest bidder on the Internet's black market.
So what happens if you get a real notice to report for jury duty, and you have something scheduled that would make it inconvenient or impossible for you to serve on that date? No problem. Call the number shown on the notice, and tell the clerk of the court that you can't be available that day, and ask for an alternate date. If you have a good reason, the clerk will make a note in your file, and put you on a list for future jury duty. You may or may not ever get that second notice.
NOTE: This is not a way to get out of jury duty, but I have seen it work that way. Each of us has a civic duty to serve when we can; it is our participation that keeps our justice system strong for ALL of us. Imagine if YOU were a defendant, and when it came time to select YOUR jury, none of the "good people" were available because they'd all come up with excuses? Would you be able to assemble a jury of YOUR PEERS (people like you)? If you want people like yourself on a jury, you have to be one of them!
Protecting yourself against identity theft is the key: Never give out personal information when you receive an unsolicited phone call.
Sign up for the FBI's scam alert e-mail.
Staff Sergeant Convicted of Skimming
from Proceeds of Army Emergency Relief
We recently noticed an article in Stars & Stripes which makes us very sad. We're disappointed in the greed of this NCO who took advantage of three soldiers in his chain of command, even though he admitted he knew better.
We're bringing it to your attention as a reminder that even though your seniors in your chain of command are supposed to be there to help and support you, occasionally one crosses a line he knows he shouldn't. So if something doesn't seem quite right to you about their actions, we recommend going outside your chain of command to discuss the situation with a Chaplain or with a Legal Assistance Attorney or Staff Judge Advocate.
That way, if he's not a "Lone Wolf," and other members of the command are in on his scheme, you'll still be protected against retaliation, and the Chaplain or JAG will know where to go to address the problem appropriately.
One year before he reached retirement eligibility, this 18-year Army vet threw away his right to lifelong retired pay for a mere $6,000. He was sentenced to one year of confinement, a reduction in paygrade to E-1, and a Bad Conduct Discharge, which means he also will lose many of his veterans' benefits.
When his soldiers came to him with financial problems, he recommended that they seek assistance from Army Emergency Relief, a nonprofit organization that provides funds to assist service members with certain expenses. Then when they received the money, he asked for a cut for himself, as much as half the amount the soldier received.
"CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — An Army staff sergeant was sentenced to one year of confinement and a bad-conduct discharge Thursday after admitting he helped scam an Army relief program and soldiers under his command out of $6,000.
Staff Sgt. Shane R. Martin, 40, admitted in a general court-martial that since fall of 2005 he had helped three soldiers get money from Army Emergency Relief, an organization dedicated to helping soldiers in need. Then, he asked each of the three soldiers for a cut, he said under oath."
The comments of the soldiers involved will help you to recognize when you might be involved in a situation in which you should seek assistance outside your own chain of command.
"It was weird because he was my NCO, and he’s used to giving me orders," Patterson testified during the sentencing portion of the trial. "I was just confused."
"I thought if I didn’t, it might change things at work," Chambers testified.
If you find yourself in a situation with similar feelings, you need to discuss the situation with a Chaplain or JAG Officer.
Article excerpts used with permission from the Stars and Stripes, copyright Stars and Stripes. For the entire article, click here.
Want to Help Earthquake Victims in Peru?
FTC Warns to Give Wisely
This advice was published specifically in response to the outpouring of assistance being offered to earthquake victims in Peru, but these are great guidelines to follow in any of your charitable giving, to make sure your money is going where you want it to go, and not into the pockets of those collecting it.
Americans are some of the most, if not THE most, generous people on the planet Earth. Unfortunately, there is an element of society that sees that as an opportunity to take advantage of the generous and helpful spirit of honest, hardworking people trying to help others less fortunate than they.
So whenever someone contacts you for donations to the latest relief efforts, review these guidelines to be sure your money will go to those you're trying to help, and that you're not falling prey to a scam.--------------------------
As many people generously open their hearts and wallets to help those affected by the earthquake in Peru, the Federal Trade Commission advises that the best way to help immediately is to donate money directly to established international relief organizations.
In a consumer alert, "Helping Earthquake Victims: Your Guide to Giving Wisely," the FTC offers tips to those who want to help:
- Donate to recognized charities you have given to before. Watch out for charities that have sprung up overnight. They may be well-meaning, but lack the infrastructure to provide assistance. Be wary of charities with names that sound like familiar, or internationally known, organizations. Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations.
- Give directly to the charity, not the solicitors for the charity. That’s because solicitors take a portion of the proceeds to cover their costs, which leaves less for victim assistance.
- Do not give out personal or financial information – including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers – to anyone who solicits from you. Scam artists use this information to commit fraud against you.
- Check out any charities before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureaus’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
- Do not give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card. Write the official name of the charity on your check. You can contribute safely online through international charities like www.redcross.org.
- Ask for identification if you are approached in person. Many states require paid fundraisers to identify themselves as such and to name the charity for which they are soliciting.
The FTC works for you, the consumer, to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint, click www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,600 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. For free information on a variety of consumer topics, click here.
New Scam Targets Military Families
May 29, 2007 — The American Red Cross has learned about a new scam targeting military families. This scam takes the form of a telephone caller giving false information to military families in order to obtain social security numbers, as described below:
The caller (young-sounding, American) calls a military spouse and identifies herself as a representative from the Red Cross. The caller states that the spouse's husband (not identified by name) was hurt while on duty in Iraq and was med-evac'd to a hospital in Germany. The caller stated they couldn't start treatment until paperwork was accomplished, and that in order to start the paperwork they needed the spouse to verify her husband's social security number and date of birth.
Thankfully, the spouse who received this call was quick to catch on and she did not provide any information to the caller.
American Red Cross representatives typically do not contact military members/dependents directly, and almost always go through a commander or first sergeant channels. And as you already know, military hospitals do not withhold treatment to verify SSN's.
Military family members are urged not to give out any personal information over the phone if contacted by unknown/unverified individuals, to include even confirmation that your spouse is deployed. Use common sense, keep your personal information personal, and don't give away any information unless absolutely necessary.
This is another good reminder to be on the alert and to NOT give out any personal information to unknown callers! These people have sunk to new lows. They know that you would do anything you can to help your deployed spouse, especially if you believe he (or she) is injured and treatment is being withheld pending completion of "paperwork."
Should you receive one of these calls, keep your wits about you, but tell them you're flustered by this news and can't remember the SSN -- you'll have to look it up and call them back. ASK for their number to call them back. That should get rid of them. Or ask them to call you back in 10 minutes. Then get a tape recorder ready to record the call.
If you DO get one of these calls, and a phone number shows up on your caller ID, write it down, along with the date and time of the call and as many details as you can remember about exactly what they said, word-for-word. Then take the information to your base legal office or local Red Cross office and ask for their help in getting the information to the right sources to catch these low-lifes trying to take advantage of our vulnerable military families.
We believe there's a special corner of hell reserved for these folks!
FTC Warns Consumers Against Opening E-Mail Purporting to be From FTC
Attachment Unleashes Malicious Spyware
Consumers, including corporate and banking executives, appear to be targets of a bogus e-mail supposedly sent by the Federal Trade Commission. In actuality, the e-mail is sent by third parties hoping to install spyware on computers. The bogus e-mail poses as an acknowledgment of a complaint filed by the recipient, and includes an attachment.
Consumers who open the attachment to this e-mail unleash malicious spyware onto their computer. The FTC warns consumers who get this e-mail that purports to be from the agency:
- Don’t open the attachment.
- Delete the e-mail.
- Empty the deleted items folder.
The hoax e-mail is personalized, and contains the name of the recipient and their business. The bogus message explains how the complaint will be used, who will have access to it and states, “Attached you will find a copy of your complaint. Please print a hard copy of the complaint for your records in the upcoming investigation.” Opening the attachment downloads the malicious spyware.
Consumers can learn more about protecting themselves from malicious spyware and bogus e-mails at OnGuardOnline.gov, a Web site created by the FTC in partnership with other federal agencies and the technology industry to help consumers stay safe online. The site also features modules on spyware and phishing.
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