Archive for December, 2011
Mortgage scams are not a new thing – they’ve been around just about as long as mortgages. But there has been an increase in this genre of scams with the rise of identity theft, and identity thieves aren’t using mortgage scams to get your identity – they’re instead targeting your identity to get your mortgage.
This is because there is a lot of money to be made in mortgage scams. One typical scam is when a thief tries to con you out of your home so he can resell it at a profit. Another scam involves the thief using your information to run a con game that, in the end, results in you losing thousands of dollars and losing your home.
How do you protect yourself? Your best protection is to understand the kinds of scams thieves use.
First of all, there’s the old bait and switch. This scam involves a thief approaching you to help you out of a tight spot. The thief offers to buy your house at a reduce rate, leaving the home in your name, or he might offer you a loan at a really low rate. The thief then gets you to sign a pile of papers, which are often forged. In the end, you’ve basically signed a quit claim deed, giving the thief your home. But you still have to pay the mortgage. The thief will then resell your house.
Another scam is the bailout, which is when a thief offers to bail you out from foreclosure by purchasing the home for slightly above what your remaining mortgage balance is. You can stay in the home as a renter, and purchase the house back later for the same price. But you wind up paying a much higher rental amount than your mortgage payment. When you become unable to pay the rent, the thief evicts you and sells the house.
Another common scam is the no help-help. A scammer will offer to help you prevent foreclosure on your home by assisting with paperwork or calling on your behalf to work out a deal with your mortgage company. But you’ll be charged a huge fee, and the scammer actually does nothing. So you wind up in foreclosure, and you’re out the money you paid the scammer.
Identity thieves don’t care about your mortgage woes. They’re just out to make a quick buck. Know their tricks and don’t be fooled – and keep the roof over your head.
Fifty-five gang members and others were busted for running a $2 million identity theft ring which targeted donors who had given to a Jewish charity, according to reports.
The donors were considered “high profile,” and included billionaire investor Ira Rennert and his wife, and former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg. A total of 1,000 people were targeted.
Among those arrested were members of the Bloods, Crips and Outlaws, who had participated in a check scam. A worker at the UJA-Federation of New York, which is a prominent Jewish charity, photocopied checks received from wealthy donors and sold the checks to gang members, who assumed the identities of those who had made the donations.
Authorities also arrested three JP Morgan Chase tellers, a worker at TD Bank and a U.S. postal worker. Accomplices would forge checks, deposit them into other people’s bank accounts, and withdraw the money as soon as it cleared. Aided by the tellers, the thieves also made phone and wire transfers from the victims’ accounts and got credit cards in their names.
Incidents such as this, particularly at this time of year, make it more difficult to give charitably. But don’t let this deter you from giving, particularly during the holidays, when there are more needs than usual.
When you do give, question the charity about how your how your information will be used, processed and stored after use. If there are no concrete answers, find a different charity. And never give to a charity you are unfamiliar with – make sure you know who you’re giving to and how the money will be used.
McAfee recently released its “12 Scams of Christmas,” and this list is not one any consumer should miss. Identity theft incidents increase during the holidays, mostly because people get into a rush and forget about anything other than getting the right gift for Grandma. Check out this list and remember to stay vigilant this holiday season.
1. Mobile malware — Mainly affecting Android devices, this may include malicious QR codes.
2. Malicious mobile applications — While many shoppers will download apps to help them find holiday deals, some aren’t what they seem and could transmit your data.
3. Phony Facebook promotions and contests — McAfee warns that scammers have planted phony promotions and contests on Facebook that could swipe your personal information when you fill out the “entry form.”
4. Scareware — If all this talk of malware is putting the fear of God in you, choose your antivirus software carefully, lest you wind up downloading and paying for phony software.
5. Holiday screen savers — Find a different way to decorate your computer, as there are instances of Christmas-themed screen savers that are actually malware. And beware of fake e-cards as well.
6. Mac malware — Yes, even Macs can get malware, with McAfee finding 5,000 pieces of Mac-targeting malware as of late 2010.
7. Holiday phishing scams — Phony letters from UPS or your bank could take advantage of holiday commerce to get you to give up personal data.
8. Online coupon scams — If you plan to use coupons to save this holiday season, choose carefully and deal only with reputable sites.
9. Mystery shopper scams — Being a mystery shopper may sound like a fun job, but if you get a text offering you one of these gigs, be warned that it’s probably a scammer who will ask for your personal information in exchange for “hiring” you.
10. Hotel “wrong transaction” malware e-mails — McAfee cites one scam in which the victim gets an e-mail ostensibly from a hotel and is asked to fill out a phony refund form to correct an alleged “wrong transaction.”
11. “It” gift scams — Whatever the hot holiday item turns out to be, expect scam websites to offer it at a discount — in exchange for your data, of course.
12. “I’m away from home” scammers — If you’re planning on traveling for the holidays, you might want to reconsider telling everyone about it on social networks, lest a burglar take notice and rob your home while you’re away.
When you stop to use an ATM, do you check the machine for tampering? Do you cover the keypad as you input your PIN, even if there’s no one around? Doing these things can help prevent fraud, however, there’s a new threat that may render your tried and true methods of protection powerless.
The newest device being used by thieves is a 3-D card skimmer, which is believed to have been fabricated by a 3-D printer. The design is specifically made to fit undetected over the bulbous green “blob” that is supposed to make Chase Bank’s ATM machines so immune to skimmers.
The skimmer reads the card’s magnetic strip when inserted, and this activates a camera that will record the entering of the PIN. The device contains circuitry which enables it to wirelessly send the information to a smartphone or laptop computer.
When using an ATM, it’s best to choose one convenient to your usual route and stick to using that one, so that you can familiarize yourself with what the machine looks like. Examine it carefully, so that you will immediately notice if anything is amiss.
If you notice a device sticking out of the card slot, jiggle it slightly. If you notice that it seems loose, do not use the machine. It’s likely that a skimmer has been inserted. You should examine the ATM carefully each time to attempt to use it, so that you catch anything that seems out of the ordinary before you use the machine and risk identity theft.
Scammers are well aware that almost $100 billion is spent annually on gift cards, and studies show that almost two-thirds of consumers prefer to receive gift cards. Add all this up and it equals just one thing: major opportunity for theft for criminals this holiday season.
Scams involving gift cards is alarmingly easy. Gift cards have identifying numbers on their magnetic strips, just like credit cards. Thieves go to retailers that have gift card displays and take a picture of the card itself or skim the card to get the data.
Gift cards can be tracked at an associated website or telephone number, so you can find out the remaining card balance. Scammers continually track that number, waiting for it to be activated. Once it has been activated, they clone the card and use its full balance at a retailer.
How do you protect yourself from being scammed? First of all, take a good look at rack displays of gift cards. They’re shaky and out where anyone can get to them. If you are purchasing a gift card for a loved one, don’t purchase them at one of these open displays. Instead, buy them only where they are sold from behind a counter, to increase your chances of getting a card that hasn’t been tampered with.
When you attempt to purchase a card, inspect it carefully. If the packaging has been removed, or the numbers have been exposed, or if the activation sticker looks like it has been removed and put back on, don’t buy the card.
And don’t buy cards from auction sites. There are far too many risks associated with these cards, and you won’t know what you’re getting until it’s too late.
Last of all, if you receive a gift card, cash it in as soon as possible. Don’t give a thief a chance to spend your gift money before you get a chance to.
A Miami couple now faces what too many Americans have had to deal with in recent years – identity theft.
The couple filed their joint income tax return this year, only to find out someone else had used their Social Security information and employers’ names, filing a falsified refund claim, which caused the IRS to reject the couple’s legitimate filing.
Now the couple has to wait six to 12 months to get their refund, while they deal with identity theft, tax fraud and IRS red tape.
An IRS representative informed the couple that one of their identities was stolen and used for the false filing, but they were told nothing else. They did discover, however, that the IRS did nothing to verify the filing by the identity thief.
An increase in identity theft and tax fraud have forced the IRS to come up with smarter ways to detect phony refund claims, match employee-employer wage statements and handle victim refund issues with electronic filings.
IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said the agency has focused not only on the viral identity theft problem, but also on potential solutions like real-time matching of W-2 statements before tax refunds are issued.
But scammers continue to exploit a weakness in the IRS electronic filing system, because the agency doesn’t match filers’ tax returns to W-2 forms filed by employers until months after the filing season ends in April. This means the IRS is not scrutinizing fabricated documents before it issues refunds to thieves.
Fixing the problem will mean the IRS will have to modernize its processing system and set new rules, mandating that employers file workers’ income statements earlier in the year.
In the meantime, the IRS has designed software filters to flag false returns before they are processed and refunds are issued, including screens that spot certain changes in a taxpayer’s filing, like a different address of marital status.