Jun 28, 2019

Scams Evolve, But the Best Method to Fight Them Remains the Same*

Alyzabeth Smith, CPABy Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA, MST

MoneyLife100Scammers continue to craft new and sinister ways to steal your money. The latest alert from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (DOR) warns taxpayers to be aware of fraudulent phone calls to seniors and those with disabilities receiving rebates through the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program. The scam involves somebody posing as an employee of the DOR who claims the recipient’s rebate application has been approved, and then asks for bank information so the money can be deposited into an account. Dan Hassell, Pennsylvania revenue secretary, wants to be clear that the DOR does not make unsolicited calls requesting banking information.

But fraudsters are not just out to get your grand mom through bogus phone calls. They are clever and brazen. They’re coming for you, your money, and, once you realize you’re a victim, your pride.

Uncle Sam? Is That You?

Every year the IRS puts out a list of “The Dirty Dozen Tax Scams,” but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) keeps a rolling list of many more. The IRS warns of phone scams where fraudsters claim to be IRS agents and demand payment by threatening you with legal action. These scare tactics include threats to revoke immigration status or driver’s licenses, imprisonment, etc. The FTC reports that some of these scammers have asked for payments to be made using iTunes cards. Try to remember, the IRS will contact you by mail before calling you. And if they do call, they won’t be looking for Top 40 hits. If you are surprised to hear from the IRS about your personal taxes, hang up and call (800) 829-1040. Any legitimate issue with your taxes will be on file with the IRS when you call. Read more about the IRS’s list of tax scams.

Tech Tricksters

Couple encountering tech fraudThe bad guys never seem to tire of tech scams. Some of the most rampant are the ransom demands. One way these occur is when a pop-up appears on your computer that states you have some sort of technical issue that will only be resolved by entering your credit card information. These technical issues include restricted access to computer files or a deluge of pop-up ads that, according to the malware notice, will not cease until you enter your credit card information. Some of the pop-ups may even appear to come from legitimate entities, such as the FBI, IRS, or Department of Justice. Methods vary, depending on the type of malware with which your computer was infected, but you can attempt to restore your computer yourself using the tips referenced here, or you can take it to a trusted computer repair shop.

Medicare Moochers

To provide improved security, changes are coming to Medicare cards that will omit Social Security numbers. Fraudsters are aware of the change, and are already willing “to help.” If you receive a phone call from Medicare, hang up immediately. Medicare will not call you, especially not to ask you for your Social Security number, banking information, or to request fees to process a card that is complimentary. Click here for more information on the Medicare card replacement process.

As technology use continues to grow, scammers will continue to hone their skills and streamline their techniques. That said, remember the bad guys don’t retire techniques until they stop working. A high-tech scheme could come your way today, but tomorrow you could still get an old-school email from a “long lost cousin” who calls you “sir” or “ma’am” as a preface to a broken-English plea for wired funds. In either case, don’t be fooled. If something doesn’t sound right, research it on your own before committing. Never take an unknown caller’s word as the unadulterated truth.

*This updated blog was originally published July 21, 2017.

Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA, MST, is a senior associate with Siegfried Advisory in Wilmington, Del. She is a member of PICPA Council and chair of the CPA Image Enhancement Committee. She can be reached at alyzabeth_smith@msn.com.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.