It’s a mathematical certainty that every red-blooded American has heard “time is money” before collecting their first paycheck. Since identity thieves have a number of ways to convert your personal information to cash, it may be time to add a new entry to The Big Book of Business Axioms: Data is money.
Luckily, you’re not alone in the identity-theft foxhole.
Two Government Programs, One Goal
As a member of the Security Summit, the Internal Revenue Service regularly shares tax-related data-security alerts and tips to help tax professionals and taxpayers avoid identity theft tax refund fraud. But they’re not the only government agency getting a piece of that sweet educational-outreach-campaign pumpkin pie.
The Federal Trade Commission advertised its Pass It On campaign in a blog post this week, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Providing information about the myriad scams targeting Americans, Pass It On encourages you to share scam-related experiences and information with friends, family, and co-workers.
(We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that the Security Summit’s programs also emphasize the need for information sharing. The FTC program simply bakes that concept into their program’s name.)
Since the holidays are often spent trying to reconnect with far-flung members of our family, we thought it would be a good time to spotlight the less tax-focused scams that you and your clients may encounter in the next few months.
The FTC Pass it On Campaign
When visiting the FTC homepage for Pass It On, your eyes are immediately drawn to the understated, mint-green heading announcing the mission statement: “Share What You Know. Stop Scams.” Echoing another axiomatic musing—“knowledge is power”—the FTC here announces the best defense against all phishing scams: If you know it’s a scam, you won’t play along.
If learning to spot a scam can save everyone a little heartache, these links to the FTC’s list of common scams can help you protect your wallet:
Most of the entries on that list are fairly self-explanatory, though a few may seem counterintuitive, like “grandkid scams,” “‘you’ve won’ scams,” and “money mule scams.”
As the name suggests, grandkid scams prey on the elderly. These scammers rely on a well-crafted impersonation profile to convince older Americans that their grandchild urgently needs money—fast.
It may sound far-fetched, but as the FTC points out, “scammers are good at pretending to be someone they’re not” by “using information from social networking sites, or hacking into your loved one’s email account to make it seem more real.”
I hope we can all agree that protecting grandma from lowlife scammers is the very least we can do.
”You’ve Won” Scams
The FTC says the “you’ve won” scam appears as “a card, a call, or an email telling you that you won” one of the following:
Generally, this scam asks you to put up money to secure your prize. “They tell you there’s a fee, some taxes, or customs duties to pay,” explains the FTC. “And then they ask for your credit card or bank account information, or they ask you to wire money.”
I actually received one of these calls this month. The scammer claimed that I was the winner of a million-dollar check and, inexplicably, a Ford Expedition with Publisher’s Clearing House. Don’t give these scammers any information. Instead, let them hear the dial tone.
Money Mule Scams
Money mule scams ask you to act as the middleman in a money transfer. To keep you from getting suspicious, the criminals don’t lead with money laundering.
The FTC warns that these scammers claim to have an exciting opportunity for you, like a lucrative job offer, a sweepstakes prize, or an online relationship: “Whatever the story, next they want to send you money—and then ask you to send it on to someone else.”
Victims who try to deposit a check in their account may learn it’s fake. If that’s the case, the FTC says “you’ll have to repay the bank.” However, there could be a much higher cost for anyone who helps scammers launder the money: “If you help a scammer move stolen money—even if you didn’t know it was stolen—you could get into legal trouble.”
Long story short, don’t follow along with this scam—or any others listed by the FTC and IRS, for that matter. Instead, let’s all work together to stop scammers in their tracks.