Taking a Look Back at Some of the Scams That Made the Rounds in 2015
No year is devoid of scams and 2015 was certainly no exception. From tax scams to tech support scams, 2015 saw them all and scammers are quick to change their tactics as technology changes.
Phone, mail, and internet scams of all shapes and sizes continue to bilk millions of dollars out of unsuspecting victims every year. In some cases, federal and state regulators, like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, have been able to get some of that money back. For many people, however, that money is lost for good.
Let's take a look back at some of the scams we've had the unfortunate pleasure of writing about this year.
Filing your taxes might be the last thing on your mind right now, but in November, the North Carolina Attorney General's Office became flooded with complaints from residents reporting calls from fake U.S. Treasury officials. In one week the office received about 500 complaints.
The tax scam isn't new or isolated to North Carolina. Consumer Reports says that tax scams accounted for 24 percent of all reported scams in 2015. In the latest reiteration, calls begin with a pre-recorded message that you're asked to return. The scammer generally identifies himself as Steve Martin or David Gray and claims there is an issue with your pension or that the U.S. Treasury has filed an action against you.
Protect yourself: If there is a problem with your pension or taxes, government officials will first reach out to you by mail. They'll never call first. Since scammers can fake numbers that appear on a caller I.D., don't assume that because it says the IRS is calling that it is an actual IRS official.
The Granny Scam has also been around for a number of years. It comes in a number of varieties, but the concept is generally the same. Scammers call elderly victims claiming to be one of their grandchildren. The grandchild is usually in jail and needs bail, in a hospital and needs to pay a medical bill, or stuck in a foreign country (and possibly also in jail or in a hospital).
Historically, scammers have asked for these bills to be paid through wire services like Western Union. In 2015 we saw scammers using Apple iTunes gift cards as a method for payment. An elderly Charlotte-area resident reportedly lost $26,000 when they purchased 52 iTunes gift cards at $500 apiece and read the numbers over the phone. The grandparent did so in order to bail their grandchild out of jail on phony DWI charges.
Protect yourself: It's natural to want to help out a loved one, but you should be concerned if your loved one is asking you to pay their bail in a foreign country. Hang up and call the relative on a number you know is theirs, or call another family member to confirm the information. No hospital or police station is going to accept gift cards as an acceptable form of payment. A request to pay a bill this way is a definite scam.
Who doesn't love winning stuff? Winning stuff is great. If you get a call letting you know that you've won a contest you don't remember entering, it's likely one of the many sweepstakes scams that have been going around.
Scammers give you the exciting news that you've won something, but say you need to pay a shipping fee or taxes before it can be claimed. Once you do, you never see your prize. The FTC shut down one of these scams earlier this year; operators stole $28 million from victims before a federal court stopped them.
Protect yourself: If you won a contest you don't remember entering, it's likely a scam. If the caller says you have to pay a fee before you can claim your winnings, it's definitely a scam.
Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams were big this year. Consumer Reports says they only accounted for 6 percent of all reported scams in 2015, but North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper warned as early as March that these scams were increasing.
Tech support scammers get you one of two ways. You either get a popup on your computer warning you of a virus and asks you to call a number, or you get a call from an Apple or Microsoft representative that claims they received information that your computer is at risk. Generally the representative will ask that you let them have remote access of your computer. Once they do this they begin pointing out completely benign files that might look harmful to the computer unsavvy. Scammers then try to sell you an antivirus package which either doesn't work or installs harmful malware on your system.
Protect yourself: Your software company will never call to tell you that your computer has a virus and you should never provide anyone you don't know with remote access to your system. If you do receive a virus warning that doesn't come from your antivirus software, contact the company at a number you know is legitimate, not the one listed on the warning.
If you or someone you know has been scammed or someone has attempted to scam you, report it to the proper federal agency and to the state attorney general's office. contact information for these agencies can be found here .