’Tis the season to avoid scams

Fraud alert! Holiday scammers are on the prowl.

Story: Joe Angione

Telephone and email scams are heating up throughout the year. But, during the holidays, they can be most frequent and harmful. Florida, with its heavy concentration of seniors, is the prized target for scammers. They believe advanced age, a too-trusting nature and the confusing rush of holiday preparations make older folks highly susceptible to scammers’ schemes.

Each week, I receive about 20 emails and robocalls touting products and services I don’t want or need from marketers I’ve never heard of. But the most irritating—and potentially dangerous—scams are designed to frighten you into doing something that can be used to steal your identity. Don’t open these emails or respond to these phone calls.

Recently, I’ve received robocalls saying fraud has been detected in my Social Security account and if I didn’t immediately call a certain number to resolve this problem, a warrant would be issued for my arrest. I’ve had similar calls, supposedly from the Internal Revenue Service, accusing me of hiding income and threatening that federal agents would come to take me to jail if I didn’t respond to a number where I could settle my delinquent account.

Most clever were robocalls, supposedly from Microsoft, warning of terminating my “IP license and address within 48 hours because they were compromised by hackers overseas.” I was told to “press 1 to reach a technician who would provide a new IP license and address.” Most amazing: these calls came from my own home telephone number.

Many trusting people believe these calls, fear being arrested and respond to find that the calls came from rip-off professionals interested only in phishing for personal information that is useful for breaking into their bank accounts and taking out credit cards in their name to run up huge balances. Sometimes, just responding to a phone number might result in huge charges added to your phone bill.

No federal agency (Social Security, IRS) will email or telephone you to discuss a problem. And the agencies never threaten you with arrest. They’ll contact you using a letter sent by the U.S. Postal Service.

The problem is you can’t really stop these scam communications. Call- or email-blocking services can stop a particular call or email from reaching you. But scammers simply change their phone number or email address by one digit or one letter, and they’re right back at you the next day. Technology is a two-edged sword. 

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