As I sat down to write this blog, I received an e-mail from Ms. Shirley Fosgate, an invalid widow in a foster home for the elderly in the Philippines. It seems her deceased husband left nearly six million euros in an Irish bank account that she cannot access. What’s more, she’s singled me out to contact an European attorney on her behalf who will help me shepherd the money to the charities she wants to serve. Of course, I’ll be paid a tidy 10% for my efforts. All I have to do is e-mail some information to an address she’s provided. She, of course, can’t be contacted by phone as her medical state has left her too weak to speak.
Scams like this have been around for some time now, but not all are as transparent as Ms. Fosgate or a benevolent Nigerian prince seeking to dispatch with millions. It’s becoming more common to read about complex schemes all designed to help us part with either our hard earned money or private data. Some of the more prevalent issues we’ve heard about or experienced of late follow.
Generally speaking, e-mail hackers are getting increasingly sophisticated. Grammatical errors, misspellings and odd e-mail addresses used to be the telltale signs of a scam. Today, the e-mails look real, may come from someone you know and appear to look very similar to e-mails you’ve received from your bank, e-mail provider (G-Mail, Yahoo!, etc.) or other source. The recent hacks of Democratic National Committee e-mail servers were done using a sophisticated attachment originated in Russia using what appeared to be a legitimate Gmail security update to gain access.
IRS Phone Scam
Not all scams are carried out in cyberspace. This one has been around for a few years, but as the end of the year approaches, the phone calls are likely to increase in frequency. You may receive a call supposedly from the IRS or a debt collector on behalf of the IRS in regards to back taxes. Some of these calls are extremely threatening, going as far to say that unless you provide a credit card number or arrange for immediate payment, law enforcement will be at your door within minutes.
As the IRS mentions in this document, they will never call you and attempt to collect a debt in this manner. Any issue with the IRS is typically handled by mail. If they have sent correspondence and follow up by phone, it will not be threatening, they will not request payment by phone and they will never threaten to send local law enforcement in short order. If you do receive one of these calls, the link above asks that you contact the IRS or appropriate government agencies to report what has occurred in the hopes that they will continue to find ways to curb this behavior.
Wells Fargo Bank
As many of you may have heard, Wells Fargo was recently fined more than $185 million and lost their CEO in a scandal that uncovered more than two million bank accounts and credit cards opened without customer knowledge since 2011. During and immediately after the 2008 financial crisis, the bank put extreme pressure on their associates to increase sales, which ultimately led to a culture of creating false accounts and worse to keep up with growth demands. In some cases, this caused negative impact to customers’ credit scores, created unnecessary bank fees and even overdrafts when the client thought all of their money was in one place. For more details and real accounts of what led to this wide scale fraud, check out NPR’s Planet Money podcast on the subject.
The last issue we’d like to bring up today is, technically, not a scam. It’s not illegal, but it may be harmful to those approaching the age of Medicare. It has apparently become common practice for many private health insurance providers to include what they call “seamless conversion” provisions in their health plans. As policy holders reach age 65, they receive a letter from their insurance provider saying that, unless they hear otherwise from their customer, they’ll automatically convert them to their own Medicare Advantage plan. This may not be the right choice for the customer, it can create incredible expense and confusion when that person unknowingly also signs up for another form of Medicare, etc. It can all be reversed, but not without significant inconvenience and headache on your behalf.
Prevention is difficult at best. Instead, it has become necessary for all of us to be more vigilant when It comes to reviewing documents, opening attachments, etc.
While virus protection and sophisticated passwords can help, nothing beats reviewing our credit reports, bank and credit card statements and resisting quick reaction to any financial request in favor of sitting back and thinking about the potential risks involved.
We’re here to help. If you’ve received a call, e-mail or other notice that seems even a little bit off, we’re happy to walk through it and, if needed, contact the supposed sender with you at a known number to help determine whether the information provided is legitimate.
SPECIAL NOTE: TAAG did launch its new client portal this week, TAAG 360°. We received a few calls and e-mails from clients making sure the invitations were legitimate and, in fact, they are. If you have any questions or would like assistance with getting things set up, feel free to e-mail or call the office.