Fraud, Fraud and More Fraud

| June 11, 2018
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Fraud, Fraud and More Fraud.  How to avoid it, identify it, and what to do if it happens to you.

Fraud is everywhere today.  Which in some ways is nothing new.  Crime is as old as humanity, but of course now with the help of technology, criminals have become more crafty, with access to more information, and more ways to inundate us every day.  While there is no way to point out all the ways criminals are attempting to siphon money and information from us, we have had enough clients, friends, and family members struggle through these issues to elicit a proverbial “heads up” to our clients and community at large.

We’ll try to lay out a few of the themes we have seen recently to make you aware so you can do all you can to avoid these “cons” in the future.

Cell Phone Scams

If you have a cell phone, chances are you are like the rest of us, receiving multitudes of fake phone calls every day.  With the help of technology, phone calls now come in looking oddly familiar – same area code, and same 3 digit prefix as your own.  You think, hmmm, must be a friend or local business.  You answer, and {hopefully} quickly identify it as a solicitor or spam phone call.  Our biggest recommendation on these calls, DON’T ANSWER.  If they are a friend or business needing to speak with you, they will leave a message.  Otherwise, block the number or simply ignore them.  The FCC is on the hunt for how to handle this new form of solicitation, but as of today the technology is unfortunately ahead of the ability to regulate and shut it down.

Elderly Family Scams

This one hits close to home and makes me equal parts angry and sad.  Criminals are {unfortunately} astutely taking advantage of the unconditional love of grandparents in some pretty sickening ways.  Examples abound, but I’ll focus on one particularly common and tragic situation, which I will call “your grandchild has been arrested and needs your help, please don’t tell anyone and just send money” scam.  There are various iterations of this which we have personally experienced with clients,  but essentially these con artists somehow get information about who your grandchild is, and call pretending to be either a bail bond company, or your grandchild themselves {and yes, they have recordings of your grandchildren’s voices in some cases – Lord only knows how they manage this} asking for money to get them out of jail for some crime {DUI, foreign travel issue, bar fight, etc.}.  They urge you, and in fact plead with you, not to tell anyone for fear of ruining their reputation, etc. and request that you either a) wire funds immediately to get them out, or b) send gift cards from Target, Amazon, Apple, etc. in large amounts and mail them to get them out of jail. 

Now let’s pause here.  Of course you love your grandchildren and would do anything to help them in their time of need.  But please, if you don’t do anything else if this happens to you, just CALL your grandchild and check to validate the story.  If you can’t reach them, call their parents, or siblings, or anybody that you can to talk it through BEFORE sending any money.  You don’t have to get into the details, but you should make sure that you can corroborate their story in some form or fashion.  Get creative, I know you can.  Because here is the real killer.  Once the funds are sent, they are gone.  With both a wire and mailing of gift cards, that money is gone and likely can’t be tracked down again.  So, in the words of Ice Cube {yes, for those of you not born after the 1980s, that is his “real” name} “Check yourself, before you wreck yourself.”

IRS Scams

This is another category that is alive and well, with countless examples to share.  I’ll focus on two to keep an eye out for.  The first actually happened to my grandfather.  He received what looked to be very real estimated tax payment vouchers for a trust he had established for one of his grandson’s.  They were accompanied by an actual 2018 Form 1040-ES from the IRS, explaining the requirements of estimated payments, how to calculate them, etc.  Everything seemed legitimate about the form except for two major items.  The first being, this trust had been closed several years ago, and I happened to know this because we helped him close it out.  The second being the address on the payment vouchers was bogus – after a quick Google search, we quickly determined it was not associated at all with the IRS.  Now obviously my grandfather had a leg up on the rest given I am his financial advisor and could ferret out the validity of the letter, but what can you do in this situation?  First and foremost, the IRS will NEVER send you payment vouchers.  Vouchers are prepared by your tax preparer only.  If, however, you are concerned, look up the mailing address online.  Chances are it will not return any association to the IRS. 

The second scenario is that of fake IRS refunds either via phone or email.  These criminals will email you that your Federal Tax refund is waiting for you, and when you click on their link, you will be redirected to a site where they will capture your information, including banking information, thereby stealing your identity.  Alternatively, they will call you posing as debt collection agency acting on behalf of the IRS to say a refund was deposited in error, and asking you to forward the money to their collection agency.  This is not the IRS’ protocol for refunds deposited in error.  If this occurs, there are protocols to follow, but most of all you should contact your tax preparer to get help, or at a very minimum call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 (individual) or 800-829-4933 (business) to discuss why the refund needs to be returned.

What if you just aren’t sure what to do

Ultimately, all of us will be faced with a scam in one form or fashion at some point in our lives, and many of us already are facing this daily in a bombardment of email scams, phone calls, and letters.  We want you to know that we are a resource for you to discuss where to go if you just aren’t sure.  You should always feel comfortable reaching out to us to check out the situation, especially if you are considering sending money or personal information to someone that you don’t know personally.  We understand that in many cases you may be trying to protect a loved one, or help someone you care deeply about, but please remember to stay vigilant as these are just the types of relationships criminals are exploiting more and more every day.  When in doubt, ask someone you trust, and we hope we can always be that resource for you.

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