IRS Identifies Five Easy Ways to Spot Suspicious Calls

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service issued a consumer alert today providing taxpayers with additional tips to protect themselves from telephone scam artists calling and pretending to be with the IRS.

 

These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.

 

“These telephone scams are being seen in every part of the country, and we urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business.”

 

The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:

 

1. Call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official notice.

2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.

4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

 

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

 

  • ·        If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.

 

  • ·        If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.

 

  • ·        If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

 

Remember, too, the IRS does not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go towww.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

 

Additional information about tax scams are available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube http://youtu.be/UHlxTX4rTRU?list=PL2A3E7A9BD8A8D41D. and Tumblr http://internalrevenueservice.tumblr.com where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

Police warn Superior Fire Department used in scam

Superior police are warning residents about a phone scam related to the Superior Fire Department.

Callers claim they are collecting donations for fire education in schools, and claims they are from the fire department.

The caller is convincing, according to police.

The Superior Fire Department does not authorize phone solicitations on its behalf.

According to police: The Superior Fire Department does maintain an agreement with the National Safety Council Inc. to supply fire education materials, which are distributed primarily during Fire Prevention Month in October. The NSC only directly contacts businesses within the community and 100 percent of the funds collected go toward educational materials distributed to Superior fire for its educational programs.

ack Your Shredder! Identity Theft Advice for College-Bound Students

According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in five identity theft victims is in their 20s. For college students focused on class schedules, socializing and navigating a new and exciting environment, taking steps to protect private information while on campus may be the farthest thing from their minds. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) encourages families to discuss identity theft risks and prevention before a student heads off to campus.

“College students live in close quarters, share personal information online and are less likely to monitor their financial statements and credit reports,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “That adds up to opportunity for an identity thief.”

For many college students, freshman year is their first time away from home and they may be unaware of the need to actively protect their personal information. There are a number of common sense steps that college students can take to keep their personal information from falling into the wrong hands, including:

  • Shred any out-of-date documents that include your personal information. These documents could include school registration forms, bank or credit card statements or health insurance documents.
  • Never carry a Social Security card with you. Keep your number private.
  • Secure the information in your dorm room. Never leave personal documents lying out in the open and consider purchasing a simple lockbox for credit cards, passports or other sensitive documents you may need on campus.
  • Shred credit card offers. If these offers are stolen, a scammer could open lines of credit in your name.
  • Monitor statements monthly. Review your bank and credit card statements and phone bills for unauthorized charges or withdrawals. Get a free copy of your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com and review them for any unauthorized lines of credit.

To further reduce the risk of identity theft, DATCP provides the following online safety tips for college students:

  • Privacy and security settings exist for a reason. Information on social media like birthdates, pet names and travel plans can be used by criminals to hack your accounts or target you in scams.
  • Contact the school’s information technology department. The school may have guidance for incoming students on how to protect web-enabled devices before connecting to the campus network. This department may also provide anti-virus software or hands-on device support for free or at a reduced rate to students.
  • Passwords. Mix letters, numbers and special characters to create passwords that are at least 10 characters long, especially on your email account. Many websites send password update and account access emails to customers, so getting hold of these emails could potentially give a hacker access to all of these online accounts.
  • Protect your devices. Update the operating system and anti-virus software on your devices to target recent viruses and patch any holes that hackers can use to access your system.
  • Lock down your smartphones and tablets. To protect your data and make your devices useless for most thieves, use passcodes on the main screen of your device and set the lock time for only a couple of minutes.
  • Watch out for “free” apps and unsolicited email and text messages. All of these are tools scammers use to spread malicious software. Download programs for your device from an official app store and never click a link in an unsolicited email or text.
  • Surf securely. When shopping or banking online, look for https: or shttp: in the web address. When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, limit the type of business you conduct.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail todatcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

Shop smart for back to school

The end of August means picnics, swimming pools and last minute fishing trips for many Wisconsin families. For those with children in kindergarten through grade 12, late August also signals the “back to school” shopping season. To make sure you get your money’s worth, take these tips from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) along with your shopping list.

“A recent national survey found that the average family will spend nearly $690 this year on back to school shopping,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator of Trade and Consumer Protection. “With that much money on the line, it is important for shoppers to plan ahead for their needs and to keep a close eye on their receipts to ensure that they are getting the advertised prices for their purchases.”

The majority of a family’s back to school spending is expected to go toward clothing, followed by electronics and school supplies. Retailers will likely offer a number of seasonal discounts and promotions over the next weeks to entice consumers. Before visiting a store, make sure to closely review the company’s advertisements for restrictions involving quantities, returns or rain checks.

Follow these simple tips to ensure that you are charged the right price for your purchases:

  • Bring a copy of the store ads with you. Having the ability to “cross shop” using multiple fliers will be beneficial.
  • Write down prices or special sales while you shop to have a better sense of the final total before you hit the register. Most pricing errors occur on sale items.
  • Keep an eye on the display screen while your items are being scanned. Speak up if you think you have been overcharged for an item.
  • Stores are required to charge the lowest advertised price.
  • If there is a pricing error, Wisconsin law requires that a store refund any overcharge amount. Work with customer service to receive a refund while you are in the store. Double check your receipt before you leave to ensure that the totals are correct.
  • Ask about a store’s pricing error policy. In addition to refunding the overcharge, some stores give bonuses as a customer service gesture.
  • Report pricing errors to state or local inspectors. To file a weights and measures complaint with DATCP’s Weights and Measures Bureau, send an e-mail to datcpweightsandmeasures@wi.gov or call 608-224-4942.

Every year, DATCP’s Weights and Measures team visits stores statewide to test for price accuracy, and the results show that consumers pay correct prices at Wisconsin stores an overwhelming majority of the time. In 2013, DATCP inspectors tested more than 42,000 items for price accuracy, and found that nearly 99% of the time prices were accurate or registered in the consumers’ favor. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to keep these back-to-school shopping tips in mind during this busy shopping season.

For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Information Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

Timeshare reselling scams still prevalent

Twin Cities region continues to be claimed as home for foreign fraudsters

 

Timeshare reselling schemes continue to plague the marketplace and just two recent cases have defrauded victims out of more than $40,000 and $20,000, respectively. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) regularly receives inquiries about, and helps uncover, bogus timeshare reselling firms claiming addresses in the Twin Cities. Though these entities look legitimate at first glance, a closer review of their operations reveals they are not actually located here and exist solely to defraud consumers.

 

“Timeshare reselling scams have really ramped up in recent years,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “People who own timeshares should understand they’re dealing with professionals. Recently, a consumer’s attorney reviewed an agreement sent by one of these fraudulent entities. Even the attorney stated the documents looked legitimate.”

 

In most cases of this type of fraud, timeshare owners receive calls from individuals claiming to represent companies which had secured buyers or renters for their timeshares. The callers are told there will be no upfront fees. However, after receiving official-looking contracts, consumers are eventually informed they have to wire escrow funds to Mexico – or money to cover transfer fees, closing costs and/or taxes and liens – in order to close the deal. Upon wiring the funds as requested, customers are then usually told that still more unexpected costs have arisen and they will need to wire yet more money to complete the transaction. This process often continues until consumers realize something is amiss.

 

Just some of the fraudulent entities – claiming addresses in our area – which BBB has uncovered in recent months are: Business Events International, Century Title Escrow Inc., Corporate Services International Group and Financial Planning 2Go. More recently, BBB has learned Minne Realty Services and NSR Services, Inc. are not legitimate timeshare resellers.

 

BBB advises people looking to sell their timeshare properties to always:

 

  • Be wary. If you currently own a timeshare and are approached by a company saying they have buyers or renters lined up, exercise caution.
  • Investigate. Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website or one that has photos of exotic locales. Creating websites is fairly easy. Use a business you can trust by accessing free BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org.
  • Look for an established track record. Does the company have a history or did they just “pop up on radar”?
  • Watch out for upfront fees and requests to wire funds. Remember, unless it’s negotiated into the purchase agreement, only buyers pay closing costs. Many complaints to the BBB regarding supposed timeshare reselling entities involve situations where people were told they needed to wire “escrow funds,” or that they just had to pay taxes or closing costs and their timeshare would be rented or sold. Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
  • Confirm licensing requirements - Verify where the company is located and in what states it does business. Ask if the company’s salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, confirm that with the state licensing board.
  • Get the facts on the figures - Find out if the business charges a commission. Do they handle the entire closing and provide escrow services? Do they charge an upfront listing or advertising fee? What does it cover and is it refundable?
  •  Don’t fall for an offer that sounds too good to be true - Don’t agree to anything over the phone but instead ask the salesperson to send you written materials; take the time to do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured. Remember, scammers have gotten very good at creating official-looking contracts.
  • Watch out for third-party companies. Fraudulent timeshare reselling entities often associate with alleged third-party title or escrow services in an effort to appear more legitimate. Be sure to research those companies as well. If you can’t find any information on them, it could be a sign there’s a problem.
  • Be realistic. In regard to timeshares, it’s generally a buyer’s – not a seller’s – market. Unscrupulous timeshare resellers may claim that your property is in demand and they can sell it immediately; unfortunately, these promises often prove to be false.

BBB Tips When Moving Into Your College Apartment

It’s getting to be that time of summer where college students across the country prepare to head back for another school year and move into their new apartments for fall semester.

Whether you’re living alone for the first time or moving in with roommates, it’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and review the lease again prior to moving in.

An apartment lease should always include:

  • Specifics on how all maintenance and repair concerns are handled and who is held responsible in the event that something breaks or needs repaired
  • When rent is due, the amount and exactly what it covers, such as any utilities
  • The conditions of your security deposit and how you are able to receive the full refund upon moving out
  • Notice about whether pets are allowed and information pertaining to any pet deposits and associated fees

To help protect yourself when moving in:

  • Document your apartment’s move-in condition. Note each and every flaw or defect on your move-in condition form, so that you aren’t held responsible for those damages later.
  • Take photos of your unit prior to move-in, so that you have documentation available if a dispute were to arise between you and the landlord after moving out.
  • Keep a copy of your lease in a safe place that can easily be referenced.

If you are searching for last minute living arrangements, be able to identify the red flags of a rental scam:

  • The deal sounds too good to be true.
  • The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to only communicate via email.
  • The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the property.
  • The landlord asks the renter to wire money through services such as Western Union or Money Gram.

For an online version click here

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.

Superior Heavy Machinery Fails to Make the Grade

Online entity doesn’t hold up to BBB scrutiny

Burnsville, Minnesota – August 5, 2014 – Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is warning the public and business community about Superior Heavy Machinery, an online entity claiming a Duluth (MN) address and purporting to sell used heavy equipment. BBB has determined they are nothing more than a fake company created solely to defraud consumers and business owners seeking to purchase used heavy equipment online.

 

Superior Heavy Machinery came to BBB’s attention recently when a consumer reported a suspicious interaction with the company. After finding an ad the company had placed on EquipmentTraderOnline.com, the consumer contacted the company expressing interest in a bulldozer. The representative from Superior Heavy Machinery sent the consumer paperwork claiming that the cost of the machinery – $25,000 – would have to be wired to its parent company in England, Atlas Darius Group, before it would be delivered. The consumer had suspicions and contacted BBB. A Google search for Atlas Darius Group brings up no results and BBB believes this is another fictitious entity. Though there is an Atlas Group in England, BBB has no reason to believe they are associated with Superior Heavy Machinery.

 

“The amount of money in question is jaw-dropping, which is why we’re so pleased the consumer chose not to go through with this transaction,” ‘said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Had they done so, their money would be lost and likely unrecoverable.”

 

BBB has also reached out to alert law enforcement in the Duluth area and contacted two other sellers of heavy equipment in that region. The owner of one of those two businesses, also located in Duluth, said consumers from as far as Michigan and Denver have come to their store to inquire about equipment they saw advertised online by Superior Heavy Machinery. The business owner said he has never heard of a Superior Heavy Machinery.

 

“This is another excellent reminder not to wire money overseas or to people you don’t know,” added Badgerow.

 

To avoid falling victim to fraudulent online entities such as Superior Heavy Machinery, BBB advises the following:

 

  • ·         Research the business at bbb.org.
  • ·         Watch out for requests to wire money overseas – or domestically – or to place funds in escrow with a third-party company. Fraudulent online entities will often reference another company in an effort to appear more legitimate. Research these companies as well. If you can’t find any information on them, it could be a sign there’s a problem.
  • ·         Don’t fall for offers that sound too good to be true. Have the salesperson send you written materials; take the time to do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured.
  • ·         Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website. Remember, creating websites is fairly easy. Be sure to verify that the company has a track record. Be leery of companies that just “pop up” on radar.

For the latest fraud alerts, consumer news and free Business Reviews, visit www.bbb.org.

BBB Tips for Summer Fair Purchases

Milwaukee, Wis. – Summer is the time for fairs and festivals. With many of these come cotton candy, fried pickles, and out-of-town vendors and sellers. If you’re thinking of making a purchase at a county fair, an arts and craft fair, Wisconsin State Fair, or other festival or event, consider these BBB tips before you buy.

Check out the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org. If you have a smartphone, you can access these reviews through our mobile website, m.bbb.org or via an iPhone app, available free at the iTunes store.

Prior to making a purchase, know the company’s refund and exchange policy – Get the policy in writing, if possible.

Obtain the company’s physical location and telephone number, in case you need to return or exchange an item after the event.

As with any purchase, it makes sense to comparison shop. Keep in mind, however, that the least expensive item may not always be the best value. If you are making a large purchase, don’t be afraid to leave the fairgrounds to do some research.

Don’t be pressured to buy. After the demonstration or sales pitch, walk away from the sales person to give yourself some time to think about the purchase.

Ask the vendor if a sale price will be honored after the fair or event – if so, you will not feel pressured to purchase the item “on the spot.”

Know the limits of the “cooling-off rule” It’s important to note that the FTC’s “cooling-off rule,” which allows consumers three days to cancel a purchase, does not apply to the following purchases at fairs: Purchases under $25; 2) Insurance, securities, or real estate; 3) Motor vehicles; and 4) Arts and crafts.

File a complaint with the BBB or post positive, negative or neutral reviews at www.bbb.org/Wisconsin.

Getting Calls from your own Phone Number?

BBB says Nationwide Caller ID Spoofing Scheme lands in Upper Midwest

Burnsville, Minnesota – July 28, 2014  Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) says area consumers are reporting they’re receiving illegal marketing calls that display their own phone number on caller ID. Though it’s natural to be curious about such calls, BBB advises the public to ignore the calls or let them go to voicemail – and then delete the messages.

“This is another clever ruse scammers have devised to get people to answer their phones,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “You look down, you see your own number on caller ID…obviously you want to know what it’s all about. We’re advising people to override that instinct.”

Since the start of summer, Better Business Bureaus across the country have been hearing from harried consumers who are confused – and annoyed – by these calls, which are often dialed by computerized calling centers.

Here’s how the scam works: Your phone rings and you see your name and phone number pop up on caller ID. If you answer, a computerized message claims to be able to lower your credit card interest rates, which of course, means they will require your credit card number. In some cases, consumers are informed they can supposedly opt-out of future calls by pressing “1.” People who do so can count on receiving more calls of this nature from other shady telemarketing firms. Any action consumers take tells fraudsters that a phone number is ‘good,’ and that number is added to phone lists which scammers then sell to other scammers. In any case, these promises of lowering your credit card interest rates are not legitimate.

The practice of using technology to alter or disguise the true number of an incoming telephone call is known as “spoofing,” and its use is growing among criminals who also use this technique to pretend they are calling from a well-known company or government agency. By hijacking the names and phone numbers of organizations with which you are familiar, the callers attempt to gain your trust in hopes they can trick you into handing over personal or financial information.

Per FTC rules, telemarketing sales calls with recorded messages are generally illegal unless you have given the company written permission to call you. Some prerecorded messages are permitted — for example, messages that are purely informational. That means you may receive calls to let you know your flight’s been cancelled, reminders about an appointment, or messages about a delayed school opening. Prerecorded messages from a business contacting you to collect a debt also are also permitted, but messages offering to sell you services to reduce your debt are barred.

Other exceptions include political calls and calls from certain health care providers. For example, pharmacies are permitted to use prerecorded messages to provide prescription refill reminders. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.

“The most ingenious aspect of these ‘spoofing’ calls is the lack of information available to consumers,” added Badgerow. “If they report the issue to the FTC, what are they to report – their own phone numbers?”

Nevertheless, BBB has confirmed the FTC does want to hear about these calls and other suspect robocalls. People can file complaints by visitingwww.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. The FTC is interested in the time and date the call (or calls) occurred and what product is being offered.

Before responding to unsolicited phone calls, BBB advises:

Never give out any financial information – If you did not initiate the call, do not provide bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone. It’s best to end calls that make you uncomfortable or that you’re not sure about and follow up with your bank or financial institution – or government agency – directly.

Don’t rely on caller ID – Remember, scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses or organizations – or even from your own phone number. Caller ID is a helpful feature, but it’s far from foolproof. Keep your guard up.

Trust your instincts – If something doesn’t seem right to you, end the call and report your experience to BBB, by calling 800-646-6222 or visiting bbb.org.

The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact BBB atbbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.

Don’t Let Your Summer Getaway Open the Door to Fraudsters

Summer is a great time for getaways, but while you’re on vacation, criminals are still hard at work. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) warns consumers that they can find themselves tripped up by their own vacation plans if they don’t first take some precautions.

“Scammers never stop thinking, so consumers have to be looking ahead too,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “The stakes are always high.”

According to Javelin Research’s 2014 Identity Fraud Study, more than 13 million Americans had their identities stolen last year, and it cost an average of $3,500 to fix related problems. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), ID theft has surpassed drug trafficking to become the most prevalent crime in the nation.

BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota advises consumers to be on the lookout for fraud in all of its forms, particularly technology-based schemes. Here are steps people setting out on vacation can take to protect themselves:

Keep an eye on your credit cards – When standing in line at a ticket counter or restaurant, don’t leave your credit card in plain view. Someone can snap a photo of it over your shoulder and use the information fraudulently.

 

Copy vital cards and documents – It’s a good idea to keep a record of your credit card, passport and other important numbers – in a safe place – in case your wallet or purse is lost or stolen. Leave identity documents and cards that you don’t need at home. Make sure you keep a record of customer service numbers in case you run into a problem while you’re out of town.

 

Check receipts during vacation and after – When you get home, go through your bank and credit card statements to look for any unauthorized charges. If something is amiss, contact your financial institution immediately.

 

Manage your mail and newspaper delivery online – Before leaving town, visit www.usps.com/manage-your-mail to have your mail held while you’re away. It’s a good idea to do the same thing with the daily newspaper and ask a neighbor to collect any packages shipped special delivery.

 

Be careful with social media – Make sure nobody in your family announces that you’re going away for an awesome vacation. If your account settings are public, people you might not want to have that information can easily access it. Always be careful when posting photos from out of town for the same reason. Be sure you’re clear about your privacy settings on your social media accounts, and remember, people talk. There will be plenty of time to post your fun photos when you’ve returned from your trip.

 

Don’t get skimmed – Always inspect the card reader slot before using a standalone ATM or gas pump. Law enforcement agencies warn that criminals can place a fake card slot cover on these machines to enable them to capture customers’ financial information.

 

If you plan to use your credit cards while away, it may also be a good idea to contact your credit card provider or bank ahead of time. In an effort to prevent losses from fraud, financial institutions may refuse some credit card transactions from out of state if they do not match your typical spending pattern. Letting your credit card provider and bank know when you are leaving town – and returning – and where you are going might prevent a hold from being placed on your credit or debit card.

 

For more helpful tips, the latest consumer news and free Business Reviews, visit www.bbb.org