Updated February 2017 Fact Sheet PDF
Believe it or not, there is no typical fraud victim, but research finds that fraud victims are likely to be educated, informed, affluent, and involved in their communities. Scammers do not care about your age, race, income, or geographic location. They just want your money. But, you can protect yourself. Please be aware of the most recent circulating scams in person, telephone, mail, internet, or television.
Government Program Helping Pay Bills
If someone approaches you with a so-called deal with the government, although it may seem like it could be legitimate, it is not. There is no federal program that pays your monthly bills in exchange for payment.
What happens if you pay these scammers? They look real for a minute because they “pay your bills” electronically—but then they cancel the payment. You think your bill is paid, but you are stuck with not only the original bill, but a late fee because your payment was not processed. Now the scammers have your bank or credit information.
If you need help paying bills or know someone who does, there are some legitimate government sites, such as usa.gov/help-with-bills, that can help with things like medical bills and energy services for eligible people. These programs will not ask you to pay them. Search “how to make a budget” at consumer.gov or “choosing a credit counselor” consumer.ftc.gov.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Tax Bill
The scam involves a fake IRS tax notice that claims you owe money because of the Affordable Care Act.
The IRS says these fake notices are designed to look like real IRS CP2000 notices, which the agency sends when income information it receives does not match the information on your tax return. The IRS says many people have gotten these bogus notices, which usually claim you owe money for the previous tax year under the Affordable Care Act.
It is one of many IRS imposter scams that have popped up. There are red-flag warnings that can help you avoid becoming a victim. For example, the IRS will never:
- initiate contact with you by email or social media
- ask you to pay using a gift card, pre-paid debit card, or wire transfer
- request personal or financial information by email, text, or social media
- threaten to immediately have you arrested or deported for not paying
In this scam, fake CP2000 notices often arrive as attachments to an email—a red-flag—or by U.S. mail. Other telltale signs of this fraud are below.
There may be a “payment” link within the email. Scam emails can link you to sites that steal your personal information, take your money, or infect your computer with malware. Do not click on the link.
Make Out Check to “I.R.S.”
The notices request that a check be made out to “I.R.S.” Real CP2000s ask taxpayers to make their checks out to “United States Treasury” if they owe taxes.
In a version we saw, a payment voucher refers to letter number LTR0105C and requests that checks be sent to the “Austin Processing Center” in Texas. Scammers are crafty, and they could send messages with a variety of return addresses.
You can search for an image of a real CP2000 notice, as well as “understanding your CP2000 notice,” on the IRS Webpage at irs.gov. If you get a scam IRS notice, forward it to [email protected], delete it from your email account, let the FTC know about it at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Federal Investigation Email
In this scam, a fraudster pretends to be from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and emails people, telling them they are under investigation and to click on a link for more information.
If you get one of these emails, do not click the link. The federal government does not tell people they are under investigation by email. Sometimes, these emails are phishing scams designed to collect personal information, including your email and IP addresses, information that could be used to commit identity theft. Other times, these links are used to install malware on your computer, which could make your device crash or let the scammer monitor and control your online activity, steal your personal information, send spam, or commit fraud.
The bottom line: if you get an email saying you are under investigation by the FTC or required as a witness, the email is fake. Forward the phony email to [email protected], the FTC’s email address for spam. This database helps the FTC bring cases involving scams promoted by email. Finally, delete the fake email.
Credit Bureau Center Online Rental
Renting an apartment online? First, learn about the FTC’s case against Credit Bureau Center, LLC, a company that posted fake online rentals to lure people to their credit monitoring sites.
How does the scam work? You start by looking at photos of rentals on a site like Craigslist. Then, you email the owner, who might say the apartment is still available, but you will need a credit check before seeing it. Next. they direct you to their own Websites, which offer a free credit report. These ads are fake—the credit report is not free, the properties do not exist as presented, if at all, and they might even belong to other people who have not authorized them being advertised. If you go through with getting your “free” credit report, you will be enrolled in a credit monitoring service (based on hidden small print) and charged $29.94 per month (unless you cancel within seven days).
The FTC got a court order against Credit Bureau Center, LLC, halting their scam. Why? The company lied about properties that were unavailable. Credit Bureau Center also failed to honestly tell people they were being enrolled in a credit monitoring service with a monthly fee.
If You Are Renting and Want to Avoid a Scam
Do not wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee, or first month’s rent. Wiring money is like sending cash in that, once done, it cannot be undone.
Do not pay before signing a lease. Before paying, visit the apartment (or ask someone you trust to do it).
Get a truly free credit report from 1-877-322-8228 or annualcreditreport.com.
Want to learn more about avoiding scams like this? Check out Rental Listing Scams.
Think you have been the victim of an online rental scam? Report it to the FTC.
Money-Making Schemes Targeting Elders and Veterans
They were known to be doing business under names like “Titan Income,” “Wyze Money,” “Prime Cash,” and “Building Money.” The telemarketers called people about an opportunity to participate or invest in e-commerce Websites. They said people would earn hefty incomes sharing in the revenue from the sites. They even said it was “risk-free” and promised a 100% money-back guarantee.
For a few months, the scammers made it seem like everything was going by plan, as people awaited their first earnings payment at the end of the quarter. During that time, some people who had paid hundreds of dollars were convinced to pay thousands more to increase their returns. The company helped people move their now-huge credit card balances to new accounts with temporarily low or zero-interest balance transfers.
It was all a lie. As soon as the time came for people to get paid, all contact stopped. There were no e-commerce earnings or investments. Anyone trying to get a refund of their investment was out of luck. Many people lost as much as $20,000.
If you are considering putting money into a business opportunity, do your research. By law, business opportunity promoters must give you certain information before you hand over any money.
Many of the people called by Building Money were on the Do Not Call Registry. If a company is ignoring the Registry, there is a good chance the call is a scam. If you get calls like these, hang up and file a complaint with the FTC.
For more information, visit consumer.ftc.gov.