Consumers filed more than 30,000 reports of scams with the Better Business Bureau in 2016. For the second year in a row, the top scam goes to… the IRS tax scam. In fact, the top three were the same as 2015’s list. New in 2016 were phishing scams and online purchase scams.
Top 10 Scams, 2016
Source: Better Business Bureau
- IRS/tax scam. How this scam works: Someone claiming to be with the IRS, will call you and tell you that you owe money to the government, and if you don’t pay now, you will be arrested. Scammers threaten you to send them money via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, and many people pay out of fear.
They can also alter what appears on your caller ID, so it appears they are with the IRS. They use fake names, titles and badge numbers. They use online resources to get your name, address and other details about your life to make the call sound official. They even go as far as copying official IRS letterhead for use in email or regular mail.
“These scams and schemes continue to evolve nationwide,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remain vigilant and not fall prey to these aggressive calls demanding immediate payment of a tax supposedly owed.”
The IRS will never call about taxes owed without first sending you a bill in the mail. They also never demand payment over the phone.
If you get a phone call like this, hang up and report the scam. Go to this website to file a report or call 800-366-4484. You can also report the call to the Federal Trade Commission. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says 4,000 victims have collectively reported more than $20 million in financial losses from tax scams since 2013.
- Debt collections scam. You receive a phone call from someone claiming that you have an unpaid debt. You are threatened with garnishments, lawsuits and even jail time if you don’t pay right now. The scammer will often use Caller ID spoofing and pretend to be a government agency or law enforcement in order to further invoke fear and make you send money.
- Sweepstakes/prizes/gifts scam. With this scam, you receive a phone call, email or letter claiming that you’ve won a prize in a sweepstakes, perhaps one that you’ve never entered. In order to receive the prize, you’re instructed to send a fee to cover expenses associated with processing, insurance or delivery. However, this prize is not real. If you’ve really won, you should never have to pay money to claim a prize.
- Online purchase scam. This scam occurs when consumers pay for an item they never receive. While many online shopping sites are legitimate, there are scammers that set up fraudulent sites in order to steal personal or financial information, or your money. Do your research and make sure you’re shopping on a legitimate, secure site or from a reputable seller.
- Employment scam. Scammers may say they have a job opening or can guarantee job placement if you first pay a fee to cover the cost it takes to place you in a job. However, after you pay, the job doesn’t materialize. If a potential employer asks you to pay the company to cover the costs of testing, training or background checks, consider it a red flag.
- Government grant This scam comes in the form of a phone call, email or letter informing you qualify for a government grant. In order to receive the grant, you must first send a processing or delivery fee, usually via wire transfer or a prepaid debit card. Never send money by wire transfer or a prepaid card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person. It’s almost impossible to trace this type of payment once it’s gone.
- Tech support scam. You get a call or a pop-up ad on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft (or Norton, or Apple) about a problem on your computer. They say if you give “tech support” access to your hard drive, they can fix it. Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information.
- Advance fee loan scam. An advance fee loan may seem like an easy way to get cash fast, but it may end up being a burden because of high interest rates and unaffordable payment terms. Advance fee lenders charge an upfront fee and will “guarantee” you a loan despite your credit history, and chances are, you won’t get your money back. Also, real lenders, like banks or credit unions, will always check your credit history. A lender who isn’t interested in your credit history is an immediate red flag.
- Fake check or money order scam. You receive a check in the mail that is larger than the amount owed and you are asked to deposit the check and wire the difference. However, the check ends up being a fake, and when it bounces, you are the one out of the money.
- Phishing scam. You receive an email telling you that you’ve won a contest or that a business needs to verify your personal information, usually sensitive data such as your Social Security number or credit card number. However, links in the email can take you to a site that downloads malware on your computer to search for your sensitive data. The best advice? Never open emails or click on links from sources you don’t know. Keep in mind that legitimate businesses won’t ask you to confirm your personal information through email.