Avoiding debt relief scams

The evolution of technology over the last two decades hasn’t driven scams to extinction, it has simply caused them to evolve to modern times. While most know that robot calls from the “IRS” are scams, there are still hundreds of others out there that are not as obvious, and even the obvious ones can be trouble for the elderly.

However, there are some tell-tale signs of scammers, mostly thanks to your government and banking institutions providing robust safeguards that make it difficult to pretend. Scammers are after one thing: Money. If you thought we were going to say, “your identity,” you are thinking too small. What is the purpose of stealing your identity? To steal your money and available credit, thereby saving their own money by using yours. Keep that in mind as we share some tips for spotting scams, and ways to help the elderly keep their finances safe.

How to spot a scam over the phone, in email, or online

The old-fashioned way scammers would steal your information was via chain mail, asking for personal details to be sent back to them while scammers often pose as government officials. With the invention of the internet and email, this process actually, for a time, got easier for scammers. Today’s scammers save money on paper, letterhead, and mailing, and instead can pose as government or banking officials to steal your info. They may try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (this link is an excellent resource on the topic) and the FBI, “the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that people lost $30 million to phishing schemes in one year.”

So how do scammers work in email or over the phone? They do something called “spoofing” to mask or cloak their identity. Over the phone, this is done by temporarily stealing the phone number of a private mobile device, so that your phone’s Caller ID service believes the call is coming from a private person when in reality the call is being routed through that number from an offshore call center. In an email, scammers will create an email address that begins with actual business names or government entities like, “Bankofamerica” or “PayPal” (one of the most commonly spoofed entities) or “IRS.” However, look at those addresses closely. The name of the company or entity should be after the dot, like @paypal.com, rather than “paypal234930438@(scammer domain).com.”

Some more advanced scams will even include an actual website domain for the scammer’s name, or more often a website that looks something like your bank or PayPal but is actually a cheap knock-off. These can be very difficult to spot unless you have an eye for web design and can tell how terrible the site design looks. This is because the scammers are trying to spend the least amount of money on their scam effort. 

These scammers will ask for your password not to steal your money directly, but instead to use your online banking account to make large purchases online, and they are hoping you don’t notice the funds leaving your account until it is too late.

The best thing to do on each communication platform: 

  • Phone: Most millennials, and the youngest generation after that don’t even answer their phones unless they recognize the number on the caller ID. If it is important enough, the caller will leave a voicemail. From the voicemail, it is easy to identify a scam because no personal details related to social security or a specific entity will be shared. 
  • Email: Let’s be perfectly clear here – NO government or banking entity will ever only email you in the event of an issue. For that matter, they will never call you either. This is because they are responsible for positively identifying the person on the other end of the phone, and even with verification questions, it can be impossible to say beyond a reasonable doubt that they are speaking with the intended recipient. If they can’t do this by phone, they certainly can’t do this by email. Instead, government institutions and federal banks will send you certified mail, with information in the documentation about how to reach them securely.
  • Text: 100% garbage. ZERO government or banking institutions will text you. If they did, they’d be bad at it anyway. It would be extremely difficult to verify the identity of the sender or the recipient, equally. Block these numbers, report them to the FTC, and never share personal information in text messages. As a side tip: Don’t share login details via text either, these can be stolen much easier than sending this information across a secure online site.
  • Online: Pay close attention to something specific in the URL address bar of any website claiming to be a government entity, banking institution, or monetary transfer service – In Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and a couple of others, a lock will appear next to the URL to show that it has been verified as secured. This also displays as https instead of simply http. Spoof and scam sites can not obtain this certification because they do not own the domain because the actual entity does. If you are prompted to visit a site that does not display this security measure, leave it immediately and contact the proper authorities to investigate.
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Tips on Debt Relief Scams and what to do if your identity is stolen

One of the hardest things about spotting a debt relief scam is that they are very well built, and you usually don’t realize they are fake until you’ve made several payments, or at least one large, upfront payment. In reality, your loan balance is never reduced. So at the surface, you receive a loan or the promise of assistance with your debt via a reduced payment amount of forgiveness, but then your debt doesn’t disappear at all, and no follow-up ever comes.

Straight from the Department of Justice (secured) site: “These companies generally offer to settle a consumer’s debt with creditors for substantially less than the debt’s principal through monthly payments that the company holds in escrow.  Unfortunately, many of these companies not only fail to fulfill their promises to consumers but fail to offer any services at all. Companies charge large upfront fees or multiple hidden fees. Often, a substantial portion of a consumer’s monthly payment goes to the company’s fees, with little to nothing offered toward reducing the debt’s principal.”

So how do you combat this level of sophistication? One thing we outlined in a previous blog is to look at the companies’ Better Business Bureau (BBB) reputation. If they don’t have the same A+ rating Golden Financial Services has earned, or they don’t show up on the site at all, you may have found a scammer waiting in the wings to ruin you. 

What to do if your identity is already stolen

If you need in-depth assistance with identity theft and you are struggling with where to start, take a quick scan of this previous blog that provides a basic walkthrough. Some important tidbits from that blog:

  • Contact all of your banking and credit authorities and put a freeze on your social security number and credit cards. This will alert the SSA to be on alert for any attempts at establishing credit under your information, and it will prevent your credit cards from being used, by anyone. The “anyone” in that last sentence is important because it includes YOU! That means your next step should be to get new credit card numbers and new cards. In the meantime, you will only be able to get new card numbers from your currently issued companies, but at least your credit score won’t take a bigger hit. Next, work with the FTC and the SSA to repair your credit score and credit debt, and work with your credit card companies to verify your own purchases while identifying the fraudulent ones. It will be easier to remove transactions on your credit card than it will be to rectify personal bank accounts. Check with your bank about the levels of protection they have for fraudulent purchases from your checking or savings accounts. 

Identity theft is messy, and the recovery period for it can be long and tedious because your creditors still have their best interests in mind, while being legally required to help you. The best thing you can is to take steps to prevent theft of your identity. Be educated about scams, protect your identity by using a variety of passwords instead of a singular one for all tasks, review your accounts frequently (at least once per week), and be familiar with whom to contact if you see suspicious activity on your accounts. 

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If you found our blog looking for financial advice or assistance with credit card debt relief or debt consolidation, call Golden Financial Services today at (866)-376-9846 or info@goldenfs.org. You can check out the rest of our blog here, and do your research on our services here. Let’s talk soon!

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