Have you ever received a telephone call or an email from what appears to be a legitimate company or government agency like Verizon, Netflix, Bank of America or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?
They say they are calling to inform you that you are in BIG TROUBLE because there is a problem with your account or your taxes. They usually tell you that you need to deal with it immediately. Usually, in the course of the conversation, the caller asks you to divulge personal information or the email asks you to “click here” to verify your information.
DON’T DO IT!
These are scams – and they are intended to trick you into giving them personal information like a password, your birthday, your credit card information, your bank account number or social security number. These scammers want to steal your money, your identity or both. If it’s an email and you respond by clicking on something, they can install ransomware or other illegal programs on your computer.
Be aware of the following:
Legitimate companies and government agencies like the IRS will not use email or telephone calls to request that you reply with your password, social security number, bank account number or confidential, personal information. If you think the email or phone call may be legitimate, go directly to the company’s website or contact the company or government agency by telephone (look up the phone number yourself; don’t rely on a phone number that is given to you in the email) and inquire as to whether there is a problem with your account.
If they say they are from the IRS, hang up immediately and call the IRS office yourself. The IRS never calls people to tell them they may be penalized for violating tax law – you would instead receive a letter from the IRS under their official letterhead.
If it’s a phony email or text from a supposedly legitimate company, they will often have slight irregularities, bad grammar or misspellings in the email address – that is a tipoff that it is a scam. In the case of phony emails from Netflix, the scammer used the British spelling of “Center” (Centre) and used the greeting, “Hi, Dear.” Also, listing an international telephone number for a U.S.-based company is a tip-off. Look carefully at the sender’s address and contact information.
Also, watch out for telephone calls from someone informing you that you may have won a lot of money in a lottery or a contest, but in order to collect, they ask you to send money (“processing fees”), usually in a gift card or by Western Union.
An elderly friend of mine actually received a telephone call from someone claiming to be her nephew, telling her that he had been in an automobile accident (and that is why his voice sounded funny) and was now in jail and needed $5,000 wire-transferred to his attorney’s account immediately, pleading with her not to call his parents. Unfortunately, she fell for it and lost the money forever.
Be careful, be informed and, as always, tell your friends and family to be careful of calls and emails asking for your personal information.
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.