Ah, April Fool’s Day- the one day a year we tip our hats to tricks, pranks, and general old tom foolery; where we tie a dollar to fishing line and snicker as passerby chase after the errant bill. But there is big difference between the innocent dollar gag and the popular technique, among scammers and fraudsters, of holding out the false promise of money or winnings in order steal unsuspecting victims’ personal information and rob them of their hard-earned cash.
Scams come in many forms, so consumers should be sure to be on the lookout for them. Some of the more common variants include:
- Phishing Scams – The victim receives an email, fax or phone call, purportedly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), lottery or sweepstakes agent, asking for personal information necessary to process a tax refund or lottery and sweepstakes winnings, depending on who the fraudster is impersonating. Consumers who fall victims lose their personal information, which the scammer can use to commit identity theft or drain a bank account (if a bank account number is provided to the scammer). Consumers should avoid giving any personal information out when they receive such calls and not click on links in such emails, even if they have an IRS or Publishers Clearing House logo (phishers are experts at making “official-looking” emails).The reality is that the IRS, state taxation authorities, and lottery/sweepstakes agents will never contact consumers in this way to obtain additional information. For more information on IRS phishing scams, visit the agency’s official site.
- Fake check scams—in which fraudsters lure in their victims with phony mystery shopper jobs or sweepstakes “winnings,” asking their victims to cash realistic-looking checks and wire a portion of the proceeds back to the scammer before the check bounces—continue to be the most frequently-reported scam to NCL’s Fraud Center, making up 29 percent of all complaints.
- Business opportunity/scholarship scams—the victim is promised unrealistic or “guaranteed” profits in return for a significant up-front investment in a business – such as magazine stands, vending machines, or Internet kiosks. Though the profits almost never materialize, the victim still loses their initial fee and the scammer disappears. In a scholarship or educational grant scam, the victim pays a fee to the scammer in return for promises of a “guaranteed” scholarship award or generous financial aid package, which never come to fruition.
Be smart! Don’t give out any personal information online, over the phone, or by mail unless you are absolutely sure where your information is going. Consumers who believe that they’ve been the victim of tax scams can file a complaint with NCL’s Fraud Center by using our online complaint form. These complaints are shared with more than 90 federal, state and local law enforcement and consumer protection agencies in the U.S. and Canada. To view the Fraud Center’s Top Scams of 2011 report click here.