The Fraud Watch Network Helpline is inundated with calls about scams involving investing in start-ups. Scammers make up elaborate details about hot investment opportunities, or may try to sell you a vague or nonexistent product. As they pressure you to invest, they flaunt their wildly accomplished resume, and offer unrealistic promises, including guaranteed high returns. Don’t trust someone’s pitch without doing your research. The promise of guaranteed returns is a big red flag. Find out if the investment product is registered with the SEC or your state securities agency. And if it sounds too good to be true, you can bet it likely is.
You may know about the tech support scam, where you get a call or pop-up about a virus on your computer and need to give someone remote access to “fix” the problem. Now there’s a refund twist to this scam. Scammers call, explaining you bought a tech protection plan in the past and that the vendor is going out of business and owes you a refund. Scammers might ask for your bank account information or for remote access to your computer, which leaves you vulnerable to further fraud. If you get a call like this, hang up and report it to the AARP Fraud Watch Network.
Government grant scams are on the rise. Scammers lure targets through ads (newspaper, email, text messages, and even by hacking into your friends’ social media accounts), claiming you’re eligible for a $25,000 grant for a $1,200 fee. Know that government agencies do not hand out “free” money and most government grants go to institutions following lengthy applications. Never pay money to receive money. Watch out for requests to wire money for upfront fees or taxes or requests for banking information for “deposits.”
If you’re looking for a loan or credit card but don’t think you’ll qualify, or have been turned down by a bank because of poor credit history, you may be tempted by ads and websites that guarantee loans or credit cards, regardless of your credit history. Know the offer is a scam when you apply for the loan or credit card and find out you have to pay a fee in advance. That fee is a tip off to a rip off. If you are struggling with debt and need help, check with your local consumer protection agency or credit union to learn about options for nonprofit credit counseling services. An advance-fee loan isn’t the solution.
Are you looking to make a get-away as spring arrives? Know that scam artists are out there looking to take advantage of deal-seeking travelers. Be leery of “free vacation” offers -- there is often a catch, such as taxes and fees, mandatory presentations or add-ons. Stick to trusted sites if booking travel online, and never pay a deposit or other rental fees by wire transfer. Watch out for unsolicited calls, texts or emails offering too-good-to-be-true deals. Research businesses before committing money to a trip.
Scammers take full advantage of opportunities during tax filing season to make a fast buck. They commit tax identity theft by filing a phony tax return using victims’ personal information to get a refund. To protect yourself against this scam, file your return as early as possible, use a secure Internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.