Don’t Get Spooked by One of these Halloween Scams!

That cackling witch might send your heart fluttering, but Halloween scams are even spookier! Here’s what to know about them:

1. The Joker

Scammers target people with messages promising loads of money for little effort. Just send a bit of money to a digital address using a money transfer app, and your money will double, triple or more. Unfortunately, the joke’s on you.

Spot a money-flipping scam through the amateur writing and the promises of unreal rewards. Also, you know what they say about anything that sounds too good to be true … it probably is. 

2. Night of the Living Dead

In the deceased identity theft scamscammers steal the identity of someone who is no longer living. They may empty the decedent’s accounts, use their credit history as their own, and use their Social Security number.

Protect a late loved one’s identity by locking their social media accounts, credit report, and Social Security number. Keep an eye on their accounts until their assets have been lawfully divided. 

3. Trick or Treat

You found the perfect costume online – and for a bargain price! You complete your order and wait for the package to arrive. And wait … and then you realize you’ve been tricked. 

In a variation of the online order scamthe package arrives but looks nothing like it did online. You try to find a customer service representative, but they’ve apparently vanished!

Don’t get tricked! Only order from reputable sites that display complete contact information for the company. Ignore offers that scream “Hot Deal! Act Now!” Shop with caution so you’ll only walk away with treats. 

4. Hitman

There’s a hitman at your door – and no, this is no disguise! 

In the hitman scam, scammers pretend to be assassins hired to take out a target. They’ll send extortion emails and messages, promising to spare the target’s life for just a few thousand dollars. Yikes!

Don’t get scammed! If you receive an extortion message, contact local law enforcement. Never share money with an unverified contact. Keep your money and your life safe.

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Beware Cryptocurrency Scams

Cryptocurrency is one of the hottest investments on the market. It’s also a popular ruse topic for scammers. Here’s what you need to know about cryptocurrency scams

How the scams play out 

There are several ways scammers are using cryptocurrency to con people out of their money. 

  • Blackmail. Emails are sent to targets, falsely claiming to have compromising photos, videos, or embarrassing info about them. The contact threatens to go public unless the victim pays up — in cryptocurrency. 
  • Social media. A target receives a social media message appearing to be from a friend, asking for cryptocurrency to help them out of a bind. 
  • Giveaways. These “giveaways” claim to be sponsored by celebrities or big-name cryptocurrency investors. They promise exponential returns for small investments in crypto, or for simply sharing personal info. 
  • Unrealistic Investment Opportunities. Some scammers make offers to invest in a nonexistent crypto mining operation. This is just a way for them to take your money!
  • Romance. Scammers convince victims they have met a legitimate love interest who soon starts talking about fabulous cryptocurrency opportunities with incredible returns. The victim acts upon this advice, and, sadly, loses their money. 

In each of these scams, the victim has no way of recovering the cryptocurrency they shared once an “investment” has been made. 

How to spot a cryptocurrency scam

Look out for these red flags to help avoid cryptocurrency scams: 

  • You’re promised big payouts with guaranteed returns on a small investment in cryptocurrency. 
  • A celebrity or famed cryptocurrency investor is sponsoring a cryptocurrency giveaway.
  • A friend contacts you on social media, claiming they’re caught up in a bind and need quick help by cryptocurrency. 
  • You’re promised free money in cryptocurrency in exchange for sharing some personal information.
  • A caller, new love interest, or organization insists on payment by cryptocurrency.

Never share personal information or money with an unverified contact. Also, if you’re looking to invest in cryptocurrency, look up secure investment sites like Robinhood and Coinbase on your own.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a cryptocurrency scam, report it to the FTC. If the scam was pulled off on social media, also let the platform know so they can take appropriate action. 

Proceed with caution to keep your money and your information safe. 

Beware Back to School Scams

Whether you’re a college student prepping for the fall semester, a high school student getting ready for a new school year or the parent of a student of any age, beware of these trending back-to-school scams!

The student tax scam

In this scam, a crook posing as the IRS calls a college-bound student claiming they didn’t pay the student tax. If it is not paid up and pronto, the “agent” says, the student will not be allowed to attend school. They may even threaten imprisonment.

Don’t get scammed! First, know that the “student tax” doesn’t exist. Second, the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer through a phone call. Finally, the IRS will never demand payment through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, which is a common scammer ploy.

Scholarship scams

The scholarship scam cons students and parents into paying money for government student loans or financial aid, or by promising a scholarship in exchange for a fee. Follow these rules to stay safe:

  • Never pay to apply for a government student loan or financial aid.
  • There’s no way to guarantee a scholarship or grant. If a company promises to get you approved for either one, it’s a scam.
  • There is generally no fee necessary to receive a scholarship.

School supply giveaways and freebies

Back-to-school shopping can cost a bundle. Messages promising a free back-to-school shopping spree can be welcomed if they’re legit. Unfortunately, they rarely are.

Back-to-school giveaway scams ask the victim to visit a website to provide their email address for claiming their prize. The victim is then rewarded with an endless stream of emails, texts, robocalls and more from the company that now has their information, with no giveaway in sight. In some cases, the scammer may demand a “processing fee” before the victim can claim their prize.

Protecting yourself from a giveaway scam is easy by remembering that, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, legitimate contests will rarely select a winner out of thin air; you’ll have to enter it first by providing your email address. They are also not likely to make you give up lots of info before claiming your prize. Finally, there is generally no payment necessary for claiming an authentic prize.

Follow the tips outlined above for this back to school season and stay safe!

6 Ways to Avoid Getting Scammed This Summer

Don’t get scammed this summer! Follow these tips to stay safe.

1. Never pay for a “prize” vacation

If you’re asked to pay a small fee to claim a free vacation prize, you’re looking at a scam. A legitimate company will never ask winners to do that.

2. Use a credit card when traveling

A credit card offers you the most protection in case something goes wrong. You’ll be able to dispute unauthorized charges, and in most cases, reclaim your lost funds

3. Ignore celebrity messages

A direct text from a movie star, singer or athlete asking for money for a charity or claiming you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a processing fee, is a scam.

4. Check for skimmers at the pump

If you’ll be pumping gas in unfamiliar places, check the card reader for skimmers, which can relay your credit or debit card information to a scammer.

To check for a skimmer, try wiggling the card reader; this should dislodge a skimmer if there is one. Next, check to see if the keypad looks newer than the rest of the card reader. Finally, touch the surface of the keypad to see if it’s raised.

5. Research vacation rentals carefully

Before booking a vacation rental, read the reviews of previous guests. If there aren’t any, or they don’t sound authentic, you’re likely looking at a scam. You can also look up the address of the rental to see if it actually exists and if the location matches the description in the listing. Finally, as mentioned above, use a credit card to pay for the stay so you can dispute the charges if it ends up being a scam.

6. Vet potential contractors well

It’s best to only hire contractors you’ve personally reached out to instead of hiring one that comes knocking on your door. Also, before hiring, research a potential contractor carefully, asking for contact info of previous clients, checking out their online presence, and looking up the business on the BBB website. Finally, don’t agree to pay more than a third of the total cost of a job before the work starts.

Stay safe!

Beware Child Tax Credit Scams

Money’s on the way to millions of households, and that means scammers are not far behind! The Child Tax Credit (CTC) taking effect in July will provide monthly payments of up to $300 per child for approximately 40 million households. The payments will provide struggling families with desperately needed funds unless the scammers get to the money first.

Here’s what you need to know about CTC scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

In one variation of the scam, victims receive phone calls, emails, or social media messages appearing to be from the IRS and asking them to authenticate their personal details or share sensitive information to get their CTC funds. Instead of pretending to be the IRS, the scammer may claim to be offering to “help” the victim get their funds. In either scenario, if the victim follows the instructions, they’ll be playing right into the hands of scammers.

In another variation of the scam, victims land on a spoofed government website and are invited to input their personal information. Unfortunately, this can open the door for scammers to pull off identity theft and more.

What you need to know about the Child Tax Credit and the IRS

  • The IRS does not make unsolicited calls or emails. All official communications from the IRS are sent via standard USPS mail.
  • You do not need to take any action or share any personal info to receive the Child Tax Credit.
  • Only the IRS will be issuing the Child Tax Credits. Anyone else claiming to “help” you receive the payments is a scammer.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a CTC scam, follow the cardinal rule of personal safety: Never share sensitive data with an unverified source. Triple-check the URL on any IRS webpage you visit, as these are easily spoofed. Finally, report all suspicious activity to the IRS and the FTC.

For additional information on the upcoming Child Tax Credits, to check if you qualify, or to update your dependent or banking information, visit the IRS’s CTC webpage directly at IRS.gov

Stay safe!

College Degree Scams

For many young adults, a college degree is the key to a secure financial future. Unfortunately, though, scammers are offering fake diplomas and bogus degree programs to the unsuspecting college-bound crowd. Here’s what you need to know about college degree scams.

How the scams play out

College degree scams can take on several forms:

  • Diploma mills advertise to attract potential students, claiming they don’t need to do any studying, take exams or even interact with professors to earn their “degree.”
  • Accreditation mills will allegedly provide higher education accreditation to diploma mills. Unfortunately, though, they cannot grant authentic accreditation because they are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA.)
  • Life experience degrees offer a fully accredited “degree” for work experience alone.

In each of these variations, the victim will only discover that the degree is bogus when they try to use it. It won’t be recognized by reputable employers, can negatively impact a career path even if the victim is already employed and can get the victim into trouble with the law.

 10 signs a college or degree program is bogus

  • The school’s mailing address is a P.O. box.
  • Tuition is billed as a flat rate per degree.
  • The “school” claims you can get your degree in an impossibly short time.
  • You have little to no interaction with the “professors” of the school.
  • The name of the “college” is similar to a well-known legitimate university.
  • The web address doesn’t end in .edu.
  • The school is accredited by an organization that isn’t approved by the USDE or the CHEA.
  • The school does not ask for any form of I.D. upon enrollment.
  • A degree can be earned with minimal effort.
  • The school claims you can earn your degree solely through experience in the workfield.

How can I be sure my degree program is legit?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests taking these steps before enrolling in any college program:

  • Is the school officially accredited? You can verify this by checking for the school or program on College Navigator, and/or looking it up on the USDE and the CHEA If your school or program isn’t listed on these sites, you’re looking at a scam.
  • Ask the registrar of any local community college or state university if they’d accept transfer credits from this institution. If the answer is no, it’s an obvious scam.
  • Contact the state attorney general’s office in the state where the school or program is located to ask if it’s operating legally.

If you’ve been targeted

  • Report scam attempts to the FTC at FTC.gov and to your state attorney general. Let your friends know about the scam, too.
  • Be alert and do your due diligence before signing up for a college or degree program, and stay safe!

Don’t Share Your Grad Photo Online

Congrats  — you did it! You’ve spent years studying for exams, keeping up with your coursework and writing papers. Finally, the finish line is within reach. You’re graduating!

It’s a super-exciting time, and all you want to talk about is your graduation. So when a bunch of your friends are sharing their senior photos and joining graduation contests on Facebook, Instagram or other social media platforms, you think it’s harmless to do it, too. Unfortunately, though, posting a senior portrait with your graduation year and the name of your school on a public platform can mean playing right into a scam.

Here’s what you need to know about grad photo scams and how to play it safe.

How the scams play out

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning graduates not to post their senior pictures on any social media platforms. Scammers, they explain, are using these sites to gather new targets. When they see a grad photo with a graduation year and the name of a school, they can take this information. Since these items are commonly used for security questions, scammers can look up more details about the target or even hack into private accounts. Once they’ve completed this step, they can pull off identity theft and more.

Also, lots of trending post-your-list-of-favorites contests for graduates can be exploited by scammers. In these contests, graduates are asked to share their senior portrait along with a list of favorites, such as their favorite songs or cars they’ve owned. This information can also be unknowingly seen by scammers.

How to stay safe

The BBB shares the following tips to help graduates and others keep safe on social media:

  • Only share your graduate photos privately with friends.
  • Don’t join grad photo contests that compromise your privacy.
  • Review and adjust the security settings on your devices and social media accounts.
  • If you believe you’ve been targeted, consider changing your passwords and security questions.

If you find evidence of fraud, let your credit union know so it can place a fraud alert on your accounts. You’ll also want to report the fraud to the FTC at FTC.gov.

Graduation is a super-exciting milestone and you don’t want scammers ruining this special time. Stay safe!

Micro-Deposit Scams

Scammers are always upping their game, and they’ve recently pulled out an old trick: the micro-deposit scam. Unfortunately, too many people have already fallen victim, and we don’t want anyone else getting caught in the trap. To that end, we’ve compiled this guide on micro-deposit scams, how they play out and what you can do if you’re targeted.

What is a micro-deposit?

Before we can explore the actual scam, it’s important to understand how a micro-deposit works.

Micro-deposits are small sums of money that are transferred online from one financial account to another. Their purpose is to verify if the account on the receiving end is actually the account the sender intended to reach. Micro-deposits are generally less than $1 and can be as small as $0.02. They are also typically deposited in pairs; within one to three business days of linking accounts, two micro-deposits should appear in your account.

As mentioned, micro-deposits are primarily used to verify account ownership. For example, if you’d like to link your checking account at Olean Area Federal Credit Union with an investment account, the investment brokerage firm will want to verify it’s sending your dividends to the correct account. Before sending any of your investment earnings, it’ll do a test run by sending a pair of micro-deposits to your checking account. You’ll be notified that the firm has sent these deposits, and asked to verify the amount of the deposit by logging into your newly linked account. Once you’ve completed this step, the brokerage account will withdraw the small amount of money sent through the micro-deposits and proceed with regular deposits of investment dividends, as planned.

How the scam plays out

In this scam, crooks will link brokerage accounts with strings of random numbers, hoping to hit a valid account. When a deposit is verified from an account, they will use additional information about the account holder to withdraw funds in addition to those deposited from the account that was verified. Then take the withdrawn funds as their own.

What to do if you’re targeted

Micro-deposits are small enough to fly under the radar and you may unknowingly verify one with an uninformed click. Here’s what to do if you’ve received a micro-deposit from an unknown source:

  • Don’t verify it. This way, the scammer won’t know they’ve hit an authentic account.
  • Do not click any links embedded in the verification request message or download any attachments.
  • Let us know you’ve been targeted.
  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov so they can do their part in catching the scammers.
  • Let your friends and family know about the circulating scam so they can be on the alert as well.

Scammers are using micro-deposits to gain access to consumer accounts, but Olean Area Federal Credit Union is doing everything possible to stop them before they can do any real damage. Together, we can beat the scammers at their game. Stay safe!

Beware the USPS Smishing Text Scam

Your phone pings, alerting you to a new text. You swipe to find a message from the USPS. It tells you the scheduled delivery for your package has been changed and they want you to click on a link to confirm. Just one click, and it’ll be done.

Stop! Don’t click that link! If you receive a text like this, you are likely looking at a scam. Here’s what you need to know about the USPS smishing text scam.

How the scam plays out

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is warning of an uptick in smishing scams that use the USPS as a cover. If the victim clicks on a link in a message like the one described above, they’ll be downloading malware, giving the scammer access to their device and personal info.

Stay ahead of this scam by knowing this simple fact: The USPS never sends unsolicited text messages about deliveries. You’ll only get a message from them if you’ve signed up for alerts about a package’s delivery. If you haven’t, and you still receive a message about a scheduled delivery change, you’re looking at a scam.

What to do if you’re targeted

  • Confirm the identity of the sender by checking with the USPS if you actually have a delivery schedule change.
  • Don’t reply or click on links.
  • Save a screenshot of the text to share with law enforcement agencies and delete the message.
  • Block the number and update the security on your device.
  • As always, don’t share sensitive information, such as your Social Security number or account details, with an unverified contact.

Report the scam

Do your part to stop the scammers by reporting it to the proper authorities.

First, email a screenshot of the text to spam@uspis.gov. Make sure your screenshot shows the number of the sender as well as the date it was sent. You’ll also need to include your name in the email so the team can reach you if necessary, along with any other relevant details about the scam.

You can also report the scam to FTC.gov.

Stay alert and stay safe!

Lawn-Care Scams Sprout up in Spring

Spring is here, and lawn-care scams are sprouting like mushrooms after rain. And unlike that brown spot in the grass, they’re not easy to see. Here’s what’s important to know about these scams and how to stay safe.

How the scam plays out

In a typical lawn-care scam, a company will target homeowners with ads, calls and other tactics. They’ll offer to inspect the lawn and provide a free quote for services the lawn requires. When the victim accepts this offer, a date and time will be set for the complimentary inspection.

On the day of the inspection, though, victims arrive home to see a sign posted on their lawn detailing all the work that has already been done on behalf of this company! The victim is billed for the work, and when they protest, the business claims the victim verbally agreed to the services.

This is probably just the beginning of a lawn-care nightmare. The company may continue to send workers to service the victim’s yard, regardless of how many times they say they don’t want or need these services. Failure to pay will prompt the scammer to threaten to call collection agencies. Usually, the victim pays out of fear of having the lawn-care company follow through on their threat.

Sometimes, the scam takes the form of a company doing shoddy work and overcharging for it, not delivering on services or tacking on extra charges and fees without warning.

Avoid getting scammed

Before hiring a lawn-care company, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends taking the following steps:

  • Research the company.Look up the business’s profile on the BBB website or search for its name on the bureau’s list of accredited lawn maintenance companies. Look for any necessary licensing and insurance as well. To avoid signing a “verbal contract,” do not contact a company before doing your research.
  • Ask for a lawn inspection before getting a quote.
  • Get everything in writing.Make sure the contract clearly explains terms of the agreement and for how long it is valid. The contract should also list the quantity, size and types of plants and other materials that will be used by the lawn-care company. Keep a personal copy of anything you sign.
  • Ask for references and pictures of past jobs.  
  • Get specifics on pricing.
  • Ask for receipts for all paid invoices. 

If you’ve been scammed

If you’ve been duped by an unscrupulous lawn-care company, you may have difficulty getting out of contracts or agreements. Report the scam to the FTC  and the BBB. Also contact local law enforcement to ask about suggested next steps.

Don’t get scammed by a lawn-care company! Follow the tips outlined above when hiring a provider and keep your money safe.

Beware the Amazon Watch Raffle Scam

Everyone admires Amazon’s scale, and scammers are no exception. Recently, they’ve been piggybacking on Amazon’s reach and name to pull off a scam that’s already taken in thousands of innocent victims.

Here’s all you need to know about the Amazon watch raffle scam:

How the scam plays out

In the scam, the target receives a text message appearing to be from Amazon and telling them they’ve won an Apple Watch, or a similar prize, such as Airpods or a Garmin Fitness watch.

If the victim clicks on the embedded link, they’ll land on a page asking them to provide their personal information. Alternatively, clicking the link may download malware onto the victim’s device.

Red flags

First, it’s important to note that Amazon will never ask a consumer for their personal information or for remote access to a device.

Second, familiarize yourself with the red flags that can help you spot when you’ve been targeted by an Amazon watch raffle scam or a similar ruse:

  • The text message includes an unusual link.
  • The message promises an instant and/or large reward.
  • The text message urges you to act now.
  • The text appears to be sent from Amazon, but you never signed up to receive text messages from them.

Avoid the scam

Follow these precautions to avoid the Amazon watch raffle scam.

  • Never click on a link sent in a message from an unverified number.
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re still unsure, call the number to verify if it is legitimate.
  • Never respond to suspicious-looking text messages. Instead, block the number.
  • If you receive a text message that appears to be from Amazon, update the login credentials of your Amazon account. You may want to do a security sweep on your device for viruses and malware if you’ve already clicked on the link.

If you’re still unsure whether a text message has actually been sent by Amazon, you can check out Amazon’s scam information page here to help you verify the authenticity of the message.

Stop the scam

Do your part to stop those scammers by reporting all scam attempts to the FTC and the BBB. You can also warn your friends and family about the circulating scam.

Stay safe!

Watch Out for These Spring Cleaning Scams

As you spruce up your house for spring and summer, watch out for these spring-cleaning scams. Stay safe!

The bait-and-switch scam

How it plays out: You’ll see a commercial advertising super-low rates on a cleaning service, such as four carpeted rooms cleaned for just $29. Because of this great deal, you’ll quickly book a slot for the service. Unfortunately, when the cleaners arrive at your home, they’ll hit you with unexpected fees for vague factors like “high-traffic areas” to bring the price up by several hundred dollars.

Protect yourself: It’s best to avoid services offering prices that are too good to be true. It’s also a good idea to do some research on any new agency you hire to work in your home. Ask specific questions about possible extra charges, and speak to previous customers if you can. If possible, get the terms and pricing of the job in writing before the agency sends workers to your home.

The bogus house-cleaning agency

How it plays out: You hire a house cleaning agency to help spring-clean your home. Unfortunately, the agency is bogus, and the “house cleaners” end up robbing you blind.

Protect yourself: Never allow workers into your home without proper references and research. Check out any agency you want to use online, look up their business on the BBB website and ask for names and numbers of previous clients. It’s best not to leave the house cleaners alone in your home.

Scammy cleaning products

How it plays out: A salesperson knocks on your door offering a “miracle cleaning solution” at a great price. In truth, the solution is nothing more than a mixture of water and hand soap.

Protect yourself: Stick to the cleaning products you always use and be super wary of anyone hawking products you’ve never heard of before.

The pay-up-front scam

How it plays out: A vendor offering cleaning services of any kind demands full, upfront payment via cash or a prepaid debit card or money order. Once they’ve been paid, you’ll never see them or your money again.

Protect yourself: There’s never a good reason to prepay in full for a service or to be forced to pay via cash or with a prepaid debit card or money order.

Don’t Get Caught in an Auto Warranty Scam

Another phone call, another scam. It’s not just you, those robocalls just won’t stop! More than just an annoyance, scam calls cost 56 million Americans a financial loss in 2020. One of the most common scams over the phone is the auto warranty scam. Here’s all you need to know about it:

How the scam plays out

In this ruse, scammers posing as representatives of a car dealership or manufacturer call to tell you that your auto warranty is about to expire. The scammer then goes into a pitch for renewing your warranty. During the call, you may be prompted to press a number to stay on the line, and then you’re asked to provide personal information to continue the process of renewing your warranty. If you follow instructions, you’ll be playing right into a scam.

How to spot a scam

Look out for these red flags:

  • Hello, it’s Robot calling. When it’s a robocall on the line, you’re almost certainly talking to a scammer.
  • Feel the pressure? Scammers notoriously lead victims to act first and think later by claiming their offer is available for a limited time only.
  • Just a small fee … Is the caller demanding a small processing fee before supplying you with real details and information on the plan? If yes, you’re being scammed.

Protect yourself

Some things in life are not meant to be shared, especially your private information. Never share your Social Security number, credit card information or checking account details with an unverified caller.

Be skeptical of mail and phone calls warning that the warranty on your car is about to expire. If you buy a service contract, you may find that the company behind it won’t be in business long enough to fulfill the commitments.

It’s instinct to grab the phone when it rings, but hold off just a moment. First, check the Caller ID. Legitimate telemarketers are required to display their phone number and the name/or phone number of the company they represent. If this information is missing, you’re being phone-tagged by a scammer.

Don’t let an authentic-looking Caller ID fool you, though. Scammers often spoof numbers to make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate company. If you suspect spoofing, ignore the call, and then call the number of the company that allegedly reached out to you, to ask about the call.

If those robocalls are not letting up, you can always block the number on your phone. That’ll show those scammers!

Stay safe!

If You Hear This, You’re Talking to a Tax Scammer

It’s tax season, and the scammers are at it again! Beat them at their game by knowing what to look out for. If you hear or see any of the following lines this tax season, you’re dealing with a scammer:

1.       “We’re calling from the IRS to inform you that your identity has been stolen and you need to buy gift cards to fix it.”

If your identity has indeed been stolen, no amount of purchased gift cards will get it back.

2.       “You owe tax money. We’ll arrest you, unless you buy iTunes gift cards.”

In this ruse, the scammer will also ask for the access numbers to the iTunes card to get easy and untraceable access to cash.

3.       “If you don’t pay your tax bill now, we’ll cancel your Social Security number.”

Your Social Security number cannot be canceled, suspended, frozen or blocked.

4.       “We’re calling you about a tax bill you’ve never heard about.”

The IRS will never initiate contact about an overdue tax bill by phone.

5.       “This is the Bureau of Tax Enforcement. We’re putting a lien or levy on your assets.”

Sounds scary, except for the fact that the Bureau of Tax Enforcement isn’t real.

6.       “This is a pre-recorded message from the IRS. If you don’t call us back, you’ll be arrested.”

Scam alert: The IRS does not leave pre-recorded voicemails to individual taxpayers.

7.       “You must make an immediate payment over the phone, using our chosen method.”

The IRS says that agents will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific method.

8.       “Click here for more details about your tax refund.”

The IRS will never send emails with information about tax refunds. Clicking on the link in emails worded like this will put malware on the victim’s device.

9.       “You owe the federal student tax.”

The federal student tax is yet another invention of tireless scammers.

10.   “This is an SMS/social media post from the IRS. We need more information.”

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers, or ask for sensitive information, via text message or social media.

Stay alert during tax season and keep your money and your information safe!

Report Scams to the National Elder Fraud Hotline

With more and more older people becoming targets of scammers, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime instituted the National Elder Abuse Fraud Hotline for people to report fraud against anyone age 60 or older.

A 2020 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report says the most money lost in scams by older adults in 2019 were romance scams. Older adults reported aggregate losses of nearly $84 million on romance scams in 2019.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime website, many are too embarrassed or afraid to report the crimes, so many go unreported and victims suffer alone.

The toll-free number of the National Elder Fraud Hotline is 833–FRAUD–11 or 833–372–8311.

Professional staff members trained to handle scams and abuse targeting older people are available every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Time. With kindness and understanding, they assist victims in filing official local and state reports and help victims make official reports to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or the FTC.

Callers can remain anonymous and friends, family and care-givers may call the hotline if fraud is suspected. Translation services are also available.

Keely Frank, a case management shift supervisor for the Virginia-based hotline, says reporting fraud as soon as possible is key to victims recovering their losses. In addition to the hotline, Frank says, victims should also report crimes to the local police, their financial institutions, state attorneys general and, in the case of home contractors, state licensing boards.

Reporting crimes to the proper authorities will help others avoid becoming victims.

Beware of PPP Scams

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been one of the most important pieces of legislation signed into effect since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The unsecured loans through the Small Business Association (SBA) have enabled our favorite retail shops, restaurants and small businesses to stay afloat, even as the coronavirus devastates sectors of the economy.

Not surprisingly, scammers have been using the PPP for their own purposes, mainly to con struggling business owners out of money. In these scams, they’ll pose as SBA representatives or legitimate lenders to ask for personal information from the borrower. They may also send bogus emails appearing to be from the SBA to lead the victim into downloading malware.

Scammers are getting smarter all the time, but so are we! Here’s how to avoid PPP scams:

Know how PPP loans are processed

Ready to apply for a PPP loan? Just download the SBA PPP loan application, fill it out and submit it to an SBA-approved lender. You’ll also need to provide some documents, such as tax returns for 2019, verifiable payroll expense documents, your most recent mortgage or rent statement, etc.

If you’re applying for a Second Draw PPP Loan, you will also need documentation that shows how you have used, or plan to use, your original PPP funds.

After you’ve submitted your application, just sit back and wait for approval.

How can I protect my business from PPP fraud?

Do:
  • Be wary of any individuals demanding immediate payment or asking that you make immediate contact to be eligible for a PPP loan. These are likely scammers.
  • Only use a lender that is accredited by the SBA. You can find all SBA-approved lenders here.
  • Look for the .gov at the end of each email or website allegedly from the SBA or another government entity.
  • Report any suspected scams to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Don’t let those crooks walk free!
 Don’t:
  • Pay for a program that promises to process or expedite a PPP loan request if the organization behind the program is not accredited by the SBA.
  • Share any personal information with an unverified caller or email contact. If it’s personal info, make sure to keep it that way!
  • Click on links or download files from an unfamiliar email address.

Stay safe!

Beware Coronavirus Vaccine Scams

Believe it or not, there is a light at the end of the socially distanced tunnel. After months of trials, the FDA has approved two vaccines for the coronavirus.

Don’t like getting needles stuck in your arm? No worries. You may not be getting that shot for a while. That’s due to a whole lot of rules and guidelines about who gets the vaccine first, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

The really bad news, though, is that those low-down scammers want to make you think otherwise. Yes, they’re back, and this time, they’re using news of the vaccines to get to you and your wallet.

Here’s what you need to know:

Long distribution process

The public is jumping all over each other in excitement for the vaccine — but the government is taking this whole process slowly, and there’s no way to pay under the table to cut to the head of the line. Expect a drawn-out distribution that may take months. If someone asks you for money to get your vaccine sooner, run the other way. Yes, it’s a scam.

DON’T pay money for the promise of getting your vaccine sooner.

Only through verified sources

Mama taught you not to take candy from strangers, and you shouldn’t be taking shots from them either. The COVID-19 vaccine will only be distributed through doctors — and we’re talking about the MD type. This is one item you can’t order on Amazon, even if you have Prime.

DON’T get your vaccine through an internet retailer.

No cost

Are you covered? If so, you’ll get your shot at no charge. All insured Americans can expect to get their vaccine for free.

DON’T pay for a COVID-19 vaccine.

No need to share information

Private information should be kept that way. There’s no need to share your Social Security number or financial account details to get your shot.

DON’T share personal info with an unknown contact.

FDA-approved only

So far, only vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have been given the thumbs-up by the FDA. A vaccine approval is big news; if the FDA says yes to any more vaccines, expect to see it in the headlines.

DON’T agree to receive a vaccine you haven’t heard of or read about.

Don’t Fall Prey to a Holiday Toy Scam

Scammers famously exploit high-stress times, and the pre-holidays shopping frenzy is no exception. That’s why the BBB is warning of an uptick in holiday toy scams which can be difficult to spot.

Here’s what you need to know about these scams.

How the scam plays out

Every year, there are a few must-have toys on most kids’ wish lists. These choice picks become the hottest-selling items and are plucked off shelves in a wink. Unfortunately for anyone who didn’t shop early enough, these toys soon become impossible to find. The parents search desperately, but to no avail.

Here’s where the scammer steps in. Armed with a bogus website and some crafty online tracking, the scammer targets the vulnerable shopper with ads and online messages to draw the shopper to the scammer’s site. On the authentic-looking site, the shopper finally finds what they seek — the sought-after toy! Often, the toy is also deeply discounted. The purchase is completed within minutes.

Unfortunately, though, the scammer will send a cheap knockoff that doesn’t work or quickly breaks. When contacted for a refund, the scammer refuses to provide one or offers only to refund a small percentage of the purchase price. Sometimes, they’ll also charge an exorbitant amount of money for shipping it back to the company, almost making the small refund not worthwhile.

Red flags

Here’s how to spot these scams:

  • The seller has a large supply of toys that are in high demand.
  • The website is not secure.
  • The seller is offering a steep discount due to a “flash sale” or “last-minute” deal.
  • The seller’s website is full of spelling and/or grammatical errors.

Stay safe

Keep yourself safe when shopping online with these tips:

  • Research before you buy. Avoid purchasing an expensive item from a company you’ve never heard of before without doing some digging.
  • Look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” on the URL before buying anything.
  • Review item return policies before making a purchase.
  • Pay with credit for purchase protection power.
  • Keep your security software up to date.
  • Hang on to any purchase order confirmations.
  • Don’t trust links in unsolicited emails. Scammers will often impersonate reputable websites in order to gain access to your account information. Go to a company website directly when looking for an item.
  • If you believe you’ve been targeted by a holiday toy scam, end all contact with the seller immediately. Alert the BBB and let your friends know about the circulating scam as well.

Shop safely this holiday season!

Beware Emergency Scams!

“Grandma, you gotta help me! They’re going to arrest me if I don’t pay the fine – and I lost my wallet! Can you wire me some money?”

Sounds like a heart-tugging phone call, doesn’t it? It’s actually just a plot by devious scammers. There’s no imminent arrest and no lost wallet. In fact, it isn’t even your grandchild on the line.

Family emergency scams are especially nefarious since they take advantage of the natural affection a grandparent has for a grandchild. They’re usually pulled off in the guise of a frantic phone call that appears to be from the victim’s grandchild.

Here’s how to identify an emergency scam and what to do if you’ve been victimized.

3 ways to spot emergency scams

1. The caller insists upon secrecy

Once your “grandchild” has had his or her say, the scammer will then take the phone, impersonating an authority figure who is out to make the arrest and demanding that payment be made immediately. They’ll stress the importance of keeping it hush-hush so nobody gets hurt, but the real reason behind their gag order is to keep you from digging and identifying the scam.

2. The “authority figure” will only accept certain payment methods

If you receive a phone call insisting that you wire money, or send a prepaid debit card or certified check to save your grandchild from a distressing situation, you’re looking at a scam.

3. Your “grandchild” doesn’t know basic identifying information

It can be difficult to recognize your grandchild’s voice over a phone that has iffy reception. If you receive a call like the one described above, ask the caller about some information that a stranger would not be able to find on your grandchild’s social media accounts. This will let you know who you’re dealing with.

If you’ve been scammed

If you’ve gotten a frantic phone call like this from your grandchild and you believe it to be true, don’t react. First, call your grandchild on your own to verify his or her whereabouts. You may be surprised to learn your grandchild is safe at home!

If you’ve only recognized the ruse after you’ve sent your money, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.

How to Recognize and Protect Yourself from Scams

Here at Olean Area Federal Credit Union, our biggest priority is your financial wellness. It’s important to note that the following information does not cover all types of scams or financial security threats in existence, and that these threats are constantly changing and evolving.

To help keep you safe, we’ve made this guide about how to recognize and protect yourself from scams that are common today.

Five ways to spot a scammer

1. They ask for detailed information before agreeing to process an application.

2. They insist on a specific method of payment.

3. They send a check for an inflated amount to a seller or “employee,” and then ask the victim to mail them the extra money. Of course, the original check will not clear.

4. You can’t find any information about the company the caller allegedly represents.

5. You’re pressured to act now.

Who are the targets?

Here are some of the most common targets of scams:

  • The unemployed. If you’re job-hunting, don’t respond to emails offering you a “dream position” you never applied to have.
  • The aging. Older people often spend lots of time online. They can also be less aware of the dangers lurking there.
  • Children. Children will more readily share information with strangers, which can then be used to steal their identity.

What do scams look like?

These are some of the most common scams:

  • Cyberhacking. Hackers gain remote access to your computer-and personal information.
  • Phishing scams. Scammers bait you into sharing personal information, which they use to hack your accounts or steal your identity.
  • Mystery shopper. A bogus company will “hire” you to purchase an item in a store and then report back on the experience. Before you get started, though, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee, which you’ll never see again.
  • Job offers. Scammers “hire” you for a position and then scam you by sending you an inflated check, as detailed above.
  • Sweetheart scams. A scammer pretending to be an online lover or unknown relative will con you into sending them money and gifts or sharing personal information.
  • Fraudulent investments. Scammers reach out to victims with information about lucrative investments that don’t exist.

10 ways to protect yourself from scams

1. Never share personal or financial information with someone you don’t know or that you didn’t initiate contact with.

2. Don’t open unsolicited emails. If you do, don’t click on any links in them.

3. Never send money to an unknown party.

4. Protect your devices by using the most current operating systems, choosing two-factor authentication and using strong, unique passwords for every account.

5. Choose the strongest privacy settings for your social media accounts.

6. Keep yourself in the know about the latest scams. You can sign up for free scam alerts from the Federal Trade Commission by clicking here.

7. Educate your kids about basic computer safety and privacy.

8. If you have elderly parents, talk to them about common scams and teach them to protect themselves.

9. If a government agency or a company calls and asks you to share personal information, tell them you’ll contact them on your own.

10. Never accept a job or pay for a purchase or service without researching the company involved.

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