It seems like the entire country has been caught up in Powerball fever. And with the largest payout in history—approximately 1.6 billion dollars, in case you hadn’t heard—it’s no wonder.

Sadly, as with any major headlining event, scammers are standing ready to trick the public out of their money. As the young people say, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

First of all, lottery scams are nothing new. Most of the major state-run and national lotteries even have warnings on their websites about some of the tricks thieves have tried in the past. Popular myth-debunking site reports regularly on different lottery-based frauds and gimmicks. So what makes the Powerball any different? Opportunity. While long-time lottery scammers have been plying their trade for years, new opportunities to cheat people for a few bucks means even more scammers may be out there, setting their sights on you.

Here are some tips to remember during this feverish time, whether you choose to participate in this lottery (or any lottery, for that matter) or not:

  1. You will not be contacted – The reason the Powerball payoff is so high was because unclaimed money rolls over to the next drawing. During the weeks when there was no jackpot winner, the historic amount got even bigger. But that doesn’t stop scammers from calling, emailing, texting, or sending messages via social media, telling you that your ticket from last week contained enough of the matching numbers to earn you a few million dollars. All you have to do to claim your prize is wire them the taxes and fees. Obviously, that’s a scam. Taxes and fees are handled after you claim your winnings, and they certainly aren’t handled over Facebook messaging.
  1. Entitlement claims – Believe or not, people really do fall for hoaxes that claim anyone who shares a specific post on Facebook is going to receive one million dollars due to Mark Zuckerberg’s agreement with the Powerball organization. No, all you will do is end up informing all of your Facebook contacts that you’re gullible. Even worse, once the internet learns how gullible you are for sharing it, that’s when scammers line up in your message inbox to promise you that you really did win. All you have to do (again) is send them money to cover some fee or tax.
  1. The sharing scam – There have been a wide variety of scams, not just involving the lottery, in which the originator claims he lives in a region where “such and such” isn’t legal. Therefore, if you’ll help him out, he’ll share the money with you. Some states, like Alabama, don’t have a lottery; that means not only is there no state lottery, but even tickets to nationwide opportunities like the Powerball aren’t available for sale within the state. That doesn’t mean that a person in Alabama can’t go to any of the three bordering states which have lotteries and purchase a legal ticket, and then claim his winnings in spite of his address.
  1. And the winners are… – There were reportedly three winners who will share the jackpot: one from California, one from Tennessee, and one from Florida. Of course, that means that the winners could conceivably live in any of the neighboring states, too. There were also many different winners who had some form of adequate winning numbers—some of them will receive a million dollars, some will receive $50,000, and on down to the lowest qualifying number. That means there’s a huge potential for scamming, especially if you live in those states or vicinities. Whether it’s an internet message from someone pretending to be a jackpot winner who’s giving away his fortune, or a message claiming that you’re a lower-level (and therefore, more believable) winner and only have to pay a small amount to claim it, the opportunity to become a victim is tremendous at this time.

Do keep in mind that there is a very real possibility of not just scams, but other financial crimes. If anyone approaches you and asks you to take possession of their lottery winnings to avoid paying taxes, to avoid having to share it with an ex-wife who’s owed child support, or other similar request, stay far away. That type of behavior is illegal, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

If anyone ever approaches you for any reason with a request to move or transfer money, it is not only a scam, it is a crime. At the very least you’ll be in harm’s way for receiving and moving stolen property; more likely, there was never any money to move in the first place and you will instead be turning over your own funds in the scam. Stay far away from these offers, and protect yourself from the fraud.

If you get a phone call from your bank and a representative tells you there’s an issue with your account, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll sit up and take notice. After speaking to the representative for a few moments and verifying your account holder information, you might be offered some options if there’s a payment or minimum balance issue.

Obviously, you’d want to resolve the matter as quickly as possible, even if it meant transferring money from another account or paying funds into your account by credit card. There’s just one problem: that helpful young man who took the time to call you about the issue doesn’t work for your bank. He might not even be in this country, let alone working from an office at your financial institution.

Using a technique known as “caller ID spoofing,” scammers are able to alter their phone numbers to make it appear that they work for your bank, your credit card company, the IRS, even your local police station. What citizen wouldn’t follow instructions when the police call to inform you that you owe a speeding ticket fine, or that your loved one is in jail and you can post his bail over the phone via credit card?

That’s the unfortunate reality for many victims of phone scams, which is why Pennsylvania State Representative Karen Boback is working to introduce legislation in her state that will make it a crime for unauthorized agencies or individuals to spoof their information in order to appear to be someone else on your caller ID. The bill, House Bill 391, would make it a misdemeanor to change your data for this kind of purpose. It does not prevent people from blocking their data, though, which is an important distinction.

In the case of a blocked caller ID, or “unknown number” message on your screen, you still have no way of knowing that the caller is a scammer, but at least you would know that your bank or the IRS will never call you from a blocked number. There’s an important lesson here that underlies this crime, though, and that’s the willingness to give out personal information to strangers.

No matter what the number says on your caller ID, there is never a valid reason to give someone your account number, your Social Security number, or any other identifying information if they contact you. If you were the one who initiated the call, you might still have reason to be cautious when it comes to supplying others with your information. Finally, there is almost no conceivable reason to make a payment over the phone to an unsolicited request. If someone contacts you for a payment, hang up and call back using a known, verified phone number for the company or agency.


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has literally changed the world, and we don’t just mean in the development of the social media platform that he started in his college dorm room.

Besides the innovations and regulations that have all come about thanks to the crew at Facebook, Zuckerberg has just announced something astounding, especially for someone with his net worth. He’s giving it all away. Yes, one of history’s youngest self-made billionaires is donating 99% of his stock in Facebook to charity. Sadly, this wonderful announcement—which coincided with the birth of his first child—has been tainted by scams and fraud, namely in the latest Facebook hoax to make the rounds. The text of this latest hoax reads:

“THANK YOU, MARK ZUCKERBERG, for your forward-thinking generosity! And congrats on becoming a dad! Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he is giving away $45 billion of Facebook stock. What you may not have heard is that he plans to give 10% of it away to people like YOU and ME! All you have to do is copy and paste this message into a post IMMEDIATELY. At midnight PST, Facebook will search through the day’s posts and award 1000 people with $4.5 million EACH as a way of saying thank you for making Facebook such a powerful vehicle for connection and philanthropy.
I hope someone I know gets a piece of the pie–let me know if you do!!!”

Sigh…no, he’s not giving his fortune to the random internet people who made him the man he is today. Luckily, he is giving his funds to organizations that work towards the advancement of humanity, the eradication of disease, to education initiatives, and more. At the end of the day, which of those two scenarios is more beneficial to society, and more believable?

This one is a complete and total hoax. The periodic use of all-caps should tell us that. But if you break it down and look at the information, it should also make you suspicious. Where is the news article—from a reputable source, not a homemade blog—linking to this? Where is the video of the founder at a press conference, making this momentous announcement? It’s not there, because it’s not real.

Interestingly, there’s a huge difference between a scam and a hoax, the most important difference being that scams are after your money and hoaxes are nothing more than silly jokes, intended to give the originator a good laugh. This one not only doesn’t require money for you to participate, it also doesn’t claim that you have to like or share the post (which does benefit the person who originally started it), so this is nothing more than a gullibility test.

There is something unfortunate to remember about Facebook hoaxes: they can actually have consequences. Besides the fact that you just told the entire internet that you’ll believe anything you read, especially if there’s a chance of getting some free money out of it, when you share a hoax on your social media you are perpetuating outright lies that often cause hysteria, mistrust, or a confusion about how technology and society really work.

Think back to other hoaxes you’ve probably encountered online. “The hospital will donate $1 for every like, $2 for every share! Let’s save this little boy’s life!” Do we really believe that medical professionals stand ready to operate on an adorable little boy, waiting for the post to reach 100,000 likes? That kind of mindset makes the public believe there are arbitrary and pointless deciding factors in our healthcare system. “Delete this app now, the police, the CIA, and the FBI are already investigating the man who wrote it!” This hoax appears from time to time when new apps and games come out; there are plenty of security flaws in our everyday software, and spreading lies about the CIA’s involvement in a child’s game causes people to doubt the very real security threat in other programs.

Remember, if you don’t have a verified and reputable source of the information, it’s best not to share it. Avoid keeping the confusion and hysteria going—and avoid looking sheepish when it turns out you shared a complete lie while trying to “win” something—by knowing what you share, and where it came from.

There’s no shortage of scammers lurking on social media, but a recent scam on Facebook may hit a little too close to its mark, especially at this time of year. As the holidays approach, it’s easy to fall victim to offers of free money, but this one is nothing but a fraud.

The Facebook Lottery Scam is certainly nothing new, but what makes this version different is the accompanying image of a certificate of authenticity made out to the recipient. In this version, which typically comes through private messages on Facebook, someone contacts you to let you know that you’ve won, and then informs you that you must show up in person to collect your winnings. When you reply that you can’t do that due to geographic limitations, you’re then offered the option to have the winnings shipped to you for an outrageous amount of money.

You might wonder how people can still fall for these online scams, but as the public has become more aware of it, the criminals have had to up their game in order to convince people to believe it. One of the methods for enticing people to play along is to use hacked friends’ accounts, meaning the award notice can look like it came from someone you know. Other attempts at convincing you this is real can involve using specific information about you, like your workplace or names of people you know, all of which is information that can easily be garnered from your Facebook profile, your previous posts, or your friends’ list.

This type of scam is so common that the FBI actually has a name for it: advance fee scam. That designation refers to any con game in which the victim is instructed to pay a fee in order to collect a prize, be hired for a job, or other similarly beneficial situation. If anyone ever offers you employment, a prize, or any other form of payoff in return for the recipient fronting some funds, it most likely falls into this category.

Unfortunately, not only is it nearly impossible to track down the culprit in advance fee scams that take place online, the victim often feels so ridiculous at being victimized that he or she never comes forward. By not alerting others to the scam, though, there are practically guaranteed to be more victims.

To avoid this type of crime, remember a few simple rules about online activity. First, never send money to anyone who contacts you online, no matter how enticing, alarming, heart-wrenching, or plausible the story. Next, keep in mind that no one has ever gotten rich from a lottery they didn’t enter in the first place. There is no such thing as money for nothing, and anyone who says otherwise is quite possibly out to steal from you.

Pyramid schemes are nothing new. They go by many names and offer a lot of different variations, some of which sound like harmless fun or even legitimate business opportunities. But in the end, not only are pyramid schemes a good way to lose a lot of money and the trust of your friends and family, they’re also illegal.

Last year, ITRC exposed a new Facebook pyramid scheme called the Secret Sisterhood Gift Exchange that left users at risk. It is beginning to resurface again this year and here’s how you can stay ahead of the game. If you’re new to the concept of this kind of scam, a pyramid scheme works by building on your own “meager” investment. You are approached by someone who’s already involved in the scam and told that if you pay up the specified cost, you will then make a multifold return on your “investment” by recruiting others to join in the scam. For example, you may be asked to pay $5,000, which is shared among the people on the level above you; then you’re tasked with recruiting ten other people to each pay $5,000. You will make a portion of their investments, as will the people above you. The selling point for the hapless people you recruit is that they will turn around and each find ten people to join in, and the game goes on.

It’s not hard to see why this is illegal under the endless chain scheme laws. All it takes for one person—possibly even you—to lose all your money and make no return is for someone to not uphold the bargain of finding ten people to each pay in their share.

But what about the ones that don’t require massive cash payments? Over the years, this type of scam has been presented with everything from children’s books to dish towels to panties—seriously, ladies’ underwear, in which you send a pair of undies to the next person on the list, then get ten other people to join in the panty fun. Even the old concept of the chain letter—“send this letter to twenty of your friends within the next twenty-four hours…don’t let the chain be broken or there will be deadly consequences!”—seems harmless on the surface because it doesn’t appear to cost you anything more than some postage or a click of your email forwarding mouse. But that’s not actually what’s at stake.

A new scam that’s making its way around social media is called the “secret sister” game, and it’s nothing more than an old-fashioned pyramid scheme. In this version, new recruits agree to send a $10 gift—perhaps a candle, some gloves, or some fancy lotion—to the names on the list. They will then turn around and recruit ten more people to do the same, thereby ensuring that they receive $10 gifts from thirty-six people down the line. It seems harmless enough, right?

Wrong. First of all, it violates the terms of service for sites like Facebook, and could result in your account being blocked. In this era of privacy, security and identity theft, there’s simply no reason to participate in a “game” of this kind. Even if you end up a winner, what you win is a houseful of cheap gifts from total strangers. The more likely outcome, though, is the possibility that someone is gathering and storing the personal information on everyone who plays along. This kind of threat is too great to ignore for a cheap candle from someone you’ve never met.

For your own sake, and the safety of your identifying information, you need to file this one in the “something for nothing” scam drawer and get rid of it. Whether it’s money, children’s books, chain letters, or even underwear, no one starts these things because they have too much free time on their hands. There’s typically an underlying motive that you can’t see, and in this case the consequences could be lasting damage to your identity.

As always, anyone who believes their identity has been stolen or their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our 24-hour toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. Scam Detectorleads the way by publishing a top ten list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each week, ones that are either new or on the rise. Take a look at some of their more recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Android Malware Attacks

Many phone users fail to remember one crucial piece of information about their smartphones and tablets: they’re actually minicomputers. They’re susceptible to malware and viruses just like the computer that sits on their desks. This is especially troubling because many users don’t think about installing antivirus protections on their phones, leaving the door wide open for a cybercriminal.

Even worse, with the abundance of social media messaging and text messaging, it’s all too easy for a scammer to send a malicious link to a recipient in the form of a bogus ad or offer, duping the user into clicking and installing the malware.

If you ever receive a message through your device with an offer, an unknown request to update your software, or any other link that you can’t verify, it’s important that you authenticate the content before you click. A simple online search with the details of the message should give you the information you need.

#2 – Halloween Shopping Scam

We just can’t enjoy a good holiday anymore without scammers ruining it somehow. And with Halloween being the second highest consumer spending holiday (after Christmas), it’s no wonder thieves have come out of the woodwork to make a quick buck.

With the abundance of online shopping and the ease of making a cheap and anonymous website, fake Halloween stores are a growing problem. Whether it’s full costumes, decorations, or any accessories you might need, a number of fake websites use stolen images from legitimate Halloween stores to produce what looks like a genuine company. They take your credit card information for the items you think you’re purchasing, but you never receive your goods.

To avoid these stores, be watchful for things on their websites that don’t look right, like strange wording or bad grammar. More importantly, never enter your personal or financial information on a website that doesn’t have an HTTPS designation at the front of its web address. The S indicates it’s a secure site, and that’s something scammers cannot easily fake.

#3 – IP Address Scam

You’re probably used to getting random scammy offers in your email inbox, ones that start with phrases like “Dear Blessed,” or “Attention User.” It’s easy to ignore those because they’re so fake looking. But what about ones that are harder to detect because they actually contain information about you, in this case, your internet service provider? It’s harder to ignore a promise of free rewards when the email specifically says, “Dear CableOne Customer.”

How did the scammer know who your internet company is? It’s in your IP address, an easily located piece of information. Your IP is your connection’s own personal “name,” so to speak, and it’s all over the internet, basically anywhere you visit, comment, or shop. Don’t worry, it’s not usually considered a highly sensitive piece of information, but it can be used to make a phishing email or message look a little more genuine. Remember to avoid scams that promise you something for nothing, something like cash or prizes for responding to an email or filling out a survey, even if they look like they came from a real business.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit or the ITRC website under the Current Scams & Alerts section. Be sure to share this information with others so they can stay informed and protect themselves.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. Scam Detectorleads the way by publishing a top ten list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each week, ones that are either new or on the rise.

Take a look at some of their more recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Senior Emergency Scam

It’s every senior citizen’s nightmare: being trapped at home, injured, and unable to get help. That’s why there are some legitimate organizations that offer services for this exact scenario. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for scammers to piggyback off of a known company name with a similar-sounding name, then cold call senior citizens and rip them off.

When you’re considering ordering any product or service from a salesman who reaches out to you by phone, email, or an old-fashioned mailer, be sure to check the source and verify the offer completely before you sign up or provide any kind of payment. If you can’t verify their company, do not provide any personal details.

#2 – High-End Brand-Name Scam

Look around the streets of any major city and you’ll likely see vendors selling “knock off” items like purses or suitcases. Sometimes the imitation is a pretty good counterfeit to the untrained eye, but other times they’re selling an item that doesn’t even try to mask itself as the real deal. Unfortunately, there’s another realm of scammers involved in counterfeit clothes and items, and they’re the ones who blatantly tell you that these items are the real thing.

Typically, the scammer’s story is that he’s in town for a trade show, fashion show, or other industry-only event, and that he acquired these goods at the show directly from the companies. The only problem is he got too many and will have to pay hefty tariffs and import taxes to take them home. He’s willing to sell you these “Armani” suits or “Gucci” purses for half their value in order to avoid that problem.

But they’re fakes. They were made in China in a counterfeiting factory, and would have cost you twenty bucks from the street vendors who sell these items openly. After all, that’s probably where the scammer bought them!

#3 – Car Donation Scam

There are legitimate charities that can take your old car, sell it for its value, and use the money to further the good work that they do. You get rid of an older model vehicle, you get a tax receipt for the donation in return, and a non-profit group gets to continue its important mission. It’s a great thing all around.

Unfortunately, there are many scams out there that pretend to sell the vehicle and donate the proceeds. By law, a certain percentage of the sale price must go to the charity, but even then the company is allowed to keep some for administrative costs. In too many cases, they simply pocket all of it and you didn’t really give your car to a charity. You’re actually holding a bogus tax receipt on top of it.

Whether it’s donating your car, your money, your time, or any other way that you invest of yourself in a charity, be sure to do your homework and verify that it’s a legitimately recognized non-profit that meets the government’s guidelines.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit or the ITRC website under the Current Scams & Alerts section. Be sure to share this information with others so they can stay informed and protect themselves.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. Scam Detectorleads the way by publishing a top ten list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each week, ones that are either new or on the rise. Take a look at some of their more recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Facebook Privacy Hoax

Facebook is back in the Top Scams this week, this time for the privacy notice hoax. You’ve probably already seen a really weird paragraph posted to some of your friends’ walls that starts out, “Better safe than sorry, this was already reported on Channel 13 news…” Some jokester is once again convincing people that they must post a privacy notice on their Facebook walls to prevent Facebook from using, selling, or gathering their photos or posts.

It’s not true. If you’d actually read those terms of service that you agreed to when you signed up for a Facebook account (you did read all those, right?), you would know exactly what can happen to your content once you post it on social media. It’s out there for anyone to grab, whether you want them to or not. It’s important to also remember the difference between a scam and a hoax, as the second item in this week’s Top Scams illustrates perfectly…

#2 – Facebook Gold Membership Hoax/Scam

Why would anyone bother to start an online hoax like the privacy hoax? There was no money involved and no glory for the guy who thought it up, so what’s the point? Probably it’s just for fun, a game in which he gets to laugh as thousands of people fall victim to believing their content isn’t “safe” anymore. The more people who are gullible enough to share it, the funnier it becomes.

Scams, on the other hand, are not funny… not that hoaxes like this are all that amusing. In a scam like the Gold Membership scam, users are actually told that their accounts will no longer be set to “private” on Facebook unless they pay for a premium membership. Failure to pay will result in all of your content, photos, and posts being immediately made public.

This one isn’t true either, and most of the versions making the rounds don’t actually connect to a link to submit your payment. Once again, it’s just a stupid hoax on the part of the guys who started it. It becomes a scam, however, once someone actually begins to target people for money and tries to collect that fee. Of course, sharing the hoax post can indicate to scammers which social media users are gullible enough to fall for it; that could lead them to message users directly with a link to submit payment. Be aware that Facebook is a free service, and that the company’s own FAQ page states it will never charge the public to use it. Any post you see to the contrary simply isn’t true.

#3 – Medical Coverage Scam

Seniors are once again being hit hard with a scam that targets one of their most vulnerable fears: health coverage. Once again, scammers are coming after the elderly with fake prescription drug coverage, discount plans, and even attempts to get their identifying information by claiming they’re sending out new cards and need to verify the patient’s info.

Do not give out any personal information to someone who contacts you by phone. Whether it’s to verify your account, submit a payment that they claim your coverage provider never received, take payment for a bill that they claim is due, or any other effort to get at your identity or your finances, do not handle it over the phone. All unsolicited transactions should be handled via mail or through a phone call that you initiate to your provider using a phone number you have for the company.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit or the ITRC website under the Current Scams & Alerts section. Be sure to share this information with others so they can stay informed and protect themselves.

There’s another Facebook hoax going around, one that insists you must now pay a fee if you want to keep your account private on the popular social media website. Luckily, according to the original hoax post, you can skirt the fee by posting on your wall something to the effect that you do not give Facebook permission to use your content, you own the copyright to all your photos, etc.

It’s a hoax. Utterly, completely, entirely a hoax. Harmless, but still pointless. But if that’s the case, what does someone stand to gain from starting it in the first place? First, you have to look for the differences in a hoax and a scam. In a scam, someone is trying to get something from you—usually money or your personal identifiable information—while a hoax, is just a silly joke or an attempt to spread a negative rumor about a company or entity. For all we know, the originator of the latest in a long line of similar hoaxes did it just to see if he could get people to share it. A more nefarious reason might be to see which social media users are gullible enough to fall for such a ridiculous concept, and then attempt to target those individuals with actual fee-based scams.

Sadly, hoaxes like this one go viral because they’re too easy to share across a vast network of connections and because they play up our emotions. Who enjoys the thought of waking up one day and finding out that Facebook changed the setting on all of your children’s pictures to Public? Or the thought that the US government leaves military dogs behind to fend for themselves after troops return home to the States (a hoax that has even gotten national attention in the op-ed sections of major newspapers… it’s not true at all, but that doesn’t stop people from sharing it on Facebook)?

It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of both hoaxes and scams. Sharing a hoax really only garners you some embarrassment but can change other users’ perceptions of you. The last thing you want is for your boss to find your ludicrous post that states, “In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention).” Hint: there’s no such thing as the Berner Convention, and you’d know exactly what Facebook can do with your content if you’d actually read the Terms of Service when you signed up.

As for scams, though, it’s vital that you recognize the signs of a scam in order to protect yourself from financial harm or identity theft. In scams, you’re often offered something outrageous for free and then led to another location to pay a fee, some taxes, shipping and handling, or other strange cost. Any offer that expects you to submit a lot of very sensitive information about yourself is also likely to be a scam. Remember to keep you guard up and stay alert to the tactics that thieves and jokesters use in order to avoid embarrassment or actual harm.

Each week, the Identity Theft Resource Center works with some of the top industry experts to provide consumers with updates about threats to their personal data. Scam Detectorleads the way by publishing a top ten list of scams, fraud attempts, and other threats each week, ones that are either new or on the rise.

Take a look at some of their more recent top scams or fraud attempts.

#1 – Free Hotel Stay

This scam is so strange because it’s partly legitimate. You really do get to stay in a nice hotel… for free!

Often as a marketing tactic through previous travel you’ve booked, you receive an email telling you that you’ve won a free hotel stay in a sought-after locale. The problem is how you plan to get there: when you call the agency to redeem your free accommodations, there’s a catch. You are required to book your airfare through that agency in order to claim your free stay.

Why are they giving you a free hotel stay? Because they’re going to more than make up for that cost by gouging you on the travel fees, sometimes charging you as much as double what you’d pay if you’d booked it yourself. Be mindful any time you’re offered something for nothing, and be on the watch for “too good to be true” deals.

#2 – Customer Appreciation Scam

Businesses rely on happy customers to keep their doors open and to spread the word. So customer appreciation isn’t an unheard of marketing tactic. But here’s what is unheard of: companies offering you a gift as their way of thanking you, then charging you for the gift.

If you ever receive a phone call or mailer that offers you something in exchange for payment of the “taxes and shipping,” or other bogus charges, that’s not a thank you! Ignore the mailer and end the call with the representative immediately; by paying these fees with your information, credit card, or bank account number, you could be giving your identity to a scammer.

#3 – Utilities Payment Scam

Fall weather is on its way, and those pleasantly crisp mornings when you step out to get the paper may be the reason why this very common scam is back on the rise.

When you receive a phone call from someone who claims to be from one of your utility companies, it’s understandable to be worried. When the caller tells you that your last payment wasn’t received and your service is about to be shut off, that’s when the panic can really set in. (You can see why this one’s popular in the fall and winter. After all, you were just threatened with having your heat cut off!)

Of course, the scammer has an easy remedy for you: payment over the phone. Then he’ll nab your personal identifiable information and your credit card information. But don’t worry, it’s very easy to protect yourself from this scam: when the caller tells you that payment hasn’t been received, simply say, “Oh, how strange! Let me call up my checking account online and verify that it went through.” There’s not much he can do after that, and he’ll likely hang up.

Never, ever make payment over the phone for a missed bill, whether it’s for your utilities, a credit card, a loan payment, or other account. Always verify the authenticity of the caller’s information for yourself by dialing your company directly and getting the approval to mail another check if there actually has been an error.

For the rest of this week’s top scams, visit or the ITRC website under the Current Scams & Alerts section. Be sure to share this information with others so they can stay informed and protect themselves.