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Consumers Beware: 5 Tips to Keep you Scam-Free this Summer

For the majority of Americans who plan to take a vacation, attend a concert, or work on their home or garden this summer, this season comes with its own unique consumer challenges. Here are the top five scams and frauds to be alert for this time of year:

  1. Don’t buy gas additives that claim to increase fuel mileage. Even though gas prices go up in the summer, the Environmental Protection Agency has not found any product that significantly improves gas mileage, and some could damage a car’s engine or increase exhaust emissions.

  1. Unlicensed home repair or landscaping contractors may come to your door to offer services. Always research contractors, pay for services upon completion—not ahead of time— and consider using a signed contract outlining the work to be done and the exact price.

  1. Interested in a summer concert or festival? If you buy tickets from a major vendor, remember surcharges and additional fees may be tacked onto the listed price. Some venues require the same credit card used to purchase tickets be presented when the tickets are picked up, so if you’re buying tickets for someone as a gift, they may have difficulty getting them at will-call.

  1. When renting a beach or lake house for vacation, make sure the property actually exists. Do your homework before paying— check out the owner or rental company, consult maps and read the lease carefully. Pay with an online payment service or a credit card so you can dispute the charges if something goes wrong.

  1. When flying, make sure you’re aware of the airline’s baggage charges and their policy when it comes to bumping passengers. A lot of airlines “bump” depending on how late you checked in, so check in ASAP!

For more advice on protecting your money, order the Consumer Action Handbook, and follow USA.gov on Facebook and Twitter. If you have your own consumer questions, ask us using the hashtag #AskMarietta, and we’ll answer them live during a Google hangout on Tuesday, June 24 at 3 p.m. ET.  

Image description: The IRS is warning of a phone scam targeting tax payers.
Scammers are calling tax payers and telling them they owe the IRS money and need to pay it immediately through a pre-loaded credit card or wire transfer.
If you don’t pay, the scammers claim you could be arrested, deported or have your driver’s or business license suspended.
Remember, the IRS will never initiate contact with you over the phone, email or social media to request personal information.
Visit IRS.gov to learn more about the scam and how to report it.

Image description: The IRS is warning of a phone scam targeting tax payers.

Scammers are calling tax payers and telling them they owe the IRS money and need to pay it immediately through a pre-loaded credit card or wire transfer.

If you don’t pay, the scammers claim you could be arrested, deported or have your driver’s or business license suspended.

Remember, the IRS will never initiate contact with you over the phone, email or social media to request personal information.

Visit IRS.gov to learn more about the scam and how to report it.

Watch Out for Scams Targeting Military Members or Veterans

There are a number of scams currently circulating that target members of the military and veterans, such as fake military charities, identity theft targeting active service members, and veteran pension scams.

In general, all of these scams try to take advantage of military members by offering to provide a service and then taking your money, while you get nothing in return.

You can learn more about specific scams by visiting the Scams Targeting Service Members or Veterans section of StopFraud.gov.

If you’ve been the victim of a scam, there are a few ways to file a complaint:

StopFraud.gov offers information about how to report financial fraud.

Stock Scams Go Social

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently charged a man with trying to sell $500 billion worth of fake securities on the online social network LinkedIn. It’s a reminder that crime goes where the people go, and the people are on social media websites like LinkedIn and Facebook.

The SEC has advice to help you stay safe from online investment fraudsters.

  • On the Internet, it’s easy for criminals to make scams that look real. Always use caution when considering an investment you found online.
  • Be suspicious of unsolicited offers. If you didn’t ask for it, and you don’t know the source, there’s a good chance of bad intentions.
  • The old rule about too good to be true still stands, even in new media. Compare the promised returns with the returns on well-known stock indexes. More signs of foul play include guaranteed returns and pressure to buy right now.
  • Tighten your privacy settings. Fraudsters can use your private information to steal from you or scam you. “Don’t you remember me from college?”
  • Is a financial service provider trying to Friend you? Feel free to say no. Friending someone can mean you let them see everything about you.
  • When you’re on social media, never communicate your bank account and social security numbers. Always use firm-sponsored communication for brokers and advisers, like the telephone, letters, firm email, and the firm website.
  • Affinity fraud is what the SEC calls it when the fraudster prays on what you have in common, like ethnicity or religion. Even if you know the person, check out everything first. They might have been fooled first.
  • Another trick is manipulating the market with “Pump and Dump.” They’ll talk up a stock that doesn’t deserve it, then sell after everyone buys and the price is high.

If you’re a personal investor who spends time on the Internet, you may want to read these PDFs from the SEC on avoiding fraud and understanding your accounts.