Winter 2015 Fraud News

Home Winterization Scams.

The cooler days and nights of autumn are upon us, and that has many people thinking about getting their homes ready for winter. This can include many things, but often, a chief focus is the furnace and getting it inspected and/or tuned up. Which is where some scammers—both individuals and even some businesses—might prey on unsuspecting consumers. Here are some tips to avoid potential frauds.

  • Aggressive and frightening language like “emergency” or “must fix” can often be a ploy to make you act unnecessarily. Also, if the service person offers an “emergency discount” for a suggested repair, it might be a scare tactic. Be wary.
  • If a repair is suggested, educate yourself on the issue and consider getting a second opinion—it might be better to pay for peace of mind from another home visit than to shell out hundreds on a repair you don’t need to make.
  • As always, if the price for the service you’re getting seems too good to be true, it probably is.
To avoid the possibility of a scam, it’s always best to be a smart consumer. Try to stay on top of regular maintenance activities—to keep the equipment from overworking, change the filter each month, vacuum the dust from the vents around the house, and vacuum out any dust or debris from the blower. If you feel you still need a tune-up or an inspection, do some homework instead of choosing the first service person you come across. Get inspection referrals from people you trust. Simply using the services of someone off the street might be a recipe for losing money.

Check with the Better Business Bureau for the company’s track record, and go online to see if that business has had any complaints or criminal actions. By arming yourself with knowledge, you’ll be less likely to get tripped up by a scam.

Tax fraud during the tax season.

All too often, scammers target the elderly or people for whom English is a second language, because these populations are more susceptible to their tricks. However, perpetrators of an IRS scam are now upping their tactics and are targeting a broader range of potential victims—in short, no one is immune.

In this scam, the fraudster poses as an IRS agent who is trying to collect back taxes or penalties. To seem more authentic, the scammer will often modify the incoming caller ID display to show “IRS” or another agency name and will identify him- or herself with an official-sounding but fake badge number and title. He or she might have researched the victim for enough public information to be able to provide the victim’s full name, address, and even birth date, which makes the call seem that much more realistic. The scammer is convincing enough—using scare tactics like jail or deportation threats—that the victim will often be persuaded to divulge more personal information (like social security number, bank accounts, or credit card numbers). Or the story is convincing enough that the victim will follow the scammer’s instructions to get a prepaid card or debit card from the bank.

These types of phone calls are frightening, and the scammers are preying on victims’ immediate and very real fear to get what they want. The best defense against these types of ploys is to understand the truth. First, the IRS will never call a taxpayer regarding fees owed—they will always use the mail. Second, their official web address is—any site that ends in .com, .net, .org, or other is not the official IRS site. Third, the IRS will not bully a taxpayer with threats of dire consequences. Fourth, the IRS will not ask for personal information (such as social security numbers or account information)—and it’s always best practice to not give that information to someone who has called out of the blue. Fifth, a true IRS agent would have no problem with you calling their official toll-free number—if the person on the phone won’t let you hang up, you’ve got a scammer on your hands.

Always remember, if you have been the victim of this or any other very convincing fraud, be sure to contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at immediately.