Bamboozled January 1, 2018: Top scams to watch for in 2018

New Medicare cards will be coming this year, so watch out for scammers calling with Medicare-related requests. Here's what the new card looks like.
New Medicare cards will be coming this year, so watch out for scammers calling with Medicare-related requests. Here’s what the new card looks like.(Medicare.gov)

The new year will bring new scams, but you can be sure to see some oldies return.

That’s because scammers stick with what works, and unfortunately, the tricksters are still finding victims.

We wish we could say “out with the old” would work here, but instead, consumers will have to fight against the old, and some new, too.

Here are Bamboozled’s top scams to watch for in 2018.

1. MEDICARE CARD SCAMS

Even if you don’t receive Medicare, make sure to warn your older loved ones about this.

Finally, Medicare recipients will receive new cards — cards that no longer use Social Security numbers as identifiers. It will instead use what’s being called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier, which will be a randomly-assigned 11-character ID made of numbers and uppercase letters.

That’s fantastic news.

You don’t need to take any action to get your new Medicare card, but scammers will try to fool you.

First, know that Medicare will never call, email or text you to ask for your personal information to get your new card and new number. And the new card won’t cost you any money. Medicare is going to start sending the new cards in April 2018, and it will continue to distribute the new cards through April 2019.

Armed with that information, we hope you will beware of trickery surrounding the new cards.

You might hear from a con artist who claims to represent Medicare. They may tell you they need to confirm your Social Security number so they can send you the new card. Or they may ask you to verify other personal information.

They may also use scare tactics, such as saying your Medicare benefits will be cancelled if you don’t share the information.

They could also ask for your credit card number, or tell you to wire money or buy gift cards, to pay for the new card.

They’re all scams.

2. TAX SCAMS WILL CONTINUE

Tax scams have been the most common of all scams for years now. There are many varieties, and we’re sure to see more in the wake of the newly passed tax bill.

One of these scams happens when a scammer, who has obtained your private information, files a tax return in your name. They get a hunky refund, and when you finally file your return, the IRS will put a halt to things while it works out the scam. This could tie up your refund for a year or longer, and it will make things messy down the road as you’ll need to take extra steps to protect your identity. Your best protection is to file your tax return as early in the year as possible so you beat the scammers to it.

You may receive a call from someone who is impersonating an IRS agent. The caller says you owe back taxes and if you don’t pay immediately — usually with a wire transfer or a gift card — a warrant will be issued for your arrest. Know the IRS won’t ever call to ask you for a payment (though the IRS now does work with debt collectors who may call representing the agency). If you get this kind of call, just hang up and call the IRS at (800) 829-1040.

A newer tax scam targets businesses. Criminals will pretend to be a company executive, and they’ll send emails to payroll and human resources employees. They’ll ask for private information about employees, including copies of W-2 forms. If the scammers get W-2 information, they’ll have everything they need to file a fake tax return in your name.

Similarly, scammers have tricked tax preparers into giving out private information. Have a chat with yours to see how they protect your data.

Also note that despite President Trump’s hopes, we can’t file taxes on a post card yet. Watch out for mailings of fake tax post cards that will ask for all your private information.

3. CRYPTOCURRENCY MINING SCAMS

You’ve heard of scams when someone is able to take control of your computer or other device.

You’ve also heard of Bitcoin, a digital currency.

This newish scam is a whopper, and we fear it’s only the beginning.

You can get Bitcoin by buying them, accepting them for a payment or by “mining” new Bitcoin. It’s a complex process to mine for Bitcoin, but what you need to know is that it takes massive computer power to get it done.

That’s where the hackers come in.

Security experts have reported an increase in cyberattacks as some miners have put malware out there so they can gain access to the computing power of unsuspecting victims. The malware has been found in hacked sites and even in Chrome extensions.

Now this is more of a threat to businesses that have large computer networks — the kind of power miners would look for — but that doesn’t mean your personal computer couldn’t be compromised.

Just make sure you have a good virus program and you update the software regularly.

4. CYBER EXTORTION

Cyber extortion is a fancy new name for an old scam, but it’s one we’re sure to see continue into the new year.

This is when con artists trick you into giving them access to your computer.
It could happen if you click on a bad link or open an email that downloads malware onto your machine. Or it could happen if you’re duped by a caller who says they work for a computer outfit like Microsoft or Windows, and they’re calling to report a problem with your machine.

However the scammer gets access to your device, the next part of the scam is the same. They will lock up your machine and refuse to release it — unless you pay.

Like other computer-related scams, the best way to avoid this is to be on the lookout for email attachments you don’t recognize, don’t click on pop-up windows that claim your computer is infected, and hang up if a caller says he represents a software company.

5. DATA BREACHES

Last year’s Equifax data breach exposed the private information of some 143 million people.

You’d think all the past data hacks would have sounded an alarm to companies that hold our personal info, but apparently not.

We’re willing to bet there will be more big data breaches this year.

There’s nothing you can do to avoid having your information stolen if the companies you do business with don’t keep it safe, but you can keep an eye on your credit to make sure no one is fraudulently using your information or taking out loans in your name.

Look out for these scams that could come post-Equifax.

You can check your three credit reports once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com. We recommend you check one every four months so you can spread your reviews over the year.

You can also consider putting a freeze on your credit reports, which will stop anyone — including you — from opening new credit in your name. You can learn more about that here.

Here’s to hoping you all, dear readers, have a scam-free 2018. But if it goes the other way, you know where to find us.

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