April 11, 2010 | Cleveland Live | Original Article

Tax schemes, census job scams, health care cons top list of latest scams

Sure, you would never fall for a scam.

Everyone thinks that, right up to the minute they get conned.

By working headlines and deadlines, scammers have tricked many of us into handing over valuable personal information or cash.

The important topics we've been reading a lot about lately -- tax credits, the 2010 census, health-care reform -- those have already been incorporated into a new batch of scams.

Scammers riff off events in the news so that their come-ons have a familiar ring. They tell us we have to act now or we'll lose out. They borrow names we trust.

And sometimes, we're so swamped with the demands of everyday life that we find ourselves acting before our brains can say, "Hey, wait a minute. . . ."

But sometimes if you know what scams are lurking out there, you can spot them faster.

Here are scams to watch out for right now:

Tax scams

Refunds. With April's tax-filing deadline looming, taxpayers have been falling for two freshly tweaked scams that use the IRS name.

One is a phishing, or information-collecting, scam that says the IRS discovered it owes the taxpayer a slightly bigger refund. Luis Garcia, spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service, said the amount is usually small enough -- $68 to $200 -- that it sounds plausible.

The e-mailed link takes taxpayers to a spoof site, one that looks like the real IRS site. There, taxpayers fill out forms that ask for Social Security and bank account numbers. Say hello, ID theft.

Penalties. These e-mails, which tend to target mom-and-pop outfits, warn that a company is under investigation by the IRS. The e-mail offers to drop the company from the probe if it pays a small penalty.

The IRS never notifies taxpayers of investigations or requests personal information through unsolicited e-mails. Never.

Census scams

Jobs. This spring, the government is hiring thousands of part-time census takers to rouse folks who haven't filled out their census forms by going door to door.

Scammers have always tried to "sell" consumers access to government jobs, and the Federal Trade Commission warns job hunters to watch out for census job scams.

Watch for these red flags: Requests for payment for job applications, test tips or guaranteed access to a federal job.

If you or someone you know is interested in a census job, apply by calling the toll-free jobs hot line at 1-866-861-2010 or find job openings at2010.census.gov/2010censusjobs. You can also go through the phone center or Web site to verify that a job offer is real.

Census info. Scammers target citizens filling out census forms, too. Real census workers never collect census information online, ask for Social Security or account numbers, or request money.

Insurance scams

Phony policies. Ink on the health-care bill was barely dry when scammers began going door to door. AARP reported that sellers in Missouri posed as government officials to try to scare people into buying phony policies.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department last week warned state insurance commissioners to help combat the scams. Watch for high-pressure sales tactics and false claims that the law requires you to buy insurance. (Requirements that individuals buy insurance won't go into effect until 2014.) Do not invite sellers into your home.

If you are tempted to buy health insurance, get materials in writing so you can compare several plans first.

The Ohio Department of Insurance requires insurance companies and agents selling in Ohio to be licensed with the state. Check on a seller's license by calling 1-800-686-1526.

Miscellaneous scams

Online sales. Lots of phonies are still buying and selling through sites like Craig's List. Watch out for overseas missionaries selling nonexistent puppies or renting out properties they don't own.

Cybersquatters. The Cleveland Better Business Bureau just warned about sound-alike sites like the one run by Tiffany & Company On Sale -- which despite the name is not affiliated with the real Tiffany & Co. The fake site's URL ends with "mn," which means it's in Mongolia. The BBB says phonies use sound-alike names or URLs to lure customers looking for name-brand items to sites where they are sold inferior goods (if they get goods at all).

• Inbox warnings. If you get spam reports, watch for a faux e-mail that looks like it's from a systems administrator. It contains a link where you can retrieve the quarantined items from the "junk box," followed by this give-away line: "Login using your standard username/password combination."

Online surveys. A reader recently received a customer-satisfaction survey from his bank. When he called Bank of America, it confirmed it hadn't sent the e-mail. This one looks like a twist on those bank security alert e-mails that try to nab passwords.