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Tax Scams: What to Expect in 2019

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

I received this article via email from Scambusters.org. They have very good information each week and you might want to subscribe to their newsletter.

It used to be that this time of year was the season for tax scams — during the run-up to Tax Day itself.

But no longer. Tax scams are a year-round event with crooks, in the main, either posing as the IRS trying to trick you into sending them money or faking a taxpayer’s identity to claim a refund. For example, one of the newest and most widespread tricks, known as the tax transcript scam, involves a fairly convincing phishing attempt that isn’t tied to the filing season.

Victims receive an email pretending to be from “IRS Online” with an attachment labeled “Tax Account Transcript.” Genuine transcripts are summaries of individuals’ tax records and histories. But this attachment carries a dangerous payload — a piece of malware that tries to steal information from your PC. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says not only does the agency not send unsolicited emails like this to the public, it also would never email a sensitive document such as a transcript to anyone. So, if you receive one of these messages, you know what to do: don’t click on the attachment, just delete the email.

Last year, the IRS reported a more than 60% rise in tax email phishing schemes. That doesn’t include the number of impostors — bogus callers — claiming to be with the agency, demanding payment of non-existent tax debts. According to a recent online report from Forbes magazine, tax impostor scams have netted more than $63 million for the crooks during the past five years.

The IRS repeatedly stresses that it never calls people to demand immediate payment. Nor does it threaten to involve law enforcement or arrest you for non-payment or ask you to pay bills via gift cards.

How the IRS Contacts You : “The IRS initiates most contacts with taxpayers through regular mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service,” the agency explains. “However, there are special circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as:
* When a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill
* To secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or
* To tour a business, for example, as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.

“Even then, taxpayers will generally first receive a letter or sometimes more than one letter, often called notices, from the IRS in the mail.”

If you do receive a suspicious message purporting to be from the IRS claiming you owe money, don’t get involved in a phone conversation or chain of emails. Instead, call the agency at 1-800-829-1040 to check it out.

Despite the year-round nature of some of these tricks, there’s no doubt that the coming weeks remain the hottest for tax scams, ranging from fraudulent refund claims to shady and fake tax preparers.

The agency’s own list of the most common scams — updated in 2018 — which it calls the “dirty dozen,” names them as: phishing, phone scams, identity theft, return preparer fraud, fake charities, inflated refund claims, excessive claims for business credits, falsely padding deduction on returns, falsifying income to claim credits, frivolous tax arguments, abusive tax shelters and offshore tax avoidance.

Five Key Actions : Note that a number of these actually relate to fraud committed by taxpayers themselves. The rest cover just about every type of scam around today. To protect yourself against these types of crimes, here are 5 key actions you should take.

1. Safeguard your personal information, notably your Social Security number. Ensure you have up to date security software on your PC to avoid data theft,

2. File your tax return as soon as possible. If it’s rejected, it’s possibly because someone already fraudulently claimed your refund. You’ll need to complete an Identity Theft Affidavit to put this right. Download it here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf

3. If you plan to use a tax preparer, seek recommendations from trusted acquaintances. Always check out the preparer’s credentials. Here are 10 tips from the IRS on how to choose: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/ten-tips-for-choosing-a-tax-preparer

4. Don’t be persuaded by individuals or groups claiming that, for some obscure reason, you don’t have to pay tax at all. This is what the IRS refers to as “frivolous tax arguments.” Learn more here: https://www.irs.gov/privacy-disclosure/the-truth-about-frivolous-tax-arguments-introduction

5. Don’t be tempted to make untrue statements or claims on your own return. If you do, you potentially risk going to jail.

One final point: If you need to visit the IRS online, go straight to www.irs.gov. Any other address that turns up in a Google, Bing, Yahoo or other search could be a fake, even if it looks like it belongs to the IRS.

Paying taxes is a painful fact of life. Don’t make it hurt even more by falling for a tax scam — remain skeptical and vigilant!

It’s a new year!

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

We are two weeks into the new year. Did you make resolutions? Are you keeping them? One resolution that could help you financially is to take a look at your insurance. Have you updated your homeowner’s policy lately? Have you started an equine business such as boarding or lessons? Has your horse increased in value or do you need to think about medical coverage?

Fry’s Equine Insurance is here to help you with your equine insurance.

If you own a horse, we are here to help you look at the options available from mortality (life insurance) to medical (colic, surgeries, accident-sickness-disease coverage). Many horse owners don’t realize they have a liability exposure as well – if your horse hurts someone, you could be named in the claim (even if the horse is boarded somewhere).

If you are a trainer or instructor, we can give you the liability protection you need.

If you own a farm and you are running a boarding operation and/or giving lessons or training, we can help you with the right type of policy. Many homeowners policies don’t cover your barns properly and there may be exclusions if you are running an equine operation. Do you have independents on your property? Are they carrying the proper coverage for you as well?

Give Fry’s Equine Insurance Agency at all 614-875-3711 or 614-875-3755 and we will be happy to listen to you and answer your questions. We aren’t trying to sell you just any policy but rather we are here to help you choose the right policy for you.

Call Spoofing: Why You Should Never Trust Caller ID

Friday, January 4th, 2019

Call Spoofing: Why You Should Never Trust Caller ID **Article courtesy of SpamBusters.org

A new Social Security call spoofing scam provides all the evidence needed for why you should never trust caller ID. Spoofing is a computer tactic used by scammers to trick your caller ID service. Instead of revealing who’s on the line, a spoofed call appears to come from someone else — in fact, whoever the scammer wants it to be.

According to Hiya, a company that specializes in blocking spam phone calls, more than half of all calls received by its customers in the first half of 2018 were spoofed — both on landlines and cell phones.

In the latest incident, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) says crooks are spoofing its main customer service line — 800-772-1213. Mostly, however, that number is used by folks dialing into the SSA, not for outgoing calls from the organization. So if it shows up on your caller ID, there a pretty good chance it’s a fake call.

In this case, as so often, the scammers are after personal information including your Social Security number (SSN), which they can use for identity theft. They may even try threatening to cut off your benefits if you don’t give them the info. But, when you think of it, how could someone cut off your benefit when they supposedly don’t know your SSN? It’s a dead giveaway for a scam. In other cases, they may claim to be offering an increase in benefits in return for your cooperation.

SSA Acting Inspector General Gale Stone says the Administration doesn’t ask for SSNs if it has to phone people for customer service purposes. Nor, of course, do they make threats to withdraw benefit.

If you get one of these calls, the best solution is not to answer it at all. But if you do and the caller asks for your SSN, it’s definitely not the Social Security people — so just hang up.

If you’re worried, you can always call that same number given above and connect to the genuine department to check.

You can also visit www.medicare.gov/fraud to learn more about keeping your number and your card out of the hands of crooks.

Another favorite call spoofing trick that scammers are increasingly using is to mimic local area phone code calls, which they know people are more likely to answer, especially if the number is similar to the victim’s own number.

Jonathan Nelson, director of Reputation Data at Hiya was recently quoted by the Consumer Affairs website as saying: “Scammers are never idle with their tactics and, with the neighbor scam, they are experimenting with all the ways to spoof their number to get consumers to pick up the phone.”

Once again, the best tactic is to ignore calls that come from numbers you don’t recognize. And if you do recognize it but it turns out to be a spoofed call, hang up.

A couple of things you shouldn’t do: Don’t get involved in a conversation if the caller is a real person. Just hang up.

And, if it’s a recorded call (robocall) that invites you to key in a certain number to eliminate future calls, don’t do that either. The scammers just use that as an indicator that you’re really there on the end of the line and that, potentially, you’re gullible.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign of an improvement in the spoofing crime or in the reduction of robocalls.

Another spam-blocking company, First Orion, recently told a government hearing on call spoofing earlier this year: “The fraudsters are very sophisticated, evolving their practices to avoid being labeled or blocked. As a result, we are in an arms race, not a marathon with a finish line, and will be in it until we make it unprofitable.”

And the Washington Post says that half of all complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were about unwanted calls. The FCC estimates Americans received around 2.4 billion unwanted calls every month.

Yes, you can try to limit unwanted calls by signing up for the free Do Not Call registry (1-888-382-1222). But crooks are unlikely to take any notice of this list.

If you’re lucky, your phone service provider also may offer some kind of call filtering service.

Or you can consider using call-blocking services such as those mentioned here (we’re not recommending them as we haven’t tested them).

Remember, the scammers are constantly trying to find ways around call-blocking technology.

Ultimately, your best defense is, first, to be wary and skeptical whenever your phone starts ringing, ignoring or doubting your caller ID.

Second, if you do pick up, refuse absolutely to give confidential information in response to any incoming call. After all, there’s a near 50 percent chance it’s a call spoofing scam.

Keep your insurance up-to-date

Monday, December 10th, 2018

The holidays are upon us but don’t forget to keep your insurance up-to-date.

Did you get a new horse recently or maybe one is coming for Christmas? You may want to get insurance for mortality/medical.

Do we need to update your farm policy with new jewelry to schedule? Or have you added a building?

It is important to keep your insurance policy in mind whenever you make a change like purchasing an item (such as jewelry, tack, cameras) or activities change (you start boarding horses, you rent your house out, you start another business). Some changes won’t require a change to your policy but it is always a good idea to talk with your agent.

Wishing you a very happy and prosperous 2019!

Stay safe shopping online

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Staying Safe When Shopping Online this Holiday Season – from Third Federal Savings & Loan newsletter

There’s no better time to shop online than during the holidays – no fighting traffic to drive to the mall and making endless circles around the parking lot. It is easy to compare prices between multiple retailers online, and read product reviews before you buy. Online stores are open 24/7, and you can even wear your pajamas while you shop. But, nothing can ruin your holidays more quickly than becoming a victim of a cybercrime. Follow these tips to help keep the Grinch from stealing your personal information when shopping online this holiday season.

  • Buy from a secure site. Reputable websites use technologies that encrypt your data during transmission. Look for a small padlock in the address bar or a URL that starts with “https” instead of “http,” as the “s” stands for secure. Do not enter payment information on a website that is not secure.
  • Make sure everything is up-to-date. Make sure your software is updated, and install new updates as they become available. This includes: your operating system, browser, antivirus software and any apps on your computer, or mobile devices. Hackers are on the lookout for security vulnerabilities in unpatched systems. These vulnerabilities are regularly being repaired in updates.
  • Be careful of your clicks. Your inbox may be full of emails promoting great holiday deals, but beware of clicking on links included in those emails. It could be a phishing scheme where shoppers who click through are led to a site designed to steal your personal information. If the deal is too good to pass up, go to the retailer’s official website to make the purchase.
  • Don’t make purchases on public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi connections are easily compromised, making your shopping and payment activity accessible to hackers. If you are using a public network, it’s best to limit yourself to window-shopping and price comparing, rather than buying, saving your purchases for when you are on a secure network connection.
  • Don’t let a website save your credit card information. As you check out on a retailer’s website, you might see an option to save your credit card information for faster payment on your next visit. Do not let websites save your credit card or banking information. While it is more work to type it in each time, if the website is breached by hackers, your information is less likely to be compromised.

Just as you would exercise caution with your wallet or purse in a crowded store, remember to be cautious online. Keep your cyber information secure while enjoying safe shopping online this holiday season.

Why That Warranty You Bought Might Be Worthless

Friday, November 9th, 2018

This article is from Scambusters Newsletter and may provide valuable information – especially as we are looking into buying high-ticket items during Black Friday season.  Did you know that some retailers start their Black Friday pricing in early November?

Do you feel confused, bamboozled and even suspicious when anyone utters the word “warranty” to you? Or, when a letter or email arrives saying your warranty is about to expire?

You are not alone. Warranties are supposed to protect you against faults with products you bought. But sometimes they’re like a license to print money for whoever’s offering them.

For instance, did you know that, according to Consumer Reports magazine, retailers and manufacturers who offer “extended warranties” — sometimes referred to as service contracts, a type of insurance that kicks in after a standard warranty expires — pocket 50% of the fee you pay?

That’s one reason why the magazine says you’re better off putting money aside every month to cover faults and repairs, rather than buying a warranty.

With domestic appliances, for example, the publication found that even when a consumer had to pay for repairs themselves, the cost was only on average $26 more than a service contract fee. And bear in mind most consumers don’t suffer a product fault or failure.

(It’s worth reading the magazine’s full report, which you’ll find here: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/extended-warranties/buying-guide/index.htm)

In some cases too, warranties or service contracts are a downright scam, especially when whoever issued them refuses to honor them, either ignoring claims or using small print to wriggle out of their legal commitment.

In one example, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has come down on companies who said they wouldn’t honor warranties if the consumer either used a non-branded part or an unauthorized repair shop, or if the “warranty” seal on the product was broken.

Those restrictions are illegal says the FTC.

More recently, the agency has addressed confusion about the difference between regular and extended warranties, or service contracts.

The cost of a standard warranty usually is included in the price of the product you buy and is covered by the manufacturer. But you usually have to pay for an extended warranty or service contract, which may be issued by an insurer, other third party, or the original manufacturer themselves.

Oftentimes, a sales person will use high-pressure tactics to try to force you into buying the extended coverage at the time you make your initial purchase, warning that the deal won’t be available afterwards and implying you’d be foolish to miss out. That’s because they get paid commission for selling them.

In some cases, the contract you buy might cover exactly the same period of time your manufacturer’s warranty does. Or they may just cover part of the product. Either way, you’re pouring money down the drain.

Other times, you receive an official-looking warranty expiry/renewal notice in the mail, which is actually just sent out on spec to random consumers, when the issuer really has no idea when the product warranty they’re writing about — usually a car — finishes.

Whoever sent it often adds to the buy-now pressure by including a list of the high costs of having to pay for repairs yourself.

If you fall for this, again, you might be duplicating coverage you already have or, in a worst case scenario, just handing over money for nothing to a scammer.

Consumer champion and broadcaster Clark Howard reported this past August that these dubious vehicle service contract (VSC) providers “often go bust and leave their customers high and dry when repair bills need to be paid.”

And he draws attention to small print get-out clauses in one sample bill which insisted consumers making a claim first had to pay a deductible out of their own pockets. They were also required to produce every single receipt showing they had followed recommended service requirements before the policy would pay out.

He suggests that if you can cover the cost of repairs from your own wallet, you should never buy one of these contracts. If money is likely to be an issue, only consider buying coverage from the manufacturer, never from a third party.

We’d also like to add that you should never buy an extended warranty or service contract without first reading it, including the tedious small print, looking particularly for get-out clauses.

And if you’re thinking about buying an official extended warranty on a new auto from the dealer, think twice.

First, this may not be from the manufacturer but just another third-party warranty company. Check who the warranty is from. If it’s not the maker, ask the dealer if the manufacturer offers an extended warranty.

Just as important, bear in mind that the reliability of new cars these days means that claims are rarely made on an extended auto warranty, which often cost a couple thousand dollars. It’s easy money for the seller but not for you.

Holiday Hours for Fry’s Equine Insurance announced

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

Fry’s Equine Insurance announces holiday hours for 2018:

Thanksgiving, we will be closed on Thursday and Friday, November 22nd and 23rd.

Christmas, we will be closed Monday and Tuesday, December 24th and 25th.

New Years, we will be working Monday morning 9-12 on December 31st and closed on January 1st.

If an emergency comes up, our agent-on-call can be reached at insurehorses@gmail.com – this email is good anytime the office is closed (after hours, holidays, weekends).

We highly recommend that you have your policy information on hand in case you need to contact claims immediately (in the event of an emergency with your horse).

Beware Flooded Cars in Resale Market

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

CarFax estimates that 480,000 vehicles were flooded and have found their way back onto roads and dealer lots after hurricanes Florence and Michael hit the United States. The five cities with the most flooded cars on the market include Houston, New York City, Miami, Philadelphia, and Dallas. Consumers are cautioned to look for obvious water damage to upholstery and carpeting, and have a used car inspected by a trusted mechanic before buying. Vehicle identification numbers also can be run through a title-search service to determine if a vehicle has been reported as being flooded or salvaged. CarFax is also letting consumers check to see if any used vehicles they’re considering were reported as previously flooded at carfax.com/flood.

Information from the PIA National Newsletter

Credit freeze vs lock from Scambuster Newsletter

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

No-Cost Credit Freezes Step Up Battle to Beat ID Thieves

Hardly a week goes by these days without news of a data breach that’s resulted in thousands or even millions of confidential records being stolen by hackers.

That makes it more important than ever to know what to do to protect yourself — and top of your list should be knowing how to implement a credit freeze or security freeze with the big three credit reporting agencies.

A freeze restricts outside access to your personal credit record with each of the agencies.

At the same time, people who are concerned about the security of their data can also place a fraud alert on their records, which requires banks and other lenders to check with you before opening accounts in your name.

Banks, other financial institutions, and other businesses offering credit always check a person’s record and credit score with these agencies before lending money.

If the record is frozen, they’ll tell the lender who won’t get the information they need, and whoever made the application won’t get their money. If you happen to be the borrower, you can temporarily lift the freeze to get your money.

In the past, freezing credit tended to be a somewhat complicated process and, in some cases, a costly one too since in many states you would have to pay fees too.

The credit agencies themselves — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — have recently simplified the process. And now the charges have just been swept away — making it free to freeze (and unfreeze) your account.

Technically, what’s happened is that the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act has come into force.

This allows consumers to freeze their credit with the agencies without charge. You can also freeze the credit record of your children aged under 16; those with power of attorney or guardianships over others can do the same.

Previously, too, you could place a fraud alert on your credit report for up to 90 days. This has now been extended to a full year — and it’s possible to extend the alert for up to seven years.

Special arrangements for those undertaking military service, in the form of “active duty alerts,” also include removing your name from marketing lists for pre-screened credit card offers for two years.

To freeze access to your records, you still have to contact each of the agencies separately (details below) and they have to put the freeze in place within 24 hours of your phoning them or requesting the freeze online. If you want to unfreeze the records, they have to do it within an hour (during normal business hours).

If you request the freeze or unfreeze by mail, they must act within three days after receiving your request.

You can also ask for a temporary unfreeze for a specified period, again without paying a fee.

“Suppose consumers concerned about identity theft decide to freeze their credit,” the FTC explains. “Fast forward a few months and their furnace is on the fritz or they’re shopping for a new refrigerator.

“To finance a purchase, they’ll need to lift the freeze on their credit. Under the old system, depending on the circumstances, that could take several days. (Now) that has to happen within an hour. The good news for consumers and businesses: a quicker, easier system that puts consumers at the controls.”

With fraud alerts, the process is even simpler — you only have to tell one of the agencies and they must pass the information on to the other two.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft was the second biggest category of consumer complaints last year.

The Commission points out that a freeze is not the same as a “lock.”

“They work in similar ways,” it says, “but locks may have monthly fees. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then opt for a freeze, not a lock.”

In fact, Consumer Reports magazine recently reported that the agencies were “pushing consumers to lock their credit” instead of freezing it by citing convenience and, in some cases, offering special deals.

It’s true that a lock can be activated or lifted instantly using a smartphone app.

However, says the publication, a freeze is the better option because its promise of protection is guaranteed by law.

It quoted an attorney from the National Consumer Law Center as pointing out: “Because security freezes are now covered by Federal law, if something goes wrong — for example, if credit accounts are fraudulently accessed anyway — consumers will be protected from any financial liability. With locks, it’s not clear who would be liable.”

Here are the contact details for the three agencies:


888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)


The Commission has also issued guidance for businesses on understanding and working with the new credit freeze laws. The page includes links to other information about the credit agencies. Find it here: https://tinyurl.com/FTC-biz

information from:  Internet Scambusters, The #1 Publication on Internet Fraud, http://www.scambusters.org
By Scambuster Keith, Issue #827  October 17, 2018

It’s the season for deer crashes

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman reminds drivers this is the time of year when they are most likely to be involved in a deer-related crash. “Fall is breeding season for deer, and they may be less aware of their surroundings. Deer also often travel in groups, so if you see one deer, there are often more nearby,” Altman advises.

According to an annual survey conducted by State Farm, the cost of the average encounter with deer, elk, moose and caribou has risen $162, to $4,341. The good news is that car crashes with these four-legged creatures have gone down during the last year by about 10,000, to 1.33 million.


This information is from the PIA National Newsline.  Please be careful when driving.