#ShouldaBeenVerified: Romance Scams Cost Victims $14,000 Each in 2014

Women over 40 most vulnerable to the FBI’s top reported scam last year;

Who’s Watching Grandma?

We talk a lot about online dating scams here at BV and that’s no coincidence. As a company that started with the goal of building trust among different parties online, romance scams were one of a number of problems we wanted to help our customers avoid. Unfortunately, since we first covered this topic years ago, online dating and romance scams have only grown more successful as online dating as a whole has gained popularity.

Women over the age of 40 are most likely to fall into the arms of a romance scam artist.
Women over the age of 40 are most likely to fall into the arms of a romance scam artist.

Confirmation of this came recently from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 report noted that online romance scams were the leading drivers of Internet fraud in 2014, with victims being cheated out of a whopping total of over $800 million, or about $14,000 per victim on average.

NBC News pointed out that women over the age of 40 were by far the most likely demographic to be swindled out of their money while having their hearts broken shortly thereafter. Despite men making up a larger percentage of online fraud victims as a whole, 70% of all romance scam victims in 2014 were women over the age of 40.

The fact that older, single women are preyed upon disproportionately is understandable when one of the most common and successful romance scams involves con artists impersonating members of the military, often using the occupation as a convincing reason for not being able to meet their romantic interest and soon-to-be victim in person.

The report makes clear that younger people seem less susceptible to such romance scams online, and loneliness bred from old age and isolation in particular has always been a key ingredient for vulnerability to such scams.

So while you may be OK, when is the last time you checked in with your Grandma or Grandpa, Mom or Dad?

If you’re worried about whom they are chatting with online, then share the tips with her at the end of this article and take steps to help her verify the identities and locations of any new and unfamiliar online “friends.”

The success of this breed of online romance scams clearly shows its effectiveness at fooling a broad range of people across America. If you don’t think it can happen to someone you know and love, are you willing to bet $14,000 on it?

 

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Apple Watch Gets Skeptical Reviews

 

The advanced reviews of the Apple Watch are out in the media this week and as already noted by many, the consensus has been far from stellar. Even among the better reviews, like Farhad Manjoo’s in The New York Times, the reviewer stops well short of recommending it for most people’s use.

The reviews are in.
The reviews are in.

While this may be disappointing to Apple and Watch buyers on the fence, Vox points out that they should be far from discouraged. The first version of many Apple products often fall short of ubiquity.

This got us thinking about other successful Apple products and their initial launches: did they all meet with the critical acclaim and commercial success that we have come to expect from the iPod and iPhone?

It turns out a number of Apple products faced similarly skeptical first impressions.

Take the iPad. With its current legacy as the most successful tablet and one that redefined personal computing, it’s easy to forget that the pre-launch was marred initially by “controversy” over the choice of iPad as its name. Business Insider and the Washington Post among other outlets gave air to complaints about the absurdity of the name and even tied it to a lack of women within Apple’s marketing team.

First impression review, while largely positive, did complain about a lack of functionality and its high price point, especially compared to the new school of budget laptops that could “do more” than the iPad could.

None of these complaints were enough to derail a successful launch and one that would go on to spur the successful iPad Mini and iPad Air versions.

Previously, the Macbook Air faced skepticism of its own. While reviewers were generally impressed, Engadget called the choice to buy one a “tough call” and noted that in Apple’s attempt to make an “absurdly” thin laptop, a lot of features were left on the cutting room floor.

At the time, the Macbook Air was just the latest edition to the fledgling “netbook” market. Yet within a few years, vastly improved Macbook Airs were the dominant player in the space and ubiquitous in both business and creative settings.

One can go back even further to the original Macintosh computer launch in 1984. While the launch of the 128k would eventually prove to be a watershed moment for the company and spawn the legions of Mac Evangelists that proliferate to this day, many reviewers were skeptical of the Mac vision, in one case labeling the new machine as a “toy.”

Disagreements over the direction of the company in the wake of the Macintosh’s failure to displace the PC as the primary personal computer of choice ultimately led to Steve Jobs departing the company.

As you can see, not all Apple product launches go smoothly. Yet Apple is betting in a number of years and a number of versions later, their Watch will be as common on their customers’ wrists as their iPhones are in their pockets. Based on Apple’s track record, some early skepticism shouldn’t be a cause to bet against them.

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Tax Season Scams: Know Who’s Calling

 

If you’re getting nervous about getting your taxes done on time, you’re not alone. The April 15th deadline looms large and always causes anxiety, yet this year the anxiety may be increased by one of the most prevalent scams in US history.

Don't pay more than you have to, but don't pay the bad guys either.
Don’t pay more than you have to, but don’t pay the bad guys either.

We covered the outline of that particular scam in a previous blog post. As it relies so heavily on phone contact, you have an advantage if you’re aware that the IRS never demands credit card numbers over the phone. You can simply hang up the phone and ideally report the incident to authorities.

While this notorious phone scam has cheated over 3,000 Americans and counting out of money, tax-related identity theft was reported as the leading scam that targeted Americans. The FTC noted over 100,000 such complaints in 2014 alone, almost a third of all such complaints.

This means there is more than one type of scam that makes the rounds during the tax season. While some rely on email and even snail mail, scam artists know that the most effective means for cheating their victims is over the phone.

The immediacy of phone contact allows for an entirely different level of pressure to be applied upon the vulnerable, unsuspecting or confused. Check out Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Wolf of Wall Street to see this effect most vividly.

Remember: when in doubt, a simple first step in investigating a suspicious call is to verify the origin of the phone number through a reverse look-up.

Here are some of the other tactics of phone scammers during this time of year and when to hang up on them:

Asking for your Social Security number

Any organization unknown to you that asks for your social security number should raise a red flag and be a reason to end the conversation. Unless you are opening a new bank or investment account, no third party needs access to your social security number.

Thieves can use this key identifier to open credit cards and even divert your tax refund to their accounts. The IRS has over half a million such complaints like these on file, which shows that many people aren’t being careful enough with the security of their social security number.

An Invitation to High-Priced Seminars

A long-running tax-season scam involves invitations to seminars, typically costing upwards of $1,000, where attendees are given bullet-proof strategies for lessening their tax bill or avoiding certain types of taxes altogether.

Unfortunately, most of these strategies are either invalid or outdated, and completely useless when dealing with the IRS. When participants figure it out any trace of the con artists have vanished.

While many tax season scams seem outlandish, keep in mind just how many people fall victim to such incidents every year.

Keep in mind some basic tips to stay out of trouble:

  1. Know who’s calling you. Take steps to verify the phone number and that the person who is calling you is who he or she says they are.
  2. Know your own financial situation. You should know exactly how much money you owe the IRS (or don’t) and be proactive about address the situation through a payment plan, if needed.
  3. Understand how the IRS works. The IRS typically doesn’t act like run of the mill credit collection agencies. They will send correspondence through the mail and won’t harass you multiple times of day for payment.

We hope these steps will give you a leg up on the tax-season scam artists and identity thieves that will be working overtime through April 15th.

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Felonies, Misdemeanors and Politicians

 

Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey was recently indicted by the Justice Department on 14 corruption counts. It is alleged that the senator intervened on the behalf of a Florida doctor’s business interests in return for lavish gifts and money over as many as 20 years.

Some politicians are motivated by the wrong reasons...and pay the price.
Some politicians are motivated by the wrong reasons…and pay the price.

While it may be surprising that a prominent politician would potentially put him or herself in such a position, it is not exactly uncommon.

While Senator Menendez maintains his innocence at the charges, some other notable politicians have actually been convicted of serious crimes, just in the past two years alone. If you don’t live in their local areas, you may have missed the news coverage.

Here is the list of some notorious politicians and their convictions over the past 24 months:

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell

In a case that echoes the accusations against Senator Menendez, the former governor and his wife were convicted for accepting gifts from a shady political donor who then used this leverage to garner business favors from the Governor. Both McDonnell and his wife were sentenced to prison terms after being convicted on a number of counts broadly related to corruption and abuse of office.

US Representative Michael Grimm

It took awhile, but Grimm eventually paid the price for running a dirty campaign that got him elected in 2010 to serve in the US House, representing Staten Island and some parts of Brooklyn. Grimm’s funny fundraising opened the door to a wider federal investigation, which saw him plead guilty to a single count of felony tax fraud. After initially resisting stepping down from Congress, he finally resigned in January 2015. Yet to be sentenced, he could face up to 30 months in prison.

US Representative Trey Radel

Less fancy than the corruption and tax avoidance charges above, former US Representative Trey Radel got busted by buying cocaine from an undercover agent in DC in 2013. Like Grimm, Radel didn’t see the need to step down from federal office despite being a soon-to-be convicted criminal and hoped doing a stint in rehab would be enough to save his job representing the proud folks of southwest Florida. It wasn’t, though, and he was forced to resign by outside pressure. He did, however, avoid the slammer, serving just one year of probation. To top it off, his criminal record was wiped clean, too.

While the latest high-profile criminal case involving a politician is just kicking off, we hope we helped you understand that higher office doesn’t always mean a higher level of behavior.

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