IRS Phone Scam

IRS phone scams and may other types of phone fraud, continue in many areas, so I wrote this post to remind you what to look out for, and how to avoid being a victim.

If the scammers pick your phone number, you’ll receive a call from someone claiming to be an investigator for the IRS.

woman on the phone

These callers have called numbers in almost every state in the US and are very clever and persuasive. They target taxpayers, and also recent immigrants.

You are told that you owe money to the IRS, or that there is a large tax lien against you that may include criminal charges. They instruct you that this money must be paid immediately through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer.

If you aren’t cooperative, the caller may become hostile and threaten you with arrest, deportation, or suspension of your driver’s license.

You might hear background noise on the call that sounds like it’s coming from a call site. Some of the callers use equipment which changes the number appearing on your caller ID, to the actual IRS toll-free number.

The caller may know the last four digits of your social security number. They might use very common names like John Smith or Tom Brown.

You may also receive a fake email before the call, that appears to come from the IRS.

Other Types of Bogus Phone Calls

Power/Electric Company Calls

Someone will call claiming to be an employee of your Power/Electric company. They will state that a recent electric bill hasn’t been paid, and will threaten to shut off your power immediately unless this bill is paid. You will be told you have to make an immediate payment through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer.

Foreign Lottery & Nigerian Lottery Scams

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service says that consumers are scammed out of millions of dollars every year by solicitations for prizes, and foreign lotteries.

Many of the scammers are in Canada, and offer chances to win foreign lotteries from places like Europe and Australia. They offer chances to win big lump sum prize amounts, with much better odds than American lotteries.

no phone scams

What to Do About Bogus Phone Calls


The IRS states that they will never ask for credit card numbers over the phone, and they also don’t ever ask a taxpayer to use a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.

They also don’t threaten to have you deported, or arrested. If there is a tax problem, their first contact will usually be by mail.

In some cases, after the scammers or you hang up after receiveing a threatening call, you may get another call soon afterwards, from someone claiming to be from the police – those calls can also show a police department number on your caller ID. So that is a sure sign that both calls where a scam.

The IRS also says they don’t contact taxpayers by email or text messages, asking for personal and financial information. They don’t ask for PIN numbers or passwords.

The website can give you more information, and has links to actually report scams. You can also call their regular number of 1-800-829-1040 if there any issues with your taxes.

Power/Electric Company

Electric Utility companies will usually not ask for personal information over the telephone, unless you called them first.

They also don’t send emails threatening to close your account.

Don’t give personal information to anyone who calls you, including any kind of account numbers, passwords, social security numbers, or credit card numbers.

If you are suspicious about any call you receive, hang up, and then call your utility company back at the number given on your bill. If you call them first and they ask for information, it’s OK, but if anyone calls you first, don’t give any information.

If you get a suspicious call, my advice is to just hang up. If you want you can ask for their supervisor’s name, and then hang up. Then call your local police or law enforcement to report the incidents.

Foreign Lottery and Other Scams

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) says that it’s illegal to play a foreign lottery, either over the phone, or by mail.

Most of the phone operations are phony – you won’t receive the promised lottery tickets.

If you give one of these callers your credit card number, you’re making a big mistake. They will probably make unauthorized charges and leave you with a big bill.

The odds of winning a foreign lottery are extremely slim – just like with American lotteries.

There are no secret companies, formulas, or systems that will give you any special access or a better chance of winning.

Some phone pitches may claim that a lottery sweepstakes comes from the IRS. It isn’t true.

More Phone Scam Peventions Tips

Be aware that many of these phone scammers are very clever and good at what they do. Some people have been cheated out of their life savings. Elderly people often become victims because they are lonely, and the scammers are very good at starting a friendly conversation.

They will lie and say they are from the same town you are, or that they work for a company you really trust.

Some signs of a scam are claims that you’ve won a prize, or a special promotion. If they say they just need to put the shipping charges on your credit card, and you give them the number, they may put hundreds of dollars in unauthorized charges on your card.

In the United States telemarketers are required by law to tell you their name and that they’re making a sales call, before they give any pitch.

If they don’t do this, you should just hang up.

Don’t fall victim to high pressure tactics. You should ask to get written information before you decide to buy something.

If something is really “free”, you shouldn’t be asked to pay any shipping charges or fees.

Don’t ever send money by money transfers – you won’t be able to dispute fraudulent charges.

Don’t give anyone your credit card number over the phone.

Robocalls, or automated calls coming from machines, are usually illegal.

My advice is to not even answer the phone unless you see the number of someone you know on your caller ID.

Go to the website for more information, tips, or to file complaints against phone scammers.

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New eBook Now Available

My new eBook is now available at Amazon:

Lot’s of information – 85 pages – a great ebook

Kindle subscribers read for free

Dozens of hours of research and writing over a 5 year period.

It includes chapters on Personal Security, Home Security and Safety, Identity Theft Prevention, Computer Security, and Self-Defense.

Topics include crime prevention in stores, parking lots, malls, traveling, and other areas.

Pickpocket prevention

How to avoid being robbed at an ATM machine

Complete home security guide – burglar proof your home

Complete guide to home security cameras including information on how to buy cameras, what specifications mean, etc.

Catching criminals with security cameras

How to avoid ATM skimmers

Computer Security – including information on virus protection, passwords, online shopping, etc.

Complete information on several Self Defense products and how to use them

Many other topics not mentioned here

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What is a Botnet?


The FBI Estimates at Least $10 Million in Direct Losses

The word “botnet” comes from combining the words robot and network.

A Botnet is a network of individual computers that are infected with malicious software, and then controlled as a group. The individual computer users don’t know their computers are being used.

computers in a botnet

The botnet is really a type of virus. The software gets on your computer because of something you clicked on a website or email, or something you downloaded.

This software will then “call home” to the host or “operator”, who is now able to control this network of computers.

On Tuesday October 13, 2015 the US Department of Justice (DOJ) disrupted a botnet responsible for at least $10 million in U.S. losses.

The botnet goes by the name of “Bugat”, “Cridex”, or “Dridex”. It was designed to steal banking and personal information.

American and British law enforcement officials helped disrupt the malware. A man named Andrey Ghinkul of Moldova, age 30, was the alleged head of the hacking operation. He was recently arrested in Cyprus, which is an island country east of Greece. The DOJ is seeking his extradition.

The malware operated mostly by spam email sent with attachments that infected computers. It was said that up to 350,000 of these malware containing emails were sent every day, and that the botnet infected about 125,00 computers a year.

After the hackers had control of the victims computers, they used stolen financial information to do electronic funds transfers of millions of dollars. Here are some examples:

  • On December 16, 2011 – $999,000 transferred (or attempted to transfer) from a Sharon, Pennsylvania, City School District account to a bank account in Kiev, Ukraine.
  • On August 31, 2012 – $2,158,600 transferred from a Penneco Oil account to a bank account in Krasnodar, Russia.
  • On September 4, 2012 – $1,350,000 transferred from a Penneco Oil account to a bank acount in Minsk, Belarus.
  • On September 4, 2012 – Ghinkul attempted to transfer $76,520 from a Penneco Oil account to a bank account in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

The hackers allegedly got the financial information from a “phishing email” sent to a Penneco Oil employee.

If you think you’ve been a victim of these hackers, the United States Department of Homeland Security – Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) has set up a webpage for assistance in removing the malware.

You should also make sure you are running some type of antivirus software on your computer, and that it is up to date. We recommend Kaspersky Anti Virus.


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Fireworks Are Dangerous!

It’s July 4 and many people are looking forward to festivities. Especially fireworks displays later on this evening. A lot of people will purchase their own fireworks at retail stores and roadside stands.

In a lot of areas conditions are very dry. Even with some rain, the woods remain dry enough to start fires caused by fireworks. This worries a lot of fire officials.

fireworks display

Another major concern is people getting injured by fireworks. In many areas anything that explodes or shoots into the air is considered illegal. This includes most fireworks. However, people are able to buy them – many times after signing a waiver saying they’ll follow the laws, and possibly being asked to show a drivers license.

Fireworks burn at temperatures of 1,200 degrees this includes sparklers! If you can burn your hand in your oven set at 350 – 450 degrees, think of the damage you will get from sparklers, firecrackers, etc. You can easily burn your skin or set fire to your clothes.

Occasionally, you will hear a report of someone getting a finger or part of a hand blow off by a firecracker.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission 40% of the people getting injured are children. 40% of the injuries involved sparklers or rockets (bottle rockets, etc.).

They reported 11 firework deaths for 2014, and 10,500 injuries treated in US hospital emergency departments.

Fireworks Safety Tips:

  • Number one tip – it’s much safer (and more fun) to watch a professional fireworks display, rather than setting off your own fireworks
  • Store your fireworks in a cool, dry place.
  • Don’t alter fireworks or try to make your own.
  • Don’t carry fireworks in your pocket.
  • Keep young children away from sparklers or any other kind of firework.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing when using fireworks.
  • Keep a garden hose or a bucket of water nearby.
  • Hold fireworks away from you when lighting them.
  • Only light one firework at a time – then move away quickly.
  • If a firework fails to ignite or explode, don’t try to reignite it – dump water on it and throw it away.
  • Don’t light bottle rockets and then allow them to launch from your hand.
  • Carefully follow directions on how to properly shoot or launch fireworks.
  • Ignite fireworks outdoors on a paved surface away from people, trees, vehicles, power line, etc.
  • If a firework doesn’t look right, the fuse is too short, etc., don’t use it.
  • When you are finished with your fireworks, hose up the area, cleaning up all the debris and used fireworks.


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Credit Card Skimmers Found All Over Florida

It was recently reported by several news sources that credit card skimmers were found in dozens of Florida gas stations.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had their inspectors do a sweep all over the state. They checked more than 6,000 gas stations and found skimmers in 81 locations.

Most of the stations appear to be in the Tampa Bay area, but skimmers were found all over the state, even as far north as the Panhandle. They were found in 26 different counties.

I have reported in other posts on this blog about safeguarding against ATM skimmers at banks, and ATM skimmers at gas stations.

Gas stations are by far the most common area where thieves place skimmers. Bank ATM’s are much more secure. There is usually no access to the inside, so criminals have to place devices on the outside – in the form of “fake fronts” and fake keyboards covering the real ones.

advanced card skimmerThe gas station skimmers are usually being place inside the gas pump, so customers have no idea it’s there. Gas station managers and owners should be inspecting the inside of all their pumps daily, but this probably isn’t happening.

An ideal situation would also be to have a security camera at every gas pump facing the customer. However, if gas stations have any security cams, there are usually only one or two outdoor cameras mounted up high, facing a large area.

Steps to avoid being a skimmer victim:

  • The only way you be sure to avoid this crime is to pay for your gas inside and pay cash.
  • Since most of us want to pay outside, it’s best to pick a larger nationwide chain as your location to buy gas, such as 7-11.
  • Pick a location which asks your “billing zip code” when you use your credit or debit card (most 7-11 locations should have this feature on the pumps). This is an extra security precaution, because the crooks won’t know (or will have to guess) your billing zip code, if they stole your data. Run your debit card under “credit” so you don’t have to enter a PIN number.
  • Try to always buy gas at the same location in your town. Try to plan ahead so that you don’t get low on gas and have to stop at a station when you’re out shopping many miles away. Always using the same location allows you to get familiar with the layout, what the pumps are supposed to look like, etc.
  • Use a pump closer to the front of the store, because crooks probably will try to install skimmers on pumps farther away, so no one will see what they’re doing.
  • If anything looks out of place or wrong about the gas pump, or if anything looks loose, don’t use it and inform the manager.
  • Ask the gas station manager or owner how often they check their gas pumps on the inside. Some locations are putting “Security Seal” tape on the outside, but there is really know way to know if a crook could still have gotten access.  Many crooks are easily getting universal keys that fit many different gas pumps. They can open the pump when no-one is watching, and place a skimmer inside very quickly. They can get the data later using Bluetooth wireless technology.
  • Even if a station manager or other employee is checking the inside of pumps, they may not spot any skimmers, so you still have to take the other precautions mentioned on this post. The latest ATM skimmers are very sophisticated and small, and may look like nothing more than any of the other wires running inside the pump console.
  • Check your bank or credit card account daily for unauthorized charges. The easiest way to do this is to check your account online.


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Hacking Into Home Security Cameras

I’ve reported on this blog that many computer viruses originate in Russia, and it’s been recently reported in some news sources that a Russian website was showing hacked footage from home and other security webcams.

The website showed lists of countries, with the number of webcam videos available from each.

Some of the popular home security systems that have monthly monitoring (ADT, Vivint, etc.) could possibly be hacked by someone using a SDR (software-defined radio), even if the system is unarmed. Someone who was tech savy could jam the system or interfere with the signals. Especially if the system used unencrypted communication signals, the culprit could send his/her own signals to the main controls. But he/she would have to be about 250 feet away or less from your house to do this.computers and disks

Most hackers are getting access through webcams (rather then the wall mounted cameras used by the home monitoring companies mentioned above), that are built into almost all laptops, and hooked up to many desktop computers.

You commonly may be bringing your laptop with you to many private places, including inside a motel room, bedroom, etc.  So the criminals could be spying on you there.

Once an intruder has camera access, they can monitor all your daily activities, when people are coming and going, etc.

There is said to be lot’s of information on the internet, and YouTube videos, on “how to hack into webcams”.

The Russian website mentioned above was probably using one of the most common laptop computerhacking methods, which is to change the default passwords that come with wireless devices and routers. Once they change your password, they’ve locked you out of your own device, and can log in, change your WiFi signal, and control your webcam.

The default passwords are usually easy to guess and won’t lock out after several incorrect guesses. So change your passwords to long ones that are hard to guess.

Another very common method hackers use is email links. They use Trojan Horse attacks to infect your computer with malware. This malware allows the hacker to remotely control your computer, including the webcam.Kaspersky Internet Security 2015

The best way to prevent this is to NOT click on ANY links in emails. Whether it’s an attachment or link that appears to come from a friend, your bank, free music download, etc., I would not click on ANY link in any email.


More Tips to Avoid Security Camera Hacking:

  • Ask your home security system rep what measures they are taking to make sure their cameras and network are not being hacked into.
  • Make sure you have anti-virus software.
  • Make sure your firewall is turned on.
  • Set your security settings at a high level.
  • Make sure your wireless connection and all security cameras have secure, unique passwords.
  • Put a cover over your webcam when not using it, and/or unplug it from the USB port.
  • Don’t put a laptop computer with a webcam in a bedroom.
  • Be careful who you communicate with online, and what personal information you give out in emails.
  • Be cautious about any computer repair people you allow to work on your computer.
  • Don’t buy security cameras from strangers.
  • Don’t buy used security cameras.


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The Advantages of Dome Security Cameras for Surveillance

Dome security cameras are very versatile and can be used in many different locations for surveillance. They can be placed outside and inside.

You’ve probably seen many of these cameras with their dark tinted domes – so people know a camera is there, but they don’t know which direction it’s pointing. In a good quality camera, the dark dome doesn’t affect the picture quality.

Although there is less likelihood that someone will try to grab or vandalize dome cams, over other kinds of cameras, they are available with vandal proof protective casing.

Dome cameras can have the same features you would expect from any type of security cameras, including:

  • Day and night surveillance
  • Pan, tilt and zoom
  • Motion detection recording
  • DVR video recording
  • Ability to view video remotely from a smartphone or PC

ptz dome cameraDome cameras can vary in price, and some are fairly inexpensive. However, I think it’s better to invest in high quality cameras, especially if you have a business. If you start having technical problems, or a crime occurs and you find you have poor quality pictures, you make wish you bought better quality cameras from the beginning.

It’s especially important to have PTZ (Pan, Tilt and Zoom) on your cameras if you have a business.  Being able to zoom in could make a crucial difference in being able to identify a crime suspect.  The camera shown at the above left allows you to remotely Pan, Tilt and Zoom, and record high resolution video to any DVR.  It can even record in low-light conditions.

dome security cameraThe dome camera shown above allows you to monitor your home or business in real time.

It’s a vandal proof camera with a wide field of view.

Up to 10 family members (or trusted employees) can view a live video stream directly to their smartphone, tablet, or PC.

security camera live view

You can set up “event-based scenarios” – for example, you can receive an email notification when an employee (or someone else) goes into your store cash register.

The camera will capture video as long as motion is occurring. The video will also be stored for you, for later access.


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Amber Alert Awareness Day

Today, Tuesday January 13, is Amber Alert Awareness Day. This system first began in 1996 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, when broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children.

AMBER stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response“. Amber Alert was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas, and then brutally murdered.

Other states have since set up their own AMBER Alert plans, as the idea was used across the nation.

Each state has it’s own criteria, but usually follow standards for issuing alerts set up by The PROTECT Act, passed in 2003, such as:

  • Confirm that an abduction has taken place
  • Confirm the child is at risk of injury or death
  • There is a sufficient description of the child, captor, or captor’s vehicle
  • The child must be 17 years old or younger

AMBER Alerts are broadcast on radio, television, highway signs, billboards, and printed on lottery tickets. They are also issued on wireless devices, mobile phones, and over the internet.

The program now extends into all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and other areas.

According to the AMBER Alert programs have helped save the lives of 723 children.

90 percent of the recoveries have happened since October 2002, when President Bush called for the appointment of an AMBER Alert Coordinator at the first-ever White House Conference on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children.

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Why Doesn’t the Secret Service Use Stun Guns?

The US Secret Service Director faced harsh criticism today from the House Oversight Committee, examining details of the security breach involving the man who made it into the White House with a knife on Friday night (9-26).

According to news reports, he jumped the White House fence and made it as far as the East Room. He passed or was near a stairwell that leads to the residence of the first family.

Different sources have different wording, but basically say that there was a “struggle”, and that he “knocked an agent down” who was attempting to manually lock a door. It’s said that door will lock automatically from now on.

According to Wikipedia and other sources, Secret Service agents carry a Sig Sauer P229, 357 caliber pistol.  It’s a compact automatic handgun that’s easily concealed, and can be holstered in lot’s of places.

They also use a FN Five-seven pistol, along with shoulder weaponsFN P90 submachine gun, 9mm Heckler, Koch MP5 submachine gun, and the 12 gauge Remington 870 shotgun.

They also carry an ASP baton and OC pepper spray.

stun gun

I found nothing mentioned about Stun Guns.

Stun Guns are easy to carry and use. Touching an attacker/intruder with the outer prongs will deliver a high voltage shock.

This shock is strong enough to go through clothes.  A Stun Gun can also be fired multiple times before the battery needs recharging, in case there are multiple attackers.

It would have only taken slightly more than a 1/4 second shock to drop the white house attacker to the ground. A shock of about 3 seconds would have the attacker on the ground and unable to recover for up to 15 minutes.

That would be plenty of time to place him in handcuffs.

So, a Stun Gun would be a great non-lethal way for the Secret Service to instantly stop an attacker in this type of situation.

worlds smallest stun gun

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The Easiest Identity Theft Method

A recent local newspaper article described an identity theft method you don’t hear of too often. However, this method happens a lot, and it can cause you a lot of problems.

Stealing mail is much easier than stealing garbage, because mail is clean, and it’s much simpler to sort through and get what you want.

The man in this story stole mail from a woman’s mailbox, including a check to pay for her cable TV bill. He not only changed the payee to himself, but he also increased the check amount by $200!

He was only caught because of a suspicious bank teller. He would have been very hard to track down, but the bank had him on surveillance video, as well as having his driver license number (used for ID to cash the check).

blank check

When they found him, he had more than $20,000 worth of stolen checks in his possession. It’s unclear how long the thefts had been going on, but they believe he simply drove through neighborhoods looking for mailboxes with the flags up.

They also found him with drug paraphernalia, so he probably needed the checks as a quick way to get money for drugs.

Only a few victims have come forward. If this happens to you, it may takes weeks before you discover it. Maybe certain bills don’t get paid, and you get late notices and fees. Or some other form of identity theft takes place, such as a bogus check being cashed, or money being charged to your credit card.

If a thief alters your check and uses it to buy something through the mail, many state attorneys won’t try to prosecute these cases. They say they won’t prosecute because, unlike a check that is used to buy something in a retail store, when a check is sent through the mail, you can’t prove who sent or wrote the check – you don’t actually see the check writer, so there is no store clerk or other witness that can identify a suspect.

If the flag is up on your mailbox, that is a giant signal to anyone walking or driving by, that there is mail they can take out before the mailman arrives.

Thieves will also steal mail after it’s delivered. One popular method they use is to pry open cluster boxes at apartment and housing developments.

After your mail is stolen they can use whatever information they find for identity theft – your full name, address, phone number, bank account and other account numbers, social security numbers, etc. They can use that information to open bogus accounts, buy things online, and other forms of identity theft.

The best way you can begin to catch someone stealing your mail, if no one is watching, is to install an outdoor security camera with a view of your mailbox area.

If you have an IP security camera you can also get an alert sent to your cell phone or computer.

I think it’s better and safer to have all your mail sent to a P. O. Box.


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