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text 2017-03-22 02:27
Consumer Information: Mystery Shopper Scams
 
Legitimate mystery shopping opportunities are out there, but so are plenty of scams. If an opportunity is on the up and up, you won't have to pay an application fee or deposit a check and wire money on to someone else.
 
What is Mystery Shopping?
Some retailers hire companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores; they often use mystery shoppers to get the information. They instruct a mystery shopper to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed and can keep the product or service. Sometimes the shopper receives a small payment, as well.
 
Many professionals in the field consider mystery shopping a part-time activity, at best. And, they add, opportunities generally are posted online by marketing research or merchandising companies.
 
Don't Pay to Be a Mystery Shopper
Dishonest promoters use newspaper ads and emails to create the impression that mystery shopping jobs are a gateway to a high-paying job with reputable companies. They often create websites where you can “register” to become a mystery shopper, but first you have to pay a fee — for information about a certification program, a directory of mystery shopping companies, or a guarantee of a mystery shopping job.
 
It's unnecessary to pay anyone to get into the mystery shopper business. The certification offered is almost always worthless. A list of companies that hire mystery shoppers is available for free, and legitimate mystery shopper jobs are listed on the internet for free. If you try to get a refund from the promoters, you will be out of luck. Either the business won't return your phone calls, or if it does, it's to try another pitch.
 
Don't Wire Money
You may have heard about people who are “hired” to be mystery shoppers, and told that their first assignment is to evaluate a money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram. The shopper receives a check with instructions to deposit it in a personal bank account, withdraw the amount in cash, and wire it to a third party. The check is a fake.
 
By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. It may seem that the check has cleared and that the money has posted to the account, but when the check turns out to be a fake, the person who deposited the check and wired the money will be responsible for paying back the bank.
 
It's never a good idea to deposit a check from someone you don't know and then wire money back.
 
Tips for Finding Legitimate Mystery Shopping Jobs
Becoming a mystery shopper for a legitimate company doesn't cost anything. Here's how you can do it:
 
- Research mystery shopping. Check libraries, bookstores, or online sites for tips on how to find legitimate companies hiring mystery shoppers, as well as how to do the job effectively.
- Search the internet for reviews and comments about mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications online. Dig deeper. Shills may be paid to post positive reviews.
- Remember that legitimate companies don't charge people to work for them – they pay people to work for them.
- Never wire money as part of a mystery shopping assignment.
- You can visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at mysteryshop.org to search a database of mystery shopper assignments and learn how to apply for them. The MSPA offers certification programs for a fee, but you don't need "certification" to look – or apply – for assignments in its database.
 
In the meantime, don't do business with mystery shopping promoters who:
 
- Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper's 'help wanted' section or by email.
- Require that you pay for “certification.”
- Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
- Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
- Sell directories of companies that hire mystery shoppers.
- Ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to someone.
 
If you think you've seen a mystery shopping scam, file a complaint with:
 
- The Federal Trade Commission
- Your state Attorney General
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text 2017-03-17 00:52
Scams Spark: BMC Probe into Scams Sparks Staff Exodus

 

At least 20 engineers from different municipal departments have quit in past one year.

 

Greater scrutiny on BMC officials following a series of scams has triggered an exodus of municipal engineers, who are looking for 'safer jobs'.

 

At least 20 engineers from different BMC divisions have quit or taken voluntary retirement in the past one year. Two executive engineers with the scam-hit stormwater drains department — Pradeep Jaswani and Rajesh Nagrale — put in their papers earlier this month.

 

The department is under a cloud over Rs 150-crore desilting scam, which forced top officials to suspend 11 engineers, including chief engineer (vigilance) Uday Murudkar, for allegedly certifying bogus documents provided by contractors.

 

The BMC's roads department is under scanner over a scam in which contractors used substandard material to build or repair thoroughfares. The racket, which runs into several crores, led to suspension of chief engineer (roads) Ashok Pawar.

 

Around 100 engineers are currently facing inquiries in various scams, and the scrutiny has spooked others. "There is no point in continuing in the BMC. Even if we are clean, there is no guarantee that we will not face a probe," a senior engineer who resigned recently said. "Once an inquiry starts, our reputation is tarnished. It is better to quit and join the private sector, where there is less pressure."

 

Some engineers quit after 20 years of service in the municipal corporation. They have cited stress and a fear of being falsely implicated in cases as the main reason for leaving. Some junior BMC engineers, who have similar concerns, have turned down promotion to departments that were once most sought after by civic employees.

 

Some former BMC engineers are now working private developers, while others have joined consultancy firms. "Top officials take all the policy decisions, but we have to face the brunt when a scam comes to light. If there is any problem, we are suspended," said a former engineer with the storm water drains department.

 

"We have no powers but are held responsible for everything."

 

A recent BMC circular asked all engineers to make a note of all calls and recommendations they gets from "unconnected parties" about approving or vetoing any development work. Another circular asked engineers with the building proposal department to put on record every redevelopment request.

 

More than a dozen engineers with the building proposal department and the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) are facing scrutiny after BJP legislator Ameet Satam alleged corruption in the two divisions.

 

It's not just the fear of prosecution; employees in departments that oversee construction of roads and other public infrastructure have also cited threat of violence for quitting. In February, junior engineer Hemant Chandane was beaten up by a local Shiv Sena activist.

 

The BMC Engineers' Union blamed the highhanded attitude of senior officials for the exodus. "Whenever there is a building collapse or a scam, engineers' role comes under the scan first. They are made scapegoats even before an inquiry is ordered," said Sainath Rajadhyaksha, the union's general secretary. "Engineers only execute orders. IAS officers take all the decisions."

 

THE SCAMS THAT STUNG THE CIVIC ENGINEERS

 

The desilting scam

The Rs 150 scam was discovered after the June 19, 2015 deluge washed away the BMC's rain-ready claims. Twenty-four contractors were booked, and 11 engineers, including Chief Engineer (Vigilance) Uday Murudkar, were suspended. Close to 80 engineers are facing departmental enquiry.

 

The roads repair scam

Once again, Uday Murudkar's name cropped up along with another chief engineer, Ashok Pawar. A BMC probe also nailed six contractors. With 227 roads under probe, close to 100 engineers could face departmental enquiry.

 

The building proposal scam

Following allegations of graft by BJP legislator Ameet Satam, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered a probe against officials from the BMC's Building Proposals Department. The probe is on against 26 officials, including a few engineers. Rajeev Kukunoor, Sanjay Mahale, Sandip Gaiwal, Shantilal Tank, and Ketan Doshi are among the engineers who are under the scanner.

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text 2017-03-16 02:03
Sparks Fraud- Warning about Phone Scams

 

What you need to know

 

Scammers have been calling our customers and pretending to be from Spark, in an attempt to gain personal details and then scam money from our customers.

The most important thing to know is Spark will never call you out of the blue and ask for personal details like bank account, credit card, or internet banking details.

 

How to recognize a scam

 

The scams follow a few different patterns, but the most common story we hear is scammers call claiming to be from Spark’s technical team and say your computer has issues and unless you sort it out over the phone you will be disconnected for weeks or even months. They may ask you to:

 

- Turn on the computer and look through the computer’s logs
Go to a webpage (such as Team Viewer) and download remote access software
- Give credit card information or an international money transfer so they can charge you for the phoney services
- They might put a password your computer and refuse to remove it until you pay them.
-  If you think you’ve received a scam call and want to let us know about your experience, you can email us at scamhelp@spark.co.nz or fill out the form below. We monitor the details you provide us in your emails and use them to block scammers where we can, or if appropriate share them with the Police.

 

What if I already gave my information to a scammer?

 

- If you have shared bank details, call your bank immediately to let them know.
- If you have shared any other details, make sure you change passwords for your computer, email, or social media accounts.
- If you’ve done anything on your computer at their request, then you should immediately disconnect your computer from the internet.

 

How to avoid being scammed

 

Be very cautious about providing personal details, particularly banking or credit card details, to someone who has called you out of the blue. If you have concerns about the call’s legitimacy or if you feel uncomfortable, hang up. Some other helpful tips for keeping yourself safe are:

 

- Make sure to keep your software and anti-virus programmes up to date.
- Don’t use the same password for your online banking, email, and social media accounts.
- Change your passwords regularly and don’t go back to old passwords –always set up and use a new one.
- Look out for your friends and family and please spread the word and share ways to keep safe.

 

How can I report my experience to Spark?

 

REPORT IT ONLINE
REPORT IT BY EMAIL

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text 2017-03-13 01:34
The Southbourne Tax Group: Beware tax preparer fraud, other ‘dirty dozen’ scams

 

If you’re rushing to get your tax return in the mail, take care when choosing your tax preparer. If you don’t, you could lose your refund and face fines or jail time if your preparer files a fraudulent return.

 

Tax preparer fraud was the focus of a March 1 alert from the National Consumers League (NCL).

 

“Getting caught up in a tax preparer scam will not just cheat you out of your refund and scam you into paying bogus fees, it can also expose consumer victims to other liabilities,” John Breyault, an NCL vice president, said in a statement. Those liabilities include hefty fines and even imprisonment associated with the criminal offense of filing a fraudulent tax return.

 

In February 2017 alone, tax preparers in New York, Nebraska and Louisiana were charged with tax fraud. And in 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice closed more than 35 tax return preparers’ operations because of fraud.

 

Tax preparer fraud also makes the Internal Revenue Service’s list of the “dirty dozen” tax scams for 2017.

 

How the scam works: Often, the tax preparer will falsify your earnings, claim credits for you that you didn’t earn or steal your refund by having it deposited into someone else’s account, according to the NCL.

 

To protect yourself, the NCL and IRS offer tips when choosing a tax preparer, including:

 

  • Check for his or her Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The IRS offers a tax preparer directory so you can check his or her credentials.
  • Refuse to sign a blank tax return.
  • Steer clear if your preparer doesn’t require you to submit your W-2s.
  • Avoid preparers who charge fees based on a percentage of your refund, or who claim they can get bigger refunds than other preparers.
  • Avoid giving your Social Security number or tax documents when you’re just inquiring about a tax preparer’s service. Otherwise they might file a fake tax return in your name.
  • Be sure to review your return before it’s filed, and make sure you get a copy of your return.

 

You also may cut your risk of fraud by getting free tax preparation help sanctioned by the IRS. If you make less than $54,000 a year, you likely qualify for free, in-person guidance through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance programs.

 

If you make less than $62,000 per year, you can get free online help through the IRS Free File program.

 

Tax preparer fraud isn’t the only thing to be on your guard against this year. Also making the “dirty dozen” are phone scams,  in which fraudsters call up and impersonate IRS agents. These fraudsters claim you owe taxes and try to get you to cough up cash.

 

Between October 2013 and January 2016, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration received nearly 900,000 reports of such calls, and more than 5,000 victims paid more than $26 million to the scammers.

 

The fake agents often threaten to sue, arrest or deport you if you don’t pay using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers.

 

Other frauds on the “dirty dozen” list are phishing emails, which look as if they come from the IRS or a tax software company. If you click a link, you land on an official-looking website and are asked for personal information, which the criminals use to create false tax returns.

 

Identity theft also continues to be a major concern, with bad guys using stolen Social Security numbers to file fraudulent returns. While the number of identity theft tax cases has plunged, almost 238,000 cases were reported in 2016.

 

“It’s the second year tax return fraud has decreased,” Breyault says, “but they’re not going to be able to catch all of it.”

 

Additional resources for business accounting tips are available here

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text 2017-02-23 09:18
The Southbourne Tax Group: Straight Talk - Be aware of the 'Dirty Dozen' of tax scams

The Canton Regional and Greater West Virginia Better Business Bureau offers tips and advice for consumers to avoid fraudulent practices.

 

Today's topic: IRS warns of the "Dirty Dozen"

 

The concern: Every year, the IRS compiles their "Dirty Dozen," a list of common scams that can affect taxpayers at any time of the year, but strike more often during filing season as consumers finalize their tax returns.

 

How the scam works:

 

Phishing schemes Criminals pose as a person or organization the taxpayer trusts or recognizes. They may hack an email account and send mass emails under another person's name. They may pose as a bank, credit card company, tax software provider or government agency. Criminals go to great lengths to create websites that appear legitimate but contain phony log-in pages. These criminals hope victims will take the bait and provide money, passwords, Social Security numbers and other information that can lead to identity theft.

 

Business email compromise (BEC) / W-2 phishing scam Cybercriminals use spoofing techniques to disguise an email to make it appear as if it is from an organization executive. The email is sent to an employee in the payroll or human resources departments, requesting a list of all employees and their W-2s "for a quick review." But it's not real, and those who reply are sending employees' names, Social Security numbers and income information to scammers, who then file fraudulent returns for tax refunds.

 

Tax identity theft Tax-related identity theft involves scams with the intent to steal personal and financial data from taxpayers or data held by tax professionals. One such way is when a scammer uses a stolen Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return and claiming the refund. It also happens when someone uses your SSN to earn wages, and sticks you with the tax bill.

 

Fake charities Groups masquerade as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. One type of abuse or fraud involves scams that occur in the wake of significant natural disasters. Scam artists impersonate charities to get money or private information from well-intentioned taxpayers. Scammers can use a variety of tactics; some operate bogus charities and contact people by telephone or email to solicit money or financial information. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.

 

Tips to avoid these scams:

 

File early. File your tax return as early as possible to avoid a scammer filing instead.

 

Be secure. Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.

 

Know the IRS. The IRS will not contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will contact you by mail.

 

Be aware of your credit. Check your credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure there are no unauthorized accounts.

 

Protect personal data. Don't routinely carry a Social Security card, and make sure tax records are secure. Treat personal information like cash; don't leave it lying around.

 

Know phishing. Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as a bank, credit card company and government organizations, including the IRS. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.

 

Be informed. To see the remaining "Dirty Dozen" and find more tax-time tips, visit the IRS website.

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