Beware: Economic enviroment promotes scams

By WAYNE CURTIS / Guest Columnist

Despite the recent increase in economic activity, many people are still out of work and struggling to make ends meet.  While the recession officially ended in June 2009, the January unemployment rate was still 9.2 percent.

Such an environment is conducive to various scams.  The Identity Theft Resource Center predicts that up to 20 percent of us will be victims during the year.  Let’s review some of the scams.

Tax-related scams are prevalent this time of year.  Individuals receive e-mails or calls claiming to be from the IRS, informing them that they are entitled to either a tax refund or a tax rebate. Recipients are typically asked to provide personal information such as Social Security number or bank account information.

Do not respond to the e-mails or calls.  The IRS does not contact people via telephone or through the Internet. The only legitimate correspondence from the IRS will be in the form of a letter.

Multiple scams target homeowners. Many homeowners find themselves falling behind on their mortgage payments and are vulnerable to this type of scam.

In one scam, you may be contacted by an individual who offers to help increase the equity in your home.  In reality, the person may end up establishing a second mortgage in your name.

Watch out for check fraud, which usually involves individuals giving stolen or synthetic checks.  The latter look authentic and typically have something that links them to a consumer, usually in the name and address section of the check.  They may be written on a closed or nonexistent account.

Travel scams have been around many years but are expected to increase as the economy recovers.  Be aware of Internet-based offers for cheap airfare, hotel rates or special event tickets.

While these activities are expected to increase, you do not have to fall victim to them.  Exercise caution and trust your instincts when providing personal information.

Wayne Curtis, Ph.D., is on the board of directors of First United Security Bank.  He may be reached by e-mail at wc_curtis@yahoo.com.