Online Scams to Watch Out For

As Technology Changes, so Do the Methods of Fleecing the Unsuspecting and Gullible

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Beware of internet scam and spam
Beware of internet scam and spam
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Article updated 07/27/21.

Scamming unsuspecting rubes is nothing new; it has been around as long as the unscrupulous among us began to figure out how to separate the gullible from their cash. Snake oil anyone? Step right up. Methods vary but the digital age has really opened up the floodgates for these charlatans. Take Al Gore for example. He’s gotten rich on donations and preaching about climate change and global warming while justifying his lifestyle with “carbon credits.” Forget the iconic “Nigerian prince and Middle East widow;” things have gotten more sophisticated. Here are a few online scams to watch out for.

Trump Bonus Checks, Freedom Checks, and the 501(k)

This one has been making the rounds for some time now. There are a slew of variations but what it boils down to is that money is out there for the average American to claim (But hurry! There’s a deadline!) Yeah right, and every time that deadline expires it’s pushed forward. Curious, yes?

Some of them claim that large corporations are just falling over in their eagerness to cut huge checks. Others actually seem to claim that President Trump actually signed legislation to hand out money like candy (But hurry! There’s a deadline!). These are called Trump Bonus Checks. They never specifically claim that the Donald had anything to do with it but the slippery bums plant the seed of reality by taking advantage of a little thing called greed. I have yet to see anyone attributing a bonus check scam to Joe Biden.

The reality? These shysters are selling expensive stock-pick newsletters. Couldn’t cut it as legitimate brokers, I suppose.

Have You Seen Ads About the 501(k)?

Regarding one that I just saw not so very long ago, the hook read, “Trump’s New Law Could Mean Big Changes for Retirees.” Did President Trump change something in his tax reduction? No! He simply did not reference or eliminate certain already existing tax loopholes. But these “advisors,” ahem, are clever with words. And targeting retirees online? Sad.

Unlike the book above, in reality, this company wants to send you another kind of book — one that tells you how to invest in their “secret plan,” of which they say, “Because government heavily restricts the advertising for this “account,” most people aren’t aware of just how great it is.”

Heavily restricted? But they have their ads plastered all over the internet? This is so odoriferous; it stinks to high heaven of chicanery.

The “Consumer Bonus” Hidden in Section 11042

Shhh, don’t tell anyone but this bonus has been “hidden”in the Trump tax reform bill. The online video tripe put out by the Oxford Club (now, doesn’t that name just radiate confidence?) claims the average citizen can get a bonus of cash of up to $3,700 for purchases. In their words, anything from a pair of shoes to a yacht. And the best part is that the IRS doesn’t even care if you save receipts. Yowsa!

But hold your horses. Does this pass the smell test, I ask? As Intuit Turbotax puts it, “This is bogus, a play on words, and nothing of substance. If you read the language of that section, that is indeed the section that limits the SALT deduction, a provision that was subject to much political debate. Before enactment of HR 1, you could fully deduct your paid state and local income taxes. This provision limits that amount for tax years after 2017 and before 2026 to $10,000.”

“So the claim is “legit” in the sense that if you are at the top marginal tax rate and you itemize your deductions and you paid $10,000 or more in state or local taxes, your tax bill will be $3,700 lower in 2018 than it would be without 26 USC 164 (which Section 11042 modifies).”

“However, it is entirely bogus because that section of the 2017 tax bill does not provide any new benefit at all, like the copy explicitly states (it is in fact limiting an existing benefit) and because that provision does not even apply to tax year 2017 anyway. If you were already benefiting from “this section” you will continue to benefit (albeit to a lesser extent). If you were not already benefiting, you will continue to not benefit.”

OK, that was a bit long-winded but it’s the gospel according to Turbotax and if anyone knows the code, it’s them. So what the heck is up with that illustrious organization the Oxford Club? Same old, same old bait and switch show. They want you to subscribe to The Oxford Communiqué. They are basically selling you their stock tips. But really, if they had to stitch together that whole bogus tale of the Shhhh, Hidden Consumer Bonus, do you really trust their tips?

Just Sign the Petition…

This one is usually has a political flavor. Sometimes it comes from a bona fide politician. More than any other, I remember getting hammered with emails and texts from Obama operatives. Sometimes it comes from a third party, maybe a legitimate fundraiser, maybe not. In any event, here is the way it works. The email concerns an alarmist political issue.

“Dear fellow patriot, we desperately need your support. Please click to sign the petition which we will deliver to X, Y, or Z. Clicking will indeed take you to a petition for you to “sign.” How can typing your name hold water on a petition? Next, you are taken to a page asking for a monetary contribution.

Why does it work? People that are politically aware can have strong emotional feelings about their side on most issues, whether it is for the Republicans or the Democrats. It is a classic emotion-play. But in the case of a third party solicitation, what percentage actually goes to the cause and how much to “operating expenses?” If you really want to contribute, go right to the party. It’s not difficult and you might even get some merch as a thank you.

This is another one that is designed to tug on your heartstrings. Booooooing! You will usually be shown a sad photo of a child, people, etc. in a horrible situation. Next, they go to work exaggerating the back story about these people. After the story, they then ask that you donate some money to this noble cause.

Unfortunately even the supposedly reliable charities don’t always make the grade. Several years ago the Red Cross got a slew of bad press for the incredible expenses they went through while doing some commercial remodeling projects on their headquarters.

Rather than just handing over your cash on the spot, ask to see in writing the way and what percentage of funds actually get distributed. If they are legit they will be glad to oblige. If they hesitate or hem ‘n haw, give them the boot.

Search for Your Name

This money-grabber comes cloaked in a number of come-ons. It might say “Scary what this site knows bout Americans. Enter any name,” “Have you Googled Yourself?,” or something similar. Clicking will take you to a page that allows you to enter a name, state, etc. It will yield some basic facts but then wants to charge your credit card to give you the real scoop. What they don’t tell you is that all this info is all in the public records.

All you are really paying for is for someone (actually something, an algorithm) to do the leg work for you. If you don’t mind paying for that, OK. But keep in mind that this is a sneaky come-on and as long as they have aggregated your data they can easily use it themselves or sell it to others as a basis for identity theft.

Bottom line? Don’t trust anyone; approach each situation as a business transaction. Do not open any email attachments that you do not trust. Keep your emotions in check. Sign up for the Kim Komando newsletter. She is always on top of new scams.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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