Tag Archives: scam alerts

Beware Back-to-School Tuition Scams

Back-to-school season means a flurry of shopping — and a flurry of scams. Scammers know that students and their parents are caught up in a frenzy of preparations and errands and are, therefore, more likely to fall victim to schemes. As you get ready for school, look out for these scams targeting college students and parents of private school students that tend to peak before the start of the school year.

The tuition fee scam

How it plays out: A college student, or the parent of a private school student, receives a phone call from a caller introducing themself as a secretary or administrator at their school, or their child’s school. The caller claims the student or parent owes tuition fees and will not be allowed to return to school for the coming semester unless the fees are paid. They may explain that a tuition check has bounced or that a credit card payment didn’t clear. Alternatively, the caller claims the student’s grant or scholarship was abruptly canceled and the student is now being billed for the full tuition fee.

The caller insists on being paid the outstanding sum immediately or the student will lose their spot in the school. The “secretary” or “administrator” provides the victim with detailed information for wiring money or dropping off the cash at a private address. Of course, once the money is sent, it will never be seen again.

Protect yourself: This scam is easy to spot because most schools will not insist on immediate payment, or payment through a wire transfer. If you receive a call like the one described above, ask the caller detailed questions about the school, their position and the money owed. If it’s a scam, the caller will not be able to answer well. You can also explain that you need to see the actual bill before making any payments, and that you’d like to pick up the bill yourself from the school. Finally, you can insist on calling the school directly to make the payment.

The student tax scam

How it plays out: In this scam, someone allegedly representing the IRS calls a college student at a public university and claims they neglected to pay their student tax. The caller explains that the student tax helps fund the university and that failure to pay this tax can result in disqualification from class and possible imprisonment. They will insist on immediate payment via prepaid gift card or wire transfer.

Protect yourself: You can spot this scam by remembering that the IRS will always first contact people by mail. Also, the IRS won’t insist on being paid through gift card or wire transfer.

The scholarship scam

How it plays out: A scammer reaches out to a college student telling them they’ve been guaranteed approval for a scholarship or grant. The only catch is that the student must pay a hefty fee to receive it. Unfortunately, the scholarship is bogus and, if the victim falls for the scam, they will never see that money again.

In a similar scam, a victim is instructed to pay a fee to a company that will allegedly file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in their name. Of course, no FAFSA form will be filed, and the money paid for this “service” will go directly into the scammer’s pockets.

Protect yourself: Student scholarships and grants are designed to help students and their parents pay for education; they don’t charge for eligibility. If an alleged scholarship claims to charge a fee before granting approval, it is most certainly a scam. Also, no company will guarantee approval for a scholarship or grant; there is always a vetting process of some kind before eligibility is determined. Finally, there is no reason to pay to have a FAFSA form filed; it can be completed easily online here.  For additional help, college students can contact the financial aid office at their university.


Don’t forget to check the latest scam alerts. Scammers are out in full force before the start of the school year. Don’t let them make the grade! Stay alert and stay safe.

IRS Reveals List of Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2020

Each year, the IRS publishes the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of tax scams most prevalent during that year’s tax season. This year, with COVID-19 pushing off the federal tax deadline to July 15, the IRS held off publishing the list until early July, and of course it’s loaded with COVID-19-related scams.

Whether you’ve filed for an extension, you’ve had your taxes filed for months or you’ve gotten them in just in time at the mid-July deadline, be on the lookout for the Dirty Dozen of 2020, which continues spreading for months after Tax Day.

1. Phishing: Fake emails or websites impersonate the IRS in an attempt to steal information about refunds or Economic Impact Payments (EIPs).

Protect yourself: The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email. Be extra wary of any websites and emails making heavy use of COVID-19 terms like stimulus, coronavirus and Economic Impact Payment.

2. Fake charities: Criminals exploit the fear and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to set up bogus charities that rob innocent victims who believe they’re helping the unfortunate. The “charity” may even claim to be working on behalf of the IRS to help victims of the virus get their tax refunds.

Protect yourself: Charities with familiar-sounding names that aggressively market themselves are often bogus charities trying to make donors believe they represent the actual well-known organization. They will also refuse to provide an Employer Identification Number (EIN) when asked, and will not have a positive review on sites like Charity.org. Taxpayers can also search for legitimate charities using the IRS charity search tool.

3. Threatening impersonator phone calls: An alleged IRS agent threatens the victim with arrest, deportation or license revocation if taxes are not paid immediately by prepaid gift card or wire transfer.

Protect yourself: The IRS will never threaten a taxpayer or demand immediate payment over the phone. It also will not insist on being paid via gift card or wire transfer.

4. Social media scams: Scammers use information that can be found on social media platforms for a variety of scams, including the impersonation of the victim’s friend to get at the victims’ more private information. This ruse often ends in tax-related identity theft.

Protect yourself: The victim’s “friend” will claim to be in a compromised position and to urgently need the victim’s personal information. When contacted privately, though, the “friend” will have no knowledge of the interaction.

5. EIP or refund theft: Scammers steal taxpayers’ identities, file false tax returns in their names and pocket their refunds and their EIPs.

Protect yourself: Personal information should never be shared online with an unverified contact, even if the contact promises to assist in tax filing or receiving the EIP.

6. Senior fraud: Scammers, or long-term caregivers of the elderly, file tax returns on their behalf and then pocket the refunds and EIPs.

Protect yourself: Seniors should be wary of bogus emails, text messages and fake websites asking them to share their personal information.

7. Scams targeting non-English speakers: Scammers impersonate IRS agents and target non-English speakers, threatening jail time, deportation or revocation of the victim’s driver’s license if an immediate tax payment is not made. The victims have limited access to information and often fall for these scams.

Protect yourself: The IRS will not threaten taxpayers over the phone or insist upon immediate payment.

8. Unscrupulous return preparers: Alleged tax preparers will reach out to the victim and offer their services. Unfortunately, though, they will steal the victim’s personal information, file a tax return on their behalf and pocket the refund, or promise inflated refunds for a bigger fee.

Protect yourself: If a tax preparer is not willing to share their preparer Tax Identification Number (TIN), they are likely to be a scammer. Also, if the alleged preparer promises credits and deductions that sound too good to be true, they probably are.

9. Offer in Compromise scams: Bogus tax debt resolution companies make false claims about settling tax debts for “pennies on the dollar” through an Offer in Compromise (OIC) in exchange for a steep fee.

Protect yourself: An OIC that sounds outrageously attractive is likely bogus. Taxpayers can use the IRS’s OIC tool to see if they qualify for an authentic offer.

10. Fake payments with repayment demands: A scammer steals a taxpayer’s personal information, files a fake tax return on their behalf and has the refund deposited into the taxpayer’s checking account. The scammer then calls the victim impersonating the IRS and claiming the refund was mistakenly inflated, so the victim must return the extra funds via gift card or wire transfer. Of course, this money will go directly into the scammer’s pockets.

Protect yourself: Refund checks will never be deposited in a taxpayer’s account if they have not filed taxes. Also, the IRS does not demand payment by a specific method.

11. Payroll and HR scams: Scams target tax professionals, employers and taxpayers to steal W-2s and other tax information. They will then impersonate the employee and request to change their direct deposit information for their paychecks.

Protect yourself: If an employer or HR representative receives a request for a direct deposit change, it’s best to check with the employee directly to see if the request is legitimate.

12. Ransomware: Malware infects a victim’s computer, network or server, and tracks keystrokes and/or other computer activity. Sensitive data is then encrypted and locked. When the victim tries to access their data, they’ll receive a pop-up message demanding a ransom payment for the return of their information.

Protect yourself: Links embedded in emails from unverified sources should never be opened. Tax software should not be downloaded unless it features multi-factor authentication.


Don’t be a victim of the dirty dozen! Stay alert and stay safe. USAgencies Credit Union will never contact you to ask for any personal or account information, when in doubt, connect with us at (503) 275-0300 or toll-free (800) 452-0915.

Watch Out for These Scams as the Country Moves Toward Reopening

As the coronavirus continues spreading across the country in waves and peaks, every state is making bold moves toward reopening under a strange new set of circumstances dubbed the “New Normal.” Face coverings are de rigueur. Floor markings have been slapped down exactly 6 feet apart near checkout counters in retail stores. Shoppers are weary, cautious and careful. And, as the country moves forward and adapts to the new realities, scammers aren’t far behind.

Watch out for these trending scams as the country reopens:

Account Takeovers

Even as retailers work toward reopening, shorter hours and percentage-capacity rules mean many consumers are still shopping remotely. Retailers are also busier than ever now as they comply with new rules and work to meet customers’ changing demands. This leads to an increase in online retail scams, like account takeovers, in which scammers hack a company’s database and break into a customer’s account. Using the customer’s remembered payment information, the scammer goes on to place large orders to their own address — all on the client’s dime.

Protect yourself:

Account takeovers are most commonly pulled off on dormant accounts. The scammer assumes these accountholders won’t notice this activity, but you can outsmart them by checking your retail accounts for sudden orders or deleting the remembered information from accounts you rarely use.

Business owners can spot these scams by looking out for sudden large orders from customers who haven’t purchased anything in months, or even years.

Job Scams

“Help Wanted” signs and ads are a welcome sight for the more than 40 million workers who have filed for unemployment since the pandemic hit American shores. Unfortunately, though, the flood of unemployed people looking for work has led to a rise in job scams. The FBI is warning against a surge in scams where cybercriminals pose as employers by spoofing websites and posting bogus job openings on online job boards. They may even go as far as conducting interviews with applicants. The scammers ask for personal information, and sometimes demand payment, before the “application” can be processed. Of course, there is no job waiting for the applicant, their information is now in danger of being abused and they’ll never see that money again.

In a variation of this scam, “employees” are given work to do remotely, and then paid with an inflated paycheck. They’re told they had been overpaid and instructed to cash the check and reimburse the employer for the surplus funds via money order or prepaid debit card. The check will appear to clear, but in a few days, it will bounce and the victim will never be able to reclaim the lost funds.

Protect yourself:

Beware of outrageous job claims that promise big money for little work; they’re likely bogus. As always, never share sensitive information online with an unverified source. Don’t accept a job that overpays and asks you to refund the extra money; it’s likely a scam. Finally, before agreeing to an interview, research an alleged employer and company on the BBB website.

The Contact Tracer Scam

Many states have hired armies of contact tracers to track the movements of individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. The FTC is warning of a new ruse in which scammers impersonate a contact tracer and reach out to people via phone call or text message. They’ll ask for the victim’s personal information, including their Social Security number, claiming they need this information for their work as a contact tracer. Of course, they’ll use this information to pull off identity theft or hack the victim’s accounts. The scammer will sometimes ask the victim to click on an embedded link, which will grant them access to the victim’s phone.

Protect yourself:

Contact tracers will always identify themselves and the department where they work. If a contact tracer reaches out to you, you can easily determine their authenticity by researching this information. The tracer will also have a basic understanding of COVID-19 and how it spreads. Most importantly, they have no need for your Social Security number nor will they ask you to share it.

As the country moves into a new period of healing and recovery, scammers are doing all they can to continue disrupting daily life. Stay aware and stay safe!


Get into the habit of checking for the latest scam alerts on a regular basis. USAgencies Credit Union will never contact you to ask for any personal or account information, when in doubt, connect with us at (503) 275-0300 or toll-free (800) 452-0915.

How To Recognize And Protect Yourself From Scams

Scammers are always trying to con victims out of their information and money. They are, unfortunately, often successful. Scammers are expert impersonators, using sophisticated technology and their best acting skills to convince you they represent a business, institution or government agency you may trust. They also tend to prey on the most susceptible victims, including those who are down on their luck or are exceptionally naïve and trusting.

To help you achieve it, we’ve put together this guide about recognizing the signs of fraud and protecting yourself from scams.

Five red flags of scams

While the details surrounding the way a scam plays out can vary greatly, most follow a similar theme. They try to get victims to share personal information or to pay for a service or product that doesn’t exist. Here are five ways to spot a scammer:

  1. They ask for detailed information before agreeing to process an application.
  2. They insist on a specific method of payment.
  3. They send a check for an inflated amount to a seller or “employee,” and then ask the victim to mail them the extra money. Of course, the original check will not clear.
  4. You can’t find any information about the company the caller allegedly represents.
  5. You’re pressured to act now.

Who are the targets?

Scammers usually cast a wide net to ensnare as many victims as possible. However, lots of scams focus on a subset of highly vulnerable targets. Here are some of the most common targets of scams:

  • The unemployed. The internet makes it easy for scammers to learn that you’re looking for a job. If you’re job hunting, be careful not to respond to any emails offering you a “dream position” you never applied for or even knew about.
  • The aging. Older people are another favorite target for scammers. Retired individuals often spend lots of time online, making them more vulnerable to scams. Also, as relative newcomers to the online world, they may be less aware of the dangers lurking on the internet.
  • Children. Sadly, the youngest members of society are another huge target pool for scammers. Children are naturally trusting and will more readily share information with strangers, which can then be used to steal their identity. Small children will likely not be checking their credit for years, which means a stolen identity can go unchecked until the child grows into a young adult. By that time their credit can be wrecked, almost beyond repair.

What do scams look like?

Here are some of the most common scams:

  • Cyberhacking. In this scam, hackers gain remote access to your computer and proceed to help themselves to your personal information.
  • Phishing scams. Scammers bait you into sharing personal information via a bogus job form, an application for a service they allegedly provide or by impersonating a well-known company or government agency.
  • Mystery shopper. A bogus company will “hire” you to purchase a specific item in a store and then report back about the service experience. Before you get started, though, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee, which you’ll never see again.
  • Job offers. Scammers “hire” you for a position and then scam you by sending you an inflated check, as detailed above.
  • Sweetheart scams. A scammer pretending to be an online lover will con you into sharing your personal information and/or sending them money and gifts.
  • Fraudulent investments. Scammers reach out to potential investors with information about lucrative investments that don’t exist.

10 ways to protect yourself from scams

  1. Never share personal information online.
  2. Don’t open unsolicited emails. If you already have, don’t click on any embedded links.
  3. Never send money by insecure means to an unknown party.
  4. Protect your devices by using the most up-to-date operating systems, choosing two-factor authentication and using strong, unique passwords for every account.
  5. Choose the strongest privacy settings for your social media accounts.
  6. Keep yourself in the know about the latest scams and learn how to protect yourself.
  7. Educate your kids about basic computer safety and privacy.
  8. If you have elderly parents, talk to them about common scams and teach them to protect themselves.
  9. If a government agency or a company calls and asks you to share personal information, tell them you’ll contact them on your own.
  10. Never accept a job or pay for a purchase or service without researching the company involved.

Above all, remember the golden rule of scams: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.


Get into the habit of checking for the latest scam alerts on a regular basis. Once an individual falls prey to a scam, full financial recovery can take years. It’s best to protect yourself from scams before they happen by educating yourself and asking USAgencies Credit Union for help.