Are con artists adopting trendy twists on old scams?

In a word, yes. You may be great at deleting e-mails from Nigerian princes to avoid online phishing, but fraudsters keep coming up with new schemes for prying information or money from potential victims. And while scams sometimes involve hot topics that are getting a lot of attention in the news, which may make them seem legitimate, they still may be based on old-school techniques such as phone calls.

If a broker contacts you about investing in high-yielding certificates of deposit, don’t provide any information or send money right away. Why? Because of reports that scammers have been posing as brokers to pitch CDs, claiming to represent a legitimate firm–perhaps even one that you already do business with. They may give you a number to call or offer to have their supervisor send you forms to help you transfer funds in an attempt to acquire data that can be used to steal either your money or identity. Even caller ID can be rigged to fake a firm’s number; check the number independently with the firm’s website or your own records and call directly to verify the caller’s identity.

Another area ripe for fraud is linked to the recent legalization of medical or recreational marijuana in some states. As with any enterprise making headlines, so-called “pump-and-dump” artists have begun touting small, thinly traded companies linked to that industry. In many cases, they hope to inflate demand and drive up the stock price quickly–the “pump”–and then dump their vastly inflated shares at a profit, leaving their victims holding the bag(gie). Any unproven company in a relatively new industry deserves extra scrutiny of its financials, management, business plan, and other information. Don’t be rushed into a decision just because a stranger tells you the window of opportunity is closing or promises fast profits.

Finally, if you receive a phone call threatening you with jail time or the loss of your driver’s license unless you pay what you owe the IRS, don’t panic, even if they cite part of your Social Security number or you also get a call from your local police department or motor vehicles department that seems to “verify” the claim. Again, your first step should be to contact the IRS, police, or motor vehicles department on your own, using a phone number you obtained yourself rather than one provided by a caller.

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