MONEY Scams

IRS Agent or Scammer? 5 Signs You’re Being Conned

fishing hooks being dropped into fishbowl with goldfish
Adam Gault—Getty Images

A nasty con is on the rise involving fake IRS agents who call up potential victims and demand payment for back taxes.

Scammers who pretend to be IRS agents and harass unsuspecting citizens into paying debts they don’t owe have been quite busy over the last two years. According to the Associated Press, some version of this scam has resulted in victims being conned out of $15.5 million since 2013.

Only a small percentage of people who are targeted actually fall for the ruse, which in the past has involved criminals claiming to be federal agents named, rather uncreatively, Steve Martin or Jack Dawson—the actor-comedian and Leonardo DiCaprio character in Titanic, respectively. Roughly 3,000 have given money over to the con artists, out of more than 366,000 that have been contacted via phone over the past two years. But some of those who are victimized have been bilked out of big money—to the tune of more than $500,000 in one instance.

In order to avoid being victimized yourself, bear in mind a few key points:

Don’t trust caller ID. As the FTC noted last summer, scammers have ways of “spoofing” caller ID to make it look as if the call is originating from a government agency.

The IRS doesn’t call people up out of the blue. The IRS almost always contacts people about unpaid taxes first by mail, not by phone. So if someone claims to be a government agent and says that you owe money, or perhaps that you’re eligible for a refund or some prize, look up the agency’s official number and dial it up to check if what you’re hearing is legitimate. Most likely, it isn’t.

Don’t give out or confirm info over the phone. Fake agents may have some of your personal info—even the last four digits of your social security number. Don’t help out the imposter by confirming this info or giving out any other information over the phone.

IRS agents won’t ask for a specific form of payment. Scammers usually want payments made via prepaid debit cards or wire transfers because they’re difficult to trace. A genuine IRS agent never asks for immediate payment over the phone, never requests payment information over the phone, and never specifies a certain form of payment for unpaid taxes.

The IRS won’t threaten you with arrest or deportation. Or losing your driver’s license, your job, or your business. Scammers have made all of these threats and more in order to get victims to pay up swiftly. But again, if you truly owe the IRS money, you will first be notified by mail, not with a phone call. And certainly not with a harassing phone call.

As Timothy Camus, a Treasury deputy inspector general for tax administration, explained to the AP, “If someone calls unexpectedly claiming to be from the IRS with aggressive threats if you do not pay immediately, it is a scam artist calling.”

If you do get a call that you suspect to be a scam, hang up the phone right away, and then report the incident at the taxpayer administration hotline (800-366-4484). File a complaint with the FTC as well.

MONEY TV

Here’s Everything That’s Wrong With Cable and Satellite TV Bills

150312_EM_CableBills
Getty Images

A new complaint filed by the FTC alleging deceptive advertising by DirecTV is a case study in everything that customers hate about how pay TV providers do business.

This week, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against the satellite pay TV provider DirecTV, alleging deceptive advertising. The FTC charges that DirecTV violated the FTC Act in many instances by failing to clearly and prominently disclose various “gotchas” in subscriber contracts, including that customers are locked into services for two years, and that an extra fee for premium channels kicks in automatically unless subscribers proactively cancel the option.

A federal court in San Francisco will decide if DirecTV is guilty as charged, and if so how much the company will owe in fines and payments to customers. Regardless of the outcome, however, the complaint exposes pretty much everything that’s misleading, hated, and just plain wrong with the way pay TV providers—DirecTV as well as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and the rest—reel in subscribers in and then get them on the hook for a lot more money than they’d anticipated.

Specifically, the case calls attention to the following annoying and atrocious practices routinely employed by virtually all pay TV providers.

Loads of fine print. “It’s a bedrock principle that the key terms of an offer to a consumer must be clear and conspicuous, not hidden in fine print,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in the press release announcing the complaint against DirecTV. Yet to this day, details regarding DirecTV’s plans, including a requirement to keep the service for 24 months or face a cancellation fee up to $480, are explained in typeface that’s minuscule compared with the $19.99 monthly rate. It’s also confusing that while it’s necessary to subscribe for 24 months, the $19.99 rate is only valid for half that time. What happens after the first 12 months have ended?

Exploding bills. “DIRECTV does not clearly disclose that the cost of the package will increase by up to $45 more per month in the second year,” the FTC complaint states. This strategy—drawing in subscribers with a cheap rate, then jacking it up as soon as possible—is the consensus business model of all the major pay TV providers. What this commonplace tactic shows is that these companies value new subscribers over older, more loyal ones. It essentially punishes loyal customers who accept the bill hikes without complaint, while giving price breaks to newcomers and people who threaten to jump ship to a competitor. Assuming that’s a possibility, of course.

Difficult to change or cancel. DirecTV hits subscribers with a big fee if they try to drop the service before the allotted two-year introductory period has ended. The widespread use of “retention specialists” whose job is to stop customers from canceling or downsizing plans, as well as various cancellation or change fees, plus the fact that most Americans only have one or two pay TV options where they live all help to conspire to keep subscribers paying whichever provider they currently have.

Surprise fees. The cancellation fee cited by the FTC is only one of many charges that drive pay TV subscribers crazy. The others include a dizzying roster of taxes and fees for things like modems or some vague “Voice/data Equipment.”

Overall deception and opaque pricing. How much will your total monthly bill come to after all taxes and fees? What’s the exact breakdown on fees? When will introductory prices rise, and what rate will they rise to? For that matter, what’s the full price for various package plans in your neck of the woods? Good luck finding answers to any of these spelled out clearly and prominently on a pay TV provider ad or website.

The providers prefer to keep customers in the dark, and you can see why: If people knew how much their bill would actually be, and how quickly and significantly the monthly rate will soar, they’d be a lot less likely to sign up in the first place.

MONEY Travel

$5 Bottled Water at Airport Inspires a Lawsuit

Water near a checked-baggage inspection station at Terminal One at Los Angeles International Airport.
Reed Saxon—AP Water near a checked-baggage inspection station at Terminal One at Los Angeles International Airport.

Everything is overpriced at the airport. But a new lawsuit alleges that gouging travelers to the tune of $5 for a bottle of water is taking things too far.

Travelers might rightfully feel that airport stores charging an outrageous $5 for bottled water is just plain wrong. A new lawsuit raises just this issue, but surprisingly, it hasn’t been filed by a traveler coalition or group of consumer advocates. Instead, the squabble involves two retailers squaring off at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

The New Jersey-based Hudson Group is under contract to run two boutique Kitson stores at LAX. Recently, Kitson filed a lawsuit after Hudson allegedly refused to sell bottled water at a price of $2.55 per liter—instead charging a “hugely” inflated price of nearly $5 per bottle.

“Water is one of the most basic necessities for travelers and Hudson is taking advantage of the post-9-11 airport restrictions” by inflating water prices, Kitson attorney Steven Bledsoe explained to the Associated Press.

The fight isn’t over the price of bottled water alone. Kitson has been trying to get out its licensing contract with Hudson for months, if not longer, and both sides are accusing the other of breach of contract. A few weeks ago, according to the Los Angeles Times, Kitson accused Hudson of a “candy-gate” scandal, claiming that Hudson put new wrappers with later expiration on candy bars—and that it overcharged for the stale chocolate to boot. More recently, Kitson says that it sought to stock shelves at the airport with SmartWater for $2.55 per liter, but the Hudson Group refused. Hudson, which operates other stores at the airport, charges $4 to $5 for bottled water at LAX.

Just how much of a rip-off is that? In a 2009 study concerning airport pricing, all major American airports charged $2.60 or less for bottled water—and the prices then were considered exploitive. Some airports, such as Dallas-Fort Worth, cap prices for airport concessions at 10% above street level rates. That equated to $2.25 for a 20-oz. bottle in 2009; at the time, the same bottle cost “only” $1.84 at LAX.

At $3, the price of a bottle of water purchased aboard Spirit Airlines is considered outrageous, but that’s probably more to do with the fact that an airline charges for water at all, rather than the price charged. Prices at LAX are roughly in line with pro sports venues, which are also renowned for gouging customers. Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, charges an absurd $5.75 for bottled water.

In any event, Hudson maintains that the two LAX-location Kitson stores will close at the end of March, while Kitson says there is no such agreement and that their contract doesn’t end then. What’s more, Hudson representatives say that if travelers are worried about being ripped off, it’s actually Kitson that should concern them. “Kitson is known for selling pricey items in its high end boutiques,” Hudson attorney Timmons said in a statement. “Anyone who thinks that Kitson is really motivated here by an altruistic concern over how much consumers are paying for water at LAX has either never shopped at a Kitson store or is really naive.”

Oh, and if you’re really concerned about how much water costs at LAX or any airport, just bring a refillable bottle, or even just an empty plastic bottle. Then, once you’re beyond the security gates, where you can’t cross through with liquids, find the nearest water fountain and fill up.

TIME Scams

The New Way Scammers Are Fleecing America

Sending Text Message On Mobile Phone Nokia 3310
Alamy Seemed like a smart phone at the time.

That call you got probably isn't actually from the IRS

The FTC released its annual list of the top consumer complaints, and while there are some perennial gripes therein, there are also some new things consumers should watch out for.

Among the more than 2.5 million complaints, not including do-not-call complaints, identity theft once again takes the top spot—a position it’s held for 15 years running now. In 2014, 13% of the complaints the fielded by the FTC, state and federal agencies, consumer protection and other non-governmental groups pertained to identity theft.

Right behind it, debt collection complaints held onto the number two spot with 11% of the complaints, but a new entrant entered the third spot: so-called “impostor” scams.

Impostor scams are when someone calls and pretends to be from a government agency or other authority, usually the IRS, but not always. These scams often revolve around tax-related topics. The FTC says complaints about fake “IRS” agents was almost 24 times higher last year than in 2013.

“IRS employees won’t call out of the blue and threaten to have you arrested or demand specific methods of payment,” says Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. If the real IRS needs to get ahold of you about a tax bill, they know where you live — they’ll do it by mail.

Military personnel appear to be at a higher risk for impostor scams. While it was the third most common complaint overall last year, it was the second-highest complaint for military consumers.

“Whether it’s pretending to be the IRS during tax season, or making false promises of a lottery win, scammers are increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to deceive consumers,” Rich says.

Members of the military also seem to be targeted to a greater degree by shady educational outfits: Although complaints related to education were pretty far down the list among the general population, they ranked seventh-highest among members of the military.

Where you live also makes a difference in the likelihood that you’ll be targeted by scammers. The FTC says the most identity theft complaints come from Florida, Washington and Oregon, while the most fraud complaints come from Florida (again), Georgia and Nevada.

Nationwide, more than half of fraud complaints originate with a scammer calling the victim; about a quarter of the contacts are initiated by email. Fraud pertaining to government documents or benefits was the most common kind, making up almost 40% of complaints. Prepaid cards and wire transfers were the most common ways scammers separated victims from their money.

MONEY Scams

The Dumb Thing People Do Every Winter That Gets Cars Stolen

empty parking space and snow
Riitta Supperi—Getty Images

Yes, it's cold out. And sure, no one likes getting into a freezing car. But warming it up first may not be such a hot idea.

There’s a big reason you shouldn’t start your car up in the driveway and head back inside while it warms up. Why? Doing so makes it incredibly easy for someone to steal your car. Hundreds of people around the country have been learning this hard lesson over the past couple months.

Think about how often, once the weather turns cold, people start their vehicles and leave the car unlocked with the keys in the ignition for 10 minutes or so before the morning commute. It doesn’t take a brilliant criminal mind to take advantage of this all-too-common scenario. All that thieves need to do is patrol the neighborhoods looking for cars that are running with no one behind the wheel. Before you know it, they’re driving away in someone else’s vehicle, no hotwiring or carjacking required.

Reports of cars being stolen out of driveways while warming up started surfacing around Thanksgiving in Arkansas, when nine vehicles were swiped during a two-week period. During the first few chilly weeks of 2015, dozens of such thefts have popped up in a long list of cities, including Albuquerque, Indianapolis, Boise, Wichita, Anchorage, Toronto, and even smaller towns like Hamilton, N.J. Mind you, isolated cars thefts rarely make the news; each of the above links put locals on notice that there’s been a rash of ripoffs—often a dozen, sometimes many more.

Police in Kansas City recently estimated that roughly 200 unattended vehicles with keys left inside have been stolen this winter. The thefts usually take place in residential areas curbside or in the owner’s driveway, but criminals are also known to stake out convenience stores and gas stations waiting for someone to leave a car running for a moment.

In some states—including Kansas—it’s actually illegal to have a car running with no one inside. However, local police say they can’t cite anyone for a traffic violation on private property, such as the owner’s driveway.

In any event, the obvious moral to the story here is: Don’t give thieves such an easy opportunity to steal your car! If you must warm up your car, do it with a remote starter or use a separate valet key, so that the door can remain locked while the vehicle is unoccupied. Or just, you know, suck it up and sit in a cold car. Put on an extra layer of clothing if you need to. It’s winter, after all.

MONEY Holidays

These Miserable Guys Say Valentine’s Day Is a Ploy By ‘Oppressive Chocolate Capitalists’

Vday chocolates on shelf
Denis Beaumont—AP

Imagine if the Grinch hated Valentine's Day instead of Christmas. A group of dudes with this kind of mentality are planning a march in protest of the "blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine's Day" on Saturday.

A reasonable case can be made that Valentine’s Day is too forced and commercial. It’s the ultimate Hallmark holiday, the argument goes, in which many people spend purely out of a sense of obligation, based on traditions cooked up ages ago by entrepreneurs pushing chocolates, greeting cards, jewelry, and roses. This week, for instance, the Miami Herald reported that over the course of half a century, Colombia has spent a fortune developing and marketing flowers to export to the U.S., and the result is that today three out of four flower orders delivered on Valentine’s Day originate in the country.

The point is that no matter how much Valentine’s Day has to do with genuine displays of love and affection, it’s also about marketing and making money. Big whoop, you might think. Every holiday, from Thanksgiving to Halloween and beyond, is exploited by somebody trying to make a buck.

Apparently, however, one angry group of men in Japan feel that they can’t stay quiet or simply ignore the holiday they view as offensive and oppressive. They are planning a “Smash Valentine’s Day” protest march in Tokyo on Saturday to get their voices heard.

As you might imagine, these haters and their movement aren’t big hits with the ladies. In fact, they admit as much. The group’s name is Kakuhido, which translates roughly as “Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Women Find Unattractive” or just “Revolutionary Unattractive Male Alliance.”

A call to arms on has been issued on group’s website, the (UK) Telegraph reported. “The blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine’s Day, driven by the oppressive chocolate capitalists, has arrived once again,” reads the announcement about Saturday’s planned demonstration. “In order to create a brighter future, we call for solidarity among our unloved comrades so that we may demonstrate in resolute opposition to Valentine’s Day and the romantic industrial complex.”

On the one hand, Katsuhiro Furusawa, who founded the “Revolutionary” group in 2006 after (surprise) being dumped by his girlfriend before Christmas, is sometimes known to express a sensible point of view. “The love the mass media is talking about is actually commercial love,” he explained of Valentine’s Day to one magazine. “They are using love to turn people into consumers.”

Yet Tokyo Reporter noted that, by and large, “Kakuhido’s beliefs are misogynistic.” They’re anti-woman, anti-marriage, and also just plain angry and sad. And it’s not just Valentine’s Day they hate. The group hosted an anti-Christmas demonstration last December, reportedly because they were “tired of feeling lonely and depressed by the lack of female companionship during the holiday season.”

Sad. Let’s hope that come Saturday, a Grinch-like miracle happens and the hearts of Kakuhido members grow three sizes on Valentine’s Day.

MONEY

The Shady Story Behind Soaring Super Bowl Ticket Prices

The exterior of University of Phoenix Stadium
Gene Lower—AP The exterior of University of Phoenix Stadium, host of the 2015 Super Bowl, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Allegations of collusion and marketplace manipulation are being thrown around as average asking prices for Super Bowl tickets topped a staggering $9,000 this week.

This wasn’t how we were told things would play out.

Generally speaking, every year, there’s a predictable arc to Super Bowl ticket prices on the secondary market. The market rate for Super Bowl tickets tends to be high (perhaps three times face value) in the days before the AFC and NFC Championship games, and then once it’s clear who will play in the Super Bowl, there’s usually a price spike as fans clamber for the chance to see their team win the title. After this initial wave of purchases subsides, prices tend to drop as Super Bowl Sunday nears and sellers don’t want to get stuck with seats at the last minute.

Understandably, the trajectory and peak for pricing is a little different every year, depending on which teams are squaring off and where the game is being played. Projections for the 2015 Super Bowl’s ticket prices called for seats to be less expensive than usual, supposedly because of “fatigue” among fans of the two teams in the game, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, who have both played and won it all over the past decade.

Yet the price drop almost everyone expected over the past couple of weeks never took place. Soon after the AFC and NFC Championship games ending, asking prices were relatively cheap, with the average ticket selling for around $2,900 and the cheapest tickets available for roughly $1,900. At the start of this week, the average list price was up to $6,500 and the “cheap” seats were at least $4,200.

By Thursday afternoon, $7,100 was the least expensive ticket posted for sale on secondary market sites such as TiqIQ, while StubHub alerted the media that the “current average list price for the Super Bowl is $9,484.37, which is up 282.43% since last year at this time ($2,480.06).”

That’s at the sites that actually had access to tickets. As of midday on Friday, popular secondary ticket exchanges like Vivid Seats and Razor Gator had posted messages to the effect of “Sorry, but we currently have no tickets available for this event.” StubHub listed fewer than 300 seats available for purchase, with asking prices ranging from roughly $7,500 to $40,000. The NFL’s official Ticket Exchange by Ticketmaster site listed 109 tickets for sale, with individual seats starting at $6,500. Anyone interested in a pair of seats together would have to pay at least $7,800 per ticket. Face value for Super Bowl tickets ranges from $800 to $1,900.

What caused the ticket supply to shrink and prices to go totally bonkers? In its Thursday release about skyrocketing prices, StubHub accused a handful of unnamed large ticket sellers in control of most of the Super Bowl ticket inventory of colluding with each other and manipulating the marketplace. “A consolidation of supply has allowed sellers to manipulate the marketplace and made it near impossible for any last minute fans to attend the game,” StubHub global head of communications Glenn Lehrman said in the release.

At the start of this week, the explanation for the unexpected rise in prices was that many brokers had been “short-selling” tickets, based on the assumption that the previously established pattern would hold true and prices would fall as Super Bowl Sunday neared. To short-sell tickets, “a broker typically lists tickets in a generic section of the stadium and doesn’t disclose exactly where the seats are until the Wednesday before the game,” as a post by ESPN’s Darren Rovell explained. “The idea for the brokers is to take money from ticket buyers when the tickets are at a higher price after the conference title games, then actually buy the tickets days later as the prices start to come down.”

Apparently, tons of brokers hopped on board this scheme of selling tickets on “spec”—only when the time came to buy actual seats later on as promised, the going prices in the marketplace were far higher than brokers had anticipated. In the investing world, they call that a “short squeeze.”

StubHub says that the collusion of a few large ticket sellers has limited supply to “essentially short-squeeze brokers and make the marketplaces” such as StubHub and VividSeats “buy up the supply at upwards of 4x market value.”

One clear end result is that unless you’re rich or the Mayor of Glendale, Ariz., the host town for this year’s Super Bowl, you’re basically out of luck in terms of getting tickets to the game. Everyday fans are the big losers in all of this. On the other hand, the ticket sellers being accused of rigging the game—the ones who allegedly held back supply and pushed prices skyward—have been cashing in over the past few days.

As for secondary market sites like StubHub and TiqIQ, as well as the smaller brokers whose sales take place on these sites, the results are somewhat muddled. “At the end of the day, many brokers took a big hit from this, while very few made a profit,” TiqIQ’s Chris Matcovitch said in an email. In some cases, the secondary market sites have felt forced to pay far above market rates in order to save face and not have brokers breaking the promise of tickets sold on spec. According to TiqIQ, overall ticket prices on its site have been average as far as Super Bowls go, though the volume of sales is down “significantly.”

“You will be hearing horror stories all weekend,” said Matcovich. “People without tickets, brokers folding, lawsuits, etc.”

So we’re got another NFL scandal on our hands. How surprising.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 21

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. China’s scramble to lock up resources in Africa has forced it to act more like a conventional superpower.

By Richard Javad Heydarian in Medium

2. Adaptive learning technology can give educators tools to keep kids who learn differently from falling through the cracks.

By Susan D’Auria and Ashley Mucha at Knewton

3. 2015 might be the year America starts to get online identity right.

By Alex Howard in Tech Republic

4. Changing a long-standing rule prohibiting sororities from hosting parties could reverse the power imbalance that underlies campus sexual assault.

By Michael Kimmel in Time

5. Ominous headlines notwithstanding, offline fraud and scams are still more costly to individuals and the government than cybercrime.

By Benjamin Dean in the Conversation

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Scams

The Surprising Truth About the Latest Text Spam Attack

woman text messaging
Getty Images

Handbag pirates will actually send you the (knockoff) products you order... but it's unclear what they do with your personal data.

A text-message spam campaign that flooded mobile phones and irritated perhaps millions of iPhone users last summer reared its ugly head again towards the end of 2014. The messages offer recipients a cheap way to order designer products like handbags and sunglasses. In a curious twist, one researcher says those who “fall” for the spam appear to get what they order. But it’s still a scam — the bags are fakes, of course, sent directly from China. And who knows what really happens to the personal information you give the spammers.

At one point last summer, this one “product promotion spam” campaign, which specifically targeted Apple’s iMessage users, made up as much as 40% of all unwanted text messages received by U.S. users, says spam-fighting firm Cloudmark.

By September, the campaign had all but disappeared. But from September to December — perhaps in time for the holidays? — it reappeared. Preliminary research shows a four-fold increase during that stretch, Cloudmark says. The new version of the scam adds knock-off Ugg boots, perhaps just in time for winter.

Last year, Cloudmark researcher Tom Landesman “fell” for the spam’s offer. He visited the fake Michael Kors site hawked by the spam, and ordered a bag using a limited value credit card. It’s easy to imagine the spammers’ goal was identity theft, and that the card and other information would immediately be used for fraud. Instead, he actually received a fake, shipped from China, made of poor imitation leather and cheap clasps. Buttons were inscribed with Chinese instead of English.

The Internet Protocol address of the knock-off websites advertised in the spam suggest they are in China, Landesman said. Packages are shipped from locations in and around Suzhou, China, not far from Shanghai.

So far, at least, there are no signs the spammers are interested in identity fraud. They’re just selling fakes.

“I suppose they see it as advertising…China has a lot of unique advertising ideas,” Landesman said. “China doesn’t have the same legislative disincentives (for spammers).”

While recipients do seemingly get something for their money, they are still getting cheated, Landesman says — they don’t get what they think they are paying for. He breaks spam into three categories: Simple spam, which is just noise; scams, with false advertising; and malicious texts, such as bank phishing messages seeking banking credentials.

spam attack types

“This is kind of middle-of-the-road. Arguably you can go to a flea market and buy something similar,” he said. “Still, you should absolutely ignore these messages.”

Text message spam is not the nuisance that email spam can be — in many parts of the world, three out of four emails are spam — but text spam is certainly on the rise. Given the widespread adoption of smartphones, it’s much easier for a text spammer to get a recipient to follow the complicated chain of events required to monetize a victim, such as directing recipients to a website to enter personal information.

Other technological circumstances can make things even easier for spammers. The knock-off campaign Cloudmark examined specifically targeted Apple’s iMessage users. iMessage makes it easy for users to follow text chats from phone to tablet to desktop, but because users link their email addresses and mobile phone numbers, spammers have an easier time finding targets. The messages run through Apple’s servers, rather than through mobile carriers’ text message systems, which can save users money, but that also shifts the burden of spam filtering to Apple. And iMessage users by default send a return receipt, which is gold to a spammer, Landesman said — it reveals to spammers they have a “live” phone number to attack, or sell to other spammers.

Any mobile text users can protect themselves chiefly by ignoring the spam. If you choose, you can forward the message to 7726 (which spells SPAM on old telephone keypads), where an industry group will help block future messages from the same sender, or with the same content.

iMessage users can take the additional step of turning off return receipt notification, or block notification of messages from users who aren’t in their contact list.

Image courtesy Cloudmark

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY

5 Ways Scammers are Targeting Last-Minute Holiday Shoppers

The baddies perpetrating these crimes ought to get coal in their stockings. But if you're not careful, they might get your money instead.

In the final days before Christmas, holiday scams are haunting shoppers once again. As you finish buying the last of your presents, watch out for these Scrooge-like schemes:

1. Feast of the phishers

Email scams in particular have been making headlines this season. They even earned a spot on the Better Business Bureau’s list of holiday scams to avoid.

“Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer,” the BBB warns. “Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS, Federal Express or major retailers with links to package tracking information.”

Also, be wary of any communications received from charities to which you’ve never given money.

To outwit these scammers, don’t open any emails from senders you don’t recognize, and definitely don’t click on any links or download any attachments in these messages.

And if you get an email from a particular retailer and you haven’t recently made a purchase (or signed up for the mailing list), assume that it’s a phishing attempt and don’t click through just in case.

2. $0 gift cards

Gift cards may seem like the perfect gift, but they can also be the perfect scam.

Sometimes, cards that are sold online from sites other than those of major retailers can turn out to contain little or no money.

But gift card scams abound in stores as well. Sophisticated criminals copy gift card information right off cards on the rack, wait for a shopper to activate the card and then swoop in and steal the funds.

For the safest possible purchase, buy gift cards directly from the source. And when buying in-store, remember to check that the scratch-off activation code on the back is untouched before purchase if the card was openly on display.

3. The doggie double-cross

You may be shopping for more than clothes and electronics this season. If you’re hoping to add a four-legged family member, you’ll need to be careful here as well.

In the so-called puppy scam, unknowing prospective pet owners locate a supposed breeder online and wire money for a dog they hope to adopt, but are ultimately left without a furry friend.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends avoiding such scams by adopting Christmas puppies from a shelter, animal rescue group or breeder to whom you’ve been referred by someone you trust.

4. Package pilfering

Ordering some of your gifts online?

The downside of convenience is that the pile of packages that arrives on your doorstep may be tempting to some unsavory sorts. Already people across the country—from Texas to New Jersey—have reported boxes being stolen.

To prevent becoming a victim of box burglars, you could require signature on delivery for anything you order for yourself and ask anyone you expect to be sending you things to do the same. You can ask the shipper to hold your goods at its local outpost, where you can then pick it up.

5. The wallet grab

Criminals may be getting savvier with their online schemes, but the traditional pickpocketing and smash-and-grab techniques still exist.

Crowded malls filled with frantic, distracted eleventh hour shoppers are a pickpocket’s dream come true.

So, as obvious as it may sound, make sure you take precautionary measures, such as holding your purse and/or wallet close to the front of your body, keeping all bags zipped and removing any purchases from plain sight in your car.

Courtney Jespersen writes for NerdWallet DealFinder, a website that helps shoppers find the best deals on popular products.

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