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Guide to Protecting your Family from Scams

Guide to Protecting your Family from Scams

During this time of year when there are family get togethers, take the opportunity to talk to elders about the wide array of scams out there now.

The scams are escalating and according to the Federal Trade Commission:

  • Scam losses were reported at $41 million in the last twelve months versus $26 million the prior year.
  • 25% of people 70 and older report paying scammers in cash.
  • People 70 and older who paid in cash report a median loss of $9,000. In comparison, people of all age groups report losing a median of $2000 so far this year on scams.
  • People who are retired and are scammed may not have the means to make up the loss, possibly resulting in financial devastation, embarrassment, stress and deteriorating health.
  • Elders who are scammed often do not tell family because they feel that they will be viewed as incompetent, yet scammers victimize people of all ages.

So, here is a cheat sheet (if you will) that will help you to talk about the various scams.

Internal Revenue Scam

Continues to grow. The caller claims to be from the IRS and states that you owe back taxes. He/she instructs you to go to a local store chain and purchase a debit card to make payment or face prosecution. A new twist; the number showing up on your caller ID shows it is from Washington. Remember, government agencies do not engage in debt collection over the telephone. It will be initiated by mail.

The threat is that you must forward money or the Police will come, or that you will be jailed if you don’t wire money. Just hang up. They don’t call people – they mail you letters with instructions

Recent Scam

Officer Bruce Tait reports that a 29 year old female scammed out of $1,350.00. The victim said that she received a telephone call from “Sergeant Alan Blake of the Department of Homeland Security.” He said that there were discrepancies on her I-94 Immigration form and he knew her name, DOB and social security number. He told her that she was being fined $2,500.00 for filing an incomplete form. He then instructed her to purchase Pay Pal cards and read the numbers over the phone. When the victim told him she only had $1,400.00 in the bank, he told her to buy two cards at $500.00 and one for $350.00. She did this and gave him the numbers on the card. The victim told a friend what occurred and she was advised to call the Police, but it was too late to stop her losses. Interestingly, the number on caller ID was a valid Homeland Security number, so the scammer knew how to fraudulently put this number on the caller’s phone.

Always remember, federal and state agencies do not contact you by telephone to collect fines or monies owed to them. The first contact is by a letter, instructing you to call them to start proceedings. When in doubt, call your local Police Department.

Documents

Request for Immediate Action - Time Sensitive Material Enclosed - 2nd Attempt - Warning - Fine for the Interfering with Deliver of this Letter - are all terms on an envelope that are intended to catch your attention so that you will open the letter. This is the first step into leading you into a scam. Once you look at the contents, it should be clear that there is no urgency (your factory warranty is expiring) or time sensitive material enclosed. You will see that there is very little factual information that the scammer has about you and whatever product that they are trying to get you to purchase warranty protection for. The “2nd attempt” implies urgency as does the “warning fine for interfering.” Scammers use these ruses because they work and are profitable.

Important Vehicle Notice

May come from a postcard, email or telephone solicitation. This is an offer to extend your auto warranty even if it has expired. This is a third party warranty and has no association with your original warranty when/where you bought your car. Historically, there have been problems with this type of offer. Even if it is a legitimate company, often times they do not pay for original parts and getting reimbursed is often difficult. In many cases, these companies are scammers, taking your money and then going out of business. The scammers try to scare you by listing the prices of major repairs, which most car owners do not encounter and secondly, may be covered by their manufacturer’s warranty. There are so many exceptions in the contract, making it difficult to collect on a repair. Many of these companies have horrific records with the Better Business Bureau and the chances of recouping your losses are bleak. This is not to be confused with the manufacturer’s extended warranty, which may cost more than the third party offer, but at least you know that the dealership is local and there is someone there to work with. If you are still considering a third party offer, as always, “Google” the company and put the word, “scam” after it – and then make your decision.

Pet Scam

A new online financial scam is aimed at animal lovers and it comes in different approaches. According to the Federal Trade Commission, online thieves are posting compassionate appeals on behalf of dogs and other pets that need loving homes. Many of the ads include very sad stories, often with photos, that would make any normal person want to save a neglected or abused animal. The goal is to get a rational person to act on emotion. Once a customer agrees to pay for the pet, which is usually a low entry price, there is often a series of payments that the customer will have to make. For example, there will be the initial cost of paying for the “required” shots and medical care prior to delivery. Once that payment is received, there will be additional charges for crating, shipping and inspection costs. Again, these usually are not high expenses, but once you get hooked in on the original payment, it adds up. As you continue to pay for charges that actually make sense, at some point the reality sets in that there is no pet coming! There are so many fake emails ranging from requests for money to bogus investment opportunities and most of these are easy to detect. The difference in the case of animals in need is the emotional component and the scammers know this. To avoid becoming a victim:

  • Do not make money transfers – they cannot be refunded. If the scammer instructs you to send money via Western Union, MoneyGram or a similar service, your money could end up outside the U.S.. Remember, there are plenty of animals locally that could be helped by you.
  • Investigate - Ask for the seller's name, address and phone number. Google is a great amateur investigator tool. Search the person's name to see if there is a history of scams or complaints. Simply add the word, “scam” after the name, address or phone number.
  • Track the image - The FTC recommends right clicking on the photo of the pet and selecting "copy image location," "copy image address" or "properties." Copy the link into your browser. If the image shows up in an older listing, it's most likely a scam.
  • Best action – Go to the local animal shelter, where an estimated 2.7 million pets in shelters go un-adopted each year. If you really want to help a puppy or kitten in need, make an in-person visit to the shelter in your town.

Affordable Care Act

If you are shopping in the Health Insurance Marketplace, only shop at HealthCare.gov. People who try to sign you up elsewhere may be scammers. If you’re overwhelmed, you can find free official helpers at HealthCare.gov. Official helpers will never ask for money or try to sell you a particular plan.  Another important tip: the government will not call to sell you health insurance. No one from the government will ask you to verify your Social Security number or bank information over the phone.

Private Insurance

If you’re looking for health insurance, make sure that’s what you’re buying. Be on the lookout for medical discount plans. They’re not the same as health insurance, even though they sometimes pretend to be. Many of these plans are scams that don’t deliver on the services promised. Others are just a way for identity thieves to get your personal information. Your state insurance commissioner’s office can tell you if a plan isn’t insurance and whether the seller is licensed in your state.
Report health care scams
If you think you may be a victim of a health care scam, report it to the FTC. If the scam is Medicare-related, report it at medicare.gov.
If you gave out personal information, then call your banks, credit card providers, health insurance company, and credit reporting agencies immediately. The FTC’s website has more information on health care scams and medical identity theft.

National Grid

Residents are receiving calls from people claiming to be from National Grid. The caller says that he/she can reduce your bill and all they need is your account information. Think about it – they say they are from National Grid but they need your account number, which they would already have!

Oil Burner Scams

Beware the call informing you that all homes must have their oil burner checked by a State Inspector annually; claiming it’s a new law. There is no such agency and there is no requirement for an inspection. This could lead to some unknown person coming out to your home and putting you at risk. They may want payment made in advance – another built in scam.

Driveway Paving Scams

It’s that time of year! A man knocks on your door and says he has extra asphalt and is willing to pave your driveway at a discounted price. His high pressure approach often confuses and intimidates residents. You may not be getting a deal and could be scammed. If you agree to hire this man, here is what likely happens. Workers and equipment suddenly appear and begin “working” on your driveway. At some point, the conman claims a mistake was made and you owe thousands more than the original price. He threatens that if you refuse to pay, the “work” will cease. You may be escorted to the bank to withdraw money. When you realize the scam you try to cancel the check only to learn it was cashed within minutes of it being written. A second scam is that the amount of asphalt applied comes up short and the scammer tells you that you need to pay for more asphalt to finish the job. There is also the scam of making a pavement in good faith and not receiving any work. Paving scams like this occur regularly in Massachusetts and increase during spring and summer. The perpetrators target senior citizens and are well known to police across the country. Criminal charges vary by state but are commonly filed. Avoid victimization and consider the following suggestions:

  • Beware of unsolicited offers to do paving work. Do not let the solicitors inside your home. Calmly but firmly tell the solicitors you are not interested and tell them to leave your property. If they refuse your instructions call the police.
  • Educate yourself and your family. Search the internet for “paving scams.”
  • Ask to see proof of the solicitors’ insurance. Con-men rarely have worker’s compensation insurance and if one of them is injured at your home, the claim could be made against your homeowner’s insurance.
  • Call the Police if you are even considering hiring such a company. Let us check them out. Call the police if they begin “working” without your consent for service. Be a good neighbor. Paving scams target senior citizens.

The National Society of High School Scholars

Is not the same as “The National Honor Society.” Many juniors in High School received an impressive packet with a card of “Membership Confirmation” and a congratulatory letter addressed to the student that they have been selected for this honor. The cost is $60.00.  Go to “Google” and type in “The National Society of High School Scholars scam” to see what others think before you send money.

Down Under Sports

Is a mail solicitation congratulating high school students for their accomplishments in a specific sport. The letter then states that you have been selected to represent the Eastern United States in a tournament in Australia. This is a questionable practice as seen online when you put the word “scam” after the company name. In reality, if your son or daughter gets this letter and is not playing at a top 20 college level, it should be clear that this is a scam.

Donations

There are many causes out there and scammers will use two common techniques; the sympathy/bonding approach to get you to give, or the high pressure/bullying approach coercing you to give. Watch for these techniques and hang up on these scammers!
If you wish to give a donation, check out the non-profit organization (if it is indeed non-profit) online at sites such as charitynavigator.org or charitywatch.org or have someone assist you.

Best Actions

  • Hang up on scammers or throw mail away.
  • Ask lots of questions - They will hang up!
  • If they call, ask for literature - They won't send it.
  • Google the offer and/or the telephone number with the word "scam" or "review" to see what others are reporting.
  • As always, if in doubt, wait until you talk to me.

Quincy Police Lieutenant Dan Minton at (617) 745-5719