Consumers need to be wary of phone calls and emails in which they are asked for money from family members who are in trouble. Through social networking sites and Internet searches, con artists have become more sophisticated in finding and using personal information to target seniors in particular. With this information, scammers can more easily impersonate grandchildren or other family members.
Several "Grandparent Scam" scenarios have been reported. In one, a grandparent receives a phone call in the middle of the night from a grandchild, who explains that he or she is in a foreign country and needs money wired as soon as possible to get out of a situation. This story often involves being in a car accident, being arrested, or being mugged. The caller also insists that the parents not be informed. In another, the scammer impersonates an arresting police officer, a lawyer, or a doctor, who is calling on behalf of the relative in trouble. Scammers also have targeted military families. They contact a service member's grandparents and claim that a problem has occurred during military leave. In all cases, the scammers ask that money be sent immediately.
How to protect yourself from this scam:
- Never give out social security numbers, bank account numbers, or any other personal and confidential information over the phone.
- To protect your email account from being used by scammers, install a firewall and anti-virus/anti-spyware software. Plus, keep all your software updated.
- Do not open email attachments from strangers or any emails that seem suspicious. Attachments can sometimes contain programs that allow scammers to gain access to your computer.
- If you do receive calls or emails of this nature, try not to act out of urgency. Stay calm and be suspicious when you receive a call from a grandchild abroad or in a foreign country, who says he or she is in trouble.
- If you do receive a call or email from someone who claims to know you and is asking for help, verify that the call is legitimate BEFORE you send money. To confirm that person's identity, ask the caller several questions, which only that person would be able to answer.
- If you determine that you have been scammed, contact the money transfer service immediately to report the fraud. These scammers usually ask for money to be wired through such services as Western Union (1-800-448-1492) and MoneyGram (1-800-666-3947).
This information was brought to you by The New York State Division of Consumer Protection.
New York taxpayers need to be vigilant against scams targeting taxpayers not only during tax season, but also year-round.
While taxpayer scams can take on a variety of forms, the following are examples of scams to look out for:
Phone calls from individuals posing as officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In most cases, a victim of this scam will be instructed by the caller to promptly submit payment for money owed to the IRS through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim is hesitant, the scammer may threaten police arrest or license revocation. The scammer may also send bogus IRS e-mails or have others call pretending to be from the DMV or local police. For this scam, the actual phone number of the IRS, DMV and local police may register on the caller ID screen through a technique called “spoofing”. The caller may already know your name and be able to recite the last four digits of your Social Security Number.
Consumers are warned to be wary of phone calls requesting money or personal information. To prevent falling victim to this type of scam, please take note of the following tips:
Keep in mind that the IRS will typically first initiate contact with a taxpayer concerning a tax issue via mail. The IRS does not request personal or financial information through email and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone.
Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 if you think you owe taxes or need help with a payment issue.
Hang up the phone immediately if someone claiming to be from the IRS unexpectedly calls and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation.
Report anything suspicious to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Please visit the FTC website and add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
Scam artists fraudulently posing as tax preparers.
Scammers may make false claims on others’ tax returns, or even steal their refunds. They will often attempt to take advantage of those who might not otherwise have to file tax returns, such as the elderly or low-income households. Working with a phony or dishonest tax preparer also poses the threat of identity theft.
If you choose to file your tax return using a tax preparer, take precautions to protect your refund and prevent identity theft by keeping the following tips in mind:
- Work only with those whom you have researched thoroughly. Avoid preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers can, as well as those who base their fee on a percentage of your refund.
- Make sure your tax preparer is willing to sign your return and provide their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). The preparer must also provide you with a copy of the return.
- Look over your return carefully – you are legally responsible for what’s on it. Similarly, never sign a blank return.
- If you suspect a return preparer filed or altered a return without your consent, report it to the IRS by downloading Form 14157 and Form 14157-A on the IRS.gov website. You can order them by mail at 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).
- To report fraudulent activity by a tax preparer with contact the NYS Tax Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility at (518) 530-HELP (option #2) or file a tax preparer complaint online.
This information was brought to you by The New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection.
Consumers are being alerted to exercise caution on internet dating sites. While online dating is a popular way to meet new people, you may also encounter scammers who are looking to take your money. According to new FTC data, the number of romance scams people report to the FTC has nearly tripled since 2015. Even more, the total amount of money people reported losing in 2019 is six times higher than it was five years ago – from $33 million lost to romance scammers in 2015 to $201 million in 2019. People reported losing more money to romance scams in the past two years than to any other fraud reported to the FTC.
Many of these scammers are from foreign countries but are posing as someone else. They often use pictures from the internet for their profiles and disguise their voice on the phone. Sometimes these con artists will send small gifts to express deep affection towards to their victims. Eventually, they request a large sum of money, usually as a loan, to be wired to them for things ranging from business investments, property, debts, and more. Once they receive the money, they usually stop all contact with the victim or sometimes ask for even more until the victim becomes suspicious. Unfortunately, even when victims realize they are being scammed it is very difficult to track down the perpetrator and only small percentages ever see their money again.
Protect yourself from online dating scams by following these tips:
- Never loan money to someone, particular overseas, that you have not met.
- Be cautious of people online who say they are American but are abroad and are trying to get home due to a traumatic life incident, even if it is to come visit you.
- Do not give out personal information to someone online, especially if you have not met them before.
- Use trusted online dating sites, but still exercise caution.
- Avoid people online who ask for money. They are almost always scammers.
Here’s the thing: Never send money or gifts to a love interest you haven’t met. It’s a romance scam.
This information was brought to you by The New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection.
Robo calls which make one ring before disconnecting:
How the one-ring scam works:
One-ring scam calls occur when a call placed to a consumer's phone rings just once, using international toll-generating numbers that charge large fees per minute when consumers call back.
One-ring scammers call American consumers from a foreign country with a number that appears to come from the United States. After a single ring, the scammer hangs up, enticing the consumer to return the “missed call.” Scammers may also leave consumers a voice mail message with a false pretext for the consumer to call them back. In either instance, U.S. consumers incur significant phone charges (of which the scammer gets a share) when they return the international call. Callers often call in the middle of the night and may call multiple times in a row to create an appearance of urgency while trying to ensure the call is not answered.
FCC says the area codes that show up are from Caribbean countries, such as 649 (the Turks and Caicos) or 809 (Dominican Republic). Consumer Affairs found similar scams linked to area codes 473 (Grenada); 876 and 658 (Jamaica); and 284 (British Virgin Islands).
This information was brought to you by the Federal Communications Commission.
Tips to Avoid Scams
Here are some practical tips to help you stay a step ahead.
- Beware of “free trials,” which often require you to cancel by a specific time to avoid future charges. Many people are unaware that they would be charged for items after the trial has ended and the need to pay return postage costs for the items at the end of the trial. Therefore, read all terms and conditions and understand your obligations before signing up for a "free trial.”
- Spot imposters.
- Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity, or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request — whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.
- Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
- Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.
- Don’t deal with anyone that cold calls at your home offering to do work. Instead, speak to family and friends for a recommendation of tradespeople and obtain several written quotes before deciding.
- High-pressure sales tactics are often used, with no paperwork given and extortionate charges for often poor-quality work.
- Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you must pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear.
- Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built-in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true for reloadable cards (like MoneyPak or Reloadit) and gift cards (like iTunes or Google Play). Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.
- Messages with a lot of misspellings, bad grammar, or strange word usage can indicate the message is from a foreign scammer who is having a tough time with American English.
- Talk to someone. Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert — or just tell a friend.
- Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls.
- Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.
- Don’t deposit a check and wire money back to anyone. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.
This information was brought to you by The Federal Trade Commission.
Watch for the warning signs. Prepare yourself before someone takes advantage of you and your money. Empower yourself with information.
- Protect your privacy – Never give out personal information over the telephone, especially your Social Security number. Do not disclose financial information to anyone outside of a trusted circle of family members and advisors.
- Ask for identification – Never let strangers into your home, and always check the identification of any service person you have contacted before allowing them to enter your home. Report suspicious solicitations to the police.
- Limit the amount of cash you keep on hand - Do not allow anyone to take you to withdraw money from your bank to pay for their services. Carefully review all contracts before you sign - Also, review all bank and credit card statements, stock reports, and investment perspective.
- Double-check sales receipts to make sure you were not overcharged.
- Ask questions - Never be afraid to consult a trusted friend, a financial advisor/lawyer or family member for assistance, especially when making purchases of more than $100 or signing contracts.
- Watch out for mail that looks official but isn’t.
- Don’t click on links in unsolicited messages, especially from people you rarely hear from or who rarely send you links.
- If you’re asked to give money to get the money you’re owed, it’s a scam. If you’re asked to give money via gift cards, it’s a scam.
- Foreign, cross-border lottery sales violate U.S. law (foreign lotteries are illegal in the US).
- Sweepstakes issuers must provide odds of winning each prize; the quantity, estimated value and nature of prize; and schedule of payments.
- You never have to pay money to win a legitimate prize.
- If you ever get a call asking for or demanding money, don’t let panic take over. Hang up and stop the scam.
This information was brought to you by The New York State Department of State Division of Consumer Protection.
Odd Emails from “Known” Person
Get an email from a friend, family member, or business associate that comes up with their name? Then you click and open the message and it is completely out of character for them. STOP! Here are a few things to do. Place the cursor over the senders' name; is that the email of the person who is “known” to you? If not, do not reply. Call your contact. Let them know about the message and see if they are familiar with the other email address claiming to be them. If not, flag the message and do not reply. The person sending this email is a scammer and they send the initial contact after creating a fake account using the “known” party to try and hook you.
An example that happened recently to a local board of directors was that an email was sent from the board chair; however, the actual email wasn’t from the board chair but someone who set up a fraudulent emailing posing as the board chair. An email was sent with the subject line HELP, “Are you free right now? Regards” Several red flags should have tipped off the board members who received this email, first, why isn’t the email signed by the person sending it? Their actual board member always closes emails with a particular signature and it is not Regards. Second, when this email came through the received should have been checking the sender, the name can be disgusted to read anything including that of the board chair, however in this case the email of email@example.com did not match the board chair sending it out. When board members responded to the email they were asked to purchase gift cards for the chair for $400 for eBay and they would be reimbursed later. If the board member replied again they were told “Thank you very much you can purchase it at any store around you. Total amount needed is $400 ($200 denomination) I need you to scratch the back of the card to reveal the pin, then take a snap shot of the back showing the pin and the receipt of the card have them attach to me. How soon Can you get the cards? Thanks”
At this point, anyone reading the email has to know this is a scam, as soon as you scratch those codes and pass them along they are redeemable and untraceable.
Should you receive an email that is out of sorts, look for the red flags. Is the language that of how the believed sender normally sends you emails? Are there grammar and spelling errors? Does the email address match what you have for the sender or could this be a spoofed email?
NEVER purchase gift cards and give someone the numbers off the back as that is the same as wiring them money it will be gone without a means to recover. If you still are unsure call the person you think may have sent the email and check with them. The person believed to be the sender should update their password for any account and you should run a virus scan on your computer. Then report the email, in this case to Gmail for violations of the terms of service and the FTC. Be vigilant, remain aware and you will remain safe.
How to spot a copycat site
Receive an email that tells you of a sale that seems too good to be true? When you click the link in the email, the site appears to be that of your favorite retailer but can you spot the differences to know if you've been led to a copycat site?
Loyalty emails are a great way to get repeat consumers, but what happens when a friend, relative, or co-worker shares an email with a sales link, should you believe the email?
Recently, I received a forwarded email from a co-worker. The link, in the email, took me to a site selling LL Bean boots. I couldn't believe the deal! Boots which retail for $239 selling between $24-$29! What's the catch? I didn't have time to investigate it while at work so I forwarded the email to myself at home to investigate further. Later on, when I went to the site the sale remained active. Something was telling me this sale was not legitimate and I decided to dig deeper. The site my co-worker sent was not the official LL Bean site. While at the official site, I was unable to find any boots reduced to $20-price range per pair, let alone every pair on the site for $29 or less.
As I looked around the sites, I began wondering, had I gone to a copycat site? How can I alert others of what to look for, to prevent them from falling victim?
Some good things to watch for:
- Is there a contact us means on the homepage?
- Do the social media buttons link to a page, or default to your social media page?
- When looking for a return policy and contact us, are you directed to the company you are looking to purchase from?
- Does the company have a trademark? If so, do you find it on the site you are visiting?
As I searched the copycat site, I was four for four in missing items listed above. The official company site lists 800 # on the home page, the social media buttons all redirect to the official social media accounts, and the return policy is listed. On the copycat site, you have to dig to find information, there is no phone number listed only an email of firstname.lastname@example.org which is a red flag itself, why is the email address support@LLBean.com? The copycat site does not list a clear return policy and does not include the company's trademark.
If you see red flags, such as those noted above, beware! Another thing you can do is bring up a new window and type in the company you are looking for using an internet search to find you the official site. Once at the official site, do you see the mentioned items for the sale price? If not, you may have been taken to a copycat site.
The best advice I can give you: If it seems too good to be true, it likely is!
Cryptocurrency blackmail scam alert!
The FTC is advising of an uptick in cryptocurrentcy blackmail scams.
You may receive an email stating someone has access to your cell phone or computer. The email claims that person will make public, any private or sensitive data contained on the device(s) if you don’t pay money, a ransom of cryptocurrency, like bitcoin.
Do not pay! The person behind the email is a scammer, who is using threats, intimidation, and high-pressure tactics to try and trick you! This is a criminal extortion attempt.
This information was brought to you by the Federal Trade Commission.
Unsolicited Telemarketing calls during a State of Emergency
The NYS Division of Consumer Protection alerted consumers and businesses of a State law related to telemarketing activity during a declared state of emergency. On December 18, 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law a bill that prohibits unsolicited telemarketing sales calls to anyone in an area subject to a declared state of emergency.
The law, which went into effect immediately, makes it unlawful for any telemarketer doing business in New York to make an unsolicited telemarketing sales call to any person in a county, city, town, or village under a declared state of emergency or disaster emergency. On March 7, 2020, through Executive Order 202, Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency relating to the novel coronavirus outbreak until September 7, 2020.
An “unsolicited telemarketing sales call” means “any telemarketing sales call other than a call made: in response to an express written or verbal request by the customer; or in connection with an established business relationship, which has not been terminated by either party unless such customer has stated to the telemarketer that such customer no longer wishes to receive the telemarketing sales calls of such telemarketer.”
When connecting with consumers, it is important to ensure business strategies and goals comply with New York State law. Businesses engaged in telemarketing activity in New York State should consult with their attorneys prior to engaging in unsolicited telemarketing sales calls in this state while the state of emergency remains in effect. Violating the new law can result in the imposition of thousands of dollars in civil penalties.
Any consumer, who has received an unsolicited telemarketing sales call during this declared state of emergency, is encouraged to report it at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222. When reporting, be prepared to provide details about the call.
This information was brought to you by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection.
DEA warns public of extortion scam by DEA Special Agent Impersonators
The Drug Enforcement Administration is warning the public including the DEA registrant community to include practitioners and pharmacies about criminals posing as DEA Special Agents, DEA Investigators or other law enforcement personnel as part of an international extortion scheme.
How the scheme works:
Criminals place calls to victims and state they are DEA agents, or law enforcement officials from other agencies. The caller tells the victim that purchasing drugs over the internet or by telephone is illegal, and that action will be taken unless they pay a fine. Most of the time, the impersonators instruct victims to pay the "fine" via wire transfer to a designated location, usually overseas. If victims refuse to send money, the impersonators threaten to arrest them or search their property.
Impersonating a federal agent is a violation of federal law. The public should be aware that no DEA agent will ever contact members of the public by telephone to demand money or any other form of payment.
The DEA reminds the public to use caution when purchasing controlled substance pharmaceuticals by telephone or through the Internet. It is illegal to purchase controlled substance pharmaceuticals online or by telephone unless very stringent requirements are met. All pharmacies that dispense controlled substance pharmaceuticals via the internet must be registered with DEA. By ordering any pharmaceutical medications online or by telephone from unknown entities, members of the public risk receiving unsafe, counterfeit, and/or ineffective drugs from criminals who operate outside the law. Personal and financial information could be compromised.
Anyone receiving a telephone call from a person purporting to be a DEA special agent, DEA Investigator, or other law enforcement official seeking money should refuse the demand and report the threat using this link . Reporting such occurrences will assist DEA in investigating and stopping this criminal activity.
This information was brought to you by the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.
Skimming Devices: ATM & Gas pumps
Skimming is illegal and occurs when the information on a consumer’s card is secretly recorded and encoded onto a new card for use.
Be vigilant at the ATM and pump. Know what to look for and how to help maintain safety by taking a couple of precautionary steps:
- Give a tug to the area where your card goes into the ATM or the Pump to pay. If there is a skimmer, apply a bit of pressure to the region and most of the time the skimmer will disconnect. This may be enough to ensure your safety, as most scammers are trying to install the devices quickly. Additionally, do the same around the keypad which can also have an overlay placed on it to record your keystrokes.
- Look around for a small camera that is recording your keystrokes, be it the pin pad at the ATM or the pin pad at the pump where you enter your zip code. Being on the lookout for skimmers or cameras, this can help you secure your financial safety.
Other tips to help protect your information and keep your data secure:
- Inspect the ATM, gas pump, or credit card reader before using it…be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked, or damaged, or if you notice scratches or adhesive/tape residue.
- When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras from recording your number.
- If possible, use an ATM at an inside location (less access for criminals to install skimmers).
- Be careful of ATMs in tourist areas…they are a popular target of skimmers.
- If your card isn’t returned after the transaction or after hitting “cancel,” immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.
- Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges.
- If you believe the ATM or gas pump has been compromised, do not use it and contact the local police department.
If your card has been compromised immediately report it to the issuer.
The Erie County Bureau of Weights & Measures employs deputy county sealers who routinely check gas pumps in Erie County, New York, as part of their responsibilities. This ensures consumers who shop in Erie County, NY are protected against skimming devices. If a skimming device is found on a gas pump, the deputy county sealer immediately contacts state and federal agencies. Immediate contact with law enforcement ensures that any skimming device is properly removed and an investigation is initiated.