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Scam & Fraud News

Fraud Watch: And the award for worst scam goes to ...

By Elliott Greenblott, Berkshire Eagle - 19-02-27a
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Berkshire Eagle

Just when you thought you saw the last of the annual award presentations, we've returned to finish announcing the 2018 Scammies, my name for the top 10 frauds reported to the Vermont Attorney General in 2018.

We began with the IRS, Social Security, and computer tech support scams. The fourth place finish, the "Grandchild Imposter," has the highest impact on Vermont seniors.

Usually perpetrated with an evening phone call, the scammer impersonates a grandchild or other family member in need of money for legal or medical bills, and includes a plea to keep the call confidential. Payment is requested by gift card or money order. Never send money! Use a known contact number to ensure that there is no crisis before acting.

Fraudulent debt collection is next on our list. Committed against individuals and businesses throughout the country, this often threatens legal action or arrest for unpaid invoices.

With individuals, it may be a call from a government official, debt collector or utility company, possibly with the threat to stop electrical service unless there is immediate payment. Know that such threats are illegal. Hang up the phone, and if the call is repeated, allow it to go to voice mail.

While appearing in sixth place this year, the fastest growing scam is the "spoofed" phone call. Here the criminal uses technology to display a fraudulent phone number on caller ID, often including the local area code and prefix. The number may even be recognizable as the local hospital or a school.

The true nature of the call will be apparent if you pick up the phone. Hang up and don't call the number back. The person with that number has nothing to do with the scam and can do nothing about it.

Also increasing in frequency is the "reflector" scam, a call appearing to come from your own phone. Frequently the caller claims to be contacting you from Microsoft and demands money to correct a computer security issue (some who receive this call do not even own computers). As with the "tech support calls," Microsoft, Apple or "Windows," will not call you and regardless of the message from the caller — this is a scam. Contact your telephone service provider, notify them of the call, and request that your phone number be blocked for incoming calls.

Another rising star in the world of scams is extortion. The criminal emails that they have accessed personal information, including compromising photographs, by hacking your computer. The threat is made that the information will be released or used against you unless you make payment.

Do not open any links (hypertext) in the email or download any attachments as these may install malware on your computer. Report this to local law enforcement and immediately change any passwords that allow access to your computer. In the great majority of these threats the extorter has no compromising information and the threat is made in hopes that the victim will comply out of fear of the unknown.

Our final two Scammies go to similar frauds: the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes scam and the "Jamaican" lottery. In the former, the intended victim receives a call, email, or letter apparently from Publisher's Clearinghouse announcing "big" winnings. This notice, if by mail, may even include a realistic check but states that a fee or taxes need to be paid in order to completely award the prize.

If you actually win a Publisher's Clearinghouse award, you will be contacted in person. In cases of smaller prizes, official delivery services are involved. You will never receive a phone call.

With generic sweepstakes fraud, often referred to as Jamaican or Nigerian lotteries, there are clear fraudulent indicators. You cannot win a sweepstakes or lottery unless you enter or purchase a ticket. Foreign lotteries are illegal in the United States and with legitimate winnings you will not be required to separately pay fees or taxes to receive winnings.

In all cases of threats, contact local law enforcement. Report any attempted scams to your state attorney general: in Massachusetts, 617-727-8400; in New York, 800-771-7755; in Vermont, 800-649-2424.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network.


Tags: IRS, Social Security, computer tech support, scams, Grandchild Imposter, Fraudulent debt collection, extortion, malware, Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes, Jamaican, lottery

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