Recognizing Government Impersonation Scams

It can be intimidating to receive phone calls that claim to be from the government. Some of these calls can be threatening, while others offer false opportunities for government grants or entitlements. Calls and scams impersonating the government have been on the rise since 2014. The IRS scam, impersonating the Internal Revenue Service, has ranked as the number one reported scam in Vermont since, making up 41% of the top scams reported to CAP in 2018. Last year, the social security number phishing scam (SSN), impersonating the Social Security Administration, was the second highest reported scam, making up 18% of the top scams. Together, the two government imposter scams were 59% of the top scams reported in Vermont. This year, the SSN scam is on track to be number one, with 755 already reported to CAP. Recognize common government impersonation scams.

SSN Phishing and IRS Scams

Identify It: Scammers claiming to be government offices, like Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service may claim your SSN has been compromised, or that you have back taxes.

What to Know: It is important to remember that these government agencies would never contact you over the phone or through email. These agencies mail communications and would never threaten you for information or payment over the phone.

Treasurer’s Office Scam

Identify It: Government scams can come in many different forms other than the well-known IRS and SSN scam. Recently, CAP has been notified about a scam call that claims to be from the State Treasurer and that the recipient owes money related to student loan debt.

What to Know: Spot this scam by looking out for debt calls that threaten legal action if payment information is not given.

Government Grant Scam

Identify It: Sometimes, government impersonators claim that you are eligible for a federal grant. They say things like, “Because you do not owe back taxes, you qualify for a government grant.”

What to Know: If you did not apply for a grant, you shouldn’t be contacted.  You would never have to pay for fees or taxes before receiving a grant. Watch out for false claims that you are entitled to something that you never knew about.

Spoofing Government Numbers

Identify It: Scammers may sometimes use technology known as spoofing. This is when they mask their actual phone number so that your caller ID will show you a different number entirely.

What to Know: Sometimes they will use this to make their number look like they are coming from your area code, while other times the caller ID on your phone may even show as “US Government,” “IRS,” or “SS administration”.

If you suspect that you are being targeted by a scam, the best thing you can do is not respond. If you answered the phone, then hang up. If you have been emailed, do not respond. Do not call back any numbers that you are given. Never give out your personal or financial information to an unknown party claiming to be the government. If you are worried that some claims may be legitimate, call the department directly, using a number you know to be valid.

If you would like to report a scam or have any questions, please reach out to CAP by calling us at 1-800-649-2424 or emailing AGO.CAP@Vermont.gov

For more information about government imposter scams, please check out the FTC’s guide on how to recognize these scams and tips on combatting them: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams

Contributing Writer:  Mollie Shea Feeley
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Sources:
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/07/whos-pretending-be-government-now
Infographic source: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0519-irs-imposter-scams-infographic)

Vermonters of the Month: Elizabeth and Alex Grimes

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

TJ Donovan with Alex and Elizabeth Grimes and their children
Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Elizabeth and Alex Grimes and their children

Alex and Elizabeth Grimes, our July Vermonters of the Month, describe the past six years as a “whirlwind of emotion.” May 5, 2013 is the day that forever changed their lives when their nearly 5-month-old son Tatum passed away from SIDS. While grieving his loss, Elizabeth found herself the Vermont Department for Children and Families’ website and rediscovered her purpose in life. The Grimes family decided to honor Tatum by becoming foster parents and creating their nonprofit Tatum’s Totes in his memory.  Now, the Grimes’ have seven beautiful children and support others in foster care by proving totes with essential and comfort items like blankets, stuffed animals, diapers, toothbrushes, and books.

Elizabeth says, “Losing Tatum is a pain we feel every day, but every day we try to honor him.” Tatum’s Totes is dedicated to helping children in foster care one tote at a time.

We visited Alex, Elizabeth and their children at their home in Rutland to hear more about their journey as foster parents and learn more about the impact of Tatum’s Totes.

Tell us a little about yourselves, your son Tatum, and your journey to becoming foster parents.

Both Alex and I are from Rutland Town, Vermont. Our oldest child, Emma, was four years old when we found out we were expecting our second. On December 7, 2012, we were surprised to welcome a little boy into our family, Tatum James Grimes. He was 8 lbs. 2 oz., 19.5 inches long, and was perfect. Tatum looked grumpy all of the time, but when he smiled it was the sweetest little smile. He rarely cried. He liked to just sit and watch what everyone was doing. We were so proud of him and how well he was adjusting. Sleep was even easy with him. He slept perfectly in his own crib.

Our family was doing well, Emma was enjoying being a new big sister and Alex was promoted at work and landed a new day job which allowed for more time with our family. Everything changed on May 4, 2013. We had family over to help build a new deck and we were outside working while Tatum was napping. A few minutes after checking on Tatum, the crew started up the saw. Knowing this would wake Tatum, I went back in the house to get him. I saw Tatum’s hand through the railing and I knew something was wrong. Tatum wasn’t breathing. We believe everyone did everything they could that day to save Tatum, and while his heart started again, it wasn’t enough. Tatum was taken off of life support on May 5, 2013 at 11:00 AM.

Days passed. Weeks passed. I cried. I screamed. I felt like my heart was physically broken. During all of this, I stumbled on the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) website and I knew what I needed to do. I needed to become a foster parent. I needed to help children, and love them, and protect them. I called the Rutland District DCF Office and set up a meeting. I am so thankful for a supportive husband who agreed to do this with me. In his own grief he always knew how to be there for me through mine. 

Eight weeks after losing Tatum, I met with DCF and felt I may have a path in life again. It was a path as a grieving mother, but at least I had some sort of direction. Two weeks later, our journey as foster parents began when I picked up two children from the DCF Office and brought them home with me.

Why did you start Tatum’s Totes?

The idea of Tatum’s Totes came from my first experience as a foster parent. When I went to the DCF Office to meet the two children Alex and I would be caring for, we were greeted by a police officer and a case worker with two small children who had no shoes and tear-streaked faces. Between the two children, ages three and one, they had a toy fire truck and a plastic bag with some diapers thrown in. That’s all they came with.

Alex and I started Tatum’s Totes four years ago to provide children entering foster care in Vermont with essential and comfort items. The children we serve are given a backpack filled with new items, including blankets, stuffed animals, toothbrushes, pajamas, toys, books, school and art supplies, etc. We try to tailor the bags to different age groups. For babies, we provide diaper bags filled with baby items. For teens, we fill the bags with age-appropriate items and gift cards.

Has Tatum’s Totes evolved over the years?

Our hope is to be able to cover the whole state of Vermont one day, but we are successfully covering eight DCF Districts right now. We have a lot of support from the community, including some wonderful ladies covering different areas of the state, and Green Mountain United Way which covers three Districts in the northern part of Vermont. I myself cover Rutland and Middlebury. 

What has been the impact of Tatum’s Totes in the community, and what does that impact mean to you?

Tatum’s Totes is expanding each year. We run a huge Christmas program where people can buy for a child in foster care. We covered over 500 foster children this past year for Christmas. It grows every year. We have helped pay for summer camps, and have gotten cribs, strollers, and car seats for new foster parents. We have helped struggling parents with new school clothes and so much more. I am proud to be Tatum’s Mommy and proud to honor him. This has helped my and Alex’s broken hearts so much. Giving back to the community is truly our pleasure and I hope we can continue to grow bigger and bigger. Everyone’s support, donations, fundraising events, and positive thoughts are so appreciated. The community has made this possible.

What advice do you have for other Vermonters looking to make an impact in their community?

I have learned over the years that there are so many easy ways to make a difference in this world. Little things really amount to big things. Finding a passion and advocating for it, spreading the word and teaching people about it, including more people and asking for help can make any little idea a success. Whether it’s foster care, rescuing animals, supporting our veterans and so many other things, if everyone just did a little it would make this world a better place. 

Alex Grimes with two of his children
Alex Grimes with two of his children
Elizabeth Grimes holding her daughter
Elizabeth Grimes holding one of her children
TJ Donovan getting a tour of Tatum's Totes
Attorney General T.J. Donovan getting a tour of Tatum’s Totes
TJ speaking with Grimes kids
Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Alex Grimes speaking with one of the Grimes’ children

Help Stop Service Member Charity Scams

Scammers will say just about anything to get your money! Unfortunately, this includes pretending to be charities. For Military Consumer Month, we’d like to share some information about how you can securely give to legitimate charities who support our service members, and avoid scams.

For more information, watch and share this video produced by the Federal Trade Commission: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/audio-video/video/stop-veteran-charity-scams

If you receive a charity solicitation over the phone, ask questions!

As noted in our post from November 2018, it’s important to do your homework before giving. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Research the cause before donating. Helpful websites, like Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau’s Giving Wise Alliance (BBB), have information on charities.
  2. Double-check solicitation mailing addresses and phone numbers. Ask fundraising callers to mail you the solicitation first, so that you can check the contact information.
  3. Look for paid fundraiser information. A paid fundraiser is a third-party solicitation company that, aside from the fundraising campaign, is not affiliated with the charity.  This means that a portion of the funds raised are split between the charity and the soliciting business.  Vermonters can ask if a third-party fundraiser is involved. For information about paid fundraisers, see the “Charities” section on the CAP website.
  4. Still unsure?  If you receive a solicitation that seems suspicious, but just aren’t sure, give the Consumer Assistance Program a call: (800) 649-2424. We’re happy to help.

Contributing Writer: Madison Braz
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Resources: Federal Trade Commission

Service Members, Veterans, and Families Burdened by Imposter Scams

July is military consumer month, and here at the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) we hope to spotlight the most common type of scams affecting service members and veterans— imposter scams.

122,500 Military consumer complaints in FTC

Last year, more than 36,000 service members, veterans, or family members reported an imposter scam nationwide. Imposter scams take a variety of forms. For example, some imposters say they are calling to offer technical support or that they are from the Social Security Administration, while others pose as friends or family members with an emergency. The common thread is that they all involve a scammer pretending to be a trustworthy person, to convince you to send money or personal information.

Here are some examples of common imposter scams:

Social Security Administration

The scam: Scammers call and pretend to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). They say your Social Security number (SSN) has been suspended because of suspicious activity or it being involved in a crime.

What to do: Be wary of responding to unsolicited contacts, and never provide personal information to someone you don’t know. If you feel that your Social Security number has been compromised, call CAP for more information and visit identitytheft.gov to file a report.

Needy Friend or Relative

The scam: Scammers claiming to be a grandchild, friend/relative or romantic interest contact consumer, reportedly in distress and needing money to be wired or transmitted with a reloadable card, gift card (like iTunes), PayPal account payment, cash or check/money order. 

What to do: Call your friends or family members on known phone numbers to ensure that they are safe. Never wire or otherwise send funds unless you can verify the emergency.

Tech Support

The scam: A phone call or pop-up message on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft/Windows or another well-known tech company. The scammers will say that there’s a virus or other problem with your computer and try to persuade you to give them remote access to resolve the issue.

What to do: If you get a phone call you didn’t expect from someone who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up. Never call a number in a pop-up that warns you of computer problems. Real security warnings will never ask you to call a phone number. Legitimate customer service information usually won’t display as a pop-up. Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google do not call you to notify you of malware on your computer.

Robocalls

The scam: If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall. Technology has made it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to hide from law enforcement by displaying fake caller ID information. The automated voice on the other end of the line may claim to be a utility, or government agency.

What to do: Hang up the phone, don’t call back, and do not provide any personal information.

Gift Card Scams

You may be asked to take a picture of or read numbers off the back of the card, which is like sending cash. Don’t do it!

The scam: Some imposters contact you with an urgent need for money, and ask you to pay with gift cards right away. The imposters will often tell you to go buy popular gift cards (like, iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon) at a store near you. Once you buy the gift cards, the callers will then demand the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card. Those numbers provide the scammer with immediate access to the money on the card. After you provide these numbers, the scammers typically disappear without a trace.

Gift cards are like cash—if you buy a gift card and someone uses it, you probably cannot get your money back. Remember, gift cards are for gifts to people you know and trust, not payments.

What to do: If you paid a scammer with a gift card, call the company that issued the gift card right away and alert CAP. When you contact the company, tell them the gift card was used in a scam. Ask them if they can refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back. Also, tell the store where you bought the gift card as soon as possible.

If ever you are unsure about a scam, give CAP a call.  We take scam reports every day and are familiar with the type of scams out there, so can help issue spot the red flags when something suspicious arises. Call us at 800-649-2424.


Contributing Writer: Madison Braz
Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Resources: Federal Trade Commission, IdentityTheft.gov

Vermonter of the Month: Victoria Lloyd

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan with Victoria “Tori” Lloyd

Earlier this month, we celebrated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and the one-year anniversary of the Attorney General Office’s Elder Protection Initiative (EPI). Over the last year, EPI has participated in statewide working groups, undertaken enforcement actions and criminal prosecutions, and advocated to strengthen laws and agency coordination to protect older Vermonters and vulnerable adults. Through this work, we met our June Vermonter of the Month, Victoria “Tori” Lloyd—a tireless advocate raising awareness and supporting prevention of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

After years in service to the State of Vermont as an investigator with Adult Protect Services, Tori formed a nonprofit group designed to bring together public and private stakeholders to prevent and mitigate financial exploitation. The group, Financial Abuse Specialist Team of Vermont or FAST, was formed in 2011 and seeks to end exploitation of elders and vulnerable Vermonters. Building on the success of the Vermont chapter, Tori formed FAST of America four years later in 2015, bringing her advocacy efforts and technical assistance nationwide.

Currently, FAST of Vermont is focused on educating professionals who provide direct services to older Vermonters about the topic of financial exploitation. It is also working to expand statewide coordination in addressing financial exploitation, including through the use of case reviews and the creation of a rapid response team to financial exploitation.

To that end, in June 2018, Tori organized a tristate conference on financial exploitation for Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine FAST members and other professionals (including the EPI) working to remedy and prevent the financial exploitation of elders. Tori’s organization, FAST of VT, also recently hosted a convening between the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and public and private stakeholders from across Vermont regarding the financial exploitation of older adults.

The need for advocacy like Tori’s is clear—by 2030, 1 in 3 Vermonters will be age 60 or older. Nationally, of this 60+ age cohort, 1 in 10 adults experience some form of mistreatment each year. This mistreatment can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial exploitation (often by family members or caregivers), and psychological and emotional abuse.

Thank you, Tori, for fighting to ensure that older and vulnerable Vermonters are able to age with justice, dignity, and respect.