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

Resources: Federal Trade Commission, IdentityTheft.gov

Together, We Can Eliminate Elder Abuse

Nationally, of the 60+ age cohort, 1 in 10 adults experience some form of mistreatment each year.”[1] National Center on Elder Abuse

For every case of reported elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, about 23 instances go unreported.”[2] VT Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Aging and Independent Living

Elder abuse occurs in many forms: physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation.  Elder abuse can occur in any setting and can be by a person or entity.  There could be a preexisting relationship of trust—and in most cases victims know their abuser—or a connection can be new.[1]

Each of us can play an important role in preventing elder abuse.  The first step is recognizing and identifying signs of abuse.  These steps are outlined by the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative and the Department of Aging and Independent Living in this linked release commemorating World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Knowing how to contact the agencies and organizations that can assist is essential to eliminating elder abuse.  To simplify the reporting process, the following is a list of resources.

REPORT CONTACT
Life-threatening
situation
911
Suspected elder
abuse, neglect or
exploitation, including
financial exploitation
Local Police and
Adult Protective Services of the
Dept. of Aging and Independent
Living (800-564-1612), if about a
vulnerable adult
Abuse of a person
living in a nursing
home, assisted living
facility, or board and
care home
Long Term Care Ombudsman of VT
Legal Aid (800-889-2047)
Concerns regarding
licensed health care
facilities
Survey and Certification of the
Dept.of Aging and
Independent Living
(888-700-5330)
Domestic Violence VT Network
Domestic Violence Hotline
(800-228-7395)
Sexual Violence VT Network Sexual Violence Hotline
(800-489-7273)
Misuse of Social
Security
Benefits
Social Security Administration
Office of the Inspector General
(800-772-1213)
Medicare Fraud and
Abuse
VT Attorney General’s
Medicaid Fraud Unit (802-828-5511)
Unauthorized Real
Estate Transfers
Vermont Legal Aid (802-775-0021)
Broker and Investment Advisor Fraud Dept. of Financial Regulation:
Securities Division (802-828-3420)
Bank Fraud Dept. of Financial Regulation:
Banking Division (888-568-4547)
Insurance Agent,
Adjuster, or
Carrier Fraud
Dept. of Financial Regulation:  
Insurance Division (800-964-1784)
Scams and
Identity Theft and
Consumer Fraud
VT Attorney General’s
Consumer Assistance Program
(800-649-2424)

If you are still not sure who to contact, call United Ways of Vermont 2-1-1 information and referral hotline (dial 211 or 802-652-4636).  They are a great resource, connecting Vermonters to organizations and agencies.  They have committed to enhancing their referral work specifically for calls related to elder abuse and exploitation.


We can all commit to ending elder abuse by serving those in our communities that may be preyed upon.  Here, at the Consumer Assistance Program, to help prevent financial exploitation in scams, we distribute scam alerts and encourage recipients to share the information with friends, neighbors and loved ones.  Anyone can sign up by calling us at 800-649-2424, or by visiting our website ago.vermont.gov/cap/stopping-scams.  The Elder Protection Initiative has even more information on how you can help on the Get Involved page.

More Resources:  
WEAAD: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
Facts: Fact Sheet World Elder Abuse Day  
Videos: Strengthening the Structure of Justice to Prevent Elder Abuse by the NCEA
Elder Abuse-Learn the signs and break the silence

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin


References:
[1] National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)
[2] DAIL and AG Commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

College Graduates, Beware of Loan Consolidation Scams

Check out the Policy in Action story about CAP by UVM Today.

At the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP), we always get a bit nostalgic during graduation season.  It is a time of passage as we bid farewell to students that once worked in our office as part of our service-learning course.  We hope that they will take with them the skills they learned while providing service to citizens of Vermont.  Specifically, we hope they will know how to spot scams.  We caution students to be especially suspicious about student loan consolidation scams. 

We urge graduates to beware of student loan consolidators that lure grads to pay for their services when the amount of school loans seems daunting.  Scammers may claim to offer consolidation services, require payment, and then offer nothing in return.  In Vermont, all debt consolidation companies, also known as debt adjusters and debt management companies, must be licensed with Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation.  

As student loans come due, there are many resources available to students to help navigate repayment:

            Vermont students can access VSAC for free guidance by calling 800-862-3177

            The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides student loan tools and resources

            The Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group provides help with disputes about federal student loans and grant programs

If you are contacted by a company soliciting payment from you to help manage your student loan debt, hang up.  Instead, connect with student loan management options by reaching out to the resources above.  If you have been contacted by a scam consolidation company, contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 to report it.   

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Health Care Scams Loom

Health is very important. To stay healthy, we may get the urge to try new health care products or medicine without knowing a lot about them. Unfortunately, health care scams loom. Below is what you should know about health and medical product scams.

Health and medical product scams try to convince the consumer that there is a “cure-all” medicine, treatment, or product at a very low cost. These scams may surface as an email, an advertisement on the internet, or as a phone call. The scammers may claim to be linked to doctors or hospitals. The offers may look real, but the products could be fake and endanger a person’s health.

Signs to spot a health or medical product scam:

Medicine bottles
  1. An unsolicited email/advertisement offering a popular medication at a very low price.
  2. The products are very cheap and offer “cure-all” characteristics.
  3. The seller claims a prescription is not necessary.
  4. You’ve never heard of the product.
  5. The mentioned doctor is not real.
  6. There is no scientific data on the product.

If you find a new health and medical product that you are unsure of, always ask a trusted and licensed healthcare professional about it. If you find a suspicious healthcare website, do not give any personal information or financial information. Always do research and get the facts to stay informed and stay safe.

If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Contributing writer: Courtney Thayer

National Consumer Protection Week: Protect Your Neighbors from Scams

When you gather for Town Meeting day to tackle issues in your community, take a moment to spread the message about scams. By having a conversation with our neighbors, together we can work to stop scams.

Earlier this year, we released the top scams reported to our office in 2018.  This information is still up on our blog, which you can review here. Knowing the common scam categories can be useful in identifying scams, but this shouldn’t be the only information you share. Scams come in all different forms and adapt over time. During National Consumer Protection Week, you can commit to being scam savvy and sharing what you know with others.

Know the Signs to Spot Scams:

Remember:  If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

Suspect:

  • Unsolicited Communications: If you didn’t ask for a contact, question why you are receiving it, even if you get something in the mail. Verify the info shared against information you know and trust. Classic unsolicited communications are computer tech support pop ups messages and phone calls.

  • Demands for Urgent Response: Scammers will demand a fast response from you to take advantage of the fact that you are busy. Anytime an immediate response is requested, slow down and take your time. It is in the urgency of the moment that people respond to scams. Imagine how a busy restaurant might respond to a sudden claim of electricity disconnection during the busy lunch hour.  The scam recipient may be more likely to respond for fear of losing lunch profits.

  • Requests for Personal Information: Shut down requests for such information by contacting a source you know and trust instead.  For a bank account, the phone numbers referenced in your statement may be a good resource; for a credit card the number on the back of your card is a good option. Never respond to requests to reset your password by clicking on link in your email. Never provide your information in response to unsolicited communications.

  • Requests for Payment:  Scammers have success in requiring odd forms of payment that are difficult to be tracked down, like gift cards, wire transfers, and peer to peer transaction services.

Gift Card Scams

How to Spot:  You are asked to pay outside of a vendor store/website by reading off the numbers on the back of the card or by taking a picture of the back of the card and sending it.

Common gift cards requested include:

  • Apple iTunes
  • Google Play
  • Walmart
  • Target

Remember: Unless you are using the card for the actual relevant company, do not pay with gift cards! Watch out for copycat websites too!


Wire Transfer Scams

How to Spot: You are asked to pay by wire transfer.

Common wire companies used:

  • Your bank!
  • Western Union
  • Money Gram
  • RIA Financial

Remember:  Sending a wire transfer is like sending cash! Never send a wire transfer to someone you don’t know!


Peer to Peer Payment Scams

How to Spot:  You are asked to pay using a P2P service. You may even already use this service to make other payments.

Common P2P companies used:

  • Paypal Friends and Family (No Paypal buyer purchase protection)
  • Facebook P2P in Messenger
  • Apple Pay
  • Venmo
  • Zelle
  • Cash App
mobile shopping

Remember:  Sending through P2P is typically instantaneous, leaving little room to make fraud disputes. Never use a P2P to send money to someone you don’t know!

Scammers want your money. They’ll adapt these methods, or resort to old methods of payment, like cash, check or money order. If you think you’ve encountered a scam, but aren’t sure, call our office at 800-649-2424. Find out more from the FTC.

By sharing this information and your general awareness about scams with others, you can help stop scams! To become more informed, you can sign up for Scam Alerts on our website, connect with our office on social media, and invite others to follow us.  Always hang up on scammers. For even more information about scams, visit our website.

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin