Match or Mooch? Preventing Romance Scams

Too often, Vermonters reveal to us that a scammer lied to them about being in a long-distance relationship. These scams can be heartbreaking. They are not uncovered until the love interest asks for money—or once money gets sent. Sent money can’t be retrieved, making the betrayal more painful.

Vermonters lose tens of thousands of dollars each year to romance scams. This scam continues to affect more people than other wire transfer scams. So, what’s going on?

Most romance scams initiate through dating websites and apps, like Match, Zoosk, Senior People Meet, OK Cupid, and Meet Me. Connecting online and through apps makes it easy for scammers to hide their identity. You could be chatting daily with a person who describes themself as “tall, dark, and good-looking”—but is not. Scammers succeed because online dating gives the option of communicating without ever meeting in person, or talking on the phone.

Not all online dating is bad. In fact, Consumer Reports found in a survey that 44% of respondents said online dating led to a serious long-term relationship or marriage. With such high odds in finding “the one,” how can you continue to use online dating and stay safe when looking for love?

We’ve created a table to help you determine if you’re being contacted by a MATCH or a MOOCH.

In 2016, a law was passed that requires internet dating services to notify Vermont members of noticeable changes in their account, such as when their account is hacked and being used maliciously by a romance scammer. Internet dating services must also alert Vermont members who had previously corresponded with a newly banned member, letting them know they may have been contacted by a romance scammer. So this Valentine’s Day, protect yourself from romance scams and find a match, not a mooch.

Contributing writer & graphic: Crystal Baldwin

Holiday Scam Wrap-up

Here are three scams you should know about this holiday season:

1) “You’ve won” – callers tell you you’ve won something, but claim you need to pay a fee to collect the winnings or prize. If you win something, they will pay you—not the other way around.

2) “You’ve got a package” – scammers send you a text message stating that a mystery package has been delivered to your local post office. Do not click on any links in the text message or reply. If you have questions about a package delivery, contact the US Postal Service directly at www.usps.com or call 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).

3) Utility disconnection – callers claim to be the power company and threaten to disconnect service if money is not sent immediately. Your power company does not make threats like this. This is a scam!

 

Protecting Vermonters One Blocked Call at a Time

Before we get started, raise your hand if you’ve ever received a scam call. Everyone, right?

CAP is looking to get better solutions in the hands of Vermonters to fight robocalls. CAP is studying various robocall blocking options to protect Vermonters from this scourge.

First, CAP obtained a grant from The State Center to test call-blocking devices for seniors, who are often the targets of scams.  CAP provided 115 call-blocking devices free-of-charge to Vermont seniors.

CAP studied the effectiveness of these blocking devices in protecting seniors, who include some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Call-blocking devices help stop scam calls from coming through your phone line in two ways – many come preloaded with a list of recognized scam numbers that are automatically blocked from being able to call in; the devices also allow consumers to choose to block other phone numbers.

Vermonters who participated in the project reported that the call-blocking devices were useful in blocking scam calls – 72% said the devices were either “effective” or “very effective” in stopping unwanted calls. An overwhelming majority (89%) also said the devices were either “simple” or “very simple” to use. Another key finding from the project is that having a call-blocking device made the participants feel safer in answering their phones and helped to decrease the amount of stress and anxiety that scam calls had caused. You can’t put a price tag on peace of mind.

Second, in cooperation with the telecom carriers, CAP is also preparing a guide to robocall and scam call blocking options that will be released later this month.

Third, CAP continues to collect scam reports from Vermonters. CAP uses scam reports to identify the need for alerts, and to provide education and outreach. Scam reports also help CAP track the number and type of scams affecting Vermonters. Awareness is the best way to protect Vermonters from becoming victims of scams.

CAP also reports the information to the Federal Trade Commission, which has a task force on fighting robocalls. Occasionally, the information can lead to investigation of scams, but law enforcement has few tools to undertake these expensive cases.

Are you interested in call-blocking devices or other ways to stop unwanted calls? The FTC has information available at their web-site.

Our office has also set up a scam alert system to provide consumers with information about new scams and scam trends. If you would like to sign up, visit our web-site or give CAP a call.

Always feel free to contact CAP to report scam calls you are receiving. Our office can be reached at 1.800.649.2424 (toll free VT) or 802.656.3183.

 

5 Tips on Giving Wisely

Thinking about giving this holiday season? Here are five tips to help ensure that your contribution is going to a charity in need for a cause you support.

1- Research the charity. Understand how your money will be used by the charity before you donate. Websites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator make it easy to find this information.

2- Know who’s asking you for money. Ask if the person contacting you for a donation is a paid fundraiser. A paid fundraiser is paid to raise money on behalf of a charity, but is not an employee of the charity. These payment arrangements can vary widely. For information about the payment arrangement between the paid fundraiser and the charity, visit the “Charities” page on the Consumer Assistance Program’s website, or call 1-800-649-2424.

3- Don’t feel pressured to give over the phone. If you are interested in donating, but don’t want to give payment information over the phone, ask the charity to mail you information. This will give you more time to make your decision and research the charity.

4- Be cautious of scams. Fraudsters use the same contact methods as legitimate charities (phone, mail, email) and will try to trick you into “donating” money. Be wary of unsolicited emails asking you to donate, even if the email looks legitimate or you have heard of the charity. Stop and think before you click the link! Call the charity and ask if they are collecting donations by email. Or, hover your cursor over the link before clicking on it. If there is a redirected link that does not go to the charity’s website, it could be a scam. If you receive a request for a donation by phone, ask for detailed information about the charity, including the exact name of the charity and how your money will be used. If the solicitor refuses to give this information, or if they ask you to pay by wire transfer, cash, or prepaid gift card—don’t engage! It’s likely a scam.

5- Consider volunteering. Giving comes in more ways than just money. If you are interested in volunteering this holiday season, contact a charity in your community to see how you can help. Giving your time can be just as valuable as giving your money.

Congratulations, You’re A Winner!

Have you received a letter, email, or even a Facebook message telling you that you have won a sweepstakes or lottery prize, such as thousands of dollars and a car? Have you been asked to send money to cover taxes or registration fees so that you can receive your prize? If so, you are being targeted by a common scam – no real sweepstakes prize would ask you to pay taxes or fees.

Sweepstakes Scam example

Scammers may pretend to be legitimate businesses such as Publisher’s Clearing House or Reader’s Digest, or may use a similar sounding name. You may even receive a check in the mail that looks legitimate. The scammers claim they have sent you some of your prize so you can use the money to cover the cost of fees or taxes. Do not deposit the check – it is fake! Scammers hope that you will send them real money from your account before the bank realizes that the check has bounced.

You may be instructed to not tell anyone about “winning” to protect your prize. This is an attempt to isolate you so your friends and family can’t warn you about the scam. Don’t take the scammer’s advice – call CAP at 802-656-3183 or 1-800-649-2424 (toll free VT) and we can help you determine if you are being scammed.

Remember: if you won a real sweepstakes prize, you would never need to pay a fee to claim your winnings. Never send money to get money!

Contributing Writer:  Annalee Beaulieu