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)

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

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