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

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

5 Wedding Scams to Avoid

Don’t let your dream day turn into a nightmare! As wedding season gets closer, we are here to warn you about five wedding-related scams that target both people planning weddings and businesses providing services:

#1 Fake photographer: Scammers offer what appear to be professional photography services through websites with stolen or stock images. They ask for payment up front and then disappear with your money.

Here’s how to avoid this scam:

  • Research businesses BEFORE hiring them—ask friends for recommendations and look for online reviews.
  • Ask the photographer for references and call them. 
  • Ask the photographer to sign a contract before providing a deposit.
  • NEVER wire money to someone you’ve never met!

#2 Online wedding dress: Scammers create rip-off websites offering steep discounts on designer dresses. You pay for the dress, never receive the order, and can’t get in touch with the sellers. Then the website disappears from the internet.

Here’s how to avoid this scam:

  • Search online forums for reviews of the seller and the website.
  • Check the dress designer’s website to see if the seller is listed as an authorized dealer.
  • Comparison shop. Check prices with multiple sellers. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Scammers target wedding vendors too!

#3 Fake order of goods/services: Your business is contacted by a “client” who wants you to perform a service or provide goods for their wedding. (This scam typically targets florists, musicians, bakers, and event planners.) You receive a check for more than the agreed upon amount. Your “client” then advises you to deposit the check and send the difference to another vendor by wire transfer. Later, the check bounces and you’re out any money that’s been transferred.  

Here’s how to avoid this scam:

  • Do not cash the check.
  • Never send money to an unknown party and cease all communication with the scammer immediately. 
  • Be cautious of clients sending you more money than you’ve agreed to. This is a sign of a scam!

#4 Justice of the Peace scam: Your information is published online as a Justice of the Peace (JP). You are contacted by a “couple” who wants you to perform their marriage ceremony. The scam involves a fake check well over the amount for marriage ceremony services and a request to send the excess to another ceremony vendor.  In one report recently received by the Attorney General’s Office, a JP was mailed a fake check in the amount of $1800 and instructed to send the majority to a videographer.  

Here’s how to avoid this scam:

  • Do not cash the check. 
  • Never send money to an unknown party and to cease all communication with the scammer immediately. 

#5 Wedding Expo scam:  A scam website claims a big wedding expo is coming to town. There is a registration fee for vendors with promises of a great location and exposure. The “event organizers” require payment in advance and you later find out that the expo doesn’t exist.

Here’s how to avoid this scam:

  • Contact the venue the expo is claiming to be held at.
  • Check the event organizer’s references.
  • Connect with other vendors to see if they have any information.

Vermonter consumers and businesses who have fallen victim to any of these scams should contact the Consumer Assistance Program right away at 800-649-2424.

Now that you know what scams to be aware of, here’s information about obtaining wedding licenses for people getting married in Vermont. Happy planning!

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