Internet Scams to Avoid

By Crystal Baldwin 

This time last year, I had no idea my whole life would be online—work, exercise, shopping excursions, and more.  Now that pretty much every facet of my life, and likely yours too, involves the internet, we must be on the lookout for new and developing scams to prevent ourselves and our friends and loved ones from being scammed.   

Common scam signs are unverified requests for personal information and money, whether requested through gift card, wire transfer, cash, peer-to-peer payment, postal money order, or check. 

The following are some anticipated internet scams to avoid: 
 
CEO/boss and business/organization personnel imposter scams:  Business personnel working remotely, in distracting environments and away from regular exchange with colleagues, may receive urgent messages from someone purporting to be their boss or colleague ordering funds to be transferred. 

  • Spot the Scam:  Scammers create an email address like your colleague’s and assign the name of the email account holder to be the person’s name. 
  • How they trick us:  It is easy to miss that the details of the email address have changed, particularly when operating on mobile devices, which often only display the email sender’s name.  
  • Scam Prevention:  In business operations, put into place verification checks.  Ensure one check includes verifying requests directly with the sender through a phone call or video chat.  Also, require a third party to be involved, such as another colleague

Job and work-at-home offers and business opportunity scams:  These involve enticing offers to make a lot of money in exchange for performing simple tasks and transmitting money.  

  • Spot the Scam:  Commonalities among all such scams offer work that is too good to be true, ask for payment or your personal information at some point, and refuse to communicate with you by video chat on your terms. 
  • How they trick us:  These scams can hide in plain sight, often posting in known online listings, like LinkedIn and Indeed, and even post listings under known business names.
  • Scam Prevention:  Standard application and onboarding procedures apply to home-based jobs as onsite positions:  You never provide your personal information up front. You never have to give money to your employer.  For business opportunities, the FTC prohibits the exchange of payment prior to the issuance of very specific disclosures.  

Friend-in-need and fake crowdfunding scams:  We have heard reports of Vermonters responding to emailed and messaged requests for help for various needs, such as to support missions and charitable causes, some scammers even claim to be the pastor of a congregation.  The scam pulls us in as we strive for connection and community through this time of isolation. We want to be helpful but can’t volunteer in the personal ways we used. 

  • Spot the Scam:  The message comes as a surprise and you can’t reach your friend through other methods, such as by phone, except the digital way in which you received the message.   
  • How they trick us:  We are convinced that the communication is actually coming from our friend and we do not know that their account was likely hacked or a fake account was created to solicit you.  
  • Scam Prevention:  Take steps to verify, even if the solicitor requests you not to tell others. A phone call to the person directly or another who is aware of the person’s whereabouts is key here.   

Fake news and affiliated endorsement of cure-all products:  Scammers will take advantage of consumers accessing news online and claim to have exclusive cures and vaccines.    

  • Spot the Scam:  The news popped up in a social media feed, in an email, or in a news alert with a media name you did not recognize. The information is not verified in other reputable news sources, or through a known health organization.   
  • How they trick us:  The alerts and ads use compelling stories and scare tactics that trigger us to respond emotionally, rather than rationally, to false promises.   
  • Scam Prevention:  Regularly check-in with trusted websites, such as the CDC and Vermont Department of Health for updates on the status of the virus and how it is being treated.  

Fake charities:  As is common with disaster and crisis scams, consumers can expect fake charity scams to prey on their generosity to help others in need.  They will most definitely occur online but may also occur by phone.      

  • Spot the Scam:  Unsolicited requests for donations by a charity you have never heard of and cannot verify.   
  • How they trick us:  They take advantage of our desire to help others and the sense of urgency to respond.   
  • Scam Prevention:  Verify the charity by using websites like Charity Navigator and the BBB’s Giving Wise Alliance.  Always request solicitations in written form to give you time to do your research and consider the ask. Give to known charities and assign designation to specific causes. 

This is not a comprehensive list of the scams that may be encountered online.  New scams will develop, and when they do, we ask that you share the information with your community as well as with the Consumer Assistance Program at ago.cap@vermont.gov . 

Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about. Get notified about the latest scams: Sign up for VT Scam Alert System alerts. 

Beware of the Electricity Cut Off Scam

By Crystal Baldwin and Sara Spencer

“Your electricity will be shut off, if you don’t pay.” 

Imagine receiving this message in the middle of your work day while relying on electricity to serve your customers.  Or, maybe the message comes into your home while every single person is using an electronic device for work or school.  The message can be quite alarming, and can cause a person to react on the spot to resolve the perceived problem.  Resist the urge to respond—hang up the phone instead.  

These calls are from scammers claiming to be your utility provider.  They demand payment by gift card, wire transfer, credit/debit cards, peer-to-peer payment, and sometimes even cash.  If you don’t pay right away, they threaten that your electricity will be turned off.  

Utility Disconnection Scam Alert graphic. Hang up the phone. Call your utility company directly. Legitimate companies will not demand payment by gift card or wire transfer. Contact CAP if you've been targeted at (800) 649-2424.

If you are contacted by one of these scams: 

  1. Hang up! Do not engage with the scammer and do not call them back.  
  1. Do not provide any personal information 
  1. If you are concerned about disconnection, call your utility provider. 

Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.  Get notified about the latest scams: Sign up for VT Scam Alert System alerts.      

Call the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 if you have questions, concerns, or need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam. 

When you receive one of these jarring calls, here is what you can do:

Take steps to verify by remembering SLOW: 

SSlow down.  The scammers urge you to act urgently. Don’t.

LLog the call.  For your assurance, write down the phone number of the caller and hang up.

OOne call. Make a verification call to the business, using a number you know and trust.

WWho cares? Call another person in your life who cares about you. Know that you can call CAP at 1-800-649-2424.  We care and can help identify scams.

Before this scam happens to you, you can take steps now to create a scam action plan.  Keep the SLOW reminder near your phone. Act now to prevent future loss.

The Awful COVID-19 Hardship Benefits and Compensation Scam

Today, our office issued a scam alert to warn about a scam that monopolizes on our COVID-19 hardship.  The email claims that the Vermont Department of Labor has recognized the difficulty the pandemic has caused and will pay $3750 starting today.  All that is needed is identity verification. What Vermont family couldn’t use this extra help?  Especially while many Vermonters enter the holiday season. 

According to a recent UVM study, 1 in 3 Vermonters are food insecure (Niles, et al. UVM).  You and I may have guessed that.  The lines at food drives and food shelves have gotten longer, not shorter.  The Everyone Eats program is overloaded with participant families.  Vermonters are hungry, in search of hope, and then in comes this email promising prosperity and money.  It is despicable.   

Just think what you could do with that money.  You could buy a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the grocery store, like you always used to. You could ensure your family is well fed over holiday breaks.  You could give your children a winter season worth remembering.   

Unfortunately, with this scam and all phishing scams, the scam keeps going once the information has been provided to the scammer.  Accounts are opened in your name without your knowledge or consent.  The scammers could even use the information they have gathered to apply for unemployment insurance benefits in your name.          

Screen capture of scam email claiming COVID-19 benefits and compensation will be issued.

The fact that a scam outfit would capitalize on the pandemic is inconceivable.  Let’s teach these scammers a lesson.  The more who know about this scam, the less will respond.  Share this information with your community and others you care about.  When you share, be sure to let others know if they receive one of these notices: 

  • Move scam emails to your junk folder.
  • Block text messages.
  • Do NOT click on any links or attachments.
  • Do NOT respond and do NOT send money.

Call the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 if you have questions, concerns, or need help determining if you have been a victim of a scam.  Learn more about the scam and report it to the Vermont Department of Labor:  https://labor.vermont.gov/news/ui-fraud-alert-active-phishing-attempt  

If you have basic needs that are not being met, such as access to food, warmth, and shelter, connect with your local Community Action Agency and 211.  They can help connect you to resources and assistance in your community.  

Social Security Number Phishing Scams

Since August 1, the Consumer Assistance Program has received approximately 275 reports of the Social Security number phishing scam!

Here’s how the scam works:

  1. You receive a phone call stating that there has been criminal or fraudulent activity involving your Social Security number. The scammer may also claim to be a government agency or law enforcement, threatening arrest or serious consequences. The scam often begins as a robocall.
  2. If you “press 1”, you are connected to a live person, who claims to be a detective or law enforcement agent. They spin a detailed story about a crime committed involving your Social Security number.
  3. Then, the scammer attempts to obtain your personal information and money. Never provide your Social Security number or bank account numbers over the phone, especially to an unknown caller.

If you receive a Social Security number phishing scam call, hang up the phone! Do not press 1 or attempt to connect to a live person.

The Social Security Administration will contact you via official letters in the mail if necessary. If you receive a call threatening arrest, it’s a scam.

Take it SLOW: Scammers pressure you to act fast, demanding personal information and payment, while threatening extreme consequences if you do not comply. Don’t let them pressure you! Remember to slow down, hang up the phone, and log the call. All it takes is one call to someone in your life to talk it through. If you still need help identifying the scam, make an additional call to someone who cares. You can always call CAP, we care and can discuss scams with you.

If you do provide personal information to the scammers over the phone, here are some proactive steps you can take to protect your information and your finances:

  1. Report the scam to CAP: (800) 649-2424 or ago.cap@vermont.gov
  2. If you provided your Social Security number to the scammers:
    1. File an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission and your local police.
    2. Check your credit reports and place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit.
    3. Watch out for identity theft warning signs.
  3. If you provided financial information, such as bank account numbers or credit card numbers, contact the involved financial institutions right away.
  4. If you provided the scammers with a payment via gift card, call the phone number on the back of the card.

Grandchild Imposter “Grandparent” Scam in Vermont

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin

“Grandma, it’s me, I am in prison…”
“Grandpa, I’m in the hospital. I need help…”
“Nanna and Poppa, I had a bad car accident, and people are injured…”

No matter what the scammers say when they initiate the “Grandparent Scam,” the introduction is sure to spike emotion.  That is what they hope.  They call claiming to be one of your most cherished loved ones—your grandchild—and ignite fear that those you care about are in dire need.  With emotions running high and deep, how can you not engage with the call, stay on the line, and find out more? You are worried and feel helpless because all you have to validate this story is the phone in your hand and the fear of what if.  What if you do nothing and your grandchild really was in trouble?

It is so hard.  But what if the very phone where you received the call is also what will reveal the mystery?  What if all you needed was your phone and a reminder to slow down? Would receiving this daunting call be any easier?

Today, our office issued an alert about the grandchild imposter scam, commonly referenced as the grandparent scam, because it targets grandparents and their unwavering generosity and care for their loved ones.  This scam is successful because the scammers know our grandparents care, and they know the psychology behind how difficult it is to think through problems when emotions are high.  

Infographic produced by the Consumer Assistance Program. Share it with those you care about.

When you receive one of these jarring calls, here is what you can do:

Take steps to verify by remembering SLOW: 

SSlow down.  The scammers urge you to act urgently. Don’t.

LLog the call.  For your assurance, write down the phone number of the caller and hang up.

OOne call. Make a call to your grandchild or another who can verify your grandchild’s whereabouts and well-being.

WWho cares? Call another person in your life who cares about you. Know that you can call CAP at 1-800-649-2424.  We care and can help identify scams.

Before this scam happens to you, you can take steps now to create a scam action plan with your family.  Keep the SLOW reminder near your phone. With family, consider creating an uncommon family code word or PIN that you agree to not publicize or share with others.  Make a phone tree of reliable contacts to call if a scam like this is received.  Act now to prevent future loss.

Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.       

If you have lost money to this scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program right away at 800-649-2424.

For more information on the Attorney General’s efforts to support and protect older Vermonters, visit the webpage of the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative.