Legal Authority Imposters 

You are busy in your work, helping people with critical problems when you get the call, “There is a bench warrant against you for not appearing in court.” Your first thought might be, “What does that even mean?” Your second thought: “How do I make it go away?”  

Legal Authority Scam Alert: Purports to be the police, sheriff, or other legal authority. Threatens legal action, arrest, or there's a warrant against you. Hang up on all threats and report them! Contact CAP 800-649-2424.
Legal Authority Scam Alert

The Consumer Assistance Program was recently notified about a rush of legal authority imposter scam calls reaching doctor’s offices in the Rutland area. In the scams reported, caller identification numbers were spoofed to appear as the “Rutland County Sheriff.” When doctors and staff questioned the legitimacy, they were told to “go ahead and call the sheriff directly.” When some did, the scam was confirmed. There was no bench warrant and paying these criminals on the spot would have resolved nothing anyway. 

What has been quite a surprise to these practitioners, has presented itself as one of the more common scams state-wide. In 2021, CAP recorded 277 reports of the Legal Authority Imposter Scam and nearly $200,000 in cumulative loss by six Vermonters. In this scam, a call comes in unexpectedly, claiming to be someone of legal authority: a sheriff, police officer, law office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for example. The caller expresses an urgent distressing problem, often threatening arrest, and eventually requests payment for the problem to go away.  

What to do?  

  • Never send callers money, especially in response to threats or claims of legal action. 
  • If you are concerned about a bench warrant, contact your legal counsel or the court directly. 
  • Hang up on all threats and report them.  

Know: 

  • If you were going to be sued, the papers would be served without notice. 
  • Harassing debt collection practice is unlawful, and collectors aren’t allowed to make claims they can’t or won’t pursue. Learn more about your rights.  
  • Learn more about the process of law to avoid scams. Most typically, if ordered to pay an amount, even by the court, there will be a clearly outlined process to follow to ensure payment goes to the right place. When a scammer claims legal action, research what it is and is not.  

What is a bench warrant? 

If you fail to show up in court when required (usually you are served notice by mail or by a Sheriff by hand delivery prior to the required court appearance), the judge may order for you to be detained or arrested. A bench warrant is more likely to be granted when a criminal defendant is on bail, or a subpoenaed witness fails to show up for trial. The bench warrant essentially orders you to go appear before the bench. (Cornell Law, nolo.com

How do I make a bench warrant go away? 

If you actually have a bench warrant against you, contact your attorney or public defender. A bench warrant calls for your appearance in court, so your appearance in court is what is necessary–and not the payment of funds like the scammers suggest.   

Stop all scams by following the SLOW Method.   

Slow Down: Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Don't! Log the Contact: Write down the info of the contact and disengage. One Call: Make one call to a primary contact and discuss the incident. Who Cares? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
Slow method – Slow down, take steps to verify.

Report scams to the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) through CAP’s online scam reporting form or by calling 1-800-649-2424. Learn more about imposter scams on our imposter scam prevention video and resource page: ago.vermont.gov/imposter-scam

2021 Scams with Loss Reported to the Consumer Assistance Program 

Reports of scams to the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) totaled 5,154 in 2021, up just slightly from the previous year’s 5,021 reports. As imposter scams are of ongoing concern in Vermont, CAP recently distributed a video imposter scam prevention project, highlighting three concerning imposter scams with high dollar loss: the Romance Imposter scam, the Family Emergency/Imposter Scam, and the Business Imposter Email Scam.  We work in partnership with the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE), FAST of Vermont and local community partners to provide referrals and resources to victims of scams. In addition, CAP connects with service providers and local community organizations to provide training and scam prevention presentations.   

As highlighted in the prevention project, taking steps to verify can help individuals avoid scams. A simple verification process to follow for all scams is the SLOW Method

S – SLOW DOWN 
Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Don’t! 

L – LOG THE CONTACT 
Write down the info of the contact and disengage. 

O – ONE CALL 
Make one call to a primary contact and discuss the incident. 

W – WHO CARES? 
Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424. 

CAP reminds Vermonters to never give out personal information or make payments to parties you cannot verify. Scammers will ask for payment in all forms, including wire transfer, cryptocurrency, cash, peer-to-peer payment, money order, check, credit/debit card, and gift cards. If you have sent money to a scammer, follow recovery steps now

Vermonters can help stop scams by sharing information with community members and by reporting scams to CAP to support educational outreach. To report scams, complete CAP’s online scam reporting form or call 1-800-649-2424. 

Top 10 Scam Types with Incurred Loss in Vermont by Total Loss Amount: Romance Imposter, $1,203,457: Financial Advisor/Investment Imposter, $820,233: Computer Tech Support, $695,240: Sweepstakes/Lottery/Contest/Prize, $439,685: Business Email Imposter, $388,295: Legal Authority Imposter, $197,011: Claims Order Made/Package Delivery, $129,818: Fake Website, $83,461: Buy/Sell Listing, $60,376: Phishing-Bank Representation, $51,436.
Top 10 Scam Types with Incurred Loss in Vermont by Total Loss Amount
Scam with Loss data according to reports to the Consumer Assistance Program in 2021

Computer Tech Support (Traditional) 

The scam: You receive a phone call, pop-up, or email on your computer claiming to be from Norton, Microsoft, Apple, or another well-known tech company. They will make claims such as your electronic device has a virus, your device security subscription has been automatically renewed, or stating you have been charged for services you did not receive or ask for. You may be prompted to click a link or call a number to contact. They will try to persuade you to give remote access to your device to fix the issue, and sometimes will even ask for immediate payment for their services. 

 How to spot the scam: Legitimate tech support companies do not display communications to their customers as random pop-ups on your device. Tech support will not call you to warn of security incidents; that your account has been renewed for a subscription you do not recognize; and will not send you random links, often shortened, with instructions for you to click on URLs. 

What to do: When contacted about a supposed business relationship, take steps to verify, especially if you do not remember signing up for services. Never click on links or provide remote access to your computer from an unknown email sender or pop-up message on your device’s screen. If you received a pop-up message you cannot click out of, shut down, restart, or unplug your device. If you get a call from “tech support”, hang up. Also, be careful when searching for tech support online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate phone numbers listed on the internet. 

Fake Website/Online Listings 

The scam: Fake websites or phony listings on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist draw you into a purchase that’s likely too good to be true. This scam can also appear in online rental listings, and as a buyer offering well-over the selling price for an item. As a seller, the fake buyer sends a fake check or pays with a fraudulent credit card and asks you to advance funds to another fake vendor, causing you to be out the funds. 

How to spot the scam: Be skeptical of unrealistic offers. Watch out for requests for money in any form (gift cards, wire transfers, cash) when not made in person. Scammers likely will not want to talk on the phone or meet in person. Heed warnings in user reviews and other online commentary. 

What to do: Playing it safe online takes a bit of detective work to determine legitimacy of an offer. Investigate the person/profile of the seller. If their profile is new and they have no friends and photos, they are likely a scam. Research new websites you are considering doing business with by looking up online reviews and state business registrations, taking note of how long the company has been operating. Perform online searches of the business with “scam” and “complaints” to see if issues generate. Complete your transactions in cash and preferably a safe place in-person. 

Romance Imposter  

The Scam:  Scammers connect usually through social media and pose to be someone you trust and care for. After the trust has been developed, they claim they are in an emergency to convince you to send them money or will ask you for a favor. Scammers impersonate a love interest and play on your fears to have you send money urgently.  

How to spot the scam: Use reverse image searches to look up images of the person; if ther are many results, the contact may be using someone else’s image and is a scam. Video chat on your terms and at random times. If they are typically unavailable, they may be scamming someone else.  

What to do: consult with your close in person contacts and reach out to an organization in your life who cares. They may spot something you don’t. Never send money to someone you have not met in person.  

Computer Tech Support (Claims Order Made/Package Delivery) 

The scam: A variation of the traditional Computer Tech Support scam (see # 3 below). You receive an automated phone call, text message, or email claiming that you have been charged for an online order, have an outstanding balance on your account, or are sent an item you did not order. The scammer then instructs individuals to call a number provided in the scammer’s communications to get a refund or to resolve the charge. At this point, they will ask you to provide your card number to “confirm your account” or prompt you to provide them remote access to your computer. As soon as the scammer has remote access to your device, they can access every single document, file, and transaction you have saved to your device. 

How to spot the scam: Companies will not call with tech support unless you requested that they contact you. If you receive a package that you do not recall ordering, check your statement history to see if you have been charged. Packages without a return address are highly suspicious. 

What to do: Hang up the phone immediately and do not call back. If you receive an email or text regarding a package delivery or order that has been made, do not click on any links. Mark the email as “Junk” or “Spam”. Furthermore, never allow remote access to your device to unknown parties. If you are concerned about charges made to your accounts, log in to your account directly and contact your financial institution. If you receive a package that you did not order, mark it return to sender and give it back to the mail carrier. 

Sweepstakes/Lotteries/Contest/Prize 

The scam: You will be notified by phone, email, or mail that you won a prize or a quantity of money. In some cases, you will even receive a realistic-looking check – but it is fake! You are instructed to pay fees and give your financial and personal information to claim your prize. They often use a legitimate sweepstakes name, like Publishers Clearing House. 

How to spot the scam: Legitimate sweepstakes and contest businesses, like Publishers Clearing House and Mega Millions lottery, will contact you in person if you win a major prize. For prizes under $10,000, the notification is done through certified mail by overnight delivery services (FedEx, UPS). They will not contact you by phone, nor require a payment or processing fee to release your prize. 

What to do: If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s not true. You don’t need to pay fees or give your financial information in order to claim a prize. 

Family/Friend Emergency/Imposter 

The scam: Scammers pose to be someone you trust and pretend to be in an emergency to convince you to send them money or will ask you for a favor. These scammers pose as grandchildren, friends, relatives, and close contacts and seem like the real deal. Scammers impersonate people you love and play on your fears to have you send money urgently. After the initial call, you may be told a lawyer, parole officer or courtroom may contact you for further information. 

How to spot the scam: Contacts come in as calls or emails or online messages. Sometimes it’s someone you haven’t heard from in a while. They require urgency and ask for secrecy. You may not be allowed to speak to your loved one on the phone. 

What to do: Take steps to verify. Check out if they really are who they say even if they sound like a loved one. Slow down your response and contact someone you trust to verify if there is an emergency. You can also choose a “code word” with friends and family to verify the person is who they claim to be. If they don’t know the word, they are not your friend or family member. 

Phishing-Bank Representation 

The scam: You receive an email or phone call claiming to be from a bank. Emails might claim that your account is in danger or has been suspended, or that your card is on hold due to suspicious activity. The email also includes links to phony websites. Phone calls may claim that there has been fraudulent activity involving your account, and the scammers demand personal information about you and your account. 

How to spot the scam: Scammers mask their actual identity by changing the sender name to the name of the financial institution. Look at the email address before opening the email. You will often find an account not affiliated with your bank. Similarly, scammers can spoof phone numbers of financial institutions. If you answer a call that appears to be from your bank and they ask for your personal and/or account information, hang up and call your bank directly on a number you trust to verify their attempt to contact you. 

What to do: Do not reply to the email or click on any links or attachments included in the message. If you receive a call, hang up the phone. To correspond directly with your bank or financial institution, use verified contact information, such as information listed on your statement. 

Financial Advisor/ Investment Imposter  

The scam: Scammers are spoofing websites and using fake social media accounts to obscure their identities. Scammers also pose an imposter friend with an investment tip.  Investors should always take steps to identify phony accounts by looking closely at content, analyzing dates of inception and considering the quality of engagement. To ensure investors do not accidently deal with an imposter firm, pay careful attention to domain names and learn more about how to protect your online accounts. 

How to spot the scam: Beware of fake client reviews. Scammers often reference or publish positive, yet bogus testimonials purportedly drafted by satisfied customers. These testimonials create the appearance the promoter is reliable – he or she has already earned significant profits in the past, and new investors can reap the same financial benefits as prior investors. 

What to do: The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) recommends investors independently research registration of investment firms.  

Wretched Robocalls 

By Crystal Baldwin  

A National Consumer Protection Week feature. “National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a time to help people understand their consumer rights and avoid frauds and scams” (FTC).

Ten years ago, the influx of scam calls through automation began. In two days, the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP), which traditionally logged around twenty scam reports per month, received hundreds of scam reports over two days. By the end of 2012, CAP averaged 145 scam reports per month. Of the first robocalls Vermonters reported were the card services scam, which claimed interest rates could be lowered on their bank credit cards. Next came claims of free gift cards from a specific retailer, who was offering nothing of the sort. What soon followed was a rush of new scams; claims that free life alert devices were available, the infamous IRS scam (responsible for 4,261 reports in 2016), which morphed into the SSN phishing scam, and countless others. Reports of scams have not dropped below the 5,000 mark since before 2015 in large part due to robocalls. After nearly a decade, it’s clear these calls are not going away on their own.   

While scam nature varies, the one thing these scams have in common is the criminal use of expanded phone technology. In short, scammers have learned how to manipulate our phone systems to make millions of unscrupulous calls per minute. As long as they continue to make money, they will continue to call with enticing offers and troubling spiels.  

How a Robocall Gets to You – Consumer Assistance Program – Learn more

Telltale signs of robocall scams: 

  • A computer/automated/robot voice 
  • Pressure to act immediately 
  • A request for something: your information/your money 

To the demise of the robocall scam industry, there are steps you can take as a consumer advocate to avoid these calls. By being aware and not engaging with these calls and making these scams less successful, you are doing your part to stop robocall scams. Learn more about stopping scams by opening the Blocking Unwanted Calls tab on CAP’s website. You can also listen to a previously recorded Vermont Edition about stopping and blocking robocalls.

Here’s what you can do when you receive an unknown call: 

  • Pause:  Take time to reflect – if a call is unexpected, disengage. 
  • Take steps to verify by making note of the contact and doing research, including checking a trusted source. 
  • Discuss scams with friends and loved ones regularly. Storytelling induces learning. The simple act of communicating with others about scams can help prevent others from becoming victims.  
  • Keep on reporting them. Our office has been part of a bipartisan taskforce of attorneys general and federal law enforcement to relieve consumers of unwanted calls. Your robocall reports are used to aid this taskforce in tracking down criminal syndicates. 

With the help of federal authorities and a large U.S. voice provider, our office has been able to track down US intermediaries and hold them accountable for sending scam calls to your phone. 

You can help stop robocalls by reporting them to the Consumer Assistance Program: CAP’s online scam reporting form.  

When Love is a Scam

By Crystal Baldwin

Love fills us with joy, lifts us up, and makes us feel alive. As determined by a recent Stanford University study, for many, love is found online.  

Says "Click for Love" with Heart and Clouds

Technological advances and the move of our social lives and networks to online platforms has shifted the dating world to unchartered territory–online dating websites (Match, Zoosk, OurTime, Plenty of Fish, OKCupid, eHarmony), dating apps (Bumble, Tinder, Hinge), gaming platforms (Words With Friends, Sociable, Yahtzee with Buddies) and unassuming networks (Facebook, Instagram). As if the dating world were not challenging enough to navigate. Now, those looking for love must also learn how to create a true connection through tech, while avoiding scammers.

New data from the Federal Trade Commission show that more consumers than ever report falling prey to romance scammers

Consumers reported losing $547 million in 2021 alone.

Reported losses to romance scammers were up nearly 80 percent compared to 2020.

Federal Trade Commission
Avoiding the Romance Scam Video – Learn more at ago.vermont.gov/cap/romance-imposter

At the end of last year, our office released a video and toolkit alerting Vermonters about imposter romance scams that can take place on dating platforms. Before looking for love online, check out the video and tools we created to help you to identify unscrupulous love interests and relationships of confidence.

You can find love online and avoid scams. Print out our helpful verification flyer and reference it often.

To avoid romance scams...Search the internet to verify a person's identity. Never send money/personal information to someone you have not met in person. Don't trust anyone who: refuses to provide additional photos of themselves. Requests money for financial support. Refuses to chat with you through webcam. Provides excuses as to why you can't meet.
Tips to avoid romance scams by the Consumer Assistance Program

If you or someone you know has encountered a scam in Vermont, report it. Use CAP’s online scam reporting form and visit the our scam recovery webpage.  

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

Resources: FTC.gov, news.stanford.edu

Your Face is Data. What Can Scammers Do with it?

By Cristina Leiva

How often do you use your face to unlock your phone? Gain access to your bank account? Turn on your car? With the evolution of technology, facial recognition software has become essential in our everyday activities. A simple scan of your facial features can provide access to so much. This realization came to me as a consumer reported an incident where a scammer asked her to download a facial recognition app and submit a scan of her face.

“Criminals who have collected enough personal information on you could commit identity fraud.”

Equifax

Your face can be used in crimes, either targeting you or as an accomplice to one. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on synthetic identity fraud: “a fast-growing type of financial crime where fraudsters use an amalgamation of real and fake information to create a new identity.” Thanks to your facial features, a scammer can bypass facial authentication systems, making the scammer’s face challenging to identify, because “attackers are typically unwilling to use their real face when committing a crime.” And who’s to say you didn’t commit a crime when your face is all over the issue?

There are numerous concerns about the fraudulent activity that can occur because of criminals gaining access to your face. Thankfully there are already a few companies working on this issue:

  • Apple’s camera projects more than 30,000 invisible dots to create depth maps of a person’s face while also capturing an infrared image of the face making it the most difficult to fool, and it’s also good to note that a user’s Face ID never leaves the iPhone.
  • Some banks and financial service companies use third-party facial identification services and request additional verification information; if it so happens that the facial ID is not recognized and gets flagged, a human reviewer will take a look and conclude the analysis.

Your face can be captured anywhere; all that is needed is a clear image. There’s a lack of privacy on how individuals can gain access to your face because your face can be captured just by walking past a camera outside—you likely aren’t aware of it.

What can you do?

Always be careful about who you allow access to your face.

Avoid Facial Identity Fraud: -Be mindful of where you post pictures of your face online and set profiles to private to help protect your identity.
-Use two-factor authentication when it’s available-Use facial recognition sparingly and only with companies you know and trust-Do reverse-image searches of your face online to see if it shows up in unexpected places-Monitor your credit report and financial accounts and review for suspicious activity to determine if financial theft is occurring
Avoid Facial Identity Fraud – Tips from the VT Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program

Navigating the identity theft recovery process can be overwhelming. Vermonters with questions about the process can call the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424 or the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338. 

Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Resources: Equifax, The Wall Street Journal, WeLiveSecurely.com