BURLINGTON – Attorney General T.J. Donovan is warning Vermonters about a new variation of the family emergency scam in which scammers are demanding that cash be handed over in person to a “courier.” By presenting a fake emergency in which their loved one needs help getting out of trouble, scammers pressure panicked family members, including grandparents, into acting before they can realize it’s a scam. Until recently, scammers took a hands-off approach in collecting money, demanding gift cards, wire transfers, or virtual payments. Now, the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) is receiving reports that scammers are enlisting “couriers” to collect cash directly from unsuspecting family members at their homes to resolve the fake emergency. Vermonters who receive these calls should resist the urge to act immediately and take steps to verify the caller’s identity.
While the family emergency scam has long plagued Vermonters, CAP is raising awareness about the spread of “couriers” coming to Vermonters’ homes to collect cash. In the last week, CAP has received 4 family emergency scam reports from Vermonters who were told that an individual or a “courier” would retrieve cash from them at their homes—3 of these scams resulted in monetary loss. Common elements of this scam include:
Claims of a “gag order” being in place which requires secrecy.
Cash is needed to pay for a “bond” or a “bail bond agent.”
A loved one was involved in a “car accident,” sometimes related to traveling for a COVID-19 test.
CAP has found that scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their contacts and appear to be using internet searches and public social media profiles to research the locations of family members. By searching telephone numbers and addresses on the internet and scanning popular social media sites, scammers can learn about familial relationships, ages, and geographic locations. Scammers then use this information to make the scam seem credible.
CAP advises Vermonters to slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed. Use the SLOW method in urgent situations:
S – SLOW DOWN. Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Take time to regain your calm.
L – LOG THE CONTACT. Write down the phone number of the contact and disengage.
O – ONE CALL. Make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member, and discuss the incident.
W – WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) has received scam reports from Vermonters who have reported receiving calls from scammers claiming to be grandchildren or lawyers representing loved ones in an emergency and that money is needed.
When contacted by someone who asks for money, a gift card to be purchased, funds to be wired, or for any other financial transaction, take steps to verify the identity of your loved one in distress.
Slow down. The scammers urge you to act urgently; don’t.
Write down the phone number of the caller and hang up.
Call your grandchild or any other person who can verify their whereabouts and well-being.
Call another person in your life who cares about you.
Call CAP at 1-800-649-2424. We care and can help identify scams.
Even if you have not been contacted by this scam, now is a great time to connect with loved ones to create a scam action plan in preparation for the likely receipt of scam calls. Consider creating an uncommon family codeword or pin number 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. Learn more about family emergency scams on CAP’s website: ago.vermont.gov/family-imposter. Act now to prevent future loss.
Help CAP stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.
If you have lost money to this scam, contact the money transfer company right away! Report the scam to the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.