Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General
202 North Ninth Street
For media inquiries only, contact:
Michael Kelly, Director of Communications
PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR MONEY FROM SCAMS AND FRAUDS
~ Millions of Americans lose billions of dollars each year to scams and frauds ~
RICHMOND (March 8, 2017)-During National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Mark R. Herring is urging Virginians to protect themselves and their hard-earned money from scams and frauds, whether they are perpetrated in-person, online, or on the phone. A 2015 survey found that approximately 25 million Americans lost approximately $7.4 billion to phone scams alone, and with the rise of sophisticated technology to trick victims and conceal scammers' identities, that amount is likely to rise in the coming years.
"The oldest advice is still the best: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Virginians should be extremely suspicious of any calls, emails, or contacts during which someone promises money or goods for nothing in return. Be especially wary of scams that require you to send money or pay anything up front. That's a dead giveaway that the person on the other end of the line or the email is just trying to separate you from your money," said Attorney General Herring. "If you ever get a suspicious call, email, letter, or contact, don't be afraid to walk away or end the conversation. You can always check with friends, local police, my Consumer Protection Section, or contact the supposed company directly to find out whether the offer or request is legitimate. Scammers thrive on pressure, pushing you into making a decision right then and there. But if you arm yourself with information and stay calm and confident, you can protect yourself and your wallet."
Some of the most common scams and frauds threatening Virginians include:
In a typical Grandparent Scam, the con artist calls or emails the victim posing as a relative in some sort of distress or as someone calling on behalf of the relative such as a law enforcement agent, lawyer, or other official. The caller claims the "grandchild" or "relative" is in trouble and needs the grandparent to wire them funds that will be used for bail money, lawyer's fees, hospital bills, or another fictitious expense. Social media and other online resources have made it even easier for scammers to identify themselves by a grandchild or relative's name, making the con that much more convincing.
Remember these tips to avoid becoming a victim:
- Beware of any urgent request for funds, especially if it is needed to pay for unexpected bills, such as bail money, lawyer's fees, or doctor bills.
- Before sending funds, independently contact the relative (or parent of the relative) the scam artist is claiming to be (or represent) at a known phone number to verify the details of the story.
- This scam usually includes a request that the money be sent by wire transfer. Any urgent request to wire money should be treated suspiciously. Never wire money to someone you don't know.
- Watch out for late night calls made a time when they hope to confuse potential elderly victims.
Con artists may contact you by telephone or e-mail claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to try to trick you into making payments for taxes they claim you owe or to provide your personal and financial information. Scammers can sound official and be very convincing, often providing a fictitious badge number or information about you, such as your home address and the last four digits of your social security number. To make things worse, the scammers often have technology that masks their caller ID information, or may indicate that the call is coming from the IRS when, in fact, it is not. E-mails may appear official with government seals and logos.
Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will NEVER do:
- Call to demand immediate payment or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying.
Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams
Unexpected prize and lottery scams work by asking you to pay some sort of fee in order to claim your prize or winnings from a competition or lottery you never entered. You may get this notice by mail, telephone, email, text message or social media. To claim your prize, you will be asked to pay a fee to cover insurance costs, government taxes, bank fees or some other fee.
In some cases, the scammer collects your money by asking you to call to get information about your winnings. These numbers (which usually begin with 1-900) charge a premium rate. The scammer will try to keep you on the line for a long time in order to run up a hefty charge, and may even ask you to call a second premium rate number.
Some red flags common to lottery and sweepstakes scams include:
- You are asked to respond quickly or risk missing out.
- You are told you have won a lottery or sweepstakes you never entered.
- The scammer tells you to keep your winnings private or confidential, to "maintain security."
- You are told that you must pay money upfront to receive your winnings.
Government/Utility Impostor Scam
Many people are understandably very concerned when they get an e-mail, letter or phone call from someone identifying themself as a representative of a government agency or one of their utility companies. Scammers are constantly improving their techniques to fool their intended victims into thinking they work for the government or utility, including fake identification and spoofed phone numbers on Caller ID. This scam employs the fear factor to lead you to part with your money or provide financial information to them. They may even threaten to have you arrested or cut off your electricity or water if you do not comply.
Remember these tips to avoid becoming a victim:
- Never wire money or send cash or a pre-paid card-These transactions are just like sending someone cash! Once your money is gone, you can't trace it or get it back.
- Don't give the caller any of your financial or other personal information-Never give out or confirm financial or other sensitive information, including your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know exactly who you're dealing with. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft. If you get a call about a debt that may be legitimate - but you think the collector may not be - contact the company to which the caller claims you owe money to inquire about the call.
- Don't trust a name or number-Scammers use official-sounding names, titles, and organizations to make you trust them. To make the call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code or generate a fake name on caller ID. So even though it may look like they're calling locally or somewhere in the United States, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
- Join the National Do Not Call Registry and don't answer numbers you don't know-This won't stop scammers from calling but it should make you skeptical of calls you get from out of the blue. Most legitimate sales people generally honor the Do Not Call list. Scammers ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to "screen" your calls for legitimacy and reduce the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you get.
Attorney General Herring advises consumers to watch out for the following red flags and to keep these tips in mind to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud:
The Offer Seems Too Good to be True-If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Examples include money left to you from an unknown relative, being awarded a loan or grant for which you did not apply, winning a lottery you did not enter and being selected to receive a share in funds in return for using your bank account.
Requests for Fees or Payment in Advance-Scammers will want advance payments or fees to clear the funds or complete their offer. It might not be clear what the fees are for, but the scammer will tell you they have to be paid or the money can't be released. They might suggest they are only trying to help you out and the fees are a small sum compared to what you will be receiving. Never pay fees or taxes in advance.
Pressure-Scammers will often put pressure on their victims and urge them to pay immediately or lose the opportunity, or may even threaten them with legal consequences or disconnected utilities unless a payment is sent right away. A genuine business or government entity will not pressure you to act immediately.
Know who you are dealing with-Technology has made it easy for scammers to disguise or spoof their telephone number or create a website that looks very legitimate. Do an online search for the company name and website and look for consumer reviews. If you cannot find a seller's physical address (not a P.O. Box) and phone number it should be a red flag. It is best to do business with websites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider using a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card.
They Want Private Information-Many scams involve getting hold of your bank account details. Scams involving identity theft also seek personal information. A common scenario is an email supposedly from a bank asking you to click on a link to confirm your bank details and password. Banks generally don't do this, but if you think the email has really come from your bank, pick up the phone and confirm with them. Never click on links or attachments in emails from people you don't know or you risk your computer becoming infected by viruses, trojans, or other malware.
Untraceable Payment Method-Scammers prefer payment methods that are untraceable, such as wiring money through Western Union or other services. Be very suspicious of demands for wire transfers or cash payments. Never wire money to someone you do not know.
Grammatical Errors or Poor Production Values-Scammers may be clever, but they are not always careful and English may not be their first language. Their grammatical errors can give them away. If the correspondence you receive is full of errors, low-resolution images, or unsophisticated formatting, be very suspicious.
Suspicious Email Domains and Web Addresses-Look carefully at email addresses and domain names. Businesses rarely use free email services like Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, or Gmail. Even if the business seems legitimate, do some research to make sure they have readily available contact information and have not scammed others.
Suspicious or No Addresses-Scammers do not want their victims to know where they live. If there is no physical address and your contacts won't give you one, it's a sure bet you're being scammed. If there is a physical address, check it out using the Internet or Google Earth and see if it's a real address.
Request for Access to Your Computer-A common scam is a phone call from someone claiming to be a technician who has detected problems with your computer and would like to fix them for you free. Never give anyone remote access to your computer unless you have contacted them and are 100% certain they are not a scammer.
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