According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in 10 adults in the U.S. will fall victim to fraud every year. That figure is only rising, jumping by 34% in 2018 alone. Of the reported frauds, surprisingly few happened via face-to-face situations, with the vast majority taking place online or by telephone contact.
We’ve assembled the top scams our local Better Business Bureau office encountered in 2019, in hopes of helping our readers recognize scam attempts in 2020.
1. The Suspended Social Security Scam hit our area hardest. Victims receive a phone call saying their Social Security number “has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity” or that the consumer must verify their Social Security number. The con artist then asks for personal information in order to commit identity theft or fraud.
2. The Internal Revenue Service Scam is an old favorite of scammers. Scammers pose as IRS agents, claiming back taxes are owed, then threaten lawsuits and arrest if payment is not sent immediately, often requiring payments be sent via unconventional methods such as gift cards or wire transfer. The IRS does not make such threatening phone calls or require such payment methods.
3. Victims were often bilked of $10,000 or more when they fell for the Grandparent Scam, in which a con artist calls or emails the victim posing as a grandchild in distress. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs the grandparent to wire them funds to be used for bail money, lawyers’ fees, hospital bills, etc. Contact the grandchild (or parent of the grandchild) yourself to verify the legitimacy of the story.
4. The Microsoft Scam begins with victims receiving a phone call or an alert on their computer from a “Microsoft technician,” saying a virus has been detected. For a fee, and access to your computer, they can solve your problem. Remember, Microsoft does not contact people out of the blue. It’s a scam!
5. A Medicare Scam, using phone calls, television and radio ads, peddle unneeded orthopedic braces and other “free” devices to many seniors in our area. Interested beneficiaries would give their Medicare info, then fraudsters would ship the devices to beneficiaries and bill Medicare. The medical equipment companies get payment from Medicare. The victims, however, not only gave their private information to fraudsters but were often billed for what Medicare didn’t pay.
6. When Publishers Clearing House starts promoting its sweepstakes, consumers start receiving scammer phone calls saying they’d won one of the PCH prizes. Typically, victims must provide personal information, which is then used to steal your identity or money. Remember, you never win a lottery you haven’t entered, and you should never have to pay fees for winning a prize.
7. Love Scams happen when a victim, looking for love, connects with a person online. The online love scammer ensnares the victim with tales about falling into trouble or hard times, eventually asking for money as proof of love. Once the money is transferred, the scammer disappears.
8. Electric Utility Scams use door-to-door salespeople or telemarketers claiming they represent AEP and can help lower electric bills if they can see the most recent electric bill. Don’t agree or sign anything when you don’t want to. Tell the salesperson or caller you would like to receive more information. Then just close the door or hang up.
9. Scammers impersonate genuine charities such as American Cancer Society, as well as police, fire and military organizations, by using similar-sounding names. Not only do these scammers steal your money, they also divert much-needed donations away from legitimate charities and causes. Contact charity organizations directly to donate.
Just remember don’t give out personal information or fall for anything where you must purchase a gift card. Stay safe and Happy New Year.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.