Deja Vu Deception: These Old Scams Resurface Again

Deja Vu Deception: These Old Scams Resurface Again


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Re-run ripoffs are nothing new; what’s previously worked for scammers will likely be successful again. And that holds especially true for these three long-time (and historically prosperous) ploys that have resurfaced with a vengeance:

Jury Duty Scam
Going strong for more than a decade, this telephone scheme has scammers posing as court employees or members of law enforcement ranging from local police to U.S. Marshalls. They say that you failed to appear for mandated jury duty – and as a result of that supposed no-show, you face immediate arrest.

These imposters are usually well-prepared – citing names and addresses of their targets (often pooled from public directories) and spoofing phone call-recipients’ caller ID to show phone numbers and names of a courthouse or law enforcement agency. “The scammers often provide information that seems very convincing, including the real names of federal judges or court employees, the location of the courthouse, and case and badge numbers. The victim has every reason to believe the call is legitimate,” notes a recent warning from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The caller then tells the victim they can avoid arrest by paying an immediate fine and walks them through purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card or making an electronic payment to satisfy the ‘fine.’”

What makes this scam especially dangerous: In addition to a quick payoff, sensitive personal information including your birthdate and Social Security number may be solicited for possible identity theft. What to know:

  • As with jury duty summonses, official “no show” notifications are delivered by mail. Phone calls won’t occur unless a jury duty summons was mailed but returned to sender because it couldn’t be delivered.
  • Police never give advance warning of impending arrest. Courthouse employees don’t call after-hours, while you’re eating dinner or preparing for bed. Only scammers do both.
  • A bona fide court will never ask for a credit or debit card number, wire transfers, or bank routing numbers over the phone for any purpose – including missing jury duty. Fines aren’t imposed until after you’ve appeared in court, given the opportunity to explain a failure to appear. 

Utility Shutoff Scam
In this swindle, fraudsters pose as local utility company personnel, claiming that electric, gas or water service to your home or business will be terminated within hours because of unpaid bills…unless the alleged tab is immediately paid (again, typically requested by prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer). The typical homeowner who takes the bait loses about $500 – nearly twice the amount of other phone scams – while some business owners have lost $10,000 or more.

These scams have gotten so common – breaking rip-off records last year and on track for another banner year this winter (this ploy peaks during the busy heating season) – that more than 100 utilities have formed Utilities United Against Scams to warn customers. As “live” phone calls remain the most common way to con, newer methods also include bogus emails, automated robocalls and even “on-site” scammers in rented uniforms seeking a quick payoff and/or home entry for possible burglary. What to know:

  • Before shutting off service, all utilities mail at least one written notice, providing you with several options to pay (online, return mail, phone, automatic bank draft or in person). None initiate the shutoff process with an unexpected phone call.
  • Like most legitimate businesses, utilities don’t accept gift cards and never require payment by prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Scammers prefer these methods because they are like sending cash.
  • Service on meters or inside the home is usually prearranged; if there’s a charge for work on customer-owned equipment, you’ll be billed by the utility – not asked for on-the-spot payment. 

Charity Scams
No surprise on the timing here: The lion’s share of all charitable donations in the U.S. – nearly $390 billion last year – is made in December. And that’s when scammers do a full attack to dupe would-be donators with a hard-sell and heartfelt scripts, typically made in unsolicited phone calls, but also front-door visits and email campaigns.

Some feign to be collecting on behalf of recognized groups, but more often use sound-alike names of legitimate charities or invent their own authentic-sounding organizations. What to know:

  • Listen or watch for imitative words, such as “National” being substituted for “American” in a well-known name. Mailed solicitations are less likely to be fraudulent than those by phone, email or front-door visit, so unless you dialed the call or previously provided your email address to that organization, don’t provide a credit card number over the phone or online. Also know that legitimate charities won’t specifically request prepaid debit cards or other scammer-preferred payment methods.
  • The most successful scams (read: hot-button hoaxes) targeting older Americans are phony charities claiming to benefit police and firefighters, military veterans, sick or needy children, or victims of natural disasters.
  • Before donating to any solicitation, check the charity’s name and reputation at Give.org, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar. You can also contact the agency in your state that regulates charities.

 

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

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Post-Disaster Scams: Fallout Fraud from Hurricane Harvey (and Future Catastrophes)


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After devastating parts of Texas were hit with record rainfall in what the National Weather Service described as “beyond anything experienced,” expect a flood of Hurricane Harvey-themed fraud to continue…even after the waters recede.

That’s because of what’s already been experienced after virtually every other major natural disaster: Scams that prey on those whose lives and homes have already been destroyed, as well as good-hearted strangers hoping to help from thousands of miles away. Here’s a timeline of what to expect in the wake of Harvey, as well as future disasters:

Charity scams are typically the first gotcha out of the gate. (Even before Superstorm Sandy made landfall, more than 1,000 new websites with “Sandy,” “relief” or related keyword search terms were registered, many by scammers). Some charity scams come by unsolicited phone calls or front-door visits, but more begin with randomly blasted text messages, emails and social media posts to direct would-be donors. There, personal information and credit card numbers are collected for supposed donations (and possible identity theft); some scammer sites also infect your computer with information-stealing malware.

For fraud-free fundraising, you should contact the charity directly. Don’t trust requests that come to you. Stick with names and reputations vetted at Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Give.org, and follow these tips to avoid post-disaster charity scams. To immediately help Harvey victims, call the Red Cross at 1-800-RED CROSS, visit redcross.org or text the word HARVEY to 90999. For Salvation Army donations, call 1-800-SAL-ARMY, visit http://helpsalvationarmy.org or text STORM to 51555.

Rip-off repairmen known as “storm chasers” will flock to Texas as soon as the rain stops to begin their kind of soaking. These out-of-town tradesmen present themselves as roofers, carpenters, electricians and other tradesmen, and promise a quick repair for an upfront payment. Some just take the money and run; others may do “quick” but shoddy or incomplete work that may not be covered by homeowners insurance.

Because qualified and reputable tradesmen will also come to Texas for work, ensure both your wallet and home are protected by first asking your insurer to survey the damage and recommend approved contractors. Locals may be hard to find, so search and verify names through state licensing agencies, and provide your insurer with proof of contractor licenses, workers compensation insurance, written estimates and scope of work in detail, before hiring and paying anyone. It’s also wise to get a copy of the contractor’s driver’s license or other photo ID.

Imposter scams. Charity scammers aren’t alone in playing a rip-off role. As in past natural disasters, Harvey hoaxsters may pose as employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or insurance companies. Under the guise of doing an inspection and offering restitution or low-interest loans to rebuild, they angle for personal and financial information like Social Security and bank account numbers to use for identity theft. Others seek entry to homes to case for later burglary. Beware of demands for upfront payment, allegedly to process claims or pay your insurance deductible. Ask for identification, verify credentials, and keep in mind that FEMA doesn’t charge for any service.

Flood cars. In the coming weeks, the thousands of vehicles submerged in Harvey’s floodwaters will be offered for sale, possibly thousands of miles from Texas. That’s because when vehicles damaged by floods are deemed a total loss by insurers, owners are paid off and these so-called flood cars are hauled to a salvage yard, where they are supposed to be sold for parts. But roughly half wind up being purchased, cleaned up and resold to dealers and individual buyers. Although initially drivable, problems quickly occur: Rust attacks the engine and body. Wires that were water-soaked dry up and crack. Brakes, door locks, power windows, transmission and heating and air conditioning units fail. Some may even explode while being driven.

To avoid buying a flood car, enter its vehicle identification number (VIN) at VINCheck, a free service from the National Insurance Crime Bureau that could reveal a vehicle’s flood damage and previously Texas occupancy; Carfax and AutoCheck are also good sources. Also do your own sleuthing: Musty smells indicate mildew that couldn’t be cleaned while overpowering fragrances suggest the seller may be hiding something. Be suspicious of carpeting that looks too new, is discolored or has water stains. Check engine crevices and exposed screw heads, the glove compartment, door panels, under seats and the spare tire well for water lines or signs of mud, silt or rust. Beware of water condensation, fogging or water lines inside headlights, taillights and dashboard gauges. Repeatedly test electrical equipment – wipers, turn signals, heater and air conditioner, power windows and locks – and check engine wires; if they don’t bend easily, they may soon crack because of water damage.

Prepare for next time. Along with death and taxes, there’s a third certainty: Mother Nature will again go wild, possibly in your town. Whether it’s a future hurricane (yes, I’ve been there…several times), tornado, wildfire or other disaster, a little foresight and preparation goes a very long way. Before seconds really count, use this guide to prepare that must-have paperwork, often overlooked but crucial items and reduce insurance hassles.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

 



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