Consumer complaint office releases list of top 10 scams of last year
VERMONT- Vermonters filed 5,471 scam reports with the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program in 2018, according to the attorney general’s list of the top 10 most commonly reported scams of the year. This amounts to a 4.55% increase in scams from 2017. As new scams emerged, old scams persisted. The IRS scam, which involves scammers claiming to be government officials collecting back taxes, was the most common scam for the fifth year in a row. Vermonters filed 1,429 reports regarding the IRS scam.
Spoofing, when scammers falsify information on Caller ID to appear as though the call comes from a local number, is on the rise. One type of this call is the reflector scam, which involves repeated calls coming in from one’s own number. Another new scam this year reported by more than 100 Vermonters was a threatening email containing an old password and demanding money. The top 10 scams of 2018 were:
1. IRS imposter. The scam: A phone call claiming you owe back taxes or payments to the government allegedly from the IRS or United States Treasury and Legal Affairs.They may threaten with arrest or investigation. How to ID the scam: The IRS will never call people at home to threaten legal action.
2. Social Security number phishing.The scam: An attempt to obtain Social Security numbers by posing as the Social Security Administration or a business. They may try to get access to Social Security numbers by saying it has been compromised or stolen. How to ID the scam: If Social Security (or any official agency) wanted to make contact they would not call to ask for personal information, especially over the phone.
3. Computer tech support. The scam: A phone call or pop-up message on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft/Windows or another well-known tech company. They will say that there’s a virus or other problem with your computer and try to persuade you to give them remote access to resolve the issue. How to ID the scam: Legitimate customer service information usually won’t display as a pop-up. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google do not call customers to notify them of malware on a computer.
4. Grandchild imposter. The scam: Scammers pose as grandchildren and claim to be in serious trouble, such as in prison or at the hospital. They urgently request money in the form of wired funds or prepaid gift cards. How to ID the scam: Call the grandchild or family members on known phone numbers to ensure the grandchild is safe. What to do: Never wire or send funds unless it has been verified to be an emergency.
5. Debt collection threats. The scam: Scammers pose as a debt collector or government official and say legal action will be taken if a payment isn’t made. How to ID the scam: If a person did owe a debt collector or official agency money, they are not allowed to threaten anyone with arrest over the phone. What to do: Hang up the phone, and if they call again let it go to voicemail.
6. Spoofed calls. The scam: Spoofed calls come from a number that appears local to Vermont or even the town of the person they are calling. But in reality, the scammer is often calling from overseas, and spoofing the number to make it show up on caller ID as a neighbor so people will be inclined to answer. How to ID the scam: The call comes from a number that is not recognized or happens repeatedly at all hours. It may be the person’s own number.
7. Reflector (claim to be Microsoft). The scam: Similar to other spoofed calls, these scammers will call people on what appears to be their own number. Upon picking up, the scammer tells them that their Microsoft software or computer IP address has been compromised. They will ask for a payment immediately over the phone to protect the computer data. How to ID the scam: Nobody from Microsoft would call customers to say that their data has been breached. What to do: Never give personal or financial information to an unverified person or service over the phone.
8. Email extortion scams. The scam: People may receive a threatening email from an unknown person saying that they have an old password or some other personal information. They use that against the person in order to scare them into making a payment. How to ID the scam: Legitimate actors would never threaten anyone, even if they had access to old information. What to do: Never click on links that are in the email because they may give the scammer remote access to the computer or download viruses. Don’t reply to the email or interact with it in any way and delete it from the inbox. If they refer to a valid password, go to the account directly and change the password.
9. Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes claims. The scam: A call, email or letter claiming that a consumer has won big from Publisher’s Clearing House and needs to pay a fee to collect winnings. Sometimes this will include a realistic-looking check. How to ID the scam: If a person actually wins a major prize from Publisher’s Clearing House, they will make contact in person. What to do: Never pay an upfront fee to receive winnings. If a person wins something, the person that wins gets paid, not the other way around.
10. Sweepstakes claims (general). The scam: A phone call or mailing claiming that a person won money or a prize but has to make a payment in order to receive it. How to ID the scam: If it is a well-known organization, try contacting them to verify the information. If it is an unknown organization, chances are the winnings are fake. An unsolicited check in the mail from an unknown sender is usually a scam. What to do: Never pay upfront to receive winnings.
A new scam alert system was launched in 2017 to warn Vermonters about new or widespread scams. Vermonters can report a scam or sign up for the scam alert system by visiting www. ago.vermont.gov/cap or by calling (800) 649-2424.