By Elliott Greenblott
Today we complete our look at the Scammies, the Top 10 reported scams of 2019 as identified by the Vermont Attorney General’s office.
First, a new alert for this year, 2020. By now, you have likely written numerous checks and possibly signed and dated documents. Most of us date items in this way: 2/15/20. It is a reasonable habit that worked well in the past. The problem is that this date format provides criminals with an opportunity to alter dates. The best way to date a check or a document is with a full notation such as March 15, 2020 or 2/15/2020. Noting the year as just 20 allows others to change the date to another year (2021, 2022, 2023). This may not seem important, but a change in date can extend the life of a check beyond the usual six months or change the legal life of other documents. Break the habit of abbreviating the date.
Continuing our review of the 2019 Scammies, number eight is the familiar IRS imposter scam — usually a phone call stating that you owe money and failure to respond will result in an arrest. The IRS will not call and threaten. Often the scammer states that payment can be made over the phone using gift cards. The IRS as well as any government agency will not accept gift cards in payment for funds that are owed. Hang up the phone and report the call to your state consumer protection agency.
Scammy seven is also familiar: the grandparent or grandchild scam. The criminal mimics a “grandchild” in distress needing immediate funds and commenting, “Don’t tell my parents!” Protect yourself from being a victim by verifying the identity of the caller and notifying other close family members of the call. Never follow the caller’s instructions, and do report the call.
Scammy six is the fake debt collection threat. Criminals posing as debt collectors or law enforcement officers demand immediate payment or threaten arrest. Debt collectors are not allowed to threaten arrest over the phone. Request written evidence of the debt. If the caller references a specific source of the debt, verify the debt by contacting the source of the debt using a trusted number.
Spoof or reflector calls occupy the number five spot. Spoofed calls display local phone numbers on caller ID; reflector calls show up as your own number. Usually these scammers impersonate a computer company employee warning about the need to protect your data or the need to plug a security breach on your computer. They request payment by gift card, something that would never be requested by a legitimate company. Your best action is to hang up the phone. Never give personal or financial information.
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Scammy number four is the phony relationship scam. This is frequently a romantic interest involving someone met online, but it could also be a scammer posing as a relative or friend in distress. These calls turn to an urgent request for money by wire transfer or gift card. Verify the identity of the person and the need with a phone call using a verifiable number.
Our top three Scammies go to the usual culprits:
3: Fake sweepstakes. You can’t win if you didn’t enter, and you do not pay upfront fees or taxes. Sweepstakes winners are contacted in person and are not sent unsolicited checks.
2: Tech support scams. This is a notification that your computer has malware and offering to correct the problem for a fee, and usually wanting remote access to your computer. Microsoft, Apple, Google and other tech companies do not randomly contact people regarding problems. Hang up the phone or shut down your computer (then restart it). Never give someone access to your technology unless you can verify their identity.
1: The top reported scam to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office in 2019 was Social Security number phishing, an attempt to obtain your Social Security number by posing as a government agent or business. Officials will not call to ask you for this information. Rather, they use the U.S. Postal Service to communicate.
There are the 2019 Scammies! Questions or comments? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He co-produces and hosts a feature CATV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland and viewable at www.gnat-tv.org.
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