In conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey identified the top 10 scams reported to his office and offered suggestions about how to avoid being victimized.
“This week is National Consumer Protection Week, and a critical component of that is educating consumers about the types of scams that are circulating and helping them understand some common red flags,” Morrisey said. “Our office received thousands of calls from consumers about scams last year. Some of the callers had been victimized by the scam; others just wanted to make us aware of them. We urge consumers to let us know any time they feel as though they have been contacted by someone who is trying to take advantage of them.”
The 10 most common scams reported to the Consumer Protection Division in 2014 were:
* Credit card scams: A caller or robocall offers to lower the interest rate on a credit card, but seeks the consumer’s banking information so he or she can “verify” it.
* Tax scams: A person says he is with the IRS or other government agency and informs the consumer that delinquent taxes are due. The caller says the consumer could face jail time, foreclosure, or other threats if he or she does not pay immediately. Scammers also have told consumers they are eligible for a refund if they provide bank routing numbers.
* Sweepstakes and prize scams: A consumer is informed via mail, email, social media, phone call or letter that he or she has won a prize or sweepstakes, but must pay a small fee to cover shipping, taxes or other costs first.
* Loan and government grant scams: The consumer is informed via mail, email, social media, phone call or letter that he or she is eligible for a free grant from a government agency or erasure of student loan debt, but must pay an upfront fee in order to receive it.
* Computer and technical scams: A caller says he represents a computer company or Internet service provider, expresses concern about the consumer’s computer or server, and directs the consumer to a website so the computer can be accessed remotely. Links to the website may infect the computer with a virus or the caller could lock the computer until a “ransom” is paid.
* Medical scams: This category includes scams dealing with medical alert systems, medical devices, class action settlements, and billing scams. Callers may ask for a consumer’s banking information, credit card information, Medicare number, or medical history.
* Email and phishing scams: Scammers tell consumers they have unpaid tolls, won gift cards or other prizes or have services due to them, and may include threats if they do not act immediately. The emails are designed to steal money by installing malware or viruses on a consumer’s computer or seek personal information.
* Warrant scams: A caller informs the consumer that there is a warrant out for his or her arrest for missing jury duty, passing bad checks or other violations. The caller will offer to dismiss the warrant if the consumer pays immediately with a pre-paid debit card, money order, or wire transfer.
* Lottery scams: Consumers are informed they have won a major prize, including a “second-chance prize” for losing lottery tickets, but must pay upfront fees or surrender personal information in order to receive it.
* Gift card scams: Scammers use texts, emails, phone calls social media and other means to offer free gift cards for well-known businesses. Consumers may be asked to click on a link, text a specific number or go to a website to complete a survey or provide information. Doing any of those could expose the consumer to computer viruses, identity theft, or unauthorized charges.
“Every week it seems our office hears of a new scam making its way through West Virginia and surrounding states,” Morrisey said. “We believe education is the best defense against scammers, con artists, and identity thieves. Reputations take years to build, but an unsavory character online can ruin that quickly. “
Among the red flags consumers should watch for: Being asked to provide a Social Security number, banking information or a credit card number; being asked for an upfront payment before they can access the prize, award, sweepstakes or gift; someone purporting to be a government official or utility worker demanding immediate payment for an unpaid bill, unpaid taxes or fines; the caller demands payment be made with a pre-paid debt card, money order or wire transfer, which are virtually untraceable and cannot be stopped; websites, emails, texts and other communications riddled with poor grammar, spelling errors or faulty sentence structure; a caller offers to “fix” a problem the consumer never knew he or she had.
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