Common Consumer Scams
Scams: Keep These Tips in Mind
As a general rule, all scams have similar traits. Here are some obvious ones that raise red flags in the Consumer Protection Division that you should keep in mind.
You are contacted out of the blue. Anyone who calls, emails, send you a letter, texts or comes to your dooryard out of the blue may not have your best interest at heart. You don't have to respond right away, make a decision or even answer the door.
You have to send money up front in order to receive a prize. You haven't won anything if you have to pay for it.
You need to send money via wire transfer or a reloadable card. This is frequently the preferred way for scammers to ask for money. Remember, this is just like sending someone cash - you'll never see it again.
You are asked for personal or financial information. Never provide your personal information (DOB, SSN, etc.)or bank account information to someone you don't know. Your bank or credit card company will not call and ask to confirm any account or personal details they already have on file. Anyone asking for this information out of the blue is trying to scam you.
Don't tell anyone. Scammers want to keep you under their spell. If you tell family and friends, someone may ask dissuade you from interacting with them. If you're asked to keep it a secret, it is a scam.
ACT NOW! If an offer is really good, it can wait for you to sleep on it and get back to them tomorrow. Too many times though, scams have to be acted on today only. We advise you to be slow to say yes and quick to say no.
You get a real looking check. If you get a check and are asked to send money back, it's a scam. If you really think you've come upon unexpected good fortune, take your check to the bank and ask them to verify whether it is real.
Always listen to your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Advance Fee Loan Scams
This scam preys on people who need money the most and have a hard time obtaining credit by traditional means. When you're in a financial pinch, this sounds like a good way to get some quick, short-term money that you can make up later.
Here's how it works, you get a phone call, email or go to a website. The lender offers a loan to help you with your cash flow crunch, but first asks that you send them (usually by wire transfer or reloadable card) a loan processing fee, which could be hundreds or thousands of dollars. Like any wire transfer, it is like sending cash, you'll never see the money and you'll definitely never see the "loan" to help you meet your financial obligations. Don't fall for it.
In a legitimate loan scenario, the fees are paid after the loan has been approved, not before. We advise consumers to do their homework and make sure the lender you're dealing with is legitimate and licensed to help consumers in Maine so you have the necessary consumer protections if something goes wrong with your loan.
Caller ID Spoofing
Technology exists that criminals use to make any number appear on your caller ID. It’s called spoofing. Sometimes the scammers use your own number. Always be on the alert that the person you think is calling could be just a way to get you to answer the phone.
Card Services Scams
This scam usually begins with an automated phone call. A message will state that the call is coming from a company with a name like “card services”, “card holder services” or “credit card services.” You'll be told that you can lower your interest rate. The caller then requests your credit card number, social security number or other personal information. Never give out your credit card, personal or bank account information based on an automated phone call. If you do, you're opening yourself up to become a victim of identity theft.
Classified Ad Scams
Whether you shop for items via Craigslist or some other online swap site, or through the back pages of the newspaper or Maine's own Uncle Henry's publication, beware that scammers are everywhere. Fraudsters use the internet and these publications to dupe folks trying to sell their items for cash.
It works like this - you post a microwave online for $50, you receive an email from an eager person wanting to buy the microwave for $1,200. He sends you a check, which you cash and wire $100 to a shipper. You do has instructed, but find out 5 days later the check was a fraud and you owe the bank whatever money you've spent against that check. Anyone who asks you to wire them money or send back money is scamming you. We suggest if you can't meet the person locally, keep looking for a buyer.
Always keep your personal safety in mind. Meet in a public place, not a private home. Many police stations in Maine have designated meeting spaces for this purpose.
Computer Fix Scams
These scams usually involve a phone call from someone claiming to work for Microsoft or another well-known company who indicate they’ve been looking at your computer and have noticed dangerous software popping up. Another version tries to persuade you that your computer has a serious tech problem that needs immediate repair. In both instances the fraudsters want you to give them remote access to your computer. By doing so you give them free reign to your personal information, ability to download malware and spyware onto your computer. To make matters worse they will probably lock your computer and ask for a ransom in order unlock it. If you get this call hang up. If you are contacted via pop up or email about these things, delete them. Never give someone you don’t know access to your computer. If you're concerned about your computer's safety or running ability, take it to a local tech for assistance.
Debt Relief Scams
Do Not Pay Up Front Fees for Debt Assistance!
If you're struggling to make ends meet, there are non-profit credit counseling agencies in Maine who can help you figure out a debt relief plan. We discourage you from hiring a company that promises to help you get out of debt for a fraction of the cost and in record time. It simply doesn't work that way. Many times consumers who get had by these scams are promised they can resolve a large amount of debt, say $20,000 for only $5,000 in record time if they pay regular monthly fees to a company who will do all of the leg work for them and negotiate with the debtors. Unfortunately, they only make a bad situation worse by taking your money for themselves and not distributing it to your creditors, which will further damage your credit score and may lead to lawsuits against you.
Fake Check Scams
Fake check scams typically begin when you're sent a check that looks real, but is actually fake. You're told to deposit the "check" and send a portion of the money back to the scam artist or a third person - usually by wire transfer or a reloadable card. After you send the money you soon find out the cashed check was fake and you just sent money to a stranger and the bank is draining all of your accounts to get their money back. Do not fall for this one!
Government Grant Scams
Someone calls you on the phone indicating that they are from the government and that the government wants to give you a government grant. They just need your bank account numbers to deposit the check. Don’t be fooled. The government doesn’t call people to give money away. Recently, many Mainers have encountered this scam via Facebook messenger, where someone they "know" has heard of this grant and wants to share their good fortune with you. Often, the person you know is a spoofed profile of your friend and actually a scammer.
Someone calls claiming to be your grandchild. The scammer claims there has been a mishap and money is needed immediately. Perhaps they claim they are in jail and need bail money, but ask you not to tell their parents in fear of getting in more trouble. Keeping it a secret is always a red flag! Some grandparents have set aside their common sense to come to the rescue of a relative in need, but it is a sham. Never wire money or give out bank info based on a telephone call.
Avoid this scam by verifying the caller's identity and resisting pressure to act before the caller's identity is verified by calling a family member who could confirm the caller's story. Try contacting the real grandchild at a number you know is accurate.
Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams
You receive a letter in the mail, email, or phone call indicating you've won thousands of dollars in a lottery or sweepstakes. Finally, you think, all of your problems are solved! Unfortunately, they soon ask you to send money to them to cover fees, taxes, legal processing, or some other made up hoop to get you to send them more money. Think about it - if you've really won $1.2 million dollars and a brand new Mercedes, can't they just take these "fees" off the top and send you the rest? While the cons always have an answer, you'll never see any money. Don't fall for this too good to be true scam.
Other scams come from businesses you've heard of and give the impression if you buy more of their product, you'll have more chances at winning the big prize. Have you ever met anyone who has won the big prize? We haven't either. It's a scam. Save your money where there are better odds - at the bingo hall.
Medical Alert Scams
You've probably seen the TV ad for a device that you wear and push a button if you've fallen and can't get up. The device calls for help. There are legitimate medical alert devices on the market, but there are also scammers out there attempting to sell fake devices. Do your homework, and make sure you are getting a legitimate product.
It goes like this - a person calls your home and claims they are from Medicare or a medical provider you may have heard of to tell you that your free medical alert device has been paid for and ready to activate. You only need to provide your personal information like a credit card number or social security number to complete the setup. By providing that information, you've given them access to your money and your identity.
When anyone calls you out of the blue trying to sell you something, don't wait for them to finish their spiel, just hang up. Do not engage with the callers, doing so only confirms your number works, which results in more calls.
Many Maine seniors have received phone calls claiming to be from Medicare or from the ‘health office.’ The callers ask for the Mainer by name and appear to be offering seniors some sort of supplemental health insurance or prescription coverage. Never give any personal information to anyone over the phone.
Consumers with questions about Medicare can get more information from the Medicare offices at 1-800-MEDICARE.
Online Dating Scams
More relationships are starting online, and scammers are taking advantage of this new medium to make money. The Attorney General's Office urges you to use extreme caution when meeting people online. Criminals make bogus profiles to con people they meet out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. They do this by quickly gaining your trust and tug on your emotions and exploit that trust. Victims are left embarrassed and in financial distress.
But how do you know whether it is a fake profile? There may be inconsistencies in the profile or be suspiciously vague. Perhaps they're working overseas and can't meet in person - the biggest red flag of all.
The criminal gains your trust by exchanging basic information and quickly ask you to switch to a different medium like instant messaging, email or text. A scammer will quickly express their love, have uncanny similarities to you and claim the match was meant to be. There are many online dating success stories. But if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
NEVER send money to someone you've never met.
Do not share sensitive personal or financial information with someone you haven't met in person.
Stay on the dating site - going off the site makes it harder for law enforcement to track them down.
Use a dedicated email address for dating only. This will protect your privacy.
Be wary of coincidental similarities and inconsistencies in an individual's story. If things don't sound right, ask for details, or ask a family member or friend for their perspective. Romance scammers know that emotions can easily skew judgment and count on affection and attention to thwart your judgment.
Wiring money is like sending cash, don't do it.
Report suspicious profiles to the dating website.
Phishing is a term that means getting your personal information by deception and using the information to steal your identity. A common phishing scheme comes through your email, text message, or fake website and disguises itself as a bank or credit card that needs to update your personal information. No matter how legitimate the message looks, never send personal information over the internet unless you initiate the contact. Your bank or credit card company will never need to verify your information - they already have it! If you think the message looks legitimate, call the number on the back of your card and confirm it is really from YOUR bank.
Reloadable Card Scams
Scammers want your money quickly. For years, they've conned people into sending them money via traditional wire transfer services like Money Gram and Western Union. But they're now requesting more easily accessible reloadable cards for payment. You can find these at almost any store - gas station, grocery store, pharmacy, etc. - they have a serial number that is used to transfer funds from the card. You put money on the card and can then use it to make payments to companies or transfer funds to another card. Reloadable cards are just like sending cash - once the money is downloaded on the other end, it's gone for good.
Think about it, legitimate businesses will not ask you to pay them with Amazon or iTunes gift cards. Instead, they will ask you to pay by Visa, MasterCard, etc. Anyone who tells you to the corner pharmacy to buy a reloadable card to pay a debt is trying to scam you, period.
This scam is usually seen on Craigslist or other websites. Recently, a Maine homeowner discovered his house, as well as photographs of the property, were listed for rent on Craigslist without his knowledge. The ad listed a Nigerian email address for responses and payment for the fictitious rental. One shopper was ready to rent the home by sending her money to Nigeria. Fortunately, the shopper contacted the Maine homeowner and discovered the scam before sending any funds to the scam artist. Other consumers haven't been so lucky only to arrive at their paid vacation home for the week or new apartment to find out that it isn't for rent at all.
Remember - never send money in response to an internet or rental offer without first confirming that the ad is legitimate or from a known and trusted business.
Fake IRS agents – usually with a heavy foreign accent - may try to scare you into thinking you owe back taxes or there’s a problem with your return and you’ll be arrested immediately if you don’t pay them now. They also call pretending to be from the Department of the Treasury or another law enforcement agency with demands of a large payment due for back taxes or some other purported debt. If you disagree they typically become rude and belligerent. They will threaten you with immediate arrest, jail or other legal action to pressure you to pay them right away by providing them with your bank account information, or send them money via wire transfer or a reloadable card. These are all scams. Hang up the phone. If you think you owe money to the IRS, contact a number you know to be correct or through http://www.irs.gov .
UPDATE: Since the Indian government arrested hundreds in a call center bust in October 2016, Americans have noticed a substantial decrease in these calls. However, they are sure to ramp up again in the future considering this particular scam was very successful.
Timeshare Resale Scams
If you're trying to get out of your timeshare, you've probably discovered that it is a lot harder to get out of your timeshare than it was to sign up for it. Scammers take full advantage of this by offering their services to help you. They often have ads or websites indicating they are timeshare resellers or even real estate agents and say they have buyers for every type of timeshare and they GUARANTEE they can get you out of your contract.
These scam artists are very sophisticated. They have decent looking websites, use names of businesses you're familiar with, some even suggest they have been approved by your Attorney General's Office! We don't do that.
Once you're under their spell, they ask you to provide some money up front to pay closing costs, paperwork fees, taxes, etc. Consumers end up losing thousands of dollars in this scam and never get out of their timeshare contract.
Be skeptical of anyone who promises they can get you out of a contract, or pressures you into a deal with them. Be quick to say no and slow to say yes. Do your homework and make sure this is a legitimate business with a licensed real estate agent. Ask your resort for ways to sell your timeshare. NEVER give money up front to sell your timeshare.
Work from Home Scams
You've probably seen ads promising you can make hundreds or thousands of dollars a week working from home. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? It is. This is a scam that has been around for ages where "opportunities" are advertised as envelope stuffing, direct mailing, processing medical bills, small item assembly work, etc. The ads usually suggest that you send a certain small amount, maybe $29.95, to learn more about the "opportunity", to receive the start-up kit or leads. The ads leave out that there are hidden costs or many hours of work with no pay. These scams move around often so that law enforcement can't track them down. You'll have better luck asking around town and checking with a local employment office for ideas for a job to ensure you get a paycheck.