Scams & Fraud Prevention

While advances in technology have created ways to make our lives easier, they have also created new ways for scammers and thieves to pray on unsuspecting citizens.  If you believe you may have the been a victim of a scam or fraud, you are encouraged to contact your local law enforcement agency.  Here are some of the more common types of scams, tips to identify scams and how to avoid falling victim to fraud.

Phone Scams

Even though they may sound outdated, phone scams are still a frequently used method by scammers to defraud people.  Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to these types of scams.  These calls are always unsolicited, and caller will try to get you to send them money or provide your personal identifying information (social security number, bank account numbers, login/passwords, etc.)  The callers will prey on your emotions, specifically your fear, generosity, or greed.  Here are some examples of common phone scams:   

  • Advance Fee/Windfall Scam

    • The caller claims you have won the lottery, a sweepstakes, or have inherited a large sum of money, but you must pay a "small fee" or "tax" in order to claim the money.  Some scammers go as far as to mail the victim a check that appears to be real.  However, these checks always return as non-sufficient funds, usually after the victim has already sent the caller the payment.
    • Sometimes, the caller will request bank account or credit card information so they can "process" the money.  Once they have your account information, they can empty your bank account.
    • NEVER send a check or wire money to someone who calls you.
    • NEVER provide your bank account information to anyone over the phone.
    • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • IRS/Tax Scam

    • The caller, claiming to be from the IRS, calls or leaves a voice message stating you owe back taxes and threatens that, unless funds are wired immediately, legal action will be taken or you'll be arrested (or they may say you have a refund waiting but need to verify personal info before sending).
    • This scam is especially prevalent during and immediately after tax season. 
    • The IRS will never call you about matters like this; they send all notices via US Mail.
    • If you are ever unsure, hang up the phone, find your local IRS branch's phone number in the phone book or from an internet search, and call to verify.
  • Tech Support

    • In this scenario, a scammer posing as a technical support representative calls to claim there is an issue with your computer – for example, that your software is outdated or that you need to confirm your identity – and asks for remote access to resolve the issue. Once you provide this access, the scammer may request payment for tech assistance, install malicious software, change settings to leave your computer vulnerable, and/or steal your financial information.
    • These callers often use a lot of high tech jargon or language in the hopes the victim will believe their story.
    • Sometimes the caller can "spoof" their phone number, meaning your caller ID displays a different name or phone number.
    • No real companies call you, especially unsolicited, to fix your computer or install updates.  
    • Immediately turn off your computer if you believe you have given unauthorized access to someone.
    • NEVER give someone remote access to your computer.
    • NEVER provide your password or personal information from a caller asking to "confirm your identity".
  • Charity Scam

    • Many scammers will call you posing as a representative for a charity, asking for a donation.  They often claim the donation is for cancer patients, police/firefighters, natural disaster victims or some other group of people to tug at your heart strings (and your purse strings).
    • Callers can even claim to work for a well known charity (Red Cross, St. Jude's, etc).
    • They may ask for bank account information to "process your donation".
    • Ask for the caller's full name and the name of the charity.  Thoroughly research any charity before donating by visiting their website.  If you decide to donate, only do so through a secure website, or by mailing a check directly to the organization's headquarters.
    • NEVERgive your bank account or personal identifying information to anyone over the phone.
  • Police / Law Enforcement Scam

    • The caller claims to be a law enforcement officer or detective.  They may tell you that you or a loved one is in some sort of legal trouble, and to avoid being arrested or having an arrest warrant issued, you must send money.
    • They usually give generic names like "Officer Dan Smith" or "Detective Mark Johnson".
    • Ask the officer's full name, title, badge number, and agency/department, and write it down.
    • Tell the caller you want to verify who they are.  Hang up, look up the agency/police department's phone number online or in the phone book, call that number and ask to speak to the person who called you.  
    • Police will NEVER call you and demand money/payment in order to avoid an arrest warrant or criminal charges.

Internet / E-mail Scams

The anonymity of the internet has made it a prime instrument to utilize to commit fraud.  Many online scammers operate out of different states or even different countries, making it difficult to locate or prosecute them.  This is why developing safe online habits is so important to avoid becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft.  Here are some examples of online scams:

  • "Phishing" Scams

    • "Phishing" is when a scammer sends an e-mail or text message purporting to be from a reputable company in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.
      Phishing Text Message
    • These messages often contain a link to a website that appears legitimate, but is not.  
      • For example, PayPal's actual website URL is "https://www.paypal.com".  An example phishing site URL may be "http://www.pay-pal1.me".  At first glance, it may look like PayPal's website, but it is not.  While it looks like you are logging in, you are actually sending the scammer your login information.  They will then spend all the money in your account.
    • Here you can see an example of an actual phishing text message. The sender is attempting to get the recipient's Craigslist login information, using an out of area phone number.  The link may also go to a website that installs malware or a virus on the victim's phone, giving the sender access to sensitive data.
    • NEVER click a link sent to you in an unsolicited e-mail unless you are absolutely sure it is safe.
    • If you do follow a link from a message asking you to login, close the page and type in the website URL yourself to make sure you are on the real website.
  • Craigslist / Marketplace Fraud

    • In this scheme, if you have posted an item for sale on Craigslist or another online marketplace, you may receive an e-mail or text message from someone offering to pay you more money than you are asking for the item.  Ultimately, the "buyer" sends a check or pays with PayPal and asks you to mail them the item.
    • After you have sent the item, either the check will bounce or the PayPal charge will be disputed, leaving you out the money AND the item you were selling.

Door-to-Door / In Person Scams

Some bolder thieves will commit their scams in person.  Like phone scammers, they frequently use high-pressure techniques or can be come aggressive.  Citizens should use extreme caution if an unknown person or solicitor asks to come inside their home.  Burglars have been known to use a rouse to get into homes, during which time they will "case" the home for valuables to determine if they can burglarize the residence at a later time.  Here are a couple examples of door-to-door scams:

  • Door-to-Door Charity Scam

    • A person comes to your door, claiming to work for a charity, and asks for a donation.  They usually state they can only accept cash, or a check written to them (not in the name of the charity).
    • NEVER write a check made out to the solicitor's name.
    • Ask to see identification, and ask lots of questions.  While some scammers may have false credentials, they are likely to get scared away if questioned too much.
    • Call the police if you are unsure the solicitor is legitimate.  Most cities require a solicitor's permit to go door-to-door.  The police can more easily verify the person's identity.
  • Contractor Fraud

    • A "contractor" tells you they can do home repairs for you, often at at a great discount.  They will require full or partial payment up front.
    • Many of these scammers will solicit you (e.g. "I noticed your roof is in need of repairs" or "I have leftover supplies from another job and want to offer them to you at a great discount").
    • After doing minimal work, the "contractor" will never show up again, leaving the victim out the money they paid up front.
    • Do your research before hiring a contractor.  Only used a licensed contractor; they are certified and are highly knowledgeable about building codes and other legal/safety requirements.
    • Ask about permits.  If they say they don't need permits, they are probably not licensed.
    • Some legitimate contractors do require money up front.  Only pay a contractor up front if you are certain you can locate them again in the event they stop showing up to do the job.