Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr is urging consumers to be on guard this holiday season and not fall prey to telemarketing and imposter phone scams.
The scams are targeting the courts, social security and financial institutions to separate consumers from their money,
Carr said that he does want consumers to be duped by con artists during what should be an enjoyable time of the year.
“We want consumers to use good judgment and verify who they are dealing with before making an important decision,” Carr said. “After all, a consumer’s best defense is to be prepared.”
Here are the common tactics being used by scammers this season:
Court of Appeals scam
Individuals posing as "agents" working with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals are calling consumers telling them they owe a monetary fine. Carr said that even though the call come from the Clerk's Office main phone number of 404-335-6100, they are "spoofed" and are not from the Court of Appeals.
“The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals does not call members of the public and ask them to pay a fine over the phone,” Carr said.
A caller from a “lending club” offers a loan to pay off your credit card balance. The consumer is encouraged to go to a nearby store and make a purchase in the same dollar amount of the loan. After the purchase is made, the consumer is told the full loan amount will be deposited into the consumer’s checking account.
Carr said this is a ruse to trick the consumer into providing personal financial information.
Utility disconnection scam
Utility customers are being called and told they owe a past due bill and their service will be cut off if payment is not made immediately. The fraudsters provide a toll-free number to call to set up the payment. When customers dial that number, they get a recording that mimics the power company phone system. The crooks also send a professional-looking email to the customer that comes complete with the logo of the utility company.
Social Security scam
Criminals pretending to be employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA) attempt to obtain personal information from citizens over the phone. The crooks “spoof” the actual number of the SSA to give their call credibility. The SSA advises citizens to contact their local SSA office or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) if there is any question about needed information.
Carr says scammers are hard to trace and consumers should remember that it is difficult, if not impossible, to recover lost money.
Georgia consumers should report scammers at 404-651-8600 or at consumer.ga.gov.
The Consumer Protection Division offers these precautions about phone scams:
- Fraudulent telemarketers understand human nature and prey on our vulnerability. We all want to believe that it’s our lucky day, that we can get a great deal, or that there is an easy way to solve our problems.
- Older people are disproportionately targeted by fraudulent telemarketers. That’s because they’re home to get the calls, they have money saved that can be robbed, and they’re too polite to hang up.
- It’s important to know whom you’re dealing with. If a company or charity is unfamiliar, check it out with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org). Note that fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn’t guarantee the company or charity is legitimate.
- Some telemarketing pitches are blatantly fraudulent, and you should know the signs. It’s illegal for telemarketers to ask for a fee up-front if they offer you a credit card, a loan, or “repair” of your credit. It’s also illegal for any company to ask you to pay or buy something to win a prize, or to claim that paying will increase your chances of winning. And it’s illegal to buy and sell tickets to foreign lotteries by phone.
Other danger signs of fraud may be harder to recognize. These include:
- Pressure to act immediately;
- Use of scare tactics;
- Refusing to send you written information;
- Demanding that you send payment by wire or courier;
- Demanding payment of taxes or customs fees to claim a prize;
- Requesting your financial account numbers, even though you’re not paying for something with them;
- Promising to recover money you’ve lost in other scams, for a fee;
- Claiming that you can make lots of money working from home; and
- Refusing to stop calling when you say you’re not interested.
How you pay matters.
If you pay money with a check, money order or gift card, your money is gone before you realize there is a problem.
Paying by credit card is safest, because you can dispute the charges if you don’t get what you were promised. You don’t have the same dispute rights when you pay with debit cards or give your bank account number.
Where telemarketers are located matters too. Some fraudulent telemarketers are deliberately located in other countries, because it’s more difficult for U.S. law enforcement agencies to pursue them. It may be hard to tell where they are; they may have mail forwarded from the U.S. and use telephone numbers that are “spoofed” to look like domestic phone numbers. Be very cautious when dealing with unknown companies from other countries.