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Increase of Telephone Scams Triggers Alert from Attorney General

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The New York State Attorney General is reminding citizens to be careful of telephone scams during the holiday season.

A consumer alert has been issued by the Attorney General for five common scams that often target seniors and first-generation Americans.

"With the holiday season rapidly approaching, the last thing families need is to be scammed out of their hard-earned money," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "It is shameful that scam artists target people with bogus threats and scare tactics, but following a few basic tips can help you fight back and stay safe."

Common Telephone Scams

IRS/Tax Collection Scam – The caller will claim to be an agent or police officer from the Internal Revenue Service or Attorney General’s Office calling about a past due tax balance that is owed. The caller will tell the victim that unless the debt is paid immediately, a team of officers will come to the victim’s home that day to arrest the victim. The scammer will also request that the “IRS Tax Warrant” be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram. These scammers often use caller ID spoofing so that the victim’s caller ID box says “Internal Revenue Service” or displays the phone number of the Internal Revenue Service. Sometimes scammers will also ask victims for personal information such as a Social Security number in order to commit identity theft.

Grandparent Scam – Typically, this scam comes in the form of an urgent phone call. The caller claims to be “your favorite grandson” or just says “it’s me”… prompting the grandparent to supply the needed name. While the emergencies vary, the scenario is usually this: tThe “grandson” is out of town and needs money fast -- to make bail, or to pay for automobile repairs or medical expenses. The caller begs the grandparent not to tell his parents, just wire the money immediately. Scammers know that parents and grandparents fear a call that tells them their loved one is in trouble. Each year, thousands of Americans get caught in the Grandparent Scam. Increasingly, scammers use actual relatives’ names and information gleaned from social media and other internet sites.

Jury Duty Scam – The caller will claim to be an officer of the court and say there’s a warrant for the arrest of the victim for failing to report for jury duty. The scammer will also claim that there is a fine for failing to show up for jury duty, and that unless the fine is paid immediately, the police will be sent to the victim’s home to make an arrest. The scammer will request that the “Jury Duty Warrant” be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram. The scam has been around for years and surfaces periodically in New York. In one recent case, the calls were traced to a Georgia prison.

Lottery Scam – The caller says you’ve won a foreign lottery and requests that you, as the “winner,” send a check or to wire money to cover taxes and fees. Legitimate contests never ask for money upfront. The caller may request your banking information in order to electronically direct deposit your winnings. This is an attempt to steal your identity and will wipe out your bank account.

The callers often use a name that sounds like a government agency or official-sounding authority. The name can be invented, like the “National Sweepstakes Bureau,” or “The National Consumer Protection Agency.” Sometimes they will use an actual name of a government agency, like the Federal Trade Commission or the Attorney General’s Office. The scammers claim that the government “oversees” the integrity of foreign lotteries. This is a scam.

Utility Scam – The caller claims to be a representative of a local utility provider. In some cases, the scammer has the victim’s correct account number. The scammer will then advise the resident that the utility bill is past due and must be paid immediately to avoid termination of service. The scammer will also request that the delinquent bill be paid with a Green Dot Card Money Card or Western Union MoneyGram. Suspects committing this scam have often obtained personal information via the internet, Facebook, Instagram or other social media.

Tips To Avoid Falling Victim:

Think Of The Telephone As A “One Way Street”

It’s okay to give out information over the phone if you made the call to a number you know and trust (such as your own bank). However, never give out personal information when you receive an unsolicited call. If you receive a call soliciting personal information, just hang up the phone, no matter what the caller ID says. If the caller says he’s from your bank and is checking on possible unauthorized withdrawals from your account, hang up the phone and then call your bank. If it was your bank that was trying to call, then it will be happy to confirm the call and will often provide requests to you in writing. If your bank says it wasn’t trying to reach you, that means the caller you hung up on was a scammer.

Beware If A Caller Ask To Keep A Conversation A Secret

A legitimate caller will never request that a conversation remain a secret, and you should immediately be suspicious. Whether the caller claims to be from the government, a bank, or a family member, requests for confidentiality should raise a red flag.

Just Say No!

You don’t have to be polite when you receive unsolicited phone calls. The safest thing to do is to say “no” and hang up. Legitimate callers will typically also provide requests in writing. It is better to be guarded than to fall victim.

Remember the old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Be wary of any offers or deals that sound too good to be true, as they likely are too good to be true.

Attorney General Schneiderman reminds New Yorkers that in addition to being vigilant consumers, they should also report instances of fraud to his office.

Consumers are encouraged to file complaints by visiting the Office’s website or calling 1-800-771-7755.