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The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation compiles publicly-available scam, identity theft, and fraud complaints from around the Commonwealth via police logs and news outlets, as well as through the Office’s Consumer Information Hotline.

Below are three recent consumer issues and how you can protect yourself from being scammed.

Tax Preparer Phone Scam

We’ve seen tax preparer scams before, but this time scammers are targeting consumers through text message or voicemail, posing as legitimate companies like H&R Block. The scammer will provide a phone number for the consumer to call, either to straighten out a phony tax problem or to stop future calls from coming. If the consumer calls the provided number(s), he or she will likely be asked to provide a social security number and other personal and financial information.

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If you receive a call or a text from a tax software company asking you to verify your tax information, keep in mind…

  • A legitimate tax preparer will not ask you to verify sensitive financial or personal information over the phone or through text message.
  • If you receive a call or text from a tax software company and you suspect it may be a scam, call the company directly instead of calling the number provided to verify their requests.
  • If you suspect you are dealing with a tax scammer, report it to our office and to the IRS.

Listen to the clip below to hear a tax phone scam call received by an OCABR staff member. Our staff member did not recognize the phone number and let the call go to voicemail. In full disclosure, we have edited the clip in three ways.

1) We removed the staff member’s name (the recording said the staff member’s full name);

2) We removed the name of the well-known tax preparer  being victimized by scammers (the recording states the name of the company which is also the tax preparer our staff member used);

3) We removed some of the digits from the phone numbers (the staff member did an internet search of the phone numbers and confirmed they are not associated with the tax preparer).

 

Chimney Repair and Cleaning Scams

An increasing incidence of chimney repair scams was reflected in the March – April Scam Log. These scams typically occur when an individual or individuals posing as a chimney sweep company solicit business from unknowing consumers, either through phone, email, or door-to-door. Often, the scammers will offer services at an unreasonably low price—keep in mind, a typical chimney inspection costs about $75, and a cleaning usually starts at around $150.

Our office offers the following advice:

When contacted by someone claiming to be a chimney sweep…

  • Ask for identification, literature about the company, and, if they have one, a copy of their standard contract.
  • Ask family and friends for referrals and get multiple quotes.
  • Try to use local companies so you can easily get in touch with them to follow-up.
  • Find out if the company is accredited by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Though not required by law, it is recommended by fire departments, as it is generally an indicator of their qualifications.
  •  Ask for current references and make sure to verify them.
  • Ask if the company has a valid business liability insurance policy.
  • Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Office of the Attorney General. The BBB can tell you if the business is a member, and both agencies can tell you if the company has any complaints lodged against it.
  • Ask if the company provides a warranty for its work, and if so, for how long the work is under warranty.

Prize Scams

Our log analysis shows that prize or sweepstakes scams have occurred in Massachusetts over the past few months. These scams often start with a consumer being contacted about a prize they have supposedly just won, via email, postal mail, or text message. Scammers may pose as companies such as Publishers Clearing House or Reader’s Digest, both of which hold legitimate sweepstakes. However, if you have not entered any such sweepstakes, it is most likely a scam.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns consumers of the following red flags:

  • If the person contacting you encourages you to “act now” so you don’t miss out on a prize, it may be a sign you are being scammed.
  • If you receive the notification of your “prize,” and it was sent by bulk rate, it is not legitimate. You can find this by checking the postmark on the envelope.
  • If you have to pay in order to collect your “prize,” it is a scam. Many scammers will give you instructions to wire money to an overseas company or to send them a check that they have provided in order to “insure delivery of the prize.”
  • If they claim to be a government agency overseeing the contest, it is a scam. Although they may use an official-sounding name, no government agency or sweepstakes company would actually contact you asking for money to claim your prize.

 

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education.

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