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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 recent consumer concerns and how you can protect yourself from being scammed.

Phone Scams

Although IRS and tax scams are still dominating the field of telephone fraud, there are some new scams consumers need to watch out for. The first is a series of calls threatening arrest for being an illegal immigrant. The caller requests money in exchange for legal help to protect against supposed deportation or jail time.

If you are confident in your residency status, this scam is easily laughed off. If  not, this scam is likely to be nerve-racking. It’s important to rememScammer callingber:

  • U.S. Immigration Services will never ask for confidential personal information over the phone or require you to make payments by phone. All payments are made by check, money order, or on the official USCIS website.
  • Only an attorney or an accredited representative working for a Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized organization can give you legal advice. If the caller has no proof of being any of those entities, they’re not legitimate. Therefore, any money given to them would not go toward qualified legal protection.
  • You can call the U.S Immigration Services and check whether a representative was reaching out or not. It is not uncommon for scammers to pretend to be calling from a legitimate government organization. In fact, the U.S. Immigration Services has its own list of common scams and how to avoid them.

Another recent phone scam targets online profiles – in this instance – a profile on Care.com.  Scammers text an account holder pretending to need their babysitting or personal care attendant services. The scammer sends the account holder a check in excess of the cost of services and asks them to send the extra money back to them or to a “vendor” of something via a money transfer. The check is fraudulent and after the account holder deposits the check, it bounces. The money transfer, however, goes through, leaving the victim scammed out of funds.

So what should you look out for when using service sites?

  • Unless you make your phone number or email address public, any initial contact made directly to these should be a red flag. Most marketplace-styled websites, such as Care.com or Etsy, offer messaging features for all communications between service providers and service seekers to help keep personal information safe. If a potential client reaches out through your phone number, personal email, or anything else you keep private, immediately ask as to how they obtainedyour information.
  • Text-message-only communication is never a good sign. If someone you meet online repeatedly refuses to meet in person or talk on the phone, they’re probably hiding something. Try calling them if they won’t call you; you may even discover it’s a fake number. You should always meet any individual who will be in your home, with your children or family member, or watching your pet in person and in a public space before agreeing to terms of service.
  • If you don’t know anything about the person contacting you, or you’re suspicious of the details they’re giving you, perform an internet search. The scammer might be using the same name used during previous scams and it’s possible his victims may post their experiences online to warn others.
  • Never cash a check from someone you don’t know. Many frauds are carried out via checks and money transfers, so make sure you always know for certain who’s on the receiving end of the money.

Online Car Selling Scams

May and June had a few cases of car fraud, most of which were executed over a popular online marketplace website. One such scam experienced by a Massachusetts resident left a car buyer unable to register a recently purchased used vehicle because money was still owed to a leasing company.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation has some tips to keep in mind when purchasing a used vehicle from a private party:

  • Anyone can post on the internet. Check online for the seller’s name, look at reviews, and search the phone number and address. Not only will it help prevent you from engaging with fraudulent sellers, but knowing the identity of the dealer will help if the deal is bad.
  • Similarly, know what it is you’re buying. Always see the car in person first before signing or paying anything, and make sure the car’s condition warrants its cost. Sellers might use words such as “vintage” to get away with selling old vehicles in poor condition.
  • Be wary of the history of the car. Many seemingly legitimate sellers are actually “curbstoning,” or illegally selling used cars for profit. Make sure the seller’s name, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), make, model, and year match what’s written on the title. Ask for details about the mileage and history of the car as well. A “curbstoner” will have difficulty answering these simple questions.
  • Always get proof of completion of any necessary paperwork or payments the seller or previous owner is required to fulfill.

If you think you were a victim of fraud while purchasing a car, report it to your local licensing authority right away. Even if the dealer isn’t licensed, your case may be applicable under the Lemon Law Program. More information about curbstoning and about legally selling your own car online can be found in previous blog posts.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation 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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