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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 of the most relevant consumer issues to appear in recent Massachusetts police logs and how you can protect yourself from being scammed.

 

Credit Card Fraud

Reports of credit card fraud were prevalent throughout recent months. Credit Card fraud can occur through many different mediums, whether you are at the gas station or in a crowded street. It is important that consumers are aware of how to protect themselves and how to recognize a risky situation.

Theft: Thieves can steal credit cards in a variety of ways, from pick-pocketing a wallet to dumpster diving for billing statements. Keep your card information safe from thieves:

  • Keep your cards separate from your wallet so if your wallet gets stolen, you do not lose your credit cards. Only carry your card with you if you need it for the transaction.
  • Shred old billing and credit card statements before discarding them.
  • Check your credit report regularly to make sure you are aware of any questionable transactions on your card.

Hacking: If a retail or bank website gets hacked, credit card information is left vulnerable to thieves, who can use it to make fraudulent purchases. If you are using a credit card to make an online purchase, make sure the website has secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption installed.  Safe sites will have a URL that starts with “https://” instead of “http://”.

Skimmers: Skimmers are discreet devices that thieves can install over the card-reader on a gas pump or an ATM. Every time a customer swipes his or her card in a compromised machine, the skimmer records the card information and transfers it back to the thieves, often through wireless Bluetooth technology. Learn how to spot a skimmer:

  • Check for visual signs of tampering, like broken seals. Look at the top of the machine, near the speakers, the side of the screen, the card reader, and the keyboard. If something looks off—like inconsistent graphics or colors, do not use the machine.
  • If there is another ATM or gas pump next to the one you are using, quickly compare the two machines. If you notice differences between them, do not use the machine.
  • Wiggle and push at everything. These machines are designed to be sturdy. If protruding parts like the card reader move when you push them, there could be a skimming device attached.

 

IRS Phone Scam

Police logs reflected several reports of IRS scams. These schemes involve a scammer who poses as an IRS official and calls someone to tell her she is in debt and must send money immediately. Sometimes the scammer uses threats to intimidate a victim into complying, fearing jail time or fines if he or she does not send the requested money.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, be on the lookout for red flags:

  • Representatives from the IRS will never call you to request personal information, or to inform you of debts that you owe. Legitimate debts are always documented in writing. Ask the caller to produce the claim in writing to prove he or she is not a scammer.
  • IRS officials will never request that you send money through a prepaid card or a wire transfer.
  • An IRS official will never threaten you. If the caller uses harsh or vulgar language or threatens to harm you or your family, hang up and report it. It is a scam.

 

Grandparent Scam

Although this scam was only reported a few times in Massachusetts from January through February, it is important that consumers are aware of this less prevalent, but potentially costly scam.

The “grandparent scam” involves a scammer who poses as a close relative, coworker, or friend of the person he or she is contacting. The scammer then claims that he or she is in jail or is in trouble while travelling abroad and needs you to send money. This scam preys on the victim’s emotions and willingness to trust someone who he or she believes to be a friend, relative, or coworker. Don’t be fooled into sending money to a scammer:

  • If you are contacted by a friend or family member who claims that he or she is in trouble abroad, verify the information by contacting another source. Even if the caller knows specific details, like the names of family members or pets, it could still be a scam—some thieves do research on the person they are scamming.
  • Do not send money through foreign wire transfer or through a prepaid card.

 

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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