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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, news outlets, and other sources, as well as through the Office’s Consumer Information Hotline. The scam logs are posted on the Office’s website. Set forth below is a quantitative analysis of the log by category followed by tips on how to spot and avoid scams, identity theft, and fraud.

CHART on Scams ID Theft Fraud Analysis - May 2015

Phone Scams

What a Phone Scam looks like:

There are many types of scams over the phone, but here are some indicators:
You receive a call from a company informing you that you owe them money. The caller may also include additional information that might not sound plausible, but is intimidating—the caller may claim that there is a warrant out for your arrest in a different state or your debt is being sent to collections. You may be told that the matter will be settled if you purchase a prepaid credit card, load it with a specific amount of money, call back, and provide them with the credit card information. Do not be duped by such a scheme.

Tips to avoid phone scams:

1. If you do not recognize the caller’s name or organization, hang up. If you have caller ID, you could choose not to pick up initially. These unsolicited calls are frequently not legitimate. If you do pick up, do not hesitate to be aggressive in asking for more identification or contact information, including the caller’s name, business name, address, telephone number, and website. Ask for verification of the debt, including the account number, the date of service, the provider, and the exact amount. Do not be afraid to simply hang up.

2. What are the particulars of the transaction? Why do you owe money and have no recollection of the purchase or service? Why would there be a warrant for your arrest in a different state? Phone scammers use scare tactics and other methods, such as saying “act now” or “limited time,” to induce you to comply with their demand. They do not want to give you time to consider whether they are lying. Take the time to consider your options: hang up.

3. If you do owe money to a business, that business would use a legitimate form of billing to communicate your outstanding debt. They would not ask for the money on a prepaid card.

If you are targeted by phone scams:

1. File a police report with the city or town. Request that they contact the local police department in the other city or town mentioned by the scammer in his or her threat to verify if there is a warrant for your arrest.

2. If you recognize the name of the company and you believe it is a legitimate business, hang up, and call the company directly on a number you already know, or a number that is listed on the company’s website to verify the information. Let the company know about the possibility of phone fraud that may affect their company name. Your alert may help you as well as other potential victims of the scam.

3. Contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission to report the scam.

IRS Scam

What it looks like:

“Callers claim to be employees of the IRS, but are not. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.”

Tips to avoid the IRS scam:

1. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.

2. The IRS will never demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.

3. The IRS will never require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card. They will also not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

4. The IRS will never threaten to have you arrested for not paying.

What to do if you are the victim of an IRS scam:

1. Report it immediately to the IRS by emailing them at: phishing@irs.gov.

2. Education yourself by obtaining more information at the IRS Report Phishing webpage and information page about IRS scams.

3. File a police report.

4. File a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission – www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov

Source: http://www.irs.gov

Computer Scams and Fraud

What it looks like:

There are many types of computer fraud, including email spoofing, email phishing, scam websites, and more. You have been contacted by a friend you know via email (your friend’s account may have been hacked) who states that she is stuck in a foreign country with no money and has been mugged. She asks you to wire money in four payments so she can get out of jail and get home. If you wire the money, you just paid a scammer.

Or you receive an email allegedly from some organization that asks you to click on a link and enter certain information. What likely happened is that you just infected your computer with a virus that will track your key strokes.

Or you go to a website that seems legitimate, but the company is one you have never heard of previously. It makes guarantees that are too good to be true. All you need to do is provide your bank account/credit card/Social Security number/or some other personal information. If you provide any of your personal information, you have risked the information being bought and sold by identity thieves around the world.

Tips to avoid Computer Fraud:
1. Stop and think. Was your friend really traveling to that country? Should you click on that link in your email? Do you really think that such a too-good-to-be-true deal is actually true? Taking some time to consider the situation before acting can save you from being a victim of identity theft or fraud.

2. Keep your computer operating system and virus protection up to date with all the latest patches and virus definitions. If you do click on that link or visit a website that has a virus, your computer will be more likely to catch it and protect itself, and consequently protect your personal information from being compromised.

3. There are many legitimate websites, but you must always be alert to potential scams. If you are going to enter your personal information online, ensure the website is secure—you can tell if the site is secure by spotting a lock symbol by the address bar in your browser or an “s” in the “https” before the URL. You should also get to know what scam websites look like. This Office provides fake scam websites for educational purposes—review them for more tips about how to spot scams online.

What to do if Computer Fraud happens:

1. If you get a spam email from a person you know, call or text your friend and let him or her know that his or her email account has been hacked.

2. Contact any legitimate company related to the personal information that has been compromised—if it was your credit card number, contact your credit card company; if it was your bank account or debit card number, contact your bank; if it was your Social Security number, contact the credit reporting companies.

3. Contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission to report the scam. You should also file a police report.

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