Guide A Consumer Guide to Scams

Scams come in many variations. However, the unifying theme is that they all contain a dishonest attempt to steal money or something of value from you.

Table of Contents

What is a scam?

A scam is a dishonest attempt by an individual or organization to obtain something of value from you, such as personal information or money. Scammers may pose as a legitimate organization or government agency. Scam attempts can be made over the phone, in person, through email, or by text message with the scammer either winning the confidence of, or sufficiently threatening the recipient. 

Scammers get creative with their scam attempts and will use any opportunity they can to trick you. Read the following guide to learn how to remain vigilant and protect yourself. 

Phone Scams

Description

  • Phone scammers will try to convince you to buy a product or service that you didn’t plan on purchasing. Scammers will pressure consumers to divulge personal information, such as credit card numbers or social security numbers.
  • Caller ID Spoofing is the practice of causing a number on the consumer's caller ID display to be different from that of the actual call origination point. In other words, it is possible to make a telephone call and have that person's caller ID show the call as being received from a number other than the actual number that the call is being made from.
  • Caller ID Spoofing can be used to commit identity theft since it misleads consumers, causing them to answer calls they may otherwise not have answered. A scammer may use spoofing to trick a consumer into believing they are receiving a call from their bank so they will give out their personal and financial information.
  • See below for more information on Robocalls

Spot the Scam

  • Unnaturally long pause after you have picked up the phone
  • Asks you to press a number to "opt out"
  • You've been specially selected for an offer
  • You'll get a free bonus if you buy the product
  • You've won a prize or the lottery
  • You have to make up your mind right away or the offer expires

Stop the Scam

  • Do not give out your credit card information to someone calling over the phone.
  • Sign up for the state “Do Not Call” registry as well as the national one to limit telemarketers from reaching you.
  • Do not give in to the pressure to make a decision immediately.
  • Monitor incoming calls. Do not pick up unknown numbers or random calls.
  • If you do pick up and learn it is a scam call, do not engage. Just hang-up.

Additional Resources for Phone Scams

Robocalls

  • Scammers use technology known as "spoofing" to impersonate calls with your local area code on the ID. When you answer, there is an unnaturally long pause followed by a prerecorded message. Some will ask you to click a number to "opt out" - do not do this, as it notifying the database that this is an active number to keep calling.
  • Download robocall blocking apps such as TruecallerRoboKillerMr. NumberNomorobo and Hiya
  • Don't answer calls from numbers you don't recognize. Remember, if it's important, they'll leave a message.
  • Some scammers will leave a message warning of jail or fines if you don't call them back. If you're unsure if the caller is actually calling from where they say, research the contact information. Most numbers will show up during an online search as being associated with a scam.

Additional Resources for Robocalls

Email Scams

Description

  • The email is designed to look legitimate, often using forged headers and a disguised sender’s address. Alternately, some data thieves use spoofing to disguise emails as being from friends, promoting a limited offer requiring personal information and immediate action. Disclosing such information makes you vulnerable to identity theft, risking fraudulent debt and credit disaster. With this in mind, there are several ways you can protect yourself against falling victim to an email scam.

Spot the Scam

  • The email is generic and not personalized
  • The email contains a link with very few details
  • The email contains grammatical errors and spelling mistakes
  • The email requests personal or financial information

Stop the Scam

  • Don’t trust unsolicited emails
  • Treat email attachments with caution and never click on links in emails unless you've verified the sender
  • Install antivirus software and make sure to keep it up to date
  • Filter spam messages
  • Check for spelling mistakes in email addresses

Home Improvement Contractor Scams

Description

  • Home improvement scams typically occur when an individual or individuals posing as home or yard company personnel solicit business from consumers, either through phone, email, or door-to-door. They may claim they were working in the area and have extra material. Often, the scammers will offer services at an unreasonably low price—but the homeowner has to decide on the spot.

Spot the Scam

  • Is there proof the business exists? Is the vehicle unmarked? Does the individual have a website or a business card? Are they registered with the Better Business Bureau? A reputable and legitimate contractor should not be hard to track down.
  • Did a severe weather event just come through your town or neighborhood? Scammers will use severe weather events, such as tornadoes, as an opportunity to take advantage of already vulnerable homeowners.
  • Will the contractor only accept cash for the job and needs it upfront? You should only pay cash upfront if you are using a registered home improvement contractor and you have a contract. Even then, do not pay more than 1/3 the total cost upfront. 

Stop the Scam

  • Ask for identification, literature about the company, and a copy of their standard contract. Make sure they are registered with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
  • Ask where they are headquartered? Are they a local business? Check at least three references.
  • Check if the company has valid registrations, licenses, or insurance policies.
  • 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.

Additional Resources for Home Improvement Contractor Scams

Home Refinancing Scam

Description

  • Many homeowners consider refinancing their home mortgage to get a lower interest rate. Scammers often attempt to take advantage of homeowners during this process by offering cheap interest rates that require an upfront fee. These fraudsters advertise refinancing “bargains” through email, flyers, and phone calls and demand an upfront fee in order to “guarantee” the rate agreed upon. However, once you pay, the scammers disappear with your money.
  • Unless you are very familiar with a company, or have been referred by a trusted source, you should never pay upfront fees. Here are some other tactics scammers use to persuade you to refinance:

Spot the Scam

  • Using words like “limited time offer” or “act fast” to pressure you to make a decision quickly. 
  • Claiming to be a part of a government program or another notable institution to induce you to accept their offer. 
  • Insisting that you stop making payments to your current mortgage lender, which can negatively impact your credit rating.
  • They may also target homeowners who are late on their mortgage payments. If you fall behind on payments, there are options. Talk with your current mortgage lender about steps to take to get back on track. 

Stop the Scam

  • Do not trust unsolicited calls from a third-party
  • Do not give up personal information over the phone
  • If you're contacted by a company you believe is trying to scam you, turn over the scam information to your state Attorney General. The Attorney General's office can then investigate the company. Such an investigation may protect other homeowners like yourself.
  • Before making any decision, speak to your current lender
  • Remember: Do not make a hasty decision, especially if the deal seems too good to be true.  Take the time to research and compare refinance options so that you can protect yourself from scams and work with a legitimate and reputable lender with a competitive offer

Key Actions for Home Refinancing Scam

Additional Resources for Home Refinancing Scam

IRS/Fake-Government Entity Scams

Description

  • IRS or government scams involve a con artist impersonating a government official to get you to send them money. The most popular is the IRS scam, where a caller pretends to be from the IRS and informs you that you owe taxes.

Spot the Scam

  • If you owe the IRS money, a phone call threatening arrest won’t be the first time you hear from them.
  • This scam claims late payments can be accepted in the form of gift cards, usually iTunes gift cards. Government entities do not accept payment using gift cards. If payment by gift card is being requested, hang up.
  • The IRS will never threaten to have you jailed or deported.

Stop the Scam

  • Never give out your bank account information to someone you don’t know.
  • A variation of this scam requests your credit card payment and a small processing fee. The government won’t charge a processing fee on a grant they are awarding.
  • Research available grant or assistance programs. Some scammers will charge consumers a fee to assist with grant applications or loan consolidation—services the government usually offers for free.

Grandparent Scam

Description

Scammers call pretending to be your loved one, pretending that you loved one is hurt or in trouble, or more terrifying, that your loved one has been kidnapped.

 

Spot the Scam

  • The call is designed to shock you and keep you from thinking clearly. The caller may stress urgency or cry. Remember to remain calm.
  • What do they know about you? The scammers may have done their research and found telling information from your social media accounts. However, sometimes the caller will say "it's me, your grandson." They're trying to get you to reveal the information they need to make the call believable during the course of the conversation.
  • The caller doesn't sound like your family member. Scammers might claim there is a bad connection or even that their nose is broken. Trust your instincts. Also, if the caller requests payment by wire transfer or a gift card, it's a red flag. Remember, wire transfers are commonly used in scams because they cannot be canceled or reversed. Jails don't accept bail payment in the form of a gift card. If you think your loved one is really in trouble, contact your local police. They can put you in touch with the proper authorities.

Stop the Scam

 

  • Ask the caller for information that they would be unable to learn online or from your social media accounts, such as childhood nicknames or favorite family recipes.
  • Monitor incoming calls. Always let unknown numbers go to voicemail.
  • Make a plan with your loved ones. Discuss what steps should be taken should you ever receive a call about their safety.
  • Try to contact the person the caller claims to be directly.  If they can't be reached, contact another family member to try and confirm the validity of the call.
  • Notify the police even if you’re sure your loved one is not in danger.
  • Do not give out your credit card information to someone calling over the phone.
  • Sign up for the state “Do Not Call” registry as well as the national one to limit telemarketers from reaching you.

Utility Scams

Description

Some pretend to be a representative from your utility provider and claim that they will cut your electrical power, assess a fine, or even jail you unless they receive an immediate payment.

Spot the Scam

  • The callers cannot provide simple information about your account, such as the name on the account, the address of the account, or even your account number.
  • The callers demand payment immediately, either by providing your credit/debit card numbers or by using a reloadable debit card or other non-traceable form of payment.
  • The caller is angry or threatening.
  • It's the first time you're hearing about a payment being due. There are strict regulations governing the cut-off of utilities and the legal process includes several notices being sent to the customer first. If you are hearing for the first time about a payment being due that day from you to the energy provider, it is likely a scam.

Stop the Scam

  • Always ask for official ID from anyone who visits your home to check on your utilities. Employees carry their ID's and will present if asked.
  • Be cautious before letting anyone into your home. Ask your utility company for reasons why and when a representative would need to enter your home. If the individual is at your home to collect payment, that's a red flag. 
  • Utility companies will not force you to pay late payments over the phone using a bank card. They also won't demand you pay using prepaid card or wire transfer. If the caller is demanding payment in that form, hang up.
  • Report the scam to the appropriate agencies, your utility provider, and notify the Department of Public Utilities. 
  • Contact your local police.

Additional Resources for Utility Scams

Charity Scams

Description

Scammers often try to take advantage of your generosity by posing as charity organizations.

Spot the Scam

  • Is it a charity that you've ever heard about? Never donate to a charity that you know nothing about without researching it, especially charities that pop up overnight in connection with a recent natural disaster, terrorist attack or other similar tragic news story.
  • Is the caller aggressive and pressuring you to donate as soon as possible? Legitimate charities won't use these tactics to get you to donate.
  • Who is the donation going to be made to? If the caller suggests writing a check payable to them, not the charity, for convenience, don't do it.

Stop the Scam

  • Check to see that the charity is registered with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office Division of Non-Profit Organizations and Public Charities and the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance.
  • Request written information about the charity, its mission, programs and finances, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax deductible.
  • Never share your personal or financial information, including your Social Security number or credit card and bank account numbers, to anyone who solicits a contribution from you.

Additional Resources for Charity Scams

Lottery Scams

Description

  • Scammers will inform you that you have won the lottery, but demand that you pay a processing fee or the taxes up front in order for you to receive your winnings.
  • You are notified that you have won the lottery in a foreign country and you need to wire money to get your prize.
  • After someone wins a large lottery prize, fake accounts spread across social media promising to give out free money for a retweet or share.

Spot the Scam

  • The scammer demands that you pay before you can receive your winnings. You will never have to pay a fee to obtain your prize if you win the lottery. 
  • You are being notified that you won the lottery. The winner has to come forward to collect their prize, you will not be notified over the phone that you have won. 
  • You did not participate in the lottery. This is the easiest way to spot a scam.
  • You are asked to send money to another country. It is illegal to participate by phone or mail in a foreign lottery.

Stop the Scam

Additional Resources for Lottery Scams

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