October Scam Wrap-up

Scam Computer Key

The following are scams that were reported to Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest in October. In most instances names and locations have been omitted to protect the victims’ privacy.

ALASKA

Healthcare Scam

An Anchorage woman reported she was contacted about healthcare services that may have been a scam. She states she got a phone call from someone asking for her Medicaid information to see if she qualified for healthcare services. The woman believed the call to be a scam to obtain her personal information and reported the call to Scam Tracker.   

Lottery Scam

A Haines man reported he received a card in the mail stating he had an unclaimed reward worth up to $100. He was told to call a toll-free number to claim the winnings or they would be forfeited. He called the number and was told he needed to pay $4.95 over the phone with his credit card. They offered to drop the price to $2.95 since he was a senior. The man did not report whether he paid the charge, but he did report the incident to Scam Tracker.

IDAHO

Government Grant scam

An Idaho Falls man lost $2,300 in a government grant scam. The man states he was told to purchase two iTunes gift cards for $299 and $1,999 and read the numbers over the phone. The caller claimed this would release $11,800, which would be placed in his account. After doing this he was told he needed to purchase another one for $1,200. He has since quit communicating with the caller.

Jury Duty Scam

A Nampa man reported he lost $189.30 after he received a call from someone claiming there was a warrant out for his arrest for not reporting to jury duty. The man believed it to be true as he did ignore a jury duty notice. The man was told to purchase a Green Dot card at Walgreens for $189.30 and go to the Canyon County Court House. He purchased the cards and relayed the Green Dot card number to the caller. The caller told him the card did not work and he needed to go back and get another one. That is when the man realized it was not a legitimate call.

MONTANA

Medical Equipment Scam

A Belgrade Montana woman reports her mother lost $350 after she was contacted by a company selling medical alert systems. The woman states her mother paid $350 over the phone and never received the system. All calls made to the number go directly to voicemail.

Advertising Scam

A Great Falls woman reports the company HS Backers tried to sell her advertising on athletic scoreboards at local high schools. The company claimed to be representing Great Falls High School and C.M. Russell High School. The woman did not purchase advertising and later learned the company does not do business with those schools.

OREGON

Malware Scam

A Salem woman reported she lost $200 to a malware scam. She states she was using her laptop when a notice appeared on her screen advising her to call tech support. Her computer froze so she called the number. The person who answered claimed to be with JRG Ventures LLC. They told her she needed to pay $149.00 for a “one-time fix” and an additional $50 to help with any further issues.  She soon realized she downloaded malware and was tricked into paying for assistance.

Puppy Scam

A Coos Bay woman reported she lost $600 in a puppy scam. She states she purchased a St. Bernard puppy from www.maxwellsaintbernards.com. After making her payment she was told she needed to send $670 for pet insurance and travel. The company refused to refund her money and she ceased doing business with them.

WASHINGTON

Online Business Scam

A Kirkland man reported he lost $30 when an online business failed to send him his product. The company website, http://www.slumber.la, ceased communication with the man after his purchase failed to arrive.

Fake Kitten Adoption Scam

A Seattle man reported he came across a fraudulent cat adoption site. The man states the site www.kittensforadoption.us is a phishing scam posting fake numbers and cat pictures to obtain customers personal information.

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Protecting Seniors from Relentless Scammers

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on lottery scams and the vulnerability of seniors to this type of scheme – whether by phone, mail, or email. Since then, I have received more reports from victims. Community partners throughout the state have all mentioned an uptick in cases of lottery scams.

Senior Picture 1
Luther visiting our BBB Alaska office with fake lottery notifications he received in the mail.

Just last month, I spoke with the daughter of a 91-year old woman who contacted Better Business Bureau with her mom’s story. It’s a heartbreaking story. She told me that her mom has sent a total of $20,000 to scammers. It all began with the scam artists claiming to be the IRS and that her mom owed money. When that didn’t work, they called back and said they were with “Publisher’s Clearing House.” As this scam normally works, the mom was told to send money for fees, taxes, etc. to obtain her millions of dollars in “winnings.”

I decided to call a few of my media contacts to report the increase in lottery scam victims. By pure coincidence, while the TV news reporter was in my office to do the interview, an elderly gentleman, Luther, came into our office to ask us about a lottery check he had received. His bank had refused to cash it, telling him it was a fake check. He didn’t believe his bank and brought it to us. Of course, the letter and purported lottery check were not real. He told us that he had sent money previously on lotteries that he thought he won, but of course had never received his “winnings!” The reporter had a bona fide victim to interview right there and the story was on the 10 PM news that night.

A week later, Luther brought his most recent mail to me – another bunch of fraudulent enticements: a “check” for $789,986 from a so-called national advertising campaign (which, by the way, he had signed the “cash payment authorization” and was ready to mail), free gifts from Grandma Rosa, an Old Time Spiritualist who could help him add an extra $1,000 to his social security checks, a “treasury notice” to transfer $1,021,650 into his account for just $26, and a six-page letter from Sophros I, a “Medium-Clairvoyant Specialist for visions regarding money” who, for $55, will send his sacred scarf of happiness and power and his aura-triastral number which will help Luther win millions in the lottery. The list goes on and on. It almost sounds like a joke, but I’m not making any of this up.

What’s not funny is that Luther believed what the letters said. When I spoke to his daughter, Patty, she confirmed that her dad had sent money not only to these email schemes but to scammers who call on the phone. She told me they call constantly. She has had to change his phone number, but the calls continue because her dad calls the scammers with his new number.

According to The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse (https://www.truelinkfinancial.com/research), seniors lose $36.48 billion each year to financial abuse.

Beth Goldstein, Supervising Attorney with the Office of Elder Fraud & Assistance for the State of Alaska, confirmed that there has been a definite increase in reported lottery scams with seniors. These reports come into her office from banks, police officers, investment company regulatory attorneys and, sometimes, from adult children.

These scammers are relentless about calling, sometimes 10-20 times a day. They wear down vulnerable victims. And often, once the victim is out of money, the scammers will threaten them with bodily harm if they don’t continue to pay. Luther’s daughter, Patty, told me the caller told her they were outside and would shoot her. Goldstein told me of a case where a senior victim’s phone number was changed by her family but the scammer called the victim’s neighbor, expressed concern for her health, and asked the neighbor to check on her and call them back with the new phone number!

Adult children and other family members often don’t know where to go for help. Goldstein told me that family members can call the phone company to block incoming and/or outgoing numbers. The Attorney General’s office can request that a fraud victim be blocked from wiring money. The Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance can file a Financial Abuse Petition for Protection from financial exploitation (lasting 20 days) on behalf of seniors over age 60. Banks can then withhold funds. If necessary, the Elder Fraud office can also obtain a long term order lasting 6 months which should be enough time for the adult children to become involved.

If you have a family member who has been a victim, you can call the Elder Fraud and Assistance Office at 907-334-5989 or the Alaska Department of Law Consumer Protection Unit at 907-269-5200. Also contact your local Better Business Bureau office at 907-562-0704 to report the experience.

Congratulations! You’ve Been Scammed!

Photo by Psychonaught [public domain]
Photo by Psychonaught [public domain]
I’ve always pictured my parents as invincible—two superheroes who not only gave me sound advice growing up, but were always there to pick me up when I fell. They also taught me to make smart decisions and be skeptical of too-good-to-be-true offers. So you can imagine my surprise when I received a call last week about their major life-changing event. Apparently, my Mom was the “lucky” recipient of a $500,000 sweepstakes prize! All she needed to do was pay $2,000 to cover the administrative fees.

Luckily, they called me first and never wired money or disclosed any personal information. But that one phone call really got me thinking: What if my parents had caved-in and wired money? What if they had given the caller personal information? What could have happened if the bad guys accessed my family’s bank accounts?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens every day to unsuspecting and trusting people. Sweepstakes and lottery scams are real. The scams prey on emotions and people are quick to buy into the idea of instant wealth. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans spend more than $100 million a year on foreign lottery sweepstakes.

At this point, it’s unclear how my parent’s contact information got into the hands of the con artists; they followed the proper procedures—always researching businesses with Better Business Bureau, reading the fine print, ignoring phishing emails and telemarketers, et cetera. The worst part is that we may never know how this caller obtained the phone number. But, learning the red flags of these types of scams can reduce the likelihood of falling victim.

I reminded my parents to exercise caution and anyone who receives similar phone calls or letters should listen closely as well:

  • Never pay for a prize. It is illegal for any company to require a purchase or fee to play a sweepstakes; just ask the Washington State Attorney General. Also, processing fees or taxes will be deducted from prizes and will never need to be paid out-of-pocket.
  • Do not wire money. Wire transfers are a great way to transfer money when you need to quickly get cash to your sister in Iowa or your nephew in Florida; they are a terrible way to get money to people you don’t know and have never met in person, especially if they are “out of the country.” Once funds are transferred, it is nearly impossible to reclaim them. In this case, the scammer specifically requested a wire transfer from my Mom, but she recognized the red flag and didn’t do it.
  • Spot the fakes. Bad guys will oftentimes hijack the names of government agencies and the logos of well-known organizations in attempts to confuse and fool victims. Reputable organizations will not call or email winners; notifications will be delivered by certified mail and never by bulk-rate mail. When in doubt, call BBB or visit bbb.org to see if companies and notifications are legitimate.
  • Never cash checks. Even if checks look real, don’t cash them! Scammers often blast out extremely convincing bogus checks in hopes that even just one person will make a deposit and wire some of the money back—this is called an overpayment scam.

As awesome as it would be to win a ton of money out of the blue, it’s a pretty unlikely event. Nationally, complaints about prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries ranked #6 in 2013 with the Federal Trade Commission. Victims of mail fraud should contact their local postmasters or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by phone, toll-free at 1-800-372-8347, or online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

And while my blood is still boiling over the fact that someone targeted my parents, keeping a cool head is key. Whatever you do, avoid the gimmicks and hard sells and learn how to spot the red flags; this will turn you into the invincible superhero that helps others with sound advice.