By Peter G. Tamburro, Boomerang staff writer
Earlier this month, the Cleveland Plain Dealer alerted readers to a scam in which callers contact Ohioans and ask for personal information or tell them they must purchase pre-paid debit cards to pay a debt or face arrest. In an ironic twist, these scammers claim to be calling on behalf of the Attorney General's Office or Bureau of Criminal Investigation. However, the folks at Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine's office assure us that these calls are not legitimate, nor are they on behalf of any state government entity. If you receive a call like this, do not give any information and hang up.
Identifying the various scams and frauds can be tricky, but they usually have common threads. For example, a scammer may:
- Promise you can win, make or borrow money easily, but insist you act immediately;
- Refuse to send you information before you agree to buy or donate;
- Attempt to scare you into buying something;
- Insist you wire money or have a courier pick up payment;
- Refuse to stop calling after you tell them not to call again;
- Ask you to sign blank or incomplete forms, contracts, applications; and
- Demand full payment before work is completed or you have inspected it.
Here are some examples of common scams being reported today.
Home repair scams - Scammers posing as contractors and salespeople come to your home and offer to make repairs around the house. They give an estimate up front without an inspection or ask you to sign an incomplete contract, requiring at least half payment before they start work. They may not show after receiving payment, and if they do show up, the work is usually poor quality or incomplete.
Grandkid scams - You receive a phone call from someone who says, "It's me, Grandma." You think it is one of your grandchildren, and the young person on the line says, "I got pulled over by the police..." "I was in an accident..." "My car broke down..." "I'm stuck..." etc. They ask you to wire money and say, "please don't tell Mom."
Medicare and insurance fraud - A provider asks you to sign a blank or incomplete insurance claim form or doesn't tell you how much your costs will be. Or, someone may tell you that you need a new card and asks for your insurance or Medicare identification card number. If you provide the information requested, you may be billed for services and equipment you didn't receive or even request.
Account information scams - You receive a telephone call, e-mail or text message appearing to come from your bank or credit card company and asking you to verify your account information (account number, social security number, passwords or personal information). They may say they suspect your account has been compromised and may try to scare you by saying if you refuse to provide the information, they'll restrict your access to your money. If there has been a security breach, your bank will already have the information and only need your permission to do something about it.
Follow these simple rules can help you protect yourself from fraud:
- Guard your Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, credit card and bank account numbers and cards like they were cash. If a stranger came up to you and said, "Let me see that $50 bill in your wallet, I think there may be something wrong with it," would you give it to him? To a scammer, any of the above information is as good as cash. If you didn't initiate the contact, be skeptical when they ask for information they should already have if they were who they claimed to be.
- Remember that it is okay to hang up on a sales call, telemarketer or anyone who you are not sure who they are. Almost all scams involve people pretending to be someone they are not. If someone calls you for information or help and you aren't sure who the person is on the phone, it's okay to say "no," and hang up. Then, look up the institution's phone number in the phone book, via information, on their website or on your card or statement and call them to see if the contact was legitimate.
If you suspect you've been the target of a scam, report it to the Attorney General's office via their website or by calling their help center at 1-800-282-0515.
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