FraudWatch

The scam goes woof! Identifying new ploys gunning for your wallet

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Some of the top scams going around right now include: tech support, IRS, grandparent, utility company, overpayment, rental, lottery, romance and mystery shopper.

They are called impostor scams, and nearly 83 percent of scams reported in the first half of 2019 fall into the category, according to the Vermont Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program.

I lack comparative data from Massachusetts, New Hampshire or New York, but it is fair to say that the statistics are likely somewhat similar. Given the extent of this crime, we should take a closer look.

Many impostor scams have been described in this column, including the grandparent, tech support, IRS, lottery and romance scams. Here are two of the more complicated impostor scams:

Arrest warrant: This scam usually involves a phone call from someone pretending to be a local law enforcement officer. The caller often identifies a person at the residence and states that an arrest warrant has been issued for any one of a number of reasons, such as failure to pay a traffic violation ticket or failure to appear for jury duty.

Caller ID might even display the phone number for the law enforcement agency. The scammer will offer an opportunity to avoid arrest by paying the fine with gift cards or a money order. If this sounds familiar, it is because of the similarity to the IRS, tech support and grandparent scheme.

Law enforcement agencies do not call to notify of an impending arrest. Law enforcement and government agencies do not accept payments with gift cards or money orders. These are scams and should be reported to your attorney general or local law enforcement with as much detail as possible, including any names or even spoofed telephone numbers.

Online pet adoption: The victim conducts a web search for a particular breed of dog or other desirable pet. An elaborate, fraudulent website lures the victim to what appears to be a "too good to be true" price for the pet.

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After agreeing to the purchase, the victim receives an online bill of sale. Payment is made to a third party, and the victim is sent a tracking number. Next, the "shipping company" requests a refundable insurance payment that is often double the cost of the pet. Once this is made, there are requests for payment of additional fees to assure delivery.

In addition to "official" documents, the victim receives photographs of the pet and descriptions of favorite foods, treats and toys, Often, grooming instructions are sent, as well as medical records. The pet, tough, never arrives.

Protection from victimization is relatively easy:

Verify the business selling the animal.

- Stay clear of purchases on eBay, social media or other unmanaged online sites, as there is less oversight and a higher likelihood of being scammed or ending up with a sick pet.

- Obtain a "bricks-and-mortar" address for the business; a post office box should raise suspicions.

- Contact the local or state government to see if licensing or permits are required and whether the business is registered.

Investigate to see if the secretary of state in the state identified for the business or the Better Business Bureau has received any complaints, and steer away from the purchase if things do not appear to add up. There are many legitimate businesses and animal shelters seeking good homes for pets. Ensuring that there are no negative surprises is easy and supports the legitimate and healthy supply of pets.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He produces a feature CATV program, "Mr. Scammer," distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt. Reach Greenblott at egreenblott@aarp.org.


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