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Re-run ripoffs are nothing new; what’s previously worked for scammers will likely be successful again. And that holds especially true for these three long-time (and historically prosperous) ploys that have resurfaced with a vengeance:
Jury Duty Scam
Going strong for more than a decade, this telephone scheme has scammers posing as court employees or members of law enforcement ranging from local police to U.S. Marshalls. They say that you failed to appear for mandated jury duty – and as a result of that supposed no-show, you face immediate arrest.
These imposters are usually well-prepared – citing names and addresses of their targets (often pooled from public directories) and spoofing phone call-recipients’ caller ID to show phone numbers and names of a courthouse or law enforcement agency. “The scammers often provide information that seems very convincing, including the real names of federal judges or court employees, the location of the courthouse, and case and badge numbers. The victim has every reason to believe the call is legitimate,” notes a recent warning from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “The caller then tells the victim they can avoid arrest by paying an immediate fine and walks them through purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card or making an electronic payment to satisfy the ‘fine.’”
What makes this scam especially dangerous: In addition to a quick payoff, sensitive personal information including your birthdate and Social Security number may be solicited for possible identity theft. What to know:
- As with jury duty summonses, official “no show” notifications are delivered by mail. Phone calls won’t occur unless a jury duty summons was mailed but returned to sender because it couldn’t be delivered.
- Police never give advance warning of impending arrest. Courthouse employees don’t call after-hours, while you’re eating dinner or preparing for bed. Only scammers do both.
- A bona fide court will never ask for a credit or debit card number, wire transfers, or bank routing numbers over the phone for any purpose – including missing jury duty. Fines aren’t imposed until after you’ve appeared in court, given the opportunity to explain a failure to appear.
Utility Shutoff Scam
In this swindle, fraudsters pose as local utility company personnel, claiming that electric, gas or water service to your home or business will be terminated within hours because of unpaid bills…unless the alleged tab is immediately paid (again, typically requested by prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer). The typical homeowner who takes the bait loses about $500 – nearly twice the amount of other phone scams – while some business owners have lost $10,000 or more.
These scams have gotten so common – breaking rip-off records last year and on track for another banner year this winter (this ploy peaks during the busy heating season) – that more than 100 utilities have formed Utilities United Against Scams to warn customers. As “live” phone calls remain the most common way to con, newer methods also include bogus emails, automated robocalls and even “on-site” scammers in rented uniforms seeking a quick payoff and/or home entry for possible burglary. What to know:
- Before shutting off service, all utilities mail at least one written notice, providing you with several options to pay (online, return mail, phone, automatic bank draft or in person). None initiate the shutoff process with an unexpected phone call.
- Like most legitimate businesses, utilities don’t accept gift cards and never require payment by prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Scammers prefer these methods because they are like sending cash.
- Service on meters or inside the home is usually prearranged; if there’s a charge for work on customer-owned equipment, you’ll be billed by the utility – not asked for on-the-spot payment.
No surprise on the timing here: The lion’s share of all charitable donations in the U.S. – nearly $390 billion last year – is made in December. And that’s when scammers do a full attack to dupe would-be donators with a hard-sell and heartfelt scripts, typically made in unsolicited phone calls, but also front-door visits and email campaigns.
Some feign to be collecting on behalf of recognized groups, but more often use sound-alike names of legitimate charities or invent their own authentic-sounding organizations. What to know:
- Listen or watch for imitative words, such as “National” being substituted for “American” in a well-known name. Mailed solicitations are less likely to be fraudulent than those by phone, email or front-door visit, so unless you dialed the call or previously provided your email address to that organization, don’t provide a credit card number over the phone or online. Also know that legitimate charities won’t specifically request prepaid debit cards or other scammer-preferred payment methods.
- The most successful scams (read: hot-button hoaxes) targeting older Americans are phony charities claiming to benefit police and firefighters, military veterans, sick or needy children, or victims of natural disasters.
- Before donating to any solicitation, check the charity’s name and reputation at Give.org, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or GuideStar. You can also contact the agency in your state that regulates charities.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.
Also of Interest
- Will that ‘smart’ holiday gift for the grandkids be a spy for hackers?
- Expect more scams this Medicare open enrollment
- Get help: Find out if you’re eligible for public benefits with Benefits QuickLINK
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia