The “Grandma Scam”
Since the beginning of the year, the DA’s Victim Assistance Division has noted an apparent increase in crime reports where elderly citizens have been targeted by criminals using the so-called “Grandma Scam.” Imposters, often from foreign countries, target the elderly by posing as a grandchild in trouble and in need of cash. The caller often says that he or she has been arrested, was in a car accident or has some type of medical emergency. The caller always insists that the grandparent not tell anyone about the money transfer, which is one of the red flags. The scam is often effective because it catches seniors off guard and tugs at their heartstrings. Victims of financial elder abuse lose an estimated $2.9 billion nationwide, according to a study released in June, 2011 by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 90, live alone, and require some level of help with healthcare or home maintenance.
Fight back by ensuring that your friends and family members do not become victims. Explain to them how the scam works, and encourage them to be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly and wants them to wire money- especially to Mexico and Canada.
To keep your finances safe from scams, consider these tips: sweepstakes and overseas lotteries are phony; screen your calls before answering; don’t be afraid to hang up on the perpetrator; don’t let emotions cause you to react immediately to a phone call, letter, or email; always check with a professional adviser. When people have been scammed once, their phone numbers and information are sold to other tricksters. Consider changing your phone number to avoid an onslaught of predatory phone calls.
For organizations that cater to senior citizens, posters with slogans and the hotline phone number are available.
Free Disaster Recovery Guide
For information on disaster recovery visit The Red Guide to Recovery at TheRedGuideToRecovery.com. This website contains a wealth of information and related topics pertaining to disaster recovery.
It Looks Official…
Our office routinely receives complaints regarding what appear to be “official” mailings. These solicitations arrive in the mail in envelopes which mimic official government mailings and contain “invoices” or “qualification” notices. Although the entire solicitation is made to look like an official government mailing, the mailings are usually advertisements designed to trick the consumer into buying or paying for services. Please read these solicitations very carefully – especially the FINE PRINT – where you might find the disclaimer “this is not a government agency.” If you receive a such a mailing, be aware that you are not dealing with a government agency and are not required to pay for the offered service. For more information on the sender, check with the BBB.
Door to Door Magazine Scams
Many people in our County have complained about door-to-door salespeople offering magazine subscriptions for sale. The salespeople make false representations that the consumer may buy a “gift subscription” on behalf of a local hospital or charity. Please be aware that these salespeople seldom, if ever, have authority to collect donations on behalf of the hospitals and charities. We have been confirmed with one local-area hospital that the hospital DOES NOT authorize such collections and has never received the so-called “gift subscriptions”. Please be aware of this scam. If you wish to make a donation to a local hospital or charity, call the hospital or charity directly and ask for information on how to make a donation.
Protecting Seniors from Life Insurance or Annuity Fraud
Although the vast majority of life insurance agents are honest, hard-working individuals, there are exceptions, and it’s important to note that one of the most shocking aspects of insurance or annuity fraud is how the financial predator often takes advantage of those whose trust he or she has worked to gain.
Property Tax Scam
Consumers continue to report receiving official-looking forms by mail with the County Assessor’s ID No. and the address of their real property along with the current assessed value of the property. The form states that for a “processing fee”, paid by a “due date”, the citizen’s property can be “reassessed”. The letter also states that, if the fee is not received by the due date, a “late fee” will be applied. Be advised, any real-property owner can request a reassessment without charge from our County Assessor’s office. The County Assessor’s office is located at the County Administration Building.
Carefully check the return address on the mailers. The Desoto County Tax Assessors Office can be contacted by dialing (662) 429-1335.
Foreclosure Prevention/Land Patent Scam
Citizens have recently reported attending “seminars,” in various locations in the County, in which they are told that they can protect their homes from foreclosure by obtaining a “land patent” on the property. The citizens report paying varying sums of money (usually between $500-$15,000) to apply for the “land patent.” They are told that they must remove the street address numbers from their house, remove any mail receptacle, and “trademark” their name, among other tasks, to protect their property from foreclosure. The citizens report that the seminar holders state that, with these “protections” in place, they will be able to re-negotiate their promissory notes and trust deeds with the lender and, as a result, will only be required to pay 10% of their previous mortgage payment each month. For assistance, please contact the District Attorney’s Office at (662) 429-1374.
Jury Duty Scam
The public needs to be aware that individuals identifying themselves as U.S. court employees have been telephonically contacting citizens and advising them that they have been selected for jury duty. These individuals ask to verify names and Social Security numbers, then ask for credit card numbers. If the request is refused, citizens are then threatened with fines. The judicial system does not contact people telephonically and ask for personal information such as your Social Security number, date of birth or credit card numbers. If you receive one of these phone calls, do not provide any personal or confidential information to these individuals. This is an attempt to steal or to use your identity by obtaining your name, Social Security number and potentially to apply for credit or credit cards or other loans in your name. It is an attempt to defraud you. If you have already been contacted and have already given out your personal information, please monitor your account statements and credit reports, and contact your local FBI office. Local FBI field office telephone numbers can be found in the front of your local telephone directory or on www.fbi.gov.
New Twist in Identity Theft — Car Cloning
A new type of identity theft is on the increase, called car cloning. Thieves take the identity of your vehicle by copying its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and then applying that VIN to a similar, but stolen, vehicle. Paperwork may then be generated to support the copy cat car, and the car may be sold to an unsuspecting customer.
This process makes the auto theft more difficult to trace. In fact, the buyer may be among the first to discover the fraud when attempting to properly register the vehicle. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), “auto theft costs the citizens of the United States over $8 billion annually.”
Free Credit Report
The Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s largest consumer protection agency, has prepared a brochure, Your Access to Free Credit Reports, explaining your rights and how to order a free annual credit report. A credit report contains information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gives more information at the website listed below.
SPAM SCAM – Spoofing You Out of Personal Info
Consumers should be on the alert for more sophisticated “spoof” e-mails that trick unwary and unsuspecting Internet users into giving personal information that can be used to drain bank accounts, fraudulently get credit cards and commit other crimes.
The scam is commonly called “brand spoofing” or “phishing” because the spam mail sent uses familiar or legitimate-sounding names of companies to gain personal information. This scam capitalizes on names that are close to the real one. A recent example is instead of the real Earthlink.net, the spam mail used an URL like www.earthlinkservice.com. Small and large companies have been spoofed, such as Bank of America, Best Buy, PayPal and Wells Fargo.
Consumers may be sent e-mails that seemingly come from a company with which they’ve done business or be sent by hyperlink to a phony web site – designed even to look like the legitimate business web site. One victim reported getting a seemingly authentic e-mail from what appeared to be his Internet Service Provider telling him his credit card had expired and new information was needed. He was asked to provide a credit card number and to give his bank account number and ATM PIN number.
Here are some basic rules to consider:
When in doubt, throw the e-mail out.
Never give out personal information by e-mail.
Don’t trust e-mail headers. They can be faked.
Never fill out a form in an e-mail message. You never know who will get it.
Never trust the link in an e-mail message. Scam artists are getting sophisticated and are able to have their web site mirror a legitimate business web site.
Don’t trust e-mail messages on the status of your account. Always go directly to a company’s web site to access your account information by means of your personal identification and log-in.
Federal Trade Commission’s Do-Not-Call Registry
The Federal Trade Commission’s national “do not call” registry, which is a part of the amended Telemarketing Sales Rule, or TSR, is available at www.donotcall.gov or by phone at 888-382-1222. The do-not-call registry covers most unwanted telemarketing calls that are part of nationwide, interstate selling campaigns.
Do-not-call registration is free. Online registration is available if you have an e-mail account. To register by phone, you will need to call from the number you wish to register.
Telephone numbers placed on the National Do Not Call Registry will remain on it permanently due to the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007, which became law in February 2008, unless there are removed as follows: Under the Act, the Federal Trade Commission will continue to remove telephone numbers that have been disconnected and reassigned to other customers. Consumers can delete their telephone numbers from the registry at any time by calling 1-888-382-1222 (TTY 1-866-290-4236) – the call must be made from the telephone number they wish to delete. If you continue to receive unwanted calls, there is addition information available at www.ftc.gov.
To file a complaint:
Call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261
The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.