More classic scams to avoid

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The Scammys are back! We recently reviewed the top three reported frauds in 2016 by the Vermont Attorney General's office. As noted, we were unable to obtain a similar listing from neighboring states but unofficial surveys show a high degree of similarity in what has been reported. Our top three scams involved "IRS" Debt Collection, Computer Tech Support, and Phishing (Impersonator) scams. Today we'll review the balance of the Top Ten scams. A quick reminder - the list of scams I review is from data that is reported to one consumer protection agency, an Attorney General's office. The data does not reflect what is reported to other State or Federal agencies. Also, most attempted scams and almost all successful scams are never reported.

Fake debt collection: Calls from fake debt collectors making threats ranging from lawsuits to arrests if payment is not made immediately. Never comply with these demands; demand written proof of debt. Also, contact the creditor independently from the information given by the caller.

Business Scam: Phone calls, letters or eMails from executives or business associates requesting wire transfers. In many cases, the verification information in the request is easy to fabricate. The best is the establishment of specific verification protocols used before any transactions occur.

Unclaimed Funds: Messages that you have money waiting for you as unclaimed funds, rebates or settlements and need to pay a fee for "processing" payment. Legitimate notices will not require payment of fees. In the case of unclaimed funds, contact your State Treasurer's office.

Phony Prizes, Lotteries, Sweepstakes: A phone call , letter, or email, with notification that you have won, or may have won something valuable. On occasion, these scams include what appear to be authentic checks and letters notifying you to make a payment to the sender for processing fees and taxes.

Do not provide any payments for awards or prizes. Taxes or fees should be deducted prior to receipt of the award. The Vermont Consumer Assistance Program states, "If you won something, they should pay you, not the other way around!" Note: foreign lotteries are illegal in the United States. The only way for you to win a lottery is for you to purchase a ticket in the country of the lottery and collect winnings in that country. Foreign lottery winnings brought into the United States are subject to taxation.

Medical Products, Prescriptions, Insurance: These scams occur by calls claiming to be from Medicare, Medicaid, or other providers seeking personal information. On some occasions, victims were approached by individuals claiming to represent companies or agencies. The "Golden Rule" is never give personal information over the telephone or in person unless you are absolutely certain of the person's identity. Independently verify any calls or visits with company or agency. (Also, Medicare and Medicaid do not make house calls)

Grandparent (Imposter) Scam: Email or telephone requests by scammers claiming to be in difficulty (in jail, stranded) and in need of money that needs to be wired or transmitted using gift cards or money orders. Never make these payments unless you are certain of the source of the call. (One variation of this scam involves a long-distance relationship or romantic interest developed online. The whole purpose of the relationship was to set the victim up for a scam.)

Rounding out the 2016 Scammys is Craigslist or Online Listings Fraud: Fake sales or rentals which are offered requesting payment to a shipper or agent to complete the deal. There may be receipt of a check in excess of the established transaction amount. The con artist asks for return of the extra amount by gift card or wire transfer. The check received is a fake and the recipient becomes a victim. Be cautious whenever making on-line deals and be suspicious of anyone wanting to pay more than an agreed upon price.

If you suspect that you may be a victim or a target of a scam, contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network hotline - 877-908-3360. You can also contact your Attorney General's Office:

New York: http://www.ag.ny.gov/bureau/consumer-frauds-bureau (800) 771-7755

Vermont: https://www.uvm.edu/consumer/ (802) 656-3183

Questions? Contact me, egreenblott@aarp.org. We'd love to have you join us as a volunteer.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator who serves as the Vermont AARP Fraud Watch Network Coordinator.

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