Don’t be a fraud victim. A basic understanding of how scam artists work can help you to avoid fraud and protect your hard-earned money. Learning how to invest safely also can assist you in reaching your financial goals and avoid becoming a victim. Below is more information on some common scams including what to look for and how to avoid them.
In challenging economic times, many people are looking for help getting out of debt or hanging on to their home, and almost as many scammers appear to take advantage of desperate situations.
Phone/ Mail Pitch: We can help you keep your house by dealing with your mortgage company for you.
Target: Anyone who is behind on their mortgage or in other financial trouble.
Result: You pay them, they do nothing, and you are in more debt than when you started.
How to avoid this scam- Untold numbers of look-alike websites have popped up to try to convince consumers into parting with their money. Some sound like a government agency, or even part of a non-profit consumer organization. Most ask for an upfront fee to help you deal with your mortgage company, creditors or the government (services you could easily do yourself for free), and almost all leave you in more debt than when you started.
Don’t pay upfront fees to a company or organization you are not familiar with. Check with the Better Business Bureau or the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to get information on their history and track record.
One example of unauthorized insurance came with the signing of the Federal Affordable Healthcare Act, a flurry of fake and discounted insurance plans are being sold via phone, door-to-door salesmen, the Internet and email.
The most common type of cyber fraud is unauthorized insurance, selling insurance without a state license. If a company is not licensed in the state of Florida, it may not pay your claims and you could lose your premium payments. Call DFS’ Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (877-693-5236) to check a company’s or agent’s license status.
Pitch: Somebody tells you an insurance product isn’t insurance and is exempt from state regulations, or if they tell you they don’t need a license to sell a particular type of insurance, contact DFS. This is a common insurance fraud pitch. If you suspect insurance fraud, call DFS to report it or you may report it directly on the Division of Insurance Fraud website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud. You may be eligible for a reward.
Target: Consumers that can’t afford health insurance or other insurance products
Result: You pay for something that doesn’t cover your medical needs, prescriptions, or other care or services you were promised.
How to avoid this scam: DFS suggests buying insurance only from licensed companies and agents. It is against the law to sell insurance without a license in Florida; further, if they are not licensed in Florida, DFS may not be able to help you should you have a problem with the company. To learn more about a company or agent, including license status, call DFS’ Consumer Helpline at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) or visit the Company Directory located on our Division of Consumer Services website.
The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be on alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors. Sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake one. Sometimes fake debt collectors may have some of your personal information, like a bank account number.
Pitch- Phony debt collectors pose as attorneys or law enforcement officers demanding immediate payment on delinquent loans or on loans consumers received but for amounts they do not owe.
Target: All consumers
Result: Consumers are threatened with lawsuits or arrests, if payments are not made, so they give money out of fear.
How to avoid this scam- Ask the caller for his name, company, street address, and telephone number. Tell the caller that you refuse to discuss any debt until you get a written "validation notice." The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and your rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If a caller refuses to give you all of this information, do not pay! Paying a fake debt collector will not always make them go away. They may make up another debt to try to get more money from you.
Sweepstakes and lottery scams come in all shapes and sizes, but the bottom line is almost always this: You’ve won a whole lot of money, and in order to claim it you have to send money. Oh, and keep this confidential until we’re ready to announce your big winnings.
Online Pitch: You won! The company or CEO wants to send you money!
Target: Social Network Users
Result: Clicking lets the scammer see your personal information and potentially that of your friends.
How to avoid this scam- Often these kinds of scams use celebrities or other famous names to make their offer seem more genuine. If you aren’t sure, don’t click on the link but instead go directly to the homepage of the company mentioned. If they are really giving away $1 million, there will be some kind of announcement on their website, but don’t waste too much time looking. You can’t win if you didn’t enter.
There are a million ways to steal someone’s identity and once a thief has your personal information, they can max out your credit cards, drain your bank account, and ruin your credit rating. Identity theft scams come in all shapes and sizes – friends or grandchildren “stranded” in a foreign country, the hotel front desk “verifying” your credit card in the middle of the night, “charity” solicitations from groups you’ve never supported in the past.
Pitch: A consumer receives a text message from her credit union saying that in order to activate her credit card, she needs to provide the last four digits of her account number.
Target: Any consumer with a credit card
Result: The scammer now has a complete credit card number with which to make purchases.
How to avoid this scam - Financial institutions should never ask for confidential information via email or text message. These types of communication vehicles do not allow secure transmission of data.
Whether you are selling a couch on Craig’s List or responding to a job ad, this scam usually works this way: The person you are doing business with “accidentally” sends you a check for more than the amount they owe you. They ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then send them the difference via a wire service such as Western Union. A deposited check takes a couple of days to clear, whereas wired money is gone instantly. When the original check bounces, you are out whatever money you wired…and you’re still stuck with the old couch.
Pitch: Sorry I wrote the check for too much. Can you wire or transfer me the difference?
Target: People making transactions with strangers (selling on Craig’s List, mystery shopper jobs, etc.)
Result: Their check bounces and the money you sent them is gone forever.
How to avoid this scam- Don’t trust anyone you don’t know, especially if they are asking for money.
This scam tugs at the heartstrings of seniors who have grandchildren.
Pitch- The caller identifies himself as your grandchild and states they have been arrested in another country and need money wired immediately, and please don’t tell mom or dad, since this will upset them.
Result: You wire the money, only to find out that your grandchild is safe.
How to avoid this scam- Tell your family to not post travel plans online. Con artists can use online information to contact family members. Don’t trust caller ID. Con artists can disguise the number that appears on the caller ID with a practice called “spoofing.” If you get a call from your “grandchild” asking for bail money, ask for the name of the bond company and call them directly to verify it is true.
When in doubt, ask callers questions that only your real family member would know the answer to or create a code word that only family members know to use in the case of an emergency.
The scam begins with a telephone call from area code 876, congratulating the consumer on winning the Jamaican Lottery. Once the caller convinces the consumer of their new-found wealth, the only thing left to do is claim the jackpot. To do this, the consumer is told they have to send money to cover fees and taxes associated with their winnings.
Pitch: Congratulations! You have just won the lottery! But don’t tell your family or friends because they might want to take some of your money.
Target: Seniors living on a fixed income
Result: You wire money to the scammer so you can claim your prize and then you never hear from them again. Or they keep calling you and saying that the fees have increased and you need to wire more money.
How to avoid this scam- Look at the clues: you will not legitimately win a lottery you did not enter, and there is no Jamaican Lottery. If you hear you have won a “free gift,” vacation or prize, say “No thank you,” and hang up the phone.
Whether it’s a secret shopper scheme, work-from-home scam, or a phony offer of employment, job-related scams are the worst because they can dash your hopes and steal your money or your identity. It’s easy for scammers to create email, websites and online “job applications” that look very professional.
Email Pitch: You get an email that looks professional. Their website looks professional. You even have a telephone interview. Then, you got the job! Now fill this out online…
Target: Anyone looking for work
Result: The scammer now has information to commit identity theft and steal your money.
How to avoid this scam- Be cautious of anyone who wants to interview you only over the phone, who asks you to wire money for any reason, or who asks you to fill out an online application or credit report that asks for sensitive personal data like your Social Security or bank account number. And be especially cautious of offers that claim you can make big money with no experience necessary. Those kinds of jobs just aren’t out there.
Look out for home improvement contractors who leave your home worse than they found it. They usually knock on your door with a story or a deal – the roofer who can spot some missing shingles on your roof, the paver with some leftover asphalt who can give you a great deal on driveway resealing. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law…and angry consumers.
In-Person Pitch: I’ve got a deal on resealing your driveway (fixing your roof, trimming trees, etc.)
Target: All property owners, especially seniors
Result: At best, shoddy work or possibly a false injury claim against your insurance company. Or, they take your money and run.
How to avoid this scam- Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau. Collect copies of their license and contractor number to have for your records. Verify Before You Buy! Verify with the DFS’ Division of Workers’ Compensation if they have workers’ compensation coverage. If they don’t, you could be liable for any injuries.
Sales scams are as old as humanity, but the Internet has introduced a whole new way to rip people off. Advice for consumers: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That hasn’t changed just because the scam artist is coming into your home through your computer or telephone instead of the front door.
Pitch/Mail Pitch: Win an iPad, win a new camera, just for pennies a bid
Target: Anyone who wants to get a bargain shopping online
Result: You pay for every bid, even if you don’t get the merchandise
How to avoid this scam- High-pressure sales tactics, “limited time offers,” prices that seem too low – all are tip-offs that something may not be quite right. Be especially wary of products that claim to help you lose weight without trying, settle debt for a few cents on the dollar, make you rich, make you look years younger, etc.
In an economy of unpredictable investments and low rates of return, scammers are jumping on the band wagon to offer “hope.” It is this hope of getting ahead that has deceived consumers into purchasing precious metals from bogus companies that have no other intention than to steal hard-earned money from honest consumers.
Phone / Mail Pitch: Telemarketers pressure wealthy consumers with the threat of the falling stock market and the rising price of gold to “wake up” and take charge of their money by investing in gold. Another scam encourages seniors to pay for their gold investments with reverse mortgages.
Target: Wealthy consumers with money to invest in precious metals and seniors who want to add to their retirement savings.
Results: Consumers lose money by investing in gold that was never purchased.
How to avoid this scam: Do not be coerced by pushy telemarketers to make an “investment” that sounds too good to be true – because it usually is. Never send money to a company without full proof of their legitimacy. Check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure that the dealer is licensed.
Phone / Mail Pitch: The consumer answers a call only to hear the caller screaming something like “We’ve got your son and we’re going to kill him if you don’t send $2,000!” A person with a strong Spanish accent is calling from the Puerto Rico area code of 787.
Target: This scam has been targeting South Florida consumers since 2011 but could impact any consumer.
Results: Consumers wire money out of concern for their loved one. It is next to impossible to recover the money once this transaction is completed.
How to avoid this scam: Be aware of these types of calls – and never wire money in response to threats over the phone. Call your loved ones to ensure that they are safe and then call your local law enforcement.
If you feel you or someone you know has been a victim of one of these or a similar fraud or scam please call the Division of Consumer Services' toll-free helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).