Do not become a victim of fraud. Protect your hard-earned money by gaining a basic understanding of how scammers work and the common tactics they use. Learning how to invest safely can also assist you in reaching your financial goals and avoid becoming a victim. Review the following scams to learn what to look out for and how to avoid falling prey to scammers.
There are a great variety of advance fee scams and scammers are continually developing new versions and spin-offs to scam consumers. Advance fee scams occur when a victim gives money in anticipation of receiving something of value such as a loan, contract, gift or investment and actually receives little to nothing in return.
Pitch: A scammer claims to be able to help find financing agreements for you, despite your credit history, if you pay a finder’s fee in advance.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The scammer will require you to sign a contract in which you agree to pay the fee. You will then find that you are ineligible for the financing but have already paid the non-refundable finder’s fee.
How to avoid this scam: An overarching phrase for most all scams is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These advance fee scams are no different. You will want to make sure to completely understand any agreement that you enter into before signing. Check with a local bank or credit union to determine your loan options.
This scam is an attempt to get the caller to say “yes” in a phone conversation. The “yes” response is recorded by the scam artist and later used to authorize fraudulent charges on a phone or utility bill, or on a stolen credit card.
Phone Pitch: Your phone rings and the caller ID shows a number you do not know, but it could also be a number you are familiar with. You answer the phone and the caller asks ’Can you hear me?’ You answer ‘yes’ and the scammer records your response to be used later for illegal activities.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The scammers will use the recorded response to authorize fraudulent charges on a stolen credit card, phone bill or utility bill.
How to avoid this scam: Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Let unknown calls go to your voicemail. If it’s a legitimate call, the caller will leave a voice message. The call appears to be from a familiar number, thanks to caller ID spoofing. This technology makes it easy for a scammer to disguise a phone number. Add your telephone numbers to the Florida Do Not Call List at 1-800-435-7352 or at www.800helpfla.com and the National Do Not Call List at 1-888-382-1222 or at www.donotcall.gov This will help prevent callers from contacting you to solicit unwanted services.
Charitable donation scams are most popular after a disaster or devastating event has occurred.
Phone Pitch: The scammer claims to be affiliated with charitable organizations such as: the American Red Cross, Police Benevolent Association and the Firefighters Association following a natural disaster. The scammer informs you that donations are being collected to assist individuals who were affected by the recent disaster in the area. The scammer claims that a goal has been set and they really need your help to reach that goal; the contribution must be made today. Contributions can be made via check, credit card or prepaid debit card.
Result: Never give out your personal or financial information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Do not be pressured into contributing. A reputable charity will be happy to take your contribution anytime.
How to avoid this scam: Only donate to local and familiar charities and research those you are not familiar with. Verify if a charity is registered and their financial information by visiting www.800helpfla.com and reviewing the Check-A-Charity Resource.
Whether you are selling a couch on Craigslist or responding to a job ad, this scam usually works this way: the person you are doing business with “accidentally” sends you a check or money order 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 or MoneyGram. A deposited check or a money order takes a couple of days to clear, whereas wired money is gone instantly. When the original check bounces or the money order is returned as fraudulent, you are out whatever money you wired…and you’re still stuck with the old couch.
Pitch: The scammer will claim that they wrote the check or purchased the money order for too much and ask that you wire or transfer the difference.
Target: People making transactions with strangers (selling on Craigslist, mystery shopper jobs, etc.)
Result: The scammer’s check bounces or the money order is fake and the money you sent them is gone forever.
How to avoid this scam: If possible, only take cash for payment. If you must take cash or a money order, verify with a financial institution that it is legitimate and that sufficient funds are available before depositing it into your bank account and closing the transaction. Don’t trust anyone you don’t know, especially if they are asking for money.
The new chip in credit and debit cards is designed to reduce fraud, but scammers see it as an opportunity to commit fraud.
Financial institutions and credit card companies are mailing out new credit and debit cards that have an embedded microchip, which provides another level of security, but not everyone has received the new card.
This delay allows scammers to try to capitalize on consumers who haven’t received a new chip credit card.
Email/Phone Pitch: You receive an email or telephone call from a financial institution or credit card company stating that the personal account information needs to be updated so that a new credit card with a microchip can be issued in the consumer’s name. The scammer states that this can only be done by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The scammer has access to your personal and financial information and can open fraudulent accounts in your name or steal your identity.
How to avoid this scam: You can protect yourself from the chip card scam by not clicking on a link in an email or responding to a telephone call that claims to be from your financial institution or credit card company asking for your personal financial information. If you’re concerned that the email or call may not be legitimate, contact your financial institution or credit card company at the telephone number listed on the back of your credit card or statement. Remember, your credit card company or financial institution does not need you to verify information prior to sending a new card.
While many love to receive gifts in the mail, we must be cautious of scammers who pose as mail couriers and attempt to obtain credit card information while “delivering” a package.
Mail Pitch: The scammer poses as a courier, arriving to deliver a box of flowers and alcohol. The courier insists that the resident needs to pay a small fee via credit card as proof of receiving the package and that the person is of legal drinking age.
Target: All consumers
Result: As the victim scans the credit card to pay the fee, the courier’s mobile credit card machine is retaining the card information. The scammer then uses the credit card account information to make fraudulent online purchases.
How to avoid this scam: Do not pay a fee for receiving a package by mail; postage, including fees, is usually paid upfront by the sender. If you are not expecting a package and do not recognize the sender, you may wish to do research on the company/person before accepting the package to ensure it is legitimate or decline to accept the package.
In this scam, a scammer claims to represent your bank or credit card issuer. They may tell you that they need to verify a transaction or that they can lower your interest rate. Really, they are trying to get your credit card information so they can steal money from you.
Phone/E-mail Pitch: In this scam, the scammer may actually tell you your credit card information has been compromised. The scammer will ask for your credit card information in order to “verify a charge.” In truth, your credit card information was probably safe-up until this moment! If you give the scammer the requested information, they can use your credit card number to make fraudulent purchases.
Alternatively, the scammer may claim that you are eligible for a lower interest rate on your credit card. Again, the scammer will ask for your credit card information.
The scammer may use the name of your bank or your credit card issuer. The number on the Caller ID may say it is coming from your bank or credit card company, or the email format may look very similar to official emails you receive from the bank or credit card company. They may even have information about you, like your address, or they may reference a “claim number.” Do not trust these as methods for verifying that the scammer is legitimate. Scammers can create fake e-mails that look very official. They can “spoof” the Caller ID, or disguise the number that they are calling from and make it appear that they are calling from anywhere they choose.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The scammers will take your credit card information and use it to make fraudulent purchases.
How to avoid this scam: Never give your credit card information over the phone to an unsolicited scammer. Remember that it is highly unlikely that your credit card company or bank will call you and ask for your personal information. Never call a number or click a link in an email unless you know it is legitimate. If you want to verify that the offer or concern is coming from your bank or credit card issuer, hang up and call the number located on your credit card, billing statement or bank statement.
If you suspect you have been a victim of credit card fraud, call your bank or the credit card company immediately in order to place a hold on your card and issue a new one. You should also obtain a free copy of your credit report from www.AnnualCreditReport.com to determine if any fraudulent accounts or credit lines have been opened in your name. If your personal information has been compromised, contact the three credit bureaus immediately to have the accounts removed and to take additional steps to protect your identity.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
P.O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013-0949
Trans Union (www.Transunion.com)
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
In challenging economic times, many people are looking for help getting out of debt or keeping their home, and almost as many scammers appear to take advantage of these desperate situations.
Phone/Mail Pitch: We can help you keep your house by dealing with your mortgage company for you or we can help you reduce your debt.
Target: Anyone who is behind on their mortgage, in debt 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: There are many look-alike websites that have been created to try to convince consumers into parting with their money. Some may sound like a government agency, or even part of a non-profit consumer organization. Most will 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.
Whether it’s a secret shopper scheme, work-from-home scam, or a phony offer of employment, job-related scams can not only dash your hopes, but also steal your money or your identity. It’s easy for scammers to create false email addresses, websites and online “job applications” that seem very professional.
Email Pitch: You receive a legitimate-looking email or see a job posting that directs you to, what appears to be, a professional website. After submitting an application, you may have a telephone interview. Then they inform you that you have got the job! You just need to pay a fee to cover the cost it takes to place you in the job. They will also ask you to fill out an online form.
Target: Consumers seeking employment.
Result: After you have paid the fee, you determine that the job does not exist. The scammer will now have the personal information needed to commit identity theft and steal your hard-earned money.
How to avoid this scam: Be cautious of those who wish to interview you only over the phone, who ask you to wire money for any reason, or who ask you to fill out an online application or credit report asking for sensitive/personal data like your Social Security or bank account number. Be especially cautious of offers that claim you can make big or quick money with no experience necessary.
Facebook has been looking to expand its business through partnerships with financial institutions across the nation to gain access to some of your financial data, including credit/debit card transactions and checking account balances for customer service functions in the Messenger app. While this may add convenience to banking and other financial transactions, it could make your financial information vulnerable. A current scam includes criminals cloning accounts of your family and friends to steal photos and personal information, this move could put your financial information at risk.
Pitch: The scammers will create a Facebook account to trick users into thinking the account is that of a friend or family member. The scammer will use Facebook Messenger to connect with you and once you accept their message, they will have access to your personal Facebook information like photos, personal details and potentially financial details.
Target: Facebook users.
Result: The scammers will gain any information that you have shared with Facebook, even information you posted or filtered from the public. If Facebook expands its business through partnerships with financial institutions and you use these added features for convenience, your financial information will also become vulnerable. Opening another entry point for criminals to access your data is a risky move.
How to avoid this scam:
Pay Attention to the Sender’s Display Name. A cloned account will look very similar to the user they are trying to impersonate, but will typically be different. A capitalization or spacing difference may be a good indicator that the account is fake.
Do Not Accept the Message Request. If the account looks fake, do not accept the request to message.
Review Information from Facebook. Facebook is testing ways to detect the sender’s location and identify if an account appears to be fake. Read all detailed information before you engage in any sort of exchange. It could save your identity and financial information.
Confirm Identities Outside of Facebook. If you get a message through Facebook or the Messenger app from someone you know asking for funds or donations, contact the individual outside of Facebook before contributing. A simple phone call or text message can confirm the identity of your friend or relative.
Report and Block Fake Accounts Immediately. Let Facebook know that the account that is messaging you is impersonating someone you know and be sure to block that account.
If you become a victim:
If you do fall victim to this latest scam, contact your financial institutions (bank, credit union, credit card companies, etc.) to alert them and protect your identity. Freeze your credit, which is now free in Florida after CFO Patronis successfully removed this fee during the 2018 Legislative Session.
To freeze your credit, visit each of the credit bureaus:
The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to be alert for scammers 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 even have some of your personal information, such as a bank account number.
Phone Pitch: Phony debt collectors may pose as attorneys or law enforcement officers demanding immediate payment on delinquent loans or on loans you have received but for amounts you do not owe. The scammer may threaten you with garnishments, lawsuits or jail if you do not pay. These scammers will often us Caller ID spoofing. This technology makes it easy for scammers to disguise a phone number and the location they’re calling from.
Target: All consumers.
Result: Consumers are threatened with lawsuits or arrests if payments are not made immediately and may end up giving money or personal information out of fear.
How to avoid this scam: Ask the scammer for their name, company, street address and telephone number. Tell the scammer 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 scammer refuses to give you all or any of this information, do not be afraid to hang up and do not pay! Paying a fake debt collector will not always make them terminate contact. They may make up another debt to try to obtain more of your money.
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 phony companies that have no other intention than to steal hard-earned money from honest consumers.
Phone / Mail Pitch: Telemarketers pressure 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 or other precious metals. Another spin-off scam encourages seniors to pay for their gold investments with a reverse mortgage.
Target: Consumers with money to invest in precious metals and seniors who wish to add to their retirement savings.
Results: Consumers lose money by investing in gold that was never truly purchased.
How to avoid this scam: Do not allow yourself to 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. You can check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure that a dealer is licensed.
Scammers are seeking to prey on individuals by telling them they have “been selected” or “are eligible” for a grant. Instead of trying to help, these scammers are only going after your money. While the U.S. Government offers many grant opportunities, you are always required to apply to receive them. Any offer of an unsolicited “free grant” is a scam.
Advertising/Phone Pitch: You see an advertisement for a “free government grant” or someone calls claiming that you are guaranteed money from a government grant. The call or the ad will say that you never have to pay the money back. However, there’s a catch: you will need to pay a fee or provide your banking information for a direct deposit.
The company may use an official-sounding name. The area code on the Caller ID may be from Washington, D.C., or show a name similar to “Federal Grants Administration.” Do not trust these as methods for verifying that the grant is real. Scammers can “spoof” the Caller ID-that is, they make it look like the call is coming from anywhere they choose. Many scammers purposefully use fake business names that sound like they are connected with the government, even though they are not.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The scammers will take your “fee” or banking information to steal your money. You will not receive the grant money that you have been guaranteed.
How to avoid this scam: Do not pay any money for a grant and never share your banking information with anyone if you are not sure who they are. Remember that you can only be awarded a grant that you applied for. Do not believe that an organization is legitimate based on its name or what shows up on the Caller ID.
If you are interested in seeking a government grant, visit www.grants.gov. It is the only official list for federal grant opportunities.
For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Information page on government grant scams.
This scam tugs at the heartstrings of seniors who have grandchildren.
Phone Pitch: You receive a call from someone claiming to be your grandchild and states they have been arrested in another country and need money wired immediately. The scammer asks that you don’t tell their mom or dad because 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 not to post travel plans online. Scammers can use online information to contact family members. Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can disguise the number that appears on the caller ID with a practice called “spoofing.” Technology is available to scammers that make it look like they’re calling from a different place or phone number. 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 scammers 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.
Home improvement projects can be overwhelming and hiring a contractor often times helps to ease the tension. However, scammers sometimes appear at your door, offering their services for what sounds like a good deal, but may take your money and run. These contractors will continually move around to avoid contact with law enforcement and past customers.
In-Person Pitch: A contactor or a handyman shows up at your door claiming to be driving by and noticed that your roof was missing a few shingles or your chimney had some damage to it. He informs you that he has have left over supplies from a large job that they completed in your area and that he does the work at a discounted price.
Be cautious, if the scammer offers to do the work in exchange for an assignment of benefits on your insurance policy, which means once the claim is completed through your insurance company the check will be provided directly to the contactor instead of you. The claim check may exceed the actual cost of the repair materials needed to complete the repairs on your home and the work may be completed with subpar materials. Never enter into this type of agreement unless you have verified that the contractor is licensed and has valid insurance.
Target: All property owners.
Result: The work may be poor quality and you may have to redo the entire job at your own expense. The scammer may file a false or inflated claim with your insurance company, which could cause an increase in insurance premiums. The scammer may take your money and not complete the job.
How to avoid this scam: Verify the company with the Better Business Bureau. Collect copies of their license and contractor number for your records and Verify Before You Buy! You can also verify with the Department of Financial Services Division of Workers’ Compensation if they have workers’ compensation coverage. If they don’t, you could be liable for any injuries.
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 score. Identity theft scams come in many 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 and countless others.
Phone/Email Pitch: A consumer receives a text message, email, phone call etc. 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 or a similar situation.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The scammer has a complete access to your personal and financial information.
How to avoid this scam: You can protect yourself from identity theft by safeguarding your information. It is important to monitor your statements and to review your credit report annually. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com to access your credit report for free from one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – every 12 months.
Many people look to investing money to build wealth and security for the future. However, investing in a fraudulent opportunity can you leave you steps behind where you started.
Advertising/Phone Pitch: These scams take many forms, but all prey on the desire to make money without much risk or initial funding. The scammer convinces you to “invest” in a project, company, loan, or other initiative. They may even provide reports that the project is producing great returns. Some common investment scams include: Ponzi scheme, offshore investing and pyramid schemes.
Target: Consumers looking to invest, especially seniors.
Result: After investing money, consumers learn that the deal was fraudulent. Either the company does not exist or the scammer was just using the name of a reputable company without having any connection to it. The scammers may disable phone numbers given to the consumer as an attempt to disappear after the money has been collected.
How to avoid this scam: Beware of investment opportunities that offer low or no risk with a high return or are advertised to be “guaranteed” to do well. High-pressure sales tactics are also a warning sign. Many risky investments are solicited to consumers in high-pressure situations and consumers are encouraged to act fast before the opportunity is missed. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Also keep in mind that the investment industry is highly regulated. Do not invest money with companies that are not registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Do research before investing money and never sign any contracts or documents that include blank spaces.
Tax-related scams were the most popular scams in 2016. The IRS scam is a type of tax scam in which an individual claims to be from the IRS demanding payment for back taxes.
Phone Pitch: Someone calls claiming to be from the IRS. Your caller ID identifies that the call is from the IRS. The scammer may use a false name and IRS identification badge number. To add creditability, they may ask you to verify some personal information such as: your full name, date of birth, home address, and the last four digits of your Social Security Number, all of which can be found on the internet. You are told you have an outstanding debt to the IRS and if a payment is not received immediately you could be arrested or a lien placed on your property. Typically, the scammer will instruct you to purchase a Green Dot prepaid debit card or wire the payment via Western Union or MoneyGram to settle the debt. The IRS does not use the phone, email, text message or any social media to discuss your personal tax issues involving bills or refunds.
Target: All consumers, even those who are not legally required to file taxes such as seniors.
Result: The scammers are only trying to get a quick payout. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to recover any money you have wired or sent via a prepaid debit card.
How to avoid this scam: Do not automatically trust that a call is coming from the IRS based on the caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to disguise the phone number with a practice called “spoofing.” Remember that the IRS will never call you without first sending you a hard-copy bill and it will never demand payment without offering you the chance to appeal and correct any error on your tax documents. Many seniors are not required to file tax returns because they earned little or no income. Consult with a tax professional to determine if you are required to file.
For more information, visit the IRS’ Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts page.
Jury duty is an important civic responsibility and should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, scammers will try to use it their advantage to commit this scam.
Phone Pitch: You receive a phone call stating that a warrant has been issued for your arrest because you missed jury duty. The scammer claims to be a court appointed official or law enforcement officer and states that you must pay a fine immediately to avoid arrest. The call appears authentic thanks to caller ID spoofing. This technology makes it easy for scammers to disguise a phone number. The scammer may ask that you provide your birth date and Social Security Number to verify your identity.
To avoid arrest, the scammer states that you can pay the fine by wire transfer via Western Union or MoneyGram, a Green Dot prepaid debit card, or by providing your bank account information.
Target: All residents eligible for jury duty.
Result: Never respond to requests for personal or financial information, or for immediate payment. Providing this type of information can open the door to identify theft and you risk paying an unnecessary fine.
How to avoid this scam: Don’t be afraid to hang up the phone. If you feel you have missed a jury duty summons, call your County Clerk of Courts Office to verify. The court will never request your personal information or immediate payment over the phone.
Scammers try to convince consumers of new-found wealth through the lottery scam.
In-person/Phone/Email Pitch: The scammer will approach you in public claiming to have won the lottery but doesn’t have a bank account to deposit the funds. They will gladly share their new-found wealth with you if you will provide payment upfront in ’good faith.’ Be on guard. Never deposit a check into your bank account or give money to someone claiming to have won the lottery unless you ensure the funds are available.
Also, scammers may contact you by phone or email claiming that you have won a prize or the lottery but you have to pay a fee before you can collect your winnings. They will instruct you to purchase a Green Dot Card or wire the money via Western Union or MoneyGram to pay the fees. Once you provide the ID number on the back of the Green Dot card or the verification number for Western Union or MoneyGram, the money is oftentimes gone and cannot be recovered.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The check provided by the scammer is fraudulent. Typically, it takes weeks for a financial institution to discover a fraudulent check and you are responsible for paying back the full amount of the check and associated fees. If you wire money to the scammer to claim your prize, you may 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: If you won a legitimate lottery, all fees and taxes will be deducted prior to receiving the prize. Once you wire money to a scammer in a lottery and sweepstakes scam they won’t go away. The best thing to do is not to respond to phone calls or emails claiming you have won a lottery. If you hear you have won a “free gift,” vacation or prize, say “No thank you,” and hang up the phone. Be alert for individuals who approach you in public wanting to share their new fortune with you. If it sounds too good to be true…it is.
Offers for “free” DNA/genetic testing are being made to seniors in an effort to fraudulently retrieve personal information including their Medicare number to potentially steal their identify and commit Medicare billing fraud.
In-Person/Phone/Mail Pitch: Senior housing complexes, senior centers and other senior communities are being targeted by companies offering “free” DNA/genetic testing to screen for cancer and other illnesses. Scammers are participating in health fairs and also approaching seniors door-to-door.
Seniors involved in the scam are asked for a cheek swab in order to obtain a DNA sample that will be sent to a lab for complete analysis. The scammer assures the seniors that Medicare will fully cover the fees associated with the screening. However, seniors are being asked to provide their Medicare number for processing. This is resulting in fraudulent Medicare charges that could potentially increase healthcare costs and taxes for everyone.
Seniors are also receiving phone calls from scammers offering “free” at-home DNA/genetic testing kits that are being sent by mail. Seniors who receive the kits are being asked to swab their cheeks and mail back their completed testing kit with their personal information to these fraudulent companies for a complete lab analysis.
Result: Seniors who participate in these scams could face exuberant bills not covered by Medicare and their identity could potentially be stolen. In addition, the scammers may use the senior’s Medicare information to submit a reimbursement request for fraudulent health care services.
How to avoid the scam: It is important to know that Medicare will only cover one genetic test to screen for cancer, this is the Cologuard screening test for colorectal cancer. Also, in order for any diagnostic test to be considered reasonable and necessary, they must be ordered by your physician. Do not accept any offers to take a DNA/generic test that was not authorized by your physician.
You may report Medicare scammers by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
In tough financial circumstances like the possibility of losing a home, many people look for assistance paying their mortgage. Meanwhile, scammers hope to cash in on a person’s desperate situation.
Phone/ Mail Pitch: We can help you keep your house by working with your mortgage lender to change the terms of your loan and decrease your monthly payment by lowering the interest rate or principal loan amount.
Target: Anyone who is behind on their mortgage, at risk of losing their home.
Result: You pay them upfront for assistance or provide personal information- they don’t assist with your mortgage payment or, worse, use the personal information you provided to steal your identity.
How to avoid this scam: If you need help with your mortgage you should contact your lender directly to discuss a new payment schedule or other form of loan adjustment. You may also wish to contact a legitimate mortgage relief service dedicated to helping those at risk of losing their homes.
For more information on mortgage relief, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website- http://www.ftc.gov/ or contact your lender directly.
Moving can be the start to an exciting new chapter in life, but scammers can turn the experience into an expensive nightmare. The best protection against moving scams is a well-informed consumer who does research every step of the way.
Advertising/Phone Pitch: Scammers offer to move your household items from one location to another at a discounted price.
Target: All consumers.
Result: If you pay for the moving services in advance, you may never hear from the company or individual again. Scammers may also steal your belongings or hold them hostage, demanding additional funds to deliver them to the new location.
How to avoid this scam: Reputable moving companies will not demand cash or the total amount before moving you, instead you generally pay upon delivery. If you pay up front, you have zero control over when you’ll see your belongings again. When you do pay, use a credit card that will help you fight any fraudulent activity. You also want to read all agreements carefully, get everything in writing and remember to never sign any blank forms.
Use moving companies that are well known or recommended by friends or family. Look up unfamiliar moving companies on the Better Business Bureau site or conduct an internet search with the company name, using an accompanying word like “complaint,” “review” or “scam.” Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you don’t understand. If the moving company can’t or won’t answer your questions, you might want to look for another mover.
Many consumers prefer the convenience of online shopping over conventional shopping. There is no need to look for a parking space, no waiting for assistance from a salesperson or having to wait in long lines at the checkout. You are able to shop 24/7, even wearing your pajamas. The latest technology allows scammers to set up bogus retail websites that look like legitimate online retail stores. Scammers may use a logo, design and layout similar to the true website. They may even create a “.com” domain similar to the store’s name to perpetrate the scam.
Advertising/Pitch: Scammers pretend to sell items or services at a discounted price to attract consumers. These unsuspecting consumers looking for bargains oftentimes fall victim to this scam.
Target: All consumers who shop online.
Result: You may pay for items that are poorly made or never receive them. Payment is made by wire transfer via Western Union or MoneyGram, a Green Dot prepaid debit card, or by providing your bank account information. You could become a victim of identity theft after providing personal information. Additionally, clicking on specific links may unleash malware onto your computer or phone.
How to avoid this scam: It’s important to do your research on a company or seller before buying from them. Make sure the business has a physical address and telephone number you can contact if there's a problem. Ensure the website is secure before providing your personal financial information; if not, this may lead to identity theft. Look for the lock symbol or “https” at the beginning of the website address.
Peer-to-peer (P2P) payment services like Apple Pay, Zelle, Venmo, Facebook Payments and Cash App, offer a fast and convenient way to send money to your family and friends. Unfortunately, they are also becoming a popular payment method for scammers.
Online Advertising Pitch: This scam can appear in a variety of ways, including as a part of another type of scam. Scammers will request payment for goods or services advertised to be made through a P2P platform like Apple Pay or Venmo. Most often, this scam is seen online as part of an online retailer or classified advertisement sale scam. Scammers may also request funds through a P2P payment service as part of a romance scam, fake check scam, puppy scam or any other ploy to trick you out of your hard-earned dollars.
Target: All consumers, especially online consumers.
Result: The consumer will pay for the goods or services with a P2P payment service but never receive the product or service advertised. Many consumers mistakenly believe that P2P payment services have protections similar to a debit or credit card since many P2P payment services are affiliated with banks. This is not true. Once you send money via a P2P payment service, it is nearly impossible to get the money back.
How to avoid the scam:
For many consumers it’s a daily routine to check emails. But, what happens when you receive an email stating you have won a contest or your financial institution advises that your account may have been compromised. The email asks for your personal information to confirm receipt of the prize or to verify your account information. The email may look authentic but can redirect you to a site that downloads malware on your computer to search for sensitive data.
Email Pitch: You get an email or phone call informing you that you have won a contest or your financial account may have been compromised. You are directed to click on a link to and follow the directions on the page to claim your prize or verify your personal information.
Target: All consumers who use the internet.
Result: The scammer has access to your personal and financial information and can steal your identity.
How to avoid this scam: You can protect yourself from the phishing scam by not clicking on a link in an email that claims you have won a contest or from your financial institution asking for your personal information. If you believe the email may be legitimate, contact your financial institution via the telephone number listed on your account statement or contact the organization offering the prize at a number found online or in a directory.
You have heard the sayings, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”, and “You get what you pay for” your entire life. Consumers shopping for health insurance should keep these adages in mind. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated that compliant health care plans include certain coverages, and prohibited exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions, there are many health insurance products on the market that do not incorporate these requirements. Some of these types of health plans can be confused with Major Medical, ACA-compliant plans. In addition, some sales representatives may attempt to misrepresent the coverage provided by a policy, so it’s important to understand the benefits, and limitations of any health plan you may consider. A summary of some of the health plans currently available in Florida is provided below.
Health Care Sharing Ministries
A Health Care Sharing Ministry (HCSM) is a health care cost sharing arrangement among members who have common ethical or religious beliefs, administered by a not-for-profit religious organization. Some HCSMs act as a clearinghouse to allow one or more members to directly pay the medical expenses of another member. Other HCSMs receive funds from members and use those funds to pay authorized medical expenses when members request payment.
An HCSM can establish the qualifications of participation, which means an individual can be denied coverage due to their medical history, and the HCSM may apply a pre-existing condition exemption, or waiting period for a duration of its choosing. The HCSM can cancel the membership of a participant when he/she indicates his or her unwillingness to participate by failing to make a payment to another participant. The organization may rescind an application if they believe the medical questions on the application were not answered correctly. The contributions individuals pay into or through one of these organizations is typically less expensive than a health insurance premium, but there are no coverage guarantees, and no state or federal regulation if a dispute between the HCSM and the member arise.
Insurance regulators in Texas, Washington, New Hampshire, and Colorado have taken legal action against, or issued cautions regarding a particular HCSM administrator, Aliera Healthcare, asserting that the for-profit company is engaged in the unlicensed sale of insurance. Aliera is, or has been affiliated with HCSMs Trinity Healthshare, Unity Healthshare, and OneShare Health.
Short-Term, Limited Duration Insurance (STLD)
STLD insurance policies are designed to protect against unforeseen accidents or illnesses, but typically do not include coverage for maternity, preventive care, prescription drugs, dental, or vision care. STLD policies are not required to comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), meaning that insurers can deny coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions and are not required to include essential health benefits. Until recently, STLD policies were prohibited from applying a waiting period for coverage of pre-existing conditions that exceeded 24 consecutive months. Recent legislation essentially removed that prohibition. Currently, each STLD policy may impose its own waiting period, even if a series of STLD policies are acquired consecutively, and without any lapse in coverage. In addition, the insurer can rescind an STLD policy and refund premiums paid if it determines a question(s) on the application was not answered correctly.
Limited Benefit Plans (LBP)
LBPs consist of a number of different types of insurance including medical and hospital indemnity plans, and accidental death and dismemberment plans. Indemnity plans pay a flat, specified amount in the event that certain medical services are rendered. For example, an indemnity plan may offer a $100.00 benefit in the event you require treatment in an emergency room. The resulting medical bill from such a visit could potentially exceed $1,000.00, but the plan will only pay $100.00, regardless of the amount of the charges.
Discount Medical Plans (DMP)
DMPs are not insurance. A DMP is defined in Florida Law as “a business arrangement or contract in which a person, in exchange for fees, dues, charges, or other consideration, provides access for plan members to providers of medical services and the right to receive medical services from those providers at a discount.” Therefore, in the example above in which you required care in an emergency room, if the medical provider is not a participating member of the plan (and few are), there will be no discount, or coverage of any kind.
What to Look For
If you are considering the purchase of any health plan, especially outside of the open enrollment period for ACA policies, make sure you understand the plan’s benefits and limitations. If you speak with a sales representative over the telephone who describes the benefits of the plan, but who must then transfer you to a second individual who reads from a prepared script (often quite rapidly), and requires you to answer “yes”, or “I understand” to a number of questions, that is a red flag. The second person you speak with is reading a disclosure in which you are being told that the plan you are purchasing is not major medical insurance, or ACA-compliant. That part of the conversation is being recorded. The sales part of the call was almost certainly not recorded, or it will be “unavailable” if this Division asks for a copy. You should also ask that the company send you a copy of a sample policy for you to review, prior to providing any payment information. If you find that the health plan you purchased was misrepresented by the sales representative, contact the Division of Consumer Services’ Insurance Consumer Helpline immediately - toll-Free at (877) 693-5236, or (850) 413-3089 for out-of-state calls.
Floridians, especially those who have recently purchased property in Florida, should be wary of unsolicited letters or emails asking consumers to pay a fee to obtain a copy of their real estate deed. A consumer in Pasco County received a letter from a company stating he should request a copy of his deed and property details for a fee of $95. The letter contains identifying details on the property and has an official appearance. It urges a response by a specified date. The letter does include a disclaimer stating that the company is not affiliated with any government agency and that it should be taken as a solicitation rather than a bill; however, the letter’s official appearance and wording could mislead consumers.
Consumers who wish to obtain an official copy of their deeds or details on their property should contact their local county clerk’s office or property appraiser’s office. These services are usually free or a nominal fee.
In today’s world of online dating, it’s much easier to search for a match, but it also makes it easier for scammers to search for their next targets.
Email/Phone Pitch: The scammer will pretend to develop romantic intentions through online dating websites or other social media sites. After communicating for some time, the scammer will begin asking for money. They will claim the money is perhaps for an airline ticket to travel to the United States to visit you, medical expenses or expensive internet/phone bills for the relationship to continue. The scammer will ask that you wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram or a prepaid debit card such as a Green Dot card.
Target: Any consumer online, particularly seniors.
Results: You send the individual money for the specific expenses and receive nothing in return, or the scammer continues to request money.
How to avoid this scam: Be vigilant while on the internet. You should also be leery of those you meet online and have never met in person. It is also advised that you do not send money to an individual that you do not know.
Sales scams have been around for a long time and the internet has introduced new ways for fraudsters to attempt to scam you. It is important to remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Phone/Internet Pitch: Win an iPad, a new camera, a laptop, etc. for just a few pennies a bid.
Target: All consumers, especially those who want to get an online shopping bargain.
Result: You pay for every bid you make, even if you don’t receive the merchandise.
How to avoid this scam: High-pressure sales tactics, “limited time offers,” and prices that seem too low are all tips that something may not be quite right. Be wary of products that claim to help you lose weight without trying, settle debt for a few cents on the dollar, make you rich quick, make you look years younger and other similar claims.
Scammers are preying on a recent surge in consumer privacy concerns following a slew of recent major data breaches. Be cautious with unsolicited offers to assist you in guarding your SSN.
Phone Pitch: The victim receives a call from a scammer claiming to be with the Social Security Administration. The scammer claims that the victim’s SSN has been suspended due to theft or involvement in a crime. The scammer may also claim the victim qualifies for an increase in benefits if they answer a few questions to obtain their personal information.
The scammer may already be informed with some of the victim’s personal information, which they then use to convince the victim into sharing more personal information such as their SSN.
In almost every instance, the scammer requests payment for a processing fee to “unfreeze” the victim’s SSN in order to receive an increase in benefits. The scammer will request unusual payment methods that include gift cards or a form of cryptocurrency.
The victim is often reassured by the scammer that they will receive a refund from the Federal Reserve in the coming weeks for the fees paid to unfreeze their account.
Target: All consumers.
Result: The victim shares their personal information and potentially pays for processing fees to “unfreeze” their social security account. In the process the victim’s bank accounts can be drained and thousands of dollars lost.
How to avoid this scam:
Each year consumers look forward to filing a tax return in hopes of receiving a refund that can be used to pay debt, or add to their savings or emergency fund. Identity thieves have the same goal but do so at the expense of consumers.
Pitch: The tax identity theft scam is a version of the tax scam in which a scammer uses the victim’s personal information to file a fraudulent tax return and illegally collects the tax refund. Filing a false tax return only requires the victim’s name, Social Security Number, date of birth and a falsified W-2 form.
Target: All consumers, even those who don’t have an income, believe their income is below the minimum required to file, are self-employed or receive government benefits such as Social Security.
Result: The victim attempts to file their own, legitimate tax return and receives a letter from the IRS indicating that someone has already filed in their name.
How to avoid this scam:
File your tax return early, even if you don’t have an income, believe your income is below the minimum required to file, are self-employed or receive government benefits such as Social Security. This decreases the amount of time an identity thief has to file a return in your name.
Be informed. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act requires the IRS to hold refund checks until February 15 for consumers who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). Beware of tax preparation companies that claim to be able to get you your refund sooner than February 15; the company may actually be giving you a high-interest loan that will eat into your refund.
Check on the status of your refund on the IRS’s website.
Take advantage of free tax preparation from legitimate organizations. Be sure to use a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in your community. You can verify the company on the IRS’s website.
Use the IRS’s Free File program.
If you become a victim:
File a 14039 form with the IRS.
File an identity theft report with your local police department.
Consider placing a freeze on your credit report, which prevents any credit accounts from being opened in your name.
Many people enjoy having access to a computer and mobile devices to connect online and communicate with family and friends. Unfortunately, many scammers attempt to prey on unsuspecting users who are not as familiar with how computers operate and try to trick them into revealing personal financial information over the phone or through email.
Phone/Email Pitch: You receive a phone call or an email from individuals posing as computer support technicians, typically Microsoft or Dell, asking to remotely access your computer or download software to fix a problem. They will try to sell you software to fix your computer or install malicious software to steal your personal information. Once the scammer has access to your computer, they are able to change the settings on your computer that could leave it vulnerable to viruses.
Target: Anyone with a computer and access to the internet.
Result: The scammer may have installed spyware, which can cause your computer to slow down or sometimes crash. You have exposed your personal information and paid for computer software that, most likely, was not needed.
How to avoid this scam: You should never give control of your computer to a third party who calls or emails you. Do not rely on caller ID to verify a call. If you would like tech support, go to the computer company’s website and look for the support webpage or phone number. Never give out personal or financial information by email or over the phone unless you initiated the contact and you are certain the person you are speaking with is affiliated with the company.
Vacations are a time to put down your phone, put away your laptop and enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation. But, beware of those vacation offers that are too good to be true.
Advertising/Phone Pitch: You receive a call or email informing you that you have won a free vacation but to claim your prize you will need to pay the fees or taxes associated with it. You may also be offered a free weekend at a resort in exchange for sitting through a sales presentation.
Target: All consumers.
Result: If you paid the fee to claim the prize, you may never hear from the company again and never receive the free vacation.
How to avoid this scam: If you receive a call or email saying you have won a free vacation, say “No, thank you,” and hang up. Never wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram or give out credit card or checking account information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Beware of high pressure sales tactics and pitches that require immediate payment. If the deal is good today, it will be good tomorrow. Remember, if it sounds too god to be true, it probably is.
This scam uses the promise of finding money that belongs to the consumer that is sitting idly and unclaimed. There are legitimate unclaimed funds out there and scammers will make you think that you have money to be claimed.
Pitch: The scammer will send an email with a message telling you that you have thousands of dollars in unclaimed property just waiting to be accessed.
Target: All consumers.
Result: You pay the individual a fee for their assistance in locating your funds and never receive your supposed thousands of dollars.
How to avoid this scam: It is important to know that you will not be contacted by email regarding unclaimed property. Remember that you will never be asked your bank account information when claiming your unclaimed property and that there is no fee related to filing a claim. By visiting the State of Florida Unclaimed Property website at www.fltreasurehunt.org you can search to see if you have any unclaimed property.
A recent tactic among scammers is to pose as a representative of your utility company in order to obtain cash or personal financial information. These fraudsters contact you by phone, email or through the internet and often times seem very legitimate.
Phone/ E-Mail Pitch: You receive a phone call or email explaining that an agency is offering to pay your utility bill as a part of a government approved program. They ask for your social security number and bank account information in order to pay your bill. The bill is never paid and your financial information has been compromised.
These scammers will also pose as utility company representatives and try and scare you into believing your utility bill is past due and demand payment before your lights are cut off. Once they have your financial information they hang up never to be heard from again.
Target: Anyone with a local utility account especially seniors who may live alone.
Result: You have compromised your credit card information or even given a credit card payment to someone posing as your utility company.
How to avoid this scam: Your utility company will never call or email you demanding payments. If you receive a phone call or email and are unsure whether it is legitimate you should hang up and call your utility company directly to confirm your account information and billing status. Never give out personal financial information over the phone, online, or the internet unless you are positive of the legitimacy of the recipient.
For more information please read this fact sheet.
Vacations are a time to put down your phone, put away your laptop and enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation. But, beware of those vacation offers that are too good to be true.
Advertising/Phone Pitch: Con artists post listings for properties that are not for rent, do not exist, or are significantly different from what’s pictured. In another variation, scammers claim to specialize in timeshare resales and promise they have buyers ready to purchase your vacation property.
Target: All consumers.
Result: If you paid the fee to rent the vacation property, you may never hear from the company again and have nowhere to stay on your vacation. Similarly, if you pay any fees to sell your vacation property, you may never hear from the company or alleged buyer again.
How to avoid this scam: If you receive a call or email about a vacation property or see a post advertising a property at an unbelievable price, be cautious. Never wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram or give out credit card or checking account information over the phone unless you initiated the call. When looking for travel accommodations, stick with travel brands you know and research reviews and company information for any company you are unfamiliar with. If using third party websites to book travel accommodations, be sure the site is secure. The web address should start with “https” and have a padlock icon near the address bar.
If you receive a call or email from a company claiming to have buyers available to purchase your timeshare or vacation property, do your research. Beware of high pressure sales tactics and pitches that require immediate payment, especially for closing costs or customs fees. Do not wire any money or transfer funds without having a legal professional review the contract. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
As a veteran, navigating through the retirement process can be difficult enough, but there are those who seek to profit from your desire to make the best financial decisions for your future. Dishonest attorneys, financial planners, insurance agents, and even those claiming to be veterans’ advocates seek to scam you out of exorbitant fees for a product that doesn’t benefit you or your family.
Mail/Email/Phone Pitch: The scammers use a multitude of fear tactics and uncertainty to make the victim afraid that they won’t have enough retirement money for the future. The scammer convinces the veteran to purchase unnecessary products or transfer funds that “will enable” them to qualify for additional pension assistance or enhancement.
The scammer claims that the veteran might not currently qualify for Enhanced Pension with Aid and Attendance (A&A benefits), but by transferring the pension into a trust or annuity, they may meet the requirements for A&A benefits. The greater the investment, the greater the scammer’s payday.
Target: Veterans of any age, specifically retired and disabled vets in need of long term care.
Result: The scammers do not provide all the details on qualifying for Enhanced Pension with Aid and Attendance. These benefits supplement military pensions but are only available in limited circumstances. There are strict guidelines regarding qualification, not all of which are directly related to financial reasons. Transferring pension funds may result in the veteran losing eligibility for Medicaid services, the use of their money for a long time, or disqualifying them from receiving A & A benefits. Additionally, if disqualified, the veteran may be required to repay benefits already paid.
How to avoid this scam: Do not quickly approve changes to your pension. If you are interested in researching A&A benefits, you can do so yourself for free or at no cost from any party accredited through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Check to make sure those assisting you financially have a valid license in your current state, and remember no one accredited through the VA is allowed to charge you for their services.
For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0349-veterans-pensions.
This is another kind of repair scam. The deductible for a windshield repair is waived in Florida and most states. Scammers use this information to con unsuspecting consumers into committing insurance fraud.
In-person Pitch: The scammer approaches you in the parking lot of a grocery store or gas station, for instance, claiming that you have a few small nicks or chips in your windshield. They offer to repair the windshield for free to prevent further cracking and damage. The scammer will misrepresent to your insurance company that the windshield is seriously damaged and needs repairing.
Target: All consumers with vehicles.
Result: Many of these individuals are inadequately trained or not trained at all. They work out of their vehicles without a physical business address and disappear quickly after completing shoddy work. The scammer is most likely not a licensed repairman and is not authorized to complete the repairs on your windshield. They may also charge your insurance company for inflated or baseless expenses and subpar materials.
How to avoid this scam: Contact your insurance company before allowing the repairs to be made. The company will help you confirm if the windshield needs to be repaired and find a reputable glass vendor.
Here are some helpful websites with information on frauds and scams. Stay a step ahead of scammers and keep yourself updated with the latest information on scams and tips to help prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
Federal Trade Commission – Scam Alerts
The Federal Trade Commission’s Scam Alerts page keeps consumers up to date on recent scam alerts with what to know and do about scams in the news.
Federal Bureau of Investigation – Common Fraud Schemes
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has developed their Common Fraud Schemes website to inform you on the most common scams that the FBI investigates and tips to help prevent you from becoming a victim.
USA.gov – Consumer Frauds and Scams
The USA.gov Consumer Frauds and scams website hosts information and tips on how to avoid scams and fraud with a special section dedicated to current scams to be aware of.
Better Business Bureau - Scam Stopper
The Better Business Bureau’s Scam Stopper website has information on scams including top scams, the science of scams, who gets scammed and report a scam.www.bbb.org/council/bbb-scam-stopper/
Have you or someone you know been the victim of a fraud or scam?
Call the Division of Consumer Services' toll-free helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) for assistance.