Consumer Frauds & Scams
Consumer fraud also involves scams. Scams often involve online purchases. They can be promises of jobs or fake lottery winnings. Some scams involve fake charities, vacation and travel offers or investments opportunities. There are many debt-related scams as well. The elderly and lower income individuals are often targets of such scams, however, a scam can happen to anyone at any time.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection issues warnings about scams. It currently has warnings about the following scams:
- Tax Debt Scam – This is a phone and email scam where a person pretending to be from the IRS claims that you owe back taxes. The caller may threaten you with lawsuits, fines, deportation or arrest, and tell you to pay them immediately. The caller may appear legitimate and may even give a fake IRS badge number. The caller may have some personal information about you already, such as the last four digits of your social security number. The call may appear to be coming from within the United States, but is may be from overseas. The caller will try to get you to provide your bank account information, and/or ask you to do a wire transfer. If you refuse, the caller may get hostile and increase the threats. These calls and emails are always a fraud. The IRS will always contact you by mail first if you owe any back taxes. Do not provide any information to these callers. Hang up the telephone immediately.
- Craigslist Employment Scam – This is fake job offer scam where the scammer posts a job on Craigslist, advertising a position at a well-known organization. The job posting usually offers high pay and claims you don’t need experience. When you respond to the posting, the scammer will try to get your private information. The scammer may also ask for an application fee or a training fee. You should always verify whether the job opening exists by going to the company’s website to see if the opening is there. Do not provide any private information until you confirm the caller’s identity. Never send money to anyone for the promise of employment.
- Debt Collection Scam – This is a phone and email scam from fake debt collectors who threaten to freeze your bank account, file a lawsuit against you, or have you deported or arrested, and demand payment immediately. Sometimes, the caller will use a fake name that sounds like a law firm or other legitimate company. The caller may already know some information about you such as your address, bank account or last four digits of your social security number. Do not give out any more information until you verify the identity of the caller. Do not make any payments without verifying the debt with the creditor. This is especially true if you do not recognize the debt. You can pull up your credit report to confirm if you owe the claimed debt. Always ask for written verification of the debt, by mail, before agreeing to make any payments.
- Free Airline Tickets Scam – This is an email or regular mail scam stating that you won free roundtrip airline tickets. The offer appears to be from a real airline and gives a telephone number and response date. The caller usually says you must attend a sales presentation to receive the tickets, but you will never receive the tickets or the tickets will be impossible to use due to restrictions and fees. It is best not to respond to unsolicited offers and promises of prizes, free goods or services.
- Online Dating Scam – This is an online scam that begins on a dating website where the scammer usually uses fake pictures and personal information to gain your trust. After gaining your trust, the scammer begins asking for money. The scammer may ask for money to visit you or to solve a financial crisis. If anyone on an online dating site asks for money, end the relationship. Do not give them any financial or confidential information.
- Family Member or Friend in Crisis Scam – This is an email and phone scam where the scammer pretends to be a relative or friend who is in need of money. The scammer may say they were traveling overseas when they were robbed or got into an accident, and will ask you to wire money immediately to help them out of trouble. If you do send money, they will continue to ask for more. The scammer may contact an elderly person pretending to be a grandchild in need of money. Or may pretend to be a police officer, doctor or lawyer saying a relative needs help getting out of trouble.
- Bank Alert Scam – This is an email and text scam where the scammer sends a message that appears to be from your bank. The message typically claims the bank froze your account due to too many incorrect log-in attempts or it may provide some other alarming information about your bank account. The scammer will provide you with a link that will take you to a website that will appear to be your bank’s website. It will then ask you to provide your user identification and password or create new ones. The scammer will ask you to confirm other private information such as your bank account number and Social Security number. If you receive an unsolicited email or text, contact your bank right away. Do not respond to the email or text and do not provide any private information in response to such an email or text.
- Fake Loan Offer Scam – This is an email or phone scam where the scammer offers a small loan. The scammer may say there is no credit check or lengthy application process. After you respond to the offer, the scammer asks you to pay some upfront fee, usually $100 or so. If the scammer sees you are willing to pay that fee, they will come up with another reason for another fee. Sometimes, the scammer promises to pay you the money back in the loan amount. Often, you will be asked for payment via Western Union. In these situations, there is no loan. The scammer is only trying to get you to pay them some money and will disappear.
- Student Loan Relief Scam – This is an online or phone scam where the scammer promises to enroll you in a program to forgive your student loans. The scammer often pretends to be from the Department of Education and asks for money to help you enroll in the program. There are only a few loan forgiveness programs and you do not need to pay anyone to help you enroll in these programs. If you need help with your student loan payment, do not pay anyone to help you resolve the problem. Contact your lender or loan servicer for direct help.
If you are a victim of consumer fraud or scam, immediately report it. You can contact the police and/or the District Attorney’s Office. You can also file a complaint with federal, state and/or local government agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Consumer Protection, the NYS Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, or the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs. You can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
Legal Editors: Marshall Coleman, Esq. and Mark Grossman, Esq., May 2018
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.