CONSUMER ALERT: MOST COMMON SCAMS OF 2013 IDENTIFIED

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March 12, 2014

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas consumers who are targeted by con artists risk more than just annoyance and inconvenience. Scammers can take hundreds or even thousands of dollars from consumers who fall victim to their illegal actions.

However, with some vigilance and a little advance knowledge of a scammer’s tactics, most consumers can effectively defend themselves against scam attempts.

To help consumers avoid scams, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today listing details about the five most common scams reported to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division in 2013. The top five scams that affected Arkansans last year are still widespread, and several of the scams or variations on them have been prevalent for decades.

“Con artists tend to use similar tactics such as a promise to send money or cars, but only if consumers provide some money first, no matter what type of scam it may be,” McDaniel said. “Having to pay money in order to get money is usually a good indicator of a scam. Also, consumers should always remember that something that seems too good to be true almost always is.”

McDaniel recommended that consumers do research online if they believe an offer to be suspicious, as well as ask questions and get as many details as possible about the scammer that has approached them, such as phone numbers and other contact information. Scams should be reported to local law enforcement and to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. The Consumer Protection Division’s website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, contains information specific to scams and how consumers can protect themselves.

In 2013, the Consumer Protection Division fielded almost 7,500 complaints from consumers and recovered more than $1.8 million, mostly for consumers involved in legitimate business disputes. Based on those complaints related to scams, here are the top five most common scams from 2013:

INTERNATIONAL LOTTERY: The “International Lottery” scam and variations of it target thousands of consumers every year. In it, consumers are told they have won a brand-name sweepstakes or a lottery promotion and are promised cash or prizes, only if they pay a processing fee or “taxes” upfront. The promised prizes, of course, never arrive. An increasingly popular version of this scheme involves consumers receiving a phone call, typically originating from Jamaica, with the pitch that the new cars or cash are nearby and waiting to be delivered.

CREDIT CARD CALLS: Scammers use automated, prerecorded calls, also known as "robocalls," in which the scammers offer to help consumers lower interest rates on their credit card bills, but at a price. These scammers take a consumer’s money but provide no interest-rate relief. Those that do provide some help merely transfer the debt to another credit card with a promotional rate. Once that rate runs out, the subsequent interest rate is most often the same or higher than the previous rate. Additionally, scammers are using robocalls to tout scam medical alert and home alarm services.

GRANDCHILD SCAM: There are countless variations of the “favorite grandchild” scam, in which con artists make an emotional ploy to consumers, usually senior citizens, in an attempt to get them to wire money. The scammers purport to be a grandchild or a friend of the grandchild and say that the grandchild is in immediate danger or needs urgent help with medical costs or other expenses. The victim is asked to transfer money, usually to a foreign location. Of course, once money is wired out of the country, it is nearly impossible to get back. Those who believe they may be victims of such a scam should contact other relatives to determine whether there is an actual emergency.

PAYDAY LOAN COLLECTOR: Con artists in this scam try to extort money from a consumer by stating that he or she owes payments on a payday loan. The persistent callers contact the consumer’s workplace and even threaten jail time for those who don’t pay. Victims should disregard the threats and ask the scammer to provide written verification of the debt.

UTILITY SHUTOFF: Businesses and consumers in Arkansas and across the nation have been victim to a scam in which someone impersonating as a utility provider demands payment on supposedly delinquent bills. The scammer claims utility services will be shut off unless the consumer pays by a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, instead of a traditionally accepted form of payment. Consumers who receive this type of call or email should hang up and call the utility company directly.

For more information about these or other scams, or for general information about consumer issues, visit the Consumer Protection Division’s website, www.GotYourBackArkansas.org, or call the division’s hotline, (800) 482-8982.

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