Attorney General Alerts
Law Enforcement Imposters Threaten ArkansansWed, Feb 7, 2018
LITTLE ROCK – Criminals have rapidly adopted a frightening new scam that could place all law-abiding Arkansans at risk by simply exploiting the trust we all place in law enforcement. Scammers are impersonating law enforcement officers and threatening Arkansans with arrest if they do not immediately pay money. Some scammers tell potential victims that they have failed to appear as a witness and a warrant for their arrest will be issued unless the victim sends a prepaid credit card. Other scammers threaten victims with arrest and deportation if they do not send money.
“Con artists are preying on our respect for the law enforcement community by posing as officers in order to intimidate Arkansans,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “These criminals are reaching new lows and can be very convincing. If an Arkansan receives a call from a law enforcement officer, they should look up the phone number for that officer’s agency and call to speak with someone at the agency directly.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help spot this scam and avoid falling victim:
- Courts and law enforcement agencies do not seek or accept payment in prepaid gift cards.
- If a consumer owes money, legitimate collectors must first send a written notice confirming the debt.
- Consumers should not confirm or provide personal or financial information to an unknown person over the phone or internet.
Keep in mind that con artists do not follow the law and disregard the do-not-call registry. Technological advances allow for Caller ID spoofing, allowing scammers to disguise the source of the calls.
For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or email@example.com or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
IRS Scammers Still Targeting ConsumersWed, Jan 31, 2018
LITTLE ROCK – The IRS scam has seen a dramatic increase in recent weeks. Callers to the Arkansas Attorney General’s office are reporting scammers posing as the IRS in an attempt to steal money and personal information. The recent scam calls have all been made from an Atlanta phone number with a 470 area code.
“These scammers continue to update their tactics and try to intimidate Arkansans,” said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “We have seen a number of different versions of this scam, but Arkansans should know that the IRS will never call you in this manner.”
The IRS recently reminded consumers how to easily recognize scam calls. Consumers should know that the IRS will not do the following:
- Call demanding immediate payment. The IRS will not call if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
- Demand that taxes are paid without providing the individual the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Require a specific form of tax payment. For example, demanding a payment with a prepaid debit card.
- Ask consumers for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.
The IRS strongly recommends that Arkansans who receive these threatening calls not give out any personal information and hang up immediately, contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484 to report the call and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The agency also requests that any scam emails be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The IRS encourages Arkansans with any questions about owed taxes to contact their office directly at (800) 829-1040.
For more information about other common scams and consumer-related issues, please call the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.
Timeshare Resale ScamsThu, Jan 25, 2018
LITTLE ROCK – Con artists are playing the odds and cold calling Arkansans about selling their timeshares. While many Arkansans do not “own” a timeshare, those who do may fall victim to this scam. The callers are preying on consumers who may be surprised by expensive annual maintenance fees, difficulty exchanging specific dates or locations or that property values have remained the same or decreased when they thought they would increase, and want out of their timeshare agreement.
A timeshare is a type of property in which an “owner” buys the right to use it for a contractually-designated period of time and are commonly condominium units located in a popular destination city and often have multiple “owners.”
“Timeshare ‘owners’ who find themselves wanting to sell their portion of the property are often left confused and may believe this is an easy way out,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Consumers must beware of these scam artists promising the quick sale of the ‘owner’s’ portion of the timeshare. Legitimate businesses can help consumers sell, but Arkansans must do their research to find reliable sellers.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for Arkansans looking to resell their timeshare:
- Beware of timeshare unsolicited resellers contacting you with the promise to resell your timeshare.
- If they say they have willing buyers, it is probably a lie.
- Never pay a substantial advance fee for resale assistance. A reputable seller will charge a commission paid only upon sale, like a normal real estate transaction. An advance fee may be called a marketing fee, a listing fee, an internet advertising fee or other related fee.
- Get an independent appraisal from a licensed appraiser before agreeing on any resale assistance contract.
- Deal only with licensed agents.
The timeshare industry has become a popular platform for a number of con artists to take advantage of ‘owners’ desperate to sell. They claim to offer assistance in selling the timeshare and take away the burden of the continuing costs of ownership. These operations collect hundreds or thousands of dollars in so-called deed transfer or marketing fees but never complete the sale.
The timeshare industry was rapidly expanding in the 1970s and 1980s, which resulted in an overdeveloped market and flood of properties that now have depressed values. These circumstances make the resale of timeshares difficult. Like the real estate market, the timeshare industry fluctuates and is unpredictable.
The Cost of Refund Anticipation LoansWed, Jan 17, 2018
LITTLE ROCK – Although some companies offer refund anticipation loans during tax season, these loans can actually cost consumers money. Arkansans planning to receive a refund this year often are excitedly looking forward to a lump sum return. But when opting to use a refund anticipation loan, consumers rarely plan to give a large portion of their tax returns to interest rates.
Refund anticipation loans (RALs) and refund anticipation checks (RACs) are high-interest loans that must be repaid by the actual tax return proceeds, essentially borrowing your own money. If the actual tax refund amount is less than estimated, the buyer is on the hook for the difference.
“Waiting on the government to issue a tax return can be frustrating,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “But a refund anticipation loan or check can take a substantial amount of your hard-earned money out of your tax return check. I encourage all Arkansans to practice patience to ensure they receive their entire tax refund.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following considerations before agreeing to have taxes prepared as part of a Refund Anticipation Loan:
- Free or low-cost options such as the online Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Free File program or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance may be options.
- Electronically-filed returns can be deposited in bank accounts in as few as eight days.
- The IRS can also provide refunds by check or prepaid debit card.
- Always get a written list of fees before entering into any agreement or requesting tax preparation assistance.
Refund Anticipation Checks are similar to Refund Anticipation Loans and can be attractive to some consumers because businesses often waive tax preparation fees, but many Arkansans can obtain free tax preparation services. The IRS provides a Free File program online that is a federal tax preparation and electronic-filing program for approximately 70 percent of taxpayers who earn less than $66,000. Eligible consumers can go to IRS.gov and choose from multiple private companies that will file federal returns at no charge.
Some Arkansans may also be eligible to receive free help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Meanwhile, seniors can contact AARP to learn more about the tax preparation services they provide.
Arkansas’s “Refund Anticipation Loan Act” requires rates to be posted and clearly stated for all consumers to see, and, among other requirements, they must be provided with a written statement explaining the loan or check-issuing process. Those offering Refund Anticipation Loans are prohibited from charging additional fees or requiring consumers to take out such loans in exchange for tax services.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention MonthWed, Jan 10, 2018
LITTLE ROCK – The White House recently declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The International Labour Organization reports nearly 21 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, including labor and sex trafficking of both children and adults. Human trafficking occurs when force is used to control another person for labor or sexual purposes and is considered a form of modern-day slavery.
“Human trafficking is not a crime that is only committed in other states or countries; it’s a crime that occurs in our hometowns across Arkansas,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “We can all help to recognize and report suspected trafficking, potentially saving the lives of victims and penalizing those who commit such a heinous crime.”
The Polaris Project released the following red flags to spot a potential victim of human trafficking:
- Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense or nervous/paranoid
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
- Avoids eye contact
- Appears malnourished
- Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his/her own identification documents like an ID or passport
- Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves, a third party may insist on being present and/or translating
- Claims of just visiting and an inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
- Loss of sense of time
- Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
The Human Trafficking Hotline reports that Arkansans submitted about 20 potential human trafficking cases in 2017 on both the hotline and BeFree Textline. Arkansans can submit tips to the hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or via text to “BeFree” (233733).
Low Temperatures Equal High Heating BillsWed, Jan 3, 2018
LITTLE ROCK – If the recent cold snap is a sign of what is to come this winter, Arkansans can expect higher than normal energy costs. The low temperatures mean furnaces are working overtime, and more money is draining from our pocketbooks to try to stay warm. But there are ways we can all save some money and beat high heating costs this winter.
“There are ways to save money, while still staying warm this winter,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Cold weather can impact a family’s bottom line which could impact another part of the budget. But just a few steps could help Arkansans stick to that budget.”
Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to keep energy costs low throughout the colder months.
- Use a programmable thermostat to automatically lower the temperature when no one is home. Some newer models can connect to smartphones providing access regardless of your location.
- Seal cracks or holes around the home by weather-stripping doors and windows and adding insulation to walls, the attic and crawlspace to prevent loss of heat.
- Set ceiling fans to spin clockwise to recirculate rising hot air.
- Make sure baseboard heaters, air vents and radiators are unobstructed.
- Service the heating system at least once a year to ensure it is operating properly.
- Consult with a licensed plumber regarding potentially wrapping the water heater in a water heater insulating blanket and turning down the temperature to the warm setting to save money.
- Close the vents and doors to rooms that are not being used.
- Keep air filters clean and replace regularly.
Many Arkansans burn wood as a heat source, while other consumers heat with liquefied petroleum gas. Gas users should consider signing a long-term contract with a provider in order to lock in a specific price over a set period. Homeowners should also assess consumption needs and order propane refills prior to the current supply running out. Other heating sources like space heaters require caution and must be located away from flammable materials and can often impact energy costs. The Department of Energy reports that space heaters account for about 45 percent of energy bills in average U.S. homes.
Take caution of any products claiming to drastically lower heating costs and avoid unsolicited high-pressure sales calls or visits from contractors offering furnaces, windows, roofing and other home-improvement projects. Remember if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Other tips and resources are available at EnergyEfficiencyArkansas.org, a partnership between Arkansas utility companies and the Arkansas Energy Office. You can also reach out to your electricity or natural gas provider to see if they have any programs to reduce weather-related heating costs.
For more information about navigating utility costs and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@ArkansasAG.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.