|NEWARK – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today continued the commemoration of National Consumer Protection Week by highlighting some new scams that are emerging this year, as wily thieves take advantage of new technologies, changing laws, and even the hotly contested presidential race in their efforts to scam victims.
“Fraudsters prefer to stick with the scams that work, but when the public gets wise to a particular scam, they have to change it up,” said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “So far this year, consumers have been seeing some old scams with new twists.”
With many consumers well-versed in common cons involving lottery winnings and foreign investment opportunities, fraudsters this year are coming out with new pitches based on topical events to make them sound more believable.
Scams to watch for in 2016:
Political Donation Scam –Fraudsters looking to cash in on the hotly contested 2016 presidential race are making bogus calls seeking political donations. Consumers who wouldn’t dream of handing over their credit card information to a “foreign investor” are more apt to do it in support of their favorite candidate. Especially when fraudsters use high-tech tricks like spoofing a candidate’s phone number so that the call seems to come from campaign headquarters and using audio clips of the candidate’s voice to make the call seem like the real thing.
Federal Debt Collection Scam – The bogus IRS calls demanding payment for tax debts that made the rounds last year will be even bigger in 2016, thanks to a change in federal law that allows the government to use “robocall” technology to collect debt. In the past, consumers were told to hang up on these phony calls because no legitimate government debt collector would contact them by phone. Now, consumers will have to figure out whether these calls are bogus or the real deal. Fraudsters are cashing in on the confusion by increasing the number of IRS calls and adding demands for federal student loans and mortgages to the mix, too.
Mobile Wallet Thefts - The growing popularity of mobile apps like Google Wallet and Apple Pay, which allow consumers to store their debit and credit card information in their smartphones, is making traditional wallets obsolete. With a wave of their smartphones, consumers can make purchases without having to pull out money or plastic. But that convenience comes at a price. The more personal information consumers have on their phones the more vulnerable they are to theft. One stolen smartphone can give thieves access to bank accounts, credit accounts, and a host of other personal information. And with phones now serving as mobile computers, the dangers of internet hackers and scammers getting into consumers’ pockets looms large. All this spells opportunity for thieves in 2016.
Data Breaches – As reports of data hacks at online sites, hospitals, and private companies grow, so do consumers’ fears. Not only are the odds of being victimized by a mass information breach increasing, but so are the ways fraudsters are using this pilfered data. From blackmailing unfaithful spouses with secrets stolen from online cheating sites to building phony identities from information gleaned from employee databanks, thieves are doing far more than running up consumers’ credit cards. Expect this trend to continue in 2016.
But the good news for consumers is that they can protect themselves against these new scams and fraud risks with awareness, vigilance, and common sense. By following some basic tips, consumers can avoid falling victim to fraud.
Tips to Staying Safe:
Consumers should never send money, give away their personal or financial information, orclick on a link or attachment online, without first taking the time to make sure the communication they received is valid. Always independently verify the information in an email, phone call, or letter. Use another source to find a separate phone number for the person or entity that supposedly made the communication, in order to verify whether it was genuine.
Just as important, consumers should never act without thinking. This is true especially when dealing with a sales pitch, solicitation, or a threat that says “you must act right away.” And even more so if the consumer is told, “keep this confidential and don’t tell anyone about this deal.”
Consumers who store credit or debit card information in their smartphone should safeguard it as they would their wallet. If the phone is lost or stolen, consumers should cancel their credit and debit cards immediately and change the passwords to their accounts, including credit and financial institutions, and social media sites.
Consumers should check their credit history frequently. While they might not have control over whether a thief hacks a workplace or online database that contains their personal information, consumers who keep track of their credit line can mitigate the damages by quickly thwarting attempts to open fraudulent credit accounts and loans in their name.
Additional Information from the Division of Consumer Affairs:
Consumers seeking information about fraud prevention can find additional information in the following, free publications on the Division’s website:
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of marketplace abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. NCPW 2016 will take place March 7 through March 11, 2016. Additional information is available at www.NCPW.gov.