Montana Department of Justice
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Office of Consumer Protection Offers Scam Protection Tips as Part of Consumer Protection Week

During National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Tim Fox urges Montanans to contact his Office of Consumer Protection if they think they are, or may be, victims of a scam.

In 2016, more than half of the callers who contacted the Office of Consumer Protection at the Montana Department of Justice were concerned about scams or potential scams.  Elderly persons, and their friends and family members, especially need to be on the alert for these scammers because scammers target our senior citizens.

“Our Office of Consumer Protection fielded nearly 3,000 calls to report scams last year, about 500 more than in 2015,” Attorney General Tim Fox said.  “I think this 20% increase in calls is a sign of two things: First, scammers are unfortunately more active than ever and show no signs of slowing down.  And second, that Montana consumers are becoming more aware of red flags that may indicate they are being targeted in an attempted scam.  While we wish there was no need for it, we are glad to see our efforts to educate consumers in our state are having a positive impact, and helping people keep their identities and money secure.  But the fact remains that we can never do enough to protect consumers, particularly our senior citizens, from these scams. Consequently, I have directed our dedicated staff at my Office of Consumer Protection to redouble their efforts to protect Montanans from these crooks.”

Attorney General Fox encourages all Montanans to keep learning about common scams, and offers these consumer protection tips:

1. Don’t agree to deposit a check and wire money back.   By law, banks have to make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks.  You are responsible for the checks you deposit.  If a check turns out to be a fake, you are responsible for paying back the bank.  No matter how convincing the story, someone who overpays with a check is almost certainly a scam artist.

2. Don’t send money to someone you do not know, including someone you have only met online and over the phone.  While real relationships are increasingly being started through online dating sites and mobile apps, unfortunately it is extremely easy for scammers to set up a fake profile in order to connect with genuine users of the matchmaking services and then exploit the person’s feelings for the fake profile.

If you think you have found a good deal, but you are not familiar with the company, check it out.  Type the company or product name into your favorite search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.”  See what comes up.

Never pay fees first for the promise of a big pay-off later — whether it is for a loan, a job, a grant, or a so-called “prize.”

3. Don’t send money to a “government” agent who calls and threatens to arrest you.  Thieves call taxpayers and claim to be IRS or law enforcement officials.  They misrepresent that you owe taxes or other debts.  They threaten to arrest you unless you immediately pay your “taxes” through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.  They often alter telephone caller ID to make it look like the IRS or a law enforcement agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use your name, address, and other personal information to make the call sound official.

Remember that the IRS will not:

• Call you to demand immediate payment.
• Call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
• Demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount you owe.
• Require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card.
• Ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
• Threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.

4.  Always read the fine print on a “free trial” offer for any product or service.  Often if the sign-up process requires you to enter your credit or debit card information, the “free trial” may not be so free after all.  You may be charged for shipping, or be enrolled in an automatic-shipment program where you are charged for periodic shipments of the company’s products until you contact them to “opt out” of the program.

5.  Read your monthly statements.  Scammers steal account information and then run up charges or commit crimes in your name.  Dishonest merchants bill you for monthly “membership fees” and other goods or services without your authorization.  If you see charges you do not recognize or you did not make, contact your bank, card issuer, or other creditor immediately.

6.  Know that wiring money is like sending cash.  Scammers often insist that people wire money, especially overseas, because it is nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money.  Do not wire money to strangers, to sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment, or to anyone who claims to be a relative or friend in an emergency and wants to keep the request a secret.

7.  Remember that there is no sure thing in investing.  If someone contacts you with low-risk, high-return investment opportunities, just say no.  When you hear pitches that insist you act now, that guarantee big profits, that promise little or no financial risk, or that demand that you send cash immediately, report them to the Office of Consumer Protection by calling 800-481-6896.

8.  Don’t reply to messages asking for personal or financial information.  Con artists use emails, phone calls, text messages, and advertisements.  Do not click on links or call phone numbers included in the messages.  The con artists behind these messages are trying to trick you into revealing sensitive information.  If you got a message like this and you are concerned about your account status, call the number on your credit or debit card – or your statement – and check on it.

9.  Talk to your doctor before you buy health products or treatments.  Ask about research that supports a product’s claims.  Ask about possible risks and side effects.  In addition, buy prescription drugs only from licensed U.S. pharmacies.  Otherwise, you could end up with products that are fake, expired, or mislabeled.

10.  In the aftermath of a disaster, give to an established charity, rather than one that has sprung up overnight.  Pop-up charities probably do not have the infrastructure to get help to the affected areas or people, and they could be collecting the money to finance illegal activity.

To report an attempted scam, use OCP’s convenient online reporting form here.  You can also call to speak with an OCP investigator at (800) 481-6896 or (406) 444-4500, visit OCP’s homepage at https://dojmt.gov/consumer/, or call your local law enforcement agency.  To get updates on the latest scams and identity theft attempts affecting Montanans, sign up for Consumer Alerts through the Office of Consumer Protection. Finally, OCP has developed a laminated flyer of helpful “Simple Tips to Avoid Scammers.”  This flier can be placed by your phone or computer as a convenient reminder of how to avoid getting scammed. If you would like to receive one of these flyers, call or email OCP.

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Attorney General's Office & Legal Services Division

The Attorney General’s Office, headed by Attorney General Tim Fox, and the Legal Services Division function as the lawyers for the State of Montana. The attorneys in the Office have expertise in a wide range of legal topics and handle a broad range of legal cases involving the State of Montana and its people.

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Children’s Justice Bureau

The Children’s Justice Bureau is an agency-wide initiative at the Montana Department of Justice dedicated to IMPROVING how we respond to child victims, DEVELOPING state-of-the-art approaches by keeping up with the newest research and, most importantly, HELPING child victims recover and move on with their lives.

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Forensic Science Division & State Crime Lab

The mission of the Montana Forensic Science Division is to use operationally efficient and financially responsible practices as the laboratory provides accurate, objective, and timely forensic analyses to the criminal justice community in order to maximize value to the citizens of Montana.

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Missing Persons Clearinghouse

The Missing Children Act of 1985 established a Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse within the Department of Justice. In March 2008, the department implemented a searchable online database that, for the first time, is updated in real time and includes any photos provided by law enforcement.

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Office of Victim Services

The goal of the Office of Victim Services is to provide tools and information to help crime victims recover from their experience and provide them with a range of services available. The criminal justice system can be confusing and intimidating for victims. To assist them as they go through the justice system, the Office of Victim Service is available to answer any questions they may have.

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Central Services Division

The Montana Department of Justice’s Central Services Division provides financial and human resources support for the department. We make sure that everything works for the people Working for Justice. If you’re interested in a rewarding career helping protect the rights and safety of all Montanans, we invite you to join our team of over 800 dedicated employees working across the state.

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Justice Information Technology Services Division

Our Justice Information Technology Services Division (JITSD) provides vital Information Technology (IT) infrastructure upon which Montanans and local and state law enforcement agencies rely for timely, accurate information. JITSD manages the IT systems, services, and interfaces to support nearly 800 DOJ employees, 325 statewide county motor vehicle system users, and over 3,000 Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN) users across the state.

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Division of Criminal Investigation

The Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) at the Montana Department of Justice is involved in many aspects of Montana law enforcement and is integral to the Department of Justice’s mission of promoting public safety.

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Montana Highway Patrol

Montana is rich in natural beauty and history. From Glacier Park in the west to Makoshika Park in the east, the men and women of the Montana Highway Patrol are working hard to make your travels safe and enjoyable. The Highway Patrol’s core values are “Service, Integrity and Respect.” These values are reflected in our commitment to public safety through diligent and fair enforcement of our traffic codes.

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Montana Law Enforcement Academy

The Montana Law Enforcement Academy is the premier law enforcement and public safety educational and training institution for state, county, city and tribal officers throughout the state. The Academy offers entry-level programs referred to as Basic Programs and advanced training through an array of Professional Development Programs.

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Public Safety Officer Standards & Training

The Council was formed in 2007 under 2-15-2029, MCA as an independent Quasi-judicial board. And as allowed by statute the Council adopted Administrative Rules in order to implement the provisions of Title 44, chapter 4, part 4, MCA. Per 44-4-403, MCA the Council is required to set employment and training standards for all Public Safety Officers as defined in 44-4-401, MCA and in addition the Council shall provide for the certification or recertification of public safety officers and for the suspension or revocation of certification of public safety officers.

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Motor Vehicle Division

The mission of the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) is to identify and promote efficient, cost-effective programs that benefit the interests, safety, and well-being of Montana citizens through licensing, registering, and regulating the motoring activities of the public. The MVD continuously strives for excellence in customer service. Streamlining the way we do business has allowed us to improve our efficiency and make our services more convenient for our customers.

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Natural Resource Damage Program

The Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) was created in 1990 to prepare the state’s lawsuit against the Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) for injuries to the natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin (UCFRB). Decades of mining and mineral processing operations in and around Butte and Anaconda released substantial quantities of hazardous substances into the Upper Clark Fork River Basin between Butte and Milltown. These hazardous substances extensively degraded the area’s natural resources.

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Office of Consumer Protection

Enforce consumer laws designed to protect the consumer from unfair or deceptive business practices. Enforce statutes relating to telephone solicitation and telemarketing. Provide information to consumers about the Consumer Protection Act. Assist consumers by distributing consumer education materials including scam and consumer alerts. Investigate false, misleading, or deceptive trade practices.

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Gambling Control Division

Through the Gambling Control Division, the Department of Justice regulates all forms of gambling in Montana, except for the Montana Lottery and horse racing. The legislature has charged the division with maintaining a uniform regulatory climate that is fair and free of corrupt influences. The division is also responsible for collecting gambling revenue for state and local governments.

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Human Trafficking

The Montana Department of Justice has a continued commitment to victims of human trafficking. In partnership with federal authorities, our agency plays a key role in the investigation, enforcement, and prosecution of crimes related to human trafficking in Montana. This form of modern day slavery does happen here in Big Sky Country.

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Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Program

Montana’s deadliest drugs aren’t made in secret labs and they don’t always come from dealers on the corner. They’re in our own medicine cabinets. Each year, prescription drug abuse contributes to the deaths of more than 300 Montanans — making prescription drug abuse 15 times more deadly than meth, heroin and cocaine combined. Our kids report the third-highest rate of prescription drug abuse in the country and more than half of them say prescription drugs are easier to get than street drugs.

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Safe in Your Space

When it comes to embracing new technology, kids have rapidly outpaced their parents and teachers. By their early school years, many children are already more comfortable on the Internet than their parents. But just because children are smart enough to know how to navigate the Internet, doesn’t mean they have the experience to make good decisions about some of the possibilities they may face online.

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Montana Sexual or Violent Offender Registry

Created by the Montana Department of Justice in 1989, the Sexual or Violent Offender Registry is a valuable resource for Montanans to protect their families against sexual or violent offenders.

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Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program

Drinking and driving has been a chronic – and deadly — problem on Montana’s roadways for decades. In 2008, Montana was ranked as the deadliest state in the nation when it came to per capita DUI-related traffic fatalities.

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Work for Justice

Everyday at The Montana Department of Justice, our employees are dedicated to ensuring the well-being and rights of the people of our great state. We’re passionate about what we do because it’s more than a job or a career. It’s about who we are as people. If this sounds like you, your unique experiences, knowledge, and values may be just what the Montana Department of Justice is looking for and needs. In return we can offer a culture that promotes fairness and growth opportunities.

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