Office of Consumer Protection Offers Scam Protection Tips

National Consumer Protection Week March 6 – 12

HELENA – As National Consumer Protection Week begins, 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 2015, 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. “Our Office of Consumer Protection received nearly 2,500 calls regarding scams last year,” Attorney General Fox said. “It can be hard to know who you’re dealing with in today’s world, so the best way to protect yourself from getting ripped off is to stay informed and trust your gut. And don’t hesitate to call our Office of Consumer Protection with any concerns; we’re here to help.”

One such caller was Missoula County’s Kate Wenninger, who had received a check for $2,800 and was instructed to wire $2,500 to someone she didn’t know. “I was concerned and checked with the Office of Consumer Protection,” Ms. Wenninger said. “I am grateful that the Office of Consumer Protection confirmed my suspicion that this was a scam. I did not send the $2,500. The $2,800 check was no good.”

Attorney General Fox offers Montanans 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. It is best to do business with someone you know and trust. If you buy items through an outline auction, consider using a payment option that provides protection, like a credit card.

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 officials. They misrepresent that you owe taxes. 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 another 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.

In fact, 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). Know who you are dealing with. Try to find a seller’s physical address (not a P.O. Box) and phone number. With Internet phone services and other web-based technologies, it is tough to tell where someone is calling from. Do an online search for the company name and website and look for reviews. If people report negative experiences, you will have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. After all, a deal is good only if you get a product that actually works as promised.

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. Call 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). After a disaster, give only to established charities. 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 a scam or get more information, call the Montana Office of Consumer Protections at 1-800-481-6896. To register for free Scam Alerts, visit https://dojmt.gov/consumer/sign-up-for-scam-alerts/