2017 Fraud and Scam Alerts
Sadly, while reports of scams and fraudulent activity were initially included with news items of interest on the site, it became clear that there were enough reports to merit a page of their own. Now we've collected enough to separate them by year.
Tennessee seniors deserve better than to be victimized in what should be their golden years. The best defensive strategy is knowledge and awareness of criminal behavior. It is much harder for con artists to succeed if you shut them out. Visit this page regularly for tips on the latest scams, targets, and appropriate responses. In almost every case, the headline for each warning is a link back to the full, original report.
The Better Business Bureau maintains its Scam Tracker online. You may also find useful information on AARP's Scams and Frauds and Fraud Watch Network pages, as well as this site's own page on combating fraud. Additionally, reports and tips regarding fraud are available online from the Office of Inspector General and the Federal Trade Commission.
And if you're here because you've already been a victim (or think you may be a victim) and want to know how to respond, visit: Scammed. Now What?
CBS News reminds us that where there is storm damage there is often a group of people hoping to scam victims. In the case of hurricane victims in Texas, some people are receiving calls that their flood insurance premiums are overdue. Fake charities are also appearing online, including email and social networks. "Officials expect more Harvey-related fraud in the coming months as recovery efforts get under way," warns the report.
Read the full story, which ends with ways to report suspected disaster fraud. In Tennessee, our natural disasters are more likely to involve severe weather outbreaks or fire, but the same types of scams can still be attempted in those cases. Learn in advance how to protect yourself.
Added September 6, 2017
Nashville's WSMV reports on a scam for which a woman was recruited to process bad payroll checks. She was paid to print and mail them, in this case to people who had ads on Craigslist. She eventually notified the police, but not before sending $300,000 worth of bad checks to places all over the country.
As part of this story, police again advised people not to put checks in home mailboxes. They are too easy to steal, and the information on the check can be used to create fake checks. If you must pay for something with a check and by mail, carry the payment to your post office.
Added September 6, 2017
The Better Business Bureau is reminding people that storms and tragedies bring out con artists and scammers looking to prey on your kindness. Be careful. Make sure your money will actually go to someone who truly needs it. Read the full story from Nashville's WSMV.
Verify that a charitable organization can be trusted by visiting give.org.
Added August 31, 2017
This is a new one! Smokey Barn News warns about a scam involving a delivery, one you didn't request. A scam company sends you the package, then reports you to a collection agency with the claim that you owe for the package. That's right, they try to make you pay for the thing you didn't order in the first place, even when you send it right back. Read the full story.
Added August 14, 2017
WREG News Channel 3 out of Memphis, Tennessee reminds us that our publicly posted information can be used against us, that even an obituary can provide a con artist with enough information to make you seem like an attractive target.
Added July 20, 2017
WSMV.com reports that the Dickson County Sheriff's Office is reporting that residents are currently experiencing the ongoing jury duty phone scam. The claim? "You missed jury duty and now owe a fine that must be paid by prepaid debit card or wire transfer." It doesn't work that way. If you receive a call like that, hang up.
Added June 29, 2017
Memphis WREG News Channel 3 passes along a warning from the Shelby County Sheriff's Office: Law enforcement impersonators may come at you by text claiming you've been caught by radar or camera and owe a fine. Learn to identify the signs.
Added June 28, 2017
Memphis WREG News Channel 3 shares a story that highlights how easy it is to have mail rerouted with a change-of-address request. Thieves are starting to use that to get your mail, submitting a request for an address change so that your mail is delivered to an address of their choice. Read the story.
If you receive an unexpected change-of-address notice in your mailbox or stop receiving mail, consider contacting your post office to make sure nothing is wrong.
Added June 28, 2017
The Blount County Sheriff's office is warning that a victim paid $2,100 to avoid being arrested for missing jury duty. The problem is, the victim didn't miss jury duty, and the sheriff's office—no sheriff's office—is going to call and threaten you with arrest if you don't pay a fine. As is often true, the scammer demanded payment using a prepaid money card, this one a GreenDot Visa card; the numbers are provided over the phone.
When a stranger asks you for money over the phone by prepaid card, hang up. It isn't rude to protect yourself.
Added June 19, 2017
WATE.com offers tips in a report titled "How to avoid being the victim of a scam." And the Times Free Press out of Chattanooga shares Better Business Bureau tips for avoiding common elder scams.
Added June 19, 2017
You need to be careful with emails asking you to click on a link. That's not really news. But you should know that scammers are working harder now to make fraudulent messages look real, using copied company logos and other designs. Chattanooga's WRCB warns of an email scam hitting Chattanooga residents. It presents as a FedEx message.
FedEx commented: "FedEx does not send unsolicited emails to customers requesting information about packages or personal information. Any suspicious emails received should be deleted without being opened and reported to firstname.lastname@example.org."
Added June 19, 2017
The headline says it all. WMC Action News 5 out of Memphis warns that a group of men are going door-to-door, pretending to be ADT workers. They are removing actual ADT equipment and replacing it with something else while fooling people into signing a document. ADT says it will not approach its customers this way.
If you suspect a scam, ADT provides the following contact numbers on its website: (Home Sales) 800-521-0772 and (Billing and Service) 800-280-6946.
Added June 19, 2017
Knoxville's WATE warns that the "grandparent scam" of a grandchild supposedly in danger is taking advantage of social media to find new victims. Remember, as the report warns: "If you ever get a call about a relative in trouble and the immediate request is for cash, you need to pause, calm yourself, say you will have to consult another family member first, and hang up." These scams work when you react too fast. The goal is to scare you or play on your emotions and get you to send money without thinking.
Added April 26, 2017
WKRN.com shares a BBB warning about a marketing scam with a Cookeville, Tennessee address. "They say if you invest $800 in the company, you will receive a return from $1,000 to $3,000 for being an early investor." Of course, no one makes any money except the people running the scam. The story says that this scam has victimized people in other states, not just Tennessee. The FBI is now investigating.
Added April 20, 2017
This is not a new scam, but it's important to continue to let people know that this is something active. And there are clearly still people who aren't familiar with this one, enough that there are still new victims.
Remember: (1) Law enforcement will not threaten you by phone with arrest; (2) law enforcement will not demand a payment to avoid an arrest; and (3) if someone insists that you pay them with GreenDot Visa cards, or any other prepaid card, be suspicious.
Added April 13, 2017
Bad news: Remember the warnings that anyone calling and pretending to be the IRS was a scammer? That may not be true anymore. The IRS is partnering with some debt collectors to collect back taxes. You should still receive a notice in the mail before the first call, but this change in business is going to make it even easier for scammers to victimize Americans. Read the full story from Memphis's WMC Action News 5, and remember what Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South Communications Director Nancy Crawford shares, "'Our advice is still the same: if you're not sure you're talking to the IRS—if you haven't received that mail first—hang up and call the IRS yourself.'"
Updated April 17, 2017: IRS Just Hired Private Debt Collection Agencies to Chase Down Your Debt
You can reach the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. For more options, visit the IRS online.
Added April 6, 2017
WKRN and the Better Business Bureau remind Tennessee residents that storm damage brings out the best in some people and the worst in others. Out-of-state and unlicensed contractors can't wait to get their hands on your home and yard after a severe weather event. But as the report warns, "Hiring the wrong person or company can leave homeowners with extensive damages and out the money paid for repairs."
It's safest not to hire strangers going door-to-door for work (and that's any time of year, not just following a severe weather event). Hire local, hire licensed, and hire with references. Read the full story for more tips.
Added April 3, 2017
Nashville's WSMV Channel 4 shares a disturbing report of the jury scam escalating to a tracked conversation. Read the full story.
MONEY PAK CARDS AND OTHER PREPAID CARDS ARE RED FLAGS. If a stranger insists that you use this form of payment for a transaction, be suspicious. Hang up, walk away, end the conversation.
As for these types of scams, these callers that threaten your arrest, Channel 4 added that, "Davidson County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Karla West said in a statement: 'There are several scams that have plagued the mid state over the past several years. The DCSO does not arrest individuals in Davidson County and we never ask for money as you have described. People should never provide personal information or make payment like this no matter what they say.'"
Added March 10, 2017
WTEN out of New York shares a warning about the area codes most often linked to scams.
Remember, if you don't recognize a number, don't answer and don't feel obligated to call back. Let them leave a message. And it's okay to hang up on someone if you become suspicious or feel like something's wrong.
Added March 10, 2017
The IRS Scam, the Tech Support Scam, the Grandchild Scam, and the Romance Scam: people are still becoming victims of these. This CBS News story states that more than 3 million of these scams were reported in 2016 alone, with the average person losing over a $1100. But we know many people, embarrassed, don't report these scams. The numbers are sure to be higher.
Read the story to learn about the warning signs of the most common scams, and always keep in mind that the people looking to take your money usually want to do it in a hurry. They create an emergency or try to make you feel that you have to make a payment quickly. When you feel things moving too fast, that's your cue to STOP. Don't make it easy for them.
Added March 10, 2017
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently confirmed that the HHS OIG Hotline telephone number is being used as part of a telephone spoofing scam targeting individuals throughout the country. These scammers represent themselves as HHS OIG Hotline employees and can alter the appearance of the caller ID to make it seem as if the call is coming from the HHS OIG Hotline 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477). The perpetrator may use various tactics to obtain or verify the victim’s personal information, which can then be used to steal money from an individual’s bank account or for other fraudulent activity. HHS OIG takes this matter seriously. We are actively investigating this matter and intend to have the perpetrators prosecuted.
It is important to know that HHS OIG will not use the HHS OIG Hotline telephone number to make outgoing calls and individuals should not answer calls from 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477). We encourage the public to remain vigilant, protect their personal information, and guard against providing personal information during calls that purport to be from the HHS OIG Hotline telephone number. We also remind the public that it is still safe to call into the HHS OIG Hotline to report fraud. We particularly encourage those who believe they may have been a victim of the telephone spoofing scam to report that information to us through the HHS OIG Hotline 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477) or email@example.com. Individuals may also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357)
Added March 6, 2017
CBS MoneyWatch warns that tax fraud shows no signs of slowing. One interesting strategy for protecting yourself: file early. The story advises that "the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Identity Theft Resource Center are urging taxpayers to take extra precautions to protect their personal data—and file early—to beat identity thieves to the punch. The IRS accepts only one tax return per Social Security number, so filing early gives thieves less time to make you a victim."
Added February 21, 2017
Nashville Electric is warning its customers about a scam, but it's one that could happen anywhere. WSMV Channel 4 shares the warning, in which it's said that fraudulent calls by scammers (who have managed to alter caller ID to display the NES name and number) claim a customer has a past due account. The customer must pay immediately or their power will be cut.
There are some very important details, a list of things to help you avoid becoming a victim of this and similar scams. Read the full story.
Remember, it's a good rule of thumb to hang up anytime anyone calls and threatens you for money. If you're worried you do owe money to a business, find a trustworthy callback number (don't ask the possible scammer for it) and check on your own terms.
A CBS News story on this same topic offers even more good information, pointing out that these calls usually involve urgency. The scammers want you to act fast, before you can think about what they're asking you to do or question them too closely. When you feel pressure to make a decision in a hurry or provide personal or account information (or payment) quickly, that's a sign that you need to hang up.
Added February 16, 2017
WSMV Channel 4 shares a story about a Craigslist "mechanic," a man who posted an ad, was called to repair a car, showed up, had the car owner buy a list of parts, then took the parts to the AutoZone where they were purchased and returned them for $170 in cash. He made no repairs.
You are much safer doing that kind of business with a reputable mechanic or auto shop. Their work usually comes with a warranty, and you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau if the job ever goes really wrong. Hiring strangers through a site like Craigslist is always going to carry greater risk. Anyone can post an ad. Even if they don't intend to do you harm, you have no idea how much experience they have doing the work they're offering to do. It's usually true that you get what you pay for.
If you don't think you can afford a shop or professional for something like car repairs, at least get referrals from friends and people you trust. Don't choose blind.
Added February 16, 2017
There is something worse than being alone, and that's allowing the wrong person into your life. Romance scams can hit older adults particularly hard; there may not be time to recover or replace lost money that took years to save.
When it comes to online dating and relationships, you must remember: Not everyone online is who or what they say they are. Anyone can can create an account using someone else's photo and identity. It's easy to pretend. In many cases, you are not secure when meeting people online, and the identities of the people you meet have not been verified.
If someone you meet online asks for money, be suspicious. If they want to send you money to transfer or hold, be suspicious. And be careful when choosing the photos you share. If you wouldn't want your family, church members, coworkers or employer to see a certain picture of you, don't send it or post it online. You are giving away your control. Once someone has a photo like that, they can do whatever they like with it, and that includes blackmail.
Be cautious. Ask questions. Think before you share. You are the person in the best position to protect yourself.
Added February 16, 2017
New Jury Duty and Outstanding Warrant Phone Scam Warning
WTVF News Channel 5 is sharing a Montgomery County Sheriff's Office warning, a slight twist on scams reported in the past. Once again, a call from someone claiming to be law enforcement warns that a person has missed jury duty or has an outstanding warrant. There is a threat of arrest unless money is quickly paid. The Sheriff's Office, the police, will never call and threaten you for money.
The difference now is that, for people who question the caller, there is another number. In this case, it's 931-233-3625, and it connects with another part of the scam. This is the scammer's attempt to convince you that the first call is real. Never accept a number from someone you don't know. If you question the caller's honesty, then you have to question everything they tell you. As soon as you question a call, any call, hang up.
Identifying a Caller
Do your own research, look for a valid phone number yourself. Use a phone book or find a local law enforcement website. Ask for operator assistance. *Do not call 911. Whatever you do, do not take the word of a stranger who has called you demanding money.
This scam could happen anywhere. But if you're in Montgomery County, Tennessee, the Sheriff's Office non-emergency number is 931-552-1011. There are more options online.
Added February 13, 2017
WREG News Channel 3 out of Memphis is sharing the warning of a scam that's been reported in Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania to date. A call to you from an unfamiliar number starts out normally, then moves to a yes or no question, "Can you hear me?" The scammer is trying to record you answering "Yes," and that recording can then be used against you; they bill you for services or products you know nothing about, then claim they have a recording of your authorization.
Read the full story and remember that it's okay to hang up the phone on a suspicious caller, just as it's okay to shut the door to your home on a stranger. Better yet, think twice about answering a call from an unknown number or even opening your door for a stranger.
Added February 1, 2017
Nashville's WKRN passes along an IRS warning heard before: scam letters claiming you owe taxes related to the Affordable Care Act. The contact can also come by email, text message or phone.
The IRS will NEVER contact you by email or phone.
Read the full WKRN story, visit the IRS website for more tax-related scams, or visit the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee's website for additional scam warnings. If you know what to look for, you won't become a victim.
Added January 24, 2017
A warning from the Blount County sheriff's office in late December is a reminder to all of us that the jury duty phone scam is still alive and well. WATE.com shares Sheriff Berrong's report that, "the scammer calls from (865) 745-5699, using the name of an actual sheriff’s office employee, and says the victim failed appear for a jury summons and must pay a fine." Predictably, the caller wants payment by Green Dot card.
Remember, you will never be contacted by law enforcement and threatened with arrest for lack of payment for something like this. If the police are looking to arrest you, they won't do it over the phone, and they won't negotiate for payment. A stranger demanding payment by prepaid card is also a dead giveaway: SCAM.
Read the full story at WATE.com. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of these scams is to educate yourself.
Added January 19, 2017
Woman Warns of Facebook Scam Claiming to Offer Government Grant
Nashville's News Channel 5 shares a Madison, Tennessee resident's story. The target "received a message through Facebook messenger from someone she first thought was her trusted and longtime friend." The account was fraudulent, created by a con artist to push a "poverty alleviation program."
Fortunately, the potential victim was wise enough to realize the signs of a scam. She never sent any money, but she's now intent on sharing a warning. The full story is no longer available from Nashville's News Channel 5, but you can follow their link to more information on "government grant" scams.
As always, trust your instincts when something seems too good to be true. And remember, you shouldn't have to send money to receive truly free money. If you're asked to send money before receiving a prize, a gift, or a grant, you should be suspicious.
Added January 18, 2017/Updated March 27, 2018