2014 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. For information on reporting Medicare fraud, visit STOP Medicare Fraud's Report Fraud page. 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?
Nashville WSMV Channel 4 shares the details of an ongoing phone scam designed to convince people that they owe the IRS money and are in serious danger of legal action. "The scam cost a Murfreesboro woman nearly $2000." Avoid becoming a victim, learn to spot the signs. This is an easy one to avoid if you know what to look for.
Added December 19, 2014
Keeping Seniors Safe Online: A Message From Tennessee's Office for Information Resources
Seniors are embracing the digital age in greater numbers every year. Fifty-three percent of adults ages 65 and older now use the Internet and online tools such as email. Among those Internet users, seventy percent report going online on a daily basis.
Seniors (and people of all ages online) should be wary of the following types of emails, Web sites, or social media messages that:
- Offer discount prescription medications or other "can't miss" deals.
- Appear to be from official government agencies or banks, requesting personal information.
- Ultimatums, such as: "Your account will be closed" or "the deal will expire" to create a sense of urgency and trick the victim into providing personal information.
What to Do
Think before you act. Most banks, charities, universities, and companies will not ask for personal information via email. Be wary of requests to update or confirm your information, especially by clicking on a link.
Never be afraid to tell the company or individual calling you that you will call their corporate office to confirm a claim.
Added December 5, 2014
Nashville News 2 has an image of the suspects. You may recognize them.
Added October 31, 2014
Important Information About Cash Cards
We recently were introduced to a program out of Florida called Seniors vs. Crime. The Florida Times Union our of Jacksonville publishes stories related to the program, as well as tips to help seniors avoid becoming victims. Reporter Valerie Norton had this to say about cash cards, now a popular tool for scammers:
"[Cash cards] are tools that have positive purposes, but they can be misused and manipulated to cause harm. They are not credit cards and you must load the cards with money in order to use them."
She goes on to point out that, "Scammers like these cards because the money is essentially cash and it is not traceable. Once you give that card to buy something or give the account number/pin, the money on the card will disappear. You cannot get it back."
If a stranger contacts you and begins a story about a bill owed or a contest you've won that requires you to make some kind of payment and then asks for one of these cards, you should immediately be suspicious. Even if the caller claims to represent the IRS, the police, or some other authority, hang up. You can get in touch with the authorities yourself to find out if there is really a problem involving a bill you need to pay.
Seniors vs. Crime has apparently been in touch with the companies that supply cash cards. The result is that some of these companies now encourage retailers to ask questions of customers seeking to purchase these cards. If you need a cash card and are questioned, please be patient. The questions are intended to protect you.
Added September 30, 2014
Murfreesboro Woman Loses $2000 to IRS Impersonator
A 59-year-old Murfreesboro woman lost almost $2000 to another person calling and pretending to be an IRS agent.
Red flag: Again, the con artist demanded payment using prepaid cards, Green Dot MoneyPak cards. That should be a warning sign to everyone now. Please share that information with your friends and family. The IRS will not call you to collect taxes, and it will not demand that you pay using these cards. These are both indications of a scam and should cause you to immediately end the call and notify the police.
If you are worried you might own taxes, call the IRS after you hang up on the caller. Dial 1-800-829-1040, and know that you are actually talking to a real IRS agent, not someone pretending.
Updated April 26, 2016 (report no longer available online)
This is a warning from CBS News about an email scam meant to scare you into thinking you have a court appearance. Official court summons arrive in the mailbox at the end of your driveway or on your front porch, not in your email inbox.
If you get an email like this, don't open the attached notice—don't open anything attached. It's malware, and if you open it, you install it. Then you will be in trouble.
A good rule of thumb is to never open an email attachment if you don't know the sender.
Added September 9, 2014
Scammers Impersonate Police, Demand Money From Prepaid Cards
Victims in Nashville and Franklin received calls they thought were from Ashland City police officers. The claim? Unpaid tickets. What were they told to do? Pay their tickets with a prepaid money card.
When you follow the link above to the full report from WSMV Channel 4, pay close attention to this information: "Police will not send anyone to jail for weeks for a traffic violation. They also will not contact you and demand money by phone."
Red flag: Once again, the scammers are asking for payment using prepaid cards. That should be a warning sign to everyone now.
Added August 28, 2014
WSMV Channel 4 has a quick note on social media and sweepstakes scams. Once again, it involves prepaid cards. Anytime anyone you don't know is asking you to pick up one of these cards and share the card number and PIN, you should be on guard. Stop. Think.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with these cards if you know and trust the person you're paying. The problem is how the cards are used by criminals.
If you want a chance at easy money, don't buy a prepaid card. Buy a lottery ticket or a scratch off instead. You stand to lose a lot less, and some of the money you spend supports education, not crooks.
Tell your family, tell your friends. You will be helping to protect them. People will continue to fall victim to these scams until we all learn to say no.
Added August 28, 2014
Elderly Woman Scammed Out of Thousands of Dollars
This story from Nashville News Channel 5 is about a Rutherford County resident but, as if often the case, the same thing could happen to anyone, anywhere. This scam involved a call, a claim that the woman had won a prize and needed to wire money to open an account into which the prize money could be deposited. Not only did she lose $2400, but she's apparently getting lots of calls now from other scammers who think she's an easy target.
When a stranger calls and offers you something that sounds too good to be true, then asks you .for money, hang up.
Updated April 26, 2016 (link no longer active)
Phone Scam Affecting Dickson Electric Customers, Could Happen Anywhere
"Scammers are attempting to trick Dickson Electric System customers into making payments into a false account, according to a DES spokesperson." DES wants customers to know its employees never call to collect on a bill. Read the full report on the Tennessean online (from the Dickson Herald).
Red flag: Once again, the scammers are asking for Money Pak prepaid card payments.
Added August 19, 2014
The IRS does not contact you by phone, text messages or email. If you are contacted this way—any of these ways—from someone claiming to represent the IRS, you should be suspicious. Even if the person calling appears to know something about you, be suspicious. Don't be afraid to HANG UP.
You can call the IRS yourself at 1-800-829-1040 (Monday-Friday, 7:00 am-7:00 pm local time) to find out if there's a problem.
It's also important to know that the IRS will not demand that you make immediate payment of money owed using a credit or debit card.
Follow up to original report: IRS Scam Continues
WSMV.com shares, "The Federal Trade Commission has provided several tips to avoid the scam. They said if the alleged government agency asks for money to be sent immediately, it's a dead giveaway."
"The FTC also said a government agency will never ask anyone to put money on a prepaid debit card and give them the number."
Originally added August 18, 2014, then updated August 28, 2014.
This scam is hurting grandparents in Tennessee. Here's how it works: A grandparent gets a call from, supposedly, a grandchild—or someone representing the grandchild, like a lawyer or police officer. The grandchild is in trouble, has been arrested or has had an accident. Usually, the grandchild is said to be out of town, sometimes even out of the country. The grandchild needs money, often thousands, and the grandparent is asked not to tell anyone.
If you hear anything like that, the caller is probably a con artist. STOP. THINK. ASK QUESTIONS. If you hear the words "MoneyPak Card," a red flag should go up. Again, STOP. THINK. ASK QUESTIONS. Do not act too quickly. Do not keep this call a secret. Call other family members instead, try to find out where your grandchild is. Call your grandchild at home or work if you can.
WATE Channel 6 out of Knoxville has the stories of two grandmothers both hurt by this scam. Both of them lost thousands of dollars. Talk to the grandparents and parents in your family today, don't wait. Make sure they don't become victims of this scam. Consider creating a code word that your family uses for a true emergency.
Added July 25, 2014
Watch the WSMV Channel 4 video and read the report for all the details, as this is a tricky one. The basics: You're invited to become a mystery shopper, and you're sent a check before you do any work. You're told to deposit the check with your bank and then spend most of the money on prepaid MoneyPak cards. You give the scammer the details on the money cards. The check bounces days later and your bank comes after you for the money.
There is a Mystery Shopping Providers Association, and it's legit. This scam has nothing to do with them. They only send you money after you've done the job, though, not before.
Added July 17, 2014
WKRN Nashville News Channel 2 shares two reports out of Murfreesboro of a scam involving people claiming to represent the IRS and local law enforcement. The scam even fakes the phone number!
"In both cases, residents were called by someone claiming to be from the IRS, demanding money." The report goes on to describe that when one person hung up on the caller supposedly with the IRS, another call followed That caller claimed to be the Chief of Police.
These people are after money, of course. It's a scam, a lie. The IRS isn't going to call you demanding money. The police department—any police department anywhere in the United States—is not an enforcer for the IRS. The police do not collect debts.
One again, the best response to a call like this is to HANG UP. If they call back pretending to be someone else, HANG UP AGAIN. This scam only works if you provide your personal information.
Added July 8, 2014
WMC Action News 5 out of Memphis reports that a man already arrested once for scamming a Memphis woman has quickly done the same thing to another. The scam involved tree trimming. The second victim, a 66-year-old woman, was "intimidated" into giving the man $8300.
Another man interviewed for the report gave excellent advice: "Never ever hire a door knocker." That's not just true of tree trimmers and yard work, that's true of all work. It is not a good idea to hire people who go door to door looking for work. You should always do your homework first. Check references, talk to people who have had similar work done. Get estimates from more than one source.
Read the full report for other great tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of this type of scam. For people in the Memphis area, you can also see the name and mug shot of the man accused of these scams.
Added June 20, 2014
News Channel 3 out of Memphis offers a quick rundown of some of the most common scams run on seniors.
Family members, this is something you also need to watch! Even when your older loved ones know about these scams, they still sometimes forget them. Seniors often think the best of people. They may drop their guard. The people operating these scams know how to smile, speak kindly and professionally, and put on a good show. So remember, you need to know the scams and watch out for the con artists, too. If you think someone is taking advantage of a senior citizen, ask questions.
Added June 6, 2014
As the number of older Americans grows, so does the number of people trying to take advantage of them. CBS News offers descriptions of the five most frequent scams tried on seniors.
Added May 21, 2014
- More Warnings
Updated March 25, 2014 Free $1500 Security System Is Not Free
This scam is ongoing! As of late March 2014, we have been notified that people are still receiving these calls. One site visitor reports the following numbers, 321-207-XXXX and 505-919-XXXX, as related to this activity. Because we cannot independently verify the numbers, we have not included the last four digits. However, if you receive a call about this so-called "free" GE security system from Florida area code 321 or New Mexico area code 505, your best response is probably to hang up.
The original warning follows:
This is yet another attempt made on one of our own staff members, although it turns out the call is one documented elsewhere online. The number begins 973-273-XXXX, which is apparently out of New Jersey, although the number could change, especially as word gets around. Regardless, the caller may be introduced as a representative of "GE Security Systems," or something similar. That should raise a red flag.
While there is a GE Security division of General Electric, it does not sell to individuals, does not telemarket, does not go door to door. Anyone could claim to be selling GE Security systems, but they would not be affiliated with GE. (You could buy a couple dozen cans of Pepsi and sell the cans door to door, but that would not make you a Pepsi employee, right?)
In this specific case, the caller suggests that a $1500 security system can be had for "free" with a $40/month monitoring fee and a 36-month contract. With very little effort, legitimate businesses selling the same GE systems can be found offering monitoring for as little as $19/month. The other difference, of course, is that those businesses do not call you; they wait for you to call them.
The Federal Trade Commission provides good information on avoiding home security system scams. Be suspicious of aggressive sales agents. Be wary when contacted by strangers over the phone looking to sign you to a contract for a service you did not request. Never give personally identifying information or financial information to someone you do not know. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Very little is "free" in life. If you want a home security system, do your research, choose a company with a good reputation, and call them yourself.
If you receive the call described here, hang up.
Originally added September 9, 2013
The top six scams run in the United States, as provided by CBS News, are as follows:
1. Fake checks
2. Bad Internet sales – products never delivered or misrepresented
3. Sweepstakes/prize/free gift cons that request payment to get your winnings
4. Advance fee cons that promise a loan or line of credit, if you pay them first
5. Scams that attempt to get personal information to access to your accounts, your tax refund, or to open credit cards in your name
6. Recovery/refund cons that promise past victims a recovery of swindled funds in exchange for a fee
Read the full article for more information.
Added January 27, 2014
CBS News Moneywatch suggests you watch out for a $9.84 charge on your statements. A criminal, or criminals, figured out that a person was much less likely to question a charge for $9.84 than for, say, $9840.00. Think about it. If you took just $9.84 from a million people, you would have almost 10 million dollars. And $9.84 is not something most people would get worked up about; they might assume they just forgot a purchase.
Of course, it could be any small amount. Chances are, after a report like this, thieves will stop using $9.84 because people will be looking for that figure. The point is, don't take even the small charges for granted. Look your bank and credit card statements over closely each month, line by line. If something isn't familiar, think about questioning it.
Added January 27, 2014
Man Posing As Sheriff in Rutherford County Phone Calls
News Channel 5 shares another warning, this time about a phone scam in which the caller pretends to be a member of the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office. There have been several reports of this scam made to both the Murfreesboro police and the actual Rutherford County Sheriff's Department.
The man calling claims to be "Lt. Johnson." There is no Lt. Johnson with the Sheriff's Office. Of course, the caller could claim to be anyone. In one call, he stated to a mother that her daughter had missed jury duty and would be arrested if he was not paid $120. You would never make a payment like that to a law enforcement officer.
If you receive a call like this and have caller ID, write down the number, hang up, and notify the Sheriff's Office at 615-898-7770.
Added January 22, 2014
Grandparent Scam Hits Close to Home
You're a grandparent. You get a call. It's your grandchild (or someone claiming to be your grandchild). He or she is away from home, outside the state, or maybe even outside the country (supposedly). There's been an arrest, legal trouble, send money! There might even be someone claiming to be a lawyer on the phone.
It's happened to a Hendersonville, Tennessee grandmother. The calls started in mid-December, and it wasn't until the real grandson called to ask her about Christmas that anyone knew anything was wrong. She asked if he was still in Mexico; he hadn't gone to Mexico. The scam was conducted by two people, one claiming to be the grandson, the other his lawyer. They convinced the woman not to speak of it to anyone, warning that it could have an impact on the case, claiming it could land her grandson in jail for eight years.
She sent everything she had: $75,000.
CNN Money, in its own report, discusses this scam in more detail. It's grown dramatically. According to CNN, the Federal Trade Commission "recorded 743 incidences" of this scam in 2009. By 2010, the number had grown to more than 40,000.
It can happen anywhere. It can happen to you. It can happen to your grandparents. Learn from others, share this story.
Added January 15, 2014
Beware of Misleading Ads Targeting Seniors
News Channel 5 shares a warning about a specific newspaper ad offering "easy to use" cell phones for free. Careful, there are costs! And the company placing the ad and offering the phones will encourage add-ons, like a warranty and a car charger. In the end, the "free" phone can cost you $100 or more. The report includes an interview with Better Business Bureau President and CEO Kathleen Calligan. She explains that the company behind this ad has had many complaints.
Although this report is about a specific ad and company, it is important to always be suspicious of "free" offers that need money from you. And remember, if you become uncomfortable, especially when dealing with someone over the phone, there is nothing wrong with ending a call. It's okay to change your mind. It's okay to hang up, even if you made the call.
Added January 8, 2014