2015 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?


One Last Warning to Close Out 2015: Phone Scammers Claim Warrant Issued, Money Needed For Missing Jury Duty

The Williamson County Sheriff's Office is warning of an old scam making the rounds once again. The caller claims you've missed jury duty and are headed to jail unless you send money. And, as is often the case now, they want you to pay with a money card. That type of payment is a dead giveaway. When you receive a call from a stranger demanding money on a prepaid card, you should think "SCAM!" and hang up the phone.

Added December 30, 2015


IRS Phone Scam Making the Rounds Again in Tennessee

We've shared this warning before. Scammers are still at it. WSMV Channel 4 out of Nashville is warning everyone that's it's ramping up again.

The IRS will never ask for debit card or credit card information over the phone. The IRS won't call demanding immediate payment of money owed, even if you do owe money. The IRS also won't require you to pay a certain way. (Remember, always be suspicious of anyone demanding that you make any kind of payment with a prepaid card, or cards.)

Channel 4 writes:

According to Clarksville PD, most of the calls are coming from 509 and 470 area codes.

The Channel 4 newsroom has been getting lots of calls about IRS scams. In one case, a man fell for it and shelled out $9,000.

If you get one of these calls, police say to:

If you are unsure if you owe any tax money, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. 

Read the full report from Channel 4.

Added December 18, 2015


Scammers Impersonate Sheriff's Deputies

Rutherford County, Tennessee law enforcement is warning that callers are again pretending to be Sheriff's Office deputies. They call trying to collect money for "missing jury duty" or for "warrants." It doesn't work that way, law enforcement won't call to collect money over the phone. If you receive a call like that, hang up.  If you have questions about civil warrants in Rutherford County, call the Sheriff’s Office Warrants Division at 615-898-7877.

Added December 8, 2015

*Nashville police and the Davidson County Sheriff's Office shared a similar warning on December 12. If you're in Davidson County and receive a call like those described in the linked reports, you are encouraged to call the Emergency Communications Center at 615-862-8600 and make a report. You should also pass along your knowledge of these scams to friends and family, as awareness is the best defense against them. 

Updated December 15, 2015

The link to the original story is no longer valid, but the warning and the information shared here is still good. 

Updated December 16, 2016


New Scam Targets Nashville Electric Service Customers with Convincing Phone Calls

WSMV.com out of Nashville reports on a scam involving the claim of a past due utility bill and the threat of shutoff if the bill isn't paid immediately. This is a scam that could be run anywhere, with the scammer claiming to represent any local utility. When in doubt—when you know you've already paid your bill—hang up and use a local number to call the utility. That, or visit them in person to check on the status of your account. DO NOT use any number that the caller provides and instructs you to use, and understand that even the caller ID can be faked when you receive the initial call. Read the full report. 

Added December 4, 2015


Phone Fraud Gets Harder as FTC Bans Payment Methods Favored by Crooks

NBC News reports on some newly adopted FTC rules to help discourage phone scams. This won't end the problem, but it will hopefully make it more difficult, as well as help educate consumers. You are the person best positioned to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. You do that by learning about the scams.

Added December 2, 2015


Fake Publishers Clearing House Call Reported Directly to the Agency 

A Nashville, Tennessee resident called TCAD directly to report that someone pretending to represent Publishers Clearing House had called her to say she had won a prize of $6 million in cash and a Mercedes 216S Class with her choice of color. They told her that they would be at her house at 11 a.m. with the check but that she would have to pay one percent of the taxes up front before they could come. 

A legitimate party isn't going to ask you for money up front, even to cover taxes, before awarding you a real prize. You would deduct the taxes owed from your winnings and make the payment to the IRS or State yourself. The only time you might make a payment for a prize is in the event you agree to cover shipping costs, but you should only do that when you've entered a contest yourself and have agreed to those charges. NEVER make a prepayment of any kind for a prize awarded in a contest you never entered. NEVER send money to a stranger who contacts you out of the blue.

And, seriously, they wanted $60,000 from this woman before they would hand her $6 million? (If you've got $60,000 just lying around, ready to give away on short notice, you probably don't need the $6 million.) Good for her for turning them down, hanging up the phone and calling us to spread the word!

Added December 2, 2015

Follow-Up Details

This is a relatively old scam, as it turns out, first reported in Tennessee several years ago. Publishers Clearing House has this to say about it:

"Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does NOT make or authorize outgoing calls to consumers to sell merchandise or magazines, or to solicit contest entries. Our major winners are notified by mail or in person (at our option) and we never phone ahead to disclose that someone has won a major prize. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House and are asked to send money, pay a fee or pre-pay taxes to enter, collect or claim a sweepstakes prize - STOP - you have not heard from the “real” Publishers Clearing House. The call you received was most likely from a fraudulent sweepstakes scam operation. At Publishers Clearing House the winning is always free."

Publishers Clearing House has a lengthy webpage full of warnings and explanations for anyone wanting to know more. They also provide an online option to report scams.


Facebook Friend Requests From People You Don't Know? Could Be a Scam

This report from WREG, News Channel 3 out of Memphis, Tennessee encourages you to pay closer attention to your Facebook and social media friend requests. If a request comes from a stranger, you may want to question it. Scammers, often using fake accounts, look for access to legitimate accounts to collect information that will help with identity theft. Many people share information about where they live and work, as well as their full names and and dates of birth, on sites like Facebook. You could be giving a scammer just what he or she needs to steal your identity or gain your trust.  

Added November 24, 2015


Use of Credit Card Skimmers at Gas Pumps and ATMs Is Growing

Scary report from NBC News: Credit card skimmers are being found at an increasing rate. Skimmers are small devices that can capture credit and bank card information, your personal information, with a swipe of your card. As of today, and for some time now, they can very easily be installed and hidden in public. Again, one swipe and your information is recorded. (An agency staff member experienced this at a major business in the Nashville area, proof that it does happen in Tennessee.)

Read the report. Businesses will probably take action eventually, as more people become victims. In the meantime, you can minimize the chance you'll become a victim by paying the attendant at the counter instead of paying at the pump. Skip the ATM and do your banking with the teller, face to face.

*And remember: Your credit card is probably safer than your bank card. Most major credit cards offer fraud protection and limit your responsibility for fraudulent transactions if you report them quickly enough. A bank card, however, is a direct line to your bank account. You may have a harder time recovering money lost from that account. According to a CNN report, "Under federal law, your personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can't exceed $50. But if a fraudster uses your debit card, you could be liable for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report it."

The CNN report goes on to warn that, "if someone uses your credit card, the charge is often credited back to your account immediately after it's reported, " but ". . . if a crook uses your debit card, not only can they drain your bank account, but it can take up to two weeks for the bank to investigate the fraud and reimburse your account." 

Save yourself the headache. If you have a credit card, play it safe and choose it over your bank card. Just stick to your budget and pay it off each month.

Added November 24, 2015


Caregiver, Long-time Family Friend Accused of Theft

Murfreesboro, Tennessee's Daily News Journal reports on a case of possible elder abuse: A long-time family friend who became caregiver to a now 77-year-old man now stands accused of stealing from him. At first look, the theft appeared to total more than $50,000, but a closer look suggests the total may exceed more than $100,000. While this victim is in a position to manage the loss, he shouldn't have to. And for most people at that age, it would be impossible to recover from a theft so extreme. 

This story demonstrates how important it is for seniors to have more than one person watching their accounts and interests, watching how money is spent and assets managed. Seniors can still manage their own finances as long as possible, but sharing information among several people can help family members, friends, or personal accountants watch for signs of abuse and intervene before things get out of hand.

Added November 17, 2015


Holiday Scams

You just want to have a good time with friends and family, but for some the holidays are a great opportunity to lie, cheat, and steal. CBS MoneyWatch offers some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim. 

As always, two of the tips in this report are to (1) be suspicious of anyone requiring you to send money with prepaid money cards, and (2) pay as often as you can with a major credit card offering fraud protection. Remember, if your bank card is compromised, thieves have access to your money; if your credit card is compromised and you report the crime quickly, you'll be held accountable for little or nothing. Protect yourself, read the full article for more information.

Added November 10, 2015


Fake Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Call

​The Council on Aging of Greater Nashville is sharing the following warning for November:

"There are reports of a nationwide scam regarding food stamps, now called SNAP.  In this scam seniors receive unsolicited calls from what appears to be the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) toll-free hotline number. In reality the scammers have “spoofed” the hotline and they are not affiliated with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. 

"The callers request personal information and offer assistance for filling out applications for SNAP and other services. Never provide personal information or a credit card number to unsolicited callers.  Use trusted agencies and sites to apply for SNAP. In our area, that includes the county offices of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, which administers the SNAP program. An online application is available at www.tn.gov/humanserv. Community Food Advocates, at 1-855-277-0964, can also assist in applying and for general information." 

Added November 2, 2015


IRS Scam Hitting the Memphis Area Hard

WREG News Channel 3 out of Memphis shares a warning from the Better Business Bureau: Criminals are calling, claiming to be the IRS and claiming you owe money. "Some of the callers have even reportedly become hostile or insulting towards their intended victims."

In the event you get a phone call from someone who claims to represent the IRS, WREG has provided the following information:

If you know you owe taxes, or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there is such an issue.

If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill, or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), report it:

  • To the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
  • To the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/contact or 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357.) Add the words “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Added October 27, 2015


Fraudulent Check Used to Swindle Man Out of $10,000

The story is no longer available online, but Cookeville's Herald-Citizen reported on a Cookeville, Tennessee man who accepted and deposited a check for $10,000, then distributed the money. It was a scam, the check was fraudulent. The bank is now holding him responsible for the money. It all started with an email from a total stranger, a message about a business deal.

This story serves as another reminder: Don't respond to email from strangers, and don't click on links in emails if you aren't sure of the source. Just as important, don't hesitate to question anything—especially anything that requires you to send or transfer money—that sounds too good to be true. 

Originally added October 23, 2015.
Updated November 10, 2015.


Careful Where You Donate, Do Your Research Before You Give

WMC News Channel 5 has published an NBC News reminder ahead of the holidays: Do a little research before you make your donations. There are plenty of scams involving fake charities. In 2015 alone, to date, four charities have been accused of, or proven to be, frauds. These include:

Cancer Fund of America 
Children's Cancer Fund of America
Cancer Support Services
The Breast Cancer Society
The National Children's Leukemia Foundation

You can read more in this separate article from The Knoxville News Sentinel.

Added September 28, 2015


FBI Sounds Alarm on "Virtual Kidnapping" Scam

CBS News reports, sharing a warning from the FBI: A new telephone scam claims that a loved one has been kidnapped and you must pay a ransom.

"The kidnappers use social media to learn more about their victims—where they live, places they commonly visit and connected friends—and claim they're holding their cell phone, saying if you try to contact your loved one, you're jeopardizing their life. The only way you'll get back your loved one is if you pay up." The callers may also claim your loved one is already injured and can't talk to you for that reason.

The states where the FBI has noticed an increase in this particular scam include: California, Nevada, New York, and Texas. But it's a phone scam, so it can obviously happen to anyone, anywhere.

For now, the suggested strategy is to try to slow the call down, to buy time for you or someone else to actually check on the well being of the person supposedly kidnapped. This also serves as another reminder to be very careful about what you post online. Question everything. Don't publicly share information that you know can be used against you. 

Added September 28, 2015


BBB Issues Warnings About Timeshare Scams: Be Careful Who You Trust to Sell Your Timeshare!

News Channel 5 out of Nashville passes along a Better Business Bureau (BBB) warning for timeshare owners. The BBB says there are companies, "taking money from unsuspecting timeshare owners. And, according to the BBB, their advertised offices are not where they claim to be." 

"If you have a timeshare you don't want any more, these three companies claim they'll help you sell it." But they ask for money up front, and then they want more, and later they may want still more. 

These companies (identified by name in the report) provide plenty of reasons why you should choose them. The problem is, according to News Channel 5, "None of them is registered to do business in Tennessee, nor do any of them have a required state real estate license." 

The BBB recommends selling your timeshare through a broker who only receives payment if, and after, your timeshare is sold.

Updated April 26, 2016 (report no longer available online)


Investigators Warn of Williamson Co. Jury Duty Scam

News Channel 5 out of Nashville reports that a man has been calling Williamson County homes, "claiming to be Lt. Jim Handy from the Sheriff's Office." He claims you've missed jury duty and will be arrested if you don't pay a fine using either a prepaid card or cashier's check. LEGITIMATE LAW ENFORCEMENT WOULD NEVER DO THIS. And, as always, the prepaid card is a definite red flag.

Anyone who receives a call like this should report it to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at 615-790-5550. 

Updated April 26, 2016 (online report no longer available)


Consumer Reports: Beware of Phone Scams

This general warning was shared by News Channel 5 out of Nashville. Here are some quick, crucial signs from the report that should immediately suggest trouble:

  • "A demand that you wire funds or load money onto a prepaid card and send it immediately."
  • "A demand that you give or confirm confidential financial information, such as your credit or debit card numbers or Social Security number."
  • "In the case of the IRS, [a] phone call itself is a red flag. The IRS never calls taxpayers cold demanding immediate payment."

Update: Link no longer good as of April 2016.

Added June 25, 2015


Knoxville Woman Loses $700 To Loan Scam

A warning from WATE ABC Channel 6 out of Knoxville:  "Advance payment loans . . . are illegal. It is illegal for companies doing business by phone in the United States to promise you a loan or credit card and ask you to pay for it before they deliver. Lenders and loan brokers are required to register in the states where they do business. Call the state Department of Commerce and Insurance in Nashville at (615) 741-2705 to check registration."

"If you’re asked to pay a fee for the promise of a loan or credit card, especially to a lender who isn’t interested in your credit history, you can count on the fact that you’re dealing with a scam artist. Scam artists work hard to make you think they’re legitimate, so it’s really important to do your homework."

Added June 25, 2015


Midstate Family Loses $2,800 in Craigslist Scam

From WSMV Nashville News Channel 4: A Craigslist post offering a pontoon for sale in exchange for Amazon cards ended badly for the buyer. Often now, scams involve some sort of prepaid card, although this is the first time we've shared a report specific to Amazon. This story is a reminder to look closely, to watch for things like misspelled words or phrases, and to be suspicious of payments that cannot be tracked or recovered. Strangers who want payment for goods or services but insist on prepaid cards or accounts should immediately trigger a red flag. And remember, unlike transactions through sites like Amazon.com or eBay, business conducted through Craigslist offers no buyer protection. 

Added June 25, 2015


Hounded Over Medical Bills? Know Your Rights

CBS News Moneywatch has a lengthy report on improper medical debt collection practices, current law, and your rights.

Added June 24, 2015


East Tennessee Woman Not Fooled By Facebook Profile Cloning Scam

The significance of this story is not in the specific details. Instead, what people should take away is an understanding that Facebook can be abused. It is very easy for scammers to create fake Facebook accounts, including fake accounts using the photos, names, and contact information of people you know. They could use your information. If you share too much online, you're handing them what they need. The same thing is true of other social networks and online dating sites. Before posting personal information and photos openly online, always ask yourself: Could someone else use what you share against you?

And remember, when it comes to a "prize" that you've supposedly won, you should always be suspicious if you're asked to send money to get the prize. Why would you need to give money to get money if you've won a true cash prize?

Added June 19, 2015


Warning Regarding a "Pain Cream" Insurance Scam

TCAD received a notice from a reputable insurance provider of the following:

"We have received several reports from members who are being contacted by companies offering 'free samples' of pain cream to members. These companies gather the member’s information (including their Subscriber ID number) and bill the member’s insurance for the pain creams. Pain creams are typically compound medications, and if any of the ingredients of the compound medication [are] not covered under [Medicare] Part D the entire claim will deny. Most of the time, these pain creams are NOT covered under the member's [Medicare] Part D prescription drug plan, so the members are billed for the full amount of the pain cream, and these pain creams can cost the member thousands of dollars."

Added May 15, 2015


Reminder: Research Charities Before you Donate

Following the earthquake in Nepal, Nashville News Channel 4 reminds Tennesseans to be cautious when choosing charities. Well-known charities, like the Red Cross, should be safe. But there are criminals who will take advantage of tragedies to con generous people out of money. Taking even just a few minutes to research a charity before donating may save you a lot of trouble, and you can feel more confidant that your money will actually reach the people who need it.

Channel 4 also suggests this page of tips from the Better Business Bureau.

Added April 30, 2015


Police Warn Against "Bump and Rob" Trend

Nashville News Channel 4 warns of a new way criminals are robbing people on the road:

"Police said some thieves are causing wrecks on purpose to steal from victims. This trend, called bump and rob, is a growing criminal phenomenon where a driver will hit another vehicle from behind. When they pull over, the criminals rob the victim."

Read the full story to avoid becoming a victim.

Added April 30, 2015


Scammers Impersonating Montgomery County Sheriff's Officials

Nashville News Channel 5 reports on the victim of a scam that we've shared before. A caller pretends to represent the Sheriff's Office, tells the victim there is a warrant for his or her arrest, then asks for money through a rechargeable card. That card is a red flag!

From the News Channel 5 report:

“Citizens should know that if you have an arrest warrant on file, we would never call and ask for money to rectify that warrant,” said Sheriff John Fuson. “If you have a warrant on file, a well identified Deputy will come to you and arrest and take you to jail.”

"Investigators added that anyone who calls asking for money on a rechargeable card is most likely a scammer."

Updated April 26, 2016 (online report no longer available)


Telephone Scammer Curses At, Threatens Murfreesboro Woman

This is another story of someone claiming to be in IRS agent. Reminder: The IRS will not call you to demand money. If someone calls and claims to be an IRS agent and wants money or personal information, hang up. It won't do you any good to talk to a person like that, and the longer you stay on the phone, the greater the risk you will say something you shouldn't or hear something you don't want to hear.

If you're worried you may actually owe the IRS money, call them yourself on your terms. The following numbers, as well as other options and instructions for contacting the IRS, are available at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Telephone-Assistance.

Telephone Assistance for Individuals
Toll-Free, 800-829-1040
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time).

Telephone Assistance for Businesses
Toll-Free, 800-829-4933
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time).

Telephone Assistance for Exempt Organizations, Retirement Plan Administrators, and Government Entities
Toll-Free, 877-829-5500
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Local Time.

Telephone Assistance for people with hearing impairments
Toll-Free 800-829-4059 (TDD)
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time).

Telephone Assistance for Individuals who believe they may be a victim of Identity Theft: No Tax Administration Impact - Did not receive a notice from the IRS.
Toll-Free 800-908-4490 (Automated and live assistance)
Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time).

Added April 17, 2015


Warnings From St. Clair Senior Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

"There are a couple of popular scams that continue to circulate in Middle Tennessee. Individuals are calling and identifying themselves as IRS agents and informing their targets that they owe back taxes and are demanding payment or they will face possible jail time. There are even cases that when the person hangs up on the scammer, they quickly receive another call from what appears to be the Sheriff ’s Department claiming to be a follow up call for the IRS. The Federal Trade Commission wants consumers to understand that the IRS will never call, text or e-mail you regarding taxes, and local Sheriffs’ offices do not partner with the IRS to collect taxes. Another scam that is very similar is that the target gets a call from someone claiming to be a police officer that is demanding payment of traffic tickets, or to collect a fine for missed jury duty. Police departments do not call to collect money, do not threaten jail time for traffic violations, or demand immediate payment of fines. Be aware that you can’t always trust your caller ID. Scammers have the technology to make any organization name or phone numbers appear on your caller ID."

Added January 28, 2015


Early Warning from the IRS: Know the Most Common Tax Season Scams

CBS News shares information on some of the most common tax season scams. It won't take long to read, and knowing what to look for can help you avoid becoming a victim.

Added January 7, 2015