How to Avoid Scams
The St. Peters Police Department receives a lot of calls from victims of fraud. There are many scams out there, and the best thing you can do is arm yourself with information that can help you avoid them. We’ve compiled information below bout how scams work and what you can do to protect yourself. We also have provided a number of links to more information. Please pass this information along to friends and family, especially seniors. Scam artists often try to target seniors. Some of the following scams described specifically target seniors.
Be suspicious if you hear any of the following lines from a solicitor:
- You’ve won a prize or free gift.
- You’ve been selected to receive a special offer.
- You must act immediately or lose out.
- You must pay for shipping your prize or free gift.
- Give us your credit card number and expiration date to verify that you are a credit cardholder.
- You’re asked to give personal information.
- You’re asked to donate to an agency whose name sounds like a well-known charity.
- You’re one of only a chosen few to receive this offer.
- A courier will come to your home to get your payment.
Never trust a stranger who claims that he is going to give you something. Here are five other things you should never do:
- Don’t reveal your financial information to someone who calls on the phone.
- Don’t allow unsolicited strangers to come into your home.
- Don’t believe that a stranger will use your money for a good purpose.
- Don’t assign power of attorney to people you don’t know very well.
- Don’t sign contracts that have any blank lines in them.
It’s important to know some basic sales rules for telemarketers in Missouri so that you can spot frauds. Be aware that:
- No sales calls are allowed between 9 pm and 8 am
- The caller must tell you what company they represent and that they are selling something.
- No purchase is ever needed to enter or win promotions, prizes or contests.
- Telemarketers may not use abusive or obscene language, threats or intimidation.
- Goods or services cannot be misrepresented or exaggerated.
- Telemarketers cannot withdraw a payment from your checking account without your written or recorded oral permission.
A sucker list has names of people who already have fallen for a scam charity collection or other con. These lists are traded and exchanged between criminals, and can have other personal information about the fraud victims. Scam artists believe people on this list are more likely candidates for fraud. If you often respond to sweepstakes or contests, your name might be added to sucker lists. If you’re being bombarded by prize-winning announcements, dozens of requests to donate to questionable charities, or other questionable deals, you’re likely on a sucker list. The only way to get off is to persistently avoid scam charities and other cons.
A number of people have received unsolicited calls from “your” bank stating that your account has been compromised. The caller will then ask for your account number. There are numerous scams that make their rounds, most of which revolve around randomly calling individuals, pretending to be with an official group (banks, credit card companies, gas companies, sweepstakes, Medicare, etc.) and asking for personal information. It may start off simply enough by having you verify your home address/phone number/name, but they will then attempt to get more personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account information and social security numbers, and/or convince you to wire money to them.
Here is a simple rule of thumb for any of these scams: if they contact you, do not trust them. If you follow this adage, you will be able to prevent the majority of scams that prey on our residents.
If your bank, credit card company, or utilities company calls to ask you for any information, advise the person on the other line that you will call them back on the number listed on your last bill. Do not be swayed by individuals adding a sense of urgency to your phone call, as it is generally an attempt to get you to stay on the phone and provide the personal information without time to think about it.
Con artists know that they can prey on some people’s generosity. As a result, there are a number of bogus charities, so you need to check whether a charity is legitimate before you give your money. Otherwise, you’re not helping anybody but crooks. These bogus charities may have names that sound like legitimate charities. But, there are ways you can make sure they’re legitimate. Be aware that nonprofit and charitable groups must file IRS Form 990. You can check tax forms for these nonprofit and charitable groups at www.guidestar.org. You can also check with a charity watchdog organization, or call 773.529.2300. Never feel pressured to provide money over the phone to someone calling and claiming to represent a legitimate charity.
You might receive an email from someone overseas, likely from Nigeria, asking for your bank account number to help you share in a big pot of money. Do not respond. Any money you send will be lost.
If you’re told that you’ve won, or could win, a sweepstakes or lottery if you can make an upfront payment, it’s a scam. The caller often says the money is for processing, taxes or delivery. They may ask you to provide a bank account number to verify your identity. No one ever receives a penny except for the thieves.
People have been reporting to us that someone posing as members of the St. Peters Police Department have called soliciting bond money or "fundraising." Please do not be fooled by any of this. Officers from St. Peters and surrounding departments DO NOT EVER solicit for money fundraisers over the phone/e-mail/postal mail, and we never call on behalf of someone looking for bond money.
Other scammers have called residents claiming to represent the St. Peters Police Department and seeking money to pay for outstanding fines/warrants. The scammer even "spoofs" the Police Department phone number on your caller ID so that it appears the call is coming from police. Please be aware: Our officers or City representatives would NEVER call to demand fines; nor would we ever accept payment over the phone.
If you receive a call like this, tell the person that you’re aware that this is a scam and hang up. This should remove you from their calling list. The same method works for scammers claiming to call from the IRS.
Here’s a scam targeting grandparents in which a person posing as their grandchild asks for a wire transfer to a third person to get them out of jail or take care of some other emergency. These calls come from another country, usually Canada. The grandchild may say he doesn’t sound like himself because he has a cold. He’ll insist that the grandparent not tell anyone until he can get home. The St. Peters Police Department receives monthly reports of successful scams like this. The scam artists may know a lot about your grandchild and acquaintances, possibly gleaning information from social networks.
Working at home sounds like a great idea, and scam artists know it. The best thing to do is avoid work-at-home offers. When you respond, chances are that you’ll be asked to pay for supplies up front. They also might ask you for your credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers for fraudulent uses. Learn more from the FBI.
Beware the person asking to pay you by “cashier’s check” for something you’ve listed in a classified ad. It’s likely a fake check. Some crooks answer the ads and ask to pay by “cashier’s check” for more than the sales price. They ask you to wire the remainder of the money back to them, or to give the extra money and the merchandise to a “shipper.” The check turns out to be a fake and you lose the merchandise and the money.
Home repair and improvement scams are common complaints, and oftentimes they target seniors. Some of the most common scams involve:
- Asphalt: Solicitors offer to use leftover asphalt from an earlier job to repave your driveway. The job gets underway—and then workers say it will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars more to complete it. Or, they’ll just lay black paint and leave town with your money.
- Foundation and attic work: Repairs can be worthless and over-priced.
- Free home inspections: A con artist comes to your home offering a free evaluation to look for damage. The estimate will be bogus or the crook may want to simply get into your home to rob you or worse. Never trust an unsolicited free inspection.
- Requests for large down payments: Some con artists even offer to go to the bank with the consumer to withdraw money.
Here are some tips to avoid contractor scams and disputes:
- Beware of any worker who:
- Solicits door to door. Most con artists operate this way.
- Drives an out-of-state or unmarked vehicle, especially after damaging storms.
- Has no identification or address, just a phone number.
- Demands full payment before beginning the work.
- Before starting home repair work:
- Hire companies that are known or recommended. Check the background of companies by calling the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-392-8222 or your nearest Better Business Bureau.
- Check the credentials of companies. Verify their phone numbers and addresses, check for county and local permits, and ask if they are licensed, bonded and insured.
- Get at least three estimates from different companies, and get all of them in writing.
- Get all agreements in writing, including the description of the job, completion dates and price. Make the full payment only when the terms of the contract are met.
Distraction burglary often targets elderly people. The perpetrator seeks to draw a resident out of the house on a pretext. While the resident is occupied, an accomplice enters the home and picks up valuables such as money and jewelry. Thieves may also take documents with the intent of committing identity theft. In a variation, the accomplice enters the dwelling by a second door while the resident is occupied at the other door.
To prevent distraction burglary, be suspicious of anyone who comes to your door under any of these guises:
- Utility worker
- Public official
- Police officer
- Door-to-door salesperson
- Person asking about a lost pet
- Lost person asking for directions
- Person asking about working on the property
In a recent variation, criminals tell the residents that they have won a gift card or other prize.
In the case of someone claiming to be on official business, it's a good idea to ask for identification, but that can be faked. It's a better idea to call the agency and confirm that there are legitimate workers in the area. Be especially suspicious of anyone who wants access to your home. In addition, follow these other practices:
- Do not leave your purse or wallet out in the open.
- Keep jewelry and small valuables in a safe. Use jewelry boxes only for costume jewelry.
- Keep all doors locked. If you believe a caller has a legitimate reason to get you out of the house, pick up your key and lock the house behind you.
Elderly individuals may be targeted for the following reasons:
- They are more likely to live alone.
- They may need help in maintaining their property and may thus be especially vulnerable to those wanting to do yard work, trim trees, maintain fencing and do similar tasks.
- They may suffer from impaired cognition or judgment.
- They are often conscientious individuals who want to be cooperative.
Do your part to foil distraction burglars by passing on this information to individuals who may be targeted. If a suspicious incident occurs, report it immediately to prevent others in your area from being victimized. It is especially important that victims do not let their embarrassment about falling for a ruse keep them from reporting the crimes. Do not let down your guard even if the person knocking on your door is female or has children in tow. This is another strategy for getting residents to relax their guard.
Some seniors rely on a caregiver. Be wary if that caregiver tries to isolate you from your friends and family, asks you about your will and investments, asks to be given power of attorney, or tries to dominate or influence you. Tell family members or call Missouri’s Elder Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 800-392-0210. Learn more about Caretaker Crimes.
Medicare prohibits companies offering its approved drugs from calling you, emailing you or visiting your home, unless you ask them. If you need information on the benefits available to you as a Medicare beneficiary, visit the federal government’s Medicare website or call 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227).
While it makes sense to plan your funeral and burial in advance, it’s not a good idea to pay for these services in advance. Draw up your plans with a reputable funeral business and save a copy for your survivors. If you want to cover the cost of your funeral, include funds to do so in your will.
While we must protect ourselves from strangers, it’s also true that victims of financial exploitation often know and trust the person who rips them off. Protect yourself by keeping all of your important financial documents under lock and key in your home. Store your valuables in a bank safe deposit box. Simply put, don’t make it easy for someone to walk away with your property or assets.
Identity theft is the crime of misusing someone's personal information to fraudulently set up bank accounts and credit facilities without that person's knowledge. Someone else pretends to be you to obtain credit, take out a loan, open an account, set up services or obtain identification.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office says that these are the most common ways identity thieves obtain your personal information:
- "Dumpster diving" - going through your trash looking for information.
- Stealing your mail.
- Stealing your wallet or purse.
- "Skimming" your debit or credit card numbers - stealing through a data storage device like an ATM or actual transaction.
- "Phishing" - sending an email or calling on the telephone falsely claiming to be a legitimate company, agency, bank or organization in order to entice potential victims to divulge personal information. (Learn more below.)
- Obtaining your credit report - posing as an employer or landlord.
- "Business record theft" - stealing hard files, hacking into electronic files or bribing an employee for access to files.
- Diverting your mail to another location - filling out a "change of address" form.
- "Pharming" - rerouting you to a copycat website when you type in a legitimate bank or e-commerce website in order to obtain your personal information.
Here is a list of things you can do to prevent identity theft:
- Use a paper shredder to destroy financial documents or other documents with personal information.
- Don't carry your social security card with you or write it on a check. Place the card in a safe place, only give it out when absolutely necessary and ask to use another identifier for accounts.
- Change your passwords every 60 days and make them "strong" (more difficult to "crack") by using a combination of uppercase, lower case, numbers and symbols. Avoid using your birthdate, mother's maiden name, last four digits of your social security number or other obvious identifying words or numbers.
- Order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus each year: Experian, Transunion and Equifax. It contains information about what credit accounts have been opened in your name, as well as where you live and work, how you pay your bills, if you've been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy. You are entitled to one free report each year from each of the three major bureaus.
- Watch your billing cycles closely. If a bill is late, check with your creditors to see why it has not arrived; and watch for any unauthorized charges or unexpected account statements.
- Have your mail sent to a post office box or get a locking mailbox. Also take outgoing mail to the post office.
- Only use a secure connection on the Internet when sending credit card numbers or other personal information. The site should begin with "https" with "s" meaning "secure."
- Use virus protection and a firewall program to prevent your computer from being accessed by others, and keep them up to date. Don't download files or click on links from unknown sources; instead, type in a web address you know. Also, unplug your Internet when you're not using it.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done at your house.
- Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers and receive fewer solicitations at home by calling 888-567-8688 or visiting the OptOutPrescreen website.
Get more information from the Missouri General Attorney’s Office, including what to do if you think you’re the victim of identity theft.
Police departments throughout the region have received many identity theft reports and reports of scam phone calls by people claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service.
Hundreds of people in St. Peters fell victim to identity theft involving their tax information. The criminals were using the victims’ personal information to file fraudulent tax returns. It’s still too early to tell if this will again be a problem in 2016. This type of identity theft is extremely hard to prevent because the breach possibly came from other businesses that have your personal information. If you discover you are a victim of identity theft, bring the letter or notice you receive from the IRS to the St. Peters Police Department and file a report.
To make matters worse, scam artists are calling residents, claiming to be an agent with the Internal Revenue Service. The phone calls appear to be done at random and from various phone numbers. The scammer will tell you that you owe back taxes and you must pay those taxes immediately or they will have a warrant out for your arrest.
As stated directly from the IRS website, the scammer will give you multiple signs that their claims are fake. First, they will demand immediate payment. In reality, the IRS will communicate through the mail about any outstanding taxes. Second, they will demand you pay the taxes without giving you the chance to question or appeal the amount. Third, they require only a specific method of payment. They prefer prepaid debit/credit cards or wiring money. Fourth, they will ask for the debit/credit card number over the phone. Lastly, if you refuse to comply, they threaten involving the police.
If you receive a call like this, tell the person that you’re aware that this is a scam and hang up. This should remove you from their calling list.
Any time that someone contacts you from the IRS, a charity, your bank/credit card company or a business, you should never trust that the person on the other end is being truthful. Make your own contacts to ensure you are not being scammed. It is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.
For more information, go to the IRS website.
Credit card fraud takes place every day in a variety of ways. You can’t always prevent it from happening, but you can create some obstacles and make it tougher for someone to get ahold of your cards and card numbers. Treating your credit cards and account numbers like cash — that is, very carefully — is one way to head off potential misuse.
The term phishing refers to when a criminal uses email or other online messages to try to gain access to your personal or financial information. Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information. Don't use the links in an email, instant message, or chat to get to any web page if you suspect the message might not be authentic or you don't know the sender or user's handle. (See the example of a phishing email) Always ensure that you're using a secure website when submitting credit card or other sensitive information via your Web browser.