Every year, the Vermont Attorney General's Office, as well as attorneys general in the other states, compile statistics on scams that are reported to state authorities. In 2015, 5,896 reports were filed in Vermont.
Not a small number when viewed in light of the fact that Vermont ranks 49th in population or when you consider that the number of reported scams increased 340 percent between 2012 and 2015.
As with the states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York, the number of reported scams is only the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of scams are never reported; most people simply dismiss rather than report attempts and most victims are too embarrassed to admit their losses.
The No. 1 reported scam in 2015 is identified as the "IRS Debt Collection Scam" and amounted to more than one half of the scams reported in the State. It usually takes the form of a phone call or eMail message saying that you owe "back taxes" or an unpaid tax bill that is due to the government. The caller will claim to be an IRS agent or calling from the U.S. Treasury or the email will appear to be legitimate, displaying IRS logos and symbols. The Internal Revenue Service notifies the public by mail, not by phone call or email.
Do not respond to these messages. They should be reported to law enforcement including any telephone numbers, email address or web addresses. If you are concerned about back taxes or delinquent payments, contact the IRS directly by calling (800) 829-1040.
Approximately 15 percent of the reported scams in 2015 were attempts at fake debt collection. Usually, the con artist will call with notice that there is an unpaid debt or loan payment and threaten lawsuits, wage garnishments and even arrest. Typically, there is a demand for immediate payment and threats of utility disconnection. Never pay a harassing collector over the phone by credit card or money order. Demand proof in writing of any alleged debt with the original creditor and as with the IRS Scam, verify the alleged problem by contacting the loan originator or source of the debt.
Our third most frequently reported fraud attempt is commonly called the Microsoft Tech Support Scam. In this situation, a phone call is received or a pop-up message appears on a computer stating that a virus has been detected or there is a serious problem on your computer. The pop-up message provides a telephone number to call to remedy the situation.
If the attempt is by telephone, the caller will indicate that he is calling from Microsoft and a problem has been detected. The request made in both situations is for you to give remote access to your computer in order to remedy the situation and sometimes the request includes the need to pay a small fee.
It is important to know that Microsoft, Apple, and other software and hardware providers do not conduct business in this way. They do not monitor individual computers; they do, however, release periodic alerts to the general public. If you receive one of these "personal" notices by phone, hang up. Calls are often made by computers and the originator does not even know if you have a computer. I have heard from many who do not own a computer yet they received the call.
If the "alert" comes to you on your computer, close the internet browser and shut off, then restart your computer. If a problem does develop or persists, contact Apple, Microsoft, your computer manufacture or any other reputable retail technology company for assistance.
Next week: The Top 10 computer fraud scams continued.
Elliott Greenblott is the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. The AARP is seeking fraud fighters. Join the AARP Fraud Watch Network and receive watchdog alerts and tips. It's free. Go to aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or volunteer by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling 877-434-7598, or by emailing Greenblott at email@example.com.