Elliott Greenblott: Fraud Watch | The top 10 scams of 2019, part one

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Each February, I take time to review the top scams of the previous year as reported by the Vermont Attorney General's Office. I do not have similar data for neighboring states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York), but it is reasonable to consider that the list will be fairly similar in the areas bordering Vermont.

Before getting to the list, there are a few understandings I need to convey. Not all scams and attempted scams are reported due to the embarrassment of being a victim, the feeling that the scam isn't worth reporting, or the sense that fraud simply happens and we need to move on with our lives. Another reason for what appears to be under-reporting is that there is no central clearinghouse for fraud and attempted fraud.

Generally, people who report a scam to their attorney general's office do not report to another agency. Consider that there are many "collectors" of data including the state attorney general, state regulatory agencies, FBI, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Better Business Bureau, and, of course, AARP.

Each collector has its own fraud labeling system and approach to cataloging fraud. For example, the Vermont Attorney General's Office reports 5,447 cases of reported fraud, while the Federal Trade Commission notes 3,102 reported incidents of fraud and identity theft in Vermont. A truly reflective approach might be to combine the information collected by everyone and not focus on an individual report.

Despite the differences in data collection, the most important step the average citizen can take is to report fraud and scams — successful and unsuccessful attempts. Through these reports, government agencies are able to collect and analyze the data to combat the crimes. Additionally, fraud alerts can be issued when a particular scam becomes more common.

Here are the first two of the Top 10 scams, according to the Vermont Attorney General's Office:

10. Online classified listings: The scammer buys an item from an online listing, overpays, and asks for money to be wired back. In a similar scam, the criminal posts a fictitious rental property asking for advance payment of the first month rental fee. Quite

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often, the scammer asks for payment by wire transfer, bank transfer, or gift cards. That should be an immediate "red light." The AG's office recommends that if you move forward with the transaction, it should be in cash and in person. Refusal to meet with you should end any contacts.

9. Amazon credit card phishing: An automated call or email message claims that your credit card will be charged by Amazon (or any other vendor) or that you have an unpaid balance on your account. The phone call provides a callback option to resolve the problem, or if it's an email message, you are instructed to click a link. The criminals will attempt to get credit card information or personal data by impersonating real company employees.

I received an email from "Amazon" and followed a route I do not recommend to readers; I clicked on the link and used a fictitious account to enter the website. In a series of data entry pages, I was asked for my Amazon account ID and password, a credit card number, expiration date, security code, address, Social Security number and mother's maiden name. The three pages on the website appeared to be real, but clearly were not, and asked for information Amazon would not have

requested. In situations such as those described above, do not provide the information. Use a trusted contact number and call the real company (Amazon, Mastercard, Visa, etc.) to determine if there is an issue. The message you receive should have a reply address that includes the sender's company (@amazon.com).

We still have eight of the Top 10 scams to review in the next installment of Fraud Watch. See the entire list now at https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/ and select Top Scams of 2019.

Questions, comments, concerns, requests? Email me at egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He co-produces and hosts a feature CATV program, "Mr. Scammer," distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt., and online at gnat-tv.org.


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