Top 10 Scams Reported To Attorney General Mcdonnell


1.Federal Grant Scams
3.Foreign Lottery
4.Identity Theft
6.Advance Fee/Nigerian Letters
7.Medicare Scams
9.Online Shopping
10.Home Improvement Fraud

1. Federal Grant Scams

This scam starts with consumers receiving a phone call with news that they have been selected by a government agency to receive a free grant of thousands of dollars that does not have to be repaid. The caller then asks for the consumer’s bank account information so the money can be transferred into the account. Fortunately, most of those reporting to us say they refused and hung up on the caller, but some complied and their bank accounts were wiped out.
Don’t give your bank account information to anyone you don’t know. Scammers pressure people to divulge their bank account information so they can steal the money in the account. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Don’t share it unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.
Don’t pay for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you have already been awarded — or to pay for a list of grant-making institutions. The names of agencies and foundations that award grants are available for free at any public library or on the Internet. The only official access point for all federal grant-making agencies is
Look alikes are not the real thing. Just because the caller says he is from the "Federal Grants Administration" does not mean he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check the blue pages in your telephone directory to bear out your hunch - or not.

2. Telemarketing/Telephone Scams

Most consumers know the routine: you sit down to dinner and the telephone rings. You answer it. There is a pleasant voice trying to sell you something. If you are tempted by the offer, you had better get the facts before a potential fraud gets you. Although most telephone sales pitches are made on behalf of legitimate organizations offering bona fide products and services, there are many unscrupulous companies involved in telemarketing fraud. Fraudulent telemarketers use phony prizes, cheap products and high-pressure sales tactics to defraud consumers. It is estimated that telemarketing fraud robs consumers of more than $40 billion each year.
Alarmingly, seniors are three times as likely to become victims of telemarketing fraud. Fraudulent telemarketers try to take advantage of seniors on the theory that they may be more trusting and polite toward strangers. Older women living alone are particularly targeted.

• Don't be pressured to make an immediate decision.
• Don't give your credit card, checking account or Social Security number to unknown callers.
• Don't pay for something merely because you'll get a "free gift."
• Get all information in writing before you agree to buy.
• Check out a charity before you give. Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. Ask that written information be sent to you so you can make an informed giving decision.
• Don't invest your money with an unknown caller who insists you make up your mind immediately.
• Take control of the calls you receive. If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive, place your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. To register online, visit To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register.

3. Foreign Lottery Scams

Scam operators — often based in Canada — are using the telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.
Still, federal law enforcement authorities are intercepting and destroying millions of foreign lottery mailings sent or delivered by the truckload into the U.S. And consumers, lured by prospects of instant wealth, are responding to the solicitations that do get through — to the tune of $120 million a year, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

• If you play a foreign lottery — through the mail or over the telephone — you’re violating federal law.
• There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.
• If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment “opportunities.” Your name will be placed on “sucker lists” that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.
• Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.

4. Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. In 2005, identity theft complaints made up thirty seven percent (37 percent) of all fraud complaints in the United States. Currently, Virginia ranks 17th in the nation in the total number of known victims of identity theft. Technological advances have created an information revolution that has transformed government, business, commerce, education and communication. Unfortunately, the increased use of computers has also increased opportunities for criminal activity. Our Computer Crime Section receives reports about identity thieves and con artists every day who use technology as a tool to perpetrate crimes.
In Virginia, identity theft is a serious crime. Currently, an identity thief whose crime results in financial loss up to $200 faces a misdemeanor conviction and confinement for not more than 12 months and/or a maximum fine of $2,500. An identity thief whose crime results in financial loss greater than $200, faces a felony conviction and a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years.

• Reduce the number of credit and debit cards you carry in your wallet. Carry one or two credit cards and your ATM card in your wallet. Debit cards are popular. If you use them, take advantage of online access to your bank account to monitor account activity frequently. Report evidence of fraud to your financial institution immediately.
• When using your credit and debit cards at restaurants and stores, pay close attention to how the magnetic stripe information is swiped by the waiter or clerk. Dishonest employees have been known to use small hand-held devices called skimmers to quickly swipe the card and then later download the account number.

5. Sweepstakes Scams

Under the Virginia Prizes and Gifts Act, if you are told that you have won a prize or gift, you do not have to submit to a sales pitch or pay any money in order to receive your prize or gift. You must be given your prize or gift within ten days, without any obligation. If you receive a notice that you are eligible to win or receive a prize, Virginia law requires that you be told what the prize is worth. Your prize notification is also required to contain information that reveals the retail value of each prize, the odds of winning each prize, the exact number of prizes to be awarded and what conditions must be met to receive the prize. Shipping charges for the gift or prize cannot exceed the cost of postage or delivery service, and the handling charges cannot exceed the lesser of the cost of handling or $5.

• Do not pay to collect sweepstakes winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes do not require you to pay “insurance,” “taxes” or “shipping and handling charges” to collect your prize.
• Hold on to your money. Do not be pressured to wire money or send it by overnight delivery. Con artists recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you have been cheated.
• Look-alikes are not the real thing. Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to try to confuse you. Insurance companies, including Lloyd’s, do not insure delivery of sweepstakes winnings.
• Phone numbers can deceive. New technology can make incoming calls look as if they are coming from Washington, DC, or your own community.

6. Advance Fee Frauds

The most visible form of advance fee fraud today is the Nigerian Letter or 419 fraud, named after the section of the Nigerian criminal code that it violates. These scams have come to be associated with Nigeria due to the massive proliferation of such confidence tricks from that country since the early 1990s, as well as the reputation of the country for corruption. Originally, the schemers contacted mainly heads of companies and church officials, often by fax or postal mail. However, the use of e-mail spam and instant messaging for the initial contacts has led to many private citizens also being targeted, as the cost to the scammers to make contact is much lower. A typical letter claims to come from a person needing to transfer large sums of money out of the country or from a lottery company.

• If you receive a letter from Nigeria asking you to send personal or banking information, do not reply in any manner. Send the letter to the U.S. Secret Service or the FBI.
• If you know someone who is corresponding in one of these schemes, encourage that person to contact the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service as soon as possible.
• Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials asking for your help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
• Do not believe the promise of large sums of money for your cooperation.
• Guard your bank account information carefully.

7. Medicare Scams

Most Medicare payment errors are simple mistakes and are not the result of physicians, providers, or suppliers trying to take advantage of the Medicare system. If you have a question or concern regarding a Medicare claim submitted on your behalf, you should discuss it directly with your physician, provider, or supplier that provided the service.
The vast majority of physicians, providers, and suppliers who serve people with Medicare are committed to providing high quality care to their patients and to billing the program only for the payments they have earned.
However, there are a few individuals who are intent on abusing or defrauding Medicare, cheating the program (and in some cases the people with Medicare who are liable for co-payments) out of millions of dollars annually. Medicare fraud takes a lot of money every year from the Medicare program.

• Don’t ever give out your Medicare Health Insurance Claim Number (on your Medicare card) except to your physician or other Medicare provider.
• Don't allow anyone, except appropriate medical professionals, to review your medical records or recommend services.
• Don't contact your physician to request a service that you do not need.
• Do be careful in accepting Medicare services that are represented as being free.
• Do be cautious when you are offered free testing or screening in exchange for your Medicare card number.

8. Phishing Scams

“Phishing” (also called “spoofing”) occurs when thieves send an e-mail that appears to have been sent from the domain of a legitimate retailer, bank, credit card or insurance agency. In recent months, fraudsters have spoofed customers of Citibank, BestBuy, Earthlink, eBay, PayPal and even the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Thieves send emails to millions of internet users that ask them to update their account information for banks, credit cards, online payment services or popular shopping sites. Frequently, the email claims that the recipient’s account information has expired or has been lost and the account holder needs to immediately resend it to the company.

• Be extremely skeptical of email received from someone you don’t know.
• Keep separate passwords for each online account.
• Never click on a link embedded within any potentially suspicious email.
• Call your financial institutions to verify account status before divulging any information.
• Never respond to any request for personal information that comes to you via email

9. Online Shopping Fraud

The ease and convenience of shopping online has led an increasing number of consumers to purchase goods and services on the Internet. In the process, customers transmit personal information such as their Social Security Numbers, and credit card numbers through cyberspace. While some of these web sites are safe and serve their purpose well, others either do not have the proper security measures or present a fraudulent front with the sole purpose of gaining personal information.
In 2002, nearly one in four Virginians reported that they were a victim of a fraudulent act. The most common forms of Internet fraud are credit card fraud and Internet auction fraud.

• Do not provide your credit card number unless the site is secure and reputable.
• Look for indicators that the site is secure, e.g., a “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar, or a URL that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure)
• Look for symbols such as the Better Business Bureau’s Online Reliability and Privacy Seals and the TRUSTe privacy seal.
• Check the website’s privacy policy so you can be assured that you have full control over the uses of your personal information.
• Pay by charge or credit card. If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. This statute gives you the right to dispute charges under particular circumstances, including:

- Unauthorized charges.
- Charges that list the wrong amount.
- Charges for goods which were not delivered as agreed.

10. Home Improvement Fraud

For many Virginians, their home is their most valuable financial asset. For this reason, it is important to be cautious when hiring someone to do home improvements. Home improvement scams ensnare many unwary consumers, especially during tough economic times. Bogus and substandard services and products for the home are among the leading causes of consumer complaints nationwide. Seniors are especially vulnerable to this form of consumer fraud.

• Be suspicious of contractors who seek you out. Don’t believe a contractor who tells you s/he has materials “left over from a job down the street” and s/he can pave your driveway or replace your roof for a “really low price.”
• Find out what work the project requires. Knowing this will help you speak knowledgeably with other contractors you are considering for the job and allow you to compare them on an equal basis.
• Determine what repairs or improvements you would like to have done and how much money you can spend. If you know in advance exactly what you want, need and can afford, you will be less likely to fall victim to high-pressure sales tactics.
• Do not do business without a written contract. Be sure that all guarantees, promises, and details are in writing.
• Do not pay large sums in advance and never make a final payment until all work is completed to your satisfaction.
• Check out contractors’ licensing and complaint history with the Virginia Board for Contractors (804-367-8511) and the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (804-786-2042) or (800-552-9963 if calling from outside the Richmond area).

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