“Government” Scams - Be Aware
Every year, consumers lose billions of dollars to scammers claiming to be officials from government agencies and legitimate businesses. Recently, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has noticed an increase in complaints regarding consumers who have been contacted by individuals falsely claiming to be from government agencies. These scammers attempt to get money or personal information for purposes of identity theft. Although elderly consumers tend to be disproportionately targeted, anyone can be a victim.
Variations of the scam that have been reported include:
- A representative claiming to be from the local electric company knocks on your door and informs you that the government has a special program to assist you in paying your utility bill. You’ll then be pressured into disclosing your Social Security number to apply for the program. In return, you’ll receive a bogus routing and account number to provide to the utility company as payment.
- Your phone rings and a person claiming to represent Medicare informs you that they are issuing a new national Medicare card to all beneficiaries. The caller asks for the number on your current Medicare card and your mailing address for “verification purposes.” They may also ask for bank information, claiming that they can provide a new Medicare card, but for a fee.
- A person claiming to be from the State Attorney’s office calls to inform you that they have received restitution on your behalf. The caller requests that you send money, by wire transfer or another untraceable method, to cover the “filing fees.”
- You receive an email from someone claiming tp represent the United States Department of State. The email will inform you of an inheritance from another country that belongs to you. All you have to do is provide your personal information such as your bank account number or Social Security number. You may also receive a request to wire fees to cover your taxes in advance.
Here are a few tips to help protect you from becoming a victim of a scam:
- Know who you are dealing with by obtaining and then confirming the identity of the person requesting information from you. Be wary of verifying an individual's identity by contacting a number they have given you. Scammers will give a potential victim a phone number and then have a third party available to verify their identity.
- Do not give your checking account number or Social Security number in response to solicitations from unknown individuals.
- Be wary of anyone requiring payment by a method that’s difficult to track, such as wire transfer, money order or by sending cash via an overnight courier. This is usually one of the first indications of a scam.
- Get details in writing before signing any agreements, sending money or giving out any credit card or bank information.
- Take your time and resist the urge to act quickly no matter how good the offer is. It’s better to think things through than make an impulsive decision based on an emotional whim. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails. Cyber criminals may use the names of government agencies or law firms and spoofed email or web addresses to add legitimacy to their scams.
- If you do seek assistance in dealing with a business transaction, remember that state consumer protection agencies do not charge fees for complaint mediation or for accepting and processing consumer refunds.
The department is available to assist consumers who have received unsolicited calls or visits and are concerned about the possibility of fraud. We’ll assist you in finding answers for any consumer related questions you may have or direct you to the best resource for assistance. Please call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) within Florida, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español, (850) 410-3800 from outside of Florida or visit us online at www.800helpfla.com. The Consumer Assistance Center is staffed with trained analysts who answer more than 218,000 calls and emails annually from consumers and businesses. Through our website, you’ll find the department’s online A-Z Resource Guide, a directory of agencies and other resources that consumers can utilize to find appropriate assistance on a wide variety of subjects. As always, an educated consumer is the best defense against fraud and deception!