Fraud Alerts

Fraud

It seems that businesses and individuals are under constant attack by criminals trying to steal our data, money or even identities. As these attacks reach us locally, we will keep you updated on this page. Please review the steps to protect yourself from all types of fraud on the Fraud Education Center page.

Be in the Know: Computer Tech Support and IRS Scams

Tech support and Internal Revenue Service scams target victims randomly and regularly. Both are old scams, both involve threats and demands for money, and neither is showing any signs of slowing down.

Over the past four weeks, the Consumer Protection Hotline at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has received at least nine calls about tech support scams and more than 120 calls about IRS scams.

The criminals behind these scams are experts at preying on fears of crashed computers and lost data or back taxes and jail time, and people fall victim every day. The best defense is to know how these scams work and to share this information with friends and family.

Computer tech support scams:

You receive a call out of the blue claiming that your computer has a virus and that the caller can help you get rid of it. The callers often falsely claim to represent Microsoft or a local tech support company to gain your trust. They tell you that they can remove the (non-existent) virus from your computer for a fee. The caller asks you to download software from the internet that grants them remote access to your system.

If you allow these scammers to access your computer, they can load any number of malicious software programs onto your machine and they may access your files as well. If you give them your credit card number to pay for their “services,” you can expect to get ripped off there too. This is typically a phone-based scam, but also shows up in online pop-up messages saying you have a computer virus and telling you to call a specific phone number for help.

What to do:
•Hang up the phone or close the pop-up.
•A tech support representative (Microsoft or otherwise) will never contact you to tell you that your computer has a virus.
•If you question whether your computer is actually infected, run a system scan using the antivirus protection software on your computer. Keep your antivirus software updated in order to protect you from the latest malware.
•If you need additional help, take your computer to a local, trusted tech support business.

IRS scams:

A scammer who falsely claims to be with the Internal Revenue Service contacts you by phone or email. He claims that you owe back taxes. He demands immediate payment and may threaten you with legal action, jail time, deportation or revocation of your driver’s license.

In other versions of IRS scams, the scammer may email you requesting your IRS e-services portal username and password or may request personal or banking information in order to “update” your e-file records.

These are “government impostor” scams – a type of criminal operation that uses the names or “look-alikes” of government agencies in the hopes of adding legitimacy to their ploys. None of the communications mentioned above are actually from the IRS.

What to do:
•Hang up the phone or delete the emails.
•The IRS communicates with taxpayers by traditional mail. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by phone or email to request immediate payments or to gather personal or financial information.
•Never click a link or open an attachment in an unsolicited email.
•If you question the legitimacy of a communication from a governmental agency, contact DATCP’s Consumer Protection Hotline (800-422-7128) or call the misrepresented agency directly to inquire.
•The IRS has a webpage that describes and debunks the various tax scams that have been reported to the agency. The page provides a wealth of tips, news releases, and video and podcast links to help you stay informed on these threats: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

(Source: Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection)

Free Money? There’s No Such Thing

(April 2015)

Free money sounds great. But if someone calls out of the blue telling you that you have been awarded thousands of dollars in a “free government grant,” don’t believe it – especially when the caller asks for your banking information.

A grant phone scam may currently be targeting the 608 area code, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is asking residents to be on the lookout for these fraudulent calls.

Grant scams, whether unsolicited phone calls or through classified ads claiming to offer free money (and providing a toll-free number to call), typically begin with:

•A claim that your application for a grant is guaranteed to be accepted and that you will never have to pay back the money.
•A backstory about receiving the grant for paying taxes on time, having a clean criminal record and voting regularly. Other ploys include grants to pay for education costs, home repairs, business expenses or unpaid bills.
•A request for checking account information in order to establish a “direct deposit” of the grant funds or to cover a one-time “processing fee.” In actuality, the scammer is looking to drain your account.
•A phony reference number for the grant application.

Many standard phone scam tips apply for grant scam attempts:
•Never give out personal or banking information on an unsolicited call.
•Scammers can “spoof” their call information, making your caller ID display read however they wish. Never trust the phone number or company name that displays on the caller ID if you think it may be a scam call.
•To add legitimacy to the ploy, a crook may have some basic information about you on hand when they call, such as your name, address and age. Remember that this is publicly accessible information.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

(Source: Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection)

Utility Scam Targets Small Businesses

(March 2015)

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has received reports about recent utility scam attempts against small businesses in the state. DATCP urges Wisconsin residents and businesses to be on guard for threatening, unexpected phone calls regarding their utility accounts.

In this operation, scammers call businesses and residents and falsely claim to represent the local utility company. They threaten account holders with a cancellation of services if an immediate payment is not made. If you receive a similar call, hang up and contact your service provider directly to inquire.

Over the past week, Xcel Energy business customers in the La Crosse area have been targeted in this scam – but these fraudulent operations are not limited to geographic area or the types of accounts held.

Avoid being tricked in a utility scam by remembering the following:

  • Utility companies will contact you by mail if your account is overdue and your services are at risk of being terminated.
  • If a caller demands a utility payment by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, it is a scam.
  • Scammers can manipulate your caller ID display to show the local utility company’s name or number when they call.
  • If you are unsure of the status of your account, contact your service provider using the number listed on your recent gas or electric bill.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

(Source: Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection)

Scam Uses Fake State of Wisconsin Investment Board Checks

(March 2015)

Over the past week, scammers have attempted to rip off Craigslist sellers using fake State of Wisconsin Investment Board checks.

Crooks are “paying” for small items on Craigslist with fake checks in large amounts ($1,900, for example). The checks list the State of Wisconsin Investment Board’s name and address. The seller is asked to cash the check, keep the full price of the item, and wire back the extra funds to the sender.

If someone wants to pay by check and have you wire money back, it’s a scam – no matter whose name is on the check. Banks must make funds available quickly, but that doesn’t mean a check is good. It can take weeks for forgery to be discovered by a bank that cashes a check. When a check bounces, the bank will hold the consumer accountable for the full amount plus fees.

There are simple ways to avoid a fake check scam:

  • If you’re selling something, don’t accept a check for more than the selling price, especially when the buyer asks you to return the difference.
  • Don’t spend the funds from a check until you know that the check has fully cleared the bank’s system and the funds are available.
  • The State of Wisconsin Investment Board is not purchasing your Craigslist item. If you receive one of these fake checks, file a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline at 1-800-422-7128.

(Source:  Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection)

Spring Break:  A Time for Warm Sun and Cold-Hearted Scams

(March 2015)

College students and families statewide are finalizing their spring break plans and looking forward to some time away. But all that travel opens up opportunities for scammers to target elderly relatives back home with family emergency phone scams – more commonly known as the “grandparent scam.” To help protect family members in your absence, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks travelers to have a discussion with senior relatives about these scams.

“It’s surprisingly easy for a crook to gather enough online information to impersonate a loved one,” said Sandy Chalmers, Assistant Deputy Secretary. “This is a scam we hear about on a regular basis in Wisconsin, so make sure your elderly friends and relatives know what to do if they get this call.”

Crooks routinely steal thousands of dollars from vulnerable seniors nationwide using the grandparent scam. Canadian law enforcement officers shut down a Montreal-based operation in February that was targeting American seniors.

Scammers target elderly victims by impersonating a grandchild claiming they need money for an emergency. The grandparent is asked to keep the call a secret from family members and authorities. The scammers typically request the money by wire transfer.

Of course, the entire story is a hoax – but the threat of a loved one in need clouds the victims’ judgment and makes them eager to help in any way they can.

The scammer may already know some basic facts about the grandchild they are impersonating – especially if the grandchild has a social media presence that is open to the public. A second person claiming to be a police officer, lawyer or bondsman may also call the grandparent to add legitimacy to the story.

DATCP offers these additional tips for handling these scam calls:

•Resist the pressure to act immediately.
•Hang up and try to contact the grandchild or another family member at a number that you know is accurate.
•Do not wire money or provide your bank or credit card account numbers.
•Verify the caller’s identity by asking personal questions a stranger could not answer.
•If you cannot reach a family member and still are not sure what to do, call the Bureau of Consumer Protection or your local police on their non-emergency line.
•Remember that this scam is not exclusively dependent upon the grandparent/grandchild relationship – scammers could also claim to be a niece or nephew or a family friend.
•If you repeatedly receive fraudulent calls, file a complaint with the police.

For more information about grandparent scams or other fraudulent activities targeting elderly citizens, visit the Consumer Protection website at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

(Source:  Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection)

Consumer Tips from Your Community Banker
(February 2015)

Guard Your Identity, Resources in 2015

Midwesterners, Wisconsinites in particular, are often friendly, trusting, and willing to help a stranger. But sometimes such laudable traits can backfire. Before you respond to a promotion or a plea for help, ask about documentation and security safeguards.

A few common scams have become well-known and most people know not to respond to a money-making deal emailed to them from Nigeria or to a phone call requesting money to get their grandchild out of jail. Yet some scams are less well known and seemingly innocent. If you are contacted by a charity that you’ve never heard of and it seems to be doing wonderful work, don’t take the message at face value. At a minimum, contact their headquarters and check to see that they are listed on the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions’ list of registered charitable organizations: https://www.wdfi.org/ice/berg/Registration/Search.aspx.

Other fraud is less visible, as when a criminal steals customers’ identities through a retailer’s vulnerable computer network. To prevent and limit the damages of identity theft, avoid giving out personal information unnecessarily. And remember to check your debit and credit card statements frequently for unknown purchases. If you find that your account has been robbed, contact your card holders, financial institution, police, and credit bureaus as soon as possible.

Some vendors-such as tax preparers, investment professionals, insurers, and medical offices-have legitimate needs to see personal information. Be especially watchful of any transactions that require the sharing of your Social Security number, birth date, or other personal information.

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, for example, recently reminded investors to be “vigilant about asking questions about a financial firm’s level of cybersecurity preparedness. They should ask about what specific steps the firm has taken to protect personal client information.” said Patricia Struck, administrator of DFI’s Division of Securities.

A good investment firm will not be put off by your questions, but will know that you are careful about safeguarding your identity and resources. Ask if the firm has ever experienced a cybersecurity incident and what safeguards it has in place.

In September 2014, the North American Securities Administrators Association reported that 62 percent of state-registered investment adviser firms participating in a pilot survey had undergone a cybersecurity risk assessment, and 77 percent had established policies and procedures related to technology or cybersecurity.

Likewise, consumers can reduce their risk of becoming the victim of cybercrime or other fraud by identifying areas of potential risk, asking questions, and being vigilant.

Additional resources:

• Read the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions’ media release on investors and cybersecurity: http://www.wdfi.org/newsroom/press/.
• Read the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s recommendations regarding identity theft at tax time: http://www.revenue.wi.gov/faqs/ise/idtheft.html.
• For more tips on preventing identity theft, visit: http://www.usa.gov/topics/money/identity-theft/prevention.shtml.

(Source:  Community Bankers of Wisconsin)