Fraud Archive

(September) Phone Scams Ramp Up in Wisconsin

The Consumer Hotline at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is lighting up with questions about fraudulent telephone calls. Thankfully, most consumers are calling to inquire about the scam attempts, not to report that they have been victimized. DATCP asks consumers to be on the lookout for requests for payments, personal information or access to their computers during unsolicited calls.

DATCP has recently seen a spike in inquiries and complaints about fake Internal Revenue Service (IRS) phone calls (both “live” calls and robocalls). In this pervasive nationwide scam, a caller falsely claims to represent the IRS and warns the call recipients that they are behind on taxes and must make an immediate payment to avoid arrest or legal actions. After threatening victims with jail time, deportation or driver’s license revocation, scammers may hang up and call a second time claiming to be with the local police or DMV. Spoofed caller ID information will often support this claim.

The IRS has issued two separate warnings to taxpayers this year about these operations, and federal agencies have identified more than 1,000 victims nationwide who have lost an estimated $5 million in these tax scams.   If you receive a similar call, remember:

  • The IRS NEVER asks taxpayers to pay their tax bill using prepaid debit cards, credit/debit cards or wire transfers over the phone.
  • If the IRS contacts a consumer about unpaid taxes, they do so by postal mail, not by phone.
  • Do not be fooled if your caller ID displays “IRS” or the agency’s toll-free number.
  • Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.
  • Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to victims after an initial call to support their scam story.
  • If you receive a threat by robocall, hang up and do not press any buttons during the call.

Consumers are also reaching out to DATCP about other recent phone-based scams, including:

  • “Card Services” robocalls. An automated caller claims that you can receive a reduced rate on your credit cards using their services. These operations are a national nuisance and nearly everyone has received at least one of these calls at some point. If you receive this robocall, hang up without pressing any buttons.
  • Tech support for a “virus” on your computer. A caller who falsely claims to be with a tech support company (typically Microsoft) will tell you that you have a malicious virus on your computer. In order to remove the virus, the caller will ask you to turn over access to your computer using an online program, giving them full control over your system and putting your files and personal information at risk. They will also require a credit card to process a payment for their “services.” Hang up immediately if you receive a similar call – regardless of what the so-called “technician” says about any codes or files they claim to find on your system, they do not know about a problem with your computer and the operation is a scam.
  • Lotteries and contests. A caller falsely claims that you have won a major prize (often an international lottery or Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes) and requests that you send them payment for taxes or shipment of your winnings. Never pay a fee to claim a “free” prize.

Again, please remember that a request for money, personal information or access to your computer from an unsolicited caller is a scam. Hang up the phone, do not press any keys during the call and do not engage the caller in any way.

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:  DATCP)

(July) Out of State Tax Notices May Signal Identity Theft

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has recently received reports of what appears to be a new trend in identity theft: consumers are receiving notices from tax agencies in other states about filed tax returns.

The consumers didn’t earn income or file tax returns in those states, but the state tax agency letters say their return is under review.

“Don’t assume the letter is just a clerical error. If a tax return was filed using your personal information, you may be the victim of identity theft,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Take immediate steps to protect your identity.”

Identity thieves use personal information to file fraudulent tax returns in hopes of getting a refund. If you believe you may be the victim of identity theft, DATCP recommends these immediate first steps:

DATCP is working with the Internal Revenue Service, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and the states that sent the notifications. If you receive a similar letter in the mail, please file a complaint on the DATCP website (http://datcp.wi.gov) or contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-422-7128 or by email at datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

(July) “Card Services” Robocalls Return with a New Hook

It has been nearly two years since “Rachel from Cardholder Services” was Public Enemy No. 1. The automated robocalls using “Rachel’s” voice were an illegal nuisance, falsely promising consumers nationwide that they could lower the interest rates on their credit cards for a fee. Similar operations are still calling, and now they are using a local angle to entice Wisconsin consumers to pick up the phone.

“Consumers are reporting an increase in robocalls from ‘Card Services,’ ‘Cardholder Services,’ and similar callers that offer lower credit card interest rates,” said Sandy Chalmers, Trade and Consumer Protection Administrator. “In this latest round of calls, the consumers’ caller ID displays are showing the incoming call as almost identical to their own number.”

For example, a call to a resident at 555-555-5555 may show on the caller ID display as coming from 555-555-5570. The similarity in numbers is causing consumers to pick up the calls for three reasons:

  • The calls appear to be local
  • The similarity in numbers piques consumers’ interests
  • Because the displayed number is similar in structure to a consumer’s own number, it may belong to another member of the community. That community member’s name may appear with the number on the caller ID display rather than a business or general name like “Card Services.”

“Criminals can use technology to make a caller ID system show whatever number or message they choose, so don’t trust the name or number on the display,” said Chalmers.

If you receive a robocall about lowering your credit card rates, hang up immediately. Taking any action by pressing a key on your phone will likely lead to increased robocalls, regardless of what the automated message tells you. Also, remember that these calls are part of a scam. The “service” being advertised in the call cannot save you money. In most cases, the real goal of the call is to collect your number to sell to other scammers or to charge your credit card with phony fees.

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

(June) Keep an Eye Out for Fraudulent Credit Card Charges

Wisconsin consumers should regularly monitor their credit card statements for unauthorized charges. Recent widespread scams have involved small, unauthorized charges on credit cards that are easily overlooked by cardholders.

“Scammers hope that consumers will overlook the small charge on their monthly statements or not review the statements at all,” said Sandy Chalmers, Administrator of Trade and Consumer Protection. “Report unauthorized charges immediately to minimize your liability.”

A consumer recently complained to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) about an unexpected charge of nearly $13 on his credit card from an unfamiliar company. This fraudulent charge included a foreign transaction fee of $0.37. This situation is similar to another recent scam where consumers worldwide found unauthorized charges of $9.84 on their monthly credit card statements.

Consumers should closely review their monthly credit card statements. If you find an unauthorized charge on your statement, immediately contact your financial provider (using the number on the back of the credit card) to report the fraud and to request a new card.

There are a number of steps you can take to protect your credit account and to lessen the potential for fraudulent activity in your accounts. Some tips to consider include:

  • Do not give your account number to anyone on the phone unless you made the call to a company you know to be reputable.
  • Carry your cards separately from your wallet to minimize your losses if someone steals your wallet or purse. Only carry the card you need for that outing.
  • Keep your eye on your card during a transaction. Make sure you get it back before you walk away.
  • Never sign a blank receipt. Draw a line through any blank spaces above the total.
  • Save your receipts to compare with your statement.
  • Open your bills promptly — or check them online often — and reconcile them with the purchases you have made.
  • Report any questionable charges to the card issuer.
  • Notify your card issuer if your address changes or if you will be traveling.

If you lose a credit card, call the card issuer as soon as you realize it is missing. Under federal law, once you report the loss or theft, you have no additional responsibility for charges you did not make and are only responsible for $50 in charges for unauthorized purchases made before you reported it missing. If you suspect that the card was used fraudulently, you may have to sign a statement under oath that you did not make the purchases in question.

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

(May) – Email Scam Uses Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s Name

Wisconsin taxpayers are receiving scam emails regarding fake tax liabilities. The messages claim that the recipient owes a Wisconsin tax and will face additional penalties if they do not open the email’s attachment. These emails falsely claim to be from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and opening the attachment could damage your computer or enable an identity thief to obtain personal information from your system. Delete the email and do NOT open any attachments.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue does not initiate taxpayer communications through email nor does it request detailed personal information by phone or email.

Here is an example of a message received by a Wisconsin taxpayer (note the numerous grammatical errors – a good sign of a potential scam):

Subject: Payment notice #103831

Good morning!

You has the fines for income tax.

Sum: $162.85

===Detailed announcement is in the attachment===

You gotta check out spreadsheet before July 11th 2014.

Otherwise you’ll obtain lawsuit.

Warm regards,

Chief of Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

(Made up Name)

(Made up Number)

Please do not reply to this email.

No virus found in this email. Checked by FortiClient. Mon, 5 May 2014 11:38:31 +0200

Again, if you receive a similar email, delete it and do not open the attachment.

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.

(May)  Be On Alert for Home Security System Robocalls

Wisconsin residents are receiving robocalls promising free security systems for their homes. Unsolicited sales calls are illegal. These current calls do not appear to come from a legitimate alarm company and are likely fraudulent. Hang up if you receive a similar call.

The messages will tell you that you can receive a free security system simply for having a sign planted in your front yard. You are provided with two options during the call: you can press a key to reach an operator or another key to be removed from the company’s call list. As with any other scam robocall, simply hang up and do not press any keys. Hitting a key will let the caller know that your number is active and may lead to an increase in similar calls.
 
To add legitimacy to the message or to catch the call recipient off guard, the automated message may open with a reference to the FBI. For example, the message may state:
 
“Hello! The FBI estimates that there are three break-ins every minute and urges you to take steps to prevent this from happening to you…”
 
The FBI is in no way involved with this operation. Don’t fall for this scare tactic.
 
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at 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:  DATCP)

(April) – BadgerCare Plus Phone Scams

Consumers should be on the lookout for calls from scammers that request your bank account information while claiming to represent the State of Wisconsin and the BadgerCare Plus health care program.

BadgerCare Plus members in the Fox Valley were recently told that they were eligible for a $200 stipend from the state and were asked for their bank account information in order to make the deposit. When the call recipients refused to turn over that information, the calls were disconnected.

The BadgerCare Plus program is administered by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Anyone who legitimately calls you from the BadgerCare Plus program will already have your account information, but they may ask you to verify your birthdate to ensure they are talking with the correct person.

Never provide financial information over the phone unless you initiated the call.

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

(March) – Unique Powerball Scam

A unique phone scam is targeting Wisconsin consumers, with callers telling consumers that they are eligible for unclaimed Powerball prizes and asking them to pick some numbers. Later, the callers contact the consumers again claiming that they won a third or fourth prize for millions of dollars and an automobile. A phony promise of prize winnings is a common scam. What sets these calls apart from traditional scams, however, is that these scammers are not asking for money to cover “taxes” or “fees” on the fictional prizes or for personally identifying information like Social Security numbers. Rather, they seem to be “casing” the consumers for future scams, asking them general financial questions about their investments and the values of their homes.

 
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) runs the state’s lottery. DOR is aware of these calls and notes that the only time you would receive a call from the Lottery is if you have entered and won a Lottery “mail in” drawing.
 
Wisconsin residents have contacted the Consumer Information Hotline at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) looking for help in verifying the legitimacy of these calls. Because these Powerball calls have not included the usual scam red flags of requests for money, sensitive personal data or bank or credit account numbers, it has been a challenge for the hotline staff to persuade consumers that the calls are fraudulent.
 
Even if the caller does not ask for personally identifying information in these initial contacts, they are still gathering data that allows them to build a profile on the consumer that they can use for future scams. If a consumer freely and eagerly answers the scammer’s questions, that scammer now has two important pieces of information: the overall wealth of the consumer and a sense that the consumer will be an easy and receptive target for future scams. These profiles are valuable for scammers and may be sold and shared among these criminals.
 
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

(March) – Eviction Email Scam

Wisconsin consumers are receiving fake eviction notices by email.  The messages claim that the recipient will be kicked off the premises “due to multiple violations,” and note that details of the violations are available in an attached file.  The attachment likely contains an executable file that will infect your computer with malicious software.  The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) warns recipients to delete these emails immediately and never to open an attachment from an unknown sender.

Under current Wisconsin law, a valid eviction notice will not come to you by email.
 
In addition to the fake eviction notice, the email messages also warn recipients that they will incur costs associated with the eviction proceedings.  Again, this is an empty threat.
 
The scam messages forwarded to DATCP appear to come from different email addresses, but end in a domain that belongs to a legitimate global law firm.  The firm’s identity is fraudulently used in this scam and the email addresses are spoofed by the scammers.
 
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

(February) – Another Utility Bill Email Scam Making the Rounds

That utility bill you received by email for $500, $524 or $524.30? It’s a fake. Delete it and never click the link in the message.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has received a handful of complaints from consumers who received a fraudulent bill for utility services from “Energy Billing Service” or “Energy Billing System.” The email addresses from which the scams originate are different, but many of the addresses appear to be based overseas. In addition to the complaints received by DATCP, WE Energies informed the agency that more than 50 of its customers have reported similar messages to the company’s call center.

The email messages include a link to “view your most recent bill.” Clicking that link could cause you to accidentally download a malware package or could direct you to a scam website where you are prompted to turn over personal or banking information. As with any other unsolicited email or text message from an unknown source, simply delete it and take no further action.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at 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 – DATCP)

(February) – American TV Shoppers: Watch Out for Check Out Errors

Bargain shoppers who are hitting up their local American TV & Appliance store’s going out of business sale need to pay close attention to the price at the register when they check out. Weights and Measures inspectors from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) conducted a price verification survey at each of the seven American TV stores in Wisconsin on Monday and found that 5.5 percent of the items checked rang up higher than the advertised price.

Wisconsin law requires that stores charge the lowest advertised price. Consumers are entitled to a refund when they are overcharged.

DATCP inspectors checked a total of 325 items at the stores. The highest overcharge on a single item was $314.44 at the Casaloma Drive store in Appleton.

The store with the highest number of overcharges was the West Beltline Highway store in Madison. Of the 50 items checked, seven were overcharged at the register. When the inspector returned to the store on Tuesday, February 25, the errors had been corrected.

DATCP advises consumers to:

  • Take the sticker or tag from the item with you to the register.
  • Compare the sticker price to the price that rings up at the register.
  • Ask questions before you pay.

(Source: DATCP)

(February) – Malware Linked to Fake Funeral Notice Emails

Be aware of a new email scam that uses fake funeral announcements as a way to infect your computer with malicious software (malware). The emails include limited information, noting only that an upcoming service will be held for a “friend” and providing a link for more details. If you receive a similar email, delete it immediately.

Under no circumstances should an email recipient click the link in the email. The link will direct the browser to a foreign website where a .zip file will automatically be downloaded. If this .zip file is opened, malware will be installed onto the victim’s computer.

An email received by a Wisconsin resident fraudulently claimed to be from Eubank Funeral Home & Cremation Services, a legitimate company in Texas. The company has placed a warning message on the homepage of its website to warn the public about this scam and the misuse of its name. Similar emails in this scam may use the names of other businesses. (Source: DATCP)

(February ) – “One Ring” Scams Trick Callers into Making Expensive International Calls

Your cell phone rings once. No voicemail is left. You call back and are put on hold and asked to wait for an operator.

By returning that call, you just made yourself a potential victim of a type of callback fraud known as a “one ring” scam. While you wait on hold, you are being charged for international phone fees starting at around $20. The longer you wait, the more you are charged. Because the call you received started with a three-digit area code, you assumed that it came from within the United States, but it was actually placed from another country that shares our area code system, usually in the Caribbean.

The Consumer Protection Bureau at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says if you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer it and certainly don’t call back. Companies that don’t do business in the Caribbean may want to consider blocking the area codes listed below to avoid this scam.

Scammers are using call generators with automated spoofing capabilities to place calls to a large number of cell phone numbers in the United States. Area codes used in the spoofed numbers may be from:

  • Anguilla (area code: 264)
  • Antigua (268)
  • Barbados (246)
  • British Virgin Islands (284)
  • The Commonwealth of Dominica (767)
  • Dominican Republic (809, 829, 849)
  • Grenada (473)
  • Jamaica (876)
  • Montserrat (664)
  • The Turks and Caicos Islands (649)

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

(February 2014) – Suspicious Calls

Calls have been going out from 608-729-0020 to both home phones and personal cell phones leaving a message claiming to be the State of Wisconsin following up on a letter recently mailed. The caller requests that you save the number in your phone so you recognize it and answer when they call back.

There are multiple records of these calls on a website that records types of suspicious calls. Some callers have been able to confirm that these were indeed coming from a state agency, while many remain skeptical as they did not receive any letter before the calls started.

Please be cautious in sharing any information with a caller you are not familiar with. If they introduce themselves as calling from a certain agency, consider calling that agency directly using the phone number listed in a reputable directory and questioning the intention of the call.

(January 2014) – Tech Support Scam

If 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, hang up immediately. It is a scam.

These “tech support” scams have been around for a long time and are very common. The callers often falsely claim to represent Microsoft or a local tech support company to gain the consumer’s trust. They tell the consumer that they can remove the (non-existent) virus from their computer for a fee. The caller asks the victim to download software from the internet that grants them remote access to the 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. For people who shop, file taxes, access medical records or bank online, a computer may hold a wealth of personal and financial information including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and banking and routing account numbers. Giving access to a computer-savvy scammer is a recipe for disaster.

In addition, these scammers often require payment for their “services” by phone using a credit card. With the victim’s card numbers, the scammer is likely to pile on additional charges to the account.

Again, if you receive one of these tech support phone calls, simply hang up. If you fear that your system may actually be infected with a virus, contact a trusted local tech support company instead. (Source: DATCP)

(January 2014) – Credit Card Fraud

Wondering if your credit card number could be in the hands of a crook? Look for a charge for $9.84.

The Better Business Bureau issued a fraud alert last week about a raft of consumer complaints all reporting the same niggling charge. The business levying this fee may purport to provide “customer support,” or it may simply identify itself as any one of a number of different websites.

The fraud, uncovered by a former Washington Post reporter who writes an investigative blog called KrebsOnSecurity, apparently relies on consumer carelessness. Where an unfamiliar charge for a large amount would be spotted by most consumers, little charges can go unnoticed.

Krebs writes in his blog that the charges, most of which were reported over the holiday season, may have been spotted because consumers are being more vigilant in the wake of the Target breach. His investigation into the fees led him through a labyrinth of 230 websites that were all connected to one of a handful of individuals located in London, India and Cyprus.

The bottom line for credit card customers is a simple one: If you spot a charge for $9.84 on your credit card statement, call the card issuer. It’s likely that your card or card number is in the hands of a crook. You need a new card and to place a fraud alert on your credit file.

Placing a fraud alert on your credit file is simple (and explained here by the Federal Trade Commission). It should only require reporting the fraud to one of the three credit bureaus. The credit bureau that you report to should spread the news to the other two major bureaus on your behalf.

And in case you’re not already doing this, keep a close eye on your accounts. As the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches make clear, credit card security is far from foolproof. Your best defense is vigilance. ( Source: CBS News)

(January 2014) – Shipping Scam

Be on the lookout for fake shipping emails that appear to be from a “shipping manager” for a delivery company such as USPS or UPS or from major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart or Costco.

The emails claim that the recipient has a shipment that is waiting to be delivered, but note that there is a problem with the delivery. The recipient is asked to complete a form on a linked page to get the situation rectified. The scam email also threatens that if the recipient does not respond within a week or so, they will refund the money for the item minus a significant fee.

In actuality, there is no product waiting for delivery, and the alarming language in the email is intended to make recipients act quickly without considering consequences. By clicking on any of the links in the email, a recipient risks downloading malware or handing over personal information to the scammers.

If you receive a similar email, delete it and do not click any of the links contained within. If you know that you do, in fact, have a shipment on route that may incur a delay, contact the shipper directly to inquire.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline. (Source: DATCP)

(January 2014) – Sweepstakes Scam

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says residents across the state say they’ve been getting calls from people claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House. The suspected scammers tell them they’ve won a sweepstakes prize and ask for an upfront fee payable with a pre-paid debit card.

The state says potential victims are directed to pick up and pay for a Green Dot MoneyPak debit card from a retail or drug store in order to transfer the fee.

Consumer protection officials say scammers choose pre-paid debit cards and wire transfers as ways for victims to send them money because the transactions are difficult to trace and nearly impossible to reverse.

(January 2014) – Email Scam

State court officials have issued a warning about an email scam that’s made its way to Wisconsin.

Opening an email summoning you to appear in “the court of Washington” could compromise your computer. Officials say courts do not send summons by email.

Washington County circuit court clerk Theresa Russell tells the Journal Sentinel her office has received more than 100 calls from people who got the illegitimate email and wanted to check it out.

Any state court appearance can be checked online at the Wisconsin court system’s website at wcca.wicourts.gov.

(January 2014) – Utility Scam

Wisconsin Public Service is warning customers to look out for scammers.

“Our call center is receiving calls from customers who are being contacted by these scammers on a daily basis,” according to a news release from WPS. WPS leaders say scammers are pretending to be from the collection department.

The scammers tell customers their power will be shut off within 45 minutes unless they pay. WPS says it would never ask anyone to meet them to pay a utility bill.

If you have any questions, you can contact the WPS at 1-800-450-7255. You can also call Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128.