The month of March began with National Consumer Protection Week. The FTC has recently reported that Americans lost upwards of $3.3 billion to scams and fraud in 2020. This is almost double the amount lost in 2019! Just in New York State, which had the 9th highest rate of fraud reports to the FTC in 2020, people lost a total of $169.9 million to fraud and scams. While identity theft is by far the most common method of fraud reported, other methods of fraud include imposter scams, online shopping scams, improper uses of credit reports and information from credit bureaus, and bank/lender fraud.
With scams on the rise due to the pandemic and recent winter weather emergencies, it’s more important than ever to take steps to educate and protect yourself. Below are examples of some red flags for scams:
- Being contacted with an offer for a COVID treatment or vaccine from anyone other than a medical professional or government health department
- Being offered the opportunity to “jump the line” for COVID vaccines by paying a fee – you will never be charged a fee for any legitimate COVID vaccine, and it is not possible to buy a place in line!
- Being contacted by phone, text, or email with an offer of a refund for utility services due to a power outage by someone who then demands your bank account information for “direct deposit” purposes
- Being offered a quicker utility service restoration by paying a fee, particularly if you are asked to pay the fee in gift cards or by payment apps (Venmo, PayPal, Zelle)
If you receive any phone calls, texts, or emails like the above, ignore them and hang up right away! If you believe you are owed a refund for lost utility service, call your utility company directly at the phone number listed on your statement.
If you receive any suspicious phone calls, texts, or emails, be sure to report them to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC uses this information to alert the public of potential scams and stop scammers in their tracks. Visit ReportFraud.ftc.gov for more information, and to report a scam quickly and safely.
The Center for Elder Law and Justice can help you if you need more information about scams or if you think you may have been contacted by a scammer. Contact our main office at (716) 853-3087 or our free Legal Advice Helpline at (844) 481-0973. To screen yourself or someone you care about for risk of scams or financial exploitation, visit our free Senior Financial Safety Tool at https://probononet.neotalogic.com/a/sfst. If you do not have safe Internet access, the Senior Financial Safety Tool can also be accessed over the phone by calling (833) 646-1401 on Tuesdays from 12pm to 2pm.