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Rotarians briefed on active scams and fraud alerts

By DAVE FAIRCHILD

Danville Rotary

On the first of February, Heather Clary (Director of Communications at Central & Eastern Kentucky BBB), gave Rotarians an overview of scams and alerts that are currently active in our region. The agency has about 2,000 businesses that are accredited throughout their 64-county area. Accreditation includes a commitment to make good faith efforts to resolve any consumer complaints.

The accredited businesses range from small, family-owned operations up to large, national companies.  Accredited businesses pay fees that help the BBB provide free services such as scam and fraud alerts.

In addition to its accreditation programs, the BBB works with various media to expose current fraudulent activities or scams. Regional and national charitable organizations are evaluated. Many have words like kidney, heart, lung, veteran, children, fire or police in their name or mission statement. The evaluation results are incorporated into a website called “Wise Giving Alliance,” which provides information regarding how well these organizations meet voluntary standards of charitable accountability. The information covers how much of the money sites raise; how much goes to the actual programs and how much goes into “overhead” expenses.

As we are entering tax filing season, scams claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service will increase. Many scammers claim to represent the IRS, the U.S. Treasury Department, Homeland Security, or even Microsoft. They usually claim that threats to your account(s) or computer have been found. You need to call the number provided to immediately initiate corrective action. Of course, it’s not true.

Government agencies and reputable companies do not utilize phones or social media applications for legitimate reasons to reach people; they use written correspondence. Neither do they provide any call-back number or furnish a link to a specific website. Calling to check out the number lets scammers know they reached a operating phone. Scammers are now using technology that disguises where the call originated (“spoofing”) so the listed number is probably not valid anyway.

“Anybody ever receive a calling indicating you have won the Publisher’s Clearing House drawing for $8.1 million dollars?” Not likely. Scammers then indicate that a small payment is needed cover certain transfer expenses. Clary reminded us that the real process starts with an unannounced knock on the winner’s front door, accompanied by lots of media coverage.

The next phone scam addressed was a call claiming to be from “Microsoft Tech Support,” or some similar tech support firm, warning of error messages or viruses that have been detected on your computer. The unsuspecting owner is asked to allow the “technician” to remotely access the computer.  Access can seek to acquire personal information or to implant viruses. A new twist in the scheme uses “pop ups” to hold the machine hostage until a payment is made.

Many schemes involve a phone call from area code 876 (Jamaica). Currently, the schemes use purchasing gift cards to urgently send money for a personal emergency, e.g., someone’s medical, legal or bail bond expense. Sometimes, the caller will stay on the phone while you buy the card. The caller then will demand the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card. Those numbers let them immediately get the money you loaded onto the card and disappear. Clary pointedly told Rotarians that everyone should avoid long delays after registering a gift card to avoid potential use by scammers.

Another frequently used scam starts with call announcing a “free” government grant award. The BBB receives many calls where people are told they were selected to receive a government grant worth several thousand dollars. Reasons given for the grant vary, but involve some previously identified personal status, e.g., good credit, no criminal record or being a military veteran.

The federal government doesn’t hand out unrequested grant money, nor does it require you to pay a few hundred dollars in fees in order to get it.

Home fixup scams will be coming with the spring season. Each year, the BBB receives lots of calls reporting suspicious door-to-door contractors that do shoddy work or even do no work at all after demanding payment up front.

Clary recommended checking out contractors with the BBB. They have lists of accredited contractors in a variety of categories. She also recommended getting written estimates (preferably more than one), a written contract, proof of insurance and verified references.

The public is urged to contact BBB to check out businesses or charities, find accredited businesses they can trust, report scams or to ask questions at www.bbb.org or (859) 259-1008. They can also follow the BBB on Facebook at @BetterBusinessBureauservingCentralandEasternKY; and on Twitter at @BBBBluegrassky.