Social Security scams were the most common fraud schemes reported by Vermonters in 2019, according to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.
The second and third most common schemes were computer tech support scams and fake sweepstakes, according to a list the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program released Wednesday of the top 10 scams reported in 2019.
Out of 5,477 total reports, nearly 1,500 complaints were filed about the Social Security scam, which involves a caller phishing for a Vermonter’s Social Security number by saying that the number has been compromised, suspended, or linked to criminal activity.
The majority of the scams happen over the phone, but consumers also reported being scammed through emails, letters and internet pop-ups.
Lisa Jensen, assistant director of the Consumer Assistance Program, said of the calls they receive, about three-quarters are from Vermonters who recognized the scams for what they were. The rest are from Vermonters who actually lost money as a result of the tricks.
If people contact the office within the first 24 hours of losing money to a scam, the AG’s office is able to help consumers track the scam and work with their banks to stop any further unauthorized withdrawals. Otherwise, she said, all they can do is add the scam to a database shared with the FBI, and hope that the fraud is stopped at the federal level.
“With the complexity of technology and the internet, it’s difficult for us to stop,” Jensen said. “You could be getting a call from a scam artist in a totally different country — it’s very difficult for us to track.”
What the Consumer Protections Office can do, Jensen said, is put out alerts to make Vermonters aware of how scammers might be targeting them.
Last year, the office put out three alerts for scams that were causing a spike in reports. Jensen said oftentimes, younger Vermonters see these alerts and spread the word to their older friends and relatives to help stop the scammers.
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The first alert was sent out in March, for a computer tech support scam. The second was in May, for an “Amazon” credit card phishing scam that made the top 10 list for the first time last year, and the third was in December, for a Medicare scam that tends to resurface during open enrollment period, Jensen said.
“It’s important for us to know what kinds of scams are affecting Vermonters in our effort to educate and prevent more loss,” Jensen said.
She encouraged Vermonters to report and scam calls they receive to the consumer protection hotline at 1-800-649-2424.
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