HARRISBURG — Attorney General Tom Corbett cautioned consumers to be wary of scam artists who claim to be calling on behalf of various government agencies, including the Office of Attorney General.
“The Office of Attorney General does not conduct sweepstakes or lotteries and will not call consumers requesting that they send money in order to claim a financial prize,” Corbett said. “Scam artists are hoping that the use of an official agency name, along with the promise of a large sum of money, will convince consumers to respond quickly without questioning the legitimacy of the offer.”
Corbett said that in one instance, a scam caller trying to convince a senior citizen that she had won a large sum of money actually claimed to be Attorney General Tom Corbett –calling to personally vouch for the contest. On other occasions, callers have claimed to be “agents” or “officers,” from the Attorney General’s Office attempting to notify people about fictitious prizes.
Corbett noted that the names of other agencies, including the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have also been used to add an illusion of authenticity to various scam attempts. Fabricated letters, bogus claims forms and counterfeit checks are also being used to entice consumers.
“The primary thrust for these scams is to get consumers to wire-transfer money – often to pay for various “fees” or “taxes” – in order to secure the release of a much larger prize,” Corbett said. “In other cases, thieves may ask for bank account information or social security numbers, supposedly to allow prize money or other payments to be electronically transferred to consumers.”
Corbett said that con artists are aggressively using telephone calls, Internet offers and mail scams to target victims of all ages.
“Over the past year, complaints about all types of financial scams have more than doubled,” Corbett said. “Scam artists are using a variety of too-good-to-be true offers – including bogus contests, phony employment schemes, Internet auctions and classified ads –to lure consumers who are searching for extra cash.”
Corbett urged consumers to avoid any sort of contest that requires consumers to wire-transfer money in order to release a much larger prize.
“Legitimate lotteries withhold all taxes and fees up-front, before they distribute the prize winnings, so there’s no need for consumers to ever send money to contest operators,” Corbett said. “Additionally, it is extremely unlikely that consumers will win a lottery or sweepstakes that they have not physically entered and federal law prohibits U.S. citizens from participating in foreign lotteries.”
Corbett also encouraged consumers to avoid employment offers or “government grant” solicitations that seem too good to be true.
“In nearly every job-related scam, consumers will be asked to wire-transfer money as part of their ’employment’ – a clear warning sign of a scam,” Corbett said. “In government grant scams, consumers are often told that they need to send money in order to cover application or processing fees – another ‘red flag’ for scams.”
Additionally, Corbett cautioned consumers to be wary of situations where people overpay for items that are being sold through classified ads or online auctions. Often, scam artists will send a check for more than the sale price, with a request that the “extra” funds be transferred to someone else in order to pay for shipping or other fees. In other situations, thieves may pay for an item but then quickly ask for a portion of their money back – claiming to have encountered sudden family or financial problems.
“In all of these situations, the scam artists are hoping to convince you to quickly wire-transfer money before you discover that their initial check is worthless,” Corbett said.
Corbett said that consumers with questions or complaints about scams or other consumer issues can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an online consumer complaint using the Attorney General’s Web site (Click on the “Complaints” button on front page of the website and select “Consumer Complaint Form” from the list).