January 19, 2011
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Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) has released its annual report on the top scams reported to its national Fraud Center, and the nonprofit consumer group noted a growing trend in 2010 indicating that older consumers have been targeted hard by con artists and are disproportionately falling victim to sweepstakes scams.
The report, which is compiled from consumer complaints submitted to NCL’s Fraud Center, examined trends in Internet and telemarketing fraud in 2010.
“Fraudulent telemarketers and Web-based scammers aren't just pushy salespeople trying to make a living - they are hardened criminals out to take their victims’ life savings,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Con artists know that older consumers may be particularly vulnerable to falling for a bogus pitch, using scare tactics, posing as legitimate outfits, or making the offer sound so sweet that it’s difficult for consumers to resist.”
Indeed, just last month, NCL’s Fraud Center alerted consumers of scam artists using variations on the so-called “Grandparent Scam,” in response to a number of consumer complaints that the Fraud Center received regarding attempted and successful frauds by unscrupulous scammers.
In a typical Grandparent Scam, a con artist calls or emails the victim posing as a relative in distress or as someone claiming to represent the relative (such as a lawyer or law enforcement agent). The scammer may frantically tell the victim a variation of “Grandma, it’s me,” followed by a description of the problem in which they have found themselves (arrested, in an auto accident, in need of a lawyer, etc.). The victim is then instructed to wire money to the scam artist with the claim that the funds will be used for bail money, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills, or other expenses. The victim is urged not to tell anyone, such as the parent of the “grandchild” because they do not want them to find out about the trouble they've gotten themselves into. Although Grandparent Scams have not yet made an appearance in the Top Ten list of scams, the fact that fraudsters are targeting older consumers is consistent with other trends the Fraud Center has noticed recently. And many scams rely on money being wired. Consumers should be wary of any offer that requires wiring of money, instead of using a credit card, which protects consumers in the event of a scam.
“Scam artists will stop at nothing to defraud consumers, many of whom are elderly and living on fixed incomes,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud.
Fake Check scams remain most-reported
Fake check scams—in which fraudsters lure their victims with phony mystery shopper jobs or sweepstake “winnings,” and ask their victims to cash realistic-looking checks and wire a portion of the proceeds back to the scammer before the check bounces—continued to be the most frequently-reported scam to NCL’s Fraud Center, making up 29 percent of all complaints (37 percent of all Internet fraud complaints and 26 percent of telemarketing complaints).
“Fake check scams have been going strong since we first started hearing about them years ago. There are so many variations of the fake check scam, it’s often hard to keep track. But whatever the pitch, they all have one thing in common: there is no legitimate reason for someone to give you money and then ask you to wire money back,” said Breyault. “If a stranger wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashiers check for the exact amount, preferably from a local bank or a bank that has a branch in your area.”
For more information on NCL’s 2010 Top Ten Scams report, click here.
About the National Consumers League
Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.