Georgia Attorney General: Beware of Phone Scams During the Holiday Season

ATLANTA, GA – Attorney General Carr is urging consumers to be on guard this Holiday Season and not to fall prey to telemarketing and imposter phone scams.

“During what should be an enjoyable time of the year, we don’t want consumers to be duped by con artists,” said Attorney General Chris Carr. “We want consumers to use good judgement and verify who they are dealing with before making an important decision. After all, a consumer’s best defense is to be prepared.”

Below, please read through some of the common tactics that scammers are using this season:

Court of Appeals Scam
Members of the public have received calls from individuals posing as "agents" working with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The callers then ask the recipient to pay a monetary fine. While the recipient's caller ID may show that the call comes from the Clerk's Office main phone number (404-335-6100), these calls are "spoofed" and are not from the Court of Appeals. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals does not call members of the public and ask them to pay a fine over the phone.

Loan Scam
One scenario that has been reported to the Attorney General’s Office involves a call from a “lending club” offering a loan to pay off a consumer’s credit card balance. The consumer is encouraged to go to a nearby store and make a purchase in the same dollar amount of the loan. After the purchase is made, the consumer is told the full loan amount will be deposited into the consumer’s checking account. This is all a ruse to trick the consumer into providing personal financial information.

Utility Scam
Another scam making the rounds is the utility disconnection scam. Utility customers are being called and told they owe a past due bill and their service will be cut off if payment is not made immediately. The fraudsters then provide a toll-free number to call to set up the payment. When customers dial that number, they get a recording that mimics the power company phone system, increasing the effectiveness of this scam.  The crooks also go so far as to send a professional-looking email to the customer that comes complete with the logo of the utility company.

Social Security Scam
Criminals are pretending to be employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA) in an attempt to obtain personal information from citizens over the phone. The crooks even “spoof” the actual number of the SSA to give their call credibility. The SSA advises citizens to contact their local SSA office or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) if there is any question about needed information. 
Consumers should remember that when acting in response to a call from a scammer, they may find it very difficult, if not impossible, to recover lost money because the scammer is hard to trace. Georgia consumers should report the situation to the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office by calling 404-651-8600 or visiting consumer.ga.gov
The Consumer Protection Division offers additional precautions about phone scams:
  • Fraudulent telemarketers understand human nature and prey on our vulnerability. We all want to believe that it’s our lucky day, that we can get a great deal, or that there is an easy way to solve our problems.
  • Older people are disproportionately targeted by fraudulent telemarketers. That’s because they’re home to get the calls, they have money saved that can be robbed, and they’re too polite to hang up.
  • It’s important to know whom you’re dealing with. If a company or charity is unfamiliar, check it out with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org). Note that fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn’t guarantee the company or charity is legitimate.  
  • Some telemarketing pitches are blatantly fraudulent, and you should know the signs. It’s illegal for telemarketers to ask for a fee up-front if they offer you a credit card, a loan, or “repair” of your credit. It’s also illegal for any company to ask you to pay or buy something to win a prize, or to claim that paying will increase your chances of winning.  And it’s illegal to buy and sell tickets to foreign lotteries by phone.
  • Other danger signs of fraud may be harder to recognize. These include:
    • Pressure to act immediately;
    • Use of scare tactics;
    • Refusing to send you written information;
    • Demanding that you send payment by wire or courier;
    • Demanding payment of taxes or customs fees to claim a prize;
    • Requesting your financial account numbers, even though you’re not paying for something with them;
    • Promising to recover money you’ve lost in other scams, for a fee;
    • Claiming that you can make lots of money working from home; and
    • Refusing to stop calling when you say you’re not interested.
  • How you pay matters. If you pay money with a check, money order or gift card, your money is gone before you realize there is a problem.  Paying by credit card is safest, because you can dispute the charges if you don’t get what you were promised.  You don’t have the same dispute rights when you pay with debit cards or give your bank account number.  
  • Where telemarketers are located matters too. Some fraudulent telemarketers are deliberately located in other countries, because it’s more difficult for U.S. law enforcement agencies to pursue them. It may be hard to tell where they are; they may have mail forwarded from the U.S. and use telephone numbers that are “spoofed” to look like domestic phone numbers.  Be very cautious when dealing with unknown companies from other countries.