By Ramona du Houx
Captiol photo by Ramona du Houx
Attorney General Janet T. Mills reports that her Office has received many recent reports of aggressive calls from scammers demanding immediate payments on supposed debts. The common thread among the scammers is that they attempt to get you to make a payment by wire transfer or pre-paid debit card. Mainers should be very suspicious of anyone calling out of the blue and demanding an immediate payment of a debt, especially if they require that payment by any reloadable cash cards such as Green Dot Money Pak or a wire service like Western Union.
“The names and the details of the scams vary,” Attorney General Mills said. “Typically the caller pretends they are from a business that you know and are attempting to collect an old debt. Perhaps they say you have won a lottery. Sometimes they even claim to be from the state or federal government. The caller has just enough information about you that you believe they are legitimate. The red flag, however, is that they want you to make an instant payment with a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. This is how you know you are getting scammed. Hang up the phone immediately.”
In this information age, a scammer can glean a lot of information about a person from the internet. They may also have coupled that information with private personal or financial data from an illegal data breach. The result is that the scammer can be very convincing when they call you out of the blue and catch you off guard.
“No legitimate business, governmental entity or genuine debt collection agency is going to call you without having first sent you mail. They will not demand an immediate payment. They will not require that you wire cash or use a pre-paid debit card service, and they will not threaten you with arrest if you do not comply,” said Attorney General Mills. “These are all the red flags of a scam artist.”
One Maine resident recently recorded his interaction with a scammer claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service. His call illustrates several tactics used by phone scammers. They claimed to be from an entity that the target is familiar with and who he has the potential to owe money to. When challenged about his authenticity, the scammer tried to reassure the target by giving a badge number in order to sound official. And finally, the payment could only be made by “Green Dot Money Pak,” available at places like Walmart or drug store chains, and not by other typical means. The scammers are also not easily dissuaded; different people called repeatedly making the same claims in order to make him think they were legitimate.
Green Dot Money Pak is one brand name of a service people can use instead of a bank account to store cash; though there are many other companies who offer similar services. It looks like and can be used like a typical debit or credit card at cash registers or ATMs. These cards can be obtained by purchasing one at a store and loading it with funds. Each card has a unique account number. Scammers will get you to load your cash onto the card account and then have you read them the account number over the phone. They then withdraw your cash from the account from anywhere in the world, virtually untraceable.
The IRS has warned people about scams like this and the FTC has a website with information about the IRS scam and other common phone scams like the foreign lottery, extended car warranties or charitable causes.
“The best advice to Mainers is to be very suspicious of anyone calling you and demanding an immediate payment,” said Attorney General Mills. “When in doubt, hang up the phone. If you have questions, call the entity they claimed to be from to see if you have a debt to pay and never, ever make a payment over the phone.”
Maine consumers who have questions about phone scams or other consumer protection matters can contact the Attorney General’sConsumer Protection Division: 1-800-436-2131 or email: consumer.mediation@Maine.gov .