Consumer Protection

The Consumer Protection  Unit is one of the local consumer programs throughout the Commonwealth working in cooperation with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

Consumer Protection staff are trained to mediate complaints through an informal process involving letters and telephone calls from the consumer and the business, in an effort to reach a mutually agreeable settlement. If Consumer Protection staff are unable to resolve your complaint, staff members will discuss the option of redress through small claims court, face-to-face mediation or a private attorney.

CONSUMER PROTECTION COMPLAINT FORM

Click HERE to fill out a Consumer Protection Complaint form.
Forms can be submitted using the following methods:

*Save the completed form to your computer and attach it to an email message and send it to:
NWD.CPU@MassMail.State.MA.US

*Print out the completed form, and any related documents and mail it to:
Northwestern District Attorney
Consumer Protection Unit
1 Gleason Plaza
Northampton MA 01060

*Or Fax to: 413-584-3635
If you have any difficulty filling out the form please contact us 413-586-9225 or email to  NWD.CPU@MassMail.State.MA.US
Note: The Consumer Protection Unit does not provide legal advice or opinions.

 


From the FTC: 10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud

Crooks use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. They often combine new technology with old tricks to get people to send money or give out personal information. Here are some practical tips to help you stay a step ahead.

  1. Spot imposters. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government officiala family membera charity, or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request — whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.  
  2. Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
  3. Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.
  4. Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear. 
  5. Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true for reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit or Vanilla. Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.
  6. Talk to someone. Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert — or just tell a friend.
  7. Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls.
  8. Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.
  9. Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.
  10. Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/scamsGet the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox.


You Invested In Us. Now It's Time to Invest in Yourself.
Savings Tips for Veterans:

  • Check Your Eligibility for a Massachusetts Veterans' Bonus - ​The Veterans' Bonus Division is proud to provide bonus payments for veterans, service members, and their families for qualified service in the United States military. Check your eligibility to start saving today.
  • Save Automatically - ​In 2017, you can start an automatic savings transfer, taking the guesswork out of setting money aside for your future. It can be hard to put aside money for savings, but there is an easy way to save money without ever missing it by making your savings automatic in 2017. Get started today by setting up an allotment in MyPay. Already saving automatically? Find ways to automate other aspects of your financial life this year.
  • Save for Retirement - Saving now for retirement by contributing to your Thrift Savings Plan (or increasing contributions by one percent this year) will ensure you get into the savings habit prior to the launch of the Blended Retirement System coming January 1, 2018. Take action, get informed today! Learn more about the Blended Retirement System here​.
  • Saving at Tax Time - Saving a portion of your tax refund can be a big step toward meeting your savings goals. This tax season, get ahead of your financial goals by splitting a portion your tax refund into savings.
  • Pay Off High-Interest Debt -  With planning, discipline, patience, and maybe some outside help, almost anyone can reduce their debts and start to accumulate wealth. Find places to cut your spending so that you can pay down your debts faster and find places to trim your expenses.
  • Save for Emergencies and Military Life’s Changes - An emergency savings fund consists of a small amount of money, usually in a savings account that you do not have easy access to. Saving for this fund starts with small, regularly scheduled contributions that build up over time.
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From the FTC:

Risk free trials were bait for rip offs

February 22, 2017by 

Bridget Small

Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Did you ever sign up for a free trial of a product you heard about on the radio? Some sellers will send you — and charge you — a lot more than you agreed to. The FTC says one group of dietary supplement marketers sold products through deceptive “risk free” offers and charged people repeatedly for unwanted products. The FTC and the Maine Office of the Attorney General have banned the marketers from charging people without their permission and making deceptive health care claims.

According to the FTC, the marketers used 30-minute radio ads that sounded like educational talk shows to promote their CogniPrin and FlexiPrin supplements. Their radio ads claimed CogniPrin could slow cognitive decline and improve memory by 44 percent, and FlexiPrin could reduce back and joint pain and rebuild damaged joints. But the FTC says the marketers didn’t have the science to prove any of those claims. When people called to request the “risk-free” offer, they were enrolled in monthly plans with continuing charges for products they didn’t order. People who wanted refunds of the “risk-free” offer had to go through a complicated process, return empty bottles and pay shipping charges.

If you enrolled in a free trial offer from a marketer that overcharged you, contact the company. If the company won’t give you a refund, call your credit card company to dispute the charge. Ask the credit card company to reverse the charge because you didn't intend to order the additional merchandise. If you were wrongly charged for a free trial offer, report it to the FTC.

Product reviews: you’re free to speak your mind

Here’s some good news for everyone who likes to write — and read — product reviews. A new federal law says businesses can't use contracts that prevent you from writing a truthful comment, or penalize you if you do. If a business, including an online business, uses contract terms or conditions that limit your right to comment, it’s breaking the law, and the FTC can investigate.

People benefit from reading what others have to say about their experiences with products and services. Before the Consumer Review Fairness Act passed, a company might sue customers who wrote honest but negative reviews, or claim they had to pay much more than the advertised price for the product. Now, Congress has made that illegal.

Reading customer reviews and comparing products online are great ways to get information before you buy.

If you have a problem with a company after you write a product review, please report it to the FTC.

Shopping Online infographic

 

From the FTC: Western Union settlement: $586 million in refunds

You probably know that Western Union runs money transfer services in the US and worldwide. What you might not know is that, according to the FTC, Western Union has known for years that scammers were using its system to commit significant fraud. Even when faced with clear evidence that many of its agents were committing fraud, Western Union kept taking people’s money. Probably billions in fraud-related transfers, sent since January 2004. But today, in a global settlement with the FTC and the US Department of Justice, Western Union agreed to return $586 million to people and create a real and strong anti-fraud program.

So, what kind of evidence was Western Union ignoring? Well, says the FTC, from January 2004 to August 2015, the company got more than 550,000 complaints about money transfers made for fraudulent lottery and prizes, family emergency calls, advance-fee loans, online dating and more. There were its own internal reports, which flagged fraud by some of its own agents, including many international agents that paid out fraud-induced transfers from US consumers. And there were warnings from US and international law enforcement about the fraud. And yet, the money kept rolling on through.

Under the settlement, Western Union will return $586 million through a process to be named later. (Watch this space for more information.) The company will have to train and monitor its agents so that people are protected. It won’t be allowed to transmit a money transfer that it knows – or should know – is a fraud. It has to block money transfers to anyone who has a fraud report, make it easier for people to report fraud, give clear warnings to people who are sending money, and refund a fraud-related money transfer if the company didn’t comply with its own anti-fraud procedures.

If you ever wire money, also keep in mind that it’s illegal for a telemarketer to ask you to pay with a money transfer. That’s right: Illegal. Scammers love using money transfer services because once you send the money, it’s gone forever. So, if a telemarketer asks you to wire money, already you know they’re a crook. Don’t wire the money, and then tell the FTC.

 

From the FTC: Don’t pay for a car with Amazon gift cards. Ever.

We’ve written before about scammers who trick people into paying with iTunes gift cards. The latest? They’re asking people to pay for big online purchases — like cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs and tractors — with Amazon gift cards.

Posing as sellers, scammers say they need to sell a car fast — maybe they’re in the military or about to deploy. They tell you to pay with an Amazon gift card.

Don’t do it. Amazon gift cards aren’t a way to pay someone — you can only use them at Amazon.com. So if someone asks you to pay with an Amazon gift card, it’s a scam. If you share the code from an Amazon gift card with someone, you’re giving that person control of the money on the card. By the time you realize it’s a scam and report it, the money will likely be gone.

Scammers also might ask you to use Amazon gift cards to pay for electronics, taxes, bail money, debts, or utility or cable bills. Or they might ask you to pay with iTunes gift cards, PayPal, or reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit, or Vanilla, or by money transfers through services like Western Union or MoneyGram. If you tell someone the code from any of those cards, or send a wire transfer, you probably won’t get your money back.

If you gave someone the code from an Amazon gift card, log into your Amazon account and contact Amazon Customer Service, or call them at 1-888-280-4331. Tell them what happened and ask if they can disable the card. If you hear from someone who wants you to pay with an Amazon gift card, don’t do it and report it to the FTC.

For more about avoiding scams, read 10 Ways to Avoid Fraud.

 

Police raids in India cut down IRS imposter calls

Associate Director, Consumer & Business Education, FTC

Over the last few years, we’ve warned about a lot of imposter scams. In one of the most common types, callers pretending to be from the IRS demand payments and threaten to arrest people.

Last fall, we mentioned raids on illegal telemarketing operations by the police in India. After that, the US Department of Justice indicted dozens of scammers who also were impersonating the IRS. After those actions, the number of IRS imposter scams reported to the FTC plummeted. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a behind-the-scenes look at the call centers and the raids that took them down. It’s a great reminder that scammers are organized, and they’re really good liars.

Here are four things that can help you avoid telephone scammers:

  1. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor will the IRS call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill. If you get a live or pre-recorded call claiming to be from the IRS and demanding payment right away, hang up. If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, you can call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040 to explore your options.
  2. Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can make caller ID look like anyone is calling: the IRS, a business or government office…even your own phone number. If they tell you to pay money for any reason, or ask for your financial account numbers, hang up.  If you think the caller might be legitimate, call back to a number you know is genuine – not the number the caller gave you.
  3. Hang up on robocalls. If you pick up the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal.
  4. Talk to someone. Before you give up money or information, talk to someone you trust. Scammers want you to make decisions in a hurry. Slow down, check out the story, search online – or just tell a friend.

    ***
    Franklin County Bar Association Offers Free Legal Advice

On January 23, 2017 from 5 – 7 p.m., the Franklin County Bar Association will hold an “Ask-an-Attorney” free legal advice phone-in program.  Any Franklin County resident can call and get free, brief and basic legal advice. The number to call is 413-773-9839 or toll free 888-351-8038.

Lawyers who are members of the Bar Association will volunteer their time.  This is an opportunity for people who have legal concerns but are not sure what to do. Referrals to community resources and private attorneys will be available. All calls will be answered, but the event is geared to meet the need of those in the community who cannot afford an attorney.

Information about the event is on www.franklincountybar.org
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From the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
CFPB Orders TransUnion and Equifax to Pay for Deceiving Consumers in Marketing Credit Scores and Credit Products

Credit Reporting Companies Misstated the Cost and Usefulness of the Credit Scores and Products They Sold, Lured Consumers into Costly Recurring Payments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today took action against Equifax, Inc., TransUnion, and their subsidiaries for deceiving consumers about the usefulness and actual cost of credit scores they sold to consumers. The companies also lured consumers into costly recurring payments for credit-related products with false promises. The CFPB ordered TransUnion and Equifax to truthfully represent the value of the credit scores they provide and the cost of obtaining those credit scores and other services. Between them, TransUnion and Equifax must pay a total of more than $17.6 million in restitution to consumers, and fines totaling $5.5 million to the CFPB.

“TransUnion and Equifax deceived consumers about the usefulness of the credit scores they marketed, and lured consumers into expensive recurring payments with false promises,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Credit scores are central to a consumer’s financial life and people deserve honest and accurate information about them.”

Chicago-based TransUnion and Atlanta-based Equifax are two of the nation’s three largest credit reporting agencies. TransUnion and Equifax collect credit information, including a borrower's payment history, debt load, maximum credit limits, names and addresses of current creditors, and other elements of their credit relationships. These generate credit reports and scores that are provided to businesses. Through their subsidiaries, TransUnion Interactive and Equifax Consumer Services, the companies also market, sell, or provide credit-related products directly to consumers, such as credit scores, credit reports, and credit monitoring. 

Credit scores are numerical summaries designed to predict consumer payment behavior in using credit. Many lenders and other commercial users rely in part on these scores when deciding whether to extend credit. No single credit score or credit score model is used by every lender. Lenders use an array of credit scores, which vary by score provider and scoring model. The scores that TransUnion sells to consumers are based on a model from VantageScore Solutions, LLC. Although TransUnion has marketed VantageScores to lenders and other commercial users, VantageScores are not typically used for credit decisions. Scores Equifax sold to consumers were based on Equifax’s proprietary model, the Equifax Credit Score, which is an “educational” credit score that also is typically not used by lenders to make credit decisions.

TransUnion, since at least July 2011, and Equifax, between July 2011 and March 2014, violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act by:

  • Deceiving consumers about the value of the credit scores they sold: In their advertising, TransUnion and Equifax falsely represented that the credit scores they marketed and provided to consumers were the same scores lenders typically use to make credit decisions. In fact, the scores sold by TransUnion and Equifax were not typically used by lenders to make those decisions.
  • Deceiving consumers into enrolling in subscription programs: In their advertising, TransUnion and Equifax falsely claimed that their credit scores and credit-related products were free or, in the case of TransUnion, cost only “$1.” In reality, consumers who signed up received a free trial of seven or 30 days, after which they were automatically enrolled in a subscription program. Unless they cancelled during the trial period, consumers were charged a recurring fee – usually $16 or more per month. This billing structure, known as a “negative option,” was not clearly and conspicuously disclosed to consumers.

Equifax also violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires a credit reporting agency to provide a free credit report once every 12 months and to operate a central source – AnnualCreditReport.com – where consumers can get their report. Until January 2014, consumers getting their report through Equifax first had to view Equifax advertisements. This violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which prohibits such advertising until after consumers receive their report.

Enforcement Action

Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB is authorized to take action against institutions engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, or that otherwise violate federal consumer financial laws. Under the consent orders, TransUnion and Equifax must:

  • Pay more than $17.6 million in total restitution to harmed consumers: TransUnion must provide more than $13.9 million in restitution to affected consumers. Equifax must provide almost $3.8 million in restitution to affected consumers. The companies must send notification letters about the restitution to affected consumers.
  • Truthfully represent the usefulness of credit scores it sells: TransUnion and Equifax must clearly inform consumers about the nature of the scores they are selling to consumers.
  • Obtain the express informed consent of consumers: Before enrolling a consumer in any credit-related product with a negative option feature, TransUnion and Equifax must obtain the consumer’s consent.
  • Provide an easy way to cancel products and services: TransUnion and Equifax must give consumers a simple, easy-to-understand way to cancel the purchase of any credit-related product, and stop billing and collecting payments for any recurring charge when a consumer cancels. 
  • Pay $5.5 million in total penalties: TransUnion must pay $3 million to the Bureau’s civil penalty fund. Equifax must pay $2.5 million to the Bureau’s civil penalty fund.

The full text of the CFPB’s Consent Order against Equifax is here:http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201701_cfpb_Equifax-consent-order.pdf 

The full text of the CFPB’s Consent Order against TransUnion is here:http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201701_cfpb_Transunion-consent-order.pdf 

More information about credit scores can be found here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/what-you-need-know-understanding-why-offers-your-credit-score-are-not-all-same/ 

 

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FTC Action Halts Timeshare Resale Scheme
Consumers lured into paying in advance to sell or rent their property

The Federal Trade Commission has charged the operators of a timeshare reselling scheme with bilking at least $15 million dollars from timeshare property owners by imposing hefty up-front fees based on false promises that they would sell or rent their properties.

At the FTC’s request, a federal court temporarily halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets pending litigation. The agency seeks to permanently stop the allegedly illegal practices and return money to consumers.

According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants telemarket to timeshare property owners and falsely claim that they have a buyer or renter ready and willing to buy or rent their properties for a specified price, or they promise to sell the timeshares quickly, sometimes within a specified time period.

The defendants charge property owners as much as $2,500 or more in advance but fail to deliver on their promises, the FTC alleged. The FTC noted in the complaint that the defendants string some owners along with additional false claims, such as that they will soon send them money from a sale or rental, and often get them to pay extra for purported closing costs or other fees. Consumers’ requests for refunds are typically denied or ignored, according to the complaint.

The defendants are Jess Kinmont, John P. Wenz, Jr., Pro Timeshare Resales of Flagler Beach LLC, Pro Timeshare Resales LLC, and J. William Enterprises LLC, doing business as Pro Timeshare Resales. They are charged with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, including calling numbers listed on the Do Not Call Registry.

The Commission thanks the Florida Attorney General’s Office for its contributions to this case.

The Commission vote approving the complaint was 3-0. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, entered a temporary restraining order against the defendants on December 13, 2016.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).


 

Telemarketing Defendants Charged by FTC in Tech Support Scheme Will Pay $10 Million for Consumer Redress

The defendants who operated a Florida-based tech support scheme that the Federal Trade Commission and State of Florida charged deceived thousands of consumers, will pay $10 million for consumer redress to settle the action.

According to the complaint, defendant Inbound Call Experts, doing business as Advanced Tech Support along with other defendants, used high-pressure sales pitches to telemarket tech support products and services falsely claiming to find viruses and malware on consumers’ computers.

The stipulated final court order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting that they have identified performance or security issues on consumers’ computers and from making any other misrepresentations while selling a product or service.  Under the order, a federal judge will appoint a monitor to oversee the defendants’ business for two years, at the defendants’ expense.  In addition, the order requires the defendants to review the business practices of any third-party lead generators from whom they get leads.

To fund the $10 million redress judgment, the order requires the defendants to transfer $5.75 million of their assets held in escrow by their attorneys to the FTC within 7 days after the order is signed by the judge, and to transfer an additional $2.25 million within 30 days. In addition, the court-appointed receiver will promptly transfer another $2 million of defendants’ assets to the FTC.

A negotiated settlement with the lead generator defendants in this action was announced in July 2016. The stipulated order announced today against the telemarketing defendants resolves the case.

In addition to Inbound Call Experts, the telemarketing defendants include Advanced Tech Supportco LLC; PC Vitalware LLC; Super PC Support LLC; Robert D. Deignan, Paul M. Herdsman and Justin M. Wright.

The Commission vote approving the stipulated final order was 3-0. The FTC filed the proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and it was entered by the judge on December 19, 2016.

NOTE: Stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)

  • For information on the Cuisinart food processor recall, Click HERE

  • Online shopping for the holidays? Check this list from the Federal Trade Commission:

  • In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it pays to slow down and take some precautions when shopping online. You see, the FTC has recently seen a spike of complaints about online retailers who didn’t deliver goods when they said they would, or didn’t deliver them at all. Late or no-show deliveries can make for less-than-jolly holidays. So here are a few tips to help make your online shopping merry and bright.

  • Do your research. Use search engines to find out more about a product, brand or seller. Type the name into a search engine with words like “review” “complaint” or “scam.”
  • Read reviews from other people, experts and columnists. They can give you an idea of how a product performs. Don’t put all your trust in any one review. Some reviews are based on testing by independent experts, others are from people who purchased the product. Both types can be useful.
  • Check the terms of the deal, including delivery dates and refund policies. Can you return the item for a full refund if you’re not satisfied? Who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees? When will you get your order? Can you pay extra for faster delivery? Federal law requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised. Many sites offer tracking options that let you see where your purchase is in the delivery chain, and when you can expect it to arrive.
  • Look for contact information. Several sites that generated complaints to the FTC had little or no information on how to get in touch with the company. If you don’t see a phone number or email address, consider it a red flag and take your business elsewhere.
  • For more tips, visit our online shopping page.

IRS Wraps Up the "Dirty Dozen" List of Tax Scams for 2016

IRS YouTube Video
Tax Scams: English | Spanish | ASL

IRS Podcasts
Tax Scams: English | Spanish

IR-2016-29, Feb. 19, 2016

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today wrapped up its annual "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams with identity theft topping this year's list but with phone scams and phishing schemes also deserving special mention. Taxpayers need to guard against any ploys to steal their personal information, scam them out of money or talk them into engaging in questionable behavior with their taxes.

During the past year, as part of the Security Summit initiative, the IRS partnered with states and the tax industry to enhance coordination and create a more secure system for taxpayers. Participants now regularly share details of fraudulent schemes detected so both industry and government can provide increased protection. Many enhancements are invisible to taxpayers.

"We are working hard to protect taxpayers from identity theft and other scams this filing season," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "Taxpayers have rights and should not be frightened into providing personal information or money to someone over the phone or in an email. We urge taxpayers to help protect themselves from scams — old and new."

This is the second year the IRS has highlighted its Dirty Dozen list in separate releases over 12 business days. Taxpayers are encouraged to review the list in a special section on IRS.gov and be on the lookout for these scams. Many of these con games peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do so.

The IRS this week also renewed a consumer alert for e-mail schemes after seeing an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season. (IR-2016-28)

Perpetrators of illegal scams can face significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them. Taxpayers should remember that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Be sure the preparer is up to the task. For more see the Choosing a Tax Professional page.

Here is a recap of this year's "Dirty Dozen" scams:
 

Identity Theft: Taxpayers need to watch out for identity theft especially around tax time. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue the criminals that file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. Though the agency is making progress on this front, taxpayers still need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid being victimized. (IR-2016-12)

Phone Scams: Phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as scam artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things. (IR-2016-14)

Phishing: Taxpayers need to be on guard against fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never send taxpayers an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS.Be wary of strange emails and websites that may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information. (IR-2016-15)

Return Preparer Fraud: Be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest high-quality service. But there are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers. Legitimate tax professionals are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. (IR-2016-16)

Offshore Tax Avoidance: The recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows that it’s a bad bet to hide money and income offshore. Taxpayers are best served by coming in voluntarily and getting caught up on their tax-filing responsibilities. The IRS offers the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) to enable people catch up on their filing and tax obligations. (IR-2016-17)

Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers need to be on the lookout for anyone promising inflated refunds. Be wary of anyone who asks taxpayers to sign a blank return, promises a big refund before looking at their records, or charges fees based on a percentage of the refund. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and word of mouth via community groups where trust is high to find victims. (IR-2016-18)

Fake Charities: Be on guard against groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. (IR-2016-20)

Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Taxpayers should avoid the temptation of falsely inflating deductions or expenses on their returns to under pay what they owe or  possibly receive larger refunds. Think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions and business expenses or improperly claiming such credits as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit. (IR-2016-21)

Excessive Claims for Business Credits: Avoid improperly claiming the fuel tax credit, a tax benefit generally not available to most taxpayers. The credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. Taxpayers should also avoid misuse of the research credit. Improper claims generally involve failures to participate in or substantiate qualified research activities and/or satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses. (IR-2016-22)

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Don’t  invent income to erroneously qualify for tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. Taxpayers are sometimes talked into doing this by scam artists. Taxpayers are best served by filing the most-accurate return possible because they are legally responsible for what is on their return. This scam can lead to taxpayers facing big bills to pay back taxes, interest and penalties. In some cases, they may even face criminal prosecution. (IR-2016-23)

Abusive Tax Shelters: Don’t use abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes. The IRS is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them. The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share, and everyone should be on the lookout for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, taxpayers should seek an independent opinion regarding complex products they are offered. (IR-2016-25)

Frivolous Tax Arguments: Don’t use frivolous tax arguments in an effort to avoid paying tax. Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims Even though they are wrong and have been repeatedly thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes. The penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000. (IR-2016-27)

Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube http://www.youtube.com/irsvideos and Tumblr http://internalrevenueservice.tumblr.com, where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

CONSUMER ALERT: UTILITIES CALL SCAM

Beware of Callers Posing as Utility Employees Demanding Immediate Payment

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2016 – The Federal Communications Commission is alerting consumers to be on the lookout for callers pretending to be utility company employees demanding immediate payment, often by prepaid debit cards, credit cards, or gift cards.  As American consumers prepare for winter months when many people would be endangered by an interruption to heating fuel, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau wanted to make consumers aware of this scam and prepared to protect themselves.

Key Consumer Tip: If consumers receive a call warning them of a balance they do not believe they owe their utility, they should hang up, independently look up their utility company’s phone number on a recent statement or legitimate website, and call that number to verify the legitimacy of the call. 

In this scam, the caller typically poses as a representative of the consumer’s actual local utility, stating that immediate payment will ensure that the consumer’s heating service will not be disconnected. The scammers are known to spoof utility company telephone numbers so the caller ID makes it appear to be a call from the utility company. These scammers often use automated interactive voice response calling systems that mimic legitimate providers’ calls.  After consumers, many of whom are older adults, follow instructions via interactive prompts, they are connected to a live “customer service representative” who asks for the access code for a credit, debit, or gift card. This information allows the scammer to cash out the card or sell it to a third party.

Anyone who believes they have been targeted by this scam should immediately report the incident to their actual utility company, to local police, to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant, and to the FCC’s Consumer Help Center.

Consumers should always be on alert for this scam and others.  The following tips can help ward off unwanted calls and scams:

  •          Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
  •          If you are unclear if a caller is legitimate, hang up, look up the company’s phone number independently on your recent bill or their legitimate website, and contact them through an official number, web form or email address to see if they called you.  By initiating the communication yourself, you can verify that the request for payment is legitimate
  •          If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify – and then target – live respondents.
  •          If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC and other appropriate authorities so we can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
  •          Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service that allows subscribers to block unwanted calls.  If not, encourage your provider to start offering a blocking service.  You can also visit the FCC’s website on “Web Resources for Blocking Robocalls” for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help you reduce unwanted calls. 
  •          Legitimate utility companies will not demand payment via gift cards.

As the agency that implements and enforces the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the FCC reviews all consumer complaints and will continue, when appropriate, to issue consumer alerts based on those complaints and other public information related to possible scams and frauds.  This is part of a new, standing series of consumer alerts from the FCC in hopes of informing, protecting, and empowering consumers.

News from the Department of Justice:

Dozens of Individuals Indicted in Multimillion-Dollar Indian Call Center Scam Targeting U.S. Victims

Today, an indictment was unsealed charging a total of 61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.  In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement.  An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities.  

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas, Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Inspector General J. Russell George of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and Inspector General John Roth of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) made the announcement today.

“The indictment we unsealed and the arrests we made today demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to identifying and prosecuting the individuals behind these impersonation and telefraud schemes, who seek to profit by exploiting some of the most vulnerable members of our communities,”said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “This is a transnational problem, and demonstrates that modern criminals target Americans both from inside our borders and from abroad.  Only by working tirelessly to gather evidence, build cases and working closely with foreign law enforcement partners to ensure there are no safe havens can we effectively address these threats.” 

“This indictment will serve to not only seek the conviction of those involved, but will send a message around the world that no one is safe from prosecution for participating in such pervasive transnational fraud schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Magidson.  “We are extremely vigilant when the names of U.S. government agencies are used to perpetuate fraud for the purpose of victimizing so many innocent American citizens.” 

“Today’s actions will not only bring a sense of justice to the victims in this case, but this significant investigation will also help increase awareness of this type of fraud,” said Executive Associate Director Edge.  “To potential victims, our message today is simple: U.S. government agencies do not make these types of calls, and if you receive one, contact law enforcement to report the suspected scam before you make a payment.” 

“All agencies involved in today’s announcement are to be congratulated and commended on their outstanding efforts,” said Inspector General George.  “This indictment is the result of countless hours of solid investigative work and excellent cross-governmental collaboration concerning massive amounts of fraud that individuals have allegedly perpetrated on the American people.” 

“This multi-agency, three year investigation illustrates the ability of federal, state and local agencies to successfully leverage resources, communicate and work together to achieve justice,” said Inspector General Roth.  “We commend the victims for overcoming any possible embarrassment or fear and coming forward and report this to the authorities.” 

The indictment was returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016, and charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.  One of the defendants is separately charged with passport fraud.  

The indictment alleges that the defendants were involved in a sophisticated fraudulent scheme organized by conspirators in India, including a network of call centers in Ahmedabad, India.  Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators allegedly called potential victims while impersonating officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  According to the indictment, the call center operators then threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.  If the victims agreed to pay, the call centers would then immediately turn to a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators to liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing prepaid debit cards or through wire transfers.  The prepaid debit cards were often registered using misappropriated personal identifying information of thousands of identity theft victims, and the wire transfers were directed by the criminal associates using fake names and fraudulent identifications.  

The co-conspirators allegedly used “hawalas,” in which money is transferred internationally outside of the formal banking system, to direct the extorted funds to accounts belonging to U.S.-based individuals.  According to the indictment, these individuals were expecting the hawala transfers but were not aware of the illicit nature of the funds.  The co-conspirators also allegedly kept a percentage of the proceeds for themselves.

According to the indictment, one of the call centers extorted $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim from San Diego, California, after threatening her with arrest if she did not pay fictitious tax violations.  On the same day that she was extorted, one of the U.S.-based defendants allegedly used a reloadable debit card funded with the victim’s money to purchase money orders in Frisco, Texas.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants extorted $136,000 from a victim in Hayward, California, who they called multiple times over a period of 20 days, fraudulently purporting to be IRS agents and demanding payment for alleged tax violations.  The victim was then directed to purchase 276 stored value cards which the defendants then transferred to reloadable debit cards.  Some of the victim’s money ended up on cards which were activated using stolen personal identifying information from U.S.- based victims.    

The conspirators would at times allegedly use alternative fraudulent schemes in which the call center operators would offer the victims small short-term loans or advise them that they were eligible for grants.  The indictment alleges that the conspirators would then request a good-faith deposit to show the victims’ ability to pay back the loan, or payment of a fee to process the grant.  The victims of the alleged scam never received any money after making the requested payment. 

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

DHS OIG, HSI and TIGTA led the investigation.  The Ft. Bend, Texas, County Sheriff’s Department; the Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Police Department; the Leonia, New Jersey, Police Department; the Naperville, Illinois, Police Department; the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection/Elder Abuse Unit; the U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General; IOC-2; INTERPOL Washington; and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, District of Nevada and District of New Jersey provided significant support in this case.  The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau provided assistance in TIGTA’s investigation.

Senior Trial Attorney Hope Olds and Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Robert Stapleton of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Mark McIntyre and Craig Feazel of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.  

A Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims, and the public.  Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the FTC via this website.

Anyone who wants additional information about telefraud scams generally, or preventing identity theft or fraudulent use of their identity information, may obtain helpful information on the IRS tax scams website, the FTC phone scam website and the FTC identity theft website

News from the IRS:

Scam Phone Calls Continue; IRS Identifies Five Easy Ways to Spot Suspicious Calls

Español

Update September 2016 — To file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant, choose “Scams and Rip-Offs” and then “Impostor Scams.” 

IR-2014-84, Aug. 28, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service issued a consumer alert today providing taxpayers with additional tips to protect themselves from telephone scam artists calling and pretending to be with the IRS.

These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.

“These telephone scams are being seen in every part of the country, and we urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business.”

The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:

  1. Call to demand immediate payment, nor will we call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill..
     
  2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
     
  3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
     
  4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
     
  5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:

  • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
     
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
     
  • You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Impostor Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.  [See update at top of page.]

Remember, too, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

Additional information about tax scams are available on IRS social media sites, including YouTubeand Tumblr where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 07-Oct-2016

Tip from the Federal Trade Commission:

DON'T BE  FOOLED BY SCAM CALLERS PURPORTING TO BE FROM THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. DA SULLIVAN EXPLAINS.

 
___________________
From the FTC:

Helping Victims of the Flooding in Louisiana — Make Sure Your Donations Count

It’s heartbreaking to see people lose their lives, homes, and businesses to the ongoing flooding in Louisiana. But it’s despicable when scammers exploit such tragedies to appeal to your sense of generosity.

If you’re looking for a way to give, the FTC urges you to be cautious of potential charity scams. Do some research to ensure that your donation will go to a reputable organization that will use the money as promised.

Consider these tips when asked to give: 

• Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record with dealing with disasters.

• Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, orGuideStar.

• Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.

• Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it. You could unknowingly install malware on your computer.

• Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.

• When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate. It can take as long as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.

• Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials. If they should be registered, but they're not, consider donating through another charity.

To learn more, go to Charity Scams. For tips to help you prepare for, deal with, and recover from a severe weather event, visitDealing with Weather Emergencies. And watch this space tomorrow morning to learn how to tell if the car you're interested in buying may have been damaged in a flood.

______________________________

MONEY WIRING SCAMS

Money wiring scams continue to hurt our consumers in Western Massachusetts. The scam shows up in many different forms, but they all have one thing in common: the consumer is asked to use a money wiring service to send cash for one reason or another.

Lottery, Sweepstakes, Job applications, Overpayment, Relationship, Mystery shopper, Online auction sales, Apartment rentals, Advance Fee loans, Family emergency or a Friend in Need

SCAMMERS may ask you to send money in order to receive a big cash prize & even give you a Cashier’s Check to cover your “taxes” and “fees."

-You might apply for a job online, and your new “employer,” who you haven’t met, sends you a check to set up your new office, asking you to deposit the money into your private account and wire money to the “main office supply company” to have your office supplies sent to you.

-Some consumers have received a frightening call in the middle of the night from someone posing as their grandchild who’s in trouble and needs money wired to them right away. 

The bottom line is once you deposit the check into your personal bank account, take cash out and wire the money to someone, somewhere-you are responsible for the cash you took out of your account, even if you fell for a scam.

SCAMMERS like to get paid using money wiring services because it’s fast; the money is usually picked up in cash and in person making it hard to recover.

The Office of the Attorney General issued the following press release on the Grandparent Scam

http://www.mass.gov/ago/news-and-updates/press-releases/2012/2012-08-30-grandparent-scams.html

***

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