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Office of Consumer Protection

SCAMS

Check Fraud Scams:

Two new scams were reported this week.  One involved a fake letter from Publisher's Clearing House including a check to cover fees for the million-dollar sweepstakes win.  A second involved a " secret shopper " scam which included the first "paycheck."  In both cases, another business was victimized either for the bank account information or for customer data.  The checks are all fraudulently drafted.  The first check was written on the payroll account of a social services organization in NY.  The second check was likely a fraudulent account altogether.  These scammers also can pose as wealthy individuals who do not have direct access to their accounts and require you to "cash" their checks and forward them to accountants, trustees, bookkeepers, etc.  They can also arrive in the mail unsolicited,  DO NOT CASH or DEPOSIT THEM.  While your bank may make the funds available within a few days, it can take up to  three weeks for the check to actually clear the Federal Reserve.  These scammers operate in this three week gap between fund availability and actual clearance.

Scam Rentals

Rental customers should be aware that scam listings can be found online. These could either be hijacked ads for real rental units but directed to a wrong telephone number, rental ads for property that is owned by another, or where there is no rental unit in the first place. Red flags are (1) where the landlord or agent will not meet you in person, (2) rush you into signing a lease and paying a deposit without seeing the property, (3) insist on using difficult to trace forms of payment, e.g., wiring money, or (4) the rent price seems too good to be true. The scammers are after your deposit and all the personal information that you are asked to disclose in the lease agreement.

County Telephone Scam:

Montgomery County Government informed residents about a telephone spoofing scam that is taking place in our area. Several County residents have reported receiving calls from scammers who are fraudulently using County telephone numbers (240-773-xxxx and 240-777-xxxx).  The OCP has received similar complaints from consumers who state that the call is a recorded sales pitch. Please know that county staff will leave a message stating the reason for their call.  If you receive a scam call from a County telephone number, please report it to MC311 by dialing 3-1-1- or by visiting  MC311.com .

Water Quality Scam :

The water filter scam comes in many variations.  With the increased concern over the tap water purity, county residents have reported various entities offering to test your water.  These scammers pose as the Environmental Protection Agency conducting surveys, as  authorized WSSC   representatives, or simply are unnamed companies providing a “free” service to residents.  The EPA is concerned that those posing as the EPA may be focusing on Spanish-speaking communities.  These scammers come door-to-door and conduct “tests” in your living room which purport to show you how your water is contaminated.  They may even leave vials at your door with  notes   on how to have your water tested later.  To obtain information about the EPA’s drinking water regulations and general information about drinking water, you may contact the  EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline.

Hot Package and Overpayment Scams:

As a part of National Consumer Protection Week, the Office of Consumer Protection granted its latest Scambuster Award.  In years past, the OCP has given its Scambuster Award to consumers who have stopped a scam in its tracks!  In 2015, we awarded Mrs. P. Keller a Scambuster Award for stopping an IRS phone scam in its tracks.  This year, the Scambuster Award goes to Mrs. H. Oskard.  She busted two scams in the same week!   The first scam is a variant of the shipping scam; a “hot package” scam instead. UPS dropped off two boxes at her door. containing several iPhone X units. Luckily, she heard the drop off and brought them in. Five minutes later, a young man claiming to be from UPS (but not in uniform or driving a UPS truck) came to the door asking for these “misdirected” boxes. Mrs. Oskard refused to turn over the boxes (holding five iPhone X unites) and instead turned them over to the Sprint store. Sprint confirmed that all five iPhone X units had been purchased in her husband’s name, on his account, and ordered to be shipped to their home.

The second scam busted is the “overpayment scam” and often seen on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other websites. A buyer pays by check (often but not always for more than asked). The scammer, however, likely paid you with a stolen credit card, a false checking account, or a valid –but empty—checking account. You deposit the payment and within days it initially clears your bank. But just because a payment has been credited to your account, it doesn't mean the money is actually available to you. Your bank has to further process that transaction by transferring funds from the “buyer’s” Bank to your account. This can take weeks. During the process, the Federal Reserve discovers that there is no real money to transfer or that the bank account was used fraudulently. At this point, the money will be withdrawn from your account. However, in the intervening time, believing the check has cleared, you have wired or mailed out good money for the “overpayment” and given a con artist your account number.

Equifax Data Breach

​With the breach of at least 143 million American consumers' sensitive data, hackers now have access to names, SSN, DOBs, addresses as well as some driver's license and credit card account numbers.  The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau  has good information on what identity theft is and what signs to look for to see if you have been victimized.  The Federal Trade Commission provides details on what you can do to protect yourself from identity theft in the wake of this breach.  Beware of a phone scam where criminals call you pretending to be Equifax.  Equifax is not calling 143 million people regarding the breach or credit monitoring plans.

Medicare Card Phone Scams: 

With new Medicare cards coming starting in April 2018, new phone scams are expected. In fact, starting in February 2018, authorities have reported scam calls from "MEDICARE" stating that a temporary card needs to be ordered for a $5-$50 fee.  However, CMS states that the new card will automatically come to you and that MEDICARE will not call you.

Social Security Phone Scam:

If you get a call that looks like it’s from the Social Security Administration, think twice. Scammers are spoofing SSA’s 1-800 customer service number to try to get your personal information. Spoofing means that scammers can call from anywhere, but they make your caller ID show a different number – often one that looks legit. Here are few things you should know about these so-called SSA calls: https://go.usa.gov/xPEhxThe FTC has an audio recording of such a call. 
  
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