Teresa McUsic

New Scam Tracker website offers latest information on common frauds

Seventy-five percent of the more than 3 million complaints to the Federal Trade Commission consumer network involved phone call scams.
Seventy-five percent of the more than 3 million complaints to the Federal Trade Commission consumer network involved phone call scams. AP

The call last month to an Arlington resident was part of an unfortunate trend.

A man who identified himself as Brad Walker, saying he was with the National Institute of Health, told the Arlington woman she was approved for a $14,000 grant. Before she could collect, however, she would have to go to Wal-Mart and put $320 on a prepaid card and send it to them.

Fortunately the woman didn’t follow through — but she did post this scam on the Better Business Bureau’s new online Scam Tracker.

As National Consumer Protection Week begins tomorrow, knowing what scams are out there and how to avoid them is more important than ever.

The scam tracker is a free, interactive online tool where consumers can report and check out scams locally, statewide or on a national basis. Try it at www.bbb.org/scamtracker.

Launched in test markets last year, all 112 BBBs operating in Canada and the United States are now collecting information from consumers and processing data. Users can report scams they hear about, whether or not they fell victim.

All reports are checked out first by the BBB for legitimacy and posted almost immediately thereafter, said Lindsey Haase, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau.

“The most common scams we see locally are for government grants, sweepstakes and debt collections,” Haase said. “Most are done over the phone.”

By including details like the fraudster’s name, phone number, email address, company or government agency, money lost, ZIP code and other relevant information, the community and law enforcement can better track the scams, Haase said.

“You can search things based on key words and see other people’s stories quickly, which is helpful if you are getting the same kind of call,” she said. “It will help you realize, ‘I don’t want to fall for that.’ 

Some of the postings include money lost — sometimes thousands of dollars — and the frustration over being swindled.

Scam reports from the tracker also are being sent to the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) for analysis and collaboration with law enforcement to help stop the most flagrant scammers through prosecution and other legal means.

Haase said that since the launch of the scam tracker in December, reports have included:

▪  60 tax-collection scams (617 in North America)

▪  17 debt-collection scams (226 in North America)

▪  14 government grant scams (134 in North America)

▪  12 sweepstakes/prize scams (144 in North America)

In its annual report released last week, the Federal Trade Commission showed a large uptick in phone scams versus other forms of contact.

Seventy-five percent of the more than 3 million complaints to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for 2015 were for phone calls — up from 41 percent in 2014. Other types of contact, including email, websites and regular mail, all were under 10 percent.

The data book combines complaints from state and federal government agencies, the BBB and other entities.

Texas ranked No. 4 in per capita fraud complaints behind Florida, Georgia and Michigan, according to the Sentinel. More than 258,000 Texans filed a complaint in this area, or 941 per 100,000 population.

The Sentinel showed Texas also ranked No. 8 in identity theft per capita, with almost 40,000 complaints filed, or 144 per 100,000 population. That ranking is up from the previous year, when the state was 10th with 25,843 complaints.

While DFW didn’t make the top 50 metro areas for fraud, it came in No. 19 for identity theft, with 13,364 complaints.

For those with phone service from Time Warner Cable or Comcast, both are now offering an easy way to stop all robocalls using Nomorobo, a free service that recognizes robocalls, blocks them after one ring and hangs up.

We signed up for the service a month ago. Now instead of getting those annoying calls, we just hear the phone ring once a few times a day, knowing we have avoided the calls. Contact your provider to sign up.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

How to avoid scams

  • Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.
  • Research the organization at bbb.org or search online.
  • Don’t provide personal information, including address, date of birth, banking information or ID numbers, to people you do not know.
  • Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.
  • If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from a bank, utility company or other entity, call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card.
  • Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
  • Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.
  • Sign up for weekly Scam Alerts to learn about new scams at bbb.org.

Source: Better Business Bureau