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Attorney General’s Office warns of telephone, check scams

August 11, 2018

BARBOURSVILLE — Karen Nance was at home when she got a call from someone trying to sell her health insurance.

“It was Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 3:14 p.m. and the caller was trying to sell me some supposed new, cheaper health insurance in an aggressive manner,” said Nance, who lives in Martha in Cabell County. “They did not get anywhere because I said no and hung up.”

At 5:16 p.m., Nance says she was called again, but this time the caller took a different approach.

“They claimed that I was legally required to have health insurance and did not have it,” she said. “I know they were trying to scam me because I do have health insurance. I think these two calls were connected.”

Nance also hung up on that call.

“I want to warn folks to beware of these types of telephone scams,” she said.

In a March news release, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey warned consumers to beware of imposter scams, in particular one involving robocalls claiming to represent the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The Federal Trade Commission reports imposters claim the consumer needs to purchase insurance or pay a fine. If the person “presses 1” as instructsonaled, an operator will ask for per information, including a full name, date of birth, phone number, income data and Social Security number.

“Many people are still learning how to navigate through all the changes brought on by the Affordable Care Act,” Morrisey said. “The imposters use this uncertainty to their advantage as it is very easy for someone to pretend to be someone they’re not.”

Like many states, West Virginia experiences a high percentage of benefits fraud related to identity theft, Morrisey added.

An FTC analysis of 10,000 complaints from West Virginia consumers found imposter scams to have been the most prevalent type of fraud in 2015, with such scams accounting for 1,633 complaints, or 20 percent, in 2015.

Morrisey’s office advises that individuals do not give personal information via the phone, mail or internet unless they can verify the identity of the recipient. If a caller says you must pay immediately, take down the necessary information and then independently verify whether you owe the money. Be wary if someone uses bullying tactics to receive payment. Hang up and call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Office to report the incident.

Consumers who believe they might have been a victim of a scam or have been taken advantage of should call the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-368-8808 or file a report online at www.wvago.gov.

In July, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division received reports of impersonators using various excuses to steal Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.

The AG’s office said the impostor will often ask consumers to verify personal information, including their Social Security number, to replace a Social Security card, fix an issue with an online account, process a cost-of-living adjustment or rectify benefits that were underpaid and need adjustment.

The impostors will sometimes even threaten legal action against consumers who do not comply.

Consumers should always verify any information by calling the Social Security Administration’s number. Never make payments with wire transfer, gift cards or cash. Most government agencies and reputable companies will not seek personal information via phone or email.

Additionally, consumers should be aware of spoofing tactics in which the phone number appears legitimate but is not.

A few days ago, the AG’s office warned about a scam in which consumers receive fake checks in the mail and are later required to repay the bank once the check bounces.

Morrisey said the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has received recent reports of consumers getting letters in the mail or emails from scammers claiming to represent various sweepstakes, shopping programs or employers.

“It is of utmost importance that consumers do not accept checks from unknown sources in order to protect their finances,” Morrisey said. “Consumers should consult with their bank if they are unsure if a check is legitimate before depositing.”

These letters include a check, which the consumer then deposits at the bank. The scammers request that the targeted individuals return a portion of the check via money orders or cash through the mail. They claim that these reimbursed funds are to cover taxes and other necessary fees.

However, once the bank discovers the check is fraudulent, the victimized consumer is responsible for repaying the withdrawn amount. In some cases it can take weeks for counterfeit checks to be discovered.

Earlier this month, one individual fell victim to this scam by depositing several fraudulent checks into their account, Morrisey added.

To avoid falling victim to this scam, consumers should throw away any offer asking for payment for a prize or gift. Also, if the check is from an unfamiliar bank, get the bank’s phone number from directory assistance or a trusted internet site, not from the check or the person sending the check, before calling to verify the check’s validity. The AG’s office warns to never wire money to strangers.

“If a deposit occurs, know that you are responsible for funds withdrawn against the check,” the AG’s office said in a release.

Consumers can stay up to date with the latest scams by signing up for email alerts from the AG’s office at http://bit.ly/WVScamAlert.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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