Police give tips to avoid common scams

Delaware State Police are advising the public to be wary of various scams.

Everyone is a potential scam target. Fraud isn’t limited to race, ethnic background, gender, age, education or income.

That said, some scams seem to concentrate on certain groups. For example, older people may be targeted because the caller assumes they may live alone, have a nest egg or maybe more polite toward strangers.

Scammers will often use fake or exaggerated prizes, products and services as bait. Some may call you, but others will use mail, email, texts or advertisements. 

Many of these scams are difficult to investigate.

If you suspect you have been a victim of a scam, contact your local law enforcement agency.  Information may also be provided by calling Delaware Crime Stoppers at 1-800-TIP-3333 or via the internet at http://www.delaware.crimestoppersweb.com.

Popular scams

Gift card payments. These scams involve a suspect posing as the IRS, FBI, law enforcement or some other government agency. Scammers usually ask for payments to be made with Google Play or other gift cards. The victims are instructed to go to a store and purchase a gift card, scratch the coating off of the back and read the code to the suspect over the phone. Legitimate companies and agencies will never request payment via gift card. Relative arrested and/or jailed. In this scam, the suspect calls claiming to be a lawyer or from a government agency and that the victim's relative (grandchildren, niece, nephew, etc.) has been arrested and/or is in jail and needs bail money. In some cases, the person claims there was a car accident in which another person was injured. The suspect requests cash to be sent UPS or FedEx to another state. Computer hacked. This scam often targets the elderly by tricking them into believing their computer has been hacked. They're usually told to buy gift cards as payment for repairs. Publisher’s Clearing House Scam. One victim received a call from someone claiming to be with Publisher’s Clearing House. The suspect told the victim she had won the sweepstakes, but had to pay a percentage of her total winnings in order for her prize to be released.  Compromised business email. In this scam, a suspect gains access (through hacking) to a business's email accounts and looks for a situation in which a payment is expected from the business. They then create a spoofed email similar to that of the entity expecting a payment. For example, Firstname.Lastname@delaware.gov may be expecting a payment for services, so the scammer creates a very similar email, like Firstname.Lastname@delaware.edu. Using that email, the suspect can sometimes fool the business into sending them a payment, usually by wire transfer. A variation of this scam involves compromising legitimate business e-mail accounts and requesting personal information or tax information forms for employees. Find out more about this scam here.

Other common scams

Travel packages. “Free” or “low-cost” vacations can end up costing a bundle in
hidden costs. Some of these vacations never take place, even after you’ve paid. Credit and loans. Advance fee loans, payday loans, protection and offers to lower
your credit card interest rates are very popular schemes, especially during a down economy. Sham or exaggerated business and investment opportunities. Scammers rely on the fact that business and investing can be complicated and that most people don’t research the investment. Charitable causes. Urgent requests for recent disaster relief efforts are especially common on the phone. High-stakes foreign lotteries. The law prohibits cross-border sales or purchases of lottery tickets by phone or mail. You may never even see a ticket. Extended car warranties. Scammers find out what kind of car you drive and when you bought it, so they can urge you to buy overpriced — or totally worthless — plans. “Free” trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products, sometimes lots of products. That'll cost you when they start billing you every month until you cancel.

Red flags

If you hear a line that sounds like any of these, say “no, thank you,” hang up, and file a complaint with the FTC:

"You’ve been specially selected (for this offer)" "You’ll get a free bonus if you buy our product" "You’ve won one of five valuable prizes" "You’ve won big money in a foreign lottery" "This investment is low-risk and provides a higher return than you can get anywhere else" "You have to make up your mind right away" "You trust me, right?" "You don’t need to check our company with anyone" "We’ll just put the shipping and handling charges on your credit card"

 Always ask yourself

"Who’s calling, and why?" The law says telemarketers must tell you it’s a sales call, the name of the seller and what they’re selling before they make their pitch. If you don’t hear this information, say “no thanks” and get off the phone. "What’s the hurry?" Fast talkers who use high-pressure tactics are usually hiding something. Most legitimate businesses will give you both time and written information about an offer before asking you to commit to a purchase. "If it’s free, why are they asking me to pay?" Question fees you need to pay to redeem a prize or gift. If you have to pay, it’s a purchase — not a prize or a gift. "Why am I 'confirming' my account information, or just plain giving it out?" Some callers have your billing information before they call you and are simply trying to get you to say "okay" so they can claim you approved a charge. "What time is it?" The law allows telemarketers to call only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. A seller calling earlier or later is breaking the law. "Do I want more calls like this one?" If you don’t want a business to call you again, say so. If they call back, they’re breaking the law. You can also register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry

Tips to avoid being scammed

Resist pressure to make a decision immediately. Keep your credit card, checking account and social security numbers to yourself. Don’t tell them to callers you don’t know — even if they ask you to merely 'confirm' them. That’s a common trick. Don’t pay for something just because you’ll get a “free gift.” Get all information in writing before you agree to buy. Check out a charity before you give. Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. Ask the caller to send you written information so you can make an informed decision without being pressured or rushed into it. If the offer is an investment, check with your state securities regulator to see if the offer — and the offer-er — are properly registered. Don’t send cash by messenger, overnight mail or money transfer. If you use cash or a money transfer, rather than a credit card, you may lose your right to dispute fraudulent charges.  Don’t agree to any offer for which you have to pay a “registration” or “shipping” fee to get a prize or a gift. Research offers with the state consumer protection agency before you agree to send money. Beware of offers to “help” you recover money you have already lost. Callers that say they are law enforcement officers who will help you get your money back “for a fee” are scammers. Robocalls, or recorded messages, are illegal unless you've given written permission for the company to call you. Report them to the FTC. Report any caller who is rude or abusive, even if you already sent them money. They’ll want more. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit ftc.gov/complaint. Note that the IRS will never: Call to demand immediate payment or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. Demand you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.