Last updated: August 20. 2014 2:54PM - 185 Views
Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist

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This week we want to thank Carri Grube Lybarker, administrator, South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs, for speaking about the State agency that is designed to represent the interest of consumers throughout South Carolina. The organization’s responsibilities are to defend consumer affairs and help bring about change for the good of others, ranging their position to improve the quality of life for the citizens of South Carolina.

The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs is urging consumers to remain vigilant in the wake of one of the largest security breaches in history

1.2 billion Usernames and Passwords are stolen: What should you do?

Phishing is the number one reported Scam at SCDCA. Phishing is an electronic attempt to trick a consumer into releasing personal information. Sweepstakes/Lottery is when a scammer notifies a consumer they have won a fake contest or lottery with strings attached was second. Impostor Scams, when fraudsters pose as friends, family pleading for money to bail out a family member. Most common tip offs to a scam: Requests for money, verification of information, beware of scare tactics.

When in the wrong hands, a user name and password combination can help a scammer strike it rich. Spear phishing, the practice of sending a consumer an e-mail that looks like it is from a person or business they have a relationship with, is a common scam attempt after security breaches like this. If a consumer receives an e-mail asking for personal or financial information:

• Be suspicious. Businesses and government agencies will not try to verify sensitive information via unsecured means like e-mail.

• Do not call a phone number contained in the e-mail. If you are concerned and want to call the company, call the number on your last statement, on the back of your credit card or from another source.

• Don’t click on links or attachments. Links and attachments can lead to malicious sites or even download viruses to a consumer’s computer.

• Use anti-virus software. Make sure it is up to date and working properly.

• Track your finances. Consumers should also monitor personal and financial statements for signs of fraud or identity theft. It is important to review statements carefully, as soon as they arrive.

• Consumers who are victims of fraud or identity theft are encouraged to contact SCDCA’s Identity Theft Unit at 800-922-1594.

Jury Duty Scam

There have been reports of callers insisting the consumer has failed to report to jury duty and will be arrested due to this absence. There is a quick fix, though. The consumer won’t be arrested if they pay a fine — immediately. This fine is often requested via pre-paid debit card, so the scammer can easily access money through the number on the card. In previous cases, the scammer has asked for personal information such as social security number and birth date for verification purposes. The objective of the scam involves identity theft to an attempt to get money.

Protect yourself with these tips if you encounter a scam caller: Never reveal any personal information when fielding an unsolicited phone call and challenge the caller. Ask for their name and other defining details. The caller is likely to hang up when questions are asked.

Protect Your Finances

It is becoming easier and easier for scammers to trick consumers into giving sensitive information and money to strangers. Scan attempts can come from a phone call, direct mailer, text messages, e-mail or even someone you have invited into home. Seniors are prime targets for scams because they are often trusting and isolated. Use the simple tips below to protect yourself from fraudsters and share with your family and friends:

• Safeguard personal information. Don’t give out personal, financial or health information to people you do not know. This includes social security number, ATM or credit card number. Keep these items in secure place.

• Monitor your monthly statements. This is a great method to detect theft.

• My Social Security. Keep track of your social security benefits. Review information and lookout for any signs of identity theft.

Think you gave your information to a scammer? Don’t worry! SCDCA’s Identity Theft Unit can help! Contact them today at 1-800-922-1594.

Telephone scams

Every year, thousands of consumers lose money to telephone scams. While there are legitimate companies who attempt to contract you by phone offering their products and services, con artists are using the phone as a tool to commit fraud. Telephone scams share the common element of trying to separate you from your money or compromise your personal information.

Lottery/Sweepstakes scams

The Pitch: Scam artists will call and say you have won a lottery out of Australia, England or another foreign. Some scammers use the names of well-known home improvement stores or super stores and allege you were entered into a drawing each time you shopped at the store and you are a winner. In these scenarios, the scammer will ask you to wire or send money in order to get your prize.

The Defense: Never send money to claim a prize, especially through a wire transfer. Scam artists often say the money if for insurance for shipping and handling charges, etc. Legitimate lotteries do no ask you to send money to collect.

Debt Collection Scams

The Pitch: The scammer will act like a debt collector and tell you amount of money you “owe.” Sometimes they pretend to be from a state or federal agency or law enforcement agency to scare you. The fraudster will ask you to pay a fraction of the amount you owe, immediately, over the phone. In exchange, the debt will be forgiven. The “offer” to settle the debt is also made out to be time sensitive that if you don’t make the payment then, you will have to pay it all.

The Defense: Government officials will not call and ask you for money or attempt to collect a credit card or loan debt. Hang up and call the department the scammer posed to let them know about the scam.

Imposter Scams

The Pitch: Scam will pose as your bank and ask for personal or banking information needed to supposedly “verify” or “reactivate” your credit or debate account. The caller will explain that the information is needed to reverse a fraudulent charge or an error in your card being blocked.

A different spin on the imposter scam occurs when the scammer calls, posing to be a friend of a family member who is in trouble and needs money. The “trouble” often ranges from car problems to being in jail .Instead of your personal banking information, this time caller wants you to wire money immediately to assist your loved one.

The Defense: Do not give personal information or otherwise “verify” your bank/credit information over the phone. Instead, hang up and dial your bank or credit card company directly to tell them about the call.

Before you send money to a caller insisting your family member needs it, contact someone who could verify or debunk the story. A red flag is when a fraudster tells you not to tell anyone about the situation.

South Carolina Department of Consumer Affair aims to protect consumers from inequities in the marketplace through advocacy, complaint mediation, enforcement and education. To file a complaint or for information on consumer issues, visit scconsumer.gov or call toll free 1-800-922-1594.

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