Department of Consumer Affairs helps keep scammers at bay


Margaret Brackett - Contributing Columnist



Margaret Brackett

Contributing Columnist

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The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs is designed to represent the interest of consumers throughout South Carolina. Administrator Carri Grube Lybarker discusses America Saves Week, which will address steps on how to build a strong financial future, scammers via iTunes cards and the release of a report of top 2015 scams in South Carolina.

The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs received more than 3,000 scam reports last year. Over 40 percent of these were imposter scams, where someone poses as an individual or organization a consumer knows in order to get personal information or money.

Seven hundreds of these calls were IRS scammers demanding consumers pay “taxes owed,” or face consequences such as arrest or deportation. According to the IRS, since 2013 more than 736,000 people nationally have reported being contacting by IRS scammers resulting in $23 million in losses. Consumers should be especially wary of these calls.

To avoid becoming a victim, do not give personal information over the phone. If you do not know who is calling, do not share your financial or personal information.

Officials also urge you to think before you act, beware of time sensitive offers or scare tactics meant to push you to act before thinking. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up and follow up. Call a number that legitimately belongs to the organization. Imposter scammers may pose as a grandchild, a representative from a well-known business.

Throughout 2015, Identity Theft Unit fielded more than 3,000 calls, 2,452 of which were scam reports. Over half of those reported were imposter scams (53 percent), while the next two highest categories were debt collections (13 percent) and phishing (8 percent). In total, consumers reported actual losses of over $1,8 million from scams. Scam reporting is an important step in helping SCDCA empower consumers to recognize and avoid scams.

Consumers are asked to be on lookout for scammers asking for payment via iTunes cards. This payment was most commonly requested in the grandparent scam, a con that has elderly consumers giving money to a fraudster posing as a grandchild to help them with medical bills or legal troubles.

Other scam types involving this payment request include a grant scam, where a consumer thought they could pay to receive a grant from the government and an IRS scam that had another consumer convinced they owed back taxes. Follow the following tips to avoid money loss:

Consumers should be suspicious of payment requests when cold callers ask for any payment by iTunes card.

SCDCA also announced the launch of its new blog, SCDCA Spotlight, which will allow consumers to stay updated on the consumer issues that affect them the most. This will shed light on everything from avoiding the lasted scams to personal finance tips. The first issue will address steps on how to start saving and build toward a strong financial future.

The SC Department of Consumer Affairs aims to protect consumers from inequities in the marketplace through advocacy, complaint mediation, enforcement and education. To file a complaint or get information on consumer issues, visit www.consumer.sc.gov or call toll free 1-800-922-1594.

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

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