Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today warned consumers of a scam in which con artists, falsely claiming to represent the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, call unsuspecting victims to demand immediate payment of a non-existent debt.
“This is the latest in a long line of government impostor scams, in which criminals cold-call their victims while claiming to represent the IRS, the Attorney General’s Office, or some other agency,” Acting Attorney General Hoffman said. “The goal is always to con the victim into sending money, or giving away personal information and opening themselves up to identity theft.”
Many government impostors, particularly in the so-called “IRS scam,” often attempt to threaten victims into sending money. Others attempt to fool victims by offering money – such as a legal settlement or a grant that the victim must claim. In either case, victims will be directed to send a payment – usually by a wire transfer service or pre-loaded debit card – and/or disclose their personal or financial information.
In this case, the scammer’s phone number appears on victims’ caller ID to have a 609 area code. However, “spoofing” technologies make it possible for scammers to disguise their phone numbers – and even make a phone call from overseas appear to be local.
“With the power of modern technology, it is easier than ever for scammers to mimic local phone numbers or to create emails, documents and websites that look like those of legitimate government entities or businesses,” Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee said. “But don’t be fooled. Instead, be vigilant and skeptical. Always verify what you are told, before giving anyone your money.”
New Jersey government impostor scams have struck before. In March 2012, the Division warned consumers about a fraudulent letter, also claiming to be from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which invited victims to apply for their share of the proceeds from a fictitious multimillion-dollar legal settlement. The letter included phone numbers and an email address that were staffed by con artists in on the scam.
In April 2012, the Division warned consumers about fake checks that were sent out by mail, purportedly from the New Jersey State Treasury. Such check scams usually ask the victim to deposit the full amount, then send a smaller amount back to the con artist. The victim will learn too late that the original check was a fraud, and no money has been deposited into the victim’s bank account.
The Division of Consumer Affairs has launched a “Fighting Fraud” awareness program to educate and empower New Jersey residents, help them recognize scams both old and new, and prevent victimization.
Advice for Consumers:
Scammers often contact their victims by phone, email, text message, or letter. Though the details of each scam may differ, the goal is always to profit illegally at the victim’s expense – either through outright theft or through identity theft.
Consumers should never send money, give away their personal or financial information, or click on a link or attachment, without first taking the time to make sure the communication they received is valid.
Consumers are advised to independently verify the information in an email, phone call, or letter. Use another source to find a separate phone number for the person or entity that supposedly made the communication, in order to verify whether it was genuine.
Just as important, consumers should never act without thinking. This is true especially when dealing with a sales pitch or a threat that says “you must act right away.” And even more so if the consumer is told, “keep this confidential and don’t tell anyone about this deal.”
In this and other government impostor scams, con artists try to create a false sense of urgency. They will often demand secrecy, by demanding that the victim tell no one else about the payment. These criminals know that know consumers are much more likely to become victims if their emotions are higher – and if they are prevented from discussing the scam with a friend or relative.
The Division of Consumer Affairs educates senior citizens and other New Jerseyans through a robust schedule of public events. Click here to see the Division’s public outreach calendar. Consumers seeking information about fraud prevention can find additional information in the following, free publications on the Division’s website:
- Consumer Briefs on a variety of consumer protection topics.
- The Division’s “Cyber Safe NJ” includes important consumer protection information on “The Basics of Cyber Safety,” “Preventing Identity Theft,” and “Controlling Your Privacy.”
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of marketplace abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.