Be proactive to avoid being scammed

By Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall

It’s sad to say, but news reports of consumer fraud are so common these days that many people simply ignore them. If you’ve already been targeted by consumer fraud, you are not alone. Alabama is ranked number six in the country in the total number of consumer complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network during 2016. Our state also ranks among the top 25 in total number of identity theft complaints reported over the same period. The Alabama Attorney General’s Office also recorded 2,779 consumer complaints last year.

You can reduce your chances of becoming a new victim by educating yourself to recognize the signs of a scam. The Consumer Interest Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office offers some warning signs to help you identify possible telemarketing scams.

* You have won one of three valuable prizes.

* You have won a foreign lottery

* You have been specifically selected to receive this offer.

* You will receive a free bonus gift if you buy our product.

* This offer is only good for today.

* Federal “Do Not Call Lists” do not apply to our company.

* The warranty on your car is about to expire, and we can sell you an extended warranty.

* You missed jury duty and must pay a fine to avoid arrest.

* Caller claims to be from the IRS or law enforcement agency with a warrant for your arrest if you don’t pay a fine (often using fake Caller ID to fool the victim)

* Your computer has a virus or some other problem and caller needs your personal information to fix it.

If you get a call you think is suspicious, just say “No thanks” and hang up! Don’t feel pressured to make an impulsive decision. Don’t give out your credit card information, checking account numbers, social security number or any other personal information to someone you do not know. In many cases, not only are scammers attempting to steal your money, they’re also trying to steal your identity.

It’s a good idea to register your landline or cell phone with the National Do Not Call Registry at 1-888-382-1222 to help reduce the number of telemarketing calls.

You can also check the validity of unsolicited offers with the Better Business Bureau at 1-800-824-5274.

Regarding identity theft: If you believe you have been victimized, file a report with local law enforcement. Many creditors request a copy of a police report as proof you are a victim of identity theft. You should also contact the three major credit card bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit file. Be sure to dispute any charges that are not yours in writing and send them to the creditor.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Interest Division cannot serve as a private attorney or provide consumers with legal advice. However, in many instances, we have been successful in mediating complaints to the mutual satisfaction and benefit of the consumer and the business.

In certain cases, the Attorney General’s Office may bring legal action, either civil or criminal, to enforce laws to protect consumers from con artists and unscrupulous practices by businesses. Last year, the Attorney General’s Office recovered over $11 million in penalties and fines from companies operating fraudulently in Alabama.  Furthermore, almost $700,000 in consumer relief was secured by our office.

Alabamians may report suspected consumer fraud by calling the Attorney General’s consumer protection hotline at 1-800-392-5658 or online at http://www.ago.alabama.gov and click on “Consumer Protection.” To file an online complaint, use the link http://www.ago.alabama.gov/Page-Consumer-Protection-File-a-Complaint-01.

Bottom line:  Don’t share your personal information with anyone by email, text or phone without verifying their identity. Be proactive and report any suspicious activity!