The Ulster County District Attorney is advising county residents to beware of common phone/on-line scams. Local residents have recently reported losing money via the “Amazon Imposter Scam” and the “Central Hudson Utility Scam.”
At the end of last year, during business hours, a town of Ulster business received a call from someone claiming to be from Central Hudson. The business owner was advised that she “owed money on her electric bill and if not paid immediately her electricity would be turned off within two hours.” To avoid this, she gave the person her credit card over the phone. Two days later her credit card company called to advise her that her credit card had been compromised and $8,000 had been stolen.
Telephone scams come in many forms, but they tend to make similar promises and threats, or ask you to pay in certain ways, such as providing your credit card information over the phone, wiring money or putting money on a gift card. Scammers can make any name or number show up on your caller ID. That is called spoofing. So even if it looks like a government agency or utility is calling – or the call appears to be from a local number – it could be a scammer calling from anywhere in the world.
Another resident in the city of Kingston reported receiving an email from Amazon claiming “suspicious activity on your Amazon account” and instructing him to call a number. He called and was advised that his account had been compromised. The alleged Amazon person convinced him to provide his account access details. The fraudster then ordered $2000 worth of Amazon gift cards via the victim’s Amazon account and by the time the physical cards were received by him the funds had already been siphoned off.
Email scams also come in many forms seemingly from government organizations and/or businesses – with an urgent notification of suspicious activity or monies owed to you or something won – that require you to either call or click on a link embedded in the email. Never click on any links. Do a search for the official website for the organization and use their contact information to clarify any issues.
Residents from different parts of Ulster County have been approached by individuals — via social media/Facebook – and have been befriended by them. The residents all describe a similar escalation of a “long-distance” relationship – as friends or more than friends. Sometimes the relationship escalates to direct phone communication, including via text messages or phone calls. The common thread is that all eventually ask for the same thing – help with financial matters. The type of help they ask for varies – from using your bank account for incoming and then outgoing wire transfers, to sending them money, to buying gift cards and providing them with the gift card numbers.
Someone who approaches you via social media may have created a completely fake page and fake identity. You may be dealing with someone in any part of the world – which would explain the odd times in which they are reaching out to you. Even if you ask for a photo – you may still be dealing with someone providing you a fake photo. Fraudsters are experts at manipulating people’s emotions. The moment you are asked for money or to have your bank account used – stop assisting them/be wary.
Additional scams include the IRS scam, the grandparent scam, the charity scam, prize and lottery scams, the computer cold call repair scam, the rental scam (common on Craigslist) and, of course, the Social Security Administration scam.
The District Attorney’s Office advises the best defense against these scams is a healthy amount of skepticism. Scammers generally try to scare their victims, or they promise them something that’s just too good to be true. Consumers should not hesitate to hang up when they hear a recorded voice, even if it looks like a local call. If a consumer is in doubt about the authenticity of a call, the consumer should contact the business or government agency using the number on the monthly billing statement or on the entity’s legitimate website.
Consumer Affairs, a Division of the District Attorney’s Office, can be reached at 340-3260.