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Officials offer tips to avoid becoming a scam victim

Scams happen year-round and anyone can fall victim. But you can protect yourself.

Long Island law enforcement officials and national advocacy groups are passing along a few examples of scams and tips on how to avoid fraud.

Examples of scams 

  • A person posing as local utility worker threatens to shut off the power if payment is not immediately made. Sometimes, the worker requests the money through a gift card. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of a call, call the utlility company.
  • A caller asks the victim to wire money for a family member who is in trouble. The caller says the victim’s family member has been in an accident or is in jail and needs bail. The caller then pressures the victim to send cash without verifying the family member’s location. If you get a similar call, you should verify the relative’s whereabouts and don't give your financial or personal information over the phone. 
  • A caller posing as a government employee, perhaps an IRS worker, tells the victim that he will be arrested if he doesn't pay up. The IRS doesn't call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS mails a bill to anyone who owes back taxes. If you know, or believe, that you owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. 

Tips on how to avoid fraud

  • Don’t make online purchases using a public Wi-Fi network because it might not be a secure connection. 
  • Don’t make a purchase or donation if a website or caller seeks payment by wire transfer, gift card or prepaid card. 
  • Whenever you can, pay with plastic. Credit cards have built-in fraud protection.
  • Be wary of your caller ID. Tech-savvy scammers can easily fake caller ID information. If the caller asks you for money or your personal information, simply hang up.  
  • Never give personal information to anyone you don't know — unless you initiated the contact.
  • Don't let yourself be pressured into a verbal agreement or signing a contract.
  • Be skeptical of online charitable solicitations and other online offers. If interested, ask to receive the information in the mail, and check to be sure that the company is legitimate.
  • Never agree to pay for products or services in advance.
  • Get estimates and ask for references on home repair offers and other products and services.
  • If you hear a recorded sales pitch when you answer the phone, hang up and report it to the Federal Trade Commission. The products for sale are often fake and the calls themselves are illegal. And don’t press 1 to speak to a customer representative or to be taken off the list because that could mean more calls are in your future. 
  • If it's free, it might just be too good to be true. Some companies offer free trials to sign you up for products, then bill you every month unless you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always check your credit card and bank statements for charges that don't look familiar.  
  • Do a little sleuthing online. Type in the company or product name and "complaint" or "scam." You can even search for phone numbers to see if they are connected with scams.

Source: Suffolk County Police Department, National Crime Prevention Council, AARP, Federal Trade Commission

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