Kilmartin wants you to join campaign to curb consumer fraud

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AG’s Corner
By Peter F. Kilmartinkilma

There is no question 2015 was the year of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scam. Last year, the IRS estimates close to 1 million people were contacted by scam artists posing as IRS agents with fake claims of money owed.

While an overwhelming majority of consumers recognized the call as a scam, at least 5,000 victims have paid more than $26.5 million as a result of the scam. Because many cases go unreported, that dollar figure is probably just a fraction of what has been paid.

Here in Rhode Island, the IRS scam flooded consumers a half dozen times last year. There is no rhyme or reason as to when scam artists will target a certain region. The only thing for certain is that despite multiple warnings by my office, the IRS, the Better Business Bureau, AARP and others, the scam artists didn’t let up all year. By all accounts, the IRS scam was No. 1 scam perpetrated in America by a wide margin.

If 2015 was the year of the IRS scam, I resolve to make 2016 the year of the savvy consumer and strive to have no consumer in Rhode Island fall victim to the IRS scam or any other scam for that matter.

How can we insulate ourselves from being a target or victim of a scam? Here are a few tips to protect you.

• Book a representative from my Consumer Protection Unit to give a presentation on the most common scams and the best ways to avoid them. You can schedule a presentation by calling (401) 274-4400 or sending an email to consumers@riag.ri.gov.

• Just as you change the batteries in your smoke alarms when you turn your clocks back and ahead, change your online passwords. Passwords that are longer and contain a mix of letters, numbers and characters are stronger. Use different passwords for each account. Multiple passwords for multiple accounts can be easy to forget. I take pen to paper to write down each account and password and store it safely in my desk at home, away from the prying eyes of scammers on the Internet.

• Get your free credit report three times per year. Everyone is entitled to three free credit checks per 12 months yet only about 1 in 6 Americans take advantage of the opportunity. It’s easy and free, and the easiest way to spot fraudulent activity in your name. Just visitwww.annualcreditreport.com. Did I mention it’s free?

• Limit your social media posts. Scam artists are masters at filtering through the millions and millions of postings to extract personal information about their targets. You should be very proud of your grandchildren’s accomplishments, but posting their names and photos on social media may give scam artists just enough information to convince you to send them money in what is known as the “grandparent scam,” in which a scam artist poses as a friend of your relative claiming they need cash for some reason such as bail or pretend they have been a victim of a robbery in a foreign country. You can also put yourself at greater risk of identity theft by posting too much information about yourself.

• Don’t broadcast your winter travel plans on social media. You may want to make your friends jealous of your travels to white sand beaches and green golf courses, but posting that you are away can make your home a target for a robbery. While you are warming your toes in the sand without a care in the world, you may become a victim of a crime thousands of miles away. Just like those two bumbling crooks in the classic movie “Home Alone,” criminals may be laying in wait for your house to be vacant.

• Be my partner in stopping scams — report scams to the Office of Attorney General.  Even if you are not a victim, you can help me alert others about a scam by reporting it to my office. The sooner we learn of a new scam targeting the area, the sooner we can warn others and offer prevention tips.

We have an uphill battle to stop scams, but with your commitment to become a savvier consumer and helping my office educate others, this is one resolution I know we can keep.

Peter F. Kilmartin is attorney general of Rhode Island. Submit questions and comments to akempe@riag.ri.gov.

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