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National Consumer Protection Week 2011 Attorney General Warns Vermonters About Wire Transfer Fraud

CONTACT: Sandi Everitt, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-3189

March 7, 2011

In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week and in response to ongoing Vermont consumer complaints, Attorney General William H. Sorrell warns consumers to be wary of frauds and scams that use wire transfer services to steal money from Vermonters. "Through a variety of means - posing as family or friends in distress, classified ads, bogus lottery and sweepstakes prize notices, and phony job offers - scammers use creative ways to get consumers to send them money by wire ransfer. We all need to know, and to make sure our loved ones know, that wire transfers are a key tool for scammers to get your hard-earned money. Vermonters should consider suspicious and possibly fraudulent, any unanticipated requests for funds by wire transfer."

How can you tell if it's fraud?

  • Did you get a call or e-mail from a family member in distress?- In recent months, Vermont consumers have lost tens of thousands of dollars to this scam. The consumer received a call from someone who sounded just like a family member, calling in distress while supposedly travelling and in need of emergency funds. The consumer may be told the family member has been arrested or mugged and lost all their money. The consumer is asked not to report it to other family members. If you receive a call or e-mail from a family member or friend requesting money be sent by wire transfer-STOP and contact another family member or friend to verify whether that the person is actually travelling, or contact the Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program for assistance.
  • Did you get a check or money order in the mail?- Vermont consumers have also lost substantial funds to scammers after receiving what appeared to be a valid check or money order with instructions to deposit it, and then return some of the funds by wire transfer. Whether the check is an "advance on winnings", "payment" for "mystery shopper" services, an overpayment for an item you are selling, or any other similar circumstance, the check always comes back as fake. Many of these fake checks can take weeks to come back as fake or drawn on accounts with no funds, but in every instance, the bank will require the consumer to pay back the money.
  • Have you responded to an internet ad for an apartment rental?- Recently, Vermonters have also lost money to scammers offering a Vermont apartment or vacation property for rent. The scammer requests the consumer to send the security deposit by wire transfer. Scammers copy real estate listings and pose as absentee landlords, then "approve" the consumer for the "lease" and request an application fee or security deposit by wire. By the time the consumer learns that the property is bogus or they sent the money to someone that does not own the property, the money is gone. Check with local housing authorities regarding the existence of the actual property and establish the owner.
  • What can you do if you have been targeted?

  • Cease all contact with the scammer- If you have been targeted by a scammer, do not continue contact with the scammer.
  • Stop or report any wire transfer of funds- If you have sent funds by wire transfer, contact the wire transfer company immediately to report the fraud and halt the transaction. If you are able to report it before the money is picked up, you may be able to stop the transaction. Unfortunately, in most cases once the scammer has the transaction reference number, the funds are collected within minutes.
  • Contact authorities- Contact your local police to report the fraud, as well as the Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). CAP tracks wire transfer fraud reports and uses the information in its efforts to work with wire transfer companies to combat wire transfer fraud.
  • Know how to spot a fraud- Wire transfer fraud is difficult to investigate, as the funds can often be picked up at any location and the scammers are often out of the country. Vermonters' best defense against this predatory activity is to understand and avoid these scams altogether.
  • Vermont consumers can contact the Consumer Assistance Program with any questions, concerns or requests for more information toll free in Vermont at (800) 649-2424 or at (802) 656-3183, or visit our website at www.uvm.edu/consumer.

      Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.