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How to avoid becoming a scam victim

By Jasen Lee, KSL | Posted - Mar. 8, 2019 at 7:39 a.m.

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY —The head of a Utah agency charged with keeping people safe from fraudulent business says consumers sometimes forget to use their common sense when it comes to matters money and finances.

"We get a phone call that may sound legitimate, but something is telling you it's a scam and they're threatening you with being arrested or whatever and you forget to apply that common sense," Daniel O'Bannon, director of the Division of Consumer Protection, said. "(We need) reminders to slow down, do your homework and watch for red flags."

Because of that, the division is urging residents to be on the lookout for bad actors looking to take advantage of Utah consumers through a variety of fake "official sounding" scams. As part of Consumer Protection Week, the Utah Department of Commerce is issuing numerous advisories urging Utahns to avoid becoming victims of schemes aimed at duping unsuspecting consumers.

Among the scams that are prevalent today are "suspended" Social Security numbers and fraudulent online offers and sales, O'Bannon said.

"There are things that (people) need to be aware of to protect themselves, to protect their families and to protect their finances from scams and from transactions that could turn out poorly," he said.

On Tuesday, the division issues an advisory on a Social Security number scheme the Federal Trade Commission said was making the rounds. Individuals received calls claiming Social Security numbers were "suspended."

The FTC said scammers were trying to trick people into giving out their personal information by telling them they needed to “reactivate” their supposedly “suspended” numbers. The crooks claimed the number was suspended due to fraud or other illegal activity.

Top consumer complaints
  • Internet offer/sales — Misrepresentation or other deceptive practices such as failure to deliver online purchases or hidden fees.
  • Home improvement/repair — Failing to start or finish a job, refusing completion unless the consumer agrees to a higher than agreed upon price.
  • Retail sales — False advertising and other deceptive practices.
  • Charitable solicitations — Donations solicited by unregistered entities or not being used for the stated purpose.
  • Coaching services — Misrepresenting services to be provided and the results of the program; selling services for exorbitant fees that may correlate with the amount that consumers have available on their credit cards.
  • Refunds — Failure to honor refund policies.
  • Direct solicitations — Includes door-to-door sales. Misrepresentations of services to be provided or affiliations that are nonexistent.
  • Auto repair — Failing to get express authorization prior to providing repairs and services or overcharging consumers.
  • Alarm systems — Using aggressive sales tactics or making misrepresentations in door-to-door solicitations.
  • Warranty — Failure to honor stated warranties.

"Social Security numbers don't get suspended," O'Bannon said. Consumers should see red flags all over the place when they encounter scams like this, he said.

"Those are the types of things that people ought to slow down and watch for the red flags," he said. "Hang up the phone. And if you're really worried, look up the real number for the (actual) Social Security agency and call them."

Meanwhile, internet sales head the list of top consumer complaints, he said. When consumers shop online, they should be vigilant in ensuring they understand what they may be signing up for and how their credit is being used.

He said taking the time to adequately review and examine potentially fraudulent situations can help consumers from falling prey to predatory scammers. One of the top concerns for the public is imposter scams, he noted, in which consumers get calls from people pretending to be from a credible agency, but are in truth not at all affiliated with that organization.

"A lot of protecting yourself as a consumer is fairly common sense," O'Bannon reiterated.

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