October 1, 2008
Recently I received an official looking notice in the mail asking me to renew the warranty on my vehicle. “That’s odd,” I thought. “My car is so old the warranty is long expired.”
Later in the week I ran into a constituent who told me a story about a prize offered over the internet luring someone into paying “sales tax” for the “prize”.
Other stories picked up in my travels led me to learn more about scams and what people can do to protect themselves. I discovered both the car warranty and prize offer are scams being investigated by the Wisconsin Office of Consumer Protection.
The investigators found that people received calls to extend or renew their car warranty. The person was instructed to enter their credit card number or checking account information to pay for the warranty extension.
They also said prize scams offer “official” entry numbers, fancy certificates, or envelopes that look official or like telegrams to lure you into opening the envelope and returning what is inside. Internet scams offer the promise of quick cash or investment schemes.
“You can be sure you won’t win any prize with a brand name, cash, or a government bond. Prizes such as jewelry and watches are junk, vacations are actually vacation certificates hardly worth the paper they’re printed on, and shopping sprees amount to coupons that are good only when making purchases,” warns Senior Alert & Advice page on the Consumer Protection website.
Other scams our Office of Consumer Protection receives calls about include:
- Grandparents receiving calls that their grandchild is in jail and needs bail or is stranded and needs money for car repairs. The caller claims to be a friend and often knows both the name of the grandparent and grandchild.
- Late night calls saying your debit card needs to be re-activated and asks that the card number be entered.
- Calls offering lower interest rates on mortgages or credit cards. The caller asks for a credit card number so the lower rate can be “processed”.
Most of these calls are similar. The caller is trying to lure you into giving away personal information. The rule of thumb is if someone calls, don’t ever give credit card or bank information out over the phone.
A few other rules the Consumer Protection folks reminded me to pass on:
- Do not pay a handling fee or provide a credit card number or information about your savings or checking account to win an award.
- Do not wire a payment or send a check through an express courier service without checking references and contacting the Office of Consumer Protection.
- If you get a notice in the mail – throw it away. If the offer comes over the telephone – hang up!
Finally, if you do lose money to a fraudulent telemarketer – COMPLAIN! Most people are embarrassed and do not report it. That allows the swindler to victimize other people in our community.
Wisconsin law has serious penalties for those who engage in such illegal behavior. The law regulates fraudulent representations, contests, prizes, and other scams. Those caught engaging in illegal activity can be prosecuted in both civil and criminal court. The victim can sue for $500.00 or double damages, whichever is greater, plus attorney fees. The state can also sue for restitution for consumers with penalties of up to $5,000 per person affected by the crime.
On the criminal side scam artists could receive fines up to $10,000 and two years imprisonment per infraction.
If you are even the least bit suspicious, please call the state Consumer Protection Office at 800-422-7128 to speak w/ an investigator or call my office at 877-763-6636 (toll free) and we will get in touch with an investigator right away.
And thank you to all who contacted me about these scams.