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Déjà Vu Deception: These Old Scams Resurface Again

Photo Credit: iStock/SIphotography

Rerun rip-offs are nothing new; what’s previously worked for scammers will likely be successful again. And that holds especially true for these three longtime (and historically prosperous) ploys that have resurfaced with a vengeance:

Jury Duty Scam
Going strong for more than a decade, this telephone scheme has scammers posing as court employees or members of law enforcement ranging from local police to U.S. marshals. They say that you failed to appear for mandated jury duty, and as a result of that supposed no-show, you face immediate arrest.

These impostors are usually well-prepared — citing the name and address of their target (often drawn from public directories) and spoofing caller ID to show the phone number and name of a courthouse or law enforcement agency. “The scammers often provide information that seems very convincing, including the real names of federal judges or court employees, the location of the courthouse, and case and badge numbers. The victim has every reason to believe the call is legitimate,” notes a recent warning from federal authorities. “The caller then tells the victim they can avoid arrest by paying an immediate fine and walks them through purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card or making an electronic payment to satisfy the ‘fine.’”

What makes this scheme especially dangerous: In addition to getting a quick payoff, scammers may solicit sensitive personal information, including your birth date and Social Security number, for possible identity theft. What to know:

Utility Shutoff Scam
In this swindle, fraudsters pose as local utility company personnel, claiming that electric, gas or water service to your home or business will be terminated within hours because of unpaid bills — unless the alleged tab is paid immediately. (Again, payment is typically requested by prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.) The typical homeowner who takes the bait loses about $500 — nearly twice the amount of other phone scams — while some business owners have lost more than $10,000.

These scams have gotten so common — breaking rip-off records last year and on track for another banner year this winter (this ploy peaks during the heating season) — that more than 100 utilities have formed Utilities United Against Scams to warn customers. “Live” phone calls remain the most common way to con, but newer methods include bogus emails, robocalls and even “on-site” scammers in uniforms seeking a quick payoff or home entry for possible burglary. What to know:

Charity Scams
No surprise on the timing here: Most charitable donations in the U.S. (nearly $390 billion last year) are made in December. That’s when scammers do a full attack to dupe would-be donors with a hard sell and heartfelt scripts, typically made in unsolicited phone calls, but also front-door visits and email campaigns.

Some feign to be collecting on behalf of recognized groups, but more often they use sound-alike names of legitimate charities or invent their own authentic-sounding organizations. What to know:


For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud. Keep tabs on scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

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