Scam Alerts!

Report a Scam

Report a scam here!

If you have lost money or provided personal information as the result of a scam, the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) will contact you to discuss your options and describe the assistance we can provide. This may include referring you to local, state or federal law enforcement offices.
To report suspicious telephone calls, texts, e-mail, letters or visits that did not result in your loss of money or disclosure of personal information, 

OCP will forward your report to federal agencies (such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center) that have the resources to investigate and prosecute the worst con artists. While you will not receive feedback from those agencies about your specific experience, rest assured that the information you and others provide is important to these agencies in tracking down perpetrators, developing evidence and bringing enforcement actions. 

OCP will also use the information you provide to alert others about the latest scams.

Recently Reported Scams

The following scams have recently been reported by residents in Howard County. We have provided general descriptions of what you may encounter if a con artist contacts you.

Back to School Scams

The high school diploma scam

For those of us who didn’t complete high school in a traditional setting, programs are available to finish coursework and earn a diploma. But scammers have identified ways of capitalizing on people seeking to earn their degrees later in life, and falling for one of these scams costs victims money and time and still results in no diploma. If you or a loved one are going back to school to complete a high school degree, watch out for these red flags:

  • You have to pay for a diploma. If you have to pay for your diploma, it is a scam. You may have to pay for classes and testing in a legitimate program, but -- once you earn it -- you will never have to pay for the diploma itself.
  • You can earn a diploma in a day or two. If there are no classes or tests involved, and if you can earn your degree from “life experience” or previous work experience, it is a scam. A legitimate program will require that participants demonstrate excellence via coursework and exams. 
  • They claim to be affiliated with the federal government. Legitimate educational programs are affiliated with state governments.
  • You can take an online test to earn your degree. High school equivalency tests are never administered online. All high school equivalency tests must be: administered in person, proctored, closed-book and scheduled for specific dates and times

Going back to school to finish earning a high school degree is a worthwhile endeavor. However, to avoid getting scammed, always check in with your local community college to see what option is best for you. Your local community college can also help you decide whether you want to take an equivalency test or a class from a legitimate operator.

The “student tax” scam

Imagine that while you are packing up your things to move into your new dorm, you receive an urgent phone call from the IRS. The “agent” informs you that you did not fill out your tax forms properly and you failed to pay your student tax, which helps pay for your public university. He notifies you that if you do not pay it immediately, you will not only be prevented from taking classes but that you will also face imprisonment!

While IRS imposter scams, like this scenario, can happen at any time of year, they tend to spike when scammers spot an opportunity to strike. Fortunately, knowing the telltale signs of an IRS imposter can help you steer clear of this scam.

  • The IRS calls to inform you that you owe money. If you receive a phone call from the IRS about an issue the agency has not contacted you about before, hang up; it is a scam. The IRS will always reach out through the mail first.
  • The caller is demanding payment through gift cards or a wire transfer. The IRS, along with any other government agency, will not accept gift cards as a form of payment. In addition, the IRS will never demand payment through a wire transfer.
  • The caller demands that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount you owe. If you are immediately threatened with imprisonment, and you are not provided with an opportunity to appeal your tax bill, you are being scammed.

Scholarship scams

Finding ways to pay for school can be challenging. Unfortunately, fraudsters know this and have devised numerous scholarship scams to cheat students out of their tuition money. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Never pay to apply for government student loans or financial aid. If you are told to pay a fee to a company so that they can file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for you, don't do it. You can find all the help you need – for free – at fafsa.gov. If you still have questions, reach out to your university’s financial aid office.
  • If a company guarantees that you will get a scholarship or a grant, you are getting scammed. While there are legitimate companies that can help students identify scholarships and grants that they qualify for, no one can ever guarantee that you will be awarded a scholarship. 
  • Never pay for a scholarship. If you are asked to pay fees or taxes in order to receive a scholarship, it is a scam.

Amazon Phishing Scam

You receive an email that appears to be from Amazon with the subject line “Your Amazon.com order cannot be shipped.” Claiming there is a problem processing orders, the message says, “You will not be able to access your account or place orders with us until we confirm your information.” A “click here” link leads to an authentic-looking page that asks you to confirm your name, address and credit card information (including expiration and CVV security code) — everything fraudsters need to make unauthorized charges. After entering that sensitive data and hitting the Save & Continue tab, consumers are stealthily redirected to the actual Amazon website, none the wiser that they just gave cybercrooks carte blanche to their plastic.

Don’t take the bait. Never click on an embedded link from Amazon (or any other online retailer).  To find out if an email like this is legit, Amazon urges you go to “Your Orders” to determine if there is an order that matches the details in an email. If they don’t match, the message isn’t legitimate. Visit Amazon’s info page for more information.  

Government Impostor Scams

How the scam works - You receive a phone call (or e-mail) from someone who claims to be with a government or law enforcement agency such as the Social Security Administration, IRS, US Treasury, US ICE, Maryland District Court or Howard County Police. The caller sounds official and your Caller ID may even indicate (falsely) that the call is from the agency cited by the caller. The caller is, in fact, an imposter working a scam.

The caller will claim that you failed to pay a traffic ticket, or owe a fine failing to appear for jury duty. The caller claims that you could be arrested if you don’t pay a fine or that a warrant has already been issued for your arrest. Non-US citizens may be threatened with deportation.

You will then be instructed to send money to the caller in order to avoid arrest. You may be asked to provide a bank account number, wire money, or put money on a s cash reload card and give the PIN to the scammer. In some cases, the scam may be used to trick you into providing sensitive personal information such as your Social Security Number, date of birth, or credit card or debit card number.

To avoid this scam, remember

  • Government agencies, courts and law enforcement almost exclusively contact consumers by post, not by phone or email; 
  • Government agencies, courts and law enforcement will not ask for payment or personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call; If the call comes in the evening or at night, suspect a scam. Real government calls only come during normal business hours;
  • If you are asked to pay via wire transfer or cash reload card, it's a scam. Such payment methods are now illegal.  
  • If the caller claims to be part of a “warranty amnesty program,” it’s likely a scam. Such programs typically require consumers with outstanding warrants (such as for failure to appear for a court date) to reach out to the courts on their own.

If you are concerned that you may actually owe fines or have missed jury duty or a court date, contact the agency or court directly by looking up the phone number online or in the phone book and calling them yourself.

Bottom Line - Don't pay money or give personal information to anyone you don't know before independently confirming their identity

For more information:

 

 


How to Identify a Scam

What do most scams have in common?

Use caution if:

  • You receive an unsolicited telephone call, text, e-mail or visit from someone who claims to be from the government, an established business or well-known non-profit organization. Don't trust caller ID - scammers have technology that lets them display any number or organization name on your ID screen;
  • You get an offer that sounds too good to be true (e.g. you won a sweepstakes you don’t remember entering);
  • You are threatened or scared into thinking that bad things will happen if you don’t act (e.g. you’ll be arrested);
  • You are told you must act immediately;
  • You are asked to wire money or send a pre-paid debit card – note that these payment methods are like sending cash – once sent, it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the payment. It is now illegal for telemarketers to ask for payment used these methods. For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website.
  • You are given a check for the sale of goods or as a prize but are asked to immediately wire money back;
  • You are asked for financial, credit or personal information.

Still Not Sure?

  • When someone claims to be from a government agency, established business or familiar non-profit organization - All scams involve impostors, so be wary of all calls, texts and e-mail from someone you don't know. Government agencies do NOT ask for credit card or personal information over the phone or by e-mail. To verify that a call, text or e-mail is from entity it claims to be, find its contact information through independent means such as directory assistance or a web search using your internet browser.
  • Debt collection calls – Insist on written documentation from anyone who claims you owe a debt. While you can be sued for failing to pay a debt you actually owe, you will NOT be arrested for a delinquent payment.
  • Charitable solicitations - Request information in writing before donating money. Contact the Maryland Secretary of State at 800-825-4510 to verify that the caller is authorized to do fundraising.
  • Sweepstakes / Contests - You have NOT won a contest or sweepstakes you have not entered. If you entered a legitimate sweepstakes, you will NOT be required to pay taxes or fees to get your winnings. See the next tip if you receive a check that purports to be your prize winnings.
  • If you receive a check from someone you don’t know and are asked to send money back to them – This is always a scam. It can take up to a month to find out whether a deposited check has been accepted and paid by the sender’s bank. The sender is counting on you to send the money before you learn the check is no good. If you are still unsure, deposit the check but do NOT spend the proceeds or send any money back until your bank can confirm that the check has “cleared” (that is, it has been paid by the sender’s bank). 
  • E-mail and Pop-Up Messages - When in doubt: DO NOT open or download attachments in e-mail from unknown parties. DO NOT respond to pop-up messages that instruct you to click on a hyperlink or download software (e.g. “security software is about to expire).
  • Door-to-door solicitations – Ask to see the solicitor’s Howard County Solicitor’s ID. Do NOT do business with anyone who does not have that ID. If registered, also note that door-to-door solicitors must also provide a 3-day right to cancel contracts and provide you with a cancellation form.
  • Home improvement, landscaping and home security solicitations – In addition to needing a Solicitor’s ID, these service providers must have other local or state licenses. If the license number is not on the solicitor’s written materials, ask for the number and then contact the appropriate agency to verify that the license number given is real and actually belongs to the solicitor