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HARRISBURG – Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane today announced the five most common types of scams reported to the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in 2014. The Bureau received more than 124,000 consumer-related inquiries in 2014. Based on these those inquiries, AG Kane issued this consumer advisory to Pennsylvanians about the most common scams and how to avoid them.
The advisory coincides with National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW). Consumer-protection agencies nationwide observe the week to encourage consumers to make well-informed decisions and understand their consumer rights.
“Con artists and scammers rob Pennsylvanians of thousands of dollars every day,” Attorney General Kane said. “Consumers should be on alert and report any suspected fraudulent activity to our Bureau of Consumer Protection.”
Last year, Kane’s Bureau of Consumer Protection opened more than 37,000 consumer-related investigations and recovered more than $17.4 million in restitution.
Here are the top five most common scams from 2014, as identified by the Bureau of Consumer Protection:
TELEPHONE SCAMS : Consumers should be on the alert for telephone scams used by con artists who try to get them to surrender personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, or credit and debit card numbers. These con artists may attempt to have consumers wire money or purchase reloadable debit cards under the guise of helping a friend or family member. Telephone scammers may also try to convince consumers that they have won a contest or lottery and claim that fees must be paid first in order to obtain the prize.
EMAIL SCAMS : Consumers should be on the alert for scammers who may use emails and the Internet to troll for potential victims. Many of these scams take on the elements of current events. At this time of year, scams involving tax returns are prevalent. Consumers should note that the IRS or other taxing bodies will not communicate by email.
Consumers are urged to refrain from providing personal banking information to anyone via email. Even if an email includes a bank logo and appears to be legitimate, consumers should contact their financial institution immediately to report the incident.
ENERGY COST-SAVINGS SCAMS : Consumers may be solicited to change energy providers with promises of considerable savings. Some of these savings may not materialize or may amount to a teaser rate that increases substantially after an initial trial period. Consumers are urged to be cautious when dealing with door-to-door or telephone solicitors who offer deals, prices and rates that sound too good to be true. A list of approved energy suppliers is available on the Pennsylvania Utility Commission website at www.puc.state.pa.us .
HOME IMPROVEMENT SCAMS : Consumers should be aware that one of the biggest expenses they will incur is for the maintenance and improvement of their home. Pennsylvania law requires home improvement contractors to register and disclose information about their insurance coverage, background, contract forms, and terms of their work. Consumers should verify that a contractor is registered by checking the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General website at www.attorneygeneral.gov or calling (800) 441-2555.
Registration is not a seal of approval. Consumers should still research and check references for other jobs that the contractor has performed, get at least three bids for the work that is to be done and realize that the least expensive is not necessarily always the best.
MOTOR VEHICLE PURCHASES AND REPAIRS : Since most motor vehicle repairs are not planned, consumers are placed in a vulnerable position and could be fleeced by disreputable auto repair shops. Repair shops should provide consumers with a written estimate for labor and parts that outlines all costs associated with the repair.
Consumers who are in the market to purchase a vehicle should be aware that car dealers licensed in Pennsylvania must comply with a number of laws requiring truthful and full disclosure of all terms. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. A rushed consumer is an easy target.
Consumers can call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 441-2555 or visit www.attorneygeneral.gov for additional information or to file a consumer complaint.