Alerts & Advisories
Post Disaster Scams
The recent wildfires are bringing out the best in residents of San Diego County, but they also bring out the worst in criminals looking to take advantage. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is working to keep you from being re-victimized by various scams and illegal activity. This Wildfire Assistance brochure will give you valuable advice on how to protect yourself.
San Diego Superior Court Warns Public about E-Mail Scams
For the second time in a month, the San Diego Superior Court is alerting the
public about scammers utilizing the court’s name. Concerned citizens have contacted
staff explaining they have received unsolicited emails claiming to be from the San Diego
Superior Court. One of the individuals, who has an issue before the court, opened the
email’s attachment and discovered the attachment contained a virus.
At least two other courts (Los Angeles Superior Court and San Francisco Superior Court) have received complaints of similar frauds.
“It’s important to reiterate to the public that we do not communicate with those with issues before the court via unsolicited e-mail or telephone. If anyone tries to contact you regarding “missed jury duty” or cases of which you are unaware, you should delete the email or disregard the phone call,” says Michael Roddy, Executive Officer of the San Diego Superior Court.
You are advised not to open any attachment or link which may be included in the unsolicited e-mails; doing so may expose your computer to a virus.
Last month the Court reported it had received complaints about individuals trying to defraud members of the public by pretending to be court officers or officials, via the telephone. The court advised those who received such a phone calls to simply hang up and, if the scammer persisted, call their local law enforcement agency.
It's a startling phone call you could receive: "There's a warrant out for your arrest." A scam going on right now in many counties hopes that fear will cause you to act without thinking. The caller is very pushy and poses as an employee of the Sheriff's Department. To make the pitch very convincing, the scammer will:
- Use the name of an actual Sheriff's Department employee
- Give the actual telephone number of a Sheriff's Station or Substation
- Have some of your personal information such as a former address or your date of birth
- Threaten you with jail time or taking away your driver license
- Ask for more personal information
- ASK FOR MONEY either with a credit, debit or prepaid card
Impersonating a Sheriff's Deputy is a violation of state law. REMEMBER, no deputy or employee of the
Sheriff's Department will ever contact members of the public by telephone to demand money or any other
form of payment. If you get this type of call, hang up immediately.
People with outstanding warrants are encouraged to turn themselves in Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at any one of the Sheriff's Court Facilities. For more information on warrants and bail notices, visit http://apps.sdsheriff.net/warrant/waar.aspx. To check if you have an outstanding warrant in the County of San Diego, visit this site.
To watch a safety video about warrant scams, follow us on YouTube.
Lottery Scam Using County of San Diego Official Seal
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is warning the public about a lottery scam that uses the official San Diego County seal and appears to be targeting veterans and senior citizens. The District Attorney’s Office is investigating the scam and is asking additional victims to come forward to report it. Seniors are being called on the phone and told they’ve won millions of dollars, but in order to collect their winnings they must first send insurance and tax payments. This is a scam—don’t fall for it. In some cases, victims are being sent or faxed letters that have the official seal of San Diego County at the top. Additional victims of this scam, or other suspected financial elder abuse can report it at (619) 531-3245. Members of the public are asked to call only if you have sent money to one of these scams and have not already reported it to a law enforcement agency. When you call, please be prepared to leave your name, contact information (including home address) and specifics about the suspected scam.
IRS Tax Scam
The Internal Revenue Service warns senior citizens and other taxpayers to beware of an emerging scheme tempting them to file tax returns claiming fraudulent refunds. Please read their full warning for more information.
Timeshare Resale Fraud
As a result of the current economic climate, there are timeshare owners who are desirous of selling their timeshares as
soon as possible. Some owners may have concluded that their timeshares no longer suit their needs. Others may be facing
foreclosure. Others may be convinced that there are buyers interested in their timeshares. And others may simply want to
avoid paying maintenance and special assessment fees.
Please read this alert issued by the California Department of Real Estate.
The “Grandma Scam”
Since the beginning of the year, the DA’s Victim Assistance Division has noted an apparent increase in crime reports where elderly citizens have been targeted by criminals using the so-called “Grandma Scam.” Imposters, often from foreign countries, target the elderly by posing as a grandchild in trouble and in need of cash. The caller often says that he or she has been arrested, was in a car accident or has some type of medical emergency. The caller always insists that the grandparent not tell anyone about the money transfer, which is one of the red flags. The scam is often effective because it catches seniors off guard and tugs at their heartstrings. Victims of financial elder abuse lose an estimated $2.9 billion nationwide, according to a study released in June by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 90, live alone and require some level of help with healthcare or home maintenance.
Fight back by ensuring that your friends and family members do not become victims. Explain to them how the scam works, and encourage them to be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly and wants them to wire money- especially to Mexico and Canada. The San Diego County Office of Aging and Independent Services has an Adult Protective Services hotline for those who suspect any type of elder abuse. The phone number is 800-510-2020.
To keep your finances safe from scams, consider these tips: sweepstakes and overseas lotteries are phony; screen your calls before answering; don’t be afraid to hang up on the perpetrator; don’t let emotions cause you to react immediately to a phone call, letter or email; always check with a professional adviser. When people have been scammed once, their phone numbers and information are sold to other tricksters. Consider changing your phone number to avoid an onslaught of predatory phone calls.
For organizations that cater to senior citizens, posters with slogans and the hotline phone number are available. Contact the District Attorney’s Office at 619-515-8654 for more information on how to obtain a poster to hang in your establishment. For more information on victim assistance, contact 619-531-4041.
Free Disaster Recovery Guide
For information on disaster recovery visit The Red Guide to Recovery at TheRedGuideToRecovery.com. This website contains a wealth of information and related topics pertaining to disaster recovery.
It Looks Official...
Our office routinely receives complaints regarding what appear to be "official" mailings. These solicitations arrive in the mail in envelopes which mimic official government mailings and contain "invoices" or "qualification" notices. Although the entire solicitation is made to look like an official government mailing, the mailings are usually advertisements designed to trick the consumer into buying or paying for services. Please read these solicitations very carefully - especially the FINE PRINT - where you might find the disclaimer "this is not a government agency." If you receive a such a mailing, be aware that you are not dealing with a government agency and are not required to pay for the offered service. For more information on the sender, check with the BBB. See example documents for property tax reduction and short sale programs.
Door to Door Magazine Scams
Many people in our County have complained about door-to-door salespeople offering magazine subscriptions for sale. The salespeople make false representations that the consumer may buy a "gift subscription" on behalf of a local hospital or charity. Please be aware that these salespeople seldom, if ever, have authority to collect donations on behalf of the hospitals and charities. We have been confirmed with one local-area hospital that the hospital DOES NOT authorize such collections and has never received the so-called "gift subscriptions". Please be aware of this scam. If you wish to make a donation to a local hospital or charity, call the hospital or charity directly and ask for information on how to make a donation.
Walmart Scanner Overcharge
On November 24, 2008 a judgment was entered against Wal-Mart for scanner overcharge violations. Please note that every Wal Mart shall post a sign that states the following: "IF AN ITEM SCANS AT A PRICE HIGHER THAN THE SHELF OR ADVERTISED PRICE, WE WILL CORRECT THE ERROR AND DEDUCT $3.00 FROM THE LOWEST ADVERTISED PRICE OF ONE SUCH ITEM. IF THE LOWEST ADVERTISED PRICE IS $3.00 OR LESS, YOU WILL RECEIVED THE ITEM FOR FREE. YOU WILL BE CHARGED THE LOWEST ADVERTISED PRICE FOR THAT ITEM AND ALL ADDITIONAL IDENTICAL ITEMS." If while shopping at WalMart you find that you were overcharged please let the cashier know. If Wal Mart does not follow the above mentioned policy, please contact the District Attorney's office at 619-531-3115.
Protecting Seniors from Life Insurance or Annuity Fraud
Although the vast majority of life insurance agents are honest, hard-working individuals, there are exceptions, and it's important to note that one of the most shocking aspects of insurance or annuity fraud is how the financial predator often takes advantage of those whose trust he or she has worked to gain. See the Protecting Your Savings from Con Artists document for more information.
AG's Guidelines on Medical Marijuana
Read the AG's Guidelines on Medical Marijuana document. Guidelines for the security and non-diversion of marijuana grown for medical use.
Property Tax Scam
Consumers continue to report receiving official-looking forms by mail with the County Assessor's ID No. and the address of their real property along with the current assessed value of the property. The form states that for a "processing fee," paid by a "due date," the citizen's property can be "reassessed." The letter also states that, if the fee is not received by the due date, a "late fee" will be applied. Be advised, any real-property owner can request a reassessment without charge from our County Assessor's office. The County Assessor's office is located at the County Administration Building on Pacific Coast Highway in San Diego.
Carefully check the return address on the mailers. The Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs is compiling the list of complaints for the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office therefore, if the return address on the mailer is a Los Angeles address, please contact the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs at 800- 593-8222 or fill out complaint form.
The California Attorney General's Office is taking complaints relating to other California companies that purport to assist consumers with filing property tax reassessment requests. Please contact the California Attorney General's Office Public Inquiry Unit at (800) 952-5225.
Foreclosure Prevention/Land Patent Scam
Citizens have recently reported attending "seminars," in various locations in the County, in which they are told that they can protect their homes from foreclosure by obtaining a "land patent" on the property. The citizens report paying varying sums of money (usually between $500-$15,000) to apply for the "land patent." They are told that they must remove the street address numbers from their house, remove any mail receptacle, and "trademark" their name, among other tasks, to protect their property from foreclosure. The citizens report that the seminar holders state that, with these "protections" in place, they will be able to re-negotiate their promissory notes and trust deeds with the lender and, as a result, will only be required to pay 10% of their previous mortgage payment each month. For assistance, please contact the District Attorney's Real Estate Fraud Hotline at 619-531-3552.
Jury Duty Scam
The public needs to be aware that individuals identifying themselves as U.S. court employees have been telephonically contacting citizens and advising them that they have been selected for jury duty. These individuals ask to verify names and Social Security numbers, then ask for credit card numbers. If the request is refused, citizens are then threatened with fines.
The judicial system does not contact people telephonically and ask for personal information such as your Social Security number, date of birth or credit card numbers. If you receive one of these phone calls, do not provide any personal or confidential information to these individuals. This is an attempt to steal or to use your identity by obtaining your name, Social Security number and potentially to apply for credit or credit cards or other loans in your name. It is an attempt to defraud you.
If you have already been contacted and have already given out your personal information, please monitor your account statements and credit reports, and contact your local FBI office. Local FBI field office telephone numbers can be found in the front of your local telephone directory or on www.fbi.gov.
Filing an Identity Theft Police Report Can Save you Money
"California leads the nation when it comes to critical privacy protection laws," said Charlene Zettel, director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. "California law [Penal Code section 530.6] enables California residents who believe they have been victimized by financial fraud and identity theft to request a police report -- regardless of whether the crime was committed in the victim?s location or somewhere else in the country."
California has enacted nearly 80 privacy protection laws during the past six years. "Having civil and criminal identity theft penalties in place and continuing to inform Californians on how to prevent the theft of their personal or financial information will help stem this invasive crime," Zettel said.
A helpful Identity Theft Victim Checklist is available from the California Department of Consumer Affairs' Office of Privacy Protection. There is also a Guide for Victims of Criminal Identity Theft. The California Office of Privacy Protection provides information, advocacy, training, and "best practice" guidelines for consumers, businesses and other organizations.[TOP]
New Twist in Identity Theft -- Car Cloning
A new type of identity theft is on the increase, called car cloning. Thieves take the identity of your vehicle by copying its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and then applying that VIN to a similar, but stolen, vehicle. Paperwork may then be generated to support the copy cat car, and the car may be sold to an unsuspecting customer.
This process makes the auto theft more difficult to trace.In fact, the buyer may be among the first to discover the fraud when attempting to properly register the vehicle.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), "auto theft costs the citizens of the United States over $8 billion annually."
NICB Cloned Vehicle Fact Sheet
Taking time to learn about a charity before you donate can go a long way to making sure that the nonprofit organization and cause match your intentions. However, researching charities can be daunting when you consider that there are more than 700,000 federally recognized nonprofit organizations - nearly 90,000 of them in California - and no official "seal of approval" issued.
The "Charities Search" section of California Attorney General's Web site offers links to GuideStar's information on California charities, including many charities' filings with the IRS, Form 990. The database is searchable by name, location, income range, category or identification number. For more information see Charitable Trusts.[TOP]
Free Credit Report
The Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's largest consumer protection agency, has prepared a brochure, Your Access to Free Credit Reports, explaining your rights and how to order a free annual credit report. A credit report contains information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you've been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home.[TOP]
Reporting Web Sites or Offending E-Mail
Receiving "stuff" from on line solicitors via e-mail or on the web and want to report it? There are four sites you can go to lodge a complaint regarding spam, child pornography, obscene web sites dealing with adult pornography or anything obscene, or a web site that is criminal in nature and does not fit the above categories - more.[TOP]
SPAM SCAM - Spoofing You Out of Personal Info
Consumers should be on the alert for more sophisticated "spoof" e-mails that trick unwary and unsuspecting Internet users into giving personal information that can be used to drain bank accounts, fraudulently get credit cards and commit other crimes.
The scam is commonly called "brand spoofing" or "phishing" because the spam mail sent uses familiar or legitimate-sounding names of companies to gain personal information. This scam capitalizes on names that are close to the real one. A recent example is instead of the real Earthlink.net, the spam mail used an URL like www.earthlinkservice.com. Small and large companies have been spoofed, such as Bank of America, Best Buy, PayPal and First Union Bank.
Consumers may be sent e-mails that seemingly come from a company with which they've done business or be sent by hyperlink to a phony web site - designed even to look like the legitimate business web site. One victim reported getting a seemingly authentic e-mail from what appeared to be his Internet Service Provider telling him his credit card had expired and new information was needed. He was asked to provide a credit card number and to give his bank account number and ATM PIN number.
Here are some basic rules to consider.
- When in doubt, throw the e-mail out.
- Never give out personal information by e-mail.
- Don't trust e-mail headers. They can be faked.
- Never fill out a form in an e-mail message. You never know who will get it.
- Never trust the link in an e-mail message. Scam artists are getting sophisticated and are able to have their web site mirror a legitimate business web site.
- Don't trust e-mail messages on the status of your account. Always go directly to a company's web site to access your account information by means of your personal identification and log-in.
Federal Trade Commission's Do-Not-Call Registry
The Federal Trade Commission's national "do not call" registry, which is a part of the amended telemarketing sales rule, or TSR, is available at donotcall.gov or by phone 888-382-1222. The do-not-call registry covers most unwanted telemarketing calls that are part of nationwide, interstate selling campaigns.
Do-not-call registration is free. Online registration is available if you have an e-mail account. To register by phone, you will need to call from the number you wish to register.
Telephone numbers placed on the National Do Not Call Registry will remain on it permanently due to the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007, which became law in February 2008, unless there are removed as follows: Under the Act, the Federal Trade Commission will continue to remove telephone numbers that have been disconnected and reassigned to other customers. Consumers can delete their telephone numbers from the registry at any time by calling 1-888-382-1222 (TTY 1-866-290-4236) - the call must be made from the telephone number they wish to delete. If you continue to receive unwanted calls, there is addition information available at ftc.gov.
To file a complaint:
- Visit ftc.gov
- Call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261
The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.