CHARLESTON — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has unveiled the top areas of scam complaints in 2014 and provided tips for consumers so they can avoid being taken advantage of by unscrupulous people.

“This week is National Consumer Protection Week, and a critical component of that is educating consumers about the types of scams that are circulating and helping them understand some common red flags,” Morrisey said in a press release. “Our office received thousands of calls from consumers about scams last year.

"Some of the callers had been victimized by the scam; others just wanted to make us aware of them. We urge consumers to let us know any time they feel as though they have been contacted by someone who is trying to take advantage of them.”

The top 10 most common scams that were reported to the Consumer Protection Division in 2014 were:

  1. Credit card scams: A caller or robocall offers to lower the interest rate on a credit card, but seeks the consumer’s banking information so he or she can “verify” it.

  2. Tax scams: A person says he is with the IRS or other government agency and informs the consumer that delinquent taxes are due. The caller says the consumer could face jail time, foreclosure, or other threats if he or she does not pay immediately. Scammers also have told consumers they are eligible for a refund if they provide bank routing numbers.

  3. Sweepstakes and prize scams: A consumer is informed via mail, email, social media, phone call, or letter that he or she has won a prize or sweepstakes, but must pay a small fee to cover shipping, taxes, or other costs first.

  4. Loan and government grant scams: The consumer is informed via mail, email, social media, phone call, or letter that he or she is eligible for a free grant from a government agency or erasure of student loan debt, but must pay an upfront fee in order to receive it.

  5. Computer and technical scams: A caller says he represents a computer company or Internet service provider, expresses concern about the consumer’s computer or server, and directs the consumer to a website so the computer can be accessed remotely. Links to the website may infect the computer with a virus or the caller could lock the computer until a “ransom” is paid.

  6. Medical scams: This category includes scams dealing with medical alert systems, medical devices, class action settlements, and billing scams. Callers may ask for a consumer’s banking information, credit card information, Medicare number, or medical history.

  7. Email and phishing scams: Consumers are told they have unpaid tolls, won gift cards or other prizes, have services due to them, or include threats if they do not act immediately. The emails are designed to steal money by installing malware or viruses on a consumer’s computer or seek personal information.

  8. Warrant scams: A caller informs the consumer that there is a warrant out for his or her arrest for missing jury duty, passing bad checks, or other violations. The caller will offer to dismiss the warrant if the consumer pays immediately with a pre-paid debit card, money order, or wire transfer.

  9. Lottery scams: Consumers are informed they have won a major prize, including a “second-chance prize” for losing lottery tickets, but must pay upfront fees or surrender personal information in order to receive it.

  10. Gift card scams: Scammers use texts, emails, phone calls, social media and other means to offer free gift cards for well-known businesses. Consumers may be asked to click on a link, text a specific number, or go to a website to complete a survey or provide information. Doing any of those could expose the consumer to computer viruses, identity theft, or unauthorized charges.

“Every week it seems our office hears of a new scam making its way through West Virginia and surrounding states,” Morrisey said. “We believe education is the best defense against scammers, con artists, and identity thieves. Reputations take years to build, but an unsavory character online can ruin that quickly. “

Morrisey said consumers should be on guard against these common red flags of scammers:

  • The consumer is asked to provide his or her Social Security number, banking information, or credit card number.

  • Caller requires upfront payment before a consumer can access a prize, award, sweepstakes, or other gift.

  • Caller poses as a government official or utility worker who demands immediate payment for an unpaid bill, unpaid taxes, or fines.

  • Caller demands payment is made with a pre-paid debt card, money order, or wire transfer, which are virtually untraceable and often cannot be rescinded once they have been made.

  • Websites, emails, texts, or other communications have poor grammar, spelling, or sentence structure.

  • The consumer is contacted by an unsolicited person offering to “fix” a problem the consumer never knew he or she had.

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