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Top Scams of 2019 Released by Attorney General’s Office

January 7, 2020

Contact:  Lisa Jensen, Assistant Director, Consumer Assistance Program, 1-800-649-2424


In 2019, Vermonters filed 5,447 scam reports with the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP). As old scams persisted, new scams emerged. According to the Attorney General’s list of top 10 most commonly reported scams of the year, the Social Security number phishing scam surpassed the IRS scam, knocking it out of the top spot as the most common scam. This phone scam involves calls claiming that your Social Security number has been compromised, suspended, and/or linked to criminal activity. Vermonters filed 1,466 reports of the Social Security number phishing scam. Scam reports total more than 40 percent of all contacts CAP had with consumers in 2019, making scams one of the most common consumer issues affecting Vermonters.

The “Amazon” credit card phishing scam was also on the rise in 2019, making the list of top 10 scams for the first time, and in May, a scam alert was issued in response to Vermonters’ reports. This scam involves a robocall claiming to be from Amazon regarding outstanding charges on your Amazon account. The scammers may also claim that your credit card has been charged by Amazon. This automated call instructs you to call back to get a refund, at which point scammers request your card number and attempt to gain remote access to your computer.

Last year, CAP issued three scam alerts. In March, an alert was released regarding the computer tech support scam. This scam is prompted by a phone call or pop-up message on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft, Windows, or another well-known tech company. The scammers ask for payment to rid your computer of viruses, and may gain remote access to your computer, compromising personal information. In December, an alert was issued in response to a rising Medicare card scam. During the open enrollment period, scammers posed as Medicare saying they need your Medicare card number or Social Security number to issue a new card or to verify medical information to keep your coverage active. This scam also involved the spoofing of local phone numbers.

Vermonters can report a scam or sign up for the Scam Alert system by going to or by calling the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.

The top 10 scams of 2019 are:

  1. Social Security number phishing
  2. Computer tech support
  3. Fake sweepstakes
  4. Phony relationships (not grandchild)
  5. Spoofing/reflector calls
  6. Debt collection threats
  7. Grandchild imposter
  8. IRS imposter
  9. Amazon credit card phishing
  10. Online classified listings
  1. Social Security number phishing

 The scam: An attempt to obtain your Social Security number by posing as the Social Security Administration or a business. They may try to get access to your Social Security number by telling you it has been compromised or stolen, or that it has expired.

How to spot the scam: If Social Security (or any official agency) wanted to contact you, they would not call to ask for your personal information, especially your Social Security number, over the phone. These agencies mail communications and would never threaten you for information or payment over the phone.

What to do: Be wary responding to unsolicited contacts and never provide personal information to unknown contactors, especially over the phone.

  1. Computer tech support

The scam: A phone call or pop-up message on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft, Windows, or another well-known tech company. They will say there is a virus or other problem with your computer and try to persuade you to give them remote access to resolve the issue. They may also ask for immediate payment for their services.

How to spot the scam: Legitimate customer service information usually won’t display as a pop-up. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google do not call you to notify you of malware on your computer.

What to do: Never provide remote access to your computer to a stranger or click links from an unknown sender in an e-mail or pop-up message. If you get a call from “tech support,” hang up. Also, be careful when searching for tech support numbers online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate numbers for legitimate companies.

  1. Fake sweepstakes

The scam: A phone call or mailing claiming that you won money or a prize but have to make a payment in order to receive it. Sometimes the outreach includes a realistic-looking fake check. The check bounces and no “winnings” are ever dispersed. Often, they claim to be Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

How to spot the scam: If you actually win a major prize from Publisher’s Clearinghouse, they will contact you in person. For smaller prizes (less than $10,000), winners are notified by overnight delivery services (FedEx, UPS), certified mail, or email in the case on online giveaways. They never make phone calls. An unsolicited check in the mail from an unknown sender is usually a scam.

What to do: Never pay an upfront fee to receive winnings. If you win something, they will pay you – not the other way around. No actual contest or sweepstakes would you make you pay first to receive money.

  1. Phony relationships

The scam: There is a wide variety of phony relationship scams. Sometimes, the scammer pretends to be someone you know, like a love interest, friend, relative, or even a religious leader. They reach out to you online or on the phone, claiming to need money

How to spot the scam: They ask you to send money immediately, often in the form of wire transfers or gift cards.

What to do: If they claim to be someone you know, call the person using a verified phone number. If you receive a suspicious email, be sure to double-check the email address. If you’re feeling suspicious, get the real story and talk to someone you trust. Cut off communication with the scammer.

  1. Spoofing/reflector calls

The scam: Spoofed calls come from a number that appears local to Vermont. But in reality, the scammer is often calling from overseas, and “spoofing” the number to make it show up on caller ID as a neighbor so you will be inclined to answer. Similar to spoofed calls, reflector calls appear on your caller ID as your own number. Often, reflector calls begin with a scammer claiming to be from Microsoft—they will ask you to pay them immediately over the phone to protect your computer data.

How to spot the scam: The call comes from a number you don’t recognize or your own number, and can happen repeatedly at all hours. If they claim to be from Microsoft, remember that nobody would call you to say that your data has been breached or your IP address compromised. They especially wouldn’t ask you to pay immediately using Google Play gift cards or your credit card.

What to do: Ignore the call. Don’t call the number back – chances are the person you are calling has nothing to do with the scam. Never give personal or financial information to an unverified person or service that contacts you.

  1. Debt collection threats

The scam: Scammers pose as debt collectors or law enforcement and say legal action will be taken against you if you don’t pay them what you owe.

How to spot the scam: If you did owe a debt, collectors are not allowed to threaten you with arrest over the phone. You can request verification of the debt, which has to be sent to you in writing. If you ask them to stop calling you, they are generally required to stop.

What to do: Hang up the phone, and if they call again, let the call go to voicemail. If you think you do actually owe money to a debt collector or other agency, make sure you call using a trusted number.

  1. Grandchild imposter

The scam: Scammers pose as grandchildren and claim to be in serious trouble, such as in prison or at the hospital. They urgently request money in the form of wired funds or prepaid gift cards. They may also claim that their voice sounds unfamiliar due to injury.

How to spot the scam: Call your grandchild or family members on known phone numbers to ensure your grandchild is safe.

What to do: Never wire or otherwise send funds unless you can verify the emergency.

  1. IRS imposter

 The scam: A phone call claiming you owe “back taxes” or payments to the government allegedly from the IRS or “US Treasury and Legal Affairs.” They may threaten you with arrest or investigation.

How to spot the scam: The IRS will never call you at home to threaten legal action.

What to do: Don’t respond to these callers. If you think you may actually owe back taxes, hang up and contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. You may also contact the Tax Advocate for the Vermont Department of Taxes at 802-828-6848.

  1. Amazon credit card phishing

The scam:  An automated phone call claiming that your credit card has been charged by Amazon or that you have an outstanding balance on your account. The automated call instructs people to call back to get a refund or resolve the charge, at which point scammers request your card number and attempt to gain remote access to your computer.

How to spot the scam: Amazon will not call you unless you request that they do so. If you have legitimate concerns about your Amazon account, or other accounts, contact the company directly through a trusted contact, such as through the customer portal within your account.

What to do: Hang up the phone and do not call back. Furthermore, you should not allow remote access to your computer to unknown parties. If you are concerned about charges made to your credit card, contact your credit card company directly.

  1. Online classified listings

The scam: Sometimes the scammer responds to a seller post, overpays with a check, and asks for the remainder to be wired back. Sometimes the post is for a fictitious rental property and the scammer is looking for the deposit and first month’s rent to be sent immediately. Scams even happen when you are looking for that perfect puppy or pet to expand your family, but the transport of the animal is supposedly held up at the airport or elsewhere.

How to spot the scam: If you feel suspicious, stop the sale or purchase. The scammer may ask you to wire them money, send a bank transfer, or pay using gift cards. They may not want to talk on the phone or meet in person. Remember, you should not provide a rental deposit before signing the lease or contract in-person.

What to do: Complete your transactions in cash and preferably in-person. If they refuse to meet in-person or talk on the phone, ignore them and end communication.

Top Scams 2019