The Times West Virginian

Business

March 16, 2014

Scammers will ‘go after anyone, regardless of age, gender or income’

FAIRMONT — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey urges consumers to protect themselves against scams related to online purchases.

A Fairmont woman, who prefered not to be interviewed for this story, recently became the victim of one of these scams and lost a considerable amount of money as a result.

Morrisey said the individual from the Friendly City was looking for an all-terrain vehicle to help her clear snow during this very tough winter. She found an ATV through a posting on Craigslist and got in touch with the seller.

The seller proceeded to provide the buyer with photographs of the ATV, and the woman was under the impression that an attorney was involved to supposedly make the transaction go smoothly.

After the two parties worked out the initial payment, a period of time passed and then the seller asked for another sum of money, which had not been discussed previously. The consumer realized that there was an issue, but at that point she was already out thousands of dollars, Morrisey said.

“We are looking into this, and we’re trying to be helpful,” he said of the situation.

He explained that scammers often attempt to take advantage of people during difficult times, such as by offering so-called services or products to deal with inclement weather. The crooks pounce when consumers are most vulnerable.

Morrisey urged people to know who they are buying from online and use common sense.

“If you’re engaging in a transaction, you want to deal with people that you know about,” he said. “If you’re local, try to meet with someone in person. If you do that, you could reduce most of the scam attempts.”

People should do research on the Internet about a company before making any online purchases, and they can look at independent reviews from past buyers. However, they should be aware that scammers may post positive comments to lure consumers to make purchases, Morrisey said.

Also, persons should never wire funds or send money through prepaid debit cards, because those payments are like cash and that money can’t be returned, he said. Consumers should be weary of sellers who ask for personal financial information in order to complete a transaction, and pay attention to their credit card records to ensure that their account isn’t being used for something they are unaware of.

Most people who sell items online are trying to do the right thing, but there are always a couple “bad apples” in the mix, Morrisey said. Individuals can call the Attorney General’s Office to ask about scams circulating in their area, and the staff is happy to offer any assistance.

“We know that there are a lot of scammers that are operating online,” Morrisey said.

Another scam that has been circulating recently claims to be a Microsoft service to help get rid of viruses or slowness on computers. The scammer pretends to offer these services in order to try to obtain passwords and gather personal identifiable information from consumers, he said.

“Scammers and very convincing,” Morrisey said. “They’ll go after anyone, regardless of age, gender or income.”

 The Attorney General’s Office tries to detect scam trends to share with law enforcement. Anyone who is scammed should make a report to the office so the staff can help prevent others from becoming victims.

“People shouldn’t feel embarrassed,” Morrisey said of filing a report. “This is something that happens to everyone.”

He explained that his office works every week to get information out to state residents about how scammers could potentially take advantage of them. The best method for the agency to help consumers is to be proactive and offer prevention tips, because unfortunately some of these scams are initiated oversees and are out of the office’s reach.

“It’s so important to educate consumers about our consumer protection laws and the different scams that are emerging,” he said. “We take consumer protection very seriously.”

The West Virginia Attorney General’s Office has a consumer protection hotline, which people can reach by calling 1-800-368-8808.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.

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