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Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs: How to spot a con before they spot you

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The numbers are in, and they’re headed in the wrong direction.  According to new statistics from the Federal Trade Commission, Washington consumers lost more than $135 million to fraud in 2021, nearly double the amount lost in 2020. It seems the scammers are gaining the upper hand in the fight for our hard-earned dollars.  Con-artists are becoming ever more sophisticated in their tactics, and new scams are emerging at an increasing pace.  Even the most informed consumer can find themselves struggling to keep up.

To help consumers fight back, AARP has joined forces with local partners, the State Attorney General's Office, BECU, and the call blocking service Nomorobo to launch "Tip-offs to Rip-offs," an effort aimed at helping Washington consumers stay a step ahead of the scammers.

As part of our effort, we're providing special SCAM ALERTS on new and emerging scams. Check out the latest alert below about the Publishers Clearing House calls burning up local lines.

Through a unique new partnership with the call-blocking service Nomorobo, we're also providing real-time access to the specific TOP-5 ROBOCALL SCAMS flooding cities across the state. With these and other early warning tools, consumers will gain the inside track on recognizing the newest scams before the cons have a chance to make their pitch.

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Sorry – but that’s not really Publishers Clearing House calling

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Who wouldn’t want to win thousands or even millions of dollars, or the chance to go on a luxury vacation? The idea of winning some fabulous prize can be mighty alluring. Con artists get that, and they exploit your eagerness to score that big check or dream trip.

In fact, cons are burning up the lines across Washington state right now with an oldy but goody – the Publishers Clearing House Scam.  The timing isn’t an accident.  Cons follow headlines and current events in an attempt to make their pitches sound more legitimate, and the drawing for the latest PCH prize is wrapping up on April 30.

Take a moment to click on the video below to hear a recording of an actual call.  According to the call-blocking service Nomorobo, this call is one of the most common scam calls making the rounds right now in cities across the state.

Unfortunately, the calls most of us are getting right now won’t lead to that big check arriving on your doorstep.  Responding to the pitch will only land you in the hands of a criminal.

Sweepstakes and lottery scams have been around for a long time, and they’re still going strong. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 116,000 reports of fraud involving prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries that swindled the unwary out of $166 million. The median loss was $1,000. 

The initial contact in a sweepstakes scam is often a call, an email, a social media notification or a piece of direct mail offering congratulations for winning some big contest. But there’s a catch: You’ll be asked to pay a fee, taxes or customs duties to claim your prize. The scammers may request bank account information, urge you to send money via a wire transfer, or suggest you purchase gift cards and give them the card numbers. 

Regardless of the method, once scammers ensnare someone they'll keep coming back, calling victims for months or even years, promising the big prize is only one payment away. If you stop paying or cut off contact, they may threaten to harm you or a loved one or to report you to authorities, according to the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica, the country of origin for many lottery cons. (Be suspicious of any unexpected call from a number starting with 876, the area code for Jamaica.)

Unfortunately, older people are popular targets: According to an August 2020 Better Business Bureau study, 80 percent of the money lost to sweepstakes scammers comes from people over age 65.

For more on how to spot and avoid Sweepstakes ad Lottery Scams, visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network.  And please help us share this important warning with your family and friends.

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The barrage of automated telephone solicitations or “robocalls” we get on our home and mobile phones seems to be never-ending. In fact, robocalls coming into the U.S. have more than doubled in recent years to nearly 50 billion calls a year. To make matters worse, experts estimate that up to half of these calls may be attempts to defraud consumers - and Washington state has been hit hard by this massive increase in unwanted scam calls.

To help Washington consumers better spot and stop emerging robocall scams, we're providing real-time access to a the types of robocall scams flooding specific areas of the state. Click on your city below to reveal the Top-5 Robocall Scams in your area*. And be sure to visit this site often as we'll be regularly updating the list!

*Information provided by Nomorobo

Additional consumer protection resources

- AARP Speakers Bureau: Trained volunteer speakers are available to give free presentations on a wide range of topics. Visit us online for more information and to schedule a speaker.

- AARP Fraud Watch Network: A free resource for people of all ages. Consumers can sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails, or call 877-908-3360 to report scams or get help from trained volunteers in the event someone falls victim to scammers’ tactics.

- Washington State Attorney General's Office: The State Attorney General’s Office safeguards consumers from fraud and unfair business practices. Consumers may report any unfair or deceptive business practices by filing a complaint online or by calling 800-551-4636.

- Nomorobo: A cloud-based service created by Telephone Science Corp that blocks robocalls, telemarketers, spam texts, and phone scammers from calling your phone.

Tip-Offs to Rip-Offs is presented by:

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