CHARITY SCAMS

A charity scam occurs when a scammer impersonates a charitable organization in order to fraudulently solicit charity donations.

Red Flags

  • The charity is not willing to provide proof that a contribution is tax deductible.
  • The charity uses a name that closely resembles that of a better-known, reputable organization.
  • The charity uses high-pressure tactics to convince you to donate immediately, without giving you time to consider and research the charity.
  • The charity asks for donations in cash or asks you to wire money.
  • The charity offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately.
  • The charity guarantees sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. By law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.

Scam Prevention Tips

  • If a nonprofit asks you for a contribution, check to see if it’s registered with the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming.
  • Take your time. Resist pressure to give on the spot.
  • Ask Questions. If an organization has a specific mission, ask how and who will benefit from your donation.
  • If you are asked for a donation via text or email, verify it is directly from the charity or nonprofit.
  • Do your own research and don’t assume a social media or blog recommendation has been approved by the nonprofit.
  • If you give through an app or website, ask if it is going directly to the organization.
  • Avoid giving cash. Always ask for a receipt and if your contribution is tax deductible.
  • Pay close attention to the name of the nonprofit organization, as there are many with similar names.
  • Don’t forget there are many ways to give, such as volunteering your time.
  • If a paid fundraiser asks you for a donation, ask how much is kept by the fundraiser and how much goes to the nonprofit.

Report a Charity Scam

  • If you are aware of false, misleading or deceptive fundraising activity, notify the Tennessee Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming at tn.gov/charitable.

Tennessee Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming

Department of State
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, 8th Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: 615-741-2555
Fax: 615-253-5173
Email: charitable.solicitations@tn.gov

Website: www.sos.tn.gov/charitable 

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DEBT COLLECTION SCAMS

A debt collection scam occurs when a scammer poses as a debt collector to trick victims into sending money for a debt that doesn’t exist. A scammer may also attempt to acquire personal identifying information like your social security number or banking information.

Red Flags – Signs of a debt collection scam:

  • The caller is seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize.
  • The caller refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number.
  • The caller asks you for personal, financial or sensitive information.
  • The caller exerts high-pressure tactics to coerce you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency.

Scam Prevention Tips

If you believe a scammer is calling you to collect fake debt:

  • Ask the caller for his or her name, company, street address, and telephone number. Do not discuss any debt until you receive a written “validation notice.” The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe and your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
  • Discontinue all phone conversations with the caller. If you have the caller’s address, send a letter demanding that the caller stop contacting you, and keep a copy for your records. By law, legitimate debt collectors must stop calling you if you request it in writing.
  • Do not offer the caller personal or financial information. Never offer or confirm your personal or financial information like banking information, credit card numbers, or Social Security numbers, unless you know the caller is legitimate. If the caller is a scammer, he or she may attempt to charge your existing credit cards; open a new credit card, checking, or savings account; write fraudulent checks; or apply for loans in your name.
  • Contact your creditor. If the debt is legitimate – but you think the collector may not be – contact your creditor about the calls. Share the information you have about the suspicious calls and find out who, if anyone, the creditor has authorized to collect the debt.
  • Report the call. If you believe the caller is a scammer, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

Illegal Practices by Debt Collection Agencies

File a complaint against a debt collection agency in the State of Tennessee if you experience any of the following:

  • Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:
  • Use threats of violence or harm.
  • Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies).
  • Use obscene or profane language.
  • Repeatedly use phone communication to annoy you.
  • Contact you at inconvenient or unusual time periods (Between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. is considered acceptable).
  • Contact you at work if the collector knows, or has reason to know, the employer prohibits such communication.
  • Contact you after you provided a notice in writing that you wish the communication to cease.
  • False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
  • Falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives.
  • Falsely claim that you have committed a crime.
  • Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company.
  • Misrepresent the amount you owe.
  • Indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t.
  • Indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.
  • Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:
  • You will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt.
  • They’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so.
  • Legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
  • Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
  • Try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or state law – allows the charge.
  • Deposit a post-dated check early.
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally.
  • Contact you by postcard.

Consumer Tips

  • If you accumulate debt, be wary of unscrupulous and illegal practices of debt collection agencies.
  • Consult the One-Stop Licensing App to ensure the debt collections agency is licensed with the State of Tennessee.

Report a Debt Collection Scam

  • If you believe you are the victim of a debt collection scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

 Report Illegal Debt Collection Activity

  • Click here to file a complaint against an actual debt collections agency in the State of Tennessee. For more information, visit tn.gov/regboards.

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IRS SCAMS / TAX-RELATED SCAMS

In 2015, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reported more than 736,000 scam contacts since October 2013. Nearly 4,550 victims have collectively paid over $23 million as a result of these scams, in which criminals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials and demanding that they send cash via prepaid debit cards.

To report any tax-related scam, file a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service. If your Social Security Number has been compromised, contact the IRS Identity Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.

Common IRS Scams or Tax-Related Scams include:

  • IRS Impersonation Telephone Scams

    • IRS impersonation scams occur when a stranger unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to collect tax-related debt. These scammers use high-pressure tactics to coerce victims into paying via pre-paid debit card, money order or wire transfer. They also attempt to intimidate victims by using fake threats of criminal violation charges, grand jury indictment, immediate arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license.
    • Scammers also use spoofing to impersonate the IRS. Spoofing occurs when scammers alter your caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling you. To appear legitimate, many scammers use IRS titles or fake badge numbers. They may also use the victim’s name, address or other personal information to make the call sound official.
    • If you receive a phone call from a stranger claiming to be with the IRS asking for a payment, or your credit card or bank account information, here’s what to do:
  • Phishing or Online Tax Scams

    • Phishing is a scam typically carried out through unsolicited email and/or websites that pose as legitimate sites and lure unsuspecting victims to provide personal and financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.
    • Forward scam e-mails to phishing@irs.gov. Do not open any attachments or click on any links in those e-mails. You may also report phishing and online tax scams by contacting the Internal Revenue Service at irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing.
  • Tax Return Preparer Fraud

    • Although you may hire a tax return preparer who you believe is professional and honest, anyone can be a victim of fraud. Here are a few examples of improper tax preparation practices and/or misconduct:
      • Failing to enter a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) on a tax return or improperly using a PTIN belonging to another individual.
      • Refusing to provide clients with a copy of their tax return.
      • Failing to sign tax returns they prepare and file. (Note: If electronically filed, your copy may not contain a signature.)
      • Neglecting to return a client’s records or holding the records until the preparation fee is paid.
      • Preparing client returns using off-the-shelf tax software or IRS Free File, both of which are intended for use by individuals.
      • Falsely claiming to be an attorney, certified public accountant, enrolled agent, enrolled retirement plan agent, or enrolled actuary.
      • Embezzling your refund.
      • Altering your tax return documents.
      • Filing a return without your consent.
      • Creating or omitting income to generate a larger refund.
      • Creating false exemptions or dependents to generate a larger refund.
      • Creating false expenses, deductions or credits to generate a larger refund.
      • Using an incorrect filing status to generate a larger refund.
      • Click here to file a complaint with the IRS against a tax return preparer regarding fraud and/or misconduct.
    • Research and select qualified professionals only.
      • Make sure the tax preparer has a PTIN (Preparer Tax Identification Number) – this is required for all professional preparers.
      • Find out if the tax preparer is affiliated with any professional associations.
      • Ask the tax preparer about his or her education and training – what background does that person have that qualifies him or her to prepare your return?
      • Check with the Better Business Bureau in your area to see if the preparer has had complaints filed about him or her.
      • Check with professional associations to see if the preparer has had any disciplinary actions, and for the status of the preparer’s license:
      • Ask about charges and fees.
        • Avoid preparers who base their fee on the amount of your refund.
        • Try to obtain a clear estimate, preferably in writing, for the preparation and filing services.
      • Find out what services the tax preparer offers.
        • Does the preparer offer electronic filing?
        • Will the preparer be available after April 15 if you have questions or problems? Consider whether the preparer will be around to answer questions about your return months or years after it is filed.
      • Protect Yourself.
        • Always get a complete copy of your tax return. Verify that the preparer signed it and included a PTIN.
        • Avoid any preparer who asks you to sign a blank return or requires the refund to be direct-deposited to a bank account under the preparer’s control.
        • Be careful when a preparer claims he or she can get you a larger refund than other preparers. Remember, even if your preparer handles everything involved in completing your tax return, you are still responsible for its accuracy.
        • Click here to file a complaint with the IRS against a tax return preparer regarding fraud and/or misconduct.
      • To learn more about tax return preparation, visit taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.

Scam Prevention Tips

  • File your tax return early.
  • Use a secure internet connection to file electronically. Do not use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at places like a coffee shop or hotel lobby.
  • Mail your tax return directly from the post office.
  • Shred old copies of tax returns, drafts or calculation sheets you no longer need.
  • Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
  • The IRS generally first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes, and the IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number over the phone.
  • The IRS will never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text, or any social media. The IRS does NOT initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.
  • Don’t give out your Social Security number (SSN) or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used, and how it will be stored.
  • Check your credit report annually for at annualcreditreport.com to ensure no other accounts have been opened in your name.

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POLITICAL CAMPAIGN SCAMS

Political campaign scams occur when scammers fraudulently solicit political campaign donations. During federal, state and local election campaigns, scammers often use Caller ID spoofing to pose as representatives from political parties or election committees. Because political groups are excluded from the provisions of the National Do Not Call Registry, scammers can more easily manipulate victims into offering donations.

Scam Prevention Tips

Report a Political Campaign Scam

  • If you believe you are a victim of a political campaign scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

ONLINE DATING SCAMS

Online dating has experienced drastic growth, increasing the use of dating websites and mobile applications. Technological advancements have streamlined communication, giving scammers powerful new tools of deceit that Tennessee consumers need to be able to recognize.

Red Flags

  • The individual wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail or IM accounts.
  • The individual claims instant feelings of love.
  • The individual claims to be from the United States but currently overseas.
  • The individual claims he or she is planning to visit but is unable to do so because of a tragic event.
  • The individual asks for money to pay for travel, visas or other travel documents, medication, a child or other relative’s hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback, or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
  • The individual makes multiple requests for more money.

Scam Prevention Tips

  • Research the website or mobile application thoroughly. Request the guidelines the company follows in screening its applicants. Does the service conduct a criminal background check for each person? Also, ask friends about their experiences with online dating sites.
  • Take the time to research your matches. If any red flags are raised in your communication with someone, check his or her name on an internet search engine and on social media. You can also take a part of the suspicious email and copy and paste it into a search engine to see if it has been associated with any other scams.
  • Never send anyone money. Often times, once scammers will share a story of financial difficulty. Never send money to someone you have not met in person. It is difficult to get money back from someone who may be misrepresenting themselves once it has been sent.
  • Use caution with those who want to take your conversation off the dating site immediately. Many times scammers will attempt to lure you off the dating site to continue communication using personal email accounts.
  • Read the signs. Be cautious of individuals who claim to have fallen instantly in love, or who say they are traveling or working overseas. Beware of people who prey on emotions by claiming to be trapped in a foreign country or involved in an emergency, and needing you to send them money. This is a red flag for a “catfishing” scam.
  • Meet in person. If it’s possible, ask to meet in person, maybe to a group outing and always in a safe, public place. If the individual offers various excuses or refuses to meet, this may be a sign they are not who they say they are.
  • Know how to “break up” with a dating site. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Read the contract in detail and send written cancellation notice to avoid being billed again.

Report Online Dating Scams to…

  • The dating website. Most dating websites offer customer service, safety tips, and a way to report the scam. Reporting directly to the website allows them the opportunity to filter out the scammers to encourage an enjoyable experience for users overall.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov
  • The Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov
  • The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at tn.gov/consumer

STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS SCAMS

Student loan forgiveness scams occur when a predatory company targets consumers seeking federal debt-relief services. Scammers attract victims by marketing seemingly legitimate programs that don’t actually exist. Consumers, typically college students and/or graduates, who respond to the company’s online advertisements are immediately contacted by the company and offered fake debt-relief services in exchange for an advance fee.

Scam Prevention Tips

  • Never pay upfront. Legitimate lenders typically charge for service once the service is complete. You should not be required to pay an upfront fee beforehand.
  • Know your options. If you are having trouble paying your student loans, contact your lender directly. The federal government offers payment assistance programs.
  • Never give a 3rd party power of attorney. Do not sign anything giving a company the power to negotiate on your behalf. A scam company can use this to take control over your loans.
  • If it seems too good to be true… it probably is. Any company guaranteeing services that quickly “erase” student loan debt is not being truthful. This is a red flag.

Protect Yourself

According to the U.S. Department of Education:

  • Enrollment in alternative repayment programs, like Income-Based Repayment (IBR), is available at no cost to federal student loan borrowers.
  • Debt relief companies do not have the ability to negotiate with your creditors in order to obtain a “special deal” under these federal student loan programs. Payment levels under IBR and other federal income-driven repayment plans are set by federal law.
  • Any claims by debt relief companies to the contrary may be misleading and potentially a violation of law.

Experiencing Repayment Problems?

  • As soon as you realize you are having trouble making timely loan payments, contact your loan servicer. Do not ignore payment notices. Never ignore legal notices about past due loans.
  • Lenders typically offer to help you plan repayment in a feasible way. Don’t be afraid to contact your lender. Options may include making lower payments or suspending loan repayments under “deferment” or “forbearance” plans.
  • The type of lender (government or private) and the type of student loan will impact your available options.
  • Be aware that loan delays or other changes to loan terms may result in paying a higher total loan cost over a longer period of time.
  • For additional information about student loan repayment, visit studentloanborrowerassistance.org, provided by the National Consumer Law Center.

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VACATION SCAMS

Vacation scams occur when a stranger offers you a free or discounted cruise, travel club membership, exotic resort stay or rental property in exchange for a large, upfront fee or deposit. If you accept, the scammer takes your money and/or personal identifying information, and you never receive the free or discounted offer. You may receive this offer via phone call, pamphlet, postcard, letter or email.

To report a vacation scam, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov

Scam Prevention Tips

  • Research before accepting free or discounted offers. If a stranger calls to offer you a free or discounted cruise, hotel stay, exotic trip or vacation package, do not offer personal information or payment without knowing all the facts. Request as much information as possible to validate the offer. If the caller refuses to answer your questions or replies with a scripted response, this is a red flag. A legitimate salesperson will answer your questions and allow you time to consider. When in doubt, write down the caller’s contact information and consider returning the call once you are sure the call is not a scam. If you believe you are being scammed, contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov. You may also register for the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov.
  • Verify before you pay. Before paying a company or individual for your vacation travels, vacation package, rental property or timeshare, contact the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-342-8385 or your local Better Business Bureau to ask if complaints have been filed against the company or individual. If you are considering leasing vacation property or purchasing a timeshare in Tennessee, verify the agent is properly licensed by visiting tn.gov.
  • Read the fine print. Before signing any contract, read all the terms, conditions, policies and financial obligations. When you consider leasing or purchasing a property or timeshare, it is recommended to have a lawyer review the agreement or contract before signing.
  • NEVER wire money to strangers. When booking a vacation or renting property, avoid anyone who only accepts payment via wire transfer. Always use a secure method of payment, such as a credit card or legitimate online payment option.
  • Confirm your vacation package. If you purchased your vacation package through a third party, directly call the cruise line, resort, hotel, airline, etc., to confirm the prices, reservations, quality of accommodations, and the number of seats and/or rooms are correct.
  • Before leaving town, call your financial institution(s). Before traveling out of town for vacation, notify your credit card provider(s) and/or banking institution(s). If not, your card transactions may be declined, especially if your purchases don’t match your usual spending patterns.
  • Monitor your credit during vacation. Don’t go on hiatus from checking your credit reports and credit scores. If someone fraudulently opens an account in your name, you may not notice until your credit is damaged. Request a free credit report every year at annualcreditreport.com. Unexpected changes in your credit scores are red flags indicating potential fraud.
  • When you return, check all receipts and statements. As soon as you return from vacation, reconcile your credit card and banking statements with your receipts. Extra charges are not necessarily fraudulent. Mistakes do happen, but regardless of whether a charge is an error or unauthorized, you should report the problem as soon as possible.


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