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Scam Q&A: NH consumers should be aware of red flags


‘Tis the season when scammers run rampant! Buyers, beware.

New Hampshire consumers should beware of online shopping scams, especially ones using Facebook or Facebook Marketplace or email as the origin point. Pet scams, employment scams, phishing and more, target Granite State residents, both young and old, the New Hampshire Better Business Bureau says.

As InkLink reported last week, the holiday shopping season is a prime scam time, and the BBB, Federal Trade Commission, AARP and other consumer protection and advocacy groups are bringing attention to the most common scams and how to avoid them.

With that in mind, we talked to Parker Bolt, a trade practice specialist with the New Hampshire BBB about what Granite State consumers can do to be scam-savvy shoppers this holiday season (and the rest of the year, too).

InkLink: What is the most prevalent scam that NH BBB sees?

Parker Bolt: Our most common scam type is for online purchases. There are many scam sites that will fake a location in New Hampshire (usually listing a residential address or an office building that businesses would rent space in). 

Frequently we hear that consumers found the website advertised through Facebook or Facebook Marketplace. Most often customers place an order that never arrives, or in some cases will arrive but not be as advertised. Unfortunately, state agencies are often unable to pursue legal action against these site owners, as they are living outside the U.S. and cannot be identified, or they have simply created the webpage anonymously and given false location data.

Our other top scam type is “phishing.” Consumers may receive phone calls claiming to be from the IRS, or another law enforcement agency, demanding money, or account information in order to prevent criminal charges, audits or loss of tax returns. As we always remind customers, government agencies will only ever communicate such issues to you through the mail or in person.

Consumers may also receive calls that falsely claim to be from a health care provider, insurance company, or other “common” business. We always suggest that if a consumer is concerned about the validity of a call, that they take the time to look up the business themselves and call a number they find. Sometimes a scammer will call and claim to be from a fake department at a legitimate company, so looking for contact information yourself can protect you.

Another common avenue for scammers is email. Consumers may receive emails claiming to be from online shopping sites – like Amazon – or a shipping entity like UPS. These will often ask for personal or financial information under the guise of either correcting an order or cancelling a false one.

Online buyer beware: Facebook Marketplace can be a haven for scammers.

 InkLink: Are older people more likely to fall for a scam than a young person?

PB: Online purchase scams affect both younger and older consumers. Older consumers may be more likely to pick up the phone to answer a call from an unknown number (less likely to have caller ID, more likely to have a home phone). 

We also see pet scams affect people at younger ages. 

A scam more unique to a younger audience is an employment scam – often built around getting access to the victim’s bank account under the guise of paying them. Employment scams may seem more “believable” to customers now, considering how often companies are hiring remote workers since 2020.

 InkLink: What are the best tips you can give for people to avoid being scammed?

PB: With online scams in particular, customers should look through the website for red flags. A lack of contact information/methods, or lack of details on the management and ownership of the company can be signs of a fraudulent business.

Looking for spelling errors, or odd sentence structure is also helpful. Many scam sites are hurriedly made, or made with careless editing. Others are made by scammers outside the United States, with English as a second language (as it is very hard for a U.S. agency to pursue them criminally). That combination leads to words repeatedly being misspelled, or the wrong word being used (“access” when “assist” should be used, for example). 

Scam sites may list a massive number of products. Hundreds of unsorted pages of products, or sites that claim to sell everything from lamps to clothing to chainsaws may be a warning sign.

They may also advertise highly discounted products that seem too good to be true. 50% off a motorbike, or a similarly exceptional deal on many products.

Even in dealing with a legitimate business, these warning signs still apply, as there are businesses operating that, while technically legal, are not ethical or dependable.

We always recommend that customers keep a card dispute in mind. Federal law protects consumers for 60 days – in that time they can dispute a charge with their card company, which will then try to reach the business to resolve the dispute (often a scam site is unable to provide and verification to prove a legitimate purchase). Additionally, while customers sometimes are wary of using their cards to make purchases, there are often protections in place with your card company that other payment methods do not have. Direct deposits, and even online payment methods like Paypal or a cryptocurrency, likely have limitations to protection that your card company does not.

InkLink: What should someone do when they realize they’ve been scammed?

PB: A credit card purchase can be disputed within 60 days. A bank transfer is generally unable to be reversed – I have only heard of very rare circumstances of identity theft where a bank account was breached but some funds could be pulled back. Checks can be cancelled only before they are cashed, but are irretrievable otherwise, unless a court case can be filed.

Consumers should keep their state’s Consumer Protection and Consumer Financial Protection Bureaus in mind for cases of identity theft.

InkLink: Do you see scams and victims increasing, or are people becoming more savvy?

PB: It is difficult to say. Just looking at the last three years, we saw a decrease in total reported scams when comparing 2019 to 2020, but then a slight increase for 2021 and 2022.

In general, people now have more resources at their disposal to verify a business or report a scam. However, many scams are designed to provoke a spur-of-the-moment decision in victims so that their judgment is weakened.

Often, just a few minutes on the phone allows us here at the BBB to search a site or hear enough details of a consumer’s situation that we can confidently say whether they are dealing with a scam, or what steps they can take to verify the business for themselves.

A simple search for a business or phone number can also easily answer a consumer’s questions, as often others have written about a popular scam.

It is important for consumers to keep in mind that they can always take a pause on a purchase decision, and any reasonable business would understand at least a short delay in making a decision.

What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed

The Federal Trade Commission is the main agency that collects scam reports. Report the scam to
the FTC online, or by phone at 1-877-382-4357 (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.). The FTC also has a “What To Do If You
Were Scammed” page with specific advice, depending on the scam and how you paid.
New Hampshire residents should also notify the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Bureau, a
unit of the state Department of Justice. It’s hotline number is 1-888-468-4454 or 603-271-3641,
weekdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and email address is DOJ-CPB@doj.nh.gov.
You can also report scams, as well as look up reports and specific scams, at BBB Scam Tracker.
Petscams.com has a searchable database of pet scam websites.


About this Contributor

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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