Tips for paying your bills on Line

The Spring Observer, reports online bill pay has become much more popular in recent years, mostly due to convenience. While some consumers may be wary of the security risks associated with virtual payments, research has actually shown there is a lower risk of identity theft and other cybercrime using online bill pay rather than sending payments by mail. Read more at http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/spring/living/consumer-tips-are-you-ready-for-online-bill-pay/article_a7d7a32a-4585-11e6-98d3-67d01e62419c.html

 

Don’t be silent about elder exploitation

Vince Ryan, Crime Stoppers of Houston Blog

As the number of senior citizens in Harris County continues to grow, new forms of elder abuse and exploitation constantly appear. We must all recognize the ongoing and new schemes and scams that plague persons 65 and older. The term exploitation includes the illegal or improper use or attempted use of an elderly person’s assets or resources.  

Financial exploitation is a very common form of elder abuse. Family members, care givers and other familiar individuals, as well as strangers may all be perpetrators. Because of resources accumulated over a lifetime, including Social Security income, and insurance, elders may easily become targets of greedy relatives, Ponzi scheme artists, and online thieves.  

Many of the elderly are less likely to report exploitation because they are dependent on the perpetuator to provide food, clothing and shelter. In other instances, the elderly are not aware of the exploitation because they may be in a cognitive decline, are dealing with health problems or are coping with the loss of a loved one. If the elderly do realize exploitation has occurred, they may be reluctant to report the crime because they are afraid of retaliation, worried they will lose their independence, be denied legal rights or have a private guardian appointed.  

The Harris County Attorney’s Office represents the Harris County Guardianship program and is all too familiar with many tragic stories. Our Office believes that our elderly population needs to be embraced and protected by our community.  If you learn that an elderly person is being exploited, please say something. Whether you notice changes in their bank account, the disappearance of their personal belongings, forged signature on important documents, long lost relatives moving in, or any other suspicious activity, please call Adult Protective Services at (800) 252-5400.    

Our Office works with the Adult Protective Services, the Sheriff, Constables, and other law enforcement agencies and are available to discuss your concerns. Together we can end the silence associated with elder abuse and exploitation. Additionally, our office has a speaker’s bureau to address relevant topics important to the elderly and to all Harris County residents. Call us today at 713-274-5101.  

AG reports on fighting identity theft

The Texas Attorney General offers practical tips about avoiding and fighting Identity theft.

Identity theft is one of the nation's fastest-growing, most expensive criminal enterprises. Every year more than 25,000 Texans report being victims of identity theft with thousands more unaware that their information and bank accounts have been targeted. Identity thieves use stolen information to obtain new credit cards; open checking accounts; make long distance or collect calls; or make purchases on a stolen credit card. 

The AG advises if you believe you are a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:

  1. Stop Ongoing Damage
  2. Report ID Theft Crime
  3. Fill out ID Theft Affidavits
  4. Prevent Further ID Theft Abuse
  5. Monitor Your Credit Report
  6. Declare That You are a Victim

NPR: Money Transfer Companies Fight Back Against IRS Scammers

There's a phone scam going around where an intimidating caller pretends to be from the IRS, demanding money immediately. There is also an anti-scam going on. At check cashing outlets, employees are dealing with terrified victims demanding to send money to fake IRS agents. Intervening requires awareness, compassion, and a script, just like the scammers use.

Read more at NPR.

Watch out for the virtual kidnapping scam

Tiffany Craig, KHOU 11 Investigations reported on a scary extortion scam in which a man is told his wife is being held hostage and that he must pay immediately.  Fortunately the man had a co-worker call his wife during the phone call and discovered that she was perfectly safe.  Investiator Josh Nowitz with the Harris County Sheriff's Office Financial Crimes Unit advises taht the scam comes in many forms.  He suggests getting information about the caller. Ask them who they work for, name and employee ID number. Hang up and then call the agency's main number to find out if the story is real. 

 Read more at http://www.khou.com/news/investigations/watching-out-for-you/virtual-kidnapping-a-scary-extortion-scam/157917908

 

Consider a spring cleaning for your electronic devices

 Better Business Bureau and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) are encouraging consumers to put cybersecurity top of mind by urging them to make digital devices an additional target of their spring cleaning activities. NCSA and BBB encourage everyone to make a thorough “digital spring cleaning” an annual ritual. Internet users can get a fresh start with their online life by keeping all machines clean, purging their online files, enhancing security features and ensuring that their online reputation shines.  For more information go to http://www.bbb.org/council/news-events/news-releases/2016/04/digital-spring-cleaning-tips/.

County Attorney Vince Ryan urges residents to watch out for flood scammers

 

The Office of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan can take legal action against scammers and con artists who seek to unfairly profit in the aftermath of flooding and other natural disasters. If you have suffered flood damage to either your home or your car we urge you to be mindful of the following:

Watch out for door to door solicitors, particularly those who offer discounts for cash, claim to be making repairs with leftover supplies from other jobs, or state that you must act now to get a reduced price.

Protect yourself by asking to see identification for people who want to enter your home and don’t hesitate to check with the governmental authority or company they claim to represent. Avoid giving out personal information such as social security numbers or bank account numbers. Some scam artists masquerade as safety inspectors or utility workers who say immediate work is required and that you need to pay them for it.

Get a written contract. Guaranties, costs, and expected completion dates should be part of a written contract that you review before signing. Avoid paying in cash. Using a credit card provides you with the ability to dispute a charge if the repair is not completed. You should not pay for an entire home repair up-front. To ensure that all work is completed in accordance with your expectations, arrange to pay for part of the work (generally one-third to one-half) up-front and pay for the rest of the work once it is completed to your satisfaction.  Asking for proof of licenses and insurance may help you distinguish between legitimate contractors and unlicensed scam artists offering to “save you money”

Charging an exorbitant price for fuel, food, medicine, or another necessity during a declared disaster such as the recent flooding is price gouging and unlawful. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has the authority to file civil actions to stop these kinds of activities. If you feel that you are being unfairly charged for goods or services such as drinking water, food, batteries, generators gasoline or towing, raise the issue of price gouging with the provider. Speak to them respectfully but be frank. If you are unable to resolve the matter, please contact the office of the Harris County Attorney at 713-755-5101.

Lights out scam

We’ve been alerted to recent activity in Texarkana and other cities where utility customers are getting calls warning them that their utilities are about to be cut off because the company did not receive a payment. The caller claims your gas or electricity wlll stay on only if you make an immediate payment to a special address or provide a credit card number over the phone.

This is an old scam that pops up from time to time in the Houston area and the incidents in Texarkana remind us all to be vigilant.

If you get one of these calls hang up and call your utility provider on a number you know is accurate and report the incident.

Scammers rely on fear and emotion, hoping you will act before you think.  Always be wary of calls you get where the caller is asking for a social security number, credit card number or other financial information.

Lawyer tells how she nearly fell for jury duty scam

A recent report in the American Bar Association journal reminds us that jury scammers are still active. Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel says the District Clerk’s Office never contacts people by phone to say that they have not appeared for jury service, never asks people to pay fines and never asks people to give debit account information, personal identification information or other sensitive information on the phone. People should report scammers’ calls to the District Clerk’s jury service operation at 713-755-6392 and to your local police or the FBI. Tips to the FBI also may be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov. All tipsters may remain anonymous.