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Gov’t Warns Lonely Tennesseans to Beware of Online Dating Scams as Valentine’s Day Nears

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance; February 4, 2013;

NASHVILLE, TN – Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and some consumers are banking on online dating as a way to hatch a serious relationship. Unfortunately, some fraud artists are also banking on online dating as a way to scam people out of their money.

Relationship scams, also known as sweetheart swindles, often follow this pattern:

You meet someone on a dating site and things get serious. You send messages, talk on the phone, trade pictures and maybe even make marriage plans. Soon, you find out the person you met, who claimed to be an American professional, is going to Nigeria or another country for work. Once he or she is there, that person needs your help, asking you to wire money.
The first transfer may be small, but it’s followed by requests for more. You’re told your money is needed to cover costs for a sudden illness, surgery for a son or daughter, or for a plane ticket back to the United States. The promise is always to pay you back. You even might get documents or calls from lawyers as “proof.”

But as genuine as the relationship and requests for money might seem, they’re part of an elaborate scam. The money that was wired – and the person you thought you knew and loved – will be gone.

“These relationship scams are often a long, drawn-out process where the con artist nurtures a relationship, then persuades the victim to send money,” Commerce and Insurance’s Consumer Affairs Director Gary Cordell said. “These scammers have been known to steal even the real names and photos of U.S. service personnel to set up a fake profile, and prey on the sympathy and patriotism of victims. They also have also been known to use religious singles sites, using religion as a ploy to gain trust before asking for money. Any time someone you’ve never met in person asks for money, it’s usually a warning sign that something isn’t right.”

“Always use caution and common sense when dealing with someone you haven’t met in person,” Cordell said. “Never wire money to someone you meet online, no matter how compelling their story or how strong their appeal to your emotions might be.”

Signs that you may be dealing with a scammer:

  • The pictures posted on the person’s profile mostly seem to be professional quality model images, instead of candid pictures from a person’s everyday life. If a picture looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • The online companion professes love way too early in your interaction with him or her.
  • You are asked to send money for gifts, a sick relative or a plane ticket to the U.S.
  • The person claims to be a U.S. citizen working in another country, claims to be well off or a person of important status.
  • The person makes excuses about not being able to speak by phone.
  • The person’s writing includes frequent spelling or grammar mistakes.

Proceed with caution with online dating. Even if you use only dating sites whose reputations are well-established, still keep your wits about you.

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Press Releases

Scammers Posing as Utility Co. Employees

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance; July 18, 2012: 

NASHVILLE- Have you been contacted by someone claiming to be from your utility company, promising the U.S. government will aid your payments through specially approved funds? The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Division of Consumer Affairs warns utility consumers to be on guard: Your personal information is at risk.

Consumers that are contacted are being advised to provide Social Security numbers. Once a consumer provides this information, a bank account number is given, supposedly to fund payments. But, the bank account numbers being provided to victims are fake and consumers’ payments are being returned.

“There is no such federal utility payment assistance program,” said Consumer Affairs Director Gary Cordell. “However, utility customers seem to be falling for the ruse, making it one of the more successful scams in recent times. Victims often share the information with family and friends, who also fall for the scam before learning the truth.”

Scammers find victims through all the usual channels: emails, bogus Tweets and Facebook messages. They are also reported to be going block by block, knocking on residents’ doors and handing out leaflets encouraging people to pay their bills with the bogus account information. Scammers also tend to prey on people looking for a shortcut or for the promise of free or easy money. Word of mouth playing on that theme also appears to help this scam spread.

“One reason the scam is spreading is because it seems to work – at first,” said Cordell. “Before the local utility company gets wise to the bogus account numbers being used, the payments are processed and initially credited to victims, who receive payment confirmation notices. Only later, the payments are rescinded.”

If you are contacted by one of these scammers:

  • Do not provide your Social Security number, credit card or banking information to anyone requesting it over the phone or at your home unless you initiated the contact and feel confident about to whom you are speaking.
  • If you receive a call claiming to be from your utility company and feel pressured for immediate payment or personal information, hang up the phone and call the customer service number on your utility bill.
  • Never allow anyone into your home supposedly to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless you have scheduled an appointment or have reported a utility problem. Always ask for – and verify – proper identification.

If you have questions about your utility’s conduct, contact the Tennessee Regulatory Authority at www.tn.gov/TRA.

Consumer Affairs (www.tn.gov/consumer/) is a division of the Department of Commerce and Insurance (www.tn.gov/commerce/), which works to protect consumers while ensuring fair competition for industries and professionals who do business in Tennessee. www.tn.gov/commerce/, @TNCommerceInsur (Twitter), http://on.fb.me/uFQwUZ (Facebook), http://bit.ly/ry1GyX (YouTube)

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Press Releases

Tennessean Warned of Fake Unemployment Benefit Check Scam

State of Tennessee Press Release; April 1, 2010:

Fake Tennessee Unemployment Benefit Checks Being Used In Secret Shopper Con

NASHVILLE – Commissioner James Neeley of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and Mary Clement, Director of the Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) Consumer Affairs Division, are cautioning Tennesseans about cashing checks that come in the mail for services as a secret shopper.

The fake check, which appears to be an unemployment benefit check, bears the name and address of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The recipient is instructed to deposit the check in his or her bank account and then withdraw the amount in cash. The recipient is then instructed to use a portion for shopping purchases, keep a portion for time invested, and take the remainder to a money transfer service and wire the money to a contact in London.

“We’ve had a number of calls from individuals who immediately recognized it didn’t seem right for our department to fund secret shopping services for a marketing firm overseas,” Labor Commissioner James Neeley said. “We are working with the proper authorities in this matter and want to get the word out quickly that this is a scam.”

All of the checks recovered have been in the amount of $3,400. It may take several days before a bank determines the deposited check is not real, potentially leaving the recipient liable for the entire amount and any additional bank charges.

The Tennessee Consumer Affairs Division advises that legitimate businesses will never pressure you to send money by wire transfer services, and you should end the transaction immediately. There is little recourse if there is a problem with a wire transaction.

If you think you have been a victim of this or any other counterfeit scam, you should report it to the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the United States Postal Service. Consumers may file a complaint or call the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs for more information at 1-800-342-8385 (toll free inside Tennessee) or (615) 741-4737 or online at www.tn.gov/consumer/. To file a complaint with the FTC or for more consumer tips, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.