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Attorney General Stein’s January Column: New Year, Same Scammers

January 2024

In 2023, North Carolina consumers filed 21,544 complaints with my office, and we recovered more than $1.4 million for them. As we start the new year, I hope you will arm yourself to protect your hard-earned money by reviewing some tips to avoid the top 10 consumer complaints reported to my office last year.

Robocalls are not only pesky and annoying, but they also put North Carolinians’ personal and financial information at risk. If you receive a call from an unknown number, don’t answer. And when someone calls you, do not give out any personal information over the phone, including your Social Security number, bank account information, or birthdate.

It’s easier to shop for motor vehicles online, but sometimes scammers will try to sell you a shoddy vehicle or steal your personal information. Do your research on the dealership, website, or salesperson before you do business with them.

Credit cards make shopping more convenient, and they can help you better protect your money if you dispute a transaction. After a fellow North Carolinian lost $6,000 because of a card-skimming machine a scammer installed on an ATM, my office was able to work with her bank to help her get her hard-earned money back.

When it comes to utility complaints, never use prepaid debit cards or gift cards to make payments to anyone. Legitimate companies will offer a variety of ways that you can pay your bill on the phone, by mail, or in person – but not with a prepaid card.

Sometimes, scammers will go door to door to areas impacted by storms to offer their home improvement services to help rebuild. Don’t feel pressured to hire someone who knocks on your door. And if their offer feels too good to be true, that’s because it probably is.

The internet is a great resource, but it can also be a place for scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers, especially kids. That is why I created a family tech agreement, to help spark conversations between parents and caregivers and their kids. You can view and download the agreement here.

Make sure to do your research before you sign a lease agreement. Look up the landlord or company you are planning to rent from and make sure they are legitimate. And when buying insurance, don’t get pressured to make a decision before you are ready. In many cases, the lender makes a profit when they make a sale.

Professional services scammers usually come out in full force nearing tax season. Beware of scammers posing as the IRS. If you get a call from someone claiming to work with a government agency, ask them for their name, identification number, and contact number, then hang up and look up and call a known contact number for that government agency to verify the call.

My office recently sued real estate company MV Realty for deceiving North Carolinians into signing unfair predatory contracts, in violation of the state’s consumer protection laws. In addition, we achieved a significant legislative victory to prevent such deceit in North Carolina in the future by helping pass the Unfair Real Estate Agreements Act.

Let’s start 2024 off strong! Visit https://ncdoj.gov/protecting-consumers/ to learn how to protect yourself or your loved ones from scams. If you or a loved one think you may have been the victim of a scammer, please file a complaint with my office at www.ncdoj.gov/complaint so we can help.

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