Common Scams and Schemes

Criminals use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. They often combine new technology with old tricks to get people to send money or give out personal information.  Don’t be fooled – “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” If you experience a scam, report it to the Danville Police Department and to the Federal Trade Commission using the following link:  Federal Trade Commission  Your reports help the FTC and other law enforcement investigate scams and bring crooks to justice.

Common Phone and Mail Schemes Occurring in The Area

Incarcerated Relative Scam: The victim receives a phone call from someone claiming a relationship to them; usually grandchild, child or sibling. The caller will indicate that the "relative" has been involved in some type of law enforcement interaction such as a car crash or an arrest. The caller requests funds for bail, an attorney or perhaps insurance deductible fees.

Please verify the relationship with actual family members! Do not be pressured into wiring money without verification. Wired transactions that are not halted within the first 15-30 minutes are usually non-reversible causing the victim to be out of pocket of any funds wired. The callers can be very convincing and often target older adults and senior citizens.

Computer Repair / Microsoft Scam: Computer repair scams are on the rise, and unsuspecting citizens can fall prey to these smooth talking sales pitches if they are uninformed. This scam occurs when someone gets an email or most often a phone call and the caller begins speaking very quickly about common computer issues that slow performance or even potential hacks to your system. The high pressure tactics are designed to convince you that they need immediate access to your PC to make urgent repairs to your operating system or to stop a hack already in progress.

Some of these callers even claim to be from or affiliated with Microsoft in an effort to legitimize their scam. Microsoft currently does not use second or third party contractors for such services and they have specific protocol in place for assisting clients with service and software issues.

Many times these scammers will charge a small initial fee only to bill you for larger amounts after the phone call is ended. Again pre-loaded cards, credit or debit cards are the preferred method of payment with money transfers always a suitable option for the scammer. 

Winners are Losers in Lottery & Sweepstakes Scams: You get a card, call, or email telling you that you won! Maybe it’s a lottery, sweepstakes, or some other prize. The person calling is excited and cannot wait for you to get your winnings.

But here is what happens next: they tell you there is a fee, some taxes, or customs duties to pay. They ask for your bank account information, or ask you to send money via a wire transfer or to purchase gift cards and provide the card numbers. Whichever way you send it, you lose money instead of winning it. You never get that big prize. Instead, you get more requests for money, and more promises that you have won big. Scammers can be very convincing, and who wouldn’t want to win big!

Lottery and sweepstakes scams are one of the most common consumer frauds operating today.   

Government Impostor scams: You get a text, call, or email from someone who says the are with the government. They may claim to be a U.S. Marshal, saying you must pay a fine for missing jury duty. Or the IRS, saying that you owe thousands in back taxes. Some might threaten legal action, deportation, or arrest if you do not pay up or give them your financial information.

These are all scams. Scammers will try to make themselves seem legitimate. They may give you a badge number, or even know information about you, like the last four digits of your Social Security number. A Washington, D.C. area code on your caller ID also may seem convincing. But caller ID can be faked. If someone calls, texts, or emails saying they’re with the government and you must pay, end the conversation by hanging up immediately. 

Common In-person Scams: Contractors

When choosing a contractor to perform work on your residence, it is important to do your homework prior to hiring a company or individual.  Recently there have been some reported “door-to-door” solicitations from people claiming to be licensed contractors.  The information below can help you recognize common schemes used by scam artists to trick you into hiring them.

Door-to-Door Solicitations: A solicitor may offer to do roofing, painting, or paving work with “leftover” materials at a “reduced” or significantly discounted price. Once payment is made, little or no works is done and the project is abandoned.

High Pressure Sales: A fast-talking operator might push you for an immediate decision about work, which makes it impossible for you to get the recommended three competitive bids, check their license, obtain building permits, or review references.

Scare Tactics: A scam artist may offer to perform a free inspection, then claim that a serious problem such as faulty wiring, bad plumbing, or a leaky roof, will put you in danger. This can lead to unnecessary and over-priced work.

Verbal Agreements: The “contractor” states that a written contract is unnecessary and then does sub-par work—or none at all. It is difficult to prove what was agreed to without a written contract.

Demand for Cash: The worker insists that you pay in cash, sometimes going so far as to drive you to the bank to withdraw funds. With money in hand, the person abandons a substandard or unfinished project.

Illegally Large Down Payments: A contractor takes more for a down payment than is allowed by law, claiming to need instant cash for supplies or to pay workers. By law, a down payment cannot exceed 10% of the total project price or $1,000, whichever is less.

Make sure your contractor measures up. If you or someone you know is in need of a contractor, make sure you hire only licensed contractors by checking their license number through the Contractor’s State License Board or click this link: Contractor's State License Board  or by calling 800.321.2752.  Anyone performing home improvement work valued at $500 or more must be licensed. Get multiple bids and references and review the contractors past work yourself.  Confirm that the contractor has workers compensation insurance for their employees, and avoid making the final payment until you are satisfied with the work performed.