Common Scams

You know what they say: "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."  Whether the scam involves phony winnings from a fake sweepstake or a threat to have you arrested for supposed non-payment of taxes, information is the key to foiling scam artists. 

Threatening Message Scam

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem reminds North Dakota residents to ignore any telephone message that threatens them with arrest unless they return the call immediately. The message is often hard to understand because it cuts out when the supposed reason for the arrest is being recited. The phone number given out on the message changes almost daily as the scam artists use and discard numbers quickly to stay ahead of federal authorities. There are dozens of variations of the message - all are scams. The fake IRS enforcement call is one of the most well-known variations, but one new variation of the scam message claims that their social security number has been compromised and all their assets will be frozen unless they call back.  

  • Ignore your Caller ID, too. The scam artists are using readily available “spoofing” technology to display on the Caller ID a number that is not the one they are using to place the calls, even hijacking real 701-area code phone numbers. 
  • ALL these threatening messages are scams. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says if you receive one of these threatening messages, you should simply delete it - don't call the scam artist back. 

Listen here for example. 

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IRS Enforcement Calls

If you received a message threatening your immediate arrest or claiming that you owe money on your taxes, just delete it. The IRS has issued several reminders that it will never notify a taxpayer of a potential problem by leaving a threatening message. It doesn't matter what the message threatens, it is ALWAYS a scam.  

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Grandparent scam

Older North Dakotans are being targeted by imposters pretending to be a grandchild who has been been involved in an emergency situation. The supposed grandchild urgently needs money. Sometimes a second imposter takes over the call, pretending to be a government official trying to help.

  • Be sure to warn older family members about this scam. Remind them to always check with another family member first, on a regular contact number, before agreeing to anything, even if it appears to be urgent.
  • This scam has dozens of variations involving different fake emergencies. Usually, the phony grandchild claims to be stranded in Canada or Mexico, but sometimes it’s a US border state.

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Sweepstakes Scams

If you receive a call claiming that you have won a prize in a sweepstake, beware. There is no prize. In fact, there is no sweepstake. Instead, the "prize notification official" is a con artist hoping to convince you to send money to pay supposed fees or taxes before the non-existent winnings can be released. Elderly individuals living alone are favorite targets of scam artists. 

  • If you are asked to pay anything at all before you receive the prize, it is a scam. No legitimate sweepstakes require a winner to pay fees or taxes up front before the prize money is disbursed.  
  • In the past twelve months, elderly North Dakota victims have lost more than $366,000 to sweepstakes scams

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Online Classified Ad Scams

If you respond to an online classified ad, be careful. Scam artists post fraudulent ads to “sell” everything - from large-ticket items such as cars, boats, and homes, to small items such as collectibles, hobby items, and even puppies. They are just waiting for you to contact them. 

  • NEVER wire or send money directly to a private individual; instead, use a reputable third-party payer. Never agree to purchase prepaid cash cards or gift cards as part of an online transaction. 

There is no “internet police force” that can track down a seller or get your money back. We cannot address complaints about private-party online transactions. If there are problems with the transaction, or the item is not in the condition described, you will have to deal with the problem yourself, either directly with the other party or by using the online website's complaint system, if it has one.  

If you are selling an item on the Internet and someone offers to give you more than the asking price, BEWARE! This is a known scam.

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Computer Scams

If you get a call from an IT Department claiming that they have detected a problem with your computer. The so-called IT expert may claim to be from Microsoft, Dell, Apple, or some other well-known tech company. In fact, the caller is a scam artist who wants to gain access to your computer so he can install malware while he is "checking" out the phony problem. Once the malware is installed, your computer will act up. Then the scam artist will demand payment to remotely "fix" the problem created by the malware he just installed. The scam artist may ask for payment by credit card, money transfer, or even prepaid cash or gift cards. 

  • Never allow someone to remotely access your computer unless you are the one who initiated the call for Tech Support. 
  • Be sure to use antivirus and malware detection software, keep it up to date, and perform regular scans. If the scan detects a problem, usually the software program will suggest the fix, or you can take the computer to a reputable service company for repair. 

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Jury Duty Scams

In this scam, the scam artist calls pretending to be a law enforcement officer, claims the resident has missed jury duty, and threatens to have the person arrested unless they pay a fine immediately. In some variations of the scam, the supposed officer instructs the consumer to buy prepaid cash cards or gift cards and then read off the numbers from the back of those cards; in other variations, the scam artists offer a “discount” on the supposed fine if the consumer sends cash via overnight delivery.

  • No court will ever make calls threatening to arrest someone for having missed jury duty; and 
  • No legitimate government official or law enforcement officer will ever demand that you mail cash, wire money, or buy prepaid cards to pay fines and fees.

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Foreign Lotteries

If you receive a letter, email, or phone call that you have won a prize in a contest or lottery, don’t get too excited – it’s a scam. If you didn't buy a ticket, you cannot win anything! Under federal law, all foreign lotteries are illegal. As it’s illegal, there is no legitimate way you could have won anything. Online lotteries and contests that claim to have selected the winner’s email address at random are all scams.

  • Legitimate contests and lotteries never ask the winner to pay anything up front. State and federal government agencies collect the duties, taxes and other fees after the winner receives the prize, not before.
  • If you wire money or buy a money card in response to a prize notification, it just goes straight into the scam artist’s pocket.  

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Work at Home Schemes

Crooks advertise online, in news groups or send e-mails offering tempting work opportunities that can be done at home. By operating online, they know local law enforcement can’t touch them. Before responding to an offer, consider:

  • If you are required to spend any of your own money to purchase supplies, postage, make copies, or advertise - it’s a scam.
  • If the work requires you to deposit money into your own account before sending money to another person or to pay a membership fee - it’s a scam.

To find legitimate job offers, try Job Service North Dakota.

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Scholarship Search Scams

Parents and students feeling the crunch of increasing college tuition and decreased financial aid sources are wasting good money on financial aid “search” services. In fact, college financial aid offices provide much of the same information at no charge.

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Business Scams

Phony invoices scams are big business for scam artists. Common scams involve look-alike yellow page invoices, many of which use the "let your fingers do the walking" logo, but scam artists also send phony invoices for toner cartridges, photocopy paper and other office supplies. The phony invoice often includes bold type for "renewal" or "past due" in the hope the business will pay it without paying close attention.  

  • Before making any payment, make sure there is a corresponding authorization for the invoiced item or service.

Small businesses across the state have also been targeted with online scams. Often, the business receives an email from a supposed prospective customer who wants to place a large order.  The phony customer pays with a check for more than the order amount, with instructions to wait until the check clears and wire the extra sum onto a third party. Unfortunately, even if the phony check clears the local bank, it will be identified by the federal clearing house as a counterfeit and the bank will reverse the deposit. Another scam involves phony business merit awards, in which the business owner is informed that the business has been voted or designated as a "best" in the business category. The business is offered a discounted organization membership as part of the award recognition. Of course, there is no award or organization; instead, the scam artist pockets the membership fee. 

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