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. 

IRS Enforcement Calls

If you received a message 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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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.

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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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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