Phone, online scams continue to increase, BBB president says

John Dupont, Contributing Writer
Cases involving identity theft, credit card scams and other fraudulent activity continue to rise, according to Carmen Million, president and CEO of the South Central Louisiana chapter of the Better Business Bureau.

The Better Business Bureau has traditionally targeted scams from retailers and other merchants, but the biggest increase in scams has come through a phone call or a click on the computer.

Identity theft, credit card scams, and other fraudulent activity continue to grow as rapidly as the technology they target, according to Carmen Million, president and CEO of the South Central Louisiana chapter of the BBB.

The scams come from callers who claim they represent groups such as the Internal Revenue Service, utility companies, credit repair services, and even the BBB itself, said Million, who spoke Monday at the Press Club of Baton Rouge's weekly luncheon.

Others will demand money on claims of an arrest warrant or money owed for payday loans, credit cards or back taxes. The caller will warn of impending arrest if they do not receive money immediately, she said.

"They demand the money as soon as possible, and fear plays a big role in these scams," Million said. "It's natural for a person to fear being arrested, but you can't always let fear be a deciding factor.

"In most cases, if you're a victim of one of these scams, you won't get your money back," she said.

The BBB received 406 complaints about phone scams during the first half of 2019, she said. Current investigations involve 41 companies.

Debtors cannot be arrested for the money they owe, and the IRS does not call to demand payment, she said.

The phone scammers operate mostly from India and Jamaica, but the caller I.D. will often show a local phone number.

It does not mean all scammers come from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Many cases of fraud and identity theft come from within a household.

"Scams come many times from someone you know, including a close relative," Million said. "For years, it was the kids scamming the parents, but now we have many cases of parents scamming the kids.

"The worst part about those scams is that most often they don't lead to arrest," she said. "Most people don't want to send their loved ones to jail."

Outside of phone scams, contractor fraud cases have been the biggest area of complaints, particularly since the floods of August 2016, Million said.

Consumers who fear they have been the victim of a fraud or illegal scheme can report the information on the BBB Scam tracker on the bureau's website.

The site lists the reported cases, the type of scam, the date they occurred, as well as the zip code and amount of money lost.