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Warning: Two new scams targeting Illinois consumers

At a time of soaring energy prices and high costs across the board, fraudsters will take advantage of the situation to try to get more of your money. Be on the lookout for these two new scams.

1) Utility imposter scams. Ameren Illinois officials are warning customers of a recent phone scam in Central and Southern Illinois. The utility reports that fraudsters have been calling customers requesting payment for past-due bills or face a shut-off. 

The scam artists will request payment via prepaid money cards or even sending money via mobile apps. This is a scam that we’ve seen across the state. Please be aware that utilities don’t ever ask for immediate payment via money cards or cash apps. 

2) Tech support scams. In Chicago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported a new Technical Support Fraud targeting seniors. In this scheme, a fraudster pretends to be a technical support representative in order to gain access to personal information.

Victims report their computers freezing followed by a notification that they have been hacked. The notification includes a phone number (claiming to belong to a trusted software company) that victims should call to resolve this issue. 

Except the number doesn’t belong to a software company. According to the FBI, here’s what happens when victims call the number:

  • Scammers answer the phone under the guise of representing the computer software company. Victims are told that their bank accounts and social security numbers (SSN) have been compromised and are transferred to “employees” of these agencies who are actually individuals in on the scam. 
  • Scammers gain remote computer access by having victims download software they allege is required to fix the problem.
  • Victims are convinced to withdraw money from their bank accounts and hand it over to the fake Social Security Administration employee for safekeeping until they receive a new SSN. 

So, if you come across a pop-up notification claiming you have been hacked the FBI recommends disconnecting your device from the Internet immediately. Do not turn your computer off or reboot. If the pop-up directs you to a phone number, do not call that number. 

Remember: These scams are designed to cause panic and fear in victims so they will click any links or call any number in an effort to protect their personal information. Here are some other common scams you may encounter:

Imposter scams. The technical support and utility scams listed above are just two  examples of this type of fraud. You may also receive texts, emails, calls or a pop-up  from individuals claiming to represent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Secretary of State or Social Security Administration. That’s not how those agencies would typically reach out to you. Never provide personal information via text, email or over the phone.

Online shopping scams. With the holiday season around the corner, beware of deals that seem too good to be true. If you plan on doing any online shopping, try to avoid clicking on advertisements and go directly to the retailer’s website.

Sweepstakes scams. If you get a pop-up notifying you that you’ve won a prize, like a free iPad, from a sweepstakes you don’t remember entering, it’s most likely a scam. Avoid clicking on any links or calling any numbers displayed and don’t provide any personal or financial details. If a sponsor is listed, reach out to them at a number you find independently to confirm whether it’s legitimate. 

Investment scams. Be skeptical of any investment pitches with “get-rich-quick” promises. Most scams are committed by strangers, but even people you know may unknowingly rope you into an investment scam. Double check that the investment adviser is licensed and has a clean history at Investor.gov.

Election scams. It’s election season, so be prepared for the possibility of texts, emails or calls giving inaccurate information about elections. (It’s happened before in Illinois.) Voting by mail is safe and the Board of Elections is the only party with access to your information. If you receive a robocall, text or email making suspicious claims about voting, please contact the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Electric scams. The robocall offers you the opportunity to get a refund or a discount on your power bill. After you press a number, a salesman comes on and tries to switch you to an alternative supplier that could easily charge you much more than your utility rate.

Some tips to protect yourself from potential scams:

  • Do not click on suspicious links or provide personal details.
  • If in doubt about any communications you receive from a government agency or company, reach out to that entity on your own through a legitimate phone number or website that you find independently. If an agency or company has bad news for you, they do not contact you through a scary text, email or call that demands immediate action. 
  • Delete suspicious emails and texts. (While an email or text may look official, a closer inspection of the message may reveal spelling errors and bad grammar. If you ever get an official-looking text or email with a disturbing warning, don’t do anything rash. Again, contact the company/agency yourself.) 
  • Hang up on calls that ask you to provide personal information, such as your Social Security Number or bank account number. 
  • Keep your software up to date. Most devices can be set to update automatically when new software versions are released.
  • Back up your data. You can copy your computer files to an external hard drive or cloud storage. It’s good practice to back up the data on your phone, too.
  • Set up two-factor authentication. Some accounts offer extra security by requiring two or more credentials to log in to your account. The additional credentials you need to log in to your account fall into two categories:
    • Something you have — like a passcode you get via an authentication app or a security key.
    • Something you are — like a scan of your fingerprint, your retina, or your face.

Additional helpful resources:

CUB’s Guide to Fighting Robocalls

Federal Trade Commission: How To Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams

Federal Trade Commission: What To Do if You Were Scammed

Federal Trade Commission: Report identity theft and get a recovery plan

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): Scams and Safety

Consumer Reports: How to Protect Yourself From Common Scams