Consumer advice: DirecTV and AT&T scammers are canvassing neighborhoods again

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Last year, “representatives” claiming to be from AT&T were canvassing local neighborhoods telling residents that they have to get their current DirecTV box changed out in order to continue to receive service. The scammer sometimes calls ahead of time to schedule the work or they show up on the doorstep to take care of the problem on the spot.

Victims were told that changing out their box wouldn’t cost them anything. They were asked to sign a contract but not given a copy, then a few weeks later were surprised to get a bill from AT&T in the amounts between $400 and $500.

Well guess what? These scammers are back this year and their campaign is specifically targeting the elderly. Bill wrote about this scam last year and we are starting to receive calls from residents who are getting taken again this year. One reader received a bill for $469 from AT&T. Since he is on a fixed income, this bill isn’t something he can afford so now he is going to have to fight over not paying the bill because he was told it wouldn’t cost him anything.

If you get a call or a visit from someone claiming to be from AT&T wanting to change out your box for free, send them packing. Typically DirecTV and AT&T don’t contact us directly, we contact them. If you have already been caught up in this scam, write a letter to the billing party (in this case AT&T) explaining the situation and send it certified with a return receipt requested so you know they received your correspondence.

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PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FRAUDULENT ELECTRONIC CHECKS: I’ve been writing for a while that one of the best ways to protect yourself from fraud is to routinely monitor your bank, credit card and other account statements as well as your credit score. For one reader it just may have paid off. She went online to check her bank account and noticed that she had a $35 debit on her account with the notation insufficient funds.

Wondering why, she did some further checking. She discovered that a check for $2,747 drawn on her account was pending to clear. Since she lacked the sufficient funds in the account to cover the check, it bounced, hence the $35 charge.

She hadn’t written that $2,747 check, so who did? Turns out it was a fraudulent electronic check. The bank captured a picture of the item, but it still is unclear the origin of the check. It is, however, concerning that someone had her bank account number and almost got away with scamming her out of money.

Here’s four tips to help protect your bank information: 1. If you have access to a computer, sign up for e-statements, that way you won’t have to worry about mail theft if that is a problem in your area; 2. If you need to mail something, take it directly to the post office or drop it in a secured mailbox. Don’t put outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox where it could be vulnerable to crooks; 3. Avoid writing checks in public since this exposes the information needed to create an electronic check; and, 4. Shred any old bank documents including old checks when you throw them out.

The outcome in this case: The $35 charge was reversed and the existing bank account closed and a new one opened. The reader was glad that she had checked her account balance when she did because it is possible that had the check been written a few days later, it probably would have cleared since there would have been enough funds in the account to cover it.

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NO, YOU AREN’T CALLING YOURSELF: I’ve received dozens of calls and emails in the last week from readers saying they are calling themselves and how that that be?

Rest assured, you are not on the other end of that phone line. Whatever you do, don’t let your curiosity get the better of you and pick it up. What is really happening is the scammer or telemarketer has spoofed the recipient’s own phone number and that is how it shows up on the person’s caller ID.

If you do pick up the phone, you have just let the scammer know they have reached a working line and now your number goes on the “suckers” list. I didn’t know scammers had one of these lists either, but apparently they do, and if you pick up the call you just signed yourself up for it.

I used to get half a dozen calls a day from myself but after a while when I didn’t pick up the calls the scammer moved on to an easier mark. Don’t put a target on your back and don’t turn yourself in either, that won’t help solve the problem.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at (208) 274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m a fulltime copywriter working with businesses on market messaging, a columnist and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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