NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Be cautious and alert to pervasive scammers

You’ve just been scammed. Or maybe you think you have. What do you do?

The answer is, do something. Don’t ignore it. Don’t be embarrassed about it. We’ve all been there — or if we haven’t, we will be.

Today, scams of all kinds and through all means are rampant — maybe epidemic is the word.

On Wednesday, federal court officials in Indianapolis issued a warning that scammers are using the court’s main phone number to swindle and intimidate people.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana reported that its clerk’s office recently began receiving calls from people reporting that someone claiming to be with the court had called, saying their Social Security benefits had been “hacked” and asking for their Social Security number. Many of those targeted were said to be of Latino heritage. The callers had “spoofed” the court’s phone number, making it appear on caller ID that the call was coming from the court’s main phone.

Court officials say government employees would never request personal information over the phone.

On Tuesday, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill warned Hoosiers to watch out for scam artists trying to take advantage of the recently announced Equifax settlement.

Equifax announced a data breach in 2017 that exposed the personal information of 147 million people. The Federal Trade Commission last week announced Equifax had agreed to a settlement of up to $700 million to help people affected by the breach.

The state attorney general’s office says scammers have been taking advantage of the overwhelming public response of those wanting to benefit from the settlement by setting up fraudulent websites that look real. But Hill says, before filing a claim online, make sure the site is legitimate. The authentic website is www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com.

Earlier this month, Indiana Michigan Power reported that scammers impersonating their representatives had been calling utility customers, claiming they are late paying their bill, and their power would be disconnected maybe even that very day if the customer did not pay the bill immediately.

Again, some scammers “spoofed” the telephone number from which they called to make it appear to be an authentic I&M phone number. I&M, too, wants customers to know employees never call customers to demand immediate payment or disconnect their service without a prior written warning.

The Allen County Sheriff’s office, like many other law enforcement agencies in Indiana recently, had to issue a warning a few months ago warning that scammers were identifying themselves as detectives, court personnel and other law enforcement and would claim the victim has a warrant for their arrest, for missing jury duty or a court appointment. Then they would demand a payment.

The sheriff’s office says law enforcement will never contact you by phone demanding payment for anything.

You get the picture. Scammers are everywhere, every day, on the phone, in emails, on social media, even in the regular mail.

So what should you do?

The Better Business Bureau serving Northern Indiana says if you suspect something sounds like an illegal scheme or fraud, you should go to the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org. Help the BBB investigate and warn others by clicking on “Report a scam.”

There are other steps you should take as well. If it’s a matter of a court, a utility or the IRS, which has been the butt of many such scams, contact those agencies directly. And if you’ve compromised your credit card during a scam, contact your credit card company immediately.

If it’s a law enforcement scam, call your local law enforcement and request to speak directly to an officer. As a matter of fact, you should file a police report, no matter what the scam, according to the technology information website lifewire.com in a report on scams early in July.

Remember these basic tips: Never share personal information or account information; be skeptical of unsolicited offers; don’t deposit checks and wire money with the promise of more money to come to you; hang up on robocalls; don’t be intimidated and don’t be pressured — many scammers push you to make a quick decision.

We urge you to be skeptical. Beware of scammers. They can cost you a lot.