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County of Sonoma California
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Scams

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, you should report the matter to the local law enforcement agency in your area to investigate.  The law enforcement agency will forward the matter to the district attorney’s office for prosecution if they can identify a suspect.

Even if you do not fall victim to a scam, it is important to alert others of the existence of scams in our community in to prevent losses to members of our community.  Please call our office at 565-5317 to report a scam.

Tell your friends and family members to sign up for Consumer Alerts so they will get updated information on recent reported scams.

Consumer Complaints

Consumer Complaints can be filed directly with the District Attorney’s Office to report a problem with a business in Sonoma County that you have been unable to resolve.  Instructions for filing can be found at:

Equifax SCAM

Posted September 15, 2017

As reported below, Equifax recently had a data breach. Reports are now being received that scammers are calling consumers pretending to be from Equifax and asking to verify your personal information. Equifax will not call consumers out of the blue. DO NOT disclose personal information on phone or rely upon telephone number being shown to verify the identity of the caller. For more information review the information at the following link: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-isnt-calling?utm_source=govdelivery

Equifax Data Breach—Important Actions to Take for All Consumers

Posted September 13, 2017

As may be aware from recent news articles Equifax, one the three major credit reporting agencies was recently hacked. The breach is estimated to affect 15 million Californians and compromised the names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and credit card information of millions of consumers. To check if you have been impacted by the data breach, please visit: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/.

If you use Wi-Fi , Make Sure That You Are Using a Secure WI-FI Connection Before Submitting Your Personal Information.

Other steps you should take are :

  1. Put A Fraud Alert on your credit file
  2. Review Your Credit Reports. Look through each one carefully.
  3. Call the credit bureau at the number on the report if there is information on your report that you don’t understand or that looks suspicious.
  4. Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements.
  5. Be alert for persons calling, texting or emailing and trying to seek personal information to assist in using the financial information obtained. More detailed information about how to take these steps may be found at:
  6. Federal Trade Commission
  7. State Attorney General’s Office
  8. Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to report a crime
  9. Santa Rosa Police Department’s Identity Theft Quick Reference Guide

SRJC Financial Aid SCAM

Posted September 5, 2017

Santa Rosa Junior College reports that a telephone scam has been targeting recipients of financial aid seeking personal information for possible fraudulent uses. Callers requested personal information from students including Social Security numbers, date of birth, credit card information and other person data. SRJC indicates that it will never ask for this information over the phone and students should not provide such information by phone. If you receive such a call, hang up and call campus Financial Aid at (707) 527-4471 and report the caller’s name and phone number and date and time of the call.

FTC to Administer Refunds to Consumers From Advanced Tech Support SCAM

Posted September 5, 2017

The FTC has announced that it will administer a $10 million settlement fund that will provide partial refunds to consumers who were victims of Advanced Tech Support between April 2012- November 2014. The form to apply for the refund can be found at the following link: https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/advanced-tech-support-refunds. The company used high-pressure sales pitches to market tech support products and services by falsely claiming that people’s computers were infected with viruses and malware.

National Institutes of Health Scam

Posted August 8, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission reports that scammers are calling pretending to be from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The callers tell people they have been selected to receive a $14,000 grant from NIH and that to get the grant they must provide their bank account information or pay a fee with an ITunes or Green Dot Card. If you receive such a call, hang up. The government does not call to give grants. Grants are given to researchers who must apply for the grant. The federal government will also not call to request personal information on the phone or demand payment or bank information.

Fake Sheriff Scam

Posted July 20, 2017

The Petaluma Police Department reports that phone scammers pretending to be Sheriff Deputies are contacting residents advising them that they have an outstanding warrant and that if they do not purchase a prepaid phone card and provide the card information to the caller, they will be arrested.  This is a scam.  See story at  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7211182-181/petaluma-police-warn-of-phone .

The Sheriff’s Office, or any other law enforcement agency, WILL NOT call you to tell you that they are coming to arrest you.  Law Enforcement Officers also do not collect bail or penalties.  If you receive such a call, please report to your local law enforcement agency.

Sweepstakes Scam—415488N, INC

Posted June 22, 2017

If you receive a “FINAL PAYOUT NOTICE”   from 415488N, INC advising you that you have won a sweepstakes raffle drawing and enclosing a check as the first payment to assist you in paying the “processing/clearance fee”, DO NOT DEPOSIT THE CHECK, SEND A PAYMENT or contact the person indicated in the notice.  This is a scam.  Sweepstake scams are a common vehicle used to steal money.  The “winner” deposits the check sent by the company into their account and then pays a fee with their personal funds believing the check is covered by the funds deposited.  The check sent turns out to have inadequate funds or be on a bogus account and is then returned by your bank and you are then out the funds.  Additionally, by depositing the check you provide access to your personal account information to the scammers.

Our office has received a report that such notices have been sent out to residents in Sonoma County.

Be wary anytime you are asked to pay a fee to recover a prize, inheritance or unclaimed funds in your name—it is most likely a scam.  Also, do not deposit unexpected checks from unknown sources into your account.  If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is!

Scam Debt Notice Purporting To Be From Higher Balance/Eric Pepin

Posted June 22, 2017

The District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement have received reports that a number of people have received letters purporting to seek collection of non-existent debts from Higher Balance and Eric Pepin.  The letters threaten legal action including the filing of liens against property and additional penalties if the recipient contacts law enforcement.  THESE LETTERS ARE A SCAM.  The business has reported to authorities that someone has hacked their records and that the letters were not sent by Higher Balance or Mr. Pepin.  DO NOT send any money in response to such letters and you do not need to take any further action.

Consumers should be aware, that a creditor cannot take any additional legal action or recover any additional penalties or fees from you if you contact law enforcement to report a suspected scam.

FTC Imposter Western Union Scam

Posted May 15, 2017

The FTC advises consumers to be aware that imposters are sending out letters to consumers indicating the letter is from Maureen Ohlhausen, the FTC’s acting Chairman, requesting bank account information to process settlement refunds from an action against Western Union.  The FTC does process refunds for consumers who have lost money on scams but will never request your bank account information or social security number to apply for a refund.  The FTC is involved in a $586 million settlement with Western Union but the U.S. Department of Justice will handle the refund process and that process has not yet been set up.  DO NOT RESPOND TO SUCH EMAILS OR CLICK ON ANY LINKS IN THE EMAIL.  You may forward these scam emails if received to spam@uce.gov .

Information on the actual settlement agreement with Western Union  can be obtained at  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/western-union-update . This will provide information to see if you are eligible to receive a refund.  You should never have to pay a fee to collect a refund if you are entitled to receive one or to provide bank information.

Veteran’s Choice Program Scam

Posted May 15, 2017

The FTC reports that there is a new scam targeting veterans with respect to medical care.  The Veterans Choice Program (VCP) allows certain eligible vets to use approve health care providers outside the VA system.  The scammers use a similar phony phone that is close to the real VCP program phone line.  When a vet calls they ask for credit card or other financial information “to set up your account”.

If you are a veteran—or helping someone—please use following tips:

  1.  Be sure you are calling the real number for the Veterna’s Choice Program 866-606-8198.
  2. The VA will not ask for your financial account information.

To see full story click on the following link  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/phony-telephone-number-scam-targets-veterans?utm_source=govdelivery

Avoiding Tech Scams

Posted May 15, 2017

The FTC has posted a helpful article on avoiding Tech scams at   https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/pass-it-tech-support-scams after reporting that it has taken action against more scammers in recent months.  Many of these scammers cause false pop-up messages that look like security warnings about viruses or problems with your computer urging the consumer to contact a toll free number.  When victims call they are either charged for services they do not need, asked to provide credit card information or asked to allow access to their computer.

If you receive such a message, do not call.  Use a legitimate security software or computer consultant to determine if you have a virus or other malware on your computer.

Don’t Purchase a Nintendo Switch Emulator

Posted April 18, 2017

The FTC reports that scammers have created on line ads to sell a “ Ninetendo Switch emulator” to attract those who are unable to purchase the new gaming system.  The ads say that the emulator will allow you to play the Nintendo Switch games on your computer.  There is no such device and these ads are used as a means to acquire access to your computer or to obtain payment for a non-existent product. DO NOT download anything that says Nintendo Switch Emulator or complete a survey to unlock a code to allow you to use such a device.  See full story at:  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/theres-no-nintendo-switch-emulator?utm_source=govdelivery

PG&E Scam In Petaluma

Posted April 14, 2017

A Petaluma resident reported receiving a call from PG&E demanding payment on a bill and indicating that the customer’s bank account could not be accessed for payment.  The individual purchased a $500 prepaid credit card and gave the caller the code.  This was a scam.  PG&E does not call customers regarding overdue bills.  Do not provide personal information or provide other forms of payment over the phone until you verify that it is not a scam.  See full story at  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6887548-181/petaluma-resident-duped-out-of.  It is important to report SCAMS such as this to local law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office or the Federal Trade Commission so that others can be warned about scams in our community.  See the impact that one individual had when he let his community know of a scam that contacted members of his family: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/i-have-emergency-and-need-money?utm_source=govdelivery

Free Movies—Big Headaches

Posted April 14, 2017

The FTC reports that a number of sites are popping up offering free downloads of movies.  When consumers download the movie they are also downloading  malware that provides a slew of unwanted ads or may steal your personal information or take over your computer.  Some sites also request credit card information.  These sites may be distributing pirated videos which is illegal and since they are already committing a crime you should not trust them with your credit information.

The FTC Won’t Offer to Fix Your Computer

Posted April 11, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  has announced that it just sued a scammer who sent spam emails claiming that the FTC had hired them to remove problem software.  The FTC does not hire companies to provide technical support.  The company created a fake FTC press release to make people believe that it was associated with the FTC.

If you get a pop up, call or spam email from anyone about a virus on your computer, DO NOT click on any links, don’t send any money and don’t give anyone control of your computer.  The person behind the message probably wants to access your computer to obtain data, install malware or sell you unnecessary services.  Please report those message at  www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Do You Have Questions About Whether Your Car Repair Was Done Right After an Accident?

Posted March 16, 2017

The Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) will provide a FREE inspection to determine if the work done on your automobile was done correctly and if it matches the work shown on the invoice.

If BAR inspectors find no discrepancies they will just document the results. If there is a problem they will help get the shop to correct the work.

To schedule an appointment call BAR's toll free number at (866) 799-3811. BAR also takes complaints regarding other issues with automotive repair facilities. For more information see: https://thedcapage.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/was-your-car-repaired-after-an-accident-was-it-done-right/. If BAR believes criminal activity is involved, such as fraud, they will refer the case to the local district attorney's office.

Tech Support Scam

Posted February 21, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission advises that a company it previously shut down has resurfaced using the name “Global Connect”.  Consumers received a pop up on their computer claiming there is a problem with the computer that does not exist. The consumer is then requested to allow remote access to their computer to either reestablish service or process a refund into the person’s account.

Do not allow anyone who calls you to access your computer.  Report any such activity to the FTC at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

“Can You Hear Me?”

Posted February 21, 2017

An old scam has resurfaced which been reported to the Better Business Bureau. Consumers report that they receive calls about vacation packages, warranties or other items.  The person asks “Can you hear me?”  The goal is to get the consumer to say “Yes”.  The information is recorded and edited to make it sound like you agreed to a major purchase.

Do not answer calls where you do not recognize the phone number.  If you receive a call where person is asking if you can hear them, just hang up.  Register for the DO NOT CALL LIST if you have not already done so at www.donotcall.gov to cut down the number of calls although this may not stop scammers.  Check your bank account and credit card statements regularly for unauthorized charges.

Report any suspicious calls to the Better Business Bureau or the FTC to help protect others.

“You Have Reached Your Storage Limit”

Posted February 21, 2017

Reports have been received that an email is being sent to look like it comes from your office IT department indicating that an update is required in order to add storage to your computer.  The emails often have information in the subject line name@ company.com update required.  The message indicates you will be blocked from sending or receiving emails and instructs you to click to a link which appears to look like your email.  The link requests you to enter your email address and password.  This is a way to obtain your password and opens you up to identity theft.

If you receive such emails, check first with your company IT dept.  Be cautious about generic emails, even if they appear real.  Do not click on links or open files in unfamiliar emails.  They may include viruses or phishing software to obtain your passwords and security information.

Quick Books Phishing Scam

Posted February 2, 2017

The Better Business Bureau reports that a new phishing scam has been reported that is targeting small businesses. An email is sent with the subject line “QuickBooks Support: Change Request”. The message says it is confirming that you have changed your business name with Intuit, the manufacturer of QuickBooks. The email contains a link to cancel which most businesses would use since they had not made the request. The link is bait to allow malware to download to your computer which will allow scammers to capture passwords or hunt for sensitive information which can lead to identity theft.

Do Not Click On Links in unsolicited emails. For more information about phishing scams and how to protect yourself see the FTC website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0003-phishing

On line Rental Scam

Posted January 19, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission reports fake online rentals are being posted to lure people to Credit Bureau Center LLC, credit monitoring site. Rentals are posted and when the owner is contacted he says that you need a credit report and refers you to their site which says you get a free credit report but the fine print says that you are enrolling in a credit monitoring service and charged $24.94 per month unless you cancel within 7 days. The FTC offers the following tips to avoid rental scams:

  • Don’t wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee or first month’s rent.
  • Don’t pay before you sign a lease. Before paying, visit the apartment or house.
  • Get a truly free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com

Additional information on rental scams is available on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Disaster Repairs

Posted January 19, 2017

Be cautious of persons hired to perform repairs or cleanup. Unfortunately scam artists take advantage of the damage caused by floods, mud slides and other water related problems to take money and not perform the work. The Contractor’s License Board (CSLB) is advising homeowners to be cautious. Check the contractor’s license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov. Other tips offered by the CSLB to avoid scams:

  • Get at least three bids
  • Make sure all project expectations are in writing and sign the contract only if you completely understand the terms. Never sign a blank contract!
  • Confirm that the contractor has workers compensation insurance for its employees.
  • Never pay more that 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less. Don’t pay in cash.
  • Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Don’t make final payment until you are satisfied with the work.
  • Your contractor must notify you of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract.

E-Z Pass Phishing Scam

Posted January 19, 2017

Bay Area Fast Trak is reporting that an email phishing scam is sending out fake emails advising customers that they have not paid a road or bridge toll with a link to download the invoice. Opening the invoice may cause a virus or allow access to your personal computer information. Do not open or respond to such messages. If you have questions about the validity of any message received from E-Z Pass, contact the E-Z Pass Customer Service Center at 1-877-BAY TOLL.

YAHOO Customer Service Scam

Posted January 14, 2017

The FTC advises that it has received reports from consumers of fake phone numbers for “Yahoo customer service”. These fake numbers may appear in an internet search but are not legitimate numbers. When consumers contacted the number they were offered “customer care services” for a fee. Yahoo does not charge a fee for its customer services and does not have a customer service phone number. Yahoo also will not ask to remotely connect to your computer for any support related request.

To read more about Tech Support scams see the FTC website at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0346-tech-support-scams

Watch out for Fake Retail Apps

Posted December 19, 2016

The Better Business Bureau and the New York Times have reported that scammers are fooling holiday shoppers my creating fake apps which show up in Apple and Android app stores and look like many of your favorite retailers. The apps require shoppers to enter Facebook information or credit card information which can open users up to fraud.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips:

Scammers love to impersonate popular apps. Here´s how to spot a con:

  • Evaluate before downloading. In the app store, look for warning signs such as apps with no reviews and no history of previous versions.
  • Look out for poor grammar. Most fake apps are developed with little or no quality control. Look for poor grammar, typos, and strange sentences or phrases within the app title, description, or instructions.
  • Make sure the retailor has an app. Not all retailors have apps, which makes it easier for scammers to pass off fake ones. When in doubt, do a quick search online before downloading.

See the New York Times Article

10 Things you can do to avoid fraud

The Federal Trade Commission publishes a list of 10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud. This is an excellent resource that provides helpful tips. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-things-you-can-do-avoid-fraud

False complaints from consumer affairs department and office of the attorney general

Posted December 6, 2016

Be careful not to open emails or click links which appear to be from the Consumer Affairs Department or the Office of the State Attorney General advising you that a complaint has been filed against your business. The suspicious emails have an “outlook.com” in their email address which is a clear indication it is not from one of the government agencies. These are “phishing” emails which seek to obtain sensitive information from your computer or infect your computer with a virus.

Phishing is a form of fraud in which the attacker tries to learn information such as login credentials or account information by masquerading as a reputable entity or person in email, IM or other communication channels. Attackers try to appear trustworthy by sending email from an address that looks reputable. Typically, a victim receives a message that appears to have been sent by a known contact or organization. An attachment or links in the message may install malware on the user’s device or direct them to a malicious website set up to trick them into divulging personal and financial information, such as passwords, account IDs or credit card details.

Recommendations:

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited emails, text messages, and phone callers. Use discretion when providing information to unsolicited phone callers, and never provide sensitive personal information via email.
  • If you want to verify a suspicious email, contact the organization directly with a known phone number. Do not call the number provided in the email. Or, have the company send you something through the US mail (which scammers won’t do).
  • Only open an email attachment if you are expecting it and know what it contains. Be cautious about container files, such as .zip files, as malicious content could be packed inside.
  • Visit websites by typing the address into the address bar. Do not follow links embedded in an unsolicited email.
  • Use discretion when posting personal information on social media. This information is a treasure-trove to spear phishers who will use it to feign trustworthiness.
  • Keep all of your software patched and up-to-date. Home users should have the auto update feature enabled.
  • Keep your antivirus software up-to-date to detect and disable malicious programs, such as spyware or backdoor Trojans, which may be included in phishing emails.

New IRS Tax Scam

The IRS has reported that there is a new IRS imposter scam. The IRS imposters send a fake tax notice that claims monies are owed from a prior tax year as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The form looks similar to an actual form used by the IRS.

The IRS advises to be aware of the following red-flags to help you avoid becoming a victim:

  1. The IRS does not initiate contact with you by email or through social media
  2. The IRS does not ask you to pay using a gift card, pre-paid debit card or wire transfer
  3. The IRS does not request personal or financial information by email, texts, or social media
  4. The IRS does not threaten to immediately have you arrested or deported for not paying.
See detailed information at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/irs-warns-new-tax-bill-scam

Fictious business name renewal scam

If you receive an official looking letter from the Fictitious Business Renewal Center urging you to renew your fictious business name for your business, be aware that this is a scam. This is a private company that charges a fee of $150 to process a fictious business name renewal statement and has no connection to the County.

Business owners can deal directly with the County Clerk’s Office when filing. Customers have two options when filing a Fictitious Business Name Statement. With either option, the cost of filing a Fictitious Business Name Statement is $40 for the first business name and the first owner name. Each additional name is $9. Forms are available in with the County Clerk’s office or online at http://www.sonoma-county.org/clerk/forms.htm.

IRS Scam

If you receive a phone call from someone purporting to be an agent with the IRS threatening that a lawsuit will be filed unless payment is made—often through an ITunes gift card, wiring money or other means be aware that this is a scam. The IRS does not call taxpayers in this manner or request payment in the form of gift cards.

Sheriff reports jury service telephone scam

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department has received at least 20 complaints that a person posing as Lieutenant Vance Berry from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has been telephoning residents stating they had missed jury duty. The suspect advises that the resident must pay money to avoid an arrest warrant. The County has no such person in the sheriff’s office. In addition, law enforcement will not call you to advise that you have a warrant. IF you received such a call, hang up and report to the Sheriff’s office. https://local.nixle.com/alert/5711940/

Fake ‘referendum’ scam targets seniors

If you receive a letter in mail which appears to be from a non-profit group claiming that Congress is attempting to abolish Social Security and asking for a donation of $16.45 or some other amount to help get a referendum ballot to all seniors—be aware that this is a scam. Do not give your credit card information to such groups or you may find yourself a victim of identity theft. See article at http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2016/09/bamboozled_group_accused_of_nationwide_scams_targe.html

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