Q. Is BBB experiencing an increase in politically oriented scams now that the election is near?
A. Scammers are opportunists who take advantage of whatever is in the news or being chatted about on social media. It's common around this time of year to receive phone calls from political pollsters asking questions about who you plan to vote for, and scammers mimic those legitimate calls.
The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers that the upcoming elections are likely to generate loads of scammers pretending to be pollsters, campaign volunteers, fundraisers, and even candidates. Here are some common political scams and frauds to watch out for:
Fundraising: You get a call from someone claiming to represent a political candidate, raising money to support the campaign. They may be collecting funds for a specific cause, such as healthcare reform, or on behalf of a group of people, such as veterans. Targets report that callers are typically pushy and demand immediate action. Even if the caller is not a scammer, some groups may be poorly managed and not actually spend the money the way they describe on the phone. You can check Give.org to see if the organization meets accreditation standards.
Polling: The call is from someone claiming to be conducting a political survey. The pollster wants to ask you questions about the upcoming election. In exchange for a few minutes of your time and your opinions, you will get a gift card or other reward. Typically, after asking several legitimate-sounding survey questions, the caller then asks you to provide your credit card number to pay for the shipping and taxes of the "prize" you have won. Legitimate polling companies rarely offer prizes for participating in a survey, and none would ask for a credit card number.
Impersonation: You get a call that sounds like one of the candidates, or perhaps even the President, asking you to make a special contribution. This scam uses real audio clips of politicians' voices, likely lifted from speeches or media interviews. Digital technology has made these recordings sound very realistic. At some point, the politician will ask for a donation and request that you push a button to be redirected to an agent, who will then collect your credit card information. Since real politicians use pre-recorded calls, it's challenging to tell which ones are fake.
In all of these cases, sharing your personally identifiable information (PII) and/or credit card number can open you up to the risk of fraudulent charges and even future identity theft. Although these examples are primarily telephone scams, fraudsters can use other methods to reach you: mail, email, social media, text, even showing up at your front door.
Here are some BBB tips to avoid political scams:
Donate directly to the campaign office: Donations made over the phone can be valid, but to be sure you are donating directly to the campaign, donors should give either through the candidate's official website or at a local campaign office.
Watch for spoofed calls: Your Caller ID may say that someone from Washington DC or from a campaign office is contacting you, but scammers can fake this using phone number spoofing technology.
Beware of prize offers: Just hang up on any political pollster who claims that you can win a prize for participating in a survey. Political survey companies rarely use prizes, so that is a red flag (especially if they ask you to pay for shipping or taxes in order to claim it).
Don't give out personal or banking information: Political pollsters may ask for information about your vote or political affiliation, and even demographic information such as your age or race, but they don't need your Social Security number or credit card information.
Research fundraising organizations before donating: Be especially cautious of links that come to you through email or social media, and don't click through. Instead, go directly to an organization's website by typing the URL in your browser or using a search engine.
To view and report scam and fraud activity, visit www.bbb.org/scamtracker.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.