COLUMBIA, S.C. – Temperatures are on the rise and scammers aren’t planning on taking any vacations this summer. Fraudsters always follow the headlines, which means some of the scams popping up are taking advantage of stories at the top of your newsfeed. While it’s impossible to know every scam out there, the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) wants consumers to know some scams that are on the rise and common red flags keep you safe this summer.
- Baby formula scams – With a formula shortage, parents are desperate to find formula for their babies. “Third-party sellers” are advertising fake formula in stock, selling for much higher than retail prices and/or creating fake websites to trick parents into buying non-existent products. Always make sure you’re reading reviews before buying, using a credit card when shopping online and calling your pediatrician or your local WIC office when you cannot find food for your baby. If you come across any suspicious activity, please report it to the Attorney General’s Office at (803) 737-3953.
- Disaster/storm scams – Hurricane season officially starts on June 1st and scammers will jump on any disaster or storm acting like repair people or federal government agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They promise relief or help to clean-up and perform repairs but disappear with your money or information. Remember: You never have to pay for government disaster relief, and you should be very suspicious of repair people who show up unannounced and want payment upfront.
- Financial aid and scholarship scams – Future college students may be looking for ways to pay for college. Scammers will try and convince students that in exchange for a processing fee, they can get financial aid, grants or loans. In reality, all the fraudsters do is fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Sometimes they will enter false information to qualify for more financial aid, which could cost students a $20,000 fine and/or jail time. Students should NOT pay anyone to fill out their FAFSA form - it is always free!
- Travel scams – Whether it’s a “free” vacation offer, robocalls about vacation deals, or fake vacation rental listings, scammers know consumers are looking for an inexpensive way to take a trip. Never pay fees or taxes for a “free” vacation; a legitimate company will not ask you to pay for a free prize. Also, robocalls trying to sell you a product are illegal unless you’ve given them written permission to call. If you’re looking to book a vacation property, be aware that scammers can hijack a real rental or real estate listing by copying it and placing an edited advertisement on another site. Always do your research by reading reviews, searching the internet for duplicate listings and NEVER wire transfer money or pay with unusual forms of payment.
Here are some red flags of scams to keep in mind any time of year: If anyone tries to pressure you into making a fast decision, they demand an unusual form of payment, and/or a deal seems too good to be true. For more tips on how to avoid scams, download our free guide to guarding against scams “Ditch the Pitch.”
The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs aims to protect consumers from inequities in the marketplace through advocacy, complaint mediation, enforcement and education. To file a complaint or get information on consumer issues, visit consumer.sc.gov or call toll-free, 1 (800) 922-1594.