New Website Launched to Educate and Help Residents Avoid Scams

In response to the growing number of scams confronting Howard County residents, the County’s Department of Citizen Services has launched a new “Scam Alert!” website, www.howardcountymd.gov/scamalert.htm, where residents can learn about the latest and most common scams, how to identify them, and
how to report them.

“Falling victim to a scam can be devastating,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. “With this new website, the Department’s Office of Consumer Affairs hopes to keep our residents better informed and educated about scams and help them to avoid falling victim to future ones.”

In this year alone, the Office of Consumer Affairs has received reports about an “IRS scam” in which con artists, posing as tax agents, told unsuspecting residents that they owed money for back taxes and would be arrested if they did not pay immediately. There was also the “Microsoft scam” in which callers claiming to be from the company’s tech support said a routine scan of the resident’s computer revealed a security glitch. Residents were told that if they did not give the caller remote access to their computer, they were vulnerable to hackers.

“These are just a few of the scams that have been reported to our Office of Consumer Affairs,” said Lois Mikkila, Director of the Department of Citizen Services.

In addition, each spring the Office of Consumer Affairs receives reports of home improvement contractors who offer to make repairs at a fraction of what others charge, only to demand more money when the substandard job is complete. Unfortunately with these cases, a resident’s money usually disappears along with the con artist.

“Most scams are not ‘new’ but are instead variations on age-old frauds that have been updated to take advantage of news events or changes in technology,” said Rebecca Bowman, Administrator of the Office of Consumer Affairs.

Residents who believe they may have been contacted by a potential con artist, whether via a phone call, e-mail, or door-to-door solicitation, are urged to report the incident immediately to the Office of Consumer Affairs using the Scam Alert! website, www.howardcountymd.gov/scamalert.htm. You can also file a report with the Office by calling 410-313-6420. The Office uses these reports to alert others to the scam and forwards them on to federal enforcement agencies that investigate and prosecute the worst offenders.

Residents who have lost money or feel their personal safety is at risk due to a scam should contact the Howard County Police Department’s non-emergency phone number at 410-313-2200 to file a report.

For more information on avoiding scams, identity theft and other deceptive practices, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs at 410-313-6420 or by e-mail at consumer@howardcountymd.gov.

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