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Legal Matters: Tips for identifying scams and how to report them

Scams are like dandelions — as soon one is rooted out and publicized so that people are aware they are likely to lose any money they invest, another pops up.

In a scam reported earlier this month in Montgomery County, scammers reportedly posed as homeowners looking for repairs such as new roofs. The scammers called contractors, identified themselves as homeowners and asked the contractors to send money to “subcontractors” on the repair work. The “subcontractors” were also scammers.

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Two months ago, scammers who managed to clone state police barracks telephone numbers so the number would show up as state police on caller ID called individuals in southern Maryland. The scammers identified themselves as police officers and falsely warned call recipients that they were suspects in crimes. The scammers then requested the victims’ private information, such as Social Security numbers.

Frequently, by the time a scam becomes known and publicized, unsuspecting victims have lost money.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office issued scam prevention tips two months ago. One recent scam reported by the office involved telephone calls by scammers warning victims that liens were going to be placed on their Social Security numbers. To avoid the liens, the victims were given a phone number to call and provide personal identifying information, which the scammers could then use to access victims’ funds.

“No bank, government agency, or legitimate business requests you to respond to an included link in an email. It is always requested that if you have further information you contact the bank, agency, or business through their normal lines of communication or by logging into your account,” the Sheriff’s Office reminded the public.

Maryland Code criminal law sections provide penalties for frauds ranging from bad checks to credit card crimes to financial crimes against vulnerable adults. Penalties include fines and possible imprisonment. But the financial rewards for scams can be huge, dwarfing the possible fines for getting caught perpetrating a scam.

A quick internet search turns up reports of millions of dollars lost to just one type of fraud — impostor fraud, where the caller claims to represent an agency such as the Internal Revenue Service and orders the call recipient to send money.

Frauds can be reported to police. Various Maryland state agencies also accept reports of specific types of frauds.

Mortgage fraud can be reported to the state Department of Housing and Community Development at 888-784-0136. You can report fraud, waste or abuse related to Medicaid to the State Health Department at health.maryland.gov.

Reader question

The May 12 Legal Matters column that discussed adverse possession prompted a reader to ask why the hypothetical homeowners described in the column did not simply have a survey made to determine the boundary of their adjoining properties. A survey would be useful in a dispute over property lines. But in the situation described, there was no disagreement on where the line lay. Homeowner B was simply attempting to acquire a small strip of property by treating it as his own.

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