Old phone scam resurfaces in Pa.

An old phone scam has resurfaced in Pennsylvania: a robocall, claiming to be from the "State Investigations Department," then informs the recipient that his or her name has surfaced in a criminal matter. Typically, the scammer is trying to obtain valuable personal information "to clear the matter up."

Some versions apparently instruct the recipient "to call immediately and provide information or you will be arrested," says the state's actual investigations department, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, which warned about the scam this week.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office says:

One recent call originated from the 845 area code out of New York. Some of the messages had foreign-sounding accents, but the truth is there may be more than one version, and more than one accent.

Another recent robocall claims to be from the FBI, telling you that there have been break-ins in your area. The voice says "To protect yourself, push 1."

Kane's office offered evergreen tips for avoiding risks from such calls or other common scams - including the recent flood of frauds (such as the "Granny Frauds" and "Mystery Shopper Frauds" I wrote about here and here) that lead victims to unwittingly wire money to scammers.  Remember: Wired funds are essentially just gone, so it's crucial to only use wire transfers when you're totally confident about the recipient's identity and honesty.

The AG's other tips included:

  • Never give out personal information over the telephone or online.
  • Never give out billing information over the phone, especially if you receive an unsolicited telephone call from a stranger.
  • Never cash a check from an unknown source, especially if you are being asked to wire a portion of the proceeds to a stranger.
  • Never wire money or purchase "Green Dot"-type prepaid cash cards in response to a telephone or online appeal, whether it is from a stranger or someone who claims to know you.
  • Never let emotion or fear overcome your common sense. If you get a call or online appeal for money from a friend or relative, slow down and verify everything. Don't let anyone rush you.
  • Here is a good rule of thumb: never give out sensitive information to anyone on the phone unless you initiated the call to a company you know is legitimate.

If you believe you've been a victim, you can contact the attorney general's consumer hotline at 1-800-441-2555.