NEWARK – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today warned consumers about a fraudulent mailing that bears the logo and seal of the Office of the Attorney General, and which invites consumers to apply for their share of the proceeds from a fictitious multimillion-dollar legal settlement.
The 11-page “Notice of Remedy and Settlement of Class Action” was sent via email this week, to consumers as far away as Baltimore, Maryland. (View a copy of the scam letter [PDF format]) Chiesa noted that it bears the hallmarks of a scam, designed to entice victims into providing their social security numbers, bank account information, or other sensitive materials to what they believe is a trustworthy source – only to fall victim to identity theft.
The letter is, however, an extremely well-detailed and therefore dangerous scam. It is cleverly designed to mimic an official government document. It bears a New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety letterhead, and the signature of a fictitious “New Jersey Attorney General Edward Thomson.”
“This letter represents an emerging scam in which con artists are using the names of government agencies – including the SEC, and now the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office – in order to trick victims into opening themselves up to identity theft,” Chiesa said. “Anyone who receives a letter, email, or phone call from someone who says you have won a prize or a legal settlement should be very cautious. Take the time to independently verify the authenticity of the person reaching out to you, and never give your personal identifying information to anyone unless you know for certain the person or organization is legitimate.”
The fraudulent letter even includes two phone numbers and an email address, which apparently are manned by perpetrators of the scam. When a Division of Consumer Affairs investigator called one of the numbers, a man speaking with a strong foreign accent identified himself as “Samuel Harrington” and said he worked in Basking Ridge for “Attorney General Thomson.”
“With the power of the Internet and desktop publishing programs, it is easier than ever for scammers to create sophisticated documents in order to trick unwary consumers,” Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “We will investigate this and any similar scams. However, the best defense is for consumers to fight back by being extra vigilant whenever someone asks for bank account, social security, or other identifying information.”
The fraudulent document, which may have been transmitted by regular mail as well as by email, states that the recipient may be entitled to proceeds from a nonexistent, $233.65 million class action settlement with “Argus Capital Limited and Wentworth Group Limited.” The letter tells recipients, “You or someone in your family may have purchased or otherwise acquired any publicly traded securities issued … between April 9, 2006 and March 31, 2011,” and that investors are entitled to a portion of the settlement fund.
The letter further states that the recipient has a limited window of time in which to submit a “Proof of Claim” in order to obtain his or her share of the money; or submit an “Opt Out Form” in order to retain the right to sue the fictitious defendants. Failure to do either, the letter says, is “equivalent to giving up your rights.” Recipients who wish to exercise their rights must call one of the fraudulent phone numbers.
Chiesa and Calcagni urged anyone who receives a similar document by letter or email, to call the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Service Center Hotline at 1-800-242-5846 (toll-free in New Jersey) or 1-973-504-6200.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in February 2012 warned investors of similar scams and noted “a recent surge of complaints about a scheme where fraudsters posing as SEC employees call potential victims on the telephone and purport to offer them a large sum of [money] … in return for depositing a smaller amount … into a specified account. Some of these solicitations may use the name of a legitimate company and refer prospective investors to an operating website. These solicitations, whether made by telephone, email, or other method, are fraudulent.”
The SEC similarly advised investors to call the agency directly in order to independently verify whether any communication purporting to be from the SEC truly is from that agency.
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