YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: State authorities today warned consumers of a bogus mailing that bears the logo and seal of the Office of the Attorney General inviting them to apply for their share of the proceeds from a multimillion-dollar legal settlement.
The con artists pulling the stunt even answer the phone number listed, saying they work for New Jersey’s top prosecutor.
The 11-page “Notice of Remedy and Settlement of Class Action” was emailed to consumers as far as Baltimore and is designed to entice victims into providing Social Security numbers, bank account information or other sensitive data.
It bears a New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety letterhead, and the signature of a fictitious “New Jersey Attorney General Edward Thomson.”
When a Division of Consumer Affairs investigator called one of two phone numbers listed, a man speaking with “a strong foreign accent identified himself” as “Samuel Harrington” and said he worked in Basking Ridge for “Attorney General 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,” the state’s real Attorney General, Jeffrey S. 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,” Chiesa said. “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 bogus document, which may have been sent through the mails as well, says the recipient may be entitled to proceeds from a nonexistent, $233.65 million class action settlement with “Argus Capital Limited and Wentworth Group Limited.”
“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, it says.
Recipients have a limited window of time to submit a “Proof of Claim” in order to collect or an “Opt Out Form” giaving them the right to sue the bogus 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.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month 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.”
DCA Director Thomas R. Calcagni said his office will continue to investigate such scams.
However, he said, “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.”
Both Calcagni and Chiesa urged anyone who receives a similar document by letter or email to call the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Service Center Hotline at 800-242-5846 (toll-free in New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.