Government Imposter Scams

Consumer Alert

Bill Schuette
Attorney General

The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.

Government Imposter Scams

Contact from the government gets your attention. Criminals use legitimate government references and the threat of government action to trick individuals in to taking action that facilitates theft. The initial communication could come in any form—letter, phone call, email, or text message. No matter the form, the goal is the same: to get personal or business information and steal money.

Fake government texts or emails

If you receive a text or email from any source claiming to come from a government agency or employee with an attachment or link asking you to open it or click on it, do not do it until you verify it is authentic. The attachment or link might contain malware. If you click to open the attached file (typically, a zip file) in a government imposter scam, you will open a virus or other malware and infect your computer or mobile device and allow criminals to steal your personal information, monitor your online activity, and commit fraud.

Scammers know that the threat of government action will cause many recipients to open the attachment out of simple curiosity or concern. Always be very cautious of any unsolicited email or text.

Calling on behalf of the IRS

The most frequently reported scam involves criminals who call and claim to be from the IRS and tell consumers they owe taxes. Often the callers leave messages with a phone number to call back that never works or only works for a short period of time, thus thwarting law enforcement efforts to track them. When taxpayers reach the criminal, they are informed the matter is urgent, and if they want to avoid additional penalties or jail, they must pay immediately using a pre-paid debt card, a wire transfer, an iTunes card, or other method that is difficult for law enforcement to trace. The caller ID might show it’s the IRS and the criminal might even provide a badge number. In reality, the caller ID is faked and the caller is a criminal intent on stealing your money.

In fact, if anyone calls you and asks you to pay with a cash-to-cash money transfer, like MoneyGram or Western Union; or with a PIN from a cash reload card like MoneyPak or Vanilla Road; or with a remotely created payment order using your bank account and routing numbers, they are a fraud and it is a scam. Hang up. The Federal Trade Commission recently made it illegal for any telemarketer to accept any of those forms of payments.

If you owe the IRS money, the IRS will first contact you through the mail and there will be no restrictions on how to pay.  And the IRS does not accept iTunes cards as a form of payment.

Fake IRS calls are so prevalent that the federal government has a specific IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting website.

Lottery or sweepstakes winning notices

Another common government imposter scam is when someone contacts you telling you that you have won a federally supervised lottery or sweepstakes. The criminals claim to be from the National Consumer Protection Agency, the non-existent National Sweepstakes Bureau, or even the Federal Trade Commission.

When making contact, the scammer might tell you that you have to pay taxes or service fees before you can collect your prize, or they will insist that you must wire money immediately. In reality, no government agency is involved, and there are no winnings.

Collecting on a fake debt

Another government imposter scam involves a communication threatening to collect a debt. You may get a call or an official-looking letter claiming to be from a debt collector acting on behalf of a law firm or government agency. The scammer will threaten to arrest you or take you to court on the debt and may even have your address and Social Security number.

Always ask for written verification of the debt. Never pay a debt by wiring money or using a pre-paid debit card. Even if you owe a debt, you still have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. For more information on debt collection, debt collection scams, and your rights, read the Attorney General’s Consumer Alert on Debt Collection & Debt Collection Scams.

Awarding fake government grants

Criminals also contact consumers and tell them that they have been selected to receive a government grant. To receive the grant money, the scammer explains a “processing fee” must be paid and asks individuals for bank account information. Grants are not benefits or entitlements. A federal grant is an award of financial assistance from a federal agency to a recipient to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by a law of the United States. Note the following:

  • No government grant-making agency will make phone calls; send email or letters to solicit money or personal banking information from a potential grant recipient;
  • There are no processing fees for federal grants; and
  • Federal grants are not issued for personal use, but are intended for institutions and non-profits to carry out projects with a public purpose.

Ways to protect yourself

  • Never send money to someone you do not know. Criminals often will pressure consumers into sending money by wire or providing numbers from prepaid cards. They ask for these forms of payment because they cannot be traced. If someone claiming to be from the government is calling and asking you to wire money or provide numbers from prepaid card, hang up.
  • Never give someone who calls your personal or financial information. As a rule of thumb, never give out your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number unless you are positive you know who is on the other end. Providing this information can lead to criminals stealing your identity.
  • Always be suspicious of someone calling and asking for money. Scammers will often use official-sounding names, agency names, or position titles to make you trust them. No legitimate government official will ever ask you to send money to collect a prize, nor will a government official call to collect a debt. Also be aware that scammers use internet technology to fake legitimate phone numbers. You can’t trust caller IDs.
  • If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply, or open any attachment or click on any link in the message. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information by email.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any file from emails you receive, regardless who sent them. These files can contain viruses or other software that can weaken your computer’s security.
  • Don’t email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization’s website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “httpS://” (the “s” stands for “secure”). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some criminals have forged (“spoofed”) security icons and “https” sites.
  • Install protective anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall software, and keep them up-to-date. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Anti-virus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones, that can effectively reverse the damage, and that updates automatically.

Report government imposters

If you receive suspicious contact from someone claiming to be from the federal government, you can file a complaint with the FTC or call 877-382-4357. When reporting, include the purported agency, what the imposter asks you to do, the phone number, and any other information you can provide. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

If you receive suspicious contact from someone claiming to be from state or local government, report the contact to the actual agency using contact information you know is accurate. The official State of Michigan website provides reliable contact information for State government.

To file a complaint, you may reach the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909

Toll free: 877-765-8388
Fax: 517-241-3771

Attorney General Website
Attorney General Online Complaint form

Be Wary of Scammers Attracted by the Flint Water Crisis



The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.

During the Flint Water Crisis

Be Wary of Scammers

Disasters take an emotional, physical, and often a financial toll on all affected. Whatever the type of disaster – homeowners and consumers want to repair the damage and feel better right away to get back to a sense of normalcy. They need quick answers and quick solutions. Unfortunately, such situations invite unscrupulous scammers seeking to take advantage of otherwise careful consumers.

To avoid falling victim to con artists, make sure you take the following steps:

  • Don’t make any rash decisions. Do your homework and check out any contractor before you pay them anything or sign any contracts. This is especially true if you are approached by anyone telling you they can fix your water lines right away – but only if you accept their “help” right now. Legitimate home repair contractors and other service providers understand that you need time to do your homework.
  • Keep Your Guard Up. Ask to see the ID of anyone who wants to enter your home or business and check them out with the governmental authority or the company they claim to be from. Avoid giving out your personal information. Some scam artists masquerade as safety inspectors or utility workers who say immediate work is required. City, state, and federal inspectors may verify damages, but they do not involve themselves in any aspect of the repair nor recommend or certify any contractor. Nor do they solicit or accept money.
  • Beware of door-to-door solicitors. Reputable professionals in the industry rarely solicit door to door. And, be especially wary of anyone who approaches you unsolicited and asks you to pay cash for their services or says they can perform your repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job.
  • Do not let anyone remove your water meter, and do not pay anyone for alternative water services. Under Flint City Code of Ordinances, unauthorized parties who tamper with city water system equipment may be guilty of a misdemeanor.
  • Check the company’s complaint history by calling the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (toll free) at 877-765-8388, and contacting the Better Business Bureau.
  • Check the Michigan Attorney General’s Building and Remodeling Advice for Homeowners Consumer Alert for additional information and advice on choosing a building contractor or company for home remodeling and repair is available.

Don’t be Fooled by Water Charity Scams

Michiganders are very generous when a disaster strikes fellow citizens. They see it as an opportunity to help fellow human beings by relieving their suffering.

Unfortunately, scam artists see these tragedies as opportunities to enrich themselves. These scammers exploit the sympathy of donors – perhaps with a name sounding both compassionate and legitimate or with a heart-wrenching appeal – to steal the donations or fraudulently to obtain consumers’ sensitive financial information.

You can avoid disaster scams and still make a positive contribution to relief and rebuilding projects. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be cautious of requests for donations by unfamiliar organizations, which may be nothing more than tricks by identity thieves to collect your personal information. It’s generally better to contact a charity directly to ensure its true identity.
  • Before donating, search the Attorney General’s website to see if the organization is registered to solicit in Michigan. (Be aware that some legitimate charities, including the American Red Cross and Salvation Army, do not appear in the Attorney General’s database because they are exempt. Call the Attorney General’s Charitable Trust Section at 800-769-4515 if you have questions.) You’ll also find important financial information regarding how the charity spends its money. Other sites with publicly available financial information for charities are the National Center for Charitable Statistics or Guidestar.
  • Beware of unsolicited text and email appeals on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some leading relief charities, such as Catholic Relief Services and the American Red Cross, now accept donations via cell phone. But unsolicited text and email messages, like unsolicited telephone calls, should be viewed with suspicion and handled with caution.
  • Choose established charitable organizations that have a history of helping in disasters. The American Red Cross, United Way of America, Catholic Relief Services, and the Salvation Army are just a few among many charities that either give immediate relief or assist in rebuilding communities.
  • Crowdfunding is simply another way to ask people for money. As with any other way of soliciting donations, there will always be scammers trying to exploit the generosity of donors. Thus, the cardinal rule for all charitable giving remains—donor beware. For more information, read the Attorney General’s Crowdfunding for Donations Consumer Alert.

For More Information Contact:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form

International Sweepstakes & Lottery Fraud





The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.


Frequently, letters circulate purporting to be from some official-sounding company informing recipients that they have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in a foreign lottery.  Recipients are asked to keep this award top secret.  When consumers contact the “issuing authority,” they are asked to provide banking and other personal information.

Potential victims are also asked to provide money in advance to cover insurance, administrative, or other costs.  Some mailings have even included a fake cashier’s check.  Victims may cash the check and forward money to cover some expense.  Consumers must be alert to the fact that just because money from the check may be made quickly available does not mean a check is valid.  The check must go back to the originating bank and it must clear.  This process can take several days and, in the case of an elaborate counterfeit, may take a few weeks.

Additionally, bank information, including void checks, can be used or modeled to create counterfeit checks and clean out the victim’s bank accounts.  Other personal information provided can be used to fraudulently obtain credit cards and purchase merchandise.

The perpetrators of this fraud are relying on victims confusing the scam with the legitimate national Spanish lottery that is nicknamed “El Gordo” (“the Fat One”).  Potential victims should keep in mind the following:

  • Never provide any personal information to a company or an individual who calls you on the phone or to somebody who sends you a letter indicating you won a foreign sweepstakes or lottery;
  • Legitimate lottery tickets can only be purchased from authorized ticket sellers.  If you have not made a purchase, you cannot win a prize;
  • Legitimate lotteries do not ask winners to pay money in order to collect winnings.

It is Illegal To Play a Foreign Lottery

Words of caution for consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:

  • If you play a foreign lottery through the mail or over the telephone, you are violating federal law.
  • If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment “opportunities.”  Your name will be placed on “sucker lists” that con-artists buy and sell.

Most foreign lottery solicitations sent to addressees in the U.S. do not come from foreign government agencies or licensees.  Instead, they come from “bootleggers” who seek exorbitant fees from those wishing to play.  The activities of bootleggers are neither being controlled nor monitored by the government of the country in which they are located.  Typically, those who pay the required fees never see any lottery tickets issued by the government-operated lottery they are hoping to enter. They are left to rely on various forms of entry “confirmation” issued by the bootleggers.


These con-artists target senior citizens.  It is important to be alert to any sign that a vulnerable family member is being victimized and to discuss such fraud with loved ones and caregivers.  If you receive one of the fraudulent foreign lottery or sweepstakes letters – or any similar material that you deem suspicious – turn the entire mail piece over to your local postmaster or the nearest Postal Inspector.  An online Postal Inspector office locator is available at:

Green Dot MoneyPak Cards



The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.

Green Dot MoneyPak Cards

In recent years, prepaid debit cards have become an increasingly common payment method among consumers. “Green Dot” cards are a particularly popular type of prepaid debit card. Prepaid debit cards offer a convenient alternative for those wishing to minimize their interactions with credit card companies and banking institutions.

The growing popularity of Green Dot debit cards, however, has led to an increase in Green Dot-related scams. Specifically, con artists trick victims into sending the PIN numbers located on the back of Green Dot “MoneyPak” cards. This is the equivalent of wiring money or sending cash – it is untraceable, and you can’t get your money back!

This Consumer Alert describes some common ways criminals trick victims and provides simple rules to follow to help you keep your hard-earned money in your own pocket – where it belongs.

Common Scams

Scams involving Green Dot MoneyPak cards will continue to change and are limited only by criminals’ imaginations. The following are common scams now featuring a Green Dot MoneyPak payment twist:

Advance Payment Scams

These scams come in many varieties and are identified by the need to pay money to get money. The following three common variations can be avoided by remembering that you should not have to pay money to claim something you won or to obtain a loan.

  1. Grants: You receive a check for a few hundred or even a thousand dollars with a communication congratulating you for being awarded a $10,000 grant from Green Dot. The instructions indicate that to collect the rest of your “grant,” you must pay commissions by depositing the check, purchasing MoneyPak cards for the amount of the check, and sending your contact the numbers for MoneyPak purchases. The check is fake, but the money you used to purchase the MoneyPak cards is real. The grant never comes through; the legitimate company did not authorize the grant and will not reimburse you for your loss. You owe the bank the full amount of the check.
  2. Loans: A “lender” informs you that you are pre-approved to apply for a personal loan. Before you get the money, you need to show your ability to repay the loan by making the first two payments. You are instructed to buy a MoneyPak to cover the first two payments and give the “lender” your MoneyPak numbers. The loan never comes through, and the “lender” cannot be traced.
  3. Lotteries or Sweepstakes: You enter lots of lotteries and sweepstakes, and you finally get a notice that you won! To collect your winnings, you have to pay fees or taxes – right away. Rather than sending a check or wiring the fees and taxes (also both bad ideas), you are instructed to buy a MoneyPak for the identified amount and simply send the numbers. You pay the amount, but you never get your money. You will be placed on a “suckers” list and receive more bogus offers.

Auction/Sale Scams

An ad for goods or services requires payment using MoneyPak. You provide the requested numbers or receipt information, but the goods or services do not result. The seller is unreachable.

FBI or Other Law Enforcement Internet Scams

While surfing the Internet, your screen locks up with a message pretending to be from the FBI or another law enforcement agency. The message states that there has been a violation of law punishable by fines and penalties and directs you to pay them using a MoneyPak immediately or criminal charges will be filed and your computer will remain locked. You follow the instructions and pay using a MoneyPak. Your computer may or may not remain locked.

Imposter Scams

You get an urgent call or email from someone who claims to be a relative, friend, law enforcement officer, medical provider, government employee, or any other individual likely to get your attention. The convincing imposter claims to need the money to help your relative or friend who is traveling in another country. The imposter says the best way to help is to purchase a MoneyPak and give them the numbers.

Job Scams

You have been applying for many jobs, and you finally get an offer. The company wants you to send money in advance to pay for a background check, uniform, or equipment. You are instructed to purchase MoneyPak cards to pay, and you provide the required numbers, but the job never materializes.

Romance Scams

You have been communicating with someone, and things start getting serious. You feel good about the relationship, and your significant other tells you that he or she needs money by way of a MoneyPak card to visit you, to move for a new job, or some other “legitimate” expense. You send the money, and either you do not hear from that person again, or you hear more about other urgent needs.

Utility Scams

A caller claims to be from a utility provider, and the caller-ID verifies the source of the call. The caller threatens customers with disconnecting service to their home or business if they fail to make an immediate payment using a MoneyPak card. The caller-ID is falsified, and any payments made will not go to the utility provider and cannot be traced. If you receive a suspicious call that claims to be from a utility provider, end the call and contact the utility provider at the number listed on your bill. Michigan utilities have a variety of payment options available for customers, including the ability to pay over a secure Internet site; by U.S. mail; in person at an authorized pay agent location; or by Visa, MasterCard, or an eCheck using an authorized utility agent.

Tips for Avoiding Green Dot MoneyPak Card Scams

The following tips can help you avoid falling victim to a MoneyPak scam:

  1. Treat the money stored on your MoneyPak card the same way you would treat cash in your wallet.
  2. Never give your MoneyPak number to someone you don’t know.
  3. Never give receipt information about your MoneyPak purchase to another party.
  4. Use your MoneyPak only to reload your prepaid cards or accounts you control.
  5. Refuse any offer that asks you to buy a MoneyPak and share the number or receipt information by email or phone.
  6. To use your MoneyPak with PayPal, eBay, or other online merchants, transfer the money to your account before you pay the merchant. Don’t email your MoneyPak number directly to any merchant.

Remember: Green Dot is not responsible for the quality or non-receipt of any goods or services you buy using your MoneyPak.

Tips for Victims of Green Dot MoneyPak Card Scams

If you are the victim of a MoneyPak scam, try the following options to obtain restitution:

  1. If the scam was perpetrated by a con artist posing as a utility company representative, contact the utility company directly and describe what happened.
  2. Contact your local police department.
  3. File a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. You can also call 877-765-8388 to speak to a Complaint Specialist or submit a claim by surface mail to the following address: Consumer Protection Division, P.O. Box 30213, Lansing, MI 48909.
  4. Report the scammers to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-382-4357.
  5. Alert Green Dot by calling 866-795-7597.

Grandparents Scam



The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.



Across the nation, con artists are scamming grandparents out of thousands of dollars by posing as grandchildren in distress.  In one instance, Michigan, grandparents were taken for $33,000. They wire transferred $3,000 to someone they thought was their grandson after he called and claimed he was caught fishing without a license in Canada and needed to pay a $3,000 fine. They were taken for an additional $30,000 after the supposed grandson called again to say that alcohol and drugs were found when his boat was searched, and he needed $30,000 to post bond to get out of a Canadian jail.

How the Scam Works

A grandparent receives a frantic call from someone they believe to be their grandchild. The supposed grandchild sounds distressed and may be calling from a noisy location. The supposed grandchild claims to be involved in some type of trouble while traveling in Canada or overseas, such as being arrested or in a car accident or needing emergency car repairs, and asks the grandparent to immediately wire money to post bail or pay for medical treatment or car repairs. The scammer typically asks for several thousand dollars, and may even call back again several hours or days later asking for more money. He or she may claim embarrassment about the alleged trouble and ask the grandparent to keep it a secret.

A variation of the scam may involve two scammers — the first scammer calls and poses as a grandchild under arrest. The second scammer, posing as some type of law enforcement officer, then gets on the phone with the grandparent and explains what fines need to be paid. Alternatively, the scammer may pretend to be a family friend or neighbor.

A common theme of the scam across the nation is the caller’s request for the grandparent to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram or to provide bank account routing numbers. Wiring money is like sending cash; there are no protections for the sender.  Typically there is no way you can reverse the transaction, trace the money, or recover payment from the telephone con artists.

It is possible that the scammers are finding their targets on the Internet. Names, addresses, birth dates, and telephone numbers are easily ascertained online. Scammers may also check Facebook or other social networking websites to learn about someone’s vacation plans, (especially during spring and summer months when many families take vacations), and then contact that person’s grandparent pretending to be the real grandchild. Another possibility is that the scammers are calling telephone numbers randomly until they reach a senior citizen. In some cases, the senior citizen unknowingly “fills in the blanks” for the thief. For instance, the senior answers the phone, the scammer says something like, “Hi Grandma, it’s me, your favorite grandchild,” the grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the caller sounds most like, and the scammer takes on that grandchild’s identity for the remainder of the call.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

Be suspicious when you receive a telephone call where:

  • A grandchild calls you from a far away location.
  • The grandchild says, “It’s me,” or “It’s your grandson,” or “It’s your favorite grandchild.”
  • The grandchild is in some trouble or some type of distress.
  • The caller asks for money to be wire transferred

If you receive such a call, you should verify the identity and location of the grandchild claiming to be in trouble. You should hang up and call another family member who can confirm your grandchild’s whereabouts. Try calling your grandchild at the telephone number through which you normally reach him or her. Stay calm and avoid acting out of a sense of urgency. Do not wire money unless you have verified with an independent third party that your grandchild is truly in trouble.

In addition, never give out any personal identifying information such as bank account or credit card numbers to anyone who calls you on the phone. As in the Grandparents Scam, con artists will lie, cheat, steal, and make up plausible stories to convince you to wire money or divulge sensitive information. The callers are often professional criminals who are skillfully able to get you to wire money or give personal information before you have time to properly assess the situation. For further information, see the Consumer Alert, “Telemarketing Fraud:  Never Give Personal Information to Unknown Callers.

For More Information or to Report a Scam

If you’ve wired money to a scam artist, call the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. You can reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 800-MONEYGRAM (800-666-3947) or Western Union at 800-448-1492. Ask for the money transfer to be reversed. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s important to ask. Reporting fraud can also help protect other consumers by assisting money transfer companies to identify and take appropriate action against agents who do not take reasonable steps to reduce fraud induced transfers.

Then, file complaint with your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Visit the FTC’s website, or call toll-free, 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TTY: 866-653-4261.

In addition, if the request for money involved a wire transfer to Canada, Canadian officials in the Anti-Fraud Call Center ask victims to report the fraud at their PhoneBusters hotline at 888-495-8501 or on their PhoneBuster’s website.

For More Information Contact:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form

Senior Census – Fact or Fiction?




The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern.  Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.

The Senior Census – Fact or Fiction?

Mailings Targeting Seniors Ask for “Donations” to Send Your Opinions to Your Congressional Representatives

Michigan seniors have received mailings informing them of an upcoming “Senior Census”.  The mailings ask seniors for their opinions on several different issues.  The mailings also ask for a “donation” to ensure that the opinions of Michigan seniors are brought to the attention of their Congressional representatives.  Before you respond to these mailings, ask yourself – why would I pay someone to make sure my voice is heard?

“Senior Census” Mailings have been circulating for years – and show no signs of stopping

The Indiana Attorney General warned seniors of “senior census” mailings in 2007, and the mailings from 2007 are nearly identical to the mailings being circulated today.  Despite the fact that the census asks for the opinions of Michigan seniors on a range of topics, and asks for a “donation” to ensure that these opinions make it all the way to Washington, D.C., the census questions never change, and the opinions of seniors nationwide never appear to make it to our nation’s capital.

Please keep in mind that your state and federal legislators always wish to hear from you – in fact, their job is to listen to your opinions and translate them into action.  State and federal legislators go out of their way to make it easy for you to communicate with them, whether by mail or e-mail, phone or fax, or even a visit to their office.  There is absolutely no reason why any constituent should need to pay an organization to make their opinion known – feel free to contact legislators on your own, or as part of a group, but you should never have to pay to make your opinion heard. 

Contact information for Michigan Legislators

If you would like to contact your state or federal legislator, there are many ways to find their contact information and provide them with your opinion.

To find the contact information for your state representatives, please visit the Michigan House website at, or the Michigan Senate website at

To find the contact information for your federal representatives, please visit the website of the United States House of Representatives at, or the United States Senate at

Contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division

If you are aware of a scam targeting Michigan seniors, please file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.  You can also call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division if you would like assistance in obtaining the contact information for your state or federal legislators.

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909

Fax: 517-241-3771

Toll free: 877-765-8388 (online complaint form)

Counterfeit Check Scams





The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern.  Consumer Alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.




If you have an e-mail account, then you have received an e-mail trying to trick you into some form of a counterfeit check scam.  The con artists’ creative stories seem endless and the e-mails purport to come from all sorts of locations including Lagos, Nigeria, South Africa, Europe, and even Canada.  In one e-mail, it is a high-ranking government official contacting you, while in another it is a bank employee contacting you to stand in as next of kin for a dead millionaire.  In another version, it is a widow contacting you for investment advice.  In yet another version, it is a religious person looking to make a donation to your church.  The versions are unlimited but the ultimate result for a victim is the same – a large loss of money and an individual who is ashamed he or she did not recognize the scam.

For those who want more background on how these scams unfold, here is the general progression of events:


  • The potential victim (target) receives an unsolicited letter, fax, or e-mail proposal.
  • An offer is made to transfer millions of dollars into the target’s bank account.
  • The target is asked to provide bank account numbers, telephone numbers, and other identifying information.
  • Numerous documents are sent to the target with official looking seals, stamps, etc. testifying to the authenticity of the proposal.
  • The target is eventually asked to provide up-front or advanced fees to cover taxes, attorney fees, transactions fees, bribes, etc.
  • The target is often, but not always, encouraged to travel overseas to complete the transaction.


In a more recent variation, the con artist will set up a fake online bank and deposit funds into a bogus account.

Other tricks on this old scam involve a response to an online offer to sell or auction goods (usually expensive items).  Here is how the scam may unfold:


  • The con artist “buyer” e-mails the seller to express interest in the item, offering to pay with a U.S. bank cashier’s check.
  • Once the offer is accepted, the “buyer” makes some excuse for sending a cashier’s check that is several thousand dollars more than the cost of the item and wants the seller to send excess money: 1) to cover transportation costs for the purchased good; 2) because the buyer’s secretary made a mistake and put the wrong check in the envelope; 3) with the purchased product; or 4) to a third party to cover an existing debt.
  • Credibility is added to the ploy when the “buyer” insists that the money only be sent after the cashier’s check clears.
  • The cashier’s check is an elaborate counterfeit, and it takes the bank longer than usual to discover the fake.
  • The seller thinks they received a good check and sends the goods and the “extra” cash.
  • The bank notifies the seller the cashier’s check is a counterfeit and removes the check amount from the seller’s account.  The seller lost the goods and cash.


Another variation on a common theme is a “mystery shopper” scheme.  Consumers are approached to be “mystery” or “secret” shoppers, and they believe they are being hired to evaluate the effectiveness of a money transfer service.  The scammer sends the consumer a cashier’s check for thousands of dollars.  Then the consumer is instructed to cash the check at their bank and then visit a large retailer that offers money transfer services.  The consumer is told to pretend to be a customer wiring money to a relative in another country, usually Canada.  The consumer is often instructed to wire most of the money and keep the rest as payment for acting as a “mystery shopper.”


Other variations of counterfeit cashier’s check scams involve winning a lottery or sweepstakes or a work-at-home job to act as an intermediary for international transactions or otherwise facilitating the processing of payments wherein the consumer is asked to cash checks for other parties.


With all variations of this scam, the cashier’s check received is a fake. After a few days or weeks, when the consumer’s bank realizes the check is counterfeit, the consumer is responsible for paying the bank back thousands of dollars.

Businesses, such as hotels, can also fall pray to counterfeit cashier check scams.  In a variation on the counterfeit check scams described above, hotel operators receive e-mails requesting a reservation.  The request generally looks like it is coming from a travel agent outside of the United States.  The e-mail provides bogus names of future guests and dates of arrival.  In most cases, the perpetrator will ask to pay for the rooms and any other services using a cashier’s check.  When the cashier’s check arrives, the perpetrator tells the hotel operator that they mistakenly sent too much money, and asks the hotel operator to send back the rest.  Or, the perpetrator may cancel the reservation or services for some of the future guests and ask for a partial refund.  As with most other counterfeit check scams, the check the perpetrator sent for payment is fake.  If the hotel operator “returns” any money to the perpetrator, the business person is responsible to the bank for that money when it is discovered that the original check was bogus.


In order to make this variation on the counterfeit cashier’s check scam more effective, the scammers may target smaller hotels and ask for reservations during the slow winter travel season.  Thus, hotel operators, especially of small hotels who need some guests during the winter months to survive financially, may wind up losing a significant amount of money.


Some law firms have even fallen victim to counterfeit check scams.  The FBI recently warned lawyers about a new variation of a counterfeit check scam in which lawyers receive e-mails from phony prospective clients.  Generally, the e-mail appears to be from a prospective client who claims to be out of the country, but asks for the lawyer’s help in collecting a debt from a third party.  In one example, the prospective client asks the lawyer to help collect a debt from her ex-husband.  The lawyer agrees, and demands payment from the ex-husband.  The ex-husband quickly sends payment via a cashier’s check, and the client instructs the lawyer to send her the payment, minus the lawyer’s fee.


Hotels, law firms, and all other businesses, should be extremely cautious of requests such as those described above.  To further protect themselves, small business owners should:


  • Accept only certified checks or bank checks verified by the issuing bank;
  • Not return any money until your bank is sure this check is not counterfeit.  Although funds may be available for withdrawal within a few days, it may take a few weeks for a bank to discover a counterfeit.  Until everyone is certain it is real, don’t spend any of the money from the cashier’s check.


Consumers must be alert to the fact that just because money from the check may be made quickly available this does not mean a check is valid.  The check must go back to the originating bank, and it must clear.  This process can take several days and, in the case of an elaborate counterfeit, may take a few weeks.

These con artists target senior citizens.  It is important to be alert to any sign that a vulnerable family member is being victimized and to discuss such fraud with loved ones and their caregivers.  If you or someone you know lost money, then the activity should be reported to the Secret Service’s field office nearest you.  Michigan has three offices: Detroit 313-226-6400; Grand Rapids 616-454-4671; and Saginaw 989-752-8076.  Additional contact information can be located in your phone book or at


If the correspondence you received involves a Canadian address or phone number, you may also wish to inform PhoneBusters by sending an e-mail to or calling toll-free 1-888-495-8501.