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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) - Attorney General Mike DeWine today kicked off National Consumer Protection Week in Ohio with a warning about scammers posing as employees of his office to trick consumers into providing personal information and payment for bogus debts. From Jan. 1-Feb. 20, of this year, the Attorney General's Office has received about a dozen reports of scammers pretending to be from the Attorney General's Office and/or the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

"Consumers are reporting phony debt collection calls from alleged BCI agents or other law enforcement officials within the Attorney General's Office," said DeWine. "My office works hard to protect Ohioans from fraud, and we want to make sure Ohioans know that these calls are outright scams. No one from my office will threaten you demanding you pay a debt."
Although the scam is not new, the Attorney General's Office has noticed an increase in reports about this scam over the last few months.

In one example of the scam, a Delaware County consumer received a call from someone claiming to be from the Attorney General's Office. The caller told the consumer she would be arrested within 45 minutes if she did not pay the $1,300 she supposedly owed on a payday loan. The caller told the consumer to go buy a prepaid money card to pay the debt. A Walgreens employee told the consumer the store could not sell her the prepaid card, so the consumer did not lose any money.

Another consumer received a call from the "Law Enforcement Bureau of Criminal Investigation" and was told she owed $536.48 on a payday loan. Because the consumer was threatened to be arrested, she did buy a reloadable prepaid card and gave the scammer the card's number. She lost her money.

Consumers can't rely on caller ID because scammers can use technology to display a number that may appear official. Anyone who receives a call asking for personal or financial information should hang up and call a number known to be legitimate, such as the Attorney General's Help Center, (800) 282-0515.

Attorney General DeWine created the Identity Theft Unit in his office last year to help victims of identity theft, whether it is the result of someone impersonating a government official requesting personal information or other scams. Consumers can call the Attorney General's Office, or visit www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov, for more information about how the Identity Theft Unit can assist victims, as well as learn about other scams consumers face.

In 2012, the Consumer Protection Section received more than 30,500 complaints. The top 10 involved: motorized vehicles, collections, credit reporting, or financial services, "Do Not Call" violations, household goods or property improvement, Internet, phone, and TV services, professional services, shopping, food, or beverages, sweepstakes or prizes, entertainment or travel, and health and beauty. Details about the top 10 consumer complaints for 2012 can be found on the Attorney General's website.

Most complaints are resolved informally through the office's complaint resolution process, but in some cases complaints will reveal violations of Ohio law and will result in legal action. In 2012, the Consumer Protection Section filed 53 lawsuits for violations of consumer law, which was nearly double the number from the previous year.

Education is the best way consumers can protect themselves from scams. Each year, the Ohio Attorney General's Office has help from high school winners of our video contest, which aims to give consumers valuable tips.

"The creativity and interest shown by high school students for the Take Action Video Contest is always exciting," said Attorney General DeWine as he announced the winners for 2012. "By producing these videos, students not only help educate consumers but also join in the opportunity to win scholarships toward furthering their education."

To enter, students submitted a 60-second video on consumer scams. In the 2012 contest, the Attorney General received 240 submissions from students in 50 different schools, representing 26 counties. The top three winners are:

First: Kayla Hanneman and Maclane Nugent, seniors from Pymatuning Valley High School in Ashtabula County. They will split a $2,500 scholarship for their video, "I Knew You Were Lion."

Second: Eric McGinnis and Jesse Braun, seniors from Normandy High School in Cuyahoga County. They will split a $1,500 scholarship for their video, "Please be Careful."

Third: Junior David Michael and senior Chance Davis, from Dublin Coffman High School in Franklin County. They will split a scholarship of $1,000 for their video, "Stopping Scholarship Scams."

These Take Action videos and more information about events throughout National Consumer Protection Week can be found on the Ohio Attorney General's website.