BBB Scam Spotlight: May 2017

Staff Reports

Columbus — Each year, one in four North American households are scammed. Because money loss and identity theft can happen to anyone, BBB encourages community members to protect and inform others by reporting any scam-related experiences to BBB’s Scam Tracker.

In May, Central Ohio consumers reported losing a total of $2,040 to scams.

BBB analyzed Scam Tracker reports from May 2017 to shed a spotlight on four scams affecting our Central Ohio community:

Government Grant Scam: A Mt. Vernon woman received a phone call stating she qualified for a $9,000 government grant. She was told that first, she had to register by paying a $250 fee with an iTunes gift card. Next, she had to pay $450 for the first $4,500, and then an additional $450 for the last $4,500. She lost $700 and received no money.

A woman from Reynoldsburg also lost $200 to a government grant scam. She received a phone call claiming that because she paid her taxes on time, she was eligible for a government grant. The caller told her she had to register with the Federal Reserve by paying $200 with a prepaid gift card before she could receive the money.

BBB wants consumers to know that The United States Government will not contact anyone directly for loans, or require that you pay any sort of fee to receive loans. If you receive a call stating you qualify for a government loan, simply hang up.

Romance Scam: A Columbus woman developed a relationship with a suitor on Facebook and wired him $700. This man has since become aggressive and has begun threatening her through texts for more money.

Many romance scams start with scammers creating fake profiles on social media or online dating sites by stealing photos and text from real accounts. Scammers may claim to be in the military or working overseas to explain why they cannot meet face-to-face. After the scammer builds a relationship, they may say they have an emergency and will ask for money.

BBB urges those looking for love to be wary of a person who always has an excuse to postpone meeting in person.

Someone really interested in a relationship will want to meet you. Beware of someone who is constantly “traveling” or happens to be overseas. Even if you are very tempted to help an online friend, never send money or reveal personally identifiable information to someone you have not met in person or have not verified as reliable.

Take note if your romantic interest has a photo that doesn’t match his/her profile. Some people may fib in their dating profiles, but be on the lookout for big discrepancies. For example, a scammer may describe their fake persona as blonde but uses a photo of a brunette.

Tech Support Scam: A senior citizen from Guysville reported receiving an instant message telling her she needed to clean up her computer. The message offered a lifetime warranty against hackers for $400, and she complied.

BBB wants consumers to beware of the following tech support scam red flags:

  • You receive a call from someone claiming to work for Microsoft or another prominent company. Most big tech company’s employees will not call customers who haven’t asked to be called and will never reach out to you if you don’t request it first. This is true for almost all other big tech companies, as well.
  • You see a pop-up notification on your computer, but it’s not from a program you installed. Scammers make tech support scam pop-ups look like they’re coming from your computer, but they’re actually ads that are displaying in your internet browser. Don’t click on pop-ups that aren’t system alerts from your machine.
  • You’re offered a “free security scan,” or a pop-up says a free security scan already has found a virus on your machine. Many antivirus software providers offer free trials of their software, but programs cannot scan your computer before you’ve installed them. If you haven’t installed the security software, any claims about that software scanning your computer are a scam.
  • They want you to give them access to your computer. Remote access programs make it possible for people to “take over” computers that are far away from them in order to help fix them. However, just like you wouldn’t physically hand your machine to someone you don’t know and trust, you shouldn’t give access to your computer to someone you don’t know or didn’t hire.

Grandparent Scam: A Marion senior citizen received a call from a New York number from a person claiming to be her grandson. He told her he had been arrested for having alcohol in his car, was currently in jail and didn’t want his parents to find out. He said he would have his attorney call her back to tell her where to send the money. She recognized the scam and did not send any money.

This is how the scam works: A scammer calls an older person and says something such as, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” Responding with a name will allow the scammer to be able to establish a false identity, then ask for money to solve some unexpected problem. They may say, “I’m stranded on spring break,” or “I’ve been arrested” or “hospitalized” and need money for medical purposes, to get out of jail, or to get back home. They’ll generally ask for payments to be paid via Western Union, MoneyGram, Money Pak cards, or other untraceable methods. They’ll also usually state that his or her voice sounds different due to the accident or crisis, and ask that the grandparent not tell their parents.

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DeWine Seeks Consumer Restitution from Strongsville-Based International Adoption Agency

CLEVELAND —Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently announced a lawsuit against an international adoption agency based in Strongsville for allegedly misleading clients and taking payment for adoption services it never performed.

The lawsuit accuses European Adoption Consultants and its owner, Margaret Cole, of violating Ohio’s consumer protection and charitable laws.

“Our goal is to help the families who have been affected by this,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Many people invested significant time and money to adopt through this agency, and now they are left without their files or the money they paid. As a result, they face additional time, effort, and costs to complete their adoptions.”

European Adoption Consultants, a nonprofit corporation, offered international adoption services to consumers in Ohio and across the country. In December 2016, the U.S. State Department temporarily debarred the agency for a period of three years. At the time, the agency had hundreds of clients with pending adoption service agreements, and it was required to transfer adoption cases and records to accredited adoption agencies.

Since January, more than 70 consumers have filed complaints against the agency with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Many consumers said they had paid European Adoption Consultants several hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, but that the agency had not provided the services it promised, had not transferred their files, and had not refunded their money.

The Attorney General’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, accuses European Adoption Consultants and Margaret Cole of failing to deliver promised services and making misrepresentations, including misrepresentations about the countries with which the agency had adoption programs, consumers’ eligibility to enroll in certain adoption programs, the length of time an adoption would take, whether consumers would be able to adopt an infant from a certain country, and whether the agency properly distributed fees it collected from consumers. Cole also is accused of misleading European Adoption Consultants’ board members about the agency’s assets.

In the lawsuit, Attorney General DeWine seeks reimbursement for consumers and an end to any further violations. The lawsuit also seeks an order to prohibit Margaret Cole from operating or working for a charitable organization in Ohio and to dissolve European Adoption Consultants according to Ohio charitable law.

A copy of the lawsuit is available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.

Consumers who believe they have been treated unfairly or those who suspect charitable fraud should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.

Staff Reports

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