- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Scammers pretending to be Maryland health department employees are calling area residents and offering prizes in an effort to steal personal information, prompting a warning yesterday from the state attorney general.

The state has received about a dozen complaints from residents who said they were solicited by callers claiming to be with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The scam artists told the consumers they had won $1,000 but had to provide personal information to collect their prizes.

“The Maryland health department is not calling people offering prizes. Government agencies don’t do that,” said state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

The agency is tracking one phone number but the scam artists tend to make the calls from outside of the United States, which makes them harder to catch, Mr. Curran said.

It appeared to be the first time Maryland’s health agency was used for such a scam, said department spokesman John Hammond.

Mr. Curran, who called the latest scam a “novel approach,” urged residents never to give out any personal or financial information to strangers, even those claiming to work for the state or local government.

“All of these callers are scam artists and they are just trying to get your personal or financial information in order to steal your money or falsely obtain credit in your name,” he said.

Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Washington state have reported similar scams, in which fake health department employees call consumers about medical discount vouchers or other prizes, Mr. Curran said.

One Virginia resident filed a similar complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Nov. 29, according to Virginia’s Attorney General’s Office.

The District has not received complaints about this particular phone scam, according to a spokeswoman for the District’s Office of the Attorney General.

Maryland has not received any information about scams involving the Medicare Part D drug benefit, but Mr. Curran said his office is closely watching for potential fraud, especially because the beneficiaries are senior citizens.

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