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Advice on avoiding election-time scams

With the Nov. 3 general election rapidly approaching, many groups are reaching out to Wisconsin voters, most legitimate but some not.

Some contacts may appear like scams but are just groups using poorly trained volunteers or bad data. Still, scammers are turning to election-related tactics to try to steal money and identity. Voting scams mimic legitimate activities that happen around elections, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Some examples include —

— Fraudulent donation requests. Real: Political campaigns often call or text their supporters to ask for donations. Scam: A scammer might use spoofing technology to use a legitimate phone number to impersonate a campaign representative. How to avoid it: Be wary of unsolicited calls asking for donations. Only make donations through platforms you know and trust, such as the campaign’s official website. Avoid sending donations through another person or over the phone.

— Imposter election surveys. Real: Research organizations conduct phone surveys throughout the election season to gauge voters’ interests, opinions and perspectives. Questionable: Some candidates and advocacy groups use fake polls or “push-polls” to influence your vote, or they may try to disguise who is responsible for the poll. Under state law, anyone conducting a poll is required to disclose the name and address of the person or committee paying for the poll if asked. If they won’t tell you who is paying for the poll, hang up. Scam: Impersonators offer a gift card or some other incentive to participate in a fake survey, but first they need your personal information, such as a credit card number, date of birth, or Social Security number. How to avoid it: Do not rely on Caller ID; scammers can “spoof” the phone number of a legitimate organization to make it appear as though the call is a genuine campaign contact. Never provide account or credit card information to anyone you did not reach out to, especially someone claiming you can win a prize.

— Registering to vote. Real: Volunteers or staff from civic and political organizations may contact potential voters through calls, texts, social media or even in-person to help drive voter registration and turnout. Questionable: Some organizations with incorrect data may contact you in the belief you have been removed from the voter list and offer to re-register you. They may direct you to a website that collects personal information, which they use to contact you with reminders and political messages. Scam: Scammers also make alarming claims and pretend to alert you to an expired voter registration as a phishing attempt. The scammer then offers to register you, and during the process collects a large amount of personal information they may use to steal your identity. How to avoid it: The Wisconsin Elections Commission or your local clerk’s office will not text you with voter registration alerts, so ignore these kinds of text messages. Unofficial websites seeking personal information to check your voter registration status or register you to vote should be avoided. You can securely register, check your registration status, and find trusted information on the MyVote Wisconsin website at https://myvote.wi.gov. You can also register by mail, in-person at your local municipal clerk’s office, or at the polling place on Election Day. Your municipal clerk’s office is another trusted source of information.

— Voting by absentee ballot. Real: On Sept. 1, the Wisconsin Elections Commission mailed an educational packet to all registered voters who had not already applied for an absentee ballot. To request an absentee ballot online in Wisconsin, go to https://myvote.wi.gov or fill out the paper application form included in the mailing and submit it using the postage-paid return envelope. The legal deadline for an application to be received is Thursday, Oct. 29; however, voters should request them much earlier due to USPS requirements for one week to deliver mail in each direction. Also real: Political parties and candidates may also mail out absentee ballot requests to their supporters. They may also email, text, or call you with messages urging you to return your absentee ballot. State law allows them to purchase lists of voters who have requested absentee ballots. Questionable: Independent groups send out texts offering to send you an absentee ballot when it is really an absentee ballot application. Groups also send out mailers with absentee ballot forms which may appear to be from your municipal clerk’s office. Some of these forms are already partially filled out with names and addresses, some of which may be incorrect due to faulty mailing lists. Sometimes they claim you have not already requested an absentee ballot or the return addresses for clerks are incorrect. Also, the requirements for voters to provide a copy of their photo ID with the application are not always clearly stated. Scams: If a call or text claims to be coming from a government entity and offers an absentee ballot for people who cannot or do not want to go to the polls on Election Day, it may be a scam. Scammers may be using this as a ruse to collect a large amount of personal information and steal your identity. How to avoid it: Never provide personally identifying information or account numbers to a person who contacts you unexpectedly. If you have questions about voting by absentee ballot, you can contact your local municipal clerk or visit MyVote Wisconsin at https://myvote.wi.gov.

For additional information on scams and consumer issues, or to file a consumer complaint, go online to the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at http://datcp.wi.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wi.gov, or call DATCP’s Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

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