Archive for the ‘FTC’ Category

Think it’s E-Z? – FTC Scam Alert

Love breezing through tollbooths with your E-Z Pass? A new scam is taking advantage of that.

Here’s how it works: You get an email that appears to be from E-Z Pass. It has the E-Z Pass logo, and says you owe money for driving on a toll road. It also provides a link to click for your invoice.

Guess what? The email isn’t from E-Z Pass. If you click on the link, the crooks running this scam may put malware on your machine. And if you respond to the email with your personal information, they’re likely to steal your identity.

This E-Z Pass email is the latest in a long line of phishing scams, where fraudsters pretend to be legitimate businesses as a way to get access to people’s personal information. But adopting a few online security habits can help you avoid phishing scams:

  • Never click on links in emails unless you’re sure who sent you the message.
  • Don’t respond to any emails that ask for personal or financial information. Email isn’t a secure way to send that information.
  • Type an organization’s URL yourself, and don’t send personal or financial information unless the URL begins with https (the “s” stands for secure).
  • If an email looks like it is from E-Z Pass, contact E-Z Pass customer service to confirm that it is really from them.
  • Keep your computer security software current.

If you might have been tricked by a phishing email:

  • Forward it to spam@uce.gov and to the company impersonated in the email.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
  • Visit the FTC’s Identity Theft website at ftc.gov/idtheft. Victims of phishing could become victims of identity theft, but there are steps to take to reduce your risk.

OnGuardOnline.gov has more information about phishing scams.

Russian hackers might have your info — now what?

You may have heard about it in the news: reports that Russian hackers have stolen more than a billion unique username and password combinations, and more than 500 million email addresses, grabbed from thousands of websites. What should you do about it? We asked our resident expert, Maneesha Mithal, director of our Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.

Q. How do you know if your information was part of this hack?

A. You really don’t, so don’t take any chances. Change the passwords you use for sensitive sites like your bank and email account — really any site that has important financial or health information. Make sure each password is different so someone who knows one of your passwords won’t suddenly have access to all your important accounts. We have some tips for creating strong passwords — strong, as in hard to guess.

Some online services also offer “two-factor authentication.” To get into your account, you need a password plus something else, like a code sent to your smartphone, to prove it’s you. We recommend that people use this service when it’s available.

If you think your email account might already have been affected by a hack, here’s what you can do.

Q. Is creating new passwords enough?

A. Once you have strong passwords, you need to keep them safe. Think twice when you’re asked to enter usernames and passwords, and never provide them in response to an email. For example, if you get an email or text that seems to be from your bank, visit the bank website directly rather than clicking on any links — which could contain malware — or calling any numbers in the message. Scammers impersonate well-known businesses or the government to trick you into handing over your information.

Q. Is there anything else you can do?

A. It’s unlikely this will be the last time you’re affected by a hack or data breach. One way to increase the chance you’ll catch someone trying to misuse your information is to review your credit card and bank account statements regularly. If you see charges that you don’t recognize, contact your bank or credit card provider right away and speak to the fraud department.

You also can check your credit reports for free every few months at AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Your credit report includes information about your credit card accounts and other bills you pay, so it’s a good way to find out if someone has opened credit in your name. You’re entitled to a free report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If it turns out you are a victim of identity theft, you can find the steps you should take to deal with it at ftc.gov/idtheft.

Last but not least, send this post to your family and friends to make sure they know what to do, too.

Q. How can someone make sure this doesn’t happen to them again?

A. Unfortunately, you can’t. But by taking these steps, you can lessen the odds scammers will get a hold of your information, and also minimize the consequences if they do.

Pass It On program helps consumers avoid scammers

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Aug. 03, 2014, at 10:59 a.m.

Last week’s column dealt with an attempt to scam a caterer in Old Town. When she learned that a man who posed as a client was trying to rip her off via an advance check scheme, Jane Thibodeau told him off; then she told friends, the media and anyone else who would listen.

Jane spread the word in the belief that consumers can and should help one another stay safe in today’s marketplace. Our society’s emphasis on instant messaging, instant sales and instant gratification places us all at risk. Far too many opportunists are looking for ways to separate us from our money; we need the wisdom and experience of others to help keep our guard up.

One source of information comes from the Federal Trade Commission’s Pass It On program. Avoiding identity theft, imposter and “you’ve won” scams, health care ripoffs and charity fraud are featured in articles designed to start a conversation. The dialogue could help people you know avoid falling for those scams, or prevent them from paying for goods or services they didn’t order.

Each of the above topics is the subject of an article, a bookmark and an activity. You can print one copy or order multiples of printed materials to distribute where you think they’ll be read and shared. Find them online here or order free copies by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP and pressing 3.

You might also want to tell friends about something called affinity fraud. “You can trust me,” says the scammer, “because I’m just like you. We share the same background and interests.” The next line out of your new “friend’s” mouth is the pitch: “Because we have so much in common, I can help you make money.”

Common interests or histories don’t necessarily mean a good business fit. Consider all such offers carefully and consult someone you know and trust. The New York State Attorney General’s office has cracked down on a number of affinity fraudsters and shares advice on their website.

Talk with friends and neighbors about spotting fraudulent offers in their email. Telltale signs include generic greetings (rather than your name), grammar and spelling errors and unfamiliar phone numbers. Some samples of bad players and their bad pitches have been compiled by the U.K.-based nonprofit Internet Fraud Advisory Group. It also has a quick guide to phone numbers you should never call to avoid heavy international calling charges.

While we’re on the web, what about those chain letter emails, claiming that if you forward them to five friends, Bill Gates will donate millions to charity? Since he already does that, your action is unlikely to do more than provide new names to a scammer. Break the chain and tell your correspondents what you’ve done and why.

Sort fact from fiction by doing your research. Snopes.com separates urban myth from reality and finds cases that may be a blend of both. It’s a great resource for disposing of some too-good-to-be-true stories.

Credit cards offer convenience, but they also offer scam artists ways to insert small fees they think you won’t notice. When your monthly statement comes, read every line and verify that all charges are ones you’ve authorized. Tell your friends to do the same.

Watching out for one another is a way of life. Letter carriers keep their eyes open for lack of activity at occupied homes on their routes. Police want to hear about suspicious activity, whether in your neighborhood, online, over the phone or by mail. Share your experiences and your knowledge wherever you can; people will thank you for doing so.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Old Town caterer outsmarts scammer

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted July 27, 2014, at 3:56 p.m.

Let’s start this column with a set of assumptions. Let’s agree we’re all in this marketplace together; that means that we give and take, treat others as we want to be treated and learn from our mistakes and those of others.

Link to WABI video

I think Jane Thibodeau believes in that set of assumptions. A short time ago, the owner of Jane’s Catering in Old Town responded to an email offer she had received seeking her services. The email claimed to be from a man named Leroy Martin, who said he was planning to bring his family to eastern Maine for the summer.

“There were several weeks of very nice emails,” Jane told me last week. The first inquiry asked if he could hire Jane as a full-time chef; she would prepare meals for the man, his wife and three children during their stay. Since that’s the reason she is in business, Jane readily agreed.

Martin said he would be sending a check as a deposit for her services, so Jane opened a checking account specifically for her new client. She began to suspect that Martin was a scammer, rather than a mechanical engineer as he claimed, when he made a few other requests.

He needed a chauffeur … not just any chauffer, but one who spoke Spanish, the first language of Martin’s wife. He needed a housekeeper, and both of those positions required a deposit. Would Jane be so kind as to use part of the funds from his overly large check (more than $4,000) he had sent her to wire funds to those two people?

The red flags were really flying now, so Jane visited her banker. They determined the whole thing was a scam, and they closed the checking account. Jane did not lose any money, but she learned to put more faith in her instincts than her hopes.

“It was all a lie,” she said.

During their phone calls, Jane asked how he had picked her name from all of the chefs and caterers available; he wouldn’t answer. Her banker mentioned hearing of other scam attempts targeting people in Jane’s business.

“It would have been a dream job,” she said, “but I caught them, so, whatever.”

Jane urged others not to be taken in by offers — of work, prizes or other rewards — that involve an advance check and then wiring money to unknown parties.

Readers should know that the scammer’s email included a phone number that began “044.” That’s one of dozens of numbers used by advance fee scammers. The United Kingdom-based Internet Fraud Advisory Group says a handful of companies provide the numbers, splitting fees paid by unsuspecting callers with the caller’s network. The criminals apparently get the numbers free.

Jane’s sharing of her story is important. It sends the message that con artists do prey on honest people and that there is no shame in admitting it. When those honest people avoid being taken in, it’s cause for celebration and sharing the details to help educate us all.

The Federal Trade Commission has a neighbor-to-neighbor campaign called “Pass It On.” It’s based on the trust that each of us has in people we know, and their knowledge can save us money and other losses. Visit www.ftc.gov and search “pass it on” for details.

Watch Video from FTC

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Timeshare resellers & quick-money promises – Federal Trade Commission

 

Con artists are adept at selling — or selling you on  — just about anything. When it comes to timeshare resale services, they may claim to have a buyer for your property. Or that they can sell your place quickly and for a good price. But first, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee.

As part of an international crackdown on timeshare resale scams, the FTC and state law enforcement officials are going after timeshare resellers who took thousands of dollars in upfront fees from consumers after falsely claiming they could sell or rent the timeshares quickly. Today, the FTC announced settlements with Universal Timeshare, Resort Property Depot, and Resort Resolution Trust.

These companies violated the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule by making false claims about their services in telephone pitches to timeshare owners. Universal Timeshare also called people whose phone numbers were on the Do Not Call Registry. Some consumers paid as much as $4,000 in so-called taxes, closing costs, and processing fees to these companies — and got nothing in return.

Before you allow someone to sell your timeshare:

  1. Check them out before you agree to pay them any money. See if the state Attorney General, local consumer protection agencies, or the Better Business Bureau in the company’s home state have complaints about them on file. Then, search online by entering the company name and the word “complaints” or “scam.”
  1. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers or agents. Check with the Real Estate Commission in the state where your timeshare is located to make sure the company has a current license.
  1. Get all terms in writing before you agree to anything. That includes services the company will perform; timing of the sale; fees and commissions; and cancellation and refund policies. If a company says you have to act now or you might miss out on a buyer, it’s not a company you want to do business with.
  1. Consider doing business only with a company that gets paid after the timeshare is sold. And don’t wire money or pay in cash.
  1. Be alert to a repeat scam. If a company offers to help get your money back from a timeshare resale scam  but wants you to pay them before they do anything for you, walk away. This is a classic setup for another scam.

Read about timeshare vacation plans and selling a timeshare through a reseller to learn more. And be sure to report these and other scams to the FTC.

FTC Alleges Amazon Unlawfully Billed Parents for Millions of Dollars in Children’s Unauthorized In-App Charges

No Password or Other Indication of Parental Consent Was Required for Charges in Kids’ Apps; Internal E-mail Referred to Situation as “House on Fire”

Date: July 10, 2014

Amazon.com, Inc. has billed parents and other account holders for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children, according to a Federal Trade Commission complaint filed today in federal court.

The FTC’s lawsuit seeks a court order requiring refunds to consumers for the unauthorized charges and permanently banning the company from billing parents and other account holders for in-app charges without their consent. According to the complaint, Amazon keeps 30 percent of all in-app charges.

Click image to link to Playing with Fire

According to the FTC, Amazon allowed kids to buy virtual goods — like coins, stars, and pet food — without getting parents’ permission.

Amazon offers many children’s apps in its appstore for download to mobile devices such as the Kindle Fire. In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Amazon violated the FTC Act by billing parents and other Amazon account holders for charges incurred by their children without the permission of the parent or other account holder. Amazon’s setup allowed children playing these kids’ games to spend unlimited amounts of money to pay for virtual items within the apps such as “coins,” “stars,” and “acorns” without parental involvement.

“Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Even Amazon’s own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents’ consent for in-app purchases.”

The complaint alleges that when Amazon introduced in-app charges to the Amazon Appstore in November 2011, there were no password requirements of any kind on in-app charges, including in kids’ games and other apps that appeal to children. According to the complaint, this left parents to foot the bill for charges they didn’t authorize.

According to the complaint, kids’ games often encourage children to acquire virtual items in ways that blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money. In the app “Ice Age Village,” for example, the complaint noted that children can use “coins” and “acorns” to buy items in the game without a real-money charge. However, they can also purchase additional “coins” and “acorns” using real money on a screen that is visually similar to the one that has no real-money charge. The largest quantity purchase available in the app would cost $99.99.

The complaint highlights internal communications among Amazon employees as early as December 2011 that said allowing unlimited in-app charges without any password was “…clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers,” adding that the situation was a “near house on fire.”

In March 2012, according to the complaint, Amazon updated its in-app charge system to require an account owner to enter a password only for individual in-app charges over $20. As the complaint notes, Amazon continued to allow children to make an unlimited number of individual purchases of less than $20 without a parent’s approval. An Amazon employee noted at the time of the change that “it’s much easier to get upset about Amazon letting your child purchase a $99 product without any password protection than a $20 product,” according to the complaint. In July 2012, as set forth in the complaint, internal emails again described consumer complaints about in-app charges as a “house on fire” situation.

The complaint alleges that in early 2013, Amazon updated its in-app charge process to require password entry for some charges in a way that functioned differently in different contexts. According to the complaint, even when a parent was prompted for a password to authorize a single in-app charge made by a child, that single authorization often opened an undisclosed window of 15 minutes to an hour during which the child could then make unlimited charges without further authorization. Not until June 2014, roughly two and a half years after the problem first surfaced and only shortly before the Commission voted to approve the lawsuit against Amazon, did Amazon change its in-app charge framework to obtain account holders’ informed consent for in-app charges on its newer mobile devices, as explained in the complaint.

According to the complaint, thousands of parents complained to Amazon about in-app charges their children incurred without their authorization, amounting to millions of dollars of charges. For example, one mother noted in the FTC complaint told Amazon that her daughter was able to rack up $358.42 in unauthorized charges, while others complained that even children who could not read were able to “click a lot of buttons at random” and incur several unauthorized charges.

The company’s stated policy is that all in-app charges are final and nonrefundable. According to the complaint, even parents who have sought an exception to that policy have faced a refund process that is unclear and confusing, involving statements that do not explain how to seek refunds for in-app charges or suggest consumers cannot get a refund for these charges.

This is the Commission’s second case relating to children’s in-app purchases; Apple, Inc. settled an FTC complaint concerning the issue earlier this year. The Commission is seeking full refunds for all affected consumers, disgorgement of Amazon’s ill-gotten gains, and a court order ensuring that in the future Amazon obtains permission before imposing charges for in-app purchases.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-1, with Commissioner Joshua D. Wright voting no. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Hiding in plain sight? — Federal Trade Commission

Could your mobile carrier be hiding third-party charges on your phone bill that you never authorized? The FTC has alleged that T-Mobile has done just that.

The agency says that T-Mobile charged consumers not only for regular phone services, but also for third party content – including monthly subscriptions for ringtones, wallpaper, horoscope texts, flirting tips, and celebrity gossip – that consumers neither knew about nor agreed to.

According to the FTC, here’s how it happened: On the first page of the bill, T-Mobile deceptively lumped third-party charges under a general line item that also included charges for their services like texting. The obscure breakouts of each charge were on the pages toward the end of the bill.

More surprising? The company continued to charge consumers, pocketing up to 40 percent of those third-party charges, even after some consumers caught on, complaints piled up, and industry auditors put T-Mobile on notice that the charges were unauthorized.

Here’s how to reduce the chances of paying charges crammed onto your bill without your knowledge or permission:

  • Read your mobile phone bill each month – line by line, and page by page. Don’t ignore the billing statement you get in the mail or through an automated online payment system. You should know your baseline monthly bill. Taking time to read every page of your statements can help you detect potentially fraudulent charges, keep surprise charges to a minimum, and save you money.
  • Consider a block on third-party charges. Many phone carriers already offer third-party blocking service for free. You just have to ask.
  • Ask your mobile phone carrier for its policy on refunds for fraudulent charges. Some carriers have a 60-day period for refund requests, and many have a policy of partial refunds for fraudulent charges you detect – no matter how long the cramming charges have occurred.
  • If you have a prepaid phone plan, check that you’re not losing pre-paid minutes to pay for unauthorized third-party charges. Stay on top of how many calling minutes you have, and make sure that minutes don’t go missing due to deductions unrelated to your regular phone calls. Check your accounts online or call the number your carrier gives you for account access.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of cramming, contact your phone carrier first about the charges, then file a complaint with the FTC.

Home Improvement Scams – WABI-TV

Russ spoke with Joy about keeping an eye out for scammers when looking to find some home improvement workers.

There are three Maine laws that deal with transient sales and home repairs. They are explained in detail in the Consumer Law Guide published by the Attorney General’s office (visit www.maine.gov/ag. See chapter 17 of the Guide for laws relating to construction. Chapter 13 deals with transient sales).

Among the key pieces of advice are these.

Always have a written contract for any job costing more than $3,000. There’s a three-day cooling off period before work starts; if you decide you don’t want the job done within those three days, you can cancel the deal. You and the contractor may–but you don’t have to–agree to settle any disputes that might arise through mediation or arbitration.

Don’t sign a contract that includes any blank spaces (to be filled in later). And Maine law says the contractor cannot ask for more than one-third of the total contract amount as a down payment. The Attorney General has a model contract for home construction (see chapter 18 of the Guide).

You’ll likely want to check out a number of contractors before hiring one. Ask each of them how many jobs like yours they’ve done in the past year, and ask for references. Find out what kinds of insurance they carry. Beware of those who demand more than the one-third up-front payment or insist on cash. Also, be wary if the contractor asks you to get the building permit.Transient sellers must be licensed by the state, and an unlicensed contractor may not want to show up at your town hall.

For information on professions requiring a state license, visit www.maine.gov/pfr.

Be extra wary of transient repair “pros” who “spot a problem” you had not noticed. Once inside your home, they may break something and then point out that it “needs fixing.” The shady contractor may insist you come with him to inspect something, while one of his associates steals your valuables.

Those last few points are among the National Consumers League’s top 10 red flags of home repair scams. Read more at www.nclnet.org.

See the Federal Trade Commission’s reminder at www.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

Be on the lookout for timeshare resale phonies – Federal Trade Commission

The FTC and state consumer protection agencies have shut down dishonest timeshare resellers for bilking timeshare owners out of millions of dollars. If you’re selling a timeshare, listen carefully for the promise of lots of money quickly and a request for an upfront fee. Those are two key signs of timeshare resale scam — and someone you don’t want to do business with.

In one recent case, Vacation Property Services claimed to represent big-name companies eager to buy timeshares for business travel and events. The company guaranteed timeshare owners hefty returns if they moved quickly on the offer. But first, the company said the owner had to pay from $500 to $2,000, via credit card, in “registration” and other fees to seal the deal.

Timeshare Resale Scams Infographic

Timeshare Resale Scams
Infographic

The company’s promises of ready buyers, fast sales, big profits and money-back guarantees turned out to be lies. What’s more, the timeshare owners were stuck with debt on their credit cards from paying the “fee” after the company told them that the sale would be complete — and that they’d have their money — by the time the credit card bill came.

If you own a timeshare, question any offers to help you resell it. Be skeptical of companies that:

  • claim the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re “overwhelmed” with buyer requests
  • say they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare — or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time
  • guarantee you’ll get big returns on your resale
  • require you to pay fees upfront — even if there’s the promise of a “money-back guarantee”
  • don’t provide a contract — or provide a contract that doesn’t accurately reflect conversations you had

Read about buying and selling a timeshare, or check out our infographic to see how timeshare resale scams typically work.

Lights out for fake utility bill collectors – Federal Trace Commission

The caller sounds convincing: If you don’t pay your utility bills immediately, your gas, electricity or water will be shut off. They ask you to pay using a specific — and unusual — method.

Be warned: The call probably is a trick to steal your money.

The Federal Trade Commission, state and local consumer protection agencies, and utility companies have gotten a slew of complaints from consumers about utility bill scams. Here are a few signs you may be dealing with a scammer:

  • You get a call or an email claiming your services will be cut off unless you call a number or click on a link and give your account information. Most utility companies don’t ask you to send your account information by email.
  • Someone calls demanding you wire the money or use a prepaid or reloadable debit or gift card to pay your bill. Legitimate companies don’t demand you use those methods to pay.
  • The caller tells you to call a phone number and give your credit, debit or prepaid card number. But if you do that, the scammer can access the money from your credit, debit or prepaid card, and you can’t trace where your money went. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

So if you get a call from someone threatening to shut off your utility service:

  • Make sure you’re dealing with your utility company before you pay any amount. Call the company using a number you’ve looked up. Or go to their website to determine the status of your account. Confirm where and how to pay your bill. Don’t give out your account information on the phone unless you place or expect the call.
  • Never wire money to someone you don’t know — regardless of the situation. Once you wire money, you cannot get it back.
  • Do not click links or call numbers that appear in unexpected emails or texts — especially those asking for your account information. If you click on a link, your computer could become infected with malware, including viruses that can steal your information and ruin your computer.
  • If you are falling behind on your utility bill, contact the utility company and see if they can work with you to come up with a payment plan and a way to keep your service on.
  • If you think a fake utility bill collector or any other scammer has contacted youfile a complaint with the FTC and your state consumer protection agency.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 75 other followers

%d bloggers like this: