Archive for the ‘FTC’ Category

Income Tax Scams – WABI-TV

Russ and Joy talk about scammers that take advantage of the income tax season to gain personal information from you.

Tuesday’s deadline for filing income taxes has the scam artists in high gear. They’ll email, and sometimes call, saying they are Internal Revenue Service officials and that you owe taxes. They will demand payment, often by wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or by giving your credit card number, threatening jail-time, revoking your driver’s license and more if you don’t pay up.

Russ says not to fall for any of these ploys. The IRS will not email or call you, they will use regular mail as a primary means of communication. Russ also warns you to be wary of any phone calls, as these scammers may know such information as the last four numbers of your social security number, they may use fake phone numbers and badge numbers to appear more legitimate, and the may even go as far as calling back with threats posing as the police or the department of motor vehicles.

The Federal Trade Commission is warning businesses that emails with the subject line “Pending consumer complaint” are NOT from the FTC. They are from scammers claiming that someone has filed a complaint with the FTC about their company. Clicking on attachments could download a virus or other malware onto your computer, just delete them.

For more on malicious emails, visit

“Pending FTC complaint” emails are fakes – FTC

FTC Warns Small Businesses: Don’t Open Email Falsely Claiming to be From FTC‏

“Pending FTC complaint” emails are fakes | Consumer Information.

Have you gotten an email with the subject line “Pending consumer complaint” that looks like it came from the FTC? The email warns that a complaint against you has been filed with the FTC. It asks you to click on a link or attachment for more information or to contact the FTC.

These emails pull out all the stops to look official: They have an FTC seal, references to the “Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)” and a “formal investigation,” and what look like real FTC links. The truth is that they’re fakes.

We’ve heard from many people that emails like this are making the rounds. If you get one, don’t open it. Don’t click on the links. If you click on the link, it may install malware on your computer. Malware can cause your device to crash and can be used to monitor and control your online activity, steal your personal information, send spam, and commit fraud. You can forward the email to, but then delete as soon as you do.

Fraudulent huckster’s reward: 10 easy payments of one year each




By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT


Posted March 23, 2014, at 12:24 p.m.


One of the most familiar faces on American infomercials was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison. Following prior dealings with the legal system, Kevin Trudeau continued to lash out at corporate and government figures he accused of being corrupt.

That changed at last Monday’s sentencing for contempt. According to the Chicago Tribune, Trudeau’s defiant attitude gave way to a more contrite demeanor, a change the convicted fraudster attributed to his first night behind bars.

Kevin Trudeau first came to Northeast CONTACT’s attention through a product called Coral Calcium Supreme. In some of his infomercials Trudeau claimed taking it would cure cancer. Those claims violated an earlier court order banning false health claims by Trudeau, and he was hit with more sanctions as a result.

Trudeau made his name in a series of late-night TV ads, touting sure-fire diets and products that supposedly delivered a number of health benefits. The ads were long on promises and, according to most consumers, short on delivery.

Investigators say Trudeau amassed a fortune through sales of his products and books. His undoing revolved mostly around claims he made in his infomercials about his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

The best-selling author had boasted that his diet plan was easy. But people who suffered through the 500-calorie-a-day regimen said it was anything but easy. Investigators with the Federal Trade Commission agreed and told Trudeau to stop making those claims. He refused, saying he was the target of zealous regulators and prosecutors.

Last August, the FTC hit Trudeau with a $37.6 million fine; the money was supposed to go to the hundreds of thousands of people who had bought his book based on his inflated infomercial claims.

Trudeau dug in, refusing to pay a nickel. His continued refusals resulted in a contempt case, which Trudeau lost.

At his sentencing last week, Judge Ronald Guzman pointed to a career built on fraud and called Trudeau “deceitful to the core.”

Trudeau had served nearly two years in federal prison in the 1990s after being convicted on two fraud charges. Last Monday, prosecutors said his record of fraud goes back to the mid-1980s.

Throughout his career, Kevin Trudeau struck a chord, both with conspiracy theorists and with searchers for miracle cures and other easy answers to life’s complex problems. If 10 years seems like too much for Trudeau to deal with, we offer him a suggestion.

Think of it as 10 easy payments of one year each.


ALSO IN THE NEWS: Scammers are making hay out of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Phony stories are appearing on Facebook, Twitter and other sites, mostly claiming the plane has turned up, survivors found and so on.

Instructions to “click here” should be ignored; the insensitive crooks are just trying to get you to answer questions that will get your money to them, or to infect your computer with malware.

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 or email



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15 minutes of game: Getting to the core of the FTC’s $32.5 million settlement with Apple | BCP Business Center

By Lesley Fair
January 15, 2014 – 12:30pm

It’s a simple concept really:  Companies shouldn’t charge people for stuff without their express consent.  That’s the law – and it’s always been the law.  So when a company chooses to implement a billing process that, in effect, opens a tab for kids and lets them place “all sales final” charges on their parents’ credit cards with the click of a button – and without Mom or Dad’s express consent – it shouldn’t come as a surprise when law enforcement follows.  That’s the story behind the FTC’s proposed settlement with Apple, which will return at least $32.5 million to consumers.

To paraphrase Andy Warhol’s quote about 15 minutes of fame, the FTC’s complaint focuses on 15 minutes of game – a built-in default period when those unauthorized charges could be racked up.  But first, a bit of background on how Apple’s billing process works.  Before consumers can download anything from the iTunes Store, they have to link their account to a credit or debit card.  When people download an app or buy something within an app, Apple bills their iTunes account and pockets 30% of the revenue.  From start to finish, the billing process is Apple’s baby.  The company controls exactly how it’s done.

Apple offers thousands of apps – including many games featured in the Kids or Family section of the iTunes Store – that let users buy things within the app.  Maybe it’s “food” for an imaginary pet or “gold” that can rev up the gaming experience.  The Magical Pixie Dust may be virtual, but it costs cold, hard cash in the form of charges to the device owner’s iTunes account.  And Pixie Dust doesn’t come cheap these days;  in-app charges can range from 99 cents up to almost $100 per click.

Here’s where that 15-minute window becomes critical.  If a child is playing a game and wants to make an in-app charge, Mom or Dad typically has to key in their password and then hand the device back to the kid to continue playing.  But according to the FTC’s complaint, what Apple didn’t explain is that it stores the password for 15 minutes.  That means all in-app charges made during that 15-minute window are incurred without the account holder having to re-enter the password.  In effect, without telling parents, Apple set up a 15-minute “Put it on my tab” period where Moms and Dads were responsible for charges they didn’t expressly authorize.  That happened even in apps rated for, say, four-year-olds – not a group likely to grasp the concept that pressing a button or two can run up a bill rivaling what a family spends in a week on groceries.  For example, the “Tiny Zoo Friends” app, which Apple has rated for kids 4 and up, lets players buy a quantity of “Zoo Bucks” at a cost of $99.  And remember:  Apple has an “all sales final” policy.

Furthermore, up until the release of Apple’s latest operating system in September 2013, when a child playing a game tried to make the first in-app charge, a BUY button appeared that the kid could click.  What showed up next was a pop-up identical to the password prompt that appears before the installation of an app.  The trouble is nowhere did that password prompt explain it was for a purchase.  So if a kid clicked BUY and then passed the device to Mom or Dad for their password, the parent had no way of knowing that the routine act of entering their password resulted in a charge – much less that it opened that 15-minute window when unauthorized charges could be added.  (Click on the picture to see how that worked.)  That payment process isn’t entirely a thing of the past.  For people who haven’t upgraded their operating system, that’s still what happens.

The financial injury in this case isn’t speculative.  Apple received tens of thousands of complaints from consumers about unauthorized in-app charges by kids.  For example, one Mom reported that her daughter’s clicks resulted in $2600 in unauthorized purchases in the “Tap Pet Hotel” app.  Others reported $500 in surprise in-app charges when kids played “Dragon Story” and “Tiny Zoo Friends.”

The FTC’s proposed order requires Apple to change its practices to make sure it has account holders’ express, informed consent before billing them for in-app charges.  If people give their OK to be billed for future charges but then change their mind, the order gives them the right to withdraw their consent at any time.  You’ll want to check the order’s definition of “express, informed consent” in this context, but here are some salient features:  It requires an affirmative act communicating authorization for the in-app charge – like entering a password  – that has to be close to both the in-app activity Apple is billing the user for and to a clear and conspicuous disclosure of material information about the charge.  Apple must have those billing changes up and running by March 31, 2014.

As part of the proposed settlement, Apple will provide at least $32.5 million in refunds to people who were billed for accidental or unauthorized in-app charges incurred by kids.  How will the refund program operate?  Apple has to send an electronic notice to customers with directions on how to get their money back.  And it’s not just a “take Apple’s word for it” provision.  The order requires the company to hand over to the FTC records of refund requests, refunds paid, and any refunds denied.

What messages can other companies can take from the FTC’s proposed settlement?

First, get people’s express consent before billing them.  That’s Consumer Protection 101 for app developers, app sellers, advertisers, payment processors, and anyone else in the marketing ecosystem who wants to avoid the scrutiny of law enforcers and the ire of outraged consumers.

Second, especially when it comes to merchandise geared toward kids, think through your processes in advance to minimize the risk that a child’s quick click could result in hefty unauthorized charges unknown to the parent until they get the bill.

Weight-loss scams prey on the unsuspecting


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Jan. 12, 2014, at 12:46 p.m.
If your New Year’s resolution to lose weight hasn’t gained traction, check out this website. I know, you’ve heard that pitch before, but this one is different … really.

The website ( touts the wonders of FatFoe, an eggplant extract in capsule form that “binds with food to block the absorption of fat, carbs AND calories. Lose up to 10 pounds per week,” the ad continues, and it’s “GUARANTEED to work for everyone.”

In the too-good-to-be-true department, this one tops the list. However, when you try to click and buy FatFoe, you’re redirected to another website that admits FatFoe isn’t real. The fake site was put together by the Federal Trade Commission and Competition Bureau of Canada to educate consumers about weight-loss hoaxes.

Among the red-flag claims in hoax ads:

— You can lose weight without diet or exercise.

— You can eat all the high-calorie foods you like and still lose weight.

— A product can make you lose three pounds a week for more than four weeks.

— A product will make you lose weight permanently, and it works for everyone.

The educational website concludes that the only thing you’re guaranteed to lose is your money.

That website was launched in 2004 as part of “Operation Big Fat Lie,” a multi-pronged effort by the FTC to crack down on losses to consumers that likely run into the billions of dollars. At that time, Maine joined the FTC in suing a firm based in Scarborough for making false claims about a topical gel and dietary supplement. The company agreed to pay $100,000 to consumers to settle the charges.

Just last week, the FTC settled with marketers of Sensa and three other fad products. Ads for Sensa said, “sprinkle, eat and lose weight.” Under the settlement, sellers of Sensa agreed to pay $26.5 million to consumers who bought it and to stop making unfounded claims.

The latest crackdown is termed “Operation Failed Resolution.” The FTC also announced it’s charging L’Occitane, which claimed a skin cream could somehow cause users to lose weight. The agency also is charging HCG Diet Direct for marketing an unproven human hormone for weight loss. The FTC also announced a partial settlement of a case against LeanSpa, LLC, which allegedly set up fake news websites to promote acai berry and “colon-cleanse” supplements as weight-loss aids.

If you think you may be entitled to some compensation, check this FTC-run website: It lists a number of companies the FTC has pursued with contact information. The FTC is still working out the ways consumers might be compensated, so you may not get an answer right away.

To see the FatFoe website and similar sites warning of phony health claims, work-at-home schemes and more, visit

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 or email



Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Donate?? Federal Trade Commission

December 9, 2013
Carol Kando-Pineda
Attorney, FTC

Now that the holiday season is in full swing, you may be thinking about donating to your favorite charities. This time of year also brings more attention to our deployed personnel, their families living stateside and our veterans. Lots of folks wonder how they can support the troops. Many organizations tout themselves as a way to give back to those who serve. But not all charities are legitimate – some are out to make a buck for themselves. Some spend more money paying their fundraisers than supporting the military community. Here are a few things you can do to prevent shady groups from cashing in on the cachet of the military.

Find out if they’re playing the name game. Just because an organization has the words “veterans” or “military families” in its name is no guarantee that veterans or the families of active-duty personnel will benefit from your donation. Some phony charities use names, seals and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations – or they may claim veteran status themselves as a way to gain your trust. You may see a small difference in the name of the charity from the one you mean to deal with; in that case, call the organization you know to be legitimate and check it out. The U.S. Department of Defense doesn’t endorse any charity, but recommends contacting Military One Source to get information about military relief societies.

Dig into the facts before you dig into your wallet. Check out an organization before parting with your money. Donate to charities with a track record. Scam artists follow the headlines and charities that spring up literally overnight in connection with military conflicts and related news stories may disappear just as quickly – with your donation funding their next move. In many cases, those “instant charities” don’t have the infrastructure to get donated money or products to the right place.

Trust your gut. Check your records if you have any doubt about whether you’ve made a pledge or a contribution. Callers may try to trick you by thanking you for a pledge you didn’t make. If you don’t remember making the donation or don’t have a record of your pledge, resist the pressure to give.

Confirm their registration. Call the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations to see if a charity or fundraising organization has to be registered in your state. If so, confirm whether the organization you’re considering is registered. For a list of state offices, visit the National Association of State Charity Officials. The organization also can verify how much of each donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and management expenses. You also can check out charities with theBetter Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and GuideStar.

Ask so you shall not be deceived. If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. You may want to take your time to research this organization and other charitable groups. Then, you can make the best decision about what groups you want to support.

Learn more about making the most of your charitable donations. If you choose to support the troops this season, don’t let your donations fall fa-la-la-la flat.

FTC’s OnGuardOnLine – CyberMonday advice

For veterans considering college, remember these 8 questions


by Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT

Posted Nov. 03, 2013, at 11:32 a.m.

With Veterans Day just a week away, we’d like to thank all those currently or formerly in the military for their service. We also welcome returning service personnel with some thoughts about furthering their schooling.

When people finish military service, many think about becoming consumers of higher education programs. They may be enrolling in college for the first time or seeking to complete a degree.

The Federal Trade Commission advises those consumers to ask eight questions of those representing institutions of higher learning. The goal is to cull the responsible ones from the diploma mills that are most interested in getting their hands on veterans’ tuition money. Visit and search “choosing a college.”

The FTC’s first question cuts right to the bottom line: What’s the total cost, and how do veterans pay for tuition or other costs their Veterans Affairs benefits don’t cover? You may be eligible for federal financial assistance with better terms than a private loan.

The second question deals with recent graduates and their delinquency rate in paying back their loans. A high rate might mean those students are carrying too much debt or that they’re having a hard time finding jobs in their fields.

The third questions if a degree from the school will get you where you want to go. Is the goal a certificate, a two-year degree or four-year degree? Which degree leads to the type of job you want?

The fourth question asks if you are being pressured to enroll before you can thoroughly research costs, course offerings and details of financial aid. If the school won’t give you written materials to review, that’s a deal-breaker. Just don’t enroll.

Fifth, can you get credit for your military training? Military Times ( conducted a survey recently of four-year, two-year, online and nontraditional schools. Of the 650 that responded, 84 percent said they accept American Council on Education credits; those credits translate military experience into academic hours.

Among other survey results: More than 75 percent of the schools waive late fees when military benefits don’t arrive on time. About half waive interest, extend credit for books and other expenses or help students get money for emergencies.

Question six asks whether credits you earn can be transferred. That’s a critical question if you plan on getting started at one school and attending another one later. If the credits won’t transfer, you’re out both money and time.

Questions seven and eight focus on the school. The type of accreditation it has (national or regional) may be a factor in transferring credits. And the school’s attitude about providing veterans’ services may play a key role in your decision to attend or not.

Maine has a number of educational and other benefits beyond those offered by the federal government. You can review them at

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 or

Recording scam calls a defense against fraud


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Sept. 15, 2013, at 1:22 p.m.

If you want to turn the tables on someone who calls on the phone who you suspect is a scam artist, tell the caller that you are recording the conversation. Better yet, wait until after the pitch is complete before making your announcement.

That’s a suggestion we received last week from William Lund, superintendent of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. He suggested that, at the very least, it would bring the call to a rapid end. At best, it might provide incriminating information that could help authorities track down and prosecute telephone fraud artists.

“Recordings are the only things that make these collectors nervous,” Lund told us. He said a recording negates charges of “my word against yours.” Also, it is far more reliable than one’s memory which could be clouded by a less-than-friendly discussion.

Lund said recording could be useful in cases where a caller threatens legal action to force a Maine consumer to hand over money, claiming the consumer has not paid an outstanding debt. He said a threat of legal action is almost always an empty one, since authorities will not act on complaints from unlicensed, out-of-state payday lenders. In civil court, such firms must be represented by a local company employee (there are none) or an attorney. Not many lawyers will stand up to represent unlicensed, out-of-state payday lenders.

On that point, Lund says Maine law is clear. If a lender is not licensed to do business in Maine, that lender cannot collect interest on a loan. While that provision of the law is not a loophole to avoid paying back a legitimate debt, Lund said, “Neither should Maine residents be scared by illegal phone calls.”

Superintendent Lund is not a fan of internet-based lenders. He said they collect too much personal information when making loans, including data on a borrower’s workplace and family members. “All this information is used — and misused — in the collection process,” he said, adding that a borrower’s stress level can soar through threats of disrupting a workplace or pestering elderly parents.

Lund suggested turning the process around on unlicensed collectors. As soon as they state their business, tell them you’re recording the call. Maine law states that recording calls is legal, as long as one party knows the recording is taking place, so you don’t have to tell the caller right away. If you catch the caller violating the law and he or she slams down the phone, you can stay on long enough to identify yourself for the recording and note the time and date; you’ll have a piece of evidence that speaks for itself.

Scammers often use automated calls to generate lists of working phone numbers. You might be urged to press a number to prevent further calls, but that’s just part of the scam; pressing a button just verifies that the scammer has reached a working number. If you don’t want to record the call, don’t press anything; just hang up.

Recording calls won’t make them stop all at once. You can help by reporting the number you see on caller ID. Even though many of those numbers are “spoofed,” Federal Trade Commission regulators say that if they get enough reports they can trace certain calls. File complaints at See who’s licensed to make collections in Maine and get other information about your credit at the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection (

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 or email


New twist on old scam


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Sept. 08, 2013, at 3:02 p.m.

Maine’s seniors are becoming really savvy.

Not only are they hanging up on would-be scam callers, they’re reporting them to law enforcement people. The legal people are looking into the scam attempts, and everyone’s getting better informed about ways to keep our money in our pockets, instead of handing it over to crooks.

That’s what smart consumerism is all about. Just last week, consumers in eastern Maine were put to the test with a new twist on an old scam offer revolving around medical alert services. And, don’t we love it when the scammers try to prey on seniors, and the seniors do the phone equivalent of spitting in their eyes!

The pitch went like this: Pony up whatever they ask for ultimately and they’ll throw in “grocery savings certificates” worth THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS at 100 grocery chains across the U.S. (are those magazine coupons??). The pitch continues, “In addition to your $3,000 in savings certificates you will receive a free emergency medic alert bracelet or necklace,” which of course will save your life if you’ve fallen and you can’t get up. (We’ve written about these lifeline offers before; see Consumer Forum, June 3, 2013).

At least two consumers who received the above call did not bite; instead, they called the Eastern Area Agency on Aging, telling people there that a scam was afoot. The folks at EAAA reported the consumers’ experiences to the Maine Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which loves to keep track of such robocall violations of its Do Not Call rules. Since Penobscot County TRIAD, a coalition of seniors’ advocates and law enforcement personnel is based at EAAA, the Penobscot Sheriff’s Department was alerted as well.

The scam artists know that millions of people have gotten wise to their promises of “free” medical alert devices, only to be slapped with a monthly fee for the “service” that comes with the devices. Sometimes there’s no service at all, although the charges keep coming every month. Sometimes the scammers don’t even get a signature, saying that “a relative signed you up” and not to worry because “your insurance covers any costs.”

As our savvy consumers did last week, the time to head off these crooks is the moment they try to strike. They ask you to “press 1 for more information or 5 to be removed from this offer.” Don’t press anything; simply hang up. If you’re in the national Do Not Call registry, the caller has broken the law simply by calling. Don’t give the lawbreaker the information that his robot has reached a working number by pressing a button that verifies the phone is working. The scammers sell lists of working numbers to other crooks.

If you receive a suspicious call, simply hang up (it’s your phone; you choose how to use it). If the pitch gets far enough so you spot a scam attempt, report it to your local law enforcement agency. Let the FTC know (call 1-877-FTC-HELP or to file a complaint online). In June, the FTC levied a record $7.5-million fine against a mortgage refinancing company for allegedly violating Do Not Call rules. Such cases often begin with complaints from consumers.

Despite the law and bad press, the scammers will keep trying, sugar-coating old scams with phony new promises. Don’t buy what they’re selling.

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 or


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