FTC announces a crackdown on fraudulent charities

FTC and States Combat Fraudulent Charities That Falsely Claim to Help Veterans and Servicemembers

PRESS RELEASE
July 19, 2018

“Americans are grateful for the sacrifices made by those who serve in the U.S. armed forces,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “Sadly, some con artists prey on that gratitude, using lies and deception to line their own pockets. In the process, they harm not only well-meaning donors, but also the many legitimate charities that actually do great work on behalf of veterans and servicemembers.”

The FTC planned this ongoing effort with the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO). The initiative includes an education campaign, in English and Spanish, to help consumers recognize charitable solicitation fraud and identify legitimate charities….

Nationwide education campaign to help consumers donate wisely

The FTC and its state partners are launching an education campaign to help consumers avoid charity scams and donate wisely. The FTC has new educational materials, including a video (link is external) on how to research charities, and two new infographics. Donors and business owners can find information to help them donate wisely and make their donations count at FTC.gov/Charity. New and updated guidance includes:

For donors:

For businesses:

Read entire release from the Federal Trace Commission

CHARITY NAVIGATOR offers additional resources

Maine’s enforcement action. (page 15)

 

Advertisements

Avoiding tech support scams — Federal Trade Commission advice

Callers impersonate legitimate technical support companies to fool computer users into handing over their personal information or sending money.

 

PRESS RELEASE

You’re working on your computer when, suddenly, a message pops up on the screen: “Virus detected! Call now for a free security scan and to repair your device.” That’s a tech support scam. Don’t call, text, or email. Legit tech support companies don’t operate that way.

Scammers pose as big-name companies and use pop-up messages, fake websites, and phone calls to trick you into thinking your computer has an urgent problem. Their plan is to get your money by selling you worthless software, enrolling you in fake programs, or getting you to pay for useless tech support. The scammers urge you to call a toll-free number immediately, threatening that you may lose personal data if you don’t.

When you call, the scammer might ask you to give them remote access, pretend to run a diagnostic test, or tell you they’ve found a virus or other security issue. They try to sell you a security subscription or other “services” that range from worthless (for instance, they’re available for free elsewhere) to malicious (they install dangerous software that can help them steal your personal information.)

What should you do? If you get a pop-up to call a number to fix a virus on your computer, ignore it. Your computer is almost certainly fine. But if you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly — and don’t use the phone number in the pop-up or on caller ID. Use a number you know is real, like the one on a software package or your receipt. Tech support scammers like to place online ads pretending to be legitimate companies, so be sure you have the correct telephone number for the real tech company before calling.

And if someone asks you to pay for anything — including tech support services — with a gift card, cash reload card, or a wire transfer, that’s a scam. No legitimate company will tell you to pay that way. If you see that, report it at FTC.gov/complaint.

July is Military Consumer Month. Share this video with the military community to help them avoid tech support scams.

 

Someone’s at the door — Is it a scam?

Recent newscasts warn Maine about Energy Scams.

Newscenter, June 26: Reported door-to-door scammers target CMP & Emera Maine customers

WABI, June 26: Electricity providers warn of door-to-door scam.

Both Emera Maine and Central Maine Power are warning  their customers. The following from Choose Energy posted on May 8, 2018 may answer questions prompted by the representative at the door.  Both Emera Maine and Central Maine Power are warning  their customers.

Your Guide to Avoid Door-to-Door Energy Scams

Hear the doorbell? You peek out and see a well-dressed young man with a badge. You decide to open the door, and the man identifies himself as a representative of your energy company and says he can save you money on your monthly bills. Is he friend or foe? Should you talk to him or send him away? Truth is, you can’t know at this point whether the salesperson is legit or wants to perpetrate a door-to-door energy scam.

You need more information to decide, and you need to get it while safeguarding your own. Because a mistake can cost you thousands of dollars before you know it, and then there’s the time and hassle of straightening everything out once you do. As the weather warms across the country, we’ve come to the time when the salespeople are out. How serious is the problem of door-to-door energy scamming? It’s hard to quantify. Some people never realize they’ve been scammed. Some are too embarrassed to report it. But evidence of a national problem does exist.

In 2015, a New York State Public Service Commission investigation resulted in 1,566 consumers receiving $950,700 in refunds from one of the largest energy suppliers in the state. Complaints ranged from predatory sales practices to higher-than-expected prices – though it’s not possible to pinpoint how many of the complaints stemmed from door-to-door sales.

AARP specifically warns its members against energy scams. And the fact that energy trade associations designate the third Wednesday of November as Utilities United Against Scams Day provides further documentation that there’s a real problem.


Deregulation and the rise of door-to-door energy sales

The deregulation of energy in 16 states and the District of Columbia spawned the scenario by which energy suppliers send salespeople door-to-door. But that’s getting ahead of things.

What is deregulation? Congress opened the door for energy deregulation in 1992, but every state hasn’t adopted it. Quite simply, deregulation means consumers don’t have to buy power from a single company serving their area, in most cases a utility. Instead, energy suppliers – in some states including traditional utilities – compete for customers by offering competitive terms, green energy or efficiency incentives.

The key is choice – consumers can buy electricity and natural gas from providers they choose. That energy is delivered by a transmission company – in most cases the utility that serviced the area prior to deregulation.

But many people in deregulated states – including New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Connecticut and more – still don’t realize they have choice, so some providers use door-to-door sales as a way to make consumers aware of deregulation (and pick up customers in the process).

Bryan Lee, a spokesman for the Retail Energy Supply Association, a nonprofit that works on behalf of suppliers, explains it further.

“Retail energy shopping is new for many customers. Direct customer engagement through well-trained door-to-door sales personnel can be an effective way to educate customers about energy shopping.”

But that’s not the only reason. “Many retail energy suppliers utilize door-to-door marketing in large part because of arcane utility rules requiring a customer to provide a utility account number to change energy providers. This helps promote door-to-door marketing since that customer number is most easily accessed in the home.”

He proposes a change.

“Rules that would allow a switch with working knowledge of the account, like billing address, service address and a positive identification linking a person to the account, should be enough to provide adequate proof of responsibility for an account,” Lee says. “This would enable other marketing channels and allow retail suppliers to be less dependent upon door-to-door interactions.”

What can go wrong with door-to-door energy sales?

Consider what’s in it for the salespeople. Current ads for door-to-door energy sales agents on Indeed.com list commission-based salary ranges from $50,000 to $200,000. With money like that on the table, an unscrupulous door-to-door energy salesperson can employ a number of shady practices.

Again, the evidence is mostly anecdotal. But here are a few practices uncovered by ChooseEnergy.com:


1. Slam, bam, thank you, ma’am:

That nice young man wearing a suit and holding a binder with the name of your electric company tells you there’s a problem with your account and asks to see your most recent bill to straighten it out. In reality, he’s from a competing electricity provider, and he wants to see your bill to get your account number. That’s all he needs in some cases to switch your supplier – it’s called “slamming” And victims don’t realize anything is different unless they look closely at their next bill.

One Reddit user shared this type of experience with an unscrupulous energy salesperson: “He had a big binder with my company’s logo on it and he said there was a problem with my bill.” Despite asking the man to provide documentation or leave, he continued to push, and eventually got a look at the Reddit user’s bill before being forced from the home.

This isn’t just a concern for homeowners; businesses often fall prey to this tactic too. A salesperson may speak with your employees about a business’s energy needs and get them to share your company’s bill. In this instance, it’s crucial for business owners to ensure all employees are taught to look out for these scams.


2. Save now, not later:

“Sign on the spot RIGHT NOW to get a much lower electricity or natural gas supply rate,” the person at your door says. The insidious thing about this one: You really might get a much lower rate – at first. Part of the reason for the rush is to deter you from thoroughly studying the terms of the deal. You could end up with a low three-month introductory rate that would then transfer into the supplier’s much higher default rate. In this case, the salesperson isn’t lying, he or she is just manipulating you into not reading the contract fully or understanding its terms.


3. I’m from your electric company, and I’m here to help:

Sometimes the person dressed in your electric utility’s uniform will tell you he or she needs to come inside to discuss your service. Sometimes he or she will even say your service is in danger of being turned off unless you pay an immediate fee. Or sometimes he or she will knock on your door during an outage and tell you to pay a fee for an express service restoration. In this situation, there are three possibilities:

  1. Scam. It is unlikely a utility representative will stop by unless the company contacted you beforehand to say it was sending someone over. This scenario may even be worse than a scam – it could be a criminal scoping out your place and your possessions for a break-in. Plus, an energy company representative will never ask for cash on the spot, prepaid cards or same-day money wires.
  2. Scam. This is not the way utilities operate, even if you fall behind on a payment.
  3. Scam. There’s no such thing as an express service restoration.

Who can I trust?

Use reputable resources such as Choose Energy to learn about and compare deregulated energy providers and plans. Choose Energy offers an easy and secure way to purchase deregulated energy from trusted providers in your local area. You choose the plan that’s right for you, and buy when you’re ready and informed after studying the terms of the deal carefully.

What do energy companies that employ door-to-door sales agents do to promote transparency for customers? Here’s a sampling of polices:

SFE Energy, based in Buffalo, NY, sells natural gas and electricity, and it advises customers to ask for a business card. A company compliance officer told Philadelphia Weekly that its sales reps must wear company clothing and show identification including a badge.

Spark Energy, based in Houston, has a section on its website on how to identify that the person at your door is a Spark agent – again, name badges with a photo, vendor ID number and agent ID number. It also offers a phone number that people can call to verify an agent’s status.

North American Power, based in Norwalk, CT, also has a section on its website about its door-to-door sales in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Like the others, it says agents must wear branded clothing and present a badge and other information upon request. It also requires confirmation of any orders through a phone call with a third-party verifier.


Seven tips to avoid energy scams

Remember, not every door-to-door energy salesperson is a scammer. And, frankly, many people won’t engage with them – the only surefire way to avoid being taken in. But sometimes a salesperson really will have a good deal for you.

How can you avoid a door-to-door energy scam? Follow these tips when you open the door:

Tips Why to follow them
1. Know who the salesperson represents. Don’t assume that wearing clothing or carrying a clipboard with a company logo you recognize means the salesperson actually works for that company. Ask to see identification, including proof of employment by an energy company.
2. Protect your personal information. This means more than guarding your Social Security, bank account, and credit/debit card numbers. Don’t show any door-to-door salesperson your energy bill, which will include your utility account number.
3. Know your current energy providers. This will head off that utility bill request above. You get bonus points for knowing the rate you’re paying for electricity or natural gas. (It’s also on the bill).
4. Know your state’s policy on “cooling off” periods. States such as New York allow consumers up to three days to cancel purchases without penalty.
5. Sweat the details of an energy contract. What’s the rate? How long will it last? What happens when it ends? Are there fees, including cancellation fees?
6. Be aware. Stay current on local happenings and whether scammers are operating in your area. You can use the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker to learn more about potential scams in your area.
7. Don’t be embarrassed to report scams. If you believe you’re a victim of a door-to-door energy scam, call your energy provider, the local police and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission

Lee, the spokesman for the energy supplier association, points out one more tried and true tactic.

“If any customers feel pressured, they always have the right to terminate the conversation and ask the sales representative to leave,” he says.

The key is being informed before the doorbell rings and being prepared to think things through carefully.

Consumer Federation of America notes and promotes credit score awareness

Washington, DC
June 18, 2018

PRESS RELEASE

OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS, AN INCREASING NUMBER OF CONSUMERS HAVE OBTAINED THEIR CREDIT SCORES AND KNOW MUCH MORE ABOUT CREDIT SCORES THAN OTHERS DO

The following highlight some of the information released today.  Access the full report here.

Consumer Understanding of Factors Used to Calculate Credit Scores and How They Can Raise a Lower Score Is Incomplete

Large majorities correctly identify three key factors used to calculate credit scores – missed payments (86%), high credit card balances (81%), and personal bankruptcy (79%).

But significant minorities also incorrectly think that age (41%) and marital status (38%) are used in this calculation. And majorities incorrectly believe that tax liens (64%), medical collection accounts less than six months old (62%), and civil judgments (63%) are used in the computation of credit scores.

Similarly, majorities correctly identified individual actions that help raise a low credit score or maintain a high one – make all loan payments on time (89%), keep credit cards balances under 25 percent of the credit limit (72%), and do not open several credit card accounts at the same time (66%). Yet, little more than half of respondents (56%) correctly identified all three factors.

And, only 21 percent know that on a $20,000, 60-month auto loan, borrowers with a low score would typically pay more than $5,000 in interest charges than would a borrower with a high score.

How Consumers Can Raise Their Credit Scores

In brief, consumers can raise their credit scores or maintain high scores by:

  • Consistently making their loan payments on time every month. A late payment may lower one’s credit scores by dozens of points.
  •  Using a small portion of the credit available on a credit card. In general, the higher the percentage of a credit line that is drawn down, the lower one’s credit scores.
  • Paying down credit card debt rather than just shifting it to another credit card or to a home equity loan.
  • Regularly checking one’s credit reports to make sure they are error-free. This can be done for free annually by contacting http://www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 800-322-8228.

Just 12 questions.

To improve their credit knowledge, nearly 200,000 individuals have taken an online credit score quiz (www.CreditScoreQuiz.org) developed and maintained by CFA and VantageScore.

CreditScoreQuiz.org is one of the only resources that is free from commercial conflicts and created with both industry and advocacy input,” said Barrett Burns, president & CEO of VantageScore Solutions. “Whether you are an educator or a consumer, it’s a terrific resource that can enable financial empowerment.”

Other key survey findings include:

  •  A large majority correctly identify key factors used to calculate credit scores but have an incomplete understanding of all the factors.
  • Similarly, a large majority correctly indicate some, but not all of the ways to raise credit scores.
  •  Over the past four years, even though the percentage recently obtaining their credit reports (versus their credit scores) in the past year has increased (from 29 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018), the percentage who say it is important to check these reports has declined (from 72 percent in 2014 to 67 percent in 2018).

The survey was commissioned by CFA and VantageScore and undertaken by ORC International, which from May 31 to June 3, 2018, interviewed 1005 representative Americans by cell phone and landline. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.

Protecting your devices from cryptojacking

Instead of min(d)ing their own business, are scammers using your computer as their virtual ATM? Three years ago, the FTC warned the public and took action against cryptojacking. That’s where scammers use your device’s processing power to “mine” cryptocurrency, which they can then convert into cold, hard cash.

Cryptojacking scams have continued to evolve, and they don’t even need you to install anything. Scammers can use malicious code embedded in a website or an ad to infect your device. Then they can help themselves to your device’s processor without you even knowing. You might make an unlucky visit to a website that uses cryptojacking code, click a link in a phishing email, or mistype a web address. Any of those could lead to cryptojacking. While the scammer cashes out, your device may slow down, burn through battery power, or crash.

So what can you do? Try the following:

  •  Follow tried-and-true advice for avoiding malware: use antivirus software, set software and apps to update automatically, never install software or apps you don’t trust, don’t click links without knowing where they lead, and be careful about visiting unfamiliar sites.
  •  Look for and close performance hogs: It can be hard to diagnose cryptojacking, but one common symptom is poor device performance. Consider closing sites or apps that slow your device or drain your battery.
  •  Consider playing defense: Some browser extensions and ad blockers say they help defend against cryptojacking, doing things like blocking mining code. These tools may be worth considering, but always do your homework first. Read reviews and check trusted sources before installing any online tools. Remember, too, that some websites may keep you from using their site if you have blocking software installed.

If you think cryptojacking has happened to you, the Federal Trade Commission wants to know. Report it to www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Tagged with: cryptocurrency, scam

Winners are losers in lottery & sweepstakes scams — FTC SCAM ALERT

You get a card, call, or email telling you that you won! Maybe it’s a lottery, sweepstakes, or some other prize. The person calling is excited and can’t wait for you to get your winnings.

But here’s what happens next: they tell you there’s a fee, some taxes, or customs duties to pay. They ask for your bank account information, or ask you to send money via a wire transfer or to purchase gift cards and provide the card numbers.

Any way you send it, you lose money instead of winning it. You don’t get a big prize. Instead, you get more requests for money, and more promises that you won big. Scammers can be very convincing, and who wouldn’t want to win big!

Lottery and sweepstakes scams are one of the most common consumer frauds operating today. According to the FTC, these scams were the third-most common type of fraud reported to the agency in 2017.

Earlier this year, the FTC took action against an operation we alleged targeted older people with phony sweepstakes offers. The company sent mailers that made people think they had won $1 million (or more!), and that the recipient only needed to pay a small fee to claim it.

Help us help you and others by using the FTC’s top tips to avoid lottery and sweepstakes scams:

1. Keep your money – and your information – to yourself. Never share your financial information with someone who contacts you and claims to need it. And never wire money to or share gift card numbers with anyone who asks you to. Both payment methods are a sure sign of a scam.

2. Pass this information on to a friend. You probably throw away these kinds of bogus offers or hang up when you get these calls. But you probably know someone who could use a friendly reminder.

3. If you spot a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. Your report can help FTC investigators identify the scammers and stop them before they steal someone’s hard-earned money.

 

Timeshare resale scheme preyed on older adults — Federal Trade Commission SCAM ALERT

If you’re thinking about selling your timeshare through a resale company, research the company first. Read about this recent FTC case against Pro Timeshare Resales, and you’ll know why.

Timeshare Resales is a Florida-based company that called people – many of whom were older adults – and promised to sell their timeshare properties. The company often said it had a buyer in mind and that the sale would occur quickly. Once the timeshare owner agreed, the company would charge an up-front fee, usually of $500 to $2,500.

But, according to the FTC, the company did not sell the property quickly – or even at all. Often, it would ask for additional fees and refuse to grant refunds.

As result of its FTC settlement, Pro Timeshare Resales is now banned from timeshare resale services and telemarketing. It’s not allowed to make misrepresentations or collect any more payments for their timeshare services. Plus, it agreed to surrender more than $3 million.

How can you avoid timeshare resale scams? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Check out the reseller. Contact the State Attorney General and local consumer protection agencies in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if they have any complaints on file. You can also search online for complaints.
  • Ask about fees. It’s better to do business with a reseller that takes fees after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, get refund policies in writing.
  • Get everything in writing. Read the contract carefully to make sure it matches promises you’ve been given verbally. It should include the services the reseller will perform, plus any fees you must pay and when. If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract.

For more information, check out Timeshares and Vacation Plans. And, if you’ve been a victim of a scam, report it to the FTC.

 

%d bloggers like this: