Federal Trade Commission – A scam story: Secret shopping and fake checks

Scammers need a good story to get to your wallet. Once they find one that works, they use it again and again. One of their old favorites brings together fake checks and secret shopping, and we’ve been hearing a lot about it lately.

Here’s how it starts. You get a check in the mail with a job offer as a secret shopper. You deposit the check and see the funds in your account a few days later, and the bank even tells you the check has cleared.

Now you’re off to the store you’ve been asked to shop at and report back on, often a Walmart. Your first assignment is to test the in-store money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram, by sending some of the money you deposited. Or you might be told to use the money to buy reloadable cards or gift cards, such as iTunes cards. You’re instructed to send pictures of the cards or to give the numbers on the cards.

Fast forward days or weeks to the unhappy ending. The bank finds out the check you deposited is a fake, which means you’re on the hook for all that money. How does that even happen? Well, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. By the time you try to get the money back from the money transfer service, the scammers are long gone, and they’ve taken all the money off the gift cards, too. (By the way, money orders and cashier’s checks can be faked, too.)

The moral of the story? If anyone ever asks you to deposit a check and then wire or send money in any way, you can bet it’s a scam. No matter what they tell you.

Want to avoid the latest rip-offs? Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at FTC.gov/Scams.

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Harbor Freight Tools Recalls Chainsaws Due to Serious Injury Hazard

Name of product:
Portland, One Stop Gardens, and Chicago Electric 14 inch electric chainsaws
Hazard:
The power switch can malfunction and allow the chainsaw to continue operating after the operator moves the switch to the “off” position, posing a serious injury hazard to the operator.

Remedy:
Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled chainsaws and return the product to their local Harbor Freight Tools store for a free replacement chainsaw. Replacement units will be available starting May 21, 2018.
Incidents/Injuries:
Harbor Freight Tools has received 15 reports of chainsaws continuing to operate after being turned off by the operator, resulting in three laceration injuries including one serious injury to the arm requiring stitches.
Sold At:
Harbor Freight Tools stores nationwide and online at http://www.harborfreight.com from May 2009 through February 2018 for about $50.
Importer(s):
Harbor Freight Tools, of Camarillo, Calif.
Manufactured In:
China
Recall number:
18-155
Consumer Contact:

Harbor Freight Tools at 800-444-3353 Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. PT, email at recall@harborfreight.com or online at www.harborfreight.com and click on “Recall Safety Information” on the bottom of the homepage for more information.

Vornado Air Recalls Electric Space Heaters Due to Fire and Burn Hazards

Recall Details

Description:

This recall involves Vornado VH101 Personal Vortex electric space heaters sold in the following colors: black, coral orange, grayed jade, cinnamon, fig, ice white and red. The heaters measure about 7.2 inches long by 7.8 inches wide by 7.10 inches high and have two heat settings (low and high) and a fan only/no heat setting. “Vornado” with a “V” behind it is printed on the front of the unit. The model/type “VH101,” serial number and ETL mark are printed on a silver rating label on the bottom of the unit.

Remedy:

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heaters and contact Vornado for instructions on how to receive a full refund or a free replacement unit, including free shipping.

Incidents/Injuries:

Vornado has received 15 reports of the heaters catching on fire.

Sold At:

Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Menards, Orchard Supply, Target and other stores nationwide and online at Amazon.com, Target.com, Vornado.com and other websites from August 2009 through March 2018 for about $30.

Importer(s):

Vornado Air LLC, of Andover, Kan.

Manufactured In:
China
Recall number:
18-136

Source: Vornado Air Recalls Electric Space Heaters Due to Fire and Burn Hazards

FTC Sending Refund Checks Totaling More Than $355,000 to Consumers Who Bought CogniPrin ‘Memory Improvement’ Supplement

Case brought jointly by FTC and Maine Attorney General

The Federal Trade Commission is mailing 2,116 refund checks totaling more than $355,000 to people who bought CogniPrin, a deceptively marketed ‘memory improvement’ supplement. The average check amount is $168.08, and represents full refunds.

In February 2017, the FTC and the Maine Attorney General charged XXL Impressions LLC, Jeffrey R. Powlowsky, J2 Response LLP, Justin Bumann, Justin Steinle, Synergixx, LLC, Charlie Fusco, Ronald Jahner, and Brazos Minshew with making false and misleading claims regarding CogniPrin’s effectiveness. The complaint also alleged the defendants failed to disclose that Jahner, who was presented as an objective medical expert, was paid a percentage of the money from CogniPrin sales.

The court order settling the charges barred the defendants from the illegal conduct alleged in the complaint and required them to pay money to the FTC to provide refunds to deceived consumers. While the defendants sold multiple dietary supplements, this mailing is only to people who bought CogniPrin.

Rust Consulting, Inc., the refund administrator for this matter, will begin mailing checks today. Consumers should receive their refund checks this month, and they must be cashed within 60 days (by June 1, 2018) or they will become void. The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide information to cash refund checks. Consumers who have questions about the mailing should call 1-800-598-3025.

FTC law enforcement actions led to more than $6.4 billion in refunds for consumers in a one-year period between July 2016 and June 2017. For more information about the FTC’s refund program, including its Annual Report, visit www.ftc.gov/refunds.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook (link is external), follow us on Twitter (link is external), read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

 

CONSUMER REDRESS HOTLINE: 1-800-598-3025

FTC warns of scams related to new medicare cards coming between April 2018 and April 2019

New Medicare cards are coming soon. Here’s what you need to know about your new card. Plus, how to avoid related scams.

Starting in April 2018, Medicare will begin mailing new cards to everyone who gets Medicare benefits. Why? To help protect your identity, Medicare is removing Social Security numbers from Medicare cards. Instead, the new cards will have a unique Medicare Number. This will happen automatically. You don’t need to do anything or pay anyone to get your new card.

Medicare will mail your card, at no cost, to the address you have on file with the Social Security Administration. If you need to update your official mailing address, visit your online Social Security account or call 1-800-772-1213. When you get your new card, your Medicare coverage and benefits will stay the same.

If your sister who lives in another state gets her card before you, don’t fret. The cards will be mailed in waves, to various parts of the country, from April 2018 until April 2019. So, your card may arrive at a different time than hers. You can check the rollout schedule to get a better idea when you may be receiving yours.

When you get your new card, be sure to destroy your old card. Don’t just toss it in the trash. Shred it. If you have a separate Medicare Advantage card, keep that because you’ll still need it for treatment.

As the new Medicare cards start being mailed, be on the lookout for Medicare scams. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t pay for your new card. It’s yours for free. If anyone calls and says you need to pay for it, that’s a scam.
  • Don’t give personal information to get your card. If someone calls claiming to be from Medicare, asking for your Social Security number or bank information, that’s a scam. Hang up. Medicare will never ask you to give personal information to get your new number and card.
  • Guard your card. When you get your new card, safeguard it like you would any other health insurance or credit card. While removing the Social Security number cuts down on many types of identity theft, you’ll still want to protect your new card because identity thieves could use it to get medical services.

For more information about changes to your Medicare card go to go.medicare.gov/newcard. And if you’re a victim of a scam, report it to the FTC.

Double Insight Recalls Multicookers Due to Fire Hazard; Sold Exclusively at Walmart

CPSC Recall

Gem 65 8-in-1 Multicooker sold at Walmart from August 2017 through January 2018 for about $80.

Remedy:

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled multicookers, unplug the unit and return it to Walmart to receive a free replacement.

Click image for more information

Incidents/Injuries:

Double Insight has received 107 reports of overheating, five resulting in minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

Sold Exclusively At:

Walmart stores nationwide and online at http://www.walmart.com from August 2017 through January 2018 for about $80.

Manufacturer(s): Foshan Linshine Technology Co., Guangdong, China
Importer(s): Double Insight Inc., of Canada

Scam Alert: IRS Urges Taxpayers to Watch Out for Erroneous Refunds

Beware of Fake Calls to Return Money to a Collection Agency

News Release
IR-2018-27, Feb. 13, 2018

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers of a quickly growing scam involving erroneous tax refunds being deposited into their bank accounts. The IRS also offered a step-by-step explanation for how to return the funds and avoid being scammed.

Following up on a Security Summit alert issued Feb. 2, the IRS issued this additional warning about the new scheme after discovering more tax practitioners’ computer files have been breached. In addition, the number of potential taxpayer victims jumped from a few hundred to several thousand in just days. The IRS Criminal Investigation division continues its investigation into the scope and breadth of this scheme.

These criminals have a new twist on an old scam. After stealing client data from tax professionals and filing fraudulent tax returns, these criminals use the taxpayers’ real bank accounts for the deposit.

Thieves are then using various tactics to reclaim the refund from the taxpayers, and their versions of the scam may continue to evolve.

Different Versions of the Scam

In one version of the scam, criminals posing as debt collection agency officials acting on behalf of the IRS contacted the taxpayers to say a refund was deposited in error, and they asked the taxpayers to forward the money to their collection agency.

In another version, the taxpayer who received the erroneous refund gets an automated call with a recorded voice saying he is from the IRS and threatens the taxpayer with criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant and a “blacklisting” of their Social Security Number. The recorded voice gives the taxpayer a case number and a telephone number to call to return the refund.

As it did last week, the IRS repeated its call for tax professionals to step up security of sensitive client tax and financial files.

The IRS urged taxpayers to follow established procedures for returning an erroneous refund to the agency. The IRS also encouraged taxpayers to discuss the issue with their financial institutions because there may be a need to close bank accounts. Taxpayers receiving erroneous refunds also should contact their tax preparers immediately.

Because this is a peak season for filing tax returns, taxpayers who file electronically may find that their tax return will reject because a return bearing their Social Security number is already on file. If that’s the case, taxpayers should follow the steps outlined in the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft. Taxpayers unable to file electronically should mail a paper tax return along with Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, stating they were victims of a tax preparer data breach.

Here are the official ways to return an erroneous refund to the IRS.

Taxpayers who receive the refunds should follow the steps outlined by Tax Topic Number 161 – Returning an Erroneous Refund. The tax topic contains full details, including mailing addresses should there be a need to return paper checks. By law, interest may accrue on erroneous refunds.

If the erroneous refund was a direct deposit:

  1. Contact the Automated Clearing House (ACH) department of the bank/financial institution where the direct deposit was received and have them return the refund to the IRS.
  2. Call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 (individual) or 800-829-4933 (business) to explain why the direct deposit is being returned.

If the erroneous refund was a paper check and hasn’t been cashed:

  1. Write “Void” in the endorsement section on the back of the check.
  2. Submit the check immediately to the appropriate IRS location listed below. The location is based on the city (possibly abbreviated) on the bottom text line in front of the words TAX REFUND on your refund check.
  3. Don’t staple, bend, or paper clip the check.
  4. Include a note stating, “Return of erroneous refund check because (and give a brief explanation of the reason for returning the refund check).”

The erroneous refund was a paper check and you have cashed it:

  • Submit a personal check, money order, etc., immediately to the appropriate IRS location listed below.

  • If you no longer have access to a copy of the check, call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 (individual) or 800-829-4933 (business) (see telephone and local assistance for hours of operation) and explain to the IRS assistor that you need information to repay a cashed refund check.

  • Write on the check/money order: Payment of Erroneous Refund, the tax period for which the refund was issued, and your taxpayer identification number (social security number, employer identification number, or individual taxpayer identification number).

  • Include a brief explanation of the reason for returning the refund.

  • Repaying an erroneous refund in this manner may result in interest due the IRS.

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