Archive for the ‘Federal Agencies’ Category

Unlocking the code – FTC Scam Alert

 

Unlocking the code

by Alvaro Puig
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Identity thieves may already have a lot of information about you – like your credit card number, the card’s expiration date, and your name, address, and phone number. With all that information in his hands, why would he call you? He’s after one vital piece of information – the security code on your credit card.

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Easier to lose money than weight

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director Northeast CONTACT Posted Feb. 22, 2015, at 10:09 a.m.

Here’s a recipe for making millions on unsuspecting consumers. Buy green coffee bean extract from China for about 50 cents per bottle plus shipping, sell each bottle for $30 to $48 and gross an estimated $16 million to $26 million.

To rack up those sales, you’ll need to pass off an unscientific study as “proof” people can lose “an astounding amount of fat and weight” simply by downing your product. Advertise that there’s no need to reduce calories or increase exercise; just swallow the extract along with the seller’s worthless promises. You’ll need some TV promotion to build credibility. An appearance on the “Dr. Oz” show should do the trick. Add a few websites with names that will trigger lots of hits for your wonder product, and you’re on your way.

Dr. Oz scolded at hearing on weight loss scams (click image for FoxDC.com story)

Just don’t get caught. The Federal Trade Commission said last year the “as seen on TV” campaign was false and misleading. In May 2014, the FTC charged NPB Advertising of Tampa, Florida, with making “false and unsupported advertising claims” and with failing to disclose its news sites and testimonials were phony. The case is pending. Then, in September, the FTC charged that Applied Food Sciences of Austin, Texas, used a study it should have known was flawed to make “false and unsubstantiated weight-loss claims” to deceive consumers and sell its extract. The company settled that case for $3.5 million. In September, Dr. Oz announced on his website the study had been retracted. “This sometimes happens in scientific research,” Oz wrote at the time. Last month, the FTC settled charges against Lindsey Duncan and two companies he controls: Pure Health LLC and Genesis Today Inc. Under the settlement, Duncan and his companies have to pay $9 million in consumer redress and refrain from making deceptive claims about green coffee bean extract or any other dietary supplement or drug product. Several critics of the settlement cited a “chilling effect” and voiced fears other manufacturers might hesitate to advertise true claims about products. In a statement, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said she and the other two commissioners supporting the settlement are “more concerned about other marketers’ incentive to emulate the defendants’ conduct, believing that they will ultimately retain the lion’s share of their ill-gotten gains.” You can review a timeline of the FTC’s actions at nutritionaction.com. On the homepage, look for the article titled “Watch Out for Deceitful Marketing of Dietary Supplements” under “Daily Tips.” Then do a web search for “green bean coffee extract.” We’re betting a wide majority of the 1.58 million hits are still touting weight-loss myths. To lose weight and keep if off, eat fewer calories and increase activity. To learn more about possibly getting some money back if you bought green coffee bean extract, visit the FTC website at consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0008-getting-your-money-back.

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, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Kidde Recalls Disposable Plastic Fire Extinguishers Due to Failure to Discharge | CPSC.gov

Consumers should immediately contact Kidde for a replacement fire extinguisher.

Hazard:

A faulty valve component can cause the disposable fire extinguishers not to fully discharge when the lever is repeatedly pressed and released during a fire emergency, posing a risk of injury.

Consumer Contact:

Kidde toll-free at (855) 283-7991 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or online at www.kidde.com and click on Safety Notice for more information.

Incidents/Injuries:

Kidde has received 11 reports of the recalled fire extinguishers failing to discharge as expected. No injuries have been reported.

Remedy:

Consumers should immediately contact Kidde for a replacement fire extinguisher.

Sold at:

Home Depot, Menards, Walmart and other department, home and hardware stores nationwide, and online from August 2013 through November 2014 for between $18 and $65, and about $200 for model XL 5MR.

If Bruce with a foreign accent calls, offers to fix your computer, hang up

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 08, 2015, at 3:01 p.m.

You get a call from someone claiming to be from Windows Helpdesk, Windows Service Center, Microsoft Tech Support, Microsoft Support or a similar sounding name.

The caller says he has “detected trouble with your computer” and can help you fix it. Red flags should be flying, because this is one of the most frequently perpetrated scams going. Microsoft warns consumers about these scams and offers tips for spotting fake calls.

The clues are all there. Most callers are heavily accented but give very American-sounding names. They claim your computer is infected with a virus or is operating “with a lot of errors.” They can fix this, they claim, if you’ll only turn over control of your computer to them online and send them a few hundred dollars.

It’s always a scam. No cold-caller could possibly know whether your computer is operating correctly. Those “errors” are typical operating vagaries a scammer tries to make you believe will damage your system if left alone.

Give up control of your computer to someone who calls out of the blue, and you run the risk of having your passwords, financial data and other personal details stolen. Thieves could use that information to drain bank accounts, ruin your credit and steal your identity.

If successful, they’ll probably call back and try to sell you worthless computer security software. Once a scammer succeeds, you can bet your phone number will go on other crooks’ call sheets.

The Federal Trade Commission tried to crack down on the tech support scam, as the crime has become known. In September 2012, the FTC froze the assets of 14 companies working the scam. The agency said the “repair” fees ranged from $49 to $450 and netted thieves tens of millions of dollars from innocent consumers.

That put a few crooks out of business, at least for a while. However, cheap international phone rates and sophisticated dialing programs offer criminals the means to exploit the fears of computer users.

If you let the scammers prattle on, they’ll urge you to open a Microsoft event utility viewer; it’s built into Windows and lists harmless errors legitimate repair people can use to fix operating problems. The crooks point to the “error” and “warning” messages as signs that disaster is about to strike, when in fact the computer may be operating just fine.

The caller might then try to trick you into visiting a phony website and downloading what appears to be a repair tool; in fact, it’s malware that can lock up one or more programs on your computer. The caller may later demand a ransom to allow those programs to work properly again. Or the scammers might install malicious software that turns your computer into a “zombie,” which in turn looks for more computers to infect.

If you receive such a phone call, the best thing to do is hang up. Never buy any software or services from these cold callers. Don’t give them a credit card number or other financial information. And don’t click on links at websites to which you’re directed or in emails they send you. And never turn control of your computer over to anyone other than a known representative of a company with which you already have a business relationship for computer service.

If you have given information, change passwords to your computer, main email service and any financial programs. Do an anti-virus scan to look for malware; if you’re unsure whether the scan has dealt with any problems, you may want to take the computer to a local company you trust to have it thoroughly checked out.

If you’ve shared personal or financial information with a scammer, you may want to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Get details from the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, credit.maine.gov, or call 1-800-332-8529 (1-800-DEBT-LAW).

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, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Identity thieves try to cash in during tax filing season

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 01, 2015, at 9:53 a.m.

click image to report scams, waste and abuse

Two headlines top the news near the start of this income tax season.

Thieves who steal Social Security numbers and other personal data do so in order to file phony tax returns and claim rebates they’re not owed.

And crooks posing as Internal Revenue Service officials are calling people and, in many cases, bullying them into sending money they don’t owe.

They use common names and all kinds of tricks. They may say they’re calling from the IRS criminal division. They might have technology that will spoof a caller ID, making it appear they’re calling from a real IRS office. They threaten those they consider easier targets — such as older people and recent immigrants — with fines, jail terms, job loss, even deportation.

The crooks do their homework before calling. They might know a person’s Social Security number — or at least the last four digits — and other personal details that lend credence to their pitch. Demanding immediate payment is a tipoff it’s a scam — the real IRS first would notify you by letter of any official action — and the agency never would demand payment by a debit card or wire transfer.

Losing a one-time payment is bad enough. Thousands of taxpayers have filed their income taxes only to find a crook has stolen their identities, filed fraudulently and collected their refunds illegally.

The IRS says after such discoveries, it takes an average of four months to get a refund to its rightful recipient. That person also needs to go through the hassle associated with identity theft. Perhaps ironically, prisoners’ Social Security numbers often are tempting targets, because inmates are less apt to be on top of their tax or banking activities.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, says it has received reports of 290,000 scam calls since October 2013, and nearly 3,000 victims have lost a total of $14 million. The IRS has been working to curb these crimes, saying it spotted 19 million suspicious returns since 2011 and prevented more than $63 billion in fraudulent returns. Read about ways to spot impersonators and report scams at Treasury.gov/tigta.

Consumers can and should take all the usual steps to prevent fraud: use firewalls and antivirus software, use strong passwords and change them often on all online accounts and reveal your Social Security number only when it’s absolutely necessary.

If you become a victim, the IRS says it wants to help. Read about the agency’s prevention and detection efforts at IRS.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection.

The IRS is also warning consumers about unscrupulous preparers who push filers to make inflated claims. Often, these preparers will demand an up-front fee; they may also refuse to give the taxpayer a copy of the return. Both are things that legitimate tax preparation pros don’t do.

You may qualify for free help preparing your income tax filings. Seniors can check with AARP or the local agency on aging. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program gives free tax help to people who make $53,000 or less, have disabilities, are older or who speak little English and need help preparing their returns.

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, ME 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Sunbeam Recalls Holmes Oil Filled Heaters Due to Scald Hazard | CPSC.gov

Recall Summary

Name of product: Oil-Filled Heater

Hazard: The oil-filled heaters can spray heated oil, posing a scald hazard.

Refund

 

Remedy

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled heater, unplug it and contact Sunbeam for instructions on how to obtain a full refund.

Sold at

Target and small department stores nationwide from August 2014 through November 2014 for about $50.

Description

This recall involves Holmes brand oil-filled heaters that are black or white in color. The heaters included in the recall are about 23 inches tall, 6 inches deep and 12 inches wide and have model number HOH3000 or HOH3000B printed on a label on the bottom of the product. The “Holmes” logo is near the power switch and temperature control. Products affected have a code on the heater plug blade within the following range: G192 through G298.  No other codes are affected.

Incidents/Injuries

The firm has received approximately 40 reports of units that unexpectedly sprayed heated oil, resulting in reports of property damage involving damaged carpet and fabrics. No injuries reported.

Consumer Contact:

Sunbeam Products, Inc. at (800) 515-4715 anytime, or online at www.holmesproducts.com and click on “Oil Filled Heater Recall” for more information.

 

The best New Year’s resolution: No new resolutions

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 04, 2015, at 1:28 p.m.

The lion’s share of New Year’s resolutions many of us made have to do with better health. The online health adviser WebMD has a common-sense suggestion in this regard: Resolve not to make any more resolutions.

Doing so lessens the unhealthy cycle of denying yourself, then binging to satisfy your craving. Instead, the one-day-at-a-time approach of 12-step and other lifestyle changing programs works on a more realistic theory: achieve one small success, then do it again.

This practice eliminates the need for a self-improvement laundry list on Jan. 1. You could pledge to lose weight, exercise more and volunteer 10 hours per week, all with the aim of feeling better. Or you could pledge to do one thing every day to feel better.

You could start now. Put down the paper (or push away from the screen), get up and take 100 steps. Walk around the house, find something that’s out of place and put it away. Or go outside and get the mail. You’ve moved, gotten a bit of exercise and put something material in its place; you haven’t expended that much effort, but you probably feel better.

Contrast this with those of us who have bought year-long gym memberships and not used them.

Many gyms count on this phenomenon — they can sell thousands of memberships at bargain prices when their facility holds a few hundred people at most. What behavioral economists term “pre-commitment” acts serve to subsidize the truly motivated members; those who don’t go are just poorer by the membership fee.

Make similar plans to lose weight, if that’s among your goals. Losing 1 pound every 10 days will leave you 36 pounds lighter by next New Year’s Day. That one-pound-at-a-time goal makes sense; visualizing the removal of 36 pounds all at once is neither medically advisable nor realistic.

While we’re focused on health, avoid products that claim quick fixes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has articles about scam products at www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ProtectYourself/HealthFraud/default.htm.

Use your internal radar on flimsy claims including “quick results,” “no-risk trial” and “money-back guarantee.”

Take small steps to feel better about protecting your identity. When you need to provide a password — on secure websites only, please — use a strong series of letters, numbers and symbols that you haven’t used anywhere else and which only you know. Check for computer system updates and patches often, and keep your security software updated. Don’t click or download anything from any unknown source, and delete suspicious looking emails without opening them.

Read the Federal Trade Commission’s list of what to do and what not to do in keeping your identity safe at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0272-how-keep-your-personal-information-secure.

Review the list frequently and try one new tool every time you read it. Find out how to get your truly free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to one annually from each of the three reporting agencies; get one now, one in early May and one in early September.

Being a smart consumer involves much more than looking for deals. It means taking single steps on our long journeys through the marketplace.

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, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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