Google is not calling you — Federal Trade Commission SCAM ALERT

May 23, 2018

by

Rosario Méndez

Attorney, Division of Consumer and Business Education, FTC

Have you gotten a robocall at work, telling you that you have to take action or your Google business listing will be removed? Or maybe even marked as permanently closed? That kind of thing could be tough for a business — if the threat was real. But those calls are not legit—and not from Google.

The FTC just filed a lawsuit against Point Break Media and others, saying they made just those kinds of calls. According to the complaint, people who believed the calls and then spoke to a live telemarketer were told that they could avoid the problem by paying a fee (up to $700). When people paid this fee, the scammers then allegedly targeted them with offers for even more expensive services that would supposedly improve Google search results.  Of course, nobody making those calls is affiliated with Google. And businesses can — for free — manage their own Google business listing.

In this case, the scammers targeted music instructors, house painting companies, car dealerships, and other small businesses. They knew that appearing in online searches is crucial for those businesses, and threatening that connection with customers might make people act before stopping to think.

If you get a call like this, don’t press any buttons. Don’t call the number back, and don’t engage. That just encourages the scammers. The best thing to do? Immediately hang up the phone, and then talk about it with your colleagues or employees. Let them know that:

  • Scammers pretend to be someone you trust. They pretend to be connected with a company you know or a government agency
  • Scammers create a sense of urgency. They want you to rush and make a quick decision without considering options.
  • Scammers use intimidation and fear. It’s okay to hang up the phone and confirm what’s really going on before taking any action.

Then, sign up for the FTC’s Business Blog (FTC.gov/Subscribe), which will keep you up to date on what’s happening at the FTC, and how it affects your business. Also, check out FTC.gov/SmallBusiness. Knowing about scams that target small businesses will help you protect yours.

Tagged with: business, imposter, phone, telemarketing

Blog Topics:

Jobs & Making Money

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Asked to pay by gift card? Don’t. — Federal Trade Commission SCAM ALERT

Has someone asked you to go get a gift card to pay for something? Lots of people have told us they’ve been asked to pay with gift cards – by a caller claiming to be with the IRS, or tech support, or a so-called family member in need. If you’ve gotten a call like this, you know that the caller will then demand the gift card numbers and PIN. And, poof, your money is gone.

Scammers are good at convincing people there really is an emergency, so lots of people have made the trip to the Walmart or Target or CVS to buy gift cards to send these callers. And scammers love gift cards – it’s one of their favorite ways to get your money. These cards are like giving cash – and nearly untraceable, unless you act almost immediately.

So here’s the most important thing for you to know: anyone who demands payment by gift card is always, always, always a scammer. Try this gift card buying exercise out at home – especially when anyone asks you to pay with a gift card:

Q: Should I buy an iTunes, Google Play, Steam, Kroger, Walgreens, BestBuy, Amazon, CVS, Rite Aid or ANY OTHER gift card for someone who demands payment? For any reason?

A: NO.

Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. If you’ve bought a gift card and lost money to someone who might be a scammer, tell the company who issued the card. (The contact info might be on the card, but might require some research) Call or email iTunes or Amazon or whoever it was. Tell them their card was used in a scam. If you act quickly enough, they might be able to get your money back. But – either way – it’s important that they know what happened to you. And then please tell the FTC about your loss. Your report helps us try to shut the scammers down.

New alert for Western Union refunds

Did you lose money to a scam, wiring the money via Western Union between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017? If so, you might know that May 31 is the deadline for filing your claim to get money back from the FTC’s and the Department of Justice’s settlement with Western Union. With the deadline fast approaching, we know two things: (1) there will probably be a rush of last-minute filers; and (2) scammers will try to take advantage of the people filing claims.

We’re sure about those scammers  because we’ve already seen them (and told you about them). And we’re still seeing scams that offer to get you special access, so-called easier ways to file, and promises of big amounts of money. This includes one recent email that said it came from the FBI, promised a refund of more than $500,000 – and said you could claim it just by emailing a Gmail address.

So, as the days click down until the May 31 deadline for filing, remember: if anyone promises you a refund – or says they’re the only way to get one, that’s a scam. If anybody tries to charge you to get your money back, that’s also a scam. If you’re still planning to submit a claim, here are a few quick pointers:

  • Start your claim at FTC.gov/WU. You don’t need to email anybody or hire a lawyer. Just start here, put in as much information as you have, upload whatever documents you have, and submit.
  • It’s free to file your claim. Don’t pay anybody to get a refund. Ever.
  • There are no guarantees. Nobody can promise you a refund at all, much less a specific amount of money. There’s a whole process that will happen once all the claims are in – to validate them, and then divide up the money among all the people who qualified.
  • There are no short-cuts. That validation process? It’ll take a while. There’s no short-cut or special access. It might take a year to get your money back, but nobody can help you get it any faster.

If you spot anybody making any of those promises, or charging for a refund, the FTC wants to know about it.

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.

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

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