Posts Tagged ‘Consumer Protection’

New FTC Website Helps Small Businesses Avoid Scams and Cyber Attacks

Attacks can be especially devastating to small businesses; Agency provides information on how they can protect themselves

PRESS RELEASE

May 9, 2017

At the direction of Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, the Federal Trade Commission has launched a new website – ftc.gov/SmallBusiness – with articles, videos, and other information aimed at helping small business owners avoid scams and protect their computers and networks from cyberattacks and other threats.

“Small businesses are critical to our economic strength, building America’s future, and helping the United States compete in today’s global marketplace,” Acting Chairman Ohlhausen said. “This innovative new website is a one-stop shop where small businesses can find information to protect themselves from scammers and hackers, as well as resources they can use if they are hit with a cyberattack.”

According to the U.S.Small Business Administration (SBA), there are more than 28 million small businesses nationwide, employing nearly 57 million people. Scammers frequently target small businesses with deceptive tactics designed to get them to pay for supplies they didn’t order, donate to fake charities or trick them into giving access to their network or downloading malware that can corrupt their business’s computers.

Cyberattacks can be particularly devastating to small businesses, and many of them lack the resources that larger companies have to devote to cybersecurity. Symantec Corp.’s 2016 Internet Security Threat Report(link is external) indicates the percentage of spear-phishing attacks targeting small business rose dramatically from 18 percent to 43 percent between 2011 and 2015.

The FTC’s new web page offers specific information to help small businesses protect their networks and their customer data. This includes a new Small Business Computer Security Basics guide, which shares computer security basics to help companies protect their files and devices, train employees to think twice before sharing the business’s account information, and keep their wireless network protected, as well as how to respond to a data breach. It also has information on other cyber threats such as ransomware and phishing schemes targeting small businesses. The FTC is continuing to work with the SBA on additional ways to help small businesses.

click image for “Ransomware – a Closer Look”

FTC Launches New Resource for Identity Theft Victims

IdentityTheft.gov Helps People Report and Recover from Identity Theft

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

May 14, 2015

The Federal Trade Commission has launched IdentityTheft.gov, a new resource that makes it easier for identity theft victims to report and recover from identity theft. A Spanish version of the site is also available at RobodeIdentidad.gov.

The new website provides an interactive checklist that walks people through the recovery process and helps them understand which recovery steps should be taken upon learning their identity has been stolen. It also provides sample letters and other helpful resources.

In addition, the site offers specialized tips for specific forms of identity theft, including tax-related and medical identity theft. The site also has advice for people who have been notified that their personal information was exposed in a data breach.

Identity theft has been the top consumer complaint reported to the FTC for the past 15 years, and in 2014, the Commission received more than 330,000 complaints from consumers who were victims of identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook(link is external), follow us on Twitter(link is external), and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

FTC Alleges Amazon Unlawfully Billed Parents for Millions of Dollars in Children’s Unauthorized In-App Charges

No Password or Other Indication of Parental Consent Was Required for Charges in Kids’ Apps; Internal E-mail Referred to Situation as “House on Fire”

Date: July 10, 2014

Amazon.com, Inc. has billed parents and other account holders for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children, according to a Federal Trade Commission complaint filed today in federal court.

The FTC’s lawsuit seeks a court order requiring refunds to consumers for the unauthorized charges and permanently banning the company from billing parents and other account holders for in-app charges without their consent. According to the complaint, Amazon keeps 30 percent of all in-app charges.

Click image to link to Playing with Fire

According to the FTC, Amazon allowed kids to buy virtual goods — like coins, stars, and pet food — without getting parents’ permission.

Amazon offers many children’s apps in its appstore for download to mobile devices such as the Kindle Fire. In its complaint, the FTC alleges that Amazon violated the FTC Act by billing parents and other Amazon account holders for charges incurred by their children without the permission of the parent or other account holder. Amazon’s setup allowed children playing these kids’ games to spend unlimited amounts of money to pay for virtual items within the apps such as “coins,” “stars,” and “acorns” without parental involvement.

“Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Even Amazon’s own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents’ consent for in-app purchases.”

The complaint alleges that when Amazon introduced in-app charges to the Amazon Appstore in November 2011, there were no password requirements of any kind on in-app charges, including in kids’ games and other apps that appeal to children. According to the complaint, this left parents to foot the bill for charges they didn’t authorize.

According to the complaint, kids’ games often encourage children to acquire virtual items in ways that blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money. In the app “Ice Age Village,” for example, the complaint noted that children can use “coins” and “acorns” to buy items in the game without a real-money charge. However, they can also purchase additional “coins” and “acorns” using real money on a screen that is visually similar to the one that has no real-money charge. The largest quantity purchase available in the app would cost $99.99.

The complaint highlights internal communications among Amazon employees as early as December 2011 that said allowing unlimited in-app charges without any password was “…clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers,” adding that the situation was a “near house on fire.”

In March 2012, according to the complaint, Amazon updated its in-app charge system to require an account owner to enter a password only for individual in-app charges over $20. As the complaint notes, Amazon continued to allow children to make an unlimited number of individual purchases of less than $20 without a parent’s approval. An Amazon employee noted at the time of the change that “it’s much easier to get upset about Amazon letting your child purchase a $99 product without any password protection than a $20 product,” according to the complaint. In July 2012, as set forth in the complaint, internal emails again described consumer complaints about in-app charges as a “house on fire” situation.

The complaint alleges that in early 2013, Amazon updated its in-app charge process to require password entry for some charges in a way that functioned differently in different contexts. According to the complaint, even when a parent was prompted for a password to authorize a single in-app charge made by a child, that single authorization often opened an undisclosed window of 15 minutes to an hour during which the child could then make unlimited charges without further authorization. Not until June 2014, roughly two and a half years after the problem first surfaced and only shortly before the Commission voted to approve the lawsuit against Amazon, did Amazon change its in-app charge framework to obtain account holders’ informed consent for in-app charges on its newer mobile devices, as explained in the complaint.

According to the complaint, thousands of parents complained to Amazon about in-app charges their children incurred without their authorization, amounting to millions of dollars of charges. For example, one mother noted in the FTC complaint told Amazon that her daughter was able to rack up $358.42 in unauthorized charges, while others complained that even children who could not read were able to “click a lot of buttons at random” and incur several unauthorized charges.

The company’s stated policy is that all in-app charges are final and nonrefundable. According to the complaint, even parents who have sought an exception to that policy have faced a refund process that is unclear and confusing, involving statements that do not explain how to seek refunds for in-app charges or suggest consumers cannot get a refund for these charges.

This is the Commission’s second case relating to children’s in-app purchases; Apple, Inc. settled an FTC complaint concerning the issue earlier this year. The Commission is seeking full refunds for all affected consumers, disgorgement of Amazon’s ill-gotten gains, and a court order ensuring that in the future Amazon obtains permission before imposing charges for in-app purchases.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-1, with Commissioner Joshua D. Wright voting no. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

Maine attorney general makes public aware of grocery voucher scam

By Ryan McLaughlin, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 30, 2013, at 4:13 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Attorney General Janet Mills is warning Maine residents to be wary of a grocery voucher scam targeting the elderly.

The scam claims to offer individuals ages 60 and up $3,000 in free groceries and a Life Alert device.

The scammers have indicated a new government assistance program qualifies them for the phony benefits.

The pre-recorded phone calls ask recipients to press certain buttons before speaking with a representative. Those reporting the scam to Mills’ office did not speak with anyone and hung up the phone before a representative was reached.

“This is a new twist on an old scam,” said Mills. “There is no government program handing out free grocery vouchers or Life Alert devices to seniors. These are scammers sending out millions of pre-recorded calls looking for anyone who will take the bait and hand over personal information, which often includes credit card numbers, social security numbers and birthdays.”

 

Anyone with questions about these or other consumer matters should contact the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office at 800-436-2131.

 FMI:  CONSUMER FORUM: New twist on old scam

 

Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills announces top ten consumer complaints

August 28, 2013

(AUGUSTA, Maine) Mediators in the Maine Office of the Attorney General assist consumers with a variety of issues, ranging from landlord/tenant disputes to phone bill “cramming”. The most frequent complaints in the last year, however, centered on auto sales and “Jamaican lottery” scams.

Maine has numerous laws in place that can protect a consumer, but the best way for consumers to avoid being defrauded is to know their rights. The Maine Attorney General’s Consumer Law Guide provides a basis for understanding Maine’s consumer protection laws. Attorney General Janet T. Mills urges Maine consumers to educate themselves before signing contracts and to be wary of high pressure phone solicitations.

“An informed consumer is a well-armed citizen,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. “Whether under our auto sales ‘Lemon Law’ or the Unfair Trade Practices Act, consumers have options when they encounter unfair business practices. Maine consumers should understand their rights and should always be skeptical before agreeing to part with their hard-earned money.”

The following are the top ten most frequent complaints received by the Maine Office of Attorney General, Consumer Mediation and Information Service between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013:

  1. Auto Sales (both new and used)
  2. Contests/Sweepstakes/Prize Promotions and similar types of Scams
  3. Landlord-Tenant/Mobile Homes
  4. Nigerian/Grandparent/”Sweetheart” and similar types of Scams
  5. Home Repair/Construction Complaints
  6. Furniture/Appliances/Home Furnishings
  7. Entertainment/Recreation
  8. Satellite TV Sales and Service
  9. Health Services (including over the counter “health” products)
  10. Telecommunications/Slamming/Cramming (Charges added to bill without authorization)

The Consumer Mediation and Information Service assists Maine consumers and businesses by answering questions, providing referrals and mediating disputes. “Our staff and our volunteer mediators help thousands of consumers each year by answering their questions on a variety of topics including used vehicles, Maine’s lemon law, landlord-tenant issues, telephone scammers, implied and express warranties, mobile phone disputes and much more. I hope more consumers will realize the resources that are available to them and reach out to our office for assistance,” said Attorney General Mills. Consumers may call the specifically dedicated line 1-800-436-2131 or 626-8849 Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. – noon and 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. In addition to the toll free phone number, consumers can contact the Consumer Protection Division by email at consumer.mediation@maine.gov and by regular mail by writing to: Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division, 6 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333. The Consumer Protection Division also has a lot of consumer information on the website, including the Consumer Law Guide – www.maine.gov/ag.

 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 is Military Consumer Protection Day

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted July 16, 2013, at 6:51 p.m.

Wednesday marks Military Consumer Protection Day. It is so designated in light of some special situations that members of the military and their families face in today’s marketplace.

Our military members tend to be younger and financially less experienced than average citizens. They move more often and often face challenges in securing housing. Ten years of war have meant mission training has come before financial training, leaving many enlisted veterans poorly equipped to deal with the rigors of economic life back home.

In the past, payday lending operations located near military bases helped those needing a small loan to tide them over until payday. Today there are fewer of those businesses; the internet-based array of illegal, unlicensed predatory lenders may demand interest with an annual percentage rate of 300 percent or more.

At Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, principal examiner David Leach says, “We have a small handful of licensed payday lenders, who follow Maine law — no more than a $25 fee on a payday loan of $250.00 or more.”

Leach urges military people to check with his office for licensed lenders ( www.credit.maine.gov, 1-800-332-8529) and avoid all others.

A white paper by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last September called for expanding availability of small-dollar, low-interest military loans. These loans could include an automatic savings component in the repayment plan; accumulated savings over time could help build credit and be used for future short-term cash needs.

Deciding when to leave the military can have big financial implications. People at a financial planning conference late last year were told that career people who leave early could lose between $300,000 and $400,000 in pension and benefits. Planners were urged to prompt clients who insist on leaving active duty to consider joining the reserves.

There are several websites that can help with financial planning, among them www.military.com, www.tricare.com and www.va.com. The Maine state government site includes a “Financial Field Manual” for military families, produced by Kiplinger’s and the Better Business Bureau. Find the manual at www.investors.maine.gov (scroll down to “recent publications”) or call 1-877-624-8551 for a hard copy.

HOPE NOW is an alliance of HUD-approved counselors, investors and others in the mortgage market. Help tailored for military families can be found at www.hopenow.com/military-resources.php.

To be on guard against scams targeting service people, visit www.stopfraud.gov/service-members. Maine’s Bureau of Insurance has a webpage dedicated to life insurance (from Maine.gov search “military insurance”).

The Federal Trade Commission has more on Military Consumer Protection Day at www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/military-consumer-protection-day-2013.

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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PRESS RELEASE from MAINE ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET MILLS re: Military Consumer Protection Day

Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills warns consumers about Deed Processing Notice—read the fine print.

Press Release

June 24, 2013

Augusta – The Maine Office of the Attorney General is warning consumers about an offer involving a Deed Processing Notice that is being mailed to consumers. The notice tells consumers that they need to send $83 to obtain a copy of their deed to their real estate.

Attorney General Mills says “if you want a copy of your deed, contact your local registry of deeds. You can get a copy much quicker and cheaper from your county registry.”

A close look at the fine print of the notice discloses that copies can be obtained at a lower cost directly from the county registrar. However, the notice appears to be designed to alarm and deceive consumers into paying for a service at a higher cost.

You can find information about your county registry of deeds at www.maineregistryofdeeds.org

If you have questions about this or other consumer protection matters, you can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division: 1-800-436-2131 or email: consumer.mediation@Maine.gov

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