Posts Tagged ‘Fraud’

How to protect mail-ordered gifts from ‘porch pirates’


Posted Nov. 07, 2016, at 6:01 a.m.
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More and more consumers are avoiding the whirl of holiday shopping by ordering gifts online.

However, before they’re even wrapped, some goods that should end up in shiny paper go missing. They are among the goods delivered by Fedex, UPS and other package services that are stolen right off people’s front porches.

These “porch pirates” often don’t know what they’re taking. That prompted one writer on the subject to wonder about thieves’ reactions if they had stolen the 20-pound bag of dog food that had been delivered to his home.

That writer also wondered why police in Tarzana, California, had referred to this brand of crooks as “sophisticated porch pirates.” Turns out the thieves had been using a computer app to locate UPS trucks. Then they would follow the trucks, picking up the deliveries within moments of the time they land on the porch. Some even brought their children with them, sending them to do the dirty work.

An estimated 23 million consumers have suffered such losses. On Christmas Eve last year, Bangor police arrested three teenagers (who gave Portland and Boston addresses) on charges that they took packages off people’s property around 15th Street.

Police urge consumers to file a report when a package delivered by UPS or Fedex is stolen.

When a theft occurs from a mailbox, you can file a theft report online at or by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS, or 1-800-275-8777. Mail theft can bring a hefty fine and up to five years in prison.

There are tools to deter porch piracy. Security cameras — some of which can be monitored remotely on your smartphone — can be installed to monitor delivery areas. A camera might provide enough detail to help police catch a thief, or it might be more of a horse-and-barn-door situation.

Some consumers who receive lots of packages have installed locking dropboxes ranging in cost from about $100 to well over $1,000.

One clever device is called the Package Guard. It’s a flat, circular platform that you place near your entry door. When a courier sets a package weighing at least a pound on it, the built-in wifi device sends a text or email message to the owner that the package has arrived. It also readies an alarm that sounds if the package is removed and can be turned off only by sending the return message, “OFF.”

One UPS security type wrote a while back that, if you ever report a package stolen from your home, a driver will not be allowed to leave packages in the future without getting a signature. If the pickup notice that was stuck to your dirty door blows away in the breeze, hope that it lands where you’ll see it.

Other options include having packages delivered to your workplace, if your employer agrees in advance. Neighbors might also be asked to watch one another’s houses for suspicious activity and perhaps to take packages inside.

And if you’re thinking of trying to beat the system by making a false report, not paying for the item and collecting on UPS insurance, think again. The courier’s security people sometimes work with local police, setting up cameras where people wouldn’t think to look and catching customers “stealing” their own deliveries.

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 or email

Protect yourself against scams before filing taxes



Posted Jan. 25, 2016, at 11:18 a.m.
Federal officials have termed them the biggest scams ever. Together, they cost consumers billions of dollars every year. And they use people’s fear of the Internal Revenue Service as a weapon.

The first starts with an unexpected phone call. You’re told that you owe taxes and must pay immediately or you’ll be jailed. What do you do?

An IRS official says, just hang up … it’s a scam.

Hundreds of thousands of consumers have received multiple calls from different people, all posing as either IRS officials or law enforcement agents. All the callers claim that legal action is certain, unless they receive money via wire right away. A demand for immediate payment is the second tipoff that it’s a hoax.

The first was the threat of imprisonment.

The IRS does not typically call a taxpayer; the agency begins by sending a letter. It also does not seek payment by way of prepaid cards, and it does not have agents standing by with arrest warrants in case the taxpayer hesitates.

The criminals who use these techniques can be abusive, even threatening to hurt their victims. These hoax calls may originate halfway around the world — although a spoofed phone number may make them appear nearby — and any threatened action rarely happens.

The second major hoax involves the filing of a phony tax return. If a thief steals your name, birthdate and Social Security number, he or she can file a bogus return in your name. If the IRS doesn’t catch it, the agency might send a refund to the crook; it may not be until you file your legitimate return that the fraud is discovered.

The IRS has trained thousands of employees to help possible victims. It has also put in place a number of preventive measures, most of which it won’t discuss in order not to assist the scammers. In a public message last week, the IRS said it has teamed up with the states and tax preparers to “stop fraudulent returns at the door.”

One new piece of information from tax software providers will be the amount of time it took to prepare a return. That could be a tipoff when computer-generated returns are fraudulent and have been filed by the hundreds or thousands.

You can read about the new measures at,-States-and-Tax-Industry-Deploy-New-Safeguards-for-2016.

Tax season brings with it a rash of scam artists trying new ideas. Crooks might point to last year’s hack of IRS computers, which compromised some information of about 200,000 taxpayers. They might pose as “IRS counselors” or “credit advisers” while their real goal is to steal more personal data.

IRS officials suggest that tax preparers do a “deep scan” of all their computer drives and devices to find malware and viruses that may hide in places that a “quick scan” can’t find. Firewalls and antivirus software also should be up to date; if you use a tax preparer, don’t be shy about asking if security systems are robust.

If you store your tax filings on your computer, make sure there’s a backup in case your hard drive crashes. If you store paper copies, keep them under lock and key (ideally in a fireproof container). Find more security and identity protection tips at

If you get a phone call you suspect is a hoax attempt, call 800-366-4484 to find out if the caller is a real IRS employee with a legitimate reason to reach you. If a piece of mail seems suspicious, call 800-829-1040 to see if it’s legitimate.

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 or email

Hiding in plain sight? — Federal Trade Commission

Could your mobile carrier be hiding third-party charges on your phone bill that you never authorized? The FTC has alleged that T-Mobile has done just that.

The agency says that T-Mobile charged consumers not only for regular phone services, but also for third party content – including monthly subscriptions for ringtones, wallpaper, horoscope texts, flirting tips, and celebrity gossip – that consumers neither knew about nor agreed to.

According to the FTC, here’s how it happened: On the first page of the bill, T-Mobile deceptively lumped third-party charges under a general line item that also included charges for their services like texting. The obscure breakouts of each charge were on the pages toward the end of the bill.

More surprising? The company continued to charge consumers, pocketing up to 40 percent of those third-party charges, even after some consumers caught on, complaints piled up, and industry auditors put T-Mobile on notice that the charges were unauthorized.

Here’s how to reduce the chances of paying charges crammed onto your bill without your knowledge or permission:

  • Read your mobile phone bill each month – line by line, and page by page. Don’t ignore the billing statement you get in the mail or through an automated online payment system. You should know your baseline monthly bill. Taking time to read every page of your statements can help you detect potentially fraudulent charges, keep surprise charges to a minimum, and save you money.
  • Consider a block on third-party charges. Many phone carriers already offer third-party blocking service for free. You just have to ask.
  • Ask your mobile phone carrier for its policy on refunds for fraudulent charges. Some carriers have a 60-day period for refund requests, and many have a policy of partial refunds for fraudulent charges you detect – no matter how long the cramming charges have occurred.
  • If you have a prepaid phone plan, check that you’re not losing pre-paid minutes to pay for unauthorized third-party charges. Stay on top of how many calling minutes you have, and make sure that minutes don’t go missing due to deductions unrelated to your regular phone calls. Check your accounts online or call the number your carrier gives you for account access.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of cramming, contact your phone carrier first about the charges, then file a complaint with the FTC.

Beware the $9.84 credit card scam


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 01, 2014, at 4:54 p.m.

The Better Business Bureau sent out a news release last week, reminding us all that we’re less vigilant than we ought to be.

The bureau said “scammers are banking on the fact that many consumers don’t check their credit card statements all that carefully.” The crooks are laughing all the way to the bank, as money from millions of fraudulent charges rolls in.

The scam has earned the shorthand name of the “$9.84 Scam,” based on the charges that are without exception under $10. Each charge is small enough not to raise many red flags on the part of card issuers or of many consumers who look over their monthly statements.

Those consumers may have noted small charges for a “service fee,” “maintenance fee” or other nonspecific terms. They may have felt that, while the charges were nothing they had authorized, it wasn’t worth the hassle of disputing. Multiply their apathy by a few thousand other consumers, and you’ll warm the heart of any scam artist.

Former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs writes extensively about cyber security. Krebs did some digging and found that the person who set up one website charging $9.84 for a supposed product or service had set up 230 other sites. Further research on some of those sites turned up a trail of $9.84 fees. Some of those domains were set up over a year ago, so it’s unlikely that the data breach of Target’s computers was the trigger.

There’s lots of speculation over where the scam began and where it might end. Once word got out, scammers likely changed the amount of their phony charges a little. The lesson for consumers is simple: check your statement carefully for false charges; if you find any, call the number on the back of your card and dispute them.

Unauthorized charges may mean your card information has been compromised. Err on the side of caution and ask for a new card. Security experts advise that you never lend your card to anyone, and don’t leave cards, statements and receipts lying around in your home, office or car.

As always, be cautious when ordering over the phone or online. When giving your account number over the phone, be sure the person you’re speaking with actually represents the company with which you’re doing business. Never sign a blank charge slip, and draw lines through blank spaces above the total so numbers can’t be changed.

You can read about the scam investigation in detail at Brian Krebs’s blog,

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 or email



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New Year’s tips for consumers


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director Northeast CONTACT

Posted Dec. 29, 2013, at 2:17 p.m.

To all Maine consumers, we offer a few thoughts for a Happy New Year:

Take back your phone

“John” from “Medical Alert Services” is the new Rachel, a robot caller who’ll try to scam anyone who presses a button confirming the number called is working. Since they can “spoof” their own numbers and fool your caller id, just let the answering machine pick up.

Alert your friends and family that you’re doing this and that you’ll call right back. The Federal Trade Commission says it’s stopped billions of fraudulent calls angling for ways to steal your identity, but it can’t stop them all. And make sure you’re on the federal Do Not Call list (

Keep your identity safer

You already give personally identifiable and financial information only on secure websites you trust. You shred old documents, use strong computer passwords and use caution entering PINs. Take the next step, and offer up fewer details on social networking sites. Once on the internet, data can never really be deleted; that includes embarrassing photos potential employers might (and do) look at when considering new hires. Those photos may be tagged with GPS locations and other personal data.

Keep an eye on your credit

Find out how to check your credit report for free at That’s the truly free site that links to the three major credit reporting agencies. Check with each of them regularly (you’re entitled to one free report annually from each one, so you can get a report every four months). Get individual help with credit problems through the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection by going to or by calling 1-800-332-8529.

Beef up cyber security at work

Data breaches don’t happen just to the big chains. Find lots of user-friendly tips in a guide prepared by the University of Southern Maine’s Maine Cyber Security Cluster and Cyber Security Organization, a USM student group (

Scrutinize health claims

Just in the last month, studies were published showing that taking multivitamins to prevent major health problems is a waste of money and that soap and water is just as effective as antibacterial cleaners. Look hard at advertising, and do your own research before buying.

Give until it feels good, not until it hurts

Charitable giving spikes around the holidays and after disasters, and so do the scams. If you’re donating, make sure your money goes to a real charity. Find information about charities at the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation ( or by calling the Department’s Charitable Solicitations Program at (207) 624-8525.

Get a second opinion

Find a buddy, a family member, friend or other trusted person, to help you with “offers that sound too good to be true.” If they are, trash them and have a good laugh together; you can be a sounding board for your buddy as well.

Be a good neighbor

Keep an eye out for signs that a neighbor who is homebound or has mobility problems may need help. Our letter carriers alert superiors when mail piles up, and we can look for other signs of possible distress.

Use your resources

Read parts or all of the Consumer Action Handbook online ( and search “consumer handbook”) or order a free copy (by phone, 1-800-FED-INFO). The Handbook covers almost everything most consumers need to know. And visit our blog ( for archived articles, consumer alerts and other helpful information.

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 or email

Consumer Contact: Jamaican Lottery Scam — WABI-TV

Russ and Joy discuss the Jamaican Lottery scams, and how you can avoid being a victim of one.

You can check out the website for more information on these scams and how to avoid becoming a victim.

If you have fallen victim to one of these scams that you should stop all communication at once. If you are feeling threatened you should call your local law enforcement agency to report the scam. Also do not travel to foreign countries to try to get back your money.


Don’t be tricked by scammers’ use of social engineering


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Oct. 06, 2013, at 12:46 p.m.

Generally speaking, cops are tough. They know that bad things happen to good people, and they learn to deal with the hurt that victims endure.

Still, the sleaziness of some crimes gets to law enforcement officials. Lt. Paul Edwards of the Bangor Police Department says Internet criminals who prey on seniors really irritate him.

Edwards related the victimization of a kind-hearted Bangor resident who only wanted to help the stranger who called her asking for money. He seemed like a good sort who just needed a little help, so she withdrew money from her bank and wired him the funds he requested.

She got another call from someone else needing cash, and another and another. Each time, she believed the caller was in genuine need, and each time she responded like a good neighbor. As you’ve guessed by now, the callers were not in any real need; they were scammers, looking for a fast buck.

Such requests — whether by phone or email — tend to multiply. Once scammers get a positive response, they share contact information with other crooks. The requests are for larger and larger amounts and will continue as long as there’s a willing donor.

Edwards says members of the woman’s family urged her to stop, saying scammers were taking advantage of her good nature. The woman persisted saying that the callers were people who really needed her help. She had been taken in by what the experts call social engineering, and we need to learn how to avoid its traps.

Crooks use social engineering tricks to get you to do what they want. A caller might try to convince you that he’s a “friend of a friend” or a distant relative who’s gotten into a financial bind, and you’re the only one he can turn to. He may know a few personal details about you, which he weaves into your conversation. He’ll try to build a relationship as you chat, gaining your trust and ultimately getting you to send money by wire transfer. Impossible to trace, the money is gone forever.

Lt. Edwards said the woman’s family went to her bank, asking bank officials to try to talk the woman out of any large withdrawals she might make in the future. He believes those requests were only partially successful and that the woman has been parted with thousands of dollars over time.

“She wouldn’t trust her own children over this stranger she met over the phone,” Edwards said.

Another victim fell for the “grandparent scam,” where a caller claiming to be a grandchild said he/she was in trouble and needed money wired immediately, to “get out of jail,” “get my car back” or whatever. The manipulation was the same, and so, sadly, was the end result. After the money was wired, the victim checked with her children … the grandchild had been there, safe and sound, all along.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Learn more about online safety at (

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 or

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