Scam Alerts

In the News

Fraudsters and criminals are always thinking of new ways to steal your money or your identity. Here are some of their latest efforts:

Guard Against Ebola-related Charity Scams

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the unprecedented Ebola epidemic in West Africa has taken the lives of more than 4,000 people. Many people are asking how they can help. If you’re looking for a way to give, the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, urges you to do some research to ensure that your donation will go to a reputable organization that will use the money as promised.

Urgent appeals for aid that you get by phone or mail, by e-mail, on websites, or even in person, may not be on the up-and-up. Unfortunately, legitimate charities face competition from fraudsters who either solicit for bogus charities or aren’t honest about how a so-called charity will use your contribution.

For questions to ask and for a list of groups that can help you research a charity, go to Charity Scams. (

Dangerous Celebrities

“Click baiting” is a way to get someone’s attention online. Many advertisers use it, but so do scammers. They engage with potential identity theft victims by offering something that is too intriguing to ignore: messages claiming new videos, “shocking” information or scandalous news on celebrities, newsmakers and other famous people.  Many consumers are unaware of the risks that exist when searching for celebrity and entertainment news. Often, the click bait leads to a sketchy website or a link that downloads malware on the user’s computer or smart phone.

How can consumers avoid the bait?

  • Don’t download video from suspect sites – go to Official video sites;
  • Beware of clicking on third-party links – go to the original content provider;
  • Always password protect your computer and smart phone; and
  • Be careful on the “cloud” – treat it as any asset that requires protecting.

Security company McAfee has identified the “Most Dangerous Celebrities” of 2014 – those whose names and images are most widely used by scammers as click bait. Click here to discover who they are, and learn more about this scam.   (

Why is MY Number Calling Me?

Scammers are using caller ID spoofing technology to impersonate the phone numbers of local businesses, neighbors and even you! Watch out for this wacky twist on the classic phishing phone scam. It’s a “robo-call” and you may be prompted to provide your credit card number in order to obtain a lower rate – or another of many different phishing schemes.

With many people rejecting calls form unfamiliar numbers, scammers are now posing as familiar businesses, government agencies, and ordinary people. They purchase lists of numbers and use spoofing technology to trick their targets into picking up the phone. Posing as your own phone number is great for shock value and ensuring the number isn’t blocked.

If a scammer calls:

  • Hang up. Don’t press buttons, don’t call back, don’t even talk.
  • Don’t trust Caller ID. Scammers have technology to display any number on your screen.
  • NEVER give out financial information. If you did not initiate the call, don’t provide account, credit card, or social security numbers.

Source: Better Business Bureau of Central East Texas

 High-Yield Certificates

Fraudsters continue to take advantage of investor desire for double-digit returns by offering potentially fraudulent CDs. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is warning investors not to be tempted by promotions touting high yields on certificates of deposit. According to FINRA, suspected email fraud appearing to come from a large U.S. bank promoting certificates offered through an international banking partner have been circulating. The email offers a CD with a 15% yield, along with instructions on wiring funds to secure the rate. With most certificates at U.S. credit unions and banks at just over 1% for a comparable term, the offer may be too tempting for some consumers to ignore.

Some red flags that a CD offer may be fraudulent include:

  • Interest rates that are significantly higher than average;
  • Emails that are not originated/sent by the financial institution noted in the promotion;
  • Emails containing misspellings or grammatical errors;
  • Promotions that claim to be from a U.S. bank that has partnered with an international bank;
  • Promotions that are for “a limited time only”; and
  • Promotions that claim to be sent to “our best customer” and require extremely high investments (for example, $100,000)

Source: Credit Union Times

Cell Phone “Credit Muling”

Scammers have found another way to exploit people who need money fast: cell phone credit muling. This new scam has unsuspecting consumers using their personal information and credit to get something of value (usually a smart phone, tablet, or some other mobile device) and then giving it to the scammers in exchange for money.

The scammer asks the targets – known as mules- to buy a number of phones under separate contracts. They are paid and reminded to cancel the contract within the allotted time (15-30 days). The scammer then takes the phones, unlocks them and sells them for profit. When the “mule” attempts to cancel the contract, they discover it cannot be done without turning in the phone. So now they have to pay for the phone, and the monthly service fee for the length of the contract. Inability to pay, naturally, will have a negative effect on their credit score.


 Debt Relief?

If you turn to a company to help you to improve your financial situation, you don’t want to end up in a worse position than when you started. The Federal Trade Commission warns that some companies don’t fulfill their promises of financial independence. And promises to refund unsatisfied customers were often empty promises.

Avoid any debt relief organization that:

  • charges any fees before it settles your debts or enters you into a debt management program;
  • touts a “new government program” to bail out personal credit card debt;
  • guarantees it can make your unsecured debt go away;
  • tells you to stop communicating with your creditors, but doesn’t explain the serious consequences;
  • tells you it can stop all debt collection calls and lawsuits; or
  • tries to enroll you in a debt relief program without reviewing your financial situation with you.

If you need help managing debt, contact a credit counselor. A reputable credit-counseling agency should send you free information about its services without requiring you to give details about your financial situation or pay money before they provide services.


 Donate – But be Smart

Extreme weather and natural disasters can happen anywhere and at anytime and most people want to help those affected. But when a calamity occurs, the bogus charities are usually right behind. If you are donating to a charity, here’s how to make sure your money actually goes to the causes you support:

  • Donate to charities you know and trust – watch out for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight;
  • Designate the disaster – ensure your funds go to disaster relief, rather than a general fund;
  • Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser – and what percentage of the money donated goes to the charity;
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information – including your credit card or bank account number unless you know the charity is reputable;
  • Never send cash – you won’t have a record for tax purposes, or a record that ot was received by the charity; and
  • Find out if fundraiser must be registered in your state – contact the National Association of State Charity Officials.


Home Improvement Scam Artists

As the weather warms up, everyone’s thoughts turn to enjoying the outdoors. And the home improvement scam artists begin to sprout up everywhere!

For some home improvement jobs, it makes sense to hire a pro, rather than taking on the job yourself. But finding a good contractor is important: choosing the wrong contractor can cost you more than money – it can lead to delays, subpar work and even legal problems.

Talk to your friends and neighbors that have had jobs completed similar to the project you have in mind. Get estimates from several contractors and include the following questions in your interview:

  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?
  • What types of insurance do you carry?
  • Will my project require a permit?
  • Is your work guaranteed?

And get a written contract that includes the details of who, what, when, where and cost of the project.

Some red flags that a contractor might not be reputable include someone who:

  • shows up on your doorstep asking for work,
  • has materials left from a previous job,
  • pressures you for a decision,
  • accepts only cash,
  • wants you to pay for everything up front, or
  • asks you to get the required building permits.


Timeshare Scam v2.0

In June 2013, the Federal Trade Commission sued several companies that scammed timeshare owners. After receiving payment for arranging the sale of timeshare property, the owners found there were no buyers and could not get a refund of monies paid.

The FTC is receiving reports that some of these owners have been contacted by someone posing as an attorney claiming that they can help the timeshare owner recover some of those losses – for a “bond” or “fee.” It’s another scam and these owners will lose more money if they respond.

If you know anyone that lost money to a timeshare resale scam, please alert them to this new scam. While the FTC may be able to refund money to people who have been scammed, the agency never requires them to pay. Such calls should be reported to the FTC, and include the name of the timeshare reseller.


Cell Phone Scam

The PITTSBURGH (PA) Better Business Bureau reports a “one ring” scam. Scammers are using auto-dialers to call thousands and thousands of cellphones. They let it ring once, and when the curious consumer calls that number back, they are automatically charged an additional $30 on their phone bill. The calls cost $20 up front and $9 for each additional minute. Area codes being used to place the calls are 473, 809, 876, 284 and 268.

Residents are encouraged to first research the area code online to see where it originates from before calling the number back. Read more…

Netflix Phishing Scam

All Netflix users should be extra careful when logging into their account and be suspicious of unusual activity or pop-ups. This scam begins when a Netflix user receives an alert while attempting to login that claims their user name was suspended due to “unusual activity” and instructs them to call “Member Services” to regain access. The number is not a legitimate Netflix number, but the number of the scammer – who informs the user that a hacker has infiltrated their computer.

The “helpful” scammer then directs them to fix the problem by transferring the user to a “Microsoft Certified Technician” – all while downloading files from the computer. The scammers then bill for their service, asking for photo ID and credit card information.

Always be cautious when using the internet, even on one of your favorite sites. Be aware of unusual or suspicious activity, and take the time to verify support numbers. If you do fall victim to this type of scam, whether through Netflix or another site, change your username and password immediately. If you use the same information for other website, change those as well.


Fake Funeral Notifications

Scammers seeking to trick consumers into clicking on links that will download malware onto computers have sunk to a new low: they are sending bogus emails with the subject line “funeral notification.” Appearing to be from a legitimate funeral home, the message offers condolences and invites you to click on the link for more information about the upcoming “celebration of your friend’s life” service. The link, of course, leads to a bogus site where scammers download malware to the computer. If you get an email about a friend or loved one’s passing, the FTC suggests contacting the funeral home or family directly.


 Mystery Shopper Scam mystery shopper

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) scammers are again offering consumers the chance to get paid for shopping and completing surveys or questionnaires about their experience. Instead, they found that they paid a training and monthly fee only to discover few, if any, jobs in their area. When the consumers tried to cancel, they found the monthly charge tied to a second “opportunity” of running their own web store.

Although there are legitimate mystery shopping opportunities, there are many more scams. Don’t pay to be a mystery shopper: information about mystery shopping jobs and certifications are on little/no value; in addition, mystery shopping should be considered a part-time activity. Generally, opportunities are posted online by marketing research or merchandising companies.


Don’t let the fraudsters take what belongs to you! Keep informed of their latest scams.