Scam Alerts Archive

Vacation to ….Nowhere?

With winter almost over, are you itching to get out of town? As you search for your perfect getaway, you might come across good-looking vacation rental deals that seem amazing. Unfortunately, some “steals” are posted by scammers trying to steal your money. They’ll leave you with a vacation to nowhere.

Scammers have plenty of tricks up their sleeves: fake websites that look legitimate, post gorgeous photos of homes and condos — real and fake — on property sharing sites, and get your attention with super low rental prices. You may be asked to wire money – a full or partial deposit. Either way, you arrive at your vacation destination to discover it doesn’t exist and your money is gone.

Here are some tips to help you avoid a vacation rental scam:

  • Search online for the owner and listing with words like review, scam, or complaint.
  • Check that the address of the property really exists.
  • Consider using a credit card to book your rental.

Check out tips to avoid other travel scams at ftc.gov/travelscams, and have a fun and scam-free vacation!  (Source: ftc.gov) 

Scammer Faces Slammer!

For years, we’ve been hearing about lottery scams: the imposter who convinces you that you’ve won the lottery (you didn’t) – and all you have to do is pay some fees to collect your millions (you won’t). And for years, we’ve been hearing about lottery scams that originate in Jamaica, where telemarketing lottery scams became a cottage industry in some parts of the island.

The Federal Trade Commission, which has helped criminal law enforcers investigate these types of cases, reports that the Department of Justice recently extradited a Jamaican man on charges that he was part of an international lottery scheme targeting older adults in the U.S. He’s the first person to be extradited in this kind of case.

According to the indictment, a 28-year-old Jamaican man, Damion Bryan Barrett, called people in the U.S., spoofing phone numbers to make it look like the calls came from the U.S., and often claiming they were calling from the IRS or Federal Reserve, or a well-known sweepstakes company. Barrett, the indictment says, told people they had won cash and prizes – which they could collect if they sent up to thousands of dollars in “fees.” Then, Barrett and his colleagues allegedly told people to send money to middle-men in southern Florida, who sent the money on to Jamaica. But, says the indictment, not a single person actually got any money from their – ahem – winnings.

If he’s convicted, Barrett faces prison time, a fine, and mandatory restitution to the victims of his scam. But whatever happens in court, this extradition shows how serious the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners are about cracking down on people who try to defraud American consumers. That’s good news for all of us.

Meanwhile, if you get a call or email that you’ve won something, follow this advice: never send money. And report the call or email so we can help in the fight against these scammers.  (Source: Lois Greisman, Associate Director, Division of Marketing Practices, FTC)

Anthem Aftermath

No sooner had word gotten about that Anthem, a health insurer for more than 80 million customers, had been hacked than the scam artists started sending phony “Anthem” emails – pretending to help while phishing for personal information. Designed to look as if it comes from Anthem, the email will ask customers to click on a link, or open an attachment, for free credit monitoring or “credit card account protection.” Forward the message to the Federal Trade Commission at spma@uce.gov and then delete the message from your inbox.

Anthem says it will contact current and former customers by postal mail with specific information on how to enroll in credit monitoring. Anthem also says it’s not calling customers about the data breach or asking for credit card information or Social Security numbers over the phone.

(Source: consumer.ftc.gov)

Impersonating IRS Officials

Criminals impersonating IRS officials were on the rise last year, as was tax-related identity theft, according to a new report.

The Federal Trade Commission disclosed that tax-related identity theft was the most common form of identity theft reported to the FTC in 2014, while the number of complaints from consumers about criminals impersonating IRS officials was nearly 24 times more than in 2013.

IRS impersonation scams typically consist of an individual contacting a consumer by phone, claiming that they are an IRS agent and that the consumer owes the IRS money, the FTC explained in a release. “The callers suggest to consumers that they pay by wiring money or loading money on a prepaid debit card. The callers often threaten arrest or legal action, and their calls may appear to originate from Washington, D.C., phone numbers; scammers may even know a consumer’s full or partial Social Security number, lending credibility to the scam.”

Consumers should remember that IRS employees won’t call out of the blue and threaten arrest or demand specific methods of payment.

(Source: cutoday.info)

Package Delivery Scam- in Your Inbox!

The Federal Trade Commission has learned of a phony “delivery failure notification” email making the rounds that looks like it’s from the U.S. Postal Service — but it’s not. The email is bogus and there is no package. And if you downloaded any attachments, or clicked on any links, you’re likely to end up with a virus or malware on your device.

So how do you tell what’s legit and what’s a scam? Here are some ways to spot a bogus email:

  • It tells you to click on a link or download an attachment;
  • It urges you to take immediate action; or
  • It asks you to “re-confirm” personal or financial information.

Another sure sign an email is a scam? If you hover over the link in the email, it won’t show the official website of the supposed sender — in this case, the U.S. Postal Service website.

If you have questions about a delivery by the U.S. Postal Service, visit usps.com or call 1-800-ASK-USPS. (Source: ftc.gov)

Business Directory Scams

Listing your business in a directory can be an effective way to advertise the products or services you offer potential customers. But be sure you know what you’re getting for your money… and that you even asked for the listing in the first place.

If you run a small business, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from scammers:

  1. Read the FTC’s information on small business scams, which outlines how con artists target businesses. Share it with your staff, including receptionists and administrative personnel, to help them spot and stop a business scammer.
  2. Designate a point person for office supplies, directory listings, subscriptions, and other things you buy periodically. Tell your staff that all purchasing calls should go through that person, and keep a central file of your usual suppliers.
  3. Use your company’s social networks to educate others about the telltale signs of a business scam.
  4. Encourage professional associations or local business groups to issue a warning to members.
  5. Take a minute to share this information in your community — fraudsters often target churches and other nonprofits that depend on volunteers.

And, be sure to report business directory and other scams by filing a complaint with the FTC.     (Source: ftc.gov)

Don’t Let Tax Scammers Get Away with It

Tax season is getting close — and for some people, so is an experience with tax identity theft or IRS imposters. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. You usually find out something’s wrong after you file your tax return.

Also, IRS imposters work year-round — posing as the IRS when they call and say you owe taxes. They even threaten to arrest you if you don’t put money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the card number. They might know all or part of your Social Security number, and can fake caller ID information to make it look like it really is the IRS calling.

January 26th-30th is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. That week, the FTC, AARP, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) will be hosting a webinar to give you the facts about these scams, and teach you how to protect yourself and those you care about:

The Webinar on Tax Identity Theft and IRS Imposter Scams, on Tuesday, Jan. 27th from 2:00-3:30pm EST, is open to everyone. Find login information, as well as articles and other resources, at ftc.gov/taxidtheft(Source: FTC.gov)

New Twist to the Telephone Tech Support Scam

In a new twist on the well-known tech support scam, criminals are exploiting browser pop-up windows. The pop-up window states that victim’s computer has been hacked, while a second pop-up provides a number to call. In another variation on the scam, an individual who paid the required fee later received a call advising the victim the funds paid for the services were used to purchase weapons for ISIS and asked for additional money to remove the victim’s name from a black list.  (Source: ic3.gov)

Now E-cigarettes Can Give You Malware

E-cigarettes may be better for your health than normal ones, but spare a thought for your poor computer – electronic cigarettes have become the latest vector for malicious software.  In one example, an e-cigarette made in China had malware hardcoded into the charger, and when plugged into a computer’s USB port the malware phoned home and infected the system. (Source:theguardian.com)

Dridex Banking Trojan Steals Online Banking Credentials

Attackers are targeting online banking users’ account information worldwide through sophisticated phishing attacks designed to deliver Microsoft Word documents containing malicious macro code known as Dridex. Once downloaded, Dridex monitors for activity related to online banking. The malware then performs information theft through such methods as form grabbing, screenshots and site injections.    (Source:bankinfosecurity.com)

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.   (Source: ftc.gov)

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.          (Source: bbb.org/delaware)

Why is MY Number Calling Me?

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:
  • 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.
  • 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.

Thanks to:  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. (Source: ftc.gov)

 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. (Source: ftc.gov)

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.      (Source: ftc.gov)

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.   (Source: ftc.gov)

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.   Source: ftc.gov

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…

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.  (Source: ftc.gov)

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. (Source: ftc.gov)