by Andrew Smith, Federal Trade Commission, Director, Bureau of Consumer Protection
Gail Hillebrand, Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, Associate Director, Division of Consumer Education and Engagement
Free credit freezes and year-long fraud alerts are here, starting September 21st, thanks to a new federal law. Here’s what you should know:
A caller says that he’s from the government and your Social Security Number (SSN) has been suspended. He sounds very professional. So you should do exactly what he says to fix things…right?
The FTC has gotten reports about scammers trying to trick people out of their personal information by telling them that they need to “reactivate” their supposedly “suspended” SSNs. The scammers say the SSN was suspended because of some connection to fraud or other criminal activity. They say to call a number to clear it up – where they’ll ask you for personal information.
Thing is, Social Security Numbers do not get suspended. This is just a variation of a government imposter scam that’s after your SSN, bank account number, or other personal information. In this variation of the scheme, the caller pretends to be protecting you from a scam while he’s trying to lure you into one.
Here are a few tips to protect yourself:
- Never give out or confirm personal information over the phone, via email or on a website until you’ve checked out whoever is asking you for it.
- Do not trust a name, phone number, or email address just because it seems to be connected with the government. Con artists use official-sounding names and may fake caller ID or email address information to make you trust them. Besides, the government normally contacts people by postal mail.
- Contact government agencies directly, using telephone numbers and website addresses you know to be legitimate.
If someone has tried to steal your personal information by pretending to be from the government, report it to the FTC.
Wise giving after a hurricane
September 12, 2018
The 2018 hurricane season is upon us. If you haven’t made storm preparations, now is the time. The FTC has information to help you prepare for, deal with, and recover from the long-term impacts of a weather emergency. But how about the rest of us ready to help with donations after a hurricane? You should know about how to avoid hurricane relief charity fraud.
Here’s the rundown. After a hurricane hits, people rush to help those in need. If you are making a donation for hurricane relief, remember to give enough thought to where exactly you are sending your money. Because scammers are hoping that generous people like you, in your eagerness to help, won’t do your homework so they can steal that money. The best way to avoid this and other kinds of charity fraud is to go online and do your research to make sure your money goes to a reputable organization.
You can start at ftc.gov/charity – we have articles and resources, including links to six organizations that can help you check out individual charities.
For more information, check out our charity fraud video and infographic on verifying a hurricane relief charity.
Have a charity fraud complaint? Tell us, at ftc.gov/complaint.
by Alvaro Puig
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
We recently wrote about steps that the FTC took to stop MOBE, an internet business-coaching scheme that was promoting a bogus online business opportunity to retirees and veterans. We’ve gotten a lot of questions from MOBE customers on our consumer blog and business blog. Here’s what you need to know if you were a MOBE customer.
by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC –
With the summer travel season in high gear, the FTC is warning drivers about skimming scams at the pump.
At the Federal Trade Commission’s request, a federal court has halted a telemarketing scheme that took at least $3 million from consumers, including elderly and disabled persons, who sought help with paying personal expenses, such as credit card debts, medical bills, and home repairs.
The FTC alleges that the defendants falsely told consumers they could get $10,000 or more in government or private grant money by using the defendants’ service. They charged up-front fees ranging from $295 to $4,995, and routinely told consumers that, for an additional fee, they could either obtain more grant money or receive the money faster.
According to the FTC, most, if not all, consumers received nothing from the defendants and ended up deeper in debt. The defendants operated under many names, often changing names when they received consumer complaints or cease and desist notices from state attorneys general, or when they lost merchant accounts, which are used to process charges to consumers’ credit and debit card accounts.
The defendants are Hite Media Group, LLC, also doing business as Premium Grants and PremiumGrants.com; Premium Business Solutions LLC and Premium Domain Services LLC, both also d/b/a Premium Services, Premium Grants and PremiumGrants.com; 2 Unique LLC, also d/b/a Premium Services, Unique Grants.com, and Grant Support; Amazing App LLC; Michael Ford Hilliard; Michael De Rosa; Shawn Stumbo; Tiffany Hoffman; and Jeremy Silvers. They are charged with violating the FTC Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona entered a temporary restraining order against the defendants on July 17, 2018, and a preliminary injunction hearing is currently scheduled for July 31, 2018. The Phoenix Police Department provided the FTC with significant assistance.
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 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, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
CONTACT FOR CONSUMERS:
Consumer Response Center
CONTACT FOR NEWS MEDIA:
Office of Public Affairs
J. Ronald Brooke, Jr.
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Russell S. Deitch
Bureau of Consumer Protection
(For more info on FTC Alerts and warnings about Scams visit: https://www.ftc.gov/)
You’re working on your computer when, suddenly, a message pops up on the screen: “Virus detected! Call now for a free security scan and to repair your device.” That’s a tech support scam. Don’t call, text, or email. Legit tech support companies don’t operate that way.
Scammers pose as big-name companies and use pop-up messages, fake websites, and phone calls to trick you into thinking your computer has an urgent problem. Their plan is to get your money by selling you worthless software, enrolling you in fake programs, or getting you to pay for useless tech support. The scammers urge you to call a toll-free number immediately, threatening that you may lose personal data if you don’t.
When you call, the scammer might ask you to give them remote access, pretend to run a diagnostic test, or tell you they’ve found a virus or other security issue. They try to sell you a security subscription or other “services” that range from worthless (for instance, they’re available for free elsewhere) to malicious (they install dangerous software that can help them steal your personal information.)
What should you do? If you get a pop-up to call a number to fix a virus on your computer, ignore it. Your computer is almost certainly fine. But if you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly — and don’t use the phone number in the pop-up or on caller ID. Use a number you know is real, like the one on a software package or your receipt. Tech support scammers like to place online ads pretending to be legitimate companies, so be sure you have the correct telephone number for the real tech company before calling.
And if someone asks you to pay for anything — including tech support services — with a gift card, cash reload card, or a wire transfer, that’s a scam. No legitimate company will tell you to pay that way. If you see that, report it at FTC.gov/complaint.
State Auditor Wayne Johnson warns government entities about costly invoicing scam
City of Alamogordo lost $250,000 to fake vendor
Santa Fe, NM – The City of Alamogordo last week paid more than $250,000 to an unknown scam artist, and recovery of that public money is likely to be difficult if not impossible. In light of that scam, State Auditor Wayne Johnson is reminding all of the state’s government entities to be extremely cautious and aware when it comes to e-mail communication from any vendors.
A staff member with the City of Alamogordo received an email request to change banking information from someone who appeared to be a representative of Cooperative Education Services, (CES) a New Mexico purchasing cooperative. The email appeared to come from a person known to work for CES, and contained an outdated version of the CES logo. The City accepted the change in banking information and paid all invoices, only to discover that the email was fraudulent. CES is a commonly used purchasing cooperative for New Mexico schools, and other government entities. City leaders immediately notified law enforcement, including the FBI.
“In this Snapchat and Instant Message world, it’s critical to verify information with a real person, either in person or by phone,” said Johnson. “An email seeking to alter banking information should always be a red flag. Talk to your vendors, especially when they do something out of the ordinary, like send a change in banking information. It’s important to establish personal relationships so that finance staff can talk to people already known to them. There’s no excuse for not taking that extra step to make sure to prevent the theft of a quarter of a million dollars in public money.”
Alamogordo officials have acknowledged that the amount owed to the company was correct, so the request for payment was not unusual. The e-mail appeared to come from an agent the procurement officer knew and had worked with in the past. It bore an official looking logo from CES. The procurement officer didn’t question or confirm the e-mail and the information contained within it. She forwarded it to the finance department which changed the payee information as requested. Payment for outstanding invoices was made for more than $250,000 and went to the fraudulent bank account instead of to the actual vendor.
Later, representatives from CES called requesting payment on the still outstanding invoices. Managers believed payment had already been made, and only then realized they had transferred money to a fraudulent entity.
Today CES is notifying all customers of the potential for fraud. CES has advised the OSA that it has not changed their banking information, nor do they plan to do so.
“Our office has warned local governments before about e-mail scams,” said Johnson. “Those who handle public dollars need to pay attention and realize these scams can happen at any time and they are constantly evolving. These thieves are creative and effective. Public entities have to make sure they have strong anti-fraud procedures and that they are following them in every instance in order to safeguard public money.”
Johnson’s office warned government entities late Friday via the following risk advisory: https://www.saonm.org/media/uploads/GAO-Risk_Advisory-250Kscam2018-07-13.pdf
by Carol Kando-Pineda
Attorney, Division of Consumer and Business Education
Scammers try to trick you into thinking a loved one is in trouble. They call, text, email, or send messages on social media about a supposed emergency with a family member or friend. They ask you to send money immediately. To make their story seem real, they may claim to be an authority figure, like a lawyer or police officer; they may have or guess at facts about your loved one. These imposters may insist that you keep quiet about their demand for money to keep you from checking out their story and identifying them as imposters. But no matter how real or urgent this seems — it’s a scam.
(For more on this and other scams visit: https://www.ftc.gov/)
2018 Apr 20 by Drew Johnson, Consumer Education Specialist, FTCConsumers are reporting a new imposter scam — this time the callers are pretending to be with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). According to reports, the callers are telling people they may be entitled to money, and they are asking people for their personal information to determine if they are eligible. It’s a scam.Read more >
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