Tag Archives: Federal Trade Commission

Beware these Common Scams

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, fake charities and scams related to relief efforts are a real threat to legitimate relief agencies. Sadly, the headlines will include stories of price-gouging and consumers who unwittingly gave cash or emergency supplies to fraudsters and hoaxes.

Scams are as common as a cold but far more serious. The Federal Trade Commission, collected over 1.4 million fraud reports last year, with consumers reporting that they lost money to scammers in 25% of those reports. Respondents reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud last year – an increase of 38% over 2017’s numbers.

So what do these scams look like? Here’s a few of the most common and how to avoid them.

Your Utility Company Doesn’t Need Immediate Payment or Access to Your Home

Over the past several years, power companies have begun installing meters that allow consumers to monitor their energy use. Fraudsters have seized the opportunity to scam unwitting victims out of both money and personal information. How? They either show up at the front door, often with convincing “uniforms” and I.D., or they call you directly, asking for a “deposit” for the meter, or personal information to confirm you are the registered user.

Good Housekeeping reports that Law enforcement, utility companies, and consumer protection agencies have issued warnings in states as widespread as ConnecticutHawaiiNew YorkNorth CarolinaWest Virginia, and Wisconsin about new tactics that have fooled thousands of people across the country.

“These scammers take tens of thousands of dollars a year from our customers by sounding sincere while they lie,” Jim Duggan of Con Edison said in a statement. “We want our customers to be able to recognize signs that someone is a professional criminal trying to steal from them.”

Other power-related scams include offers to restore power quickly after a large storm in return for payment or a “reconnection fee,” a demand for a separate payment to replace or install a meter, and

requests to inspect equipment or conduct an “audit” in order to gain access to your home.

What do you do? Remember, your utility company would not shut off the power without warning nor will they demand money over the phone or specify a method of payment. If you think the demand for immediate payment or access to your home is legitimate, call the number on your bill or the provider’s website.

Suspension of your Social Security number

This is how the scam usually goes: You’ll get a call and the caller will inform you that because of “suspicious activity,” your SSN has been “suspended.” In order to reactivate it, you either need to pay a small fee or “confirm” your SSN by dictating it over the phone. Both are scams – one to steal your money, the other to steal your identity. Remember, your social security card isn’t a gym membership or an airline miles card – it can’t be suspended. Its value for fraudsters is immense because it opens so many doors for hackers.

If they’re really convincing and you think the caller may be legitimate, call the SSA yourself using the number posted on their official website.

DNA Donations.

In a way, I feel like this one doesn’t need to be said, but here we are. Don’t give your DNA to fake scientists who approach you on the street. According to Bloomberg, authorities in several states are warning people that scammers may be using DNA testing to defraud Medicare and steal their identity.

It’s a new twist on the old game of tricking people into sharing personal identification like social security or banking information. Reports of “scientists” working out of vans – what did your mother tell you about talking to people in vans? – who then offer individuals $20 in exchange a few medical details and a DNA sample for “research purposes.”

Seems legit – who doesn’t want free money in exchange for no work and a little saliva? The risk here isn’t so much the DNA as the info you hand over with it that can then be used to open credit cards, file false insurance claims, and a million other nefarious schemes that end up costing victims millions every year.

What do you do if you’re approached? Run away just like your mama told you.

The Single Ring Call

While it may sound like an intriguing new movie or a mating behavior in a nature documentary, this is the scam where your phone rings once then the caller hangs up. Do NOT return the call. The “one-ring call back scam” is one of the most clever calls out there. It works on the premise that if someone is repeatedly calling and then the call is dropped, it could be someone in danger. The problem is, the call is likely from a premium-rate toll number based on the other side of the world. You likely won’t know until you get your bill next month, but you’ve been slammed with an array of expensive charges, and the caller has walked away with a healthy share of the profits.

What do you do if you’re approached? Simple, don’t answer the phone and don’t call back.

No one has Hacked your Porn Habits.

Well, this is an awkward one that plays on people’s fear of exposure and that’s why we’re seeing an increase in sexploitation scams. Targets get an email saying their online porn habits have been tracked and unless you pay up in a certain number of days, everyone from your kids to your boss will know what you’ve been up to. The scam is effective because who cares if it’s true or not – no one wants that kind of accusation out there.

What do you do if you receive one of these emails? Delete it. The end. The email is designed to play on fear, and everyone knows the best way to deal with fear is to ignore it. Well, at least in this situation it is.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.





Beware Charity Scams in the Wake of Hurricane Dorian

By Tracey Dowdy

When natural disasters strike, ordinary people often step up and become heroes, risking their personal property and safety, and sometimes sacrificing themselves for others. Unfortunately, not only is it a time when we see the best of people, we sometimes see the worst.

With Hurricane Dorian battering the Carolinas after leaving a trail of devastation stretching to the Bahamas, authorities are warning about scams that are likely to appear in the wake of the storm. These scams come in a variety of guises, from robocalls and fake charities to price-gouging at the pump, grocery, and hotels along evacuation routes.

The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance warns, “After a terrible and very public tragedy such as a mass shooting, wildfire or other natural disaster, or an accident, people want to help in any way possible, and that often means contributing to fundraisers to help the survivors and the families of the victims. Sadly, scammers often take advantage of these moments of vulnerability to deceive donors. In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may or may not be directly connected to the tragedy.”

To avoid becoming the victim of one of these scams, following these guidelines:

  • Go to org or Charity Navigator to check the charity’s rating and verify if it meets BBB Standards for Charitable Accountability. It only takes a few minutes and can ensure you’re donating to an ethical organization who will use your gift to help victims.
  • Check the phone number. One quick and easy way to check the validity of an organization is to check the phone number you’ve been directed to against the phone number on the charity’s website. This is especially important in the social media posts that pop up post-disaster and tell you to text a certain number for direct donation.
  • Beware look-alikes. In the wake of tragedy or disasters, it’s not uncommon for scammers to set up fake donation pages with names intentionally similar to trusted sites. For example, they’ll take the web address for the Red Cross and change redcross.org to redcross.com or red.cross.org. If you’re not careful, you may not notice the difference and end up donating to a scam. Never click on links to charities on unfamiliar websites, in text messages, or an email.
  • Beware crowdfunding. Not all crowdfunding sites vet the individuals who set up a donation page for victims. Back in 2017, when Robert Godwin Sr. in a video posted to Facebook, within hours there were 35 fake GoFundMe pages set up, all without the Godwin family’s consent. Any page set up in the name of the victim or their family must have their permission. To avoid these fake pages, verify pages using these tools.
  • Check for registration. Most US states require charities to be registered with a government agency, usually under the State Attorney General’s Office, and Canadian charities must be registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. If the charity you’re considering isn’t registered, you may want to choose another. The Federal Trade Commission warns they cannot guarantee you’ll get your money back from a scammer.
  • Where’s the money going? If the appeal or page isn’t clear about where the money or goods donated will be going, that’s a big ol’ red flag. There should be a clear plan for the transportation and distribution of goods and a specific recipient – individual or organization – receiving any financial contributions.

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, or any other disaster, check out https://www.usa.gov/, the official website of the federal government for a list of resources, services, and information including consumer issues and disaster relief.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Equifax Breach: You May Be Eligible for Compensation

By Tracey Dowdy

Over 147 million Americans were affected by the 2017 Equifax Data breach. If you are one of those millions – you can check here – you can now file a claim to recover money you spent or lost as a result. Additionally, as part of the settlement, you file to recover money you spent to protect yourself from identity theft and/or on credit monitoring following the breach.

The breach was a serious violation of user’s privacy with hackers exposing consumer’s personal information including their driver’s license information, social security numbers, and birthdates.

Back in July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Equifax reached an agreement for Equifax to pay at least $575 million and up to $700 million for victims. Under the terms of the settlement, you can file a claim for compensation for costs incurred recovering from the security breach as well as any costs related to identity theft or freezing/unfreezing your account, and for any unauthorized charges to your banking accounts.  The one caveat for those filing for losses to be aware of is that the agreement caps payouts at $20,000 per person.

Victims also have the option of filing a claim to cover the expense of protecting yourself from identity theft following the breach. In fact, you can file multiple claims, and if you have already signed up for credit monitoring, you have the option of filing a claim for $125 in compensation instead.

Be aware the FTC has issued a warning cautioning victims to be aware of fake settlement websites created to dupe victims of the Equifax breach into revealing personal information like birthdates and social security numbers, ultimately victimizing them a second time. Jason Cipriani over at CNET has a great article on how to protect yourself.

To determine if you’re eligible under the terms of the settlement, follow these steps:

  • Start by going to the Equifax Data Breach Settlement page to find out if your information was impacted and if you are a class member.
  • Enter your last name the last six digits of your social security number.
  • You’ll immediately be told if your data was compromised and you’ll be directed to the Equifax Data Breach Settlement website to file a claim.
  • You have the option to file online or have a claim form mailed to you.
  • The final step is to determine which benefits you are eligible for by gathering documentation to support your claim. This includes any bank or credit card statements detailing unauthorized charges, any costs related to freezing/unfreezing your account, or payments made to lawyers or accountants to recover your losses.
  • If you signed up for a credit monitoring service as a result of the Equifax breach, you are eligible for a cash payment of $125. Note this is in addition – not in place of – filing for compensation for losses incurred.

For details or a full explanation of the settlement, go to the FTC’s Equifax Data Breach Settlement page here.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.