Scam of the day – July 28, 2017 – FTC refunding money to vacation scam victims

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is mailing checks to the victims of a vacation travel scam operated by VGC Corp of America which did business under a number of names including All Dreams Vacations and All Dreams Travel.  After a complaint was filed by the FTC against VGC, it settled the claims.  Included in the settlement is a refund to victimized consumers.

The scam started with a telephone call offering a vacation package worth thousands of dollars if the person receiving the call was able to answer a simple trivia question.  Once the victim had won the “free” trip, he or she was told he or she had to pay $400 in taxes or fees.  Although the victims made these payments, they never received the promised vacation package.


There are many similar type of vacation scams, but if you think that you may have been a victim of this particular scam which was being done in 2011 (it takes a long time for these cases to be completed) you can go to the top of this page to the tab marked “FTC Scam Refunds” for more information about obtaining a refund of the money you lost.

For everyone else this is a cautionary tale that reminds us that you never have to pay fees or taxes to claim a prize you have won in a legitimate lottery or contest.  Taxes are either deducted from the prize or you are responsible for them on your own.  The contest or lottery sponsor never collects taxes and you should never have to pay a fee in order to collect your prize from a legitimate lottery or contest.

Scam of the day – July 27, 2017 – Adobe Flash to finally be retired

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Scam of the day – July 26, 2017 – Staying safe on your phone while on vacation

As the great song from Porgy and Bess proclaims, “summertime and the living is easy.”  Many people take vacations to take a break from the responsibilities of work and running a household, however few of us seem to want to take a break from being connected to the world through our cellphones and that poses a particular threat to our security when we use public Wi-Fi in coffee shops, airports, hotels and other places while on vacation.  Whenever you use public Wi-Fi, there are two problems.  First, you can’t be sure that you are actually using the public Wi-Fi and not a phony Wi-Fi readily set up by a hacker sitting near you who is stealing your information and second, someone may be able to hack into your device while you are on the legitimate public Wi-Fi.


Whatever electronic device you are using to connect to a Wi-Fi network, whether it is a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone should be equipped with up to date security software.  In addition, you should have encryption software so that your communications are encoded.  You also should go to your settings and turn off sharing.  In addition, you should make sure that your firewall is current and turned on.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which enables you to send your communications through a separate and secure private network even while you are on a public network.  Here is a link to an article that lists ten good VPNs that you can get for free.

Scam of the day – July 25, 2017 – Online courses for credit card criminals

Online courses are extremely popular in traditional educational settings.  I know this from personal experience as a college professor who teaches courses online in addition to my more conventional classes taught to students in the classroom.  Online courses are now even becoming popular among criminals and scammers.  The security company Digital Shadows is reporting about Russian criminals who are teaching an online course in how to make money through credit card fraud.  The course is a six week course consisting of twenty lectures of between one and two hours for each lecture.  Tuition is approximately $750 payable in Bitcoins or other electronic currencies.  In addition to tuition, the students are also required to pay an additional $200 in electronic currency for course materials.

The course is taught only in Russian and promises that it can teach aspiring criminals how to make as much as twelve thousand dollars per month. The course provides information about where to get stolen credit card information, how to use it to buy goods as well as how to sell the goods and launder the money.


The course material is very instructive to all of us as consumers as to how we can more safely use our credit cards.  One important lesson is to use your EMV chip credit card whenever possible as well as to use cards with stronger authentication protocols when buying online.  The course is also a reminder that we should refrain from using our debit cards for retail purchases because the consumer protection laws involved with debit cards are not nearly as strong as those regarding credit cards.  Finally, in the section of the course dealing with laundering money, the course teaches students to hire people desiring to work at home to reship goods purchased through stolen credit cards as part of the money laundering process.  This serves as a strong warning to people to avoid becoming an accomplice to these crimes by getting involved with this type of employment.


Scam of the day – July 24, 2017 – FTC settles major cramming case

For many years I have been warning you about the dangers of cramming.  Cramming is the name for putting unauthorized third party charges on to a consumer’s telephone bill without the knowledge or approval of the consumer.  This has long been a problem with landline phones and in recent years has become a major problem with cellular service.  There are many ways that these unauthorized charges make their way to a victim’s phone, sometimes, consumers unknowingly sign up for premium texting services that may be for things such as flirting tips, horoscopes or celebrity gossip.  Whatever the source of the charges, they are fraudulent and typically cost about $9.99 per month, but can be as high as 24.95 and continue to appear for months without end.

Recently the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled a major cramming lawsuit it brought against American eVoice, Ltd and eight other affiliated companies as well as four individuals involved in the scam through which the defendants placed more than 70 million dollars in unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills.  Under the terms of the settlement all of the defendants are barred from participating telephone billing.  In addition a 71 million dollar judgment was imposed although most of that was suspended due to the defendants having insufficient assets.


You should carefully review your phone bill  each month to identify if cramming charges appeared anywhere on your bill.  These charges often appear with vague descriptions so if you don’t recognize any charge, you should contact your provider to explain the charges to you.  Sometimes the charges appear in sections of your bill labeled “miscellaneous” or “third party charges.”

Receiving unsolicited text messages is often an indication that you are a victim of cramming so if you do receive such messages, check your phone bill carefully to see if these are related to unauthorized charges.  Most cell phone carriers will allow you to block charges from third parties for free, which is a good way to avoid cramming.

Scam of the day – July 23, 2017 – A new twist on the tech support scam

I have been reporting to you about tech support scams for years.  These scams generally involve pop-ups that appear on your computer screen informing you of a serious, non-existent problem with your computer that requires immediate attention by you and for which you are required to pay money for a service you don’t really need.  The FTC has been particularly active in taking action against these scammers including recent actions against sixteen companies participating in these scams.

Recently, however,  a new variation on the tech support scam has been appearing where you get a phone call purporting to be from one of the companies that may have sold you unnecessary tech support services offering to refund your money.  The scammers then either ask for remote access to your computer, a payment to process the refund or personal information.  The call is not from the person or company that may have sold you worthless tech support in the past, but is most likely from a new scammer who got your name and contact information from a “sucker list” provided by the previous scammer.  If you provide access to your computer or provide personal information, this will be used to make you a victim of identity theft and payments made to them to process your refund are just funds thrown away because you will not get anything in return.


Never give your personal information over the phone to anyone unless you have absolutely confirmed that the person is legitimate and needs your personal information for legitimate purposes.  Providing access to your computer to these people or making payments to these people is also not advised.

It is also important to have anti-virus and anti-malware software and keep them up to date with the latest security patches.  However, you should obtain these security software programs only from legitimate companies that you have researched.

It is important to remember that neither Microsoft nor Apple will contact you by way of pop up ads offering tech support for which you will be charged.  It should be noted, however, that Microsoft does regularly issue software security updates, but they do this in automated updates if you have enrolled for this service.  If you receive a pop up ad purporting to be from Microsoft or Apple and have any thought that it might be legitimate, you should merely contact Microsoft or Apple directly at a telephone number you know is accurate to confirm the pop up was a scam.

Scam of the day – July 22, 2017 – FTC sues debt collectors

Legitimate debt collection is highly regulated by federal law, however, there are numerous phony debt collectors who call people and threaten them if they do not pay alleged debts with serious repercussions including imprisonment.  In many instances, scammers even attempt to collect on non-existent, phantom debts.  Recently the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued Hardco Holding Group LLC, S&H Financial Group, Inc., Daryl M. Hall and Dequan M. Sicard alleging that they called their victims posing as lawyers and threatened them with arrest if they did not pay non-existent, phantom debts.  The FTC has obtained a temporary restraining order against the defendants to cease their collections activities pending resolution of the lawsuit.


Subject to strict federal laws, legitimate debt collectors are permitted to call debtors, however, the law prohibits them from threatening imprisonment for the failure to pay a debt.  It can be difficult to know when someone calls attempting to collect a debt if indeed they are legitimate or not, so the best course of action if you receive such a call is to not discuss the debt with the person calling, but instead demand that they send you a written “validation notice” by regular mail which describes the debt they allege you owe and includes a listing of your rights under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  Never give personal information over the phone to anyone who calls you attempting to collect a debt.  You can never be sure who they are.  If you receive the validation notice and it appears to be legitimate, you may be better off contacting your creditor directly because the person who called you may not be representing the creditor, but may merely have information about the debt.

Scam of the day – July 21, 2017 – Free Southwest Airlines ticket scam

It appears Delta isn’t the only airline having its 88th birthday a little early. It was just ten days ago that I warned you about a new scam involving Delta Airlines appearing on Facebook in which you are told that Delta is giving away free airline tickets to celebrate its 88th birthday.  The Facebook posting asks you to like and share the post as well as complete a survey in order to get your tickets.  However, there are no free tickets and if you complete the survey, you turn over information to a scammer who can use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

Now an identical scam is appearing on Facebook offering free tickets on Southwest Airlines to celebrate its 88th birthday.

Here is a reproduction of what appears on your Facebook page.


A good starting point for recognizing that this is a scam is the fact that just as the birthday for Delta Airlines was incorrect in the posting by five years, Southwest Airlines only began in 1967, so it is a long way off from its 88th birthday.

Southwest Airlines does not offer free tickets in return for answering survey questions and the website referred to in the posting is not a legitimate website for Southwest Airlines.  The real website of the company is

These types of scams entice people to share and like the posting in order to take advantage of Facebook’s algorithms that value the popularity of postings measured by likes and shares which then appear on the Facebook pages of more people.  Scammers are able to change the content of what is shared or liked to something entirely different through a technique called “farming.”  This is often done in order to send advertising or gather marketing information, but it also can be done to send malware infected content that can steal personal information from your computer and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.

When you see one of these “too good to be true” offers, the best course of action is to check with the company’s legitimate website where you will learn whether or not the offer is indeed legitimate.

Scam of the day – July 20, 2017 – Ashley Madison settlement awaits court approval

In July of 2015 it was first learned that the Ashley Madison dating site had experienced a major data breach affecting 36 million of its members. Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking to have extra-marital affairs formerly used the slogan, “Life is short, have an affair.” Ashley Madison was hacked by a group calling itself Impact Team.  Impact Team released information on 36 million users of Ashley Madison including names,  addresses, sexual interests and credit card details.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 13 state attorneys general sued Ashley Madison and later settled.  Under the terms of the settlement Ashley Madison was required to implement a comprehensive data security program and pay 1.66 million dollars to the FTC and the states involved with the charges.

Now it appears that Ashley Madison, which is owned by Ruby Corp. has agreed to a settlement of the separate class action brought by Ashley Madison customers whose personal information was leaked.  According to the terms of the 11.2 million dollar settlement, victims of the data breach will be paid up to $3,500 each.  The settlement has been agreed to, but needs court approval before it can be final.  I will report to you when that occurs.


Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this matter, as millions of Ashley Madison customers suffered the consequences of having their involvement with the dating service made public, is that your personal information is only as safe as the places with the worst security that have your personal information.  It also is obvious that the more places that have your personal information, the more at risk you are.  Therefore you should limit the places that have your personal information as much as possible.  In addition, you should not leave your credit card on record with a company for convenience sake even if it is a company with which you regularly do business.  Unless you agree to have your credit card information saved, companies with which you use your credit card are not allowed to store that information.

July 19, 2017 – Steve Weisman’s latest column for the Saturday Evening Post

Here is a link to an article I wrote for the Saturday Evening Post about Facebook scams which continue to be a major problem.

Con Watch: How to Spot a Scam on Facebook