Scam of the day – October 21, 2017 – Free iPhone X scam

There is a lot of excitement about the new iPhone X phone which will be available starting November 3rd. As always, however, whenever the public is enthusiastic about something, so are the scam artists who are ready to exploit the public’s interest.  A scam is appearing on Facebook where you are asked to “like” a promotion found on your Facebook page where merely by completing a survey and sharing a link with your friends, you will receive a free iPhone X.  Of course, you are not going to get a free iPhone X in exchange for merely completing a survey and sharing a link with your friends.  What you are going to get, when you complete this particular survey, which requires you to provide your cell phone number, is a cramming charge on your cell phone bill for a text messaging service for which you have unwittingly signed up.  As for your friends, if they click on the link that you have enabled them to receive, they will end up being defrauded as well.

TIPS

The old saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true” still stands.  No one is giving away free iPhones to everyone who merely completes a survey.  Legitimate companies do ask their customers to complete surveys and sometimes they will even provide an inducement for completing the survey, but generally, your reward is to be enrolled in a lottery for a particular prize.  Everyone who completes the survey does not get a valuable prize.  On the other hand, scammers are constantly sending out surveys that either, within the fine print, sign you up for an expensive services that is often added to your phone bill through a scam called “cramming” or they take the personal information you provide and use it to make you a victim of identity theft.  As difficult as it sometimes may be, everyone should carefully examine their phone bill each month to make sure that no fraudulent cramming charges are included on the bill.  If you find one or more, you should contact your phone service provider and instruct them to have the charges removed.  Also, be wary of providing personal information to anyone even if they seem legitimate.  Think about whether that information that you are asked to provide could be used against your best interests.

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.

TIPS

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 – February 7, 2017 – FTC refunding victims of T-Mobile cramming scam

For 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 actually 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 and continue to appear for months without end.

As I reported to you in December of 2014 when it occurred, the FTC settled cramming charges with T-Mobile under the terms of which T-Mobile would pay refunds to affected customers.  According to the term of the settlement, T-Mobile was required to contact all of its present and former customers who were subjected to cramming and inform them of the refund program and claims process.  Now, more than two years later, the FTC is finally sending about 20 million dollars to the victims of this scam. Check out the tab at the top of this page entitled “FTC Scam Refunds” if this settlement affects you for more information about receiving your check.

TIPS

If you were or are a T-Mobile customer, you should carefully review your phone bill to identify if cramming charges appeared anywhere on your bill and follow the procedure indicated by T-Mobile to make a claim.  Even if you are not a T-Mobile customer you should always carefully review your phone bill each month to make sure that there are no unauthorized charges.  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.

Scam of the day – December 10, 2016 – FTC refunding millions to victims of AT&T cramming scam

Earlier this week, the FTC started sending out checks to victims of a cramming scam by which unauthorized phone charges were added to the mobile bills of AT&T customers.  Cramming is the name for adding unauthorized third party charges to a consumer’s telephone bill without the knowledge or approval of the consumer.  This has long been a problem with landline phones and recently 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 for things such as flirting tips, horoscopes or celebrity gossip when entering a contest or lottery.  Whatever the source of the charges, they are fraudulent and typically cost about $9.99 per month and continue to appear for months without end.   This particular cramming scheme was operated by two companies Tatto and Acquinity working with AT&T to have the fraudulent charges added to the mobile phone bills of AT&T customers.   Under the terms of its agreements with the two companies, AT&T kept 35% of the charges.  The settlement of the FTC’s complaint against AT&T, Tatto and Acquinity is resulting in more than 88 million dollars being refunded to present and former AT&T customers who were victimized by this particular cramming scam.

Present AT&T customers who were victimized by this scam will receive a credit on their mobile phone bill that will show up within the next 75 days.  Former AT&T customers victimized by this scam will be receiving checks from the FTC.  The first round of checks were sent two days ago.  For more information, go to the “FTC Scam Refunds” tab at the top of this page.

TIPS

Even if you are not an AT&T customer  this case is another reminder that you should carefully review your phone bill each month to make sure that there are no unauthorized charges.  Telephone bills can be long and complicated to read, but is important to make sure that you understand every charge that appears on your bill because sometimes crammers make the charges appear to be legitimate.  If you find a charge for a service you did not order, contact your phone service provider to have the charges removed.

Scam of the day – August 19, 2016 – AT&T penalized 7.75 million dollars over cramming charges

It was just two years ago that AT &T paid a 105 million dollar settlement related to cramming on cell phone bills.  Cramming is the name for adding unauthorized third party charges to a consumer’s telephone bill without the knowledge or approval of the consumer.  This has long been a problem with landline phones and recently 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 when entering a contest or lottery.  Whatever the source of the charges, they are fraudulent and typically cost about $9.99 per month and continue to appear for months without end.  Recently, while conducting a drug and money laundering investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) discovered two companies, Discount Directory, Inc. and Enhanced Telecommunications Services that were sham companies established for the sole purpose of cramming nine dollar monthly directory service charges on to AT&T landline bills.  While AT&T was not aware these charges were fraudulent when they agreed to add these charges to consumers’ bills, neither did they ask for any proof that their customers had actually signed up for these services.  Meanwhile, AT&T got a share of every monthly crammed payment.  According to the FTC, AT&T “ignored a number of red flags that the charges were unauthorized, including thousands of charges submitted by the Companies for nonexistent, disconnected, or otherwise ‘unbillable’ accounts.”

Pursuant to the new settlement, AT&T will refund all the fees it collected on behalf of the two companies as well as pay a $950,000 fine.  They have also agreed not to bill for most third-party services on landlines. AT&T has indicated that they will be sending refund checks to their defrauded customers within the next 90 days.

TIPS

Even if you are not an AT&T customer  this case is another reminder that you should carefully review your phone bill each month to make sure that there are no unauthorized charges.  Telephone bills can be long and complicated to read, but is important to make sure that you understand every charge that appears on your bill because sometimes crammers make the charges appear to be legitimate.  If you find a charge for a service you did not order, contact your phone service provider to have the charges removed.

Scam of the day – May 5, 2016 – Telephone call from no one scam

We have all experienced telephone calls where you pick up the phone and there is no one on the other end of the line.  This is a scam, but how does it work and how are you harmed?  With computers that can be programmed to make massive amounts of telephone calls,  scammers will often first test their lists of telephone numbers by making these calls to determine which telephone numbers are valid numbers for them to call back later with automated robocalls such as from the infamous Rachel from Card Services  by which they will attempt to either sell you something worthless or gather information from you that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.

In another version of this scam,  people with Caller ID are often tempted into calling back the number to see who called them, thinking that the call was legitimate.  Instead, unwittingly they make an expensive premium service call to an adult entertainment service that charge as much as $20 for the first minute.  Many of these calls originate in the Caribbean Islands from area codes such as 268, 284,809, 473,876 or 649.

TIPS

It often is a good idea not to answer the phone if you have Caller ID and you do not recognize the number calling you.  If it is legitimate, they will generally leave a message.  In any event, if you do answer the phone and there is no one on the other end of the line, do not call the number back.  The chances of your getting assessed charges for a premium phone call are too great.

Scam of the day – February 26, 2016 – FCC fines companies 3.43 million dollars for cramming

Recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined two companies, Calling 10 and Teleseven along with their owner Patrick Hines 3.43 million dollars for illegal “cramming.”  Cramming is the name for the practice where consumers are charged on their phone bills for services they did not order.  In this particular case, Hines and his companies purchased about a million toll-free telephone numbers that were similar to the telephone numbers for Chase Bank and other financial institutions and then took advantage when people intending to call one of the legitimate companies misdialed the number and ended up speaking with one of Hines’ fraudulent companies which not only did not inform the caller that they had reached a wrong number, but also tacked on charges to the callers’ phone bills that were never authorized for services the callers never received.  As a result of their fraudulent actions, the two companies and Hines individually were fined 3.43 million dollars.

TIPS

Today’s telephone bills are pretty confusing and scammers who use cramming bank on the fact that many people just don’t pay enough attention to the details of their bills.    Carefully check out your phone bill each month.  To determine if you have been crammed, look for terms such as “Miscellaneous charges and credits,” “member fee” or other charges that you don’t recognize.

Scam of the day – December 27, 2015 – Impending deadline for Sprint and Verizon Wireless cramming refunds

In May 19th’s Scam of the day I first told you about settlements reached by The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) with wireless service providers Sprint and Verizon Wireless regarding allegations by the CFPB that both companies were guilty of cramming.  For years I have been warning you about the dangers of cramming.  Cramming is the name of the practice of putting unauthorized third party charges on 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 actually unknowingly sign up for premium texting services that may be for things such as flirting tips, horoscopes or celebrity gossip.  Other times, unscrupulous merchants merely tricked consumers into providing their cell phone numbers to which these merchants added the charges without providing anything in return.  The charges range from a single monthly charge of up to $14.99 to regular, continuous monthly charges of $9.99 per month.  Many consumers did not even notice these charges in their bills, which often were not clearly designated.  Both Sprint and Verizon were aware of these charges and received between 30% and 40% of the revenue generated by these illegal charges.

Pursuant to the terms of the settlements, Sprint and Verizon is refunding 120 million dollars to affected customers as well as paying 38 million dollars in federal and state fines.  However, there is a deadline of December 31, 2015 for applying for a refund so anyone who may have been affected by Sprint and Verizon Wireless cramming charges since July 1, 2010 and who has not yet applied for a refund should do so immediately.

TIPS

First and foremost, even if you are not a Sprint or Verizon customer, everyone should closely review their cellphone bill each month to make sure that you understand every charge that appears.  If anything is not clear to you, you should contact your cellphone service provider for an explanation.

If you are a Verizon customer who has been victimized by cramming, you can submit a claim for a refund by going to http://www.cfpbsettlementverizon.com/  or by calling (888)-726-7063.  If you are a Sprint customer who has been victimized by cramming, you can submit a claim for a refund by going to https://www.sprintrefundpsms.com/Home.aspx or call (877) 389-8787.

Scam of the day – May 19, 2015 – Consumer Financial Protection Bureau settles cramming charges with Sprint and Verizon

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has announced that it has reached settlements with wireless service providers Sprint and Verizon regarding allegations by the CFPB that both companies were guilty of cramming and have asked the federal courts for approval of the settlements.  For years I have been warning you about the dangers of cramming.  Cramming is the name for putting unauthorized third party charges on 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 actually unknowingly sign up for premium texting services that may be for things such as flirting tips, horoscopes or celebrity gossip.  Other times, unscrupulous merchants merely tricked consumers into providing their cell phone numbers to which these merchants added the charges without providing anything in return.  The charges range from a single monthly charge of up to $14.99 to regular, continuous monthly charges of $9.99 per month.  Many consumers did not even notice these charges in their bills, which often were not clearly designated.  Both Sprint and Verizon received between 30% and 40% of the revenue generated by these illegal charges.

Pursuant to the terms of the settlements, Sprint and Verizon will refund 120 million dollars to affected customers as well as pay 38 million dollars in federal and state fines.

TIPS

First and foremost, even if you are not a Sprint or Verizon customer, everyone should closely review their cellphone bill each month to make sure that you understand every charge that appears.  If anything is not clear to you, you should contact the cellphone service provider for an explanation.

If you are a Verizon customer who has been victimized by cramming, you can submit a claim for a refund by going to www.CFPBSettlementVerizon.com or by calling (888)-726-7063.  If you are a Sprint customer who has been victimized by cramming, you can submit a claim for a refund by going to www.SprintRefundPSMS.com or call (877) 389-8787.

Scam of the day – January 2, 2015 – AirAsia Facebook scam

Although legitimate media is reporting pieces of the wreckage as well as bodies from missing AirAsia Flight 8501 have been found, many people are falling for a Facebook scam where a link appears on their Facebook pages that promises to provide information and video from CNN indicating that the AirAsia plane had been found intact in the Philippines.  The piece appearing on Facebook pages looks like a legitimate CNN story and carries the logo of CNN, however, the AirAsia plane shown is not the missing plane, but rather a photograph of another AirAsia flight that skidded off of the runway in Malaysia in 2011.  Clicking on the video will not bring up the video.  Instead you are redirected to a phony CNN website that informs you that you need to “like” and “share” the video before you can view it.  Once you have done both of these actions, you are redirected again to another website that requires you to take a survey before you can view the video.  You are told that by taking the survey, you are eligible to win valuable prizes.  Among the information requested in the survey is your cell phone number and other personal information.  Once you take the survey, you are hooked because unwittingly what you are actually doing is signing up for “cramming” charges on your cell phone for various text message services.  If you are unfamiliar with “cramming,” check out the archives of Scamicide and put in the word “cramming.”

TIPS

Curiosity killed the cat and it can also add additional unwanted costs to your cell phone bill.  Scammers constantly take advantage of our curiosity about current news events to lure people into clicking on links that can result in your signing up for services you don’t want or need or even result in your downloading keystroke logging malware that can result in your information being stolen and you becoming a victim of identity theft.

A red flag in this particular scam is the requirement that you “like” and “share” the video before you have even seen it.  This is something you should never do.  In addition, you can never be sure that an apparent legitimate media link on your Facebook page is indeed legitimate or not so you should never click on such links for your news.  Instead, go directly to the websites of legitimate news outlets that you trust.