Scam of the day – February 15, 2017 – FTC gets court order halting phony rental property scam and free credit reporting scam

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has obtained a temporary restraining order against Credit Bureau Center LLC, Michael Brown, Danny Pierce and Andrew Lloyd as a part of its legal action against them on charges that they operated scams involving phony rental property advertisements and offered “free” credit reports for which they charged monthly amounts to their victims’ credit cards.

According to the FTC, the scammers placed Craigslist advertisements for rental properties they were not authorized to represent and in some circumstances even placed advertisements for properties that did not even exist.  When people responded to the ads, the victims were told that before they could see the properties they had to get a free credit report from the defendants’ websites’ myscore.com, creditupdates.com and freecreditnation.com in order to qualify to be considered for renting the properties.  The “free” credit reports, however, were far from free because the fine print in the agreement to obtain the “free” credit report required the victim to enroll in a credit monitoring service with a continuing monthly charge of $29.94.  According to the FTC, the victims never were shown properties even after getting the required credit report and the scammers ignored all communications from their victims after the victims signed up for the credit monitoring service.

TIPS

Advertisements for rental units and vacation rentals that are not owned by the scammers placing the advertisements is a common scam.  It is easy for scammers to get photos and other information about rental units and vacation rentals from legitimate websites and post them to lure victims into sending money to the scammers as a deposit.

A good way to protect yourself from this type of scam is to do a Google or other search engine search with the address of the property to see where it may turn up and who is listed as the owner.  Another good source of information is to go online to the Tax Assessor for the city or town where the property is located and confirm that the name of the property owner matches the name of the person attempting to rent you the property.

In regard to “free” credit reports, you should never have to give a credit card number for a free service although often scammers require this.  You should also carefully read any contract you make.  There rarely is anything fine in fine print.  The victims of this particular scam would have seen that they were signing up for a recurring charge if they carefully read their contract.

Finally, carefully monitor your credit card statements and bank accounts often to discover fraudulent charges as soon as possible.

Scam of the day – November 22, 2014 – FTC takes action against “free” credit score scams

The Federal Trade Commission along with the Attorneys General of Illinois and Ohio has announced a settlement with three companies that marketed what the companies advertised as free credit scores and then billed the unsuspecting customers $29.95 per month for credit monitoring services that they neither wanted nor knew that they had ordered.  Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will be refunding 22 million dollars to scammed customers.  The companies marketed their programs MyCreditHealth and ScoreSense through at least fifty websites and bought advertising on Google and Bing that would appear high on a list when consumers looked for “free credit reports.”  One of their misleading ads read “View your latest Credit Scores from All 3 Bureaus in 60  seconds for $0.”  In the fine print of their agreement, the companies were able to bill the consumers’ credit cards until the customers called to cancel their membership.  Even then, the companies, in many instances did not cancel the contract until after repeated calls.

TIPS

It is important to note that a credit report and a credit score are not the same thing.  Your credit report, which you have a right to a free annual copy of at each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian does not contain your FICO credit score which is derived from the information in your credit report and used by companies to measure your creditworthiness.  There are many companies that also promise free copies of your credit report only to do the same scam of charging you hidden monthly fees for additional services.  The only website to use for your free credit report is www.annualcreditreport.com.  You should also be wary of any company that offers something free and then asks for your credit card.  This is a red flag that what you are ordering is not free.  There are no websites that offer your actual FICO credit score at no charge although there are a number of websites including CreditKarma, CreditSesame and Quizzle that will provide a free approximation of your score sometimes called a FAKO score that can be helpful.

Scam of the day – December 8, 2013 – Blue Cross laptops stolen: customers in danger of identity theft

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield has just announced that two laptop computers were stolen from its Newark, New Jersey headquarters.  The stolen laptops contained personal information including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and more on 839,711 members thereby placing them in serious danger of identity theft.  The computers, which were locked by cables to employee workstations inside the Newark headquarters, were protected by passwords, but the information contained on the computers was not encrypted, thereby making the information available to an identity thief who is adept at using software programs used to decipher passwords.  Unfortunately, we have no reason to believe that the passwords used are of sufficient strength to make the process of breaking down the passwords difficult, particularly when the company did not take the important step of encrypting the information.

Similarly, it has just been revealed that a laptop computer and paper files containing personal information of 1,300 patients of the Houston Methodist Hospital was stolen last week.  In this case again the data was not encrypted and the paper files not properly secured thereby putting the hospital’s patients in serious jeopardy of identity theft.

These two laptop thefts are, unfortunately, not unusual and they serve to highlight two important facts.  First, that you are only as safe from identity theft as the security of the weakest place that has your personal information and second, that companies are still not taking basic security measures such as encrypting data, necessary to protect the privacy of personal information that they hold.

TIPS

In regard to these specific instances, those members affected by the laptop thefts at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield are being notified by Horizon and are being offered free credit monitoring and identity theft protection, which I strongly advise that you accept if you are affected by this security breach.  In regard to the Houston Methodist Hospital laptop thefts, the hospital is in the process of notifying those patients affected and are also offering free identity theft protection for a period of one year.  Again, if you are a victim of this data breach, I urge you to accept the offer.

In addition, those people affected and, quite frankly, everyone, should consider putting a credit freeze on their credit reports to prevent someone from accessing their credit report even if an identity thief has gotten access to Social Security numbers and other information that would otherwise permit access to the all important credit report.  Everyone should also regularly monitor their credit reports for early evidence of identity theft.  You can find information about how to get a credit freeze and your free credit reports in my book “How to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age” as well as here on Scamicide.

 

Scam of the day – September 4, 2012 – College student identity theft threat

As the new semester starts for college students, a new batch of Freshmen get introduced not only to college life, but to identity theft.  College students are five times more likely to become victims of identity theft than the rest of the population and usually take longer to find out that they have been victimized.  Living in close quarters combined with a lack of proper precautions make college students easy pickings for identity thieves.

TIPS

Here are a list of things that college students should do to protect their identity: Lock their computers, smart phones and tablets when they are not in use;  use a strong password and use different passwords for each device; use encryption software on all their electronic devices; don’t use Wifi for financial transactions, it is too easy to be cracked; college mail boxes are not very secure, have sensitive mail sent to their home or sent to the student electronically; don’t trust messages with links from “friends” that appear on their Facebook page and don’t put too much personal information on their Facebook pages; it can lead to identity theft; shred papers with personal information before disposing of them; check their bank statement and credit card statements carefully each month to look for signs of identity theft and get their free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies annually.