The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is sending payments to victims of a credit card offer scam that was operated by the personal finance company Credit Karma between 2018 and 2021. Credit Karma sent notices to hundreds of thousands of people telling them that they were “pre-approved” for credit cards offered by banks that used Credit Karma to promote their financial products. Unfortunately, many “pre-approved” people after completing the necessary credit card applications were denied the credit cards. Unfortunately, for those applying for the credit cards which they were led to believe was a sure thing but were denied, their credit scores were reduced because applying for the credit card constituted a hard inquiry on their credit report, which upon their being denied the card damaged their credit score.
The scam involves the Google Voice/Google Phone service which is a free phone number provided to you by Google. Calls to that number are forwarded to your cell phone. In order to set up a Google Phone number you need to provide your phone number for verification purposes. Google then texts or calls you with a 6 digit code that you must enter online to finish the process. The good news is that if you fall for the scam and send the 6 digit code to the scammer, you won’t lose any money, however, you can be sure that a scammer will be using your phone number to perpetrate scams and hide his or her tracks.
For the last few years a Holiday Wine Exchange pyramid scheme has been turning up on Facebook, Instagram and other social media. This pyramid scheme operates just like the Secret Sister Gift Exchange except you are directed to send bottles of wine. There are many scammers using this scam and some of them are interested in gathering personal information from you that they use to make you a victim of identity theft.
One of the most important decisions anyone should make when deciding whether to invest in cryptocurrencies is what kind of a wallet they will hold their investment in. Many cryptocurrency scams involve people being tricked into turning over access to their cryptocurrency wallets and losing all of their funds. Your digital wallet is where the key that allows you to access your cryptocurrency account is found. If your key falls into the hands of a hacker, you can easily lose all of your cryptocurrency account so it is of paramount importance to secure your digital wallet. Digital wallets can either be hot wallets or cold wallets. Hot wallets are connected to the Internet which makes them more susceptible to being hacked which is why a cold wallet which is not connected to the Internet, but rather is is kept in a portable hard drive is your best bet.
Recently the IRS issued a warning about the dangers of pig butchering with some red flags for people to consider. Here is a link to the IRS’ warning https://www.irs.gov/compliance/criminal-investigation/ci-issues-red-flags-tips-to-avoid-falling-victim-to-pig-butchering-schemes-during-international-fraud-awareness-week
Regular readers of Scamicide are certainly familiar with skimmers which are devices installed on ATMs as well as credit and debit card processors that steal information from credit and debit cards thereby enabling criminals to use that information to make charges on those cards. The increased use in recent years of cards with chip technology has dramatically decreased the amount of fraudulent purchases made through stolen credit and debit card information because the chip card creates a new authorization number each time the card is used thereby negating the value of skimming a credit card with a computer chip. Scanning your card rather than inserting it into a card reader has also made such purchases safer.
Scams involving sales of non-existent puppies had already increased dramatically in the last few years, but really took off during the Coronavirus pandemic when many people were looking for the emotional support of a loving dog. Now the holiday season is bringing even more instances of puppy scams as people attempt to buy dogs as holiday gifts. People buy dogs or other pets online and, although they think they are taking proper precautions, they often end up getting nothing in return for the money that they wire to the scammer who may have a website or some other way of marketing their non-existent pets with photographs and false information.
Fans of the old horror movie Poltergeist 2 remember the classic line “They’re back” and so it is with the classic Secret Sister scam which returns each holiday season. I first reported to you about this scam in 2015. It seems harmless enough when you see it come up in your email or on social media, such as Facebook or X, formerly Twitter, where it has increasingly been found lately. It is often titled the “Secret Sister Gift Exchange.” Commonly it provides you with a list of six people and you are told to send a gift worth at least ten dollars to the first person on the list, remove that person’s name from the list, move the second person on the list to the first position, add your name to the end of the list and then send the list to six of your friends. In theory, you will receive thirty-six gifts for your small contribution of ten dollars. So where is the harm? First of all, it is a blatantly illegal chain letter and violates Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1302. In addition, like all chain letters, ultimately, it is destined to fail because it is a pyramid scheme where ultimately we run out of people on the planet. In one particular version of this illegal chain letter, you are required to provide personal information that can lead you to become more vulnerable to scams and identity theft schemes.
The FTC is sending millions of dollars of refunds to victims of a health insurance scam perpetrated by Consumer Health Benefits Association (CHBA) after settling its lawsuit against the company. The FTC sued CHBA alleging that the company sold misleading medical discount plans to people who were led to believe they were buying comprehensive health insurance. CHBA sold misleading medical discount plans and made if difficult for customers to get refunds or cancel the plans. Among the misrepresentations of CHBA were that the plans were widely accepted, which they were not and that they would provide the same cost savings as legitimate health insurance policies.
The popularity of online shopping has brought a dramatic increase in the number of packages delivered by companies such as UPS and Federal Express. The popularity of online shopping has also resulted in a new term entering the lexicon in recent years, namely, “porch pirate,” which is the name given to criminals who cruise through neighborhoods looking for packages to steal that have been left on the doorsteps of homes by delivery services. It has been estimated that more than 25 million Americans will have packages stolen from their front doorsteps during the holiday shopping season. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of this crime.
Phony advertisements for non-existent jobs that lure people into either giving the scammer money or personal information that can be used for purposes of identity theft have been a common scam for many years, but particularly during the holiday season when many companies are looking for seasonal workers, the scam gets worse. Scammers use ads on job sites, social media, newspapers and even television and radio, the same platforms used by legitimate employers to attract their victims. Sometimes the scammers use the names of legitimate companies and sometimes they make up phony companies just for the purpose of offering phony jobs through these companies.
For many people reading the headline of today’s Scam of the day it may seem odd that “Mr. Cooper” is being sued in multiple class actions, but Mr. Cooper is actually the name of a company that is the largest non-bank servicing home mortgages with more than 4.3 million customers. Unfortunately, in October Mr. Cooper suffered a devastating data breach in which personal information including Social Security numbers of its 4.3 million customers was stolen leaving these people in serious jeopardy of identity theft.
The real Publisher Clearing House has settled fraud charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging multiple fraud claims. Specifically, Publishers Clearing House misled people into thinking that if they made a purchase it would increase their chances of winning, added surprise shipping and handling fees that increased the cost of their customers’ orders by an outrageous average of 40% and charged customers fees to return products despite representing that the ordering process was “risk free.”
If you are interested in a free letter to Santa for your child, you can use the United States Postal Service’s Letters from Santa program which you can reach using this link https://about.usps.com/holidaynews/letters-from-santa.htm
All you need to do is have your child write a letter to Santa Claus. Then write your own response from Santa Claus and mail both letters along with an envelope with the return address of “Santa, North Pole” and mail it to “North Pole Postmark Postmaster, 4141 Postmark Dr., Anchorage Alaska 99530-9998 and your child will get a personalized letter from Santa with a North Pole postmark at no cost to you. The USPS advises you to send the letters by December 1st so you only have a few more days to get them in. The only cost is your postage.
Now, however, the Federal Trade Commission is appealing to tech savvy people to help solve the problem of voice cloning by initiating the Voice Cloning Challenge by which the FTC is offering a prize of $25,000 to whomever comes up with the best solution to this problem. The FTC will be taking submissions online between January 2nd and January 12th 2024. For more information about the Voice Cloning Challenge use this link https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/contests/ftc-voice-cloning-challenge
The FTC is now sending full refunds to victims of a tech support scam perpetrated by NTS IT Care, Inc. pursuant to a 2020 settlement that had been under seal until recently pending a criminal case against the company and and its CEO Jagmeet Singh Virk. The scam of NTS IT Care, Inc. followed the same pattern indicated above starting with a pop-up on their victims’ computers.
Following the major shopping days referred to as Black Friday and Cyber Monday now comes Giving Tuesday which was first designated as a special day to focus on helping out people in need through charitable gifts in 2012. This is a time of the year when many people are receptive to solicitations from charities. Unfortunately, not all of those solicitations will be from legitimate charities. Many of those calls, letters and emails will be from scammers posing as charities.
The pandemic increased the trend toward online purchases of just about everything and even as the pandemic has waned, many of us continue to make large amounts of our consumer purchases online. Scammers, of course, see this as an opportunity to scam people with phony websites that steal your money and provide you with nothing in return. Some of these phony websites are for totally made up companies that you have never heard of, but which are offering tremendous discounts on popular goods while other phony websites are counterfeit websites of legitimate online retailers.
Every year, the number of people shopping online and the money spent through online shopping grows significantly. And why not? The convenience alone of being able to shop from the comfort and privacy of your home is reason enough for many of us to shop online. But how safe is it? According to the FTC the number one reported fraud is online shopping scams. However, following some basic precautions can go a long way in protecting you from being scammed when shopping online
If you are shopping in a brick and mortar store Friday or any other day throughout the year, you should use a credit card rather than a debit card because of the possibility of skimmers which are small devices being used by criminals working as sales clerks that will capture your credit card number which will then be used to make fraudulent purchases. As for using your credit card rather than your debit card, it is important to remember that while your liability for fraudulent use of your credit card is limited by federal law to no more than $50, your liability for fraudulent use of your debit card which is tied to your bank account is unlimited if you do not promptly discover and report the fraud which is why you should always use your credit card for shopping rather than your debit card.
Electronic greeting cards have become very popular and with good reason. Even if you don’t remember a birthday or delay sending a holiday card until the last minute, you can send an electronic greeting card, often for free, and have it delivered immediately. Many electronic greeting cards are quite creative with videos and music, as well. But, unfortunately, you can always count on scam artists and identity thieves to try to spoil anything and electronic greeting cards are no exception. The scam starts when you get a phony electronic greeting card that requires you to click on a link to read the card. If you click on one of these phony greeting cards, you may end up downloading a keystroke logging malware program that will steal all of the information from your computer and end up with you becoming a victim of identity theft or alternatively you may download dangerous malware such as ransomware.
What is old is new again. Many people continue to pay their household bills by paper checks rather than electronic banking and even when shopping, some people prefer paying by check instead of using a credit card or cash. While there has been much discussion in the news about data breaches involving credit cards, the problems encountered through check washing are still substantial costing consumers and banks more than a billion dollars each year and the problem is getting worse. Typically, the scam starts when someone pays a bill with a check, mails the envelope containing the check and then somewhere in transit the check is stolen and washed. Check washing is a process by which someone steals a check you have already written and “washes” or removes the name of the payee, often using simple bleach, and also changes the amount as well as the name of the payee. The criminal then cashes your altered check and steals your money.
Scam of the day – November 18, 2023 – Steve’s Testimony on Senior Scams and AI Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging
Two days ago I testified before the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Aging. My testimony related to scams affecting the elderly and, in particular, how Artificial Intelligence is now being used by scammers. Here is a link to the hearing which shows myself and the other witnesses. I testified and then took questions from Senator Bob Casey, the chair of the Committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Mark Kelly.
Recently Lloyds Bank, a British bank issued a report in which it found that cryptocurrency scams in the UK increased by 23% in 2023 over the comparable period last year and that the average amount of money lost by victims of these scams was more than any other type of scam in the UK. Cryptocurrency scams are a huge problem in the United States and everywhere else as well.
DocuSign is a company that provides technology for the transmission of contracts and other documents with features for electronic signatures and is used by many businesses. There has been an increasing number of scams in which phony DocuSign messages are being used to send malware infected links luring people into providing personal information that is used for identity theft purposes.
McLaren Health Care, a Michigan based hospital chain consisting of thirteen hospitals in Michigan and Indiana last week disclosed that it was a victim of a data breach that began on July 28th and lasted through the month of August. The company became aware of the...
Since it began in 2003, the National Do Not Call list has grown to include more than 249 million phone numbers. When you register your phone number with the Do Not Call list it becomes illegal for telemarketers to contact you by phone. The Do Not Call list does not apply to charities so you still may be contacted by charities even if you have registered for the Do Not Call list. However, when you receive a call from someone purporting to be representing a charity, you can never be sure who is really calling so you should never give your credit card number to someone who calls you allegedly from a charity. If you are interested in a particular charity, contact the charity directly to make your contribution.
Scam of the day – November 12, 2023 – State of Maine Identified as Latest MOVEit Supply Chain Data Breach Victim
Three days ago the Maine state government confirmed that many of its departments had suffered a data breach affecting 1.3 milli0on people with large amounts of sensitive information including Social Security numbers compromised. The data breach at Maine, however was not a result of their computers being hacked directly by cybercriminals, but rather was done by exploiting a vulnerability found in MOVEit software used by Maine as well as 620 other organizations including American Airlines, TD Ameritrade, Johns Hopkins University and other users of the same software who can be assumed to also have suffered data breaches affecting an estimated 40 million people. I have been telling you about these data breaches for months.
Ordering food online for delivery was somewhat popular prior to the pandemic, but really took off during the pandemic when people wanted restaurant food without having to go to a restaurant. Many restaurants have taken advantage of this interest and set up websites to facilitate ordering food deliveries and companies such as DoorDash and GrubHub also take online orders for food deliveries from multiple restaurants. As could be expected scammers also are getting into the food delivery business although it would be more accurate to say that they got in the business of taking your online orders for food delivery, but deliver nothing except charges on your credit card.
The holiday season will soon be upon us. This is a time when many people give to charities. In particular, you will most likely be contacted by numerous people soliciting charitable contributions on behalf of organizations purporting to support the brave men and women who make up our police and fire departments. Unfortunately, many of those solicitations will be from scammers merely looking to steal money under false pretenses. Whenever you are solicited by phone, you can never be sure who is really contacting you.
Remember my motto, “trust me, you can’t trust anyone.” Whenever you get a Facebook message, email, or text message you can never be sure who is really contacting you. The “friend” you think is communicating with you may well be a criminal who has managed to hack your friend’s Facebook account, email account or phone and use these accounts to send out phishing messages that lure you into clicking on infected links. Never click on a link unless you have absolutely confirmed that it is legitimate.
Even though Thanksgiving has not yet arrived, many people are turning their attention to holiday shopping and holiday shoppers looking to save money are always on the lookout for coupons. Everyone loves coupons and like many things in our lives, coupons which used to be found commonly in newspapers and magazines have migrated online. In recent years scammers have been perpetrating phony coupon scams on social media. Among the companies affected by these phony coupons were Bath and Body Works, Costco, Aldi, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. As I have warned you many times in the past, Facebook has become a hotbed for phony online coupons. The phony coupons looks quite legitimate which means nothing because it is very easy to copy the company logos and make the coupons appear to be genuine.
Recently the background check company Been Verified issued a list of its twelve most common phone scams being perpetrated today. The phone is a primary method for scammers who can make large numbers of calls or texts using computers rather than actual phones. Scammers also use prerecorded robocalls to contact people they are attempting to scam. For information about what you can do to protect yourself from robocalls, I suggest you check out his Scam of the day from the past https://scamicide.com/2023/06/28/scam-of-the-day-june-29-2023-48-states-sue-robocall-company/
Recently a Scamicide reader received an email informing her that her Amazon Prime Membership was due for renewal, but that it could not be done because the credit card tied to the account was no longer able to be used, threatening to suspend her Amazon Prime account unless a new credit card was provided. This is a common scam in which the scammers attempt to lure people into providing their credit card information or Amazon user name and password to the scammer posing as an Amazon employee.
I have written many times over the last ten years about the mystery shopper scam because it continues to ensnare unwary victims. These scams continue to be effective and are increasing in number so it is important to remind you about them again. Mystery shoppers are people hired to shop at a particular store and report on the shopping experience for purposes of quality control. Unlike many scams, there actually are legitimate mystery shopper companies, but they never advertise or recruit through emails, text messages or letters. The manner in which the scam generally works is that when you answer an advertisement, or respond to a letter, email or a text message to become a mystery shopper, you are sent a bank check. You deposit the check into your own account and spend some of the money on the goods that you purchase which you are allowed to keep and also are directed to keep some of the balance of the check as payment for your services. You are instructed to return the remaining funds by a wire transfer.
In July of 2020 the FTC sent out a waring letter and ease and desist order against Gary Kong, Timothy Wetzel and their companies K.W. Technology and K.W. Technology NV Inc the makers and marketers of what they called the Invisible Mask which was a badge worn around the neck which they claimed was scientifically proven to protect anyone wearing it from Covid. The defendants advertised this ineffective, phony product on their own website, YouTube and Facebook where they called it “The 1 Virus Buster Card.” None of their representations were true or supported by any scientific evidence. Now two years later three of the four defendants in this case have settled with the FTC and pursuant to the settlement are banned from selling this bogus product. The settlement is awaiting approval of the judge overseeing the case, which is expected to be done soon.
In 2014 the FTC settled cramming charges with T-Mobile under the terms of which T-Mobile was required to return at least ninety million dollars 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. Two year later the refunds were sent by the FTC by check, however, many people failed to cash their checks and are now being contacted by email regarding getting their payment by PayPal. The email address being used to send these legitimate refund emails is NoReply@TMobileRefunds.com. If you prefer to get a check rather than a PayPal payment, you should contact the refund administrator at 844-746-4695.
The most common places where you will find phony QR codes is on parking meters where the phony QR code is put on as a sticker over the legitimate QR code, in restaurants, in phishing emails, on social media posts or on unordered packages delivered to your home. Now, however, scammers are using QR codes to scam you in a new way. The new QR code scam starts with an email that appears to come from a company with which you do business informing you that you need to update your account or your account will be closed. In order to update your account, you are instructed to scan the QR code in the email which takes you to a website that looks like the real website for the company that the scammer is posing as and asks you to input your username and password. People falling for this scam end up giving access to their account to the scammer.
Scammers are big fans of gift cards because they are easy to purchase, easy to send to the scammer and impossible to trace to the scammer. According to the FTC, consumers lost 233 million dollars to gift card scams last year. It is not even necessary for the scammer to be in possession of the actual gift card to use it. Sending the gift card numbers or taking a picture on your phone and transmitting it to the scammer is sufficient for the scammer to use the gift card to buy things that can then be sold and converted into cash.
A report issued in October by Senator Elizabeth Warren that analyzed Zelle use at 7 banks over the last 18 months indicated that there were 192,878 fraud cases totaling 213.8 million dollars, but that only in 3,500 cases did the banks reimburse their customers. In the Scam of the day for December 24, 2023 I told you that after pressure from Senator Warren and others, the banks that own Zelle were in the final stages of negotiations to provide for people who became victims of Zelle scams to be reimbursed for their losses by their bank. Now, as reported by Leslie Gaydos of NBC Boston, Zelle banks and credit unions will reimburse customers who are victims of qualifying imposter scams where the scammer poses as a bank to trick the customer into sending them money through Zelle.
Today’s Scam of the day is one that has been around since 2018, but is resurfacing, as many scams do. It starts with a phony email purporting to be from PayPal that indicates that PayPal is investigating a payment reversal due to your receiving an unauthorized payment due to a transaction error. You are directed in the email to click on a link to login and access your PayPal Resolution Center. Don’t do it! Clicking on the link will take you to a phony PayPal website that will lure you into providing your password and other personal information that will lead to identity theft.
I have written many times in the last ten years about Ponzi schemes because this effective investment scam that actually was around for many years before Charles Ponzi came to be identified with it is still being used to victimize many people. Here is a link to an interview I gave to Paula Poundstone on her podcast in which we discussed this important topic.
We are in the middle of the Fall high school sports seasons and more and more people are choosing to watch the games streaming online rather than attend the games in person. Streaming of high school sports increased dramatically during the pandemic and even now that the pandemic has ended, many people still enjoy watching the games streamed. Unfortunately, anything that many people enjoy will always be something that scammers take note of and scammers are going on social media posing as a streaming service and posting links through which people can sign up for streaming of their local high school’s games. People clicking on these links are prompted for personal information including their credit card to sign up for the service that they never receive. Instead all they end up doing is becoming victims of identity theft and credit card fraud.
Romance scams generally follow a familiar pattern with the scammers establishing relationships with people, generally women, online through various legitimate dating websites and social media using fake names, locations and images. The scammers often pose as Americans working abroad or in the military serving abroad. Recently I have learned of a number of romance scammers posing as United Nations doctors working in Syria. These scammers have been using Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and dating sites to make contact with their victims.
Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled a legal action against Goopalkrishna Pai and eight companies he owned that marketed a variety of skin creams online as free with the only cost being a nominal shipping and handling fee of $4.99, however, Pai would then charge his customers full price for the product and bill them monthly for continuing deliveries with the details of the fees hidden in fine print not readily seen. Under the terms of the settlement, Pai is banned from negative option continuity plans marketing and must turn over funds to the FTC to refund to customers he scammed. As further information becomes available about these refunds, I will let you know.
Recently the Aurora, Colorado police department issued a warning that scammers were drilling holes in the contactless payment screens on gas pumps where you can merely scan your credit card with its RFID chip rather than insert it into any card reader. By damaging the contactless payment screen, it becomes inoperable thereby requiring the customer to use the credit card reader on the gas pump where the identity thief had already installed a skimmer to steal your credit card or debit card information.
Since the passage of the PACT Act in 2022 which expanded VA benefits and health care for veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances, there have been numerous companies and lawyers offering assistance in filing for benefits for conditions related to such toxic exposures in return for a percentage of your benefit award. Recently the VA issued a warning about scammers contacting veterans through phishing emails, text messages and social media with phony offers of help in applying for PACT Act benefits. It is important to know that you don’t need to pay to file a claim. The VA can assist you or help you identify a VA-recognized organization or VA-accredited individual to help you with your claim. You can submit your application securely online via VA.gov. There is no cost for the forms and no fee to apply. VA will never charge you to apply for benefits. In addition, Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and representatives are available to assist in filing claims. To help guard against fraud and scams, validate the credentials of anyone offering to help you with a VA claim by using the Office of General Counsel’s Accreditation Search tool or by contacting your local representative or VA Regional Office