(MADISON) – Are you, your family and your business safe and secure online? Chances are you or someone you know has been a target by cyber criminals. Governor Walker has declared October as Cyber Security Awareness Month. Throughout the month, the ReadyWisconsin website will feature easy to follow tips that can stop cyber criminals before they strike your computer or mobile devices. In 2013, people throughout Wisconsin lost $6.4 million through cyber crimes. The average loss was more than $1900 per victim. Nationwide, more than 260,000 consumer complaints added up to almost $782 million in losses, a 48% increase over 2012. Despite the warnings, thousands of people each year fall victim to cyber scams. Wisconsin is one of several states encouraging organizations and individuals to practice good “Cyber Hygiene” including: Count: Know what’s connected to and running on your network. Configure: Implement key security settings to help protect your system. Control: Limit and manage those who have administrative privileges to change, bypass or override your security settings. Patch: Regularly update all applications, software and operating systems. Repeat: Set these top priorities to form a solid foundation of cyber security for your organization. “Just as your mom told you to practice good hygiene by washing your hands before dinner, we all need to practice good cyber hygiene,” said Major General Donald Dunbar, Adjutant General of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Homeland Security chairman. “Taking just a few, simple security steps can protect all of us from many cyber dangers.” As part of Cyber Awareness Month in October, Wisconsin will host the second annual Cyber Security Summit intended to link business leaders, state and federal partners, and industry experts together to discuss the state’s role in cyber security. The event will be held Wednesday, October 8, 2014 in Milwaukee at the Marquette University Alumni Memorial Union. You can find information about the Cyber Security Summit at: http://readywisconsin.wi.gov
Perfectly timed for the back to school frenzy, The Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Nevada received its first complaint against Scholastic School Supply on August 20th. Soon after, it noticed a severe influx in complaints regarding the business.
To date, 51 complaints have been received from schools in 22 states throughout the country, as well as 2,303 inquiries regarding this scam operation.
Complaints allege that the company is sending false invoices to schools and school districts throughout the country in the amount of $647.50 for a bulk purchase of text books that were never requested or received.
According to the BBB Serving Southern Nevada, the tactics employed by Scholastic School Supply are similar to the well-known “Yellow Pages Scam”; a business to business operation that surfaced in 2013 and bilked more than $14 million from small businesses and churches before being halted at the request of the Federal Trade Commission.
The only contact information available on the invoices is an email address which consumers report does not respond to messages, a phone number which routes to a series of voice mail boxes, and mail drop addresses in either Sewell, New Jersey or Las Vegas, Nevada.
Although the entity lists addresses in New Jersey and Nevada on its invoicing, the BBB has been unable to locate any corporation filings, business licensing, or otherwise required business entity documentation for it in either state to substantiate a physical location.
With complaint numbers continuing to rise in increments of as many as 15 complaints a day, schools are urged to not pay the invoice, but instead to contact the FTC at (877) 382-4357www.ftc.gov, local Postal Inspectors, or Nevada State Bureau of Consumer Protection at(702) 486-3132 www.ag.nv.gov.
MADISON – The recent unannounced closure of a Madison fitness center has left its customers empty-handed and scrambling to find another gym to call home. Members had paid as much as $2,000 for a “lifetime membership,” only to be locked out with no direction or contact from the company. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks consumers to research a gym before signing a contract and to file a complaint with the agency if a center closes with no notice or proposed remedy for members.
Common complaints about fitness centers include broken cancellation policies, misrepresentations about facilities and services, or lost membership fees when centers go out of business. Wisconsin law protects consumers who join fitness centers:
- “Lifetime” contracts are prohibited by state law. File a complaint with DATCP if you are offered a similar membership option.
- Club memberships cannot be longer than two years’ duration and must have an expiration date.
- If a facility or service becomes unavailable during the contract, the consumer is entitled to choose an adjusted refund or a transfer of the unused portion of the membership to another affiliated center.
- Fitness center contracts must contain a three-day cancellation right for new members.
- Membership contracts must disclose the full membership price and the cost of individual payments.
- All contracts must specify every major facility and service available in the membership and include any conditions or restrictions on their use. This includes a list of the locations members may use.
- When a center has not been built, contracts must guarantee that the facility, service or location will be available for use within six months.
- Any gym that collects more than $100 in advance of providing services is required to have security on file with DATCP. Before signing a membership contract for a fitness center, check with DATCP to inquire about consumer complaints against the business and to verify that the company has filed a $25,000 proof of financial responsibility with the agency.
Consumers who are members of a fitness center that closes without notice should file a complaint with DATCP. The agency can look into the situation to determine if state laws were violated and if the consumer is due a refund or other adjustment from the business.
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service issued a consumer alert today providing taxpayers with additional tips to protect themselves from telephone scam artists calling and pretending to be with the IRS.
These callers may demand money or may say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.
“These telephone scams are being seen in every part of the country, and we urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business.”
The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do but the IRS will not do. Any one of these five things is a tell-tale sign of a scam. The IRS will never:
1. Call you about taxes you owe without first mailing you an official notice.
2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
3. Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
4. Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
5. Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money, here’s what you should do:
- · If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at1.800.829.1040. The IRS workers can help you with a payment issue.
- · If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
- · If you’ve been targeted by this scam, also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
Remember, too, the IRS does not use email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go towww.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.
Additional information about tax scams are available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube http://youtu.be/UHlxTX4rTRU?
Superior police are warning residents about a phone scam related to the Superior Fire Department.
Callers claim they are collecting donations for fire education in schools, and claims they are from the fire department.
The caller is convincing, according to police.
The Superior Fire Department does not authorize phone solicitations on its behalf.
According to police: The Superior Fire Department does maintain an agreement with the National Safety Council Inc. to supply fire education materials, which are distributed primarily during Fire Prevention Month in October. The NSC only directly contacts businesses within the community and 100 percent of the funds collected go toward educational materials distributed to Superior fire for its educational programs.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in five identity theft victims is in their 20s. For college students focused on class schedules, socializing and navigating a new and exciting environment, taking steps to protect private information while on campus may be the farthest thing from their minds. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) encourages families to discuss identity theft risks and prevention before a student heads off to campus.
“College students live in close quarters, share personal information online and are less likely to monitor their financial statements and credit reports,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “That adds up to opportunity for an identity thief.”
For many college students, freshman year is their first time away from home and they may be unaware of the need to actively protect their personal information. There are a number of common sense steps that college students can take to keep their personal information from falling into the wrong hands, including:
- Shred any out-of-date documents that include your personal information. These documents could include school registration forms, bank or credit card statements or health insurance documents.
- Never carry a Social Security card with you. Keep your number private.
- Secure the information in your dorm room. Never leave personal documents lying out in the open and consider purchasing a simple lockbox for credit cards, passports or other sensitive documents you may need on campus.
- Shred credit card offers. If these offers are stolen, a scammer could open lines of credit in your name.
- Monitor statements monthly. Review your bank and credit card statements and phone bills for unauthorized charges or withdrawals. Get a free copy of your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com and review them for any unauthorized lines of credit.
To further reduce the risk of identity theft, DATCP provides the following online safety tips for college students:
- Privacy and security settings exist for a reason. Information on social media like birthdates, pet names and travel plans can be used by criminals to hack your accounts or target you in scams.
- Contact the school’s information technology department. The school may have guidance for incoming students on how to protect web-enabled devices before connecting to the campus network. This department may also provide anti-virus software or hands-on device support for free or at a reduced rate to students.
- Passwords. Mix letters, numbers and special characters to create passwords that are at least 10 characters long, especially on your email account. Many websites send password update and account access emails to customers, so getting hold of these emails could potentially give a hacker access to all of these online accounts.
- Protect your devices. Update the operating system and anti-virus software on your devices to target recent viruses and patch any holes that hackers can use to access your system.
- Lock down your smartphones and tablets. To protect your data and make your devices useless for most thieves, use passcodes on the main screen of your device and set the lock time for only a couple of minutes.
- Watch out for “free” apps and unsolicited email and text messages. All of these are tools scammers use to spread malicious software. Download programs for your device from an official app store and never click a link in an unsolicited email or text.
- Surf securely. When shopping or banking online, look for https: or shttp: in the web address. When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, limit the type of business you conduct.
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail email@example.com or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.
The end of August means picnics, swimming pools and last minute fishing trips for many Wisconsin families. For those with children in kindergarten through grade 12, late August also signals the “back to school” shopping season. To make sure you get your money’s worth, take these tips from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) along with your shopping list.
“A recent national survey found that the average family will spend nearly $690 this year on back to school shopping,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator of Trade and Consumer Protection. “With that much money on the line, it is important for shoppers to plan ahead for their needs and to keep a close eye on their receipts to ensure that they are getting the advertised prices for their purchases.”
The majority of a family’s back to school spending is expected to go toward clothing, followed by electronics and school supplies. Retailers will likely offer a number of seasonal discounts and promotions over the next weeks to entice consumers. Before visiting a store, make sure to closely review the company’s advertisements for restrictions involving quantities, returns or rain checks.
Follow these simple tips to ensure that you are charged the right price for your purchases:
- Bring a copy of the store ads with you. Having the ability to “cross shop” using multiple fliers will be beneficial.
- Write down prices or special sales while you shop to have a better sense of the final total before you hit the register. Most pricing errors occur on sale items.
- Keep an eye on the display screen while your items are being scanned. Speak up if you think you have been overcharged for an item.
- Stores are required to charge the lowest advertised price.
- If there is a pricing error, Wisconsin law requires that a store refund any overcharge amount. Work with customer service to receive a refund while you are in the store. Double check your receipt before you leave to ensure that the totals are correct.
- Ask about a store’s pricing error policy. In addition to refunding the overcharge, some stores give bonuses as a customer service gesture.
- Report pricing errors to state or local inspectors. To file a weights and measures complaint with DATCP’s Weights and Measures Bureau, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 608-224-4942.
Every year, DATCP’s Weights and Measures team visits stores statewide to test for price accuracy, and the results show that consumers pay correct prices at Wisconsin stores an overwhelming majority of the time. In 2013, DATCP inspectors tested more than 42,000 items for price accuracy, and found that nearly 99% of the time prices were accurate or registered in the consumers’ favor. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to keep these back-to-school shopping tips in mind during this busy shopping season.
Twin Cities region continues to be claimed as home for foreign fraudsters
Timeshare reselling schemes continue to plague the marketplace and just two recent cases have defrauded victims out of more than $40,000 and $20,000, respectively. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) regularly receives inquiries about, and helps uncover, bogus timeshare reselling firms claiming addresses in the Twin Cities. Though these entities look legitimate at first glance, a closer review of their operations reveals they are not actually located here and exist solely to defraud consumers.
“Timeshare reselling scams have really ramped up in recent years,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “People who own timeshares should understand they’re dealing with professionals. Recently, a consumer’s attorney reviewed an agreement sent by one of these fraudulent entities. Even the attorney stated the documents looked legitimate.”
In most cases of this type of fraud, timeshare owners receive calls from individuals claiming to represent companies which had secured buyers or renters for their timeshares. The callers are told there will be no upfront fees. However, after receiving official-looking contracts, consumers are eventually informed they have to wire escrow funds to Mexico – or money to cover transfer fees, closing costs and/or taxes and liens – in order to close the deal. Upon wiring the funds as requested, customers are then usually told that still more unexpected costs have arisen and they will need to wire yet more money to complete the transaction. This process often continues until consumers realize something is amiss.
Just some of the fraudulent entities – claiming addresses in our area – which BBB has uncovered in recent months are: Business Events International, Century Title Escrow Inc., Corporate Services International Group and Financial Planning 2Go. More recently, BBB has learned Minne Realty Services and NSR Services, Inc. are not legitimate timeshare resellers.
BBB advises people looking to sell their timeshare properties to always:
- Be wary. If you currently own a timeshare and are approached by a company saying they have buyers or renters lined up, exercise caution.
- Investigate. Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website or one that has photos of exotic locales. Creating websites is fairly easy. Use a business you can trust by accessing free BBB Business Reviews at bbb.org.
- Look for an established track record. Does the company have a history or did they just “pop up on radar”?
- Watch out for upfront fees and requests to wire funds. Remember, unless it’s negotiated into the purchase agreement, only buyers pay closing costs. Many complaints to the BBB regarding supposed timeshare reselling entities involve situations where people were told they needed to wire “escrow funds,” or that they just had to pay taxes or closing costs and their timeshare would be rented or sold. Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
- Confirm licensing requirements - Verify where the company is located and in what states it does business. Ask if the company’s salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, confirm that with the state licensing board.
- Get the facts on the figures - Find out if the business charges a commission. Do they handle the entire closing and provide escrow services? Do they charge an upfront listing or advertising fee? What does it cover and is it refundable?
- Don’t fall for an offer that sounds too good to be true - Don’t agree to anything over the phone but instead ask the salesperson to send you written materials; take the time to do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured. Remember, scammers have gotten very good at creating official-looking contracts.
- Watch out for third-party companies. Fraudulent timeshare reselling entities often associate with alleged third-party title or escrow services in an effort to appear more legitimate. Be sure to research those companies as well. If you can’t find any information on them, it could be a sign there’s a problem.
- Be realistic. In regard to timeshares, it’s generally a buyer’s – not a seller’s – market. Unscrupulous timeshare resellers may claim that your property is in demand and they can sell it immediately; unfortunately, these promises often prove to be false.
It’s getting to be that time of summer where college students across the country prepare to head back for another school year and move into their new apartments for fall semester.
Whether you’re living alone for the first time or moving in with roommates, it’s important to understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant and review the lease again prior to moving in.
An apartment lease should always include:
- Specifics on how all maintenance and repair concerns are handled and who is held responsible in the event that something breaks or needs repaired
- When rent is due, the amount and exactly what it covers, such as any utilities
- The conditions of your security deposit and how you are able to receive the full refund upon moving out
- Notice about whether pets are allowed and information pertaining to any pet deposits and associated fees
To help protect yourself when moving in:
- Document your apartment’s move-in condition. Note each and every flaw or defect on your move-in condition form, so that you aren’t held responsible for those damages later.
- Take photos of your unit prior to move-in, so that you have documentation available if a dispute were to arise between you and the landlord after moving out.
- Keep a copy of your lease in a safe place that can easily be referenced.
If you are searching for last minute living arrangements, be able to identify the red flags of a rental scam:
- The deal sounds too good to be true.
- The landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to only communicate via email.
- The landlord requires a substantial deposit before handing over the keys or even showing the property.
- The landlord asks the renter to wire money through services such as Western Union or Money Gram.
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Online entity doesn’t hold up to BBB scrutiny
Burnsville, Minnesota – August 5, 2014 – Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is warning the public and business community about Superior Heavy Machinery, an online entity claiming a Duluth (MN) address and purporting to sell used heavy equipment. BBB has determined they are nothing more than a fake company created solely to defraud consumers and business owners seeking to purchase used heavy equipment online.
Superior Heavy Machinery came to BBB’s attention recently when a consumer reported a suspicious interaction with the company. After finding an ad the company had placed on EquipmentTraderOnline.com, the consumer contacted the company expressing interest in a bulldozer. The representative from Superior Heavy Machinery sent the consumer paperwork claiming that the cost of the machinery – $25,000 – would have to be wired to its parent company in England, Atlas Darius Group, before it would be delivered. The consumer had suspicions and contacted BBB. A Google search for Atlas Darius Group brings up no results and BBB believes this is another fictitious entity. Though there is an Atlas Group in England, BBB has no reason to believe they are associated with Superior Heavy Machinery.
“The amount of money in question is jaw-dropping, which is why we’re so pleased the consumer chose not to go through with this transaction,” ‘said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Had they done so, their money would be lost and likely unrecoverable.”
BBB has also reached out to alert law enforcement in the Duluth area and contacted two other sellers of heavy equipment in that region. The owner of one of those two businesses, also located in Duluth, said consumers from as far as Michigan and Denver have come to their store to inquire about equipment they saw advertised online by Superior Heavy Machinery. The business owner said he has never heard of a Superior Heavy Machinery.
“This is another excellent reminder not to wire money overseas or to people you don’t know,” added Badgerow.
To avoid falling victim to fraudulent online entities such as Superior Heavy Machinery, BBB advises the following:
- · Research the business at bbb.org.
- · Watch out for requests to wire money overseas – or domestically – or to place funds in escrow with a third-party company. Fraudulent online entities will often reference another company in an effort to appear more legitimate. Research these companies as well. If you can’t find any information on them, it could be a sign there’s a problem.
- · Don’t fall for offers that sound too good to be true. Have the salesperson send you written materials; take the time to do your research and don’t allow yourself to be pressured.
- · Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website. Remember, creating websites is fairly easy. Be sure to verify that the company has a track record. Be leery of companies that just “pop up” on radar.
For the latest fraud alerts, consumer news and free Business Reviews, visit www.bbb.org.