Don’t Be an April Fool: Do You Fit the Profile of a Scam Victim?

Better Business Bureau Reveals Traits of Consumers who are Most Likely to Fall Victim to Con Artists

Milwaukee, Wis. – Much is known about the personalities of con artists and their methods, however, the Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin says consumers with certain character trains and behaviors may be more prone than others to becoming a victim.

Young people – from adolescents to college students – are potential victims because although they may understand the workings of sophisticated scams, they often do not take the necessary precautions to protect themselves, particularly when using computers and smart phones. They also may share too much information on social media sites.

It is also well-established that the elderly are prime targets for fraud because they may be too trusting and may not understand some of the ways scammers can trick them into handing over personal and financial information.

But age alone does not determine who will most likely become a victim. The other two determining factors are personal values and behavior.

Here are some of the traits common among scam victims:

They take someone at their word - Victims tend to not do their homework, ask questions, or check with BBB before signing a contract or putting down a deposit.

They are afraid of being rude - They don’t want to hang up the phone or shut the door, even if they are not interested in whatever the peddler is selling.

They don’t recognize common high pressure tactics – These include persuasion, “time-limited” offers, calls to action to “do it now” or pestering over the telephone or at the front door.

They don’t protect their personal information – They don’t lock up or shred their documents. They use the same password for every account.

They let themselves get emotional – They are often motivated by fear, greed, romance, a sense of urgency, or excitement. They are easily moved to respond to threatening phone calls or emails, fake charities, lotteries, and investment scams.

They don’t read the fine print – Some individuals and websites are hoping that consumers don’t find or read fine print, which may contain restrictions that put them at a disadvantage or make a product or service all but useless.

They act impulsively – They download files, click on pop-up ads, sign up for trial offers, click on links and open emails from unknown senders.

They are vulnerable – They may have recently lost their job or have increased debt and therefore place hope in work-at-home offers and phony employment offers through which they can lost money or be coerced into giving up personal information that will be used for identity theft.

They are embarrassed – They won’t tell anyone about being scammed nor report it to the proper authorities, so that the perpetrator gets away and the scam continues.

Criminals who commit these kinds of fraud are typically very polite, will lavish praise upon their victims, use a convincing pitch or hard luck story, or falsely claim they are affiliated with the government, police, or even the Better Business Bureau.

Knowledge is the ultimate tool to prevent becoming the victim of a scam:

Take preventative measures. Add your home telephone number to the state and federal Do Not Call registries (www.donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222; FTC and nocallwisconsin.gov or 1-866-966-2255 for Wisconsin). This is no guarantee that unscrupulous telemarketers won’t call, but it can dramatically reduce the number of solicitations. If you do register, and they do call, you can report the violation.

Be skeptical. Err on the side of caution when anybody calls or emails asking for your personal or financial information. No legitimate caller will ask for credit card numbers, your Social Security number, date of birth or any other personal information.

Be realistic. You cannot win a lottery you did not enter (and, foreign lotteries are illegal), never pay for anything that is offered as “free,” and just because you’re told about a great investment opportunity, don’t make any quick decision. Seek expert advice and check on the company or individual first. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2012, consumers turned to BBB 124 million times for Business Reviews on more than 4.5 million companies and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 113 local, independent BBBs across the United States and Canada, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution and industry self-regulation.

Bogus sweepstakes prizes continue to rake in people’s money

Consumers regularly inform Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) they’ve received notices in the mail informing them they’ve won a Publisher’s Clearing House, Reader’s Digest, or some other official-sounding sweepstakes. Along with these notices, consumers usually receive checks ranging from several hundred to a few thousand dollars. BBB always advises the public not to cash these checks, as they are not legitimate.

 

Sweepstakes scams regularly make the BBB’s Top Ten list of scams each year. They begin when consumers receive a letter in the mail claiming – falsely – to be from Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH) sweepstakes or any number of phony lotteries, stating the recipient has won a significant amount of money; sometimes even millions of dollars. These letters are usually accompanied by checks that supposedly represent only a small portion of the total winnings. In order to get the rest, people are told to deposit the check and then wire funds back to the scammers, supposedly to cover taxes, insurance or other bogus fees. Unfortunate people who follow these instructions quickly discover their “prizes” are non-existent and they are out any funds they sent away.

On their website, Publishers Clearing House states they will never call on the phone announcing winners, and will never ask for fees. Their website also states:

  • Whether contacted by mail, phone or e-mail, remember: no legitimate sweepstakes company will ever ask you to pay or send money to claim a prize. It’s prohibited and unlawful.

Scammers also use email and phone calls to attempt sweepstakes fraud. A tactic phone scammers will use to “sweeten the pot” is the promise of a new BMW – or other luxury car – in addition to the alleged sweepstakes win. Though these calls sound good and the callers will even promise to deliver the prizes right to your front door, it’s all bogus. None of it is real.

 

Consumers can often spot a fraudulent sweepstakes notice by simply applying common sense. Commonly, the postmark on these letters doesn’t match up with the organization that supposedly drafted the accompanying check. Many of these notices also – fraudulently – use the logos of national companies in an effort to make the letters look more official. Also, the phone numbers listed on these notices often have Canadian prefixes. Many sweepstakes scams originate in Canada.

To further help consumers identify a lottery or sweepstakes scam, BBB provides the following checklist:

  • Was the lottery notification delivered to you by mail or email? If you receive a winning lottery notification by regular mail or email, it’s fraudulent. Legitimate lottery companies will usually send winning notices by certified mail, Federal Express, UPS or DHL delivery services.
  • Does the notification appear to come from another country? Organizations behind these frauds operate under different names, often derived from well-known lotteries in other countries. U.S. citizens should know that it is illegal to participate in a foreign lottery by using U.S. mail services.
  • Were you sent a check or money order with your notification? Fraudulent promoters will sometimes send a check or money order along with the notification to convince you they are real. While the checks and money orders may look official, they are counterfeit!
  • Are you asked to wire money or mail a personal check to cover some type of fee or taxes? Shady operators will ask you to deposit the check or money order and then instruct you to wire money or send a personal check back to them to cover what may seem like legitimate costs, such as processing, administrative, or handling fees – or taxes. They also may instruct you to load funds on a prepaid debit card. Be aware that if you share the number on the back of that card with another person, that person will have access to those funds.  Also, if you deposit a bogus check in your bank account, keep in mind that you will be held responsible for any money you spend or send to someone else.
  • Does the lottery promoter’s name and address on the check match the name and address on the envelope? In many instances it does not. Sponsors of legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes identify themselves prominently on their checks and on the envelopes.
  • Are the notifications sent by people claiming to be bankers, gaming officials, claims agents, tax collectors, attorneys, or a high ranking government official? Scam artists will use any number of titles in an effort to convince you that they are legitimate. They have even – falsely – claimed affiliations with BBB and the FTC.

BBB wants everyone to understand that on a national level lottery scams steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting people every year. If you receive any form of notification that you’re a prize winner in a lottery or sweepstakes, contact BBB (bbb.org) before you become the next victim in this type of scheme.

Unique Powerball Scam Making the Rounds

MADISON – A unique phone scam is targeting Wisconsin consumers, with callers telling consumers that they are eligible for unclaimed Powerball prizes and asking them to pick some numbers. Later, the callers contact the consumers again claiming that they won a third or fourth prize for millions of dollars and an automobile. A phony promise of prize winnings is a common scam. What sets these calls apart from traditional scams, however, is that these scammers are not asking for money to cover “taxes” or “fees” on the fictional prizes or for personally identifying information like Social Security numbers. Rather, they seem to be “casing” the consumers for future scams, asking them general financial questions about their investments and the values of their homes.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) runs the state’s lottery. DOR is aware of these calls and notes that the only time you would receive a call from the Lottery is if you have entered and won a Lottery “mail in” drawing.

Wisconsin residents have contacted the Consumer Information Hotline at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) looking for help in verifying the legitimacy of these calls. Because these Powerball calls have not included the usual scam red flags of requests for money, sensitive personal data or bank or credit account numbers, it has been a challenge for the hotline staff to persuade consumers that the calls are fraudulent.

Even if the caller does not ask for personally identifying information in these initial contacts, they are still gathering data that allows them to build a profile on the consumer that they can use for future scams. If a consumer freely and eagerly answers the scammer’s questions, that scammer now has two important pieces of information: the overall wealth of the consumer and a sense that the consumer will be an easy and receptive target for future scams. These profiles are valuable for scammers and may be sold and shared among these criminals.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail todatcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

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Wisconsin residents to receive refunds from settlement of e-book price fixing lawsuit

MADISON — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has announced that Wisconsin consumers will begin receiving account credits or checks this week in partial settlement of a 2012 E-book price-fixing lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the offices of Attorneys General in 32 other states.  The lawsuit was brought against Apple, Inc. and five of the six largest E-book publishers in the country. Those E-book publishers — Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Simon & Schuster Inc., Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, d/b/a Macmillan, and Penguin Group (USA) Inc. — settled the claims against them for a total nationwide payment of $166 million, of which approximately $3 million will be distributed to Wisconsin residents.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has now approved those settlements.

 

An account credit or check will be based on the number of eligible E-books purchased by a consumer during the claims period (April 1, 2010 to May 21, 2012).  Whether a consumer receives a credit or check depends on the retailer through which the E-book was purchased and, in certain circumstances, on whether a claim was properly filed or on whether a consumer specifically requested a check.  Eligible consumers should review their email for communications from their E-book retailer, or from the Settlement Administrator, regarding account credits or checks.  For more information on the settlements, please visit www.ebookagsettlements.com.

 

Apple declined to settle the claims against it, and the District Court conducted a three-week trial in June 2013.  Following that trial, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote found that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing a conspiracy to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise E-book prices, in violation of federal and state antitrust laws.  A second trial to determine the amount of damages Apple must pay for that violation has been tentatively scheduled for May.  If successful, additional account credits or checks will be distributed to Wisconsin consumers in the future.

 

“Consumers are entitled to a fair, open and competitive marketplace.  When a company is found to have violated the antitrust laws, as Apple did here, consumers who have suffered as a consequence of that violation are entitled to compensation,” Van Hollen said.  “At the upcoming damages trial, Wisconsin, along with Connecticut, Texas and New York, will be working on behalf of our partner states to obtain substantial, additional monetary compensation for consumers, as well as civil penalties for the state.”

BBB Tips on Phone Scams

Burnsville, Minnesota – March 6, 2014 – As National Consumer Protection Week (Mar 2- 8) continues, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) turns its attention to the favorite tool of many scammers: the telephone. Each and every day, shady operators work the phones to defraud consumers and business owners. Though there’s no way – short of disconnecting your phone – to protect yourself completely from phone scams, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of becoming the next victim.

 

If you receive a phone call from someone who makes threats, tells you that you’ve won a cash prize (or sweepstakes) or demands immediate payment in regards to a debt you’re unfamiliar with, those are all signs the call is likely fraudulent. If you receive calls like this, or requests for personal information, BBB advises the following:

 

  • ·         Don’t panic. If the calls are abusive or if the callers threaten you with arrest, stay calm. Keep in mind that scammers are hoping that you’ll pay them off quickly just to make the matter go away. Always get verification of any alleged debts in writing. Remember, legitimate collection agents cannot threaten you with arrest, and even if you owe a debt, you still have rights through the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
  • ·         Never give out any financial information, such as your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone.
  • ·         Be realistic. You can’t win a lottery or contest you didn’t enter, and if you have to pay money upfront to receive your “winnings,” you haven’t won anything.
  • ·         Think about what you’re being told. If a caller claims to be with your bank or your credit card company and wants your account information so they can verify it, they aren’t telling the truth; your bank and your credit card company already have this information.
  • ·         Listen closely. If the caller uses poor grammar and/or has a heavy accent, be on alert. Many fraudulent calls originate overseas.
  • ·         Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right to you, end the call or ask the caller to call back later, after you’ve had time to research their claims.
  • ·         Don’t rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses.

Another phone scam which has been making the rounds again lately is the “one-ring” scam. This scam targets cellphone owners and tries to entice people to dial an unknown number back by ringing just once and then disconnecting. People who return these calls don’t realize they’re calling international numbers – with normal-looking prefixes such as 473, 809, 876, 284 and 268 – in the Caribbean, where charges can add up quickly. If you receive a call from an unknown number, it’s best to ignore it and let it go to voicemail.

 

Suspicious phone calls can be reported to BBB (bbb.org) or the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov).

MN Department of Commerce, BBB offer advice on Credit Repair

As part of National Consumer Protection Week, which takes place this week (March 2 – 8), the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) are partnering to offer consumers advice on companies offering credit repair services.

In Minnesota, the Department of Commerce regulates two types of firms offering credit repair services: credit service organizations and debt management companies. These firms must offer you a contract describing their fees and services and they must register with the Department of Commerce. Before signing a contract with any firm, always check to see that they’re licensed by visiting mn.gov/commerce/banking-and-finance/consumers/license-lookup/.

Credit Service organizations offer education and personalized advice to consumers for a fee. They advertise that they can improve your credit rating or history, help you obtain credit, and offer credit advice or assistance. Debt management companies also charge a fee for helping over-extended consumers by developing a budget and receiving money from the consumer to re-pay creditors under a specific debt reduction plan.

“There are certainly many reputable firms and organizations that can help you to get out of debt, but there are companies that seek to victimize the debt-ridden consumer,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “Be wary of any company that promises a quick and painless way out of debt – all with a cost of high upfront fees.”

The Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA) makes it illegal for credit repair companies to lie about what they can do for you, and to charge you before they’ve performed their services. CROA is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and requires credit repair companies to explain:

  • your legal rights in a written contract that also details the services they’ll perform
  • your three day right to cancel without any charge
  • how long it will take to get results
  • the total cost you will pay, and any guarantees.

If a credit repair company you hired doesn’t live up to its promises, you can:

  • sue them in federal court for your actual losses or for what you paid them, whichever is more
  • seek punitive damages — money to punish the company for violating the law
  • join other people in a class action lawsuit against the company, and if you win, the company has to pay your attorney’s fees

Here are some things to consider before choosing a credit repair firm:

 

  • Avoid offers of a quick debt reduction or debt settlement plan with high up-front fees (in the hundreds or thousands of dollars) – this should be a red flag that you are not working with a legitimate firm.
  • Some fraudulent agencies will get away with using a non-profit status just to get collect your money. The scam artists are likely to send you a financial planning brochure as “education.” Legitimate agencies should be willing to sit down with you and discuss your spending habits and help you come up with a budget.
  • Beware of unrealistic promises, such as erasing your debt for pennies on the dollar in a short in a short time span or promises to reverse a bad credit score. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Work with a Minnesota licensee that has a local office with staff available to answer your questions
  • Research the company at bbb.org. Check to see if the firm is a member of a major association, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (www.nfcc.org) or the Association of Independent Credit Counseling Agencies (www.aiccca.org) where the member are nonprofit agencies using certified financial counselors that meet certain quality and ethical standards using certified financial counselors.

Though some credit repair companies may be able to assist certain customers, BBB and the Minnesota Department of Commerce echo the views of the FTC: “The fact is there’s no quick fix for creditworthiness. You can improve your credit report legitimately, but it takes time, a conscious effort, and sticking to a personal debt repayment plan.”

“Running into credit issues usually doesn’t happen overnight, and the same goes for repairing your credit – despite what some firms might tell you,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.

The Commerce Department’s Consumer Help Line can be reached by phone at (651) 539-1600 or (800) 657-3602. Questions or consumer complaints can also be directed by email to consumer.protection@state.mn.us or by mail to Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 7th Place East, Suite 500, Saint Paul, MN 55101.

 

BBB: 10 Things to do when hiring a Contractor

Though it seems far off in the distance, spring will be here soon and homeowners, as always, will be raring to get to work on their homes and properties. Some are handy enough to tackle their own projects, but many will turn to contractors to make their visions a reality. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is offering a Top Ten list of things people should do before hiring a contractor.

 

“Remodel/build projects can be very exciting, but they can also be very stressful,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “A great way to manage a good deal of that stress is by getting things right on the front end of the project.”

Here are ten things everyone should do when hiring a contractor:

 

1.      Check out their track record. Contact BBB to obtain free Business Reviews on any company you’re considering hiring. Visit bbb.org or call 1-800-646-6222.

 

2. Solicit multiple quotes. Shop around and get at least three written estimates.

 

3. Verify license and insurance. Ensure that companies have a current license to perform work in Minnesota (doli.state.mn.us), as well as liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

 

4. Ask for references. Get references from recent jobs and verify them before signing a contract. Be leery of people who say they have leftover materials from a nearby project; ensure they are an employee of the business they claim to be representing, and take time to research the business.

 

5. Inquire about a lien waiver. A lien waiver is a statement from the contractor that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work. Be sure to ask whether the contractor will provide you with a lien waiver upon completion of the work.

 

6. Don’t forget building permits. Permits are for your protection and help ensure work will meet local building codes. Check with your contractor before starting your project. Homeowners bear the cost of building permits, but companies should be responsible for obtaining any necessary permits.
7. Consider future service issues. Keep in mind that if you choose a contractor or company that isn’t local you need to know who to contact in regard to any service needs that may arise after completion of the project.

 

8. Get everything in writing. Don’t allow work to commence without a signed, written contract that includes project start and completion dates, exact costs, specific work to be done and warranty information. Be aware that anything you sign is a contract.

 

9. Don’t rely on verbal promises. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials and/or labor.

 

10. Arrange a payment schedule. Never pay in full in advance of a project. Stagger your payments according to agreed-upon stages of work completion and don’t make a final payment until all work is finished. Never pay in cash; use check or credit card.

Another Utility Bill Email Scam Making the Rounds

MADISON – That utility bill you received by email for $500, $524 or $524.30? It’s a fake. Delete it and never click the link in the message.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has received a handful of complaints from consumers who received a fraudulent bill for utility services from “Energy Billing Service” or “Energy Billing System.” The email addresses from which the scams originate are different, but many of the addresses appear to be based overseas. In addition to the complaints received by DATCP, WE Energies informed the agency that more than 50 of its customers have reported similar messages to the company’s call center.

The email messages include a link to “view your most recent bill.” Clicking that link could cause you to accidentally download a malware package or could direct you to a scam website where you are prompted to turn over personal or banking information. As with any other unsolicited email or text message from an unknown source, simply delete it and take no further action.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail todatcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

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Malware Linked to Fake Funeral Notice Emails

MADISON – Be aware of a new email scam that uses fake funeral announcements as a way to infect your computer with malicious software (malware). The emails include limited information, noting only that an upcoming service will be held for a “friend” and providing a link for more details. If you receive a similar email, delete it immediately.

Under no circumstances should an email recipient click the link in the email. The link will direct the browser to a foreign website where a .zip file will automatically be downloaded. If this .zip file is opened, malware will be installed onto the victim’s computer.

An email received by a Wisconsin resident fraudulently claimed to be from Eubank Funeral Home & Cremation Services, a legitimate company in Texas. The company has placed a warning message on the homepage of its website to warn the public about this scam and the misuse of its name. Similar emails in this scam may use the names of other businesses.

For more information or to file a consumer complaint, visit datcp.wi.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

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“One Ring” Scams Trick Consumers into Making Expensive International Calls

Your cell phone rings once. No voicemail is left. You call back and are put on hold and asked to wait for an operator.
By returning that call, you just made yourself a potential victim of a type of callback fraud known as a “one ring” scam. While you wait on hold, you are being charged for international phone fees starting at around $20. The longer you wait, the more you are charged. Because the call you received started with a three-digit area code, you assumed that it came from within the United States, but it was actually placed from another country that shares our area code system, usually in the Caribbean.
The Consumer Protection Bureau at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says if you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer it and certainly don’t call back. Companies that don’t do business in the Caribbean may want to consider blocking the area codes listed below to avoid this scam.
Scammers are using call generators with automated spoofing capabilities to place calls to a large number of cell phone numbers in the United States. Area codes used in the spoofed numbers may be from:
? Anguilla (area code: 264)
? Antigua (268)
? Barbados (246)
? British Virgin Islands (284)
? The Commonwealth of Dominica (767)
? Dominican Republic (809, 829, 849)
? Grenada (473)
? Jamaica (876)
? Montserrat (664)
? The Turks and Caicos Islands (649).
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wi.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.
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