Consumer Sentinel Network Complaint Figures

Sign Scam Represents Rip Off And Scams

The Consumer Sentinel Network released its 2015 Data Book detailing more than 3 million consumer complaints in 2015. Better Business Bureau is one of more than a dozen leading data contributors to the data book.

In 2015 debt collection topped the list as the number one complaint category. Overall, complaints broke down as 40 percent fraud, 16 percent identity theft and 44 percent other types.

The following is a breakdown of complaints for states serviced by BBB Northwest. These figures are based on consumer complaints made from Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2015.

ALASKA

There were a total of 3,613 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints. Of that there were 2,917 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaints by Alaska consumers were:

  1. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries (Complaints: 707; Percentage: 24%)
  2. Imposter Scams (Complaints: 627; Percentage: 21%)
  3. Debt Collection (Complaints: 184; Percentage: 6%)
  4. Shop-At-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 144; Percentage: 5%)
  5. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 140; Percentage: 5%)
  6. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 126; Percentage: 4%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 120; Percentage: 4%)
  8. Internet Services (Complaints: 85; Percentage: 3%)
  9. Foreign Money Offers & Counterfeit Check Scams (Complaints: 76; Percentage: 3%)
  10. Health Care (Complaints: 65; Percentage: 2%)

There were a total of 696 identity theft complaints from Alaska victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 707; Percentage: 58%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 627; Percentage: 12%)
  3. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 43; Percentage: 6%)
  4. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 33; Percentage: 5%)
  5. Loan Fraud (Complaints: 15; Percentage: 2%)
  6. Employment-Related Fraud (Complaints: 11; Percentage: 2%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 135; Percentage: 19%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 30; Percentage: 4%)

IDAHO

There were a total of 8,678 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints. Of that there were 7,002 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaints by Idaho consumers were:

  1. Imposter Scams (Complaints: 1,519; Percentage: 22%)
  2. Debt Collection (Complaints: 937; Percentage: 13%)
  3. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries (Complaints: 653; Percentage: 9%)
  4. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 554; Percentage: 8%)
  5. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 445; Percentage: 6%)
  6. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 364; Percentage: 5%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 322; Percentage: 5%)
  8. Internet Services (Complaints: 201; Percentage: 3%)
  9. Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers and Report Users (Complaints: 193; Percentage: 3%)
  10. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 188; Percentage: 3%)

There were a total of 1,676 identity theft complaints from Alaska victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 1,021; Percentage: 61%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 174; Percentage: 10%)
  3. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 97; Percentage: 6%)
  4. Loan Fraud (Complaints: 78%; Percentage: 5%)
  5. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 67; Percentage: 4%)
  6. Employment-Related Fraud (Complaints: 40; Percentage: 2%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 244; Percentage: 15%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 46; Percentage: 3%)

OREGON

There were a total of 25,468 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints. Of that there were 20,387 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaints by Oregon consumers were:

  1. Imposter Scams (Complaints: 4,743; Percentage: 23%)
  2. Debt Collection (Complaints: 3,212; Percentage: 16%)
  3. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 2,151; Percentage: 11%)
  4. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 1,518; Percentage: 7%)
  5. Prizes, Sweepstakes & Lotteries (Complaints: 1,383; Percentage: 7%)
  6. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 903; Percentage: 4%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 750; Percentage: 4%)
  8. Internet Services (Complaints: 518; Percentage: 3%)
  9. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 492; Percentage: 2%)
  10. Credit Cards (Complaints: 432; Percentage: 2%)

There were a total of 5,081 identity theft complaints from Oregon victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 2,910; Percentage: 57%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 715; Percentage: 14%)
  3. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 313; Percentage: 6%)
  4. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 280; Percentage: 6%)
  5. Employment-Related Fraud: (Complaints: 115; Percentage: 2%)
  6. Loan Fraud (Complaints: 82; Percentage: 2%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 800; Percentage: 16%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 191; Percentage: 4%)

MONTANA

There were a total of 5,473 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints. Of that there were 4,572 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaints by Montana consumers were:

  1. Imposter Scams (Complaints: 1,157; Percentage: 25%)
  2. Prizes, Sweepstakes & Lotteries (Complaints: 653; Percentage: 14%)
  3. Debt Collection (Complaints: 621; Percentage: 14%)
  4. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 385; Percentage: 8%)
  5. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 222; Percentage: 5%)
  6. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 178; Percentage: 4%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 126; Percentage: 3%)
  8. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 122; Percentage: 3%)
  9. Internet Services (Complaints: 99; Percentage: 2%)
  10. Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers & Report Users (Complaints: 77; Percentage: 2%)

There were a total of 901 identity theft complaints from Montana victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 544; Percentage: 60%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 122; Percentage: 14%)
  3. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 48; Percentage: 5%)
  4. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 42; Percentage: 5%)
  5. Employment-Related Fraud (Complaints: 16; Percentage: 2%)
  6. Loan Fraud (Complaints: 15; Percentage: 2%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 133; Percentage: 15%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 137; Percentage: 4%)

WASHINGTON

There were a total of 45,307 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints. Of that there were 36,264 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaints by Washington consumers were:

  1. Imposter Scams (Complaints: 8,046; Percentage: 22%)
  2. Debt Collection (Complaints: 6,042; Percentage: 17%)
  3. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 3,620; Percentage: 10%)
  4. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 2,539; Percentage: 7%)
  5. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries (Complaints: 1,845; Percentage: 5%)
  6. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 1,580; Percentage: 4%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 1,529; Percentage: 4%)
  8. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 1,090; Percentage: 3%)
  9. Internet Services (Complaints: 1,057; Percentage: 3%)
  10. Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers & Report Users (Complaints: 1,000; Percentage: 3%)

There were a total of 9,043 identity theft complaints from Washington victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 4,158; Percentage: 46%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 1,665; Percentage: 18%)
  3. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 623; Percentage: 7%)
  4. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 607; Percentage: 7%)
  5. Employment-Related Fraud (Complaints: 350; Percentage: 4%)
  6. Loan Fraud (Complaints: 186; Percentage: 2%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 1,821; Percentage: 20%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 402; Percentage: 4%)

WYOMING

There were a total of 3,001 identity theft, fraud and other consumer complaints. Of that there were 2,435 fraud and other complaints.

The top 10 fraud and other complaints by Wyoming consumers were:

  1. Imposter Scams (Complaints: 438; Percentage: 18%)
  2. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries (Complaints: 399; Percentage: 16%)
  3. Debt Collection (Complaints: 341; Percentage: 14%)
  4. Telephone and Mobile Services (Complaints: 237; Percentage: 10%)
  5. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (Complaints: 140; Percentage: 6%)
  6. Banks and Lenders (Complaints: 111; Percentage: 5%)
  7. Auto-Related Complaints (Complaints: 95; Percentage: 4%)
  8. Television and Electronic Media (Complaints: 67; Percentage: 3%)
  9. Internet Services (Complaints: 59; Percentage: 2%)
  10. Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers & Report Users (Complaints: 54; Percentage: 2%)

There were a total of 566 identity theft complaints from Wyoming victims.

The following are the types of identity thefts reported:

  1. Government Documents or Benefits Fraud (Complaints: 321; Percentage: 57%)
  2. Credit Card Fraud (Complaints: 80; Percentage: 14%)
  3. Phone or Utilities Fraud (Complaints: 33; Percentage: 6%)
  4. Bank Fraud (Complaints: 22; Percentage: 4%)
  5. Loan Fraud (Complaints: 16; Percentage: 3%)
  6. Employment-Related Fraud (Complaints: 12; Percentage: 2%)
  7. Other (Complaints: 94; Percentage: 17%)
  8. Attempted Identity Theft (Complaints: 20; Percentage: 4%)

Protecting Seniors from Relentless Scammers

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on lottery scams and the vulnerability of seniors to this type of scheme – whether by phone, mail, or email. Since then, I have received more reports from victims. Community partners throughout the state have all mentioned an uptick in cases of lottery scams.

Senior Picture 1
Luther visiting our BBB Alaska office with fake lottery notifications he received in the mail.

Just last month, I spoke with the daughter of a 91-year old woman who contacted Better Business Bureau with her mom’s story. It’s a heartbreaking story. She told me that her mom has sent a total of $20,000 to scammers. It all began with the scam artists claiming to be the IRS and that her mom owed money. When that didn’t work, they called back and said they were with “Publisher’s Clearing House.” As this scam normally works, the mom was told to send money for fees, taxes, etc. to obtain her millions of dollars in “winnings.”

I decided to call a few of my media contacts to report the increase in lottery scam victims. By pure coincidence, while the TV news reporter was in my office to do the interview, an elderly gentleman, Luther, came into our office to ask us about a lottery check he had received. His bank had refused to cash it, telling him it was a fake check. He didn’t believe his bank and brought it to us. Of course, the letter and purported lottery check were not real. He told us that he had sent money previously on lotteries that he thought he won, but of course had never received his “winnings!” The reporter had a bona fide victim to interview right there and the story was on the 10 PM news that night.

A week later, Luther brought his most recent mail to me – another bunch of fraudulent enticements: a “check” for $789,986 from a so-called national advertising campaign (which, by the way, he had signed the “cash payment authorization” and was ready to mail), free gifts from Grandma Rosa, an Old Time Spiritualist who could help him add an extra $1,000 to his social security checks, a “treasury notice” to transfer $1,021,650 into his account for just $26, and a six-page letter from Sophros I, a “Medium-Clairvoyant Specialist for visions regarding money” who, for $55, will send his sacred scarf of happiness and power and his aura-triastral number which will help Luther win millions in the lottery. The list goes on and on. It almost sounds like a joke, but I’m not making any of this up.

What’s not funny is that Luther believed what the letters said. When I spoke to his daughter, Patty, she confirmed that her dad had sent money not only to these email schemes but to scammers who call on the phone. She told me they call constantly. She has had to change his phone number, but the calls continue because her dad calls the scammers with his new number.

According to The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse (https://www.truelinkfinancial.com/research), seniors lose $36.48 billion each year to financial abuse.

Beth Goldstein, Supervising Attorney with the Office of Elder Fraud & Assistance for the State of Alaska, confirmed that there has been a definite increase in reported lottery scams with seniors. These reports come into her office from banks, police officers, investment company regulatory attorneys and, sometimes, from adult children.

These scammers are relentless about calling, sometimes 10-20 times a day. They wear down vulnerable victims. And often, once the victim is out of money, the scammers will threaten them with bodily harm if they don’t continue to pay. Luther’s daughter, Patty, told me the caller told her they were outside and would shoot her. Goldstein told me of a case where a senior victim’s phone number was changed by her family but the scammer called the victim’s neighbor, expressed concern for her health, and asked the neighbor to check on her and call them back with the new phone number!

Adult children and other family members often don’t know where to go for help. Goldstein told me that family members can call the phone company to block incoming and/or outgoing numbers. The Attorney General’s office can request that a fraud victim be blocked from wiring money. The Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance can file a Financial Abuse Petition for Protection from financial exploitation (lasting 20 days) on behalf of seniors over age 60. Banks can then withhold funds. If necessary, the Elder Fraud office can also obtain a long term order lasting 6 months which should be enough time for the adult children to become involved.

If you have a family member who has been a victim, you can call the Elder Fraud and Assistance Office at 907-334-5989 or the Alaska Department of Law Consumer Protection Unit at 907-269-5200. Also contact your local Better Business Bureau office at 907-562-0704 to report the experience.

Getting Paid to Drive? It’s Too Good to Be True

road-people-street-smartphone
Image courtesy of Pexels.com

When you’re in between jobs or in need of some supplemental income, it’s hard to say no to the prospect of earning fast, easy money. But honest income generally doesn’t come without putting in some effort, so be cautious of any money-making opportunity that offers a high return for little to no work on your part. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When Sue, a consumer from Lakewood, Wash., received the below email, she was excited at the idea of making money just by putting a company logo on her car. The email said she would be “paid to drive” $800 a week—more than a lot of people earn with a full-time job—just by wrapping her car with an advertisement.

From: Michael
To: Sue
Subject: Toms Job Position
Date: Tue, 12 May 2015 00:31:04 +0200
Greetings,
We are currently seeking to employ individual’s in the USA.
How would you like to make money by simply driving your car advertising for Hennessy, JOHNNIE WALKER, Pepsi, Coke, Apple Product or TOMS shoes.
How it works
Here’s the basic premise of the “paid to drive”
Concept: AUTO WRAP seeks people — regular citizens, professional drivers to go about their normal routine as they usually do, only with an advert for “AUTO WRAP” plastered on your car. The ads are typically vinyl decals, also known as “AUTO WRAP” that’s almost seem to be painted on the vehicle and which will cover any portion of your car’s exterior surface.
What does the company get out of this type of ad strategy? Lots of exposure and awareness. The AUTO WRAP tend to be colorful, eye-catching and attract lots of attention when you are stuck in traffic and people can’t avoid seeing the advert on your car alongside them. This program will last for 6 months and the minimum you can participate is 3 months.
We are offering $1,600 every 2 weeks and also an advance payment of $500, the logo will be placed on both doors or the hood of your car if you are interested.
No fee is required from you, “AUTO WRAP” will provide experts who will be responsible for placing and removal of the logo when your contract expires.
Kindly send me the required information’s below.
Please respond only if interested.
Michael
Promotional Manager
TOMS

When Sue responded to the email, she was asked for her personal information, including full name and address. She was then told a check would be mailed to her for an up-front payment and to cover the car-wrapping costs.

Fortunately at that point, Sue grew suspicious and reached out to BBB for guidance.

While there may be a handful of legitimate companies that pay you a bit of money to stick their logo on your personal vehicle, the unsolicited email Sue received is not how they go about hiring people.

What generally happens in this all-too-common scam is the victim will be sent a check for more money than was promised. He will be instructed to deposit the check in his account, wire a portion of it to someone else, and keep the rest. Little does he know the check is fake, and he becomes responsible for the bank’s losses after he’s wired real money to a fraudster. Scammers ask for money to be wired to them because it’s virtually untraceable, like handing someone a wad of cash.

Here are the warning signs of a car-wrapping scam:

  • You’re told all you have to do is sign up, and you’ll be selected. The truth is that the odds are against you. A legitimate company told Bankrate.com they have more than one million drivers in their database—and they’ve hired only 6,000 of them in the last six years.
  • You’re offered the job on the spot. A real company will want to talk to a candidate before hiring him; they won’t offer a job to someone without going through an interview first.
  • The company wants you to send them money. You should never pay up-front fees to receive employment. And no legitimate job would ever overpay an employee and ask him to wire the money elsewhere.
  • The company promises a free car. There is no such thing as a company that will give you a free car.
  • There are typos and bad grammar. If a job offer is truly coming from a well known brand such as TOMS or Pepsi, the email or letter won’t be riddled with mistakes and poor writing.

Shopping for a Used Car? Beware of Flood Damage

Image courtesy of ponsulak | freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of ponsulak | freedigitalphotos.net

With the recent floods in Texas, Oklahoma and other states, consumers looking to purchase a used car—even in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska—should be wary. Scammers and unscrupulous car dealers often ship these damaged vehicles to other states to sell to unsuspecting buyers after natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) estimates up to 10,000 insured vehicles in Texas had water damage from the May 2015 floods.

Flood-damaged vehicles that have been declared a total loss by an insurance company will have “salvage” stamped on the title. Most of these vehicles are then sold to parts companies who will sell the useable parts.

But scammers get around that by title washing: transferring ownership and retitling the autos in several states where they often “lose” the salvage stamp in the process. Other flooded vehicles may not have gone through the insurance claim process. They were purchased at bargain prices and taken to another state by unscrupulous sellers, so a title search will not indicate the car may have water damage.

These cars will show up on used car lots, in the classifieds ads in newspapers, on street corners with “For Sale” signs and online at sites such as Craigslist. Because these natural disasters happened in another part of the country, it may not be on a local car buyer’s radar to look for water damage. Flooded vehicles can be cleaned up to disguise the water damage while they are actually rotting on the inside. The car’s electrical, mechanical and computer systems can be corroded and rusting, and the lubricants may be contaminated.

“Approach a used vehicle thinking it has been flooded and look for signs to prove it,” says Frank Scafidi, Director of Public Affairs for the NICB. “If you don’t find water damage, great. If you do, don’t walk, but run from buying it.”

You can protect yourself from buying a flood-damaged vehicle by doing your research first. Remember: if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do a title search through a national tracking company such as Carfax. Review the title and ownership papers for damage labels. Check the date and place of the vehicle transfer to see if it came from a flood-damaged area. And always have a trusted mechanic inspect a used car before you buy it, and ask to have the vehicle searched for flood damage that would not be visible.

Test drive the vehicle but also look for other telltale signs of possible water damage:

  • Is there a musty odor?
  • Check the wires under the dashboard. Are they flexible or are they brittle or cracked? This is a sign the car may have been submerged in water.
  • Are there any signs of rust?
  • Check all carpeting, including in the trunk. Check the condition under the carpet for signs of sand or dirt. Has the carpeting been changed? Is it too loose or not the same color as the interior of the car?
  • Check the glove compartment and beneath the seats.
  • Test everything in the car. Turn on the ignition to see if all lights and gauges come on (including the air bag lights); test the windshield wipers, turn signals, radio, air-conditioner and heater.
  • Remove a door panel and look for water marks. Check the door speakers, as they will often show damage from flooding.
  • Check under the hood for mud, grass, leaves or rust in the engine.

Better Business Bureau urges consumers to be cautious when purchasing a used vehicle. Do your research at bbb.org and make the investment to have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic.

Oregon AG’s Office Puts Magazine Subscription Scam Out of Business

Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon State Attorney General
Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon State Attorney General

We received big news this week from the Oregon Attorney General’s Office when Ellen Rosenblum announced a $3 million settlement with Publisher’s Payment Processing.

According to the AG’s office, the White City company had operated a nationwide scam through a newspaper and magazine subscription ruse.

The numbers are staggering.

Better Business Bureau has received more than 800 complaints against the company within the last 3 years. These include sales and delivery issues as well as problems with service. The most common complaint was billing and collection issues. The volume of complaints, as well as the company’s failure to respond to many of them, have contributed to an F rating for the business.

Consumers told BBB they received bills from the company for magazines they already have subscriptions for, implying it was time for renewal. However, those consumers told us the subscriptions had not expired and they did not originally order from Publisher’s Payment Processing. What’s more, some consumers said the company claimed to have the lowest renewal fee, but they found they could get a better price if they ordered through their magazine’s publisher directly. Many told BBB that Publisher’s Payment Processing would charge a $20 processing fee just to cancel renewals.

The AG’s office says the settlement is not an admission of guilt, but Publisher’s Payment Processing will have to pay up to $500,000 in restitution to Oregon consumers who overpaid or did not receive their magazines. Service fees will also be refunded to Oregonians who have previously received refunds.

“This was a sophisticated operation that generated millions of dollars each year from consumers across the country who thought they were doing business with a reputable magazine or newspaper publisher, but were instead working with a company that made its money by scamming them,” Rosenblum said. “It’s a particular embarrassment to the legitimate Oregon business community when national companies based here don’t play by the rules. The only option was to shut them down—and we have.”

Read the complete Assurance of Voluntary Compliance here.

National Consumer Protection Week

Your ‪BBB‬ is partnering with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to celebrate National Consumer Protection Week from March 1-7. Below, we’ve compiled warning signs and tips on 6 of the most common scams we’ve seen affect local consumers.

Be an informed consumer; avoid scams and fraud!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/zak/

1. Phishing emails ask for personal info and may contain links to malware. Antivirus software can help, but the best protection is a good sense of judgment. Legitimate companies and government agencies never ask you to confirm personal info via email.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rreyes-2010/

2. Don’t fall victim to an advance-fee loan scam. Check out the company at bbb.org/search. Be skeptical of any offer where you have to pay money up front. Walk away if you’re asked for money immediately, especially if it’s supposedly for “insurance,” “processing,” or “paperwork.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/armydre2008/

3. With overpayment scams, a buyer “accidentally” sends you a check for more than the amount they owe. They ask you to deposit it and wire them the difference. The original check turns out to be a fake, leaving you on the hook to pay the bank for any money withdrawn. Always wait for a deposit to clear before writing checks against the funds—it can take weeks to uncover a fake check.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/filterforge/

4. Identity theft scams come in all shapes and sizes—grandchildren “stranded” in a foreign country, the hotel front desk “verifying” your credit card in the middle of the night, “charity” solicitations from groups you’ve never supported in the past. Never give your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers to someone who has contacted you to ask for them.

winner5. In a lottery/sweepstakes scam, you get an unsolicited phone call, email or letter stating you’ve won a prize, but in order to collect the winnings, you have to wire a small sum of money to pay for “processing fees” or “taxes.” You never get your “winnings,” and the scammer has your money. You never have to pay to receive legitimate winnings.

Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com
Wixphoto.com | FreeRangeStock.com

6. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law… and angry consumers. They knock on your door with a story or a deal: a roofer spots missing shingles on your roof, a paver has leftover asphalt and can give you a deal on driveway resealing. Then you can’t track them down after they’ve left you with a shoddy or incomplete job. Never agree to do business with someone you haven’t researched first. Start at bbb.org/search.

Go to ncpw.gov to find more consumer tips and free materials from government and private organizations.

Lottery Scams Target Seniors

junkmail
One day’s worth of mail for one victim.

Better Business Bureau sees scams reported to us by individuals in all age groups, but I have particularly noted that lottery scams appear to prey on seniors. Or maybe seniors are more susceptible to this type of scam because of their age.

Just in the past few months, I have had reports of three different individuals, ranging in age from late 60s to early 90s, who have fallen victim to lottery scams. We’re not talking a few hundred dollars, either. Two of these victims have sent more than $30,000, and the third has wired more than $100,000 to scammers. And they haven’t just been scammed once, but several times. Who knows if it was the same or different con artists that scammed these individuals multiple times?

It appears that once someone falls victim to a scam, their name ends up on a list. These lists of “easy targets” are often sold or traded between scammers.

I spoke to one woman who sent checks to alleged charities that requested money for sick children. She received phone calls as well as letters asking for her help. She told me it was difficult to turn down these requests because they involved children. Now she receives upwards of 40 pieces of mail a day from fake lotteries and charities. She wonders if the money she sent really went to any sick children. I don’t think so.

So why are seniors more vulnerable to these types of scams? There is evidence that as we age, we lose cognitive ability, and we may process information more slowly. These scammers are skilled at convincing the elderly that they must act now or they will lose out on their winnings. They are coerced into making instant decisions, leaving the individual no time to think, research or talk to family members. Additionally, seniors may be isolated and living alone. They react emotionally rather than rationally.

Seniors are prime targets for financial exploitation for other reasons, too. They may have a significant nest egg, although plenty of low-income victims are at risk. At an older age, this is especially devastating because there is no time to recoup financial losses. Once victims realize they have been scammed, they may be too embarrassed to tell family members or friends. They also may not remember details to help with investigation and prosecution. In two of the cases I mentioned, the victims were eventually threatened with bodily harm to themselves or their families if they did not continue to send money to the scammers.

Some important reminders:

  • You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter.
  • It is illegal for U.S. citizens to participate in foreign lotteries.
  • You do not have to pay money in order to receive a legitimate prize.
  • Never wire money or put money on a pre-paid debit card – both are the same as sending cash. There is no way to trace the money or to get it back once sent.

One helpful note I received while doing this research: Due to multistate settlements with Western Union and Moneygram, the Attorney General’s office can request that a fraud victim be blocked from wiring money. If you have a family member who has been a victim, call 206-464-6684 (WA), 503-229-5576 (OR) or 907-269-5200 (AK) for help. Also contact your local Better Business Bureau office at 206-431-2222 (WA), 503-212-3022 (OR) or 907-562-0704 (AK) to report the experience.

Top 3 Scams Targeting Businesses

business-scamsReposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

Since I began working at Better Business Bureau more than four years ago, I have learned a lot: how to be a smarter consumer, how a business ought to handle complaints, the warning signs of a scam and what various government agencies can do to help people. I do still make mistakes—for example, I certainly did not choose the best repair shop when my car broke down last year! But I am much more confident and calm in how I handle troubling situations, thanks to the knowledge I’ve gained from BBB. (And I was able to resolve the car situation.)

Education is key when it comes to protecting yourself and your business from fraudsters. To avoid falling victim to three of the most common business scams, everyone in your office needs to be alert and aware.

Labor law poster scam: An important-looking letter addressed to your company informs you that you need to order new versions of some labor law posters. Attached is an order form for you to fill out and return along with payment, which can be up to several hundred dollars. The wording in the letter implies that failure to pay for these posters will result in your company being out of compliance with state and federal labor laws—and there could be legal ramifications.

  • How to protect your business: There are, in fact, certain posters that need to be displayed in every workplace according to the law. However, the posters can be obtained for free from your state labor department. In Oregon, contact the Bureau of Labor & Industries at (971) 673-0761 or oregon.gov/boli for details on which posters you need and how to order them.

Office supplies scam: A delivery of office supplies arrives on your company’s doorstep, and an employee pays for them, assuming a colleague must have placed an order. But it turns out the box contains items you didn’t order and don’t need, or it’s completely empty.

  • How to protect your business: Make sure your company has a formal process for ordering office supplies, paying for them and accepting deliveries. If you keep track of all orders placed, the employee responsible for accepting deliveries should be able to match any shipment to the tracking sheet before accepting it.

Directory listing scam: You receive a phone call asking to update or confirm your company’s contact information in a business directory listing, and you’re led to believe it’s the Yellow Pages. A short time later, you receive an invoice for hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a listing in a directory you’ve never heard of—and, typically, one that doesn’t even exist. Unsuspecting employees may pay the bill, not realizing you never agreed to the charges. If you refuse to pay or try to cancel your listing, the scammers threaten you with legal action and aggressive collection tactics. They may even play back a doctored recording of your phone conversation as “proof” of your agreement to the charges.

  • How to protect your business: Steer clear of solicitations for directory listings. Instead, be proactive and selective about which directories you want your business to be listed in, and contact them yourself to initiate a listing. When the time comes to renew, verify any contact from someone claiming to be with the directory company.

If you are aware of a sketchy company or if you have fallen victim to a scam, report your experience to Better Business Bureau at (503) 212-3022 or oregon.bbb.org and the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357 or ftc.gov. The knowledge you share could save countless businesses from becoming victims themselves.

Two Ways Tax Scammers Might Target You

Reposted from Federal Trade Commission.

It’s that time of year — tax time. It’s also a great time to get up to speed on tax-related scams. Here are two ways tax scammers might target you:

1. Tax identity theft
This kind of identity theft happens when someone files a fake tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund or a job. You find out about it when you get a letter from the IRS saying:

  • more than one tax return was filed in your name, or
  • IRS records show wages from an employer you don’t know.

If you get a letter like this, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. You can find more about tax identity theft at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and irs.gov/identitytheft.

2. IRS imposter scams
This time scammers aren’t pretending to be you — they’re posing as the IRS. They call you up saying you owe taxes, and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay right away. They might know all or part of your Social Security number, and they can rig caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from Washington, DC – when it could be coming from anywhere. Leaving you no time to think, they tell you to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the card number right away.

The real IRS won’t ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by mail.

If you have a question about your taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. You can report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

New Scam Targeting Soldiers with USAA Hits Instagram

Reposted from Guardian of Valor.

We received several emails about people on Instagram posing as Soldiers and telling others that they can make them a lot of money if they used USAA Banking. So we went to Instagram and reached out to one of these scammers just to see what they would say.

The person goes by the screen name ladyusaa, and claims her real name is Ciara Taylor and she is currently serving in the Army Reserves. So we looked up the name, and no one by that name is currently serving in the reserves. The account has several photos of a female, one in uniform, more than likely the photos are stolen.

We initiated contact by requesting to follow her on Instagram as her account is private, it took no time for her to approve and we noticed she had more than 3k followers. We took some snapshots of the account which you can see below.

We also found the photo of the female in uniform, which looks to be a legit Soldier, just doesn’t belong to the person running this account. I am sure someone will recognize this Soldier and let her know her photos have been stolen and used in a scam.

The account was full of screenshots of real USAA accounts with supposed deposits of different amounts. We blocked out the account numbers as we don’t know who these accounts belong to.

This person makes it a point to reach out to Military personnel, we initiated contact by sending a few direct messages through Instagram, they responded and asked us to text them.

The number itself comes back to a Sprint/NexTel phone out of Davenport, Iowa. So we played along and began texting them to get more information.

We stopped communicating when they asked for our Username and Password for our online USAA account. This scam is rampant on Instagram and Facebook at the moment, and yes people are falling for it. Never give your UN and PW to anyone for anything; USAA will also never ask you for that information. I am not exactly sure what these scammers are doing, whether its cleaning out the accounts, or depositing fake checks that later bounce causing the account to go negative.

If they have access to your account, they can use mobile deposit, deposit a fake check, then have you send them half of the money. Once the check bounces you are responsible for the amount plus overdraft charges.

Remember, nothing in this world is free! If it sounds to good to be true, it more than likely is! Share this around so we can make sure no one else falls for this scam.