Consumer Archives


Consumer Advocate Anita Wilson presents to high school students at Greenfield Community College

    From the FTC: Questions on your money back from Western Union?

    Since we told you it’s time to ask for your money back from Western Union’s settlement with the FTC, we’ve gotten some questions about who can make a claim, when, and how it works. Here are some answers.

    • If you lost money to a scammer who had you pay using Western Union between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017, you can file a claim. You have until February 12, 2018, to file your claim.
    • You do not have to pay to get your money back. To file a claim, you have to give your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) on the claim form. But nobody will call you to ask for those numbers, or for your bank account or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer, so tell the FTC right away.
    • If you don’t have either a Social Security number or an ITIN, check the box that says so. When asked for a reason, you can explain that you’re not a U.S. citizen – or whatever other explanation applies.
    • The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is managing the claims process through the company they hired, Gilardi & Co. Your claim will go to Gilardi, but we suggest you start at FTC.gov/WU, which will link you to the claims website.
    • If you had reported your loss to Western Union, the FTC, or another government agency earlier, you might have gotten a pre-filled claim form in the mail. But even if you didn’t, you can still file a claim.
    • To prove how much you lost, it helps to have documentation – like a receipt or transfer send form. If you don’t have those, file anyway. Give as much information as you can about your wire transfer and the money you lost, including when and why you sent it. That will help DOJ validate your claim.
    • We know it’s not that safe to send your Social Security number through the mail to someone you’ve never heard of. That’s why we suggest filing your claim online, starting at FTC.gov/WU. But if you got a claim form in the mail from Gilardi and you want to return it by mail, the only address to send it to is: United States v. The Western Union Company, PO Box 404027, Louisville, KY 40233-4027.
    • If you have power of attorney for someone, or you represent their estate, you can file a claim on their behalf.
    • How much money you get back depends on how many people file a claim, and how many claims DOJ can validate.
    • It might take a year for DOJ to process all the claims and send out checks.

    Check FTC.gov/WU for updates and answers to other questions.


    Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week is Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 2018

    Are you looking forward to getting your tax refund in the new year? Tax identity thieves may be looking forward to getting your refund too. That’s why the FTC has designated January 29-February 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

    Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you e-file your tax return and discover that a return already has been filed using your SSN. Or, the IRS may send you a letter saying more than one return was filed in your name, or that IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know.

    Learn to protect yourself from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams, and what to do if someone you know becomes a victim. The FTC and partners including the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration will be co-hosting free webinars and Twitter chats during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Visit ftc.gov/taxidtheft for details about the events and how to participate. If you’re a tax payer, a military service member, or small business operator, there’s an event for you.

    Do you want to help friends, family, and your community avoid tax identity theft and IRS imposers? Use our resources to share blogposts about tax identity theft, post daily tips in your company or neighborhood newsletter, or write an article for an organization you’re involved with.


    From the FTC: Do Not Call Registry Complaint Figures for 2017

    The total includes complaints about robocalls, complaints about live callers, and complaints where the call type was not reported. The number of calls where a call type was not reported is relatively small every month. The full data, as well as complaints reporting that the consumer asked the entity to stop calling, is available at www.ftc.gov/donotcall-databook2017


    U.S. Marshals won’t call you about jury duty

    United States Marshals protect the federal courts, track down dangerous fugitives, and transport thousands of prisoners. They don’t make calls and threaten to arrest people or fine them for missing jury duty. But scammers posing as Marshals have been making calls like that and tricking people into sending money. The imposters use spoofed phone numbers that look official, and steal the names and badge numbers of legitimate law enforcement officials. They warn people they might be arrested — unless they buy a prepaid debit, iTunes or gift card and pay the fine immediately. If you buy a card and tell a scammer the card’s code, the scammer takes the card’s value; your money is gone. If a “U.S. Marshal” calls you with a jury duty warning, hang up. It’s a scam.

    If a fake Marshal — or any other government imposter — calls and tells you to send money to avoid arrest:

    • Don’t send money by prepaid card and don’t wire money. Wiring money is like sending cash. You usually can't reverse or trace the transaction.
    • Don’t share your financial or personal information. Scammers can use your information to commit identity theft.
    • Don’t trust a name or number that appears on your phone. Scammers can fake caller ID information.

    If you received a call like this, please report it to the FTC and to your local Marshals Service District Office. If you sent money to an imposter on a prepaid card, report it to the card company’s fraud department. Read more about the tricks government imposters use and how to beat their scams.


    Getting your money back from Western Union

    Did you lose money to a scammer who had you pay using Western Union between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017? If so, you can now ask for your money back – and you have until February 12, 2018 to file your claim.

    Earlier this year, we told you about the FTC’s settlement with Western Union, which agreed to return $586 million to people to settle the FTC’s charges that Western Union hadn’t adequately protected people from fraud, and didn’t properly discipline problem agents.

    The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is handling the refunds – or “remission,” as they call it. Here’s what you need to know:

    • If you already reported your fraud loss to Western Union, the FTC, or another government agency, you might get a claim form in the mail. The forms were just mailed today and will come from Gilardi & Co, which is the company DOJ hired to handle the claims. You can file your claim online – just use the Claim ID and the PIN that are on the form you get in the mail.
    • If you didn’t already report your loss, or you don't get a claim form in the mail, go online to file your claim. Start at FTC.gov/WU to get to the claims website.
    • If you’re putting in a new claim, or changing the pre-filled amount on the claim form you got in the mail, you’ll be asked for documentation. Upload – or send copies of – the receipts or transfer send forms you have, and give as many details as you can remember about the transfer. If you don’t have documentation, you can still complete the form and give as much information as you have. DOJ will use the information you give them to try to validate your Western Union money transfer.
    • The claim forms ask for your Social Security number (SSN). That’s because, before they can send you a check, DOJ is required to see whether you owe money to the US government. For that they need your SSN. That’s why we’re suggesting filing your claim on the secure website.

    You do not have to pay to get your money back. Don’t pay anyone who says they can file a claim for you. And nobody will ever call you to ask for your bank account or credit card number. It’s free to file your claim form, and you can only do it online or by mail. Find the claim form and the only real address that accepts claims at FTC.gov/WU.

    And then: patience. It will take DOJ up to a year to validate all the claims it gets and return money to people. Check FTC.gov/WU for updates.


    Call from 877-382-4357? Hang up.

    Scammers are using fake caller ID information to trick you into thinking they’re someone who can be trusted. The practice is called caller ID spoofing, and scammers can fake anyone’s phone number.

    Today, we got reports that scammers are spoofing the FTC’s Consumer Response Center’s phone number (877-382-4357). But don’t let that stop you from reporting scammers — it’s still safe to call the Consumer Response Center, and it’s also safe to report scammers online.

    If you’ve submitted a report or request to the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, the FTC might call you for additional information. But we won’t call you from 877-382-4357. And the FTC will never ask for money or for sensitive information such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or bank account information.

    Scammers are constantly picking new phone numbers to spoof. Here are a few tips for staying ahead of scammers and their unexpected calls:

    • If you get a strange call from a government phone number, hang up. If you want to check it out, visit the official (.gov) website for contact information.
    • Don’t give out — or confirm — your personal or financial information to someone who calls.
    • Don’t wire money or send money using a reloadable card. In fact, never pay someone who calls out of the blue, even if the name or number on the caller ID looks legit.
    • Feeling pressured to act immediately? Hang up. That’s a sure sign of a scam.

    If you’ve gotten a call from a scammer, with or without fake caller ID information, report it to the FTC.


    Hurricane Maria: Make your donations count

    Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, home to almost 3.5 million Americans.

    Those of us with personal ties to the island are shocked by the catastrophe Hurricane Maria left behind. It has been sobering and emotional. We are struggling daily to help our families and friends recover and just survive – under dire circumstances. And Puerto Rico isn’t the only Caribbean island suffering. Our American neighbors living on the United States Virgin Islands of St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix, are also in the thick of catastrophic damage.

    Americans have always been generous with their giving in moments of tragedy. And we know many of you are looking for ways to give toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, the USVI’s and other areas affected by this brutal hurricane season. Because of various logistical concerns, giving money is the best – and fastest – way to help. But before you give, the FTC has an important message: beware of charity scams. Do your research to make sure your money goes to reputable organizations. To make things easier, you can use this infographic as a guide toward making the best choice for your donation.



    To Freeze or Lock?

    In response to the Equifax data breach, many consumers are asking the credit reporting agencies to put a security freeze on their credit files. That’s certainly a good idea if your Social Security number and other personal information were exposed in this breach (you can go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, click on “Was I Impacted?” and put in your last name and last 6 digits of your Social Security number to find out). It’s something that you might want to consider even if you weren’t affected, because as we’ve previously explained, a freeze can protect you from certain types of identity theft.

    Until November 21, 2017, Equifax is offering an identity theft service, for which it normally charges a monthly fee, free for a year to any individuals who want to enroll in it, regardless of whether their information was involved in the breach. This service includes the option to “lock” your Equifax credit file. The lock has exactly the same effect as a security freeze.

    But you don’t have to enroll in this service or use the lock feature to protect your Equifax credit file. You can ask Equifax to freeze your file by:

    • Going to freeze.equifax.com;
    • Calling 1-800-685-1111 (New York residents should call 1-800-349-9960);
    • Or sending your request in writing to Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, Georgia 30348. If you mail a freeze request you will have to send proof of your identification.

    And now through January 31, 2018 Equifax is waiving the small fee that it normally charges to set a freeze, lift it, or remove it.

    So what are differences between locking and freezing your credit file? For one thing, if you lock your Equifax file through the free identity theft service, it will only stay locked for 12 months, when the service ends. On the other hand, if you put freezes on your files at Equifax and the other two major credit reporting agencies, Experian and TransUnion, they will last until you remove them. You can lift a freeze temporarily if you need to allow someone to check your credit file and then reset it, and you can permanently remove freezes whenever you choose.

    All three credit reporting agencies sell locking services, usually bundled with credit monitoring and other services. TransUnion offers one of its locking services for free, but if you look at the terms, which refer you to the company’s privacy policy, you discover that in order to get that free service you must allow your personal information data to be used to deliver “targeted” ads to you.

    Equifax has just announced that it’s going to offer free locking for life starting at the end of January 2018. We don’t know the details yet – will there be strings attached? That remains to be seen.

    Advertisements for locking services often emphasize how easy and quick they are to use. The process to set and lift freezes may take a bit longer and not be as seamless, but it’s not hard to do. You may have to pay a small fee each time you want to set, lift and reset a freeze (some state laws entitle residents to get freezes free in certain circumstances; you can find that information in the sections about freezes on the credit reporting agencies’ websites). Even if you have to pay, it might add up to less than the cost of subscribing to a service that includes a lock. Ultimately, we’d like to see free freezes for everyone and the ability to set and lift them made simpler and faster.

    To freeze your credit files at TransUnion and Experian, see below.

    Request a TransUnion Credit Freeze

    Request an Experian Credit Freeze

    Online: https://freeze.transunion.com

    Online: https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
    Phone: 888-909-8872
    Phone: 888-397-3742

    Mail:
    TransUnion LLC
    P.O. Box 2000
    Chester, PA 19016

    Mail:
    Experian Security Freeze
    P.O. Box 9554
    Allen, TX 75013

       

    Equifax isn’t calling

    Ring, ring. "This is Equifax calling to verify your account information." Stop. Don’t tell them anything. They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.

    That’s just one scam you might see after Equifax’s recent data breach. Other calls might try to trick you into giving your personal information. Here are some tips for recognizing and preventing phone scams and imposter scams:

    • Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call and it’s to a phone number you know is correct.
    • Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof their numbers so it looks like they are calling from a particular company, even when they’re not.
    • If you get a robocall, hang up. Don't press 1 to speak to a live operator or any other key to take your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.

    If you’ve already received a call that you think is fake, report it to the FTC.

    If you gave your personal information to an imposter, it’s time to change any
    compromised passwords, account numbers or security questions. And if you’re
    concerned about identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov to learn how you can protect yourself.

    For more information about the Equifax breach, visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com  (This link takes you away from our site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.)or contact their call center at 866-447-7559.



    FTC: Free credit freezes from Equifax

    Many people have had very sensitive personal information exposed in the Equifax breach — Social Security numbers, account numbers, even drivers’ license numbers. Equifax is offering free credit freezes until November 21, 2017. The company also will refund fees to anyone who already paid for freezes since September 7, when it announced the breach. If you’re thinking of placing a freeze, read this first.

    A freeze means that no one (including you) can access your credit file until you unfreeze it, using a PIN or passphrase. That makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

    To be effective, you must place a freeze with all three credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Transunion and Experian. That’s because when a thief tries to take out new credit, a business can pull your credit report from any of the three agencies. If you’ve only frozen your Equifax file and the business checks with Experian or Transunion, your Equifax freeze does you no good.

    There’s also cost to consider. A freeze can cost you money every time you freeze and unfreeze your file. While Equifax will let you place or lift a freeze for free until November 21, TransUnion and Experian are not offering free freezes. And, as of now, Equifax’s offer will end on November 21. That means that any time you need to get new credit, you’ll need to lift the freeze, then place it again, with each of the three agencies — at a cost of $5 to $10 per agency each time, depending on your state’s law.

    But wait, you say, I heard that freezes are free for identity theft victims. So, will I get free freezes from the other two agencies too? No. An identity theft victim is someone whose information not only has been exposed, but also has been misused. If you’re a data breach victim, your information is at greater risk of misuse but unless that happens, you’re not an identity theft victim and not entitled to free freezes on that basis.

    To learn more about credit freezes, read Credit Freeze FAQsand Extended Fraud Alerts and Credit Freezes. If you want a free credit freeze from Equifax you can call them at 800-349-9960 or visit them online at freeze.equifax.com.

    If you’re looking for an alternative to a credit freeze, consider a fraud alert. Although a fraud alert won’t lock your credit like a freeze does, it will tell anyone who runs your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account. Fraud alerts are free but they end after 90 days, unless you remember to renew them. You may also want to sign up forEquifax’s free credit monitoring, which lets you know about changes to your credit file. But remember that the free credit monitoring doesn’t stop someone from opening accounts in your name. Also, it lasts only one year and the threat of identity theft relating to the breach is likely to last a lot longer than that.


    FTC: The Equifax Breach - What to do.

    If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.

    Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information for about 182,000 people. And they grabbed personal information of people in the UK and Canada too.

    There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

    • Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
    • Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.
    • You also can access frequently asked questions at the site.

    Here are some other steps to take to help protect yourself after a data breach:

    • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
    • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
    • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
    • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
    • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

    Visit Identitytheft.gov/databreach to learn more about protecting yourself after a data breach.


    Advice for Helping Hurricane Harvey Victims

    The Federal Trade Commission has information for people who want to help Hurricane Harvey victims, and for those who are dealing with and recovering from, its long-term effects. In addition to the important tips and advice below, they can find more at www.FTC.gov/weatheremergencies.

    Wise giving after the storm

    If you’re looking for a way to give, be cautious of charity scams. Do some research to ensure that your donation will go to a reputable organization that will use the money as promised:

    • Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record with dealing with disasters.
       
    • Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance(link is external)Charity Navigator(link is external)Charity Watch(link is external), or GuideStar(link is external).
       
    • Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.
       
    • Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it. You could unknowingly install malware on your computer.
       
    • Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.
       
    • When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate.
       
    • Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials(link is external). If they should be registered, but they're not, consider donating through another charity.

    Picking up the pieces

    The storm has devastated much of Southeastern Texas. Once the rain and floodwaters recede, it will be time to take stock and develop a recovery plan. Here are some tips and links to resources to help make the task less burdensome:

    • Contact your insurance company. Ask what the next steps are in assessing any damage to your home or business.
       
    • Your home and its contents may look beyond hope, but it’s possible many of your belongings can be restored. With luck and hard work, your flooded home could be cleaned up, dried out, rebuilt, and reoccupied.
       
    • Be skeptical of people promising immediate clean-up and debris removal. Some may demand payment up-front for work they never do, quote outrageous prices, or simply lack the skills, licenses, and insurance to legally do the work.
       
    • If you’re looking for a place to rent during recovery, be cautious of rental listing scams. Scammers often advertise rentals that don’t exist to trick people into sending money before they find out the truth.
       
    • Many people will be asking for your personal information. Make sure you know who you are dealing with. Ask for identification before you share your Social Security or account numbers. Scammers sometimes pose as government officials, and ask for your financial information or money to apply for aid that you can request on your own for free. Government officials will never ask you for money in exchange for information or the promise of a check.
       
    • You might have had to leave your home without IDs, checks, credit and debit cards, and other documents. You also might be without access to a bank account or paycheck for some time. If you need to get money, understand your options for paying bills and replacing important documents. This list of contacts may help you regain your financial footing.
       
    • Call your creditors and ask for help. If you’re a homeowner, even if your home is uninhabitable, you still have a mortgage. Contact your lender to discuss your options.



    FTC Announces Refund Process for Victims of Deceptive Tech Support Operation

    The Federal Trade Commission is sending email notices to people who are eligible for partial refunds from a tech support scheme. The operators agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations that they deceived hundreds of thousands of people.

    Eligible consumers bought tech support products and services between April 2012 and November 2014 from Advanced Tech Support, which also used the name Inbound Call Experts. Consumers will have until October 27, 2017 to submit a request for a refund.

    According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants used high-pressure sales pitches to market tech support products and services by falsely claiming that people’s computers were infected with viruses and malware.

    The defendants in the case paid $10 million as part of a settlement with the FTC. The settlement also prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting that they have identified performance or security issues on people’s computers and from making any other misrepresentations while selling a product or service.

    The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook(link is external), follow us on Twitter(link is external), read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.


    Beware of the Medicare “Back Brace Scam”


    Scammers may pretend represent insurance or healthcare companies. There is a new twist: calls from "Medicare" claiming to have your new back brace.

    How the Scam Works~~

    You answer the phone, and a Medicare representative” con (scammer) has as two typical patterns:

    ~~ an offer: the scammer will offer you a back brace through Medicare ~~ or claim that a caregiver previously called about receiving a back brace from Medicare.

    If you show interest in the brace, the scammer will start asking for personal information, such as your Social Security number or a Medicare number to access the benefits. Don't fall for these phony claims, even if the calls are persistent!  The callers offer no company name and may even hang up on you if you ask for further company information.

    Protect Yourself from Healthcare Scams

    • Medicare should already have your basic information: If Medicare or another governmental organization contacts you, they should already have your name, address and other basic info.  A call claiming you have been identified for an offer (but doesn't have your name or other information) is probably blasted out to thousands of phone numbers!
    • Never share your Medicare number with an unsolicited caller. Treat your Medicare number like your credit card info or other personal details. Do not share it with unsolicited callers.
    • Check BBB Tips: For more information about healthcare scams, check bbb.org/healthcarescam.

    For more information:

    For more information about Medicare fraud, check out these resources on Medicare.gov.

    To learn more about scams, go to BBB Scam Tips (bbb.org/scamtips). To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker)


    FTC Announces Refund Process for Victims of Deceptive Tech Support Operation

    The Federal Trade Commission is sending email notices to people who are eligible for partial refunds from a tech support scheme. The operators agreed to pay $10 million to settle allegations that they deceived hundreds of thousands of people.

    Eligible consumers bought tech support products and services between April 2012 and November 2014 from Advanced Tech Support, which also used the name Inbound Call Experts. Consumers will have until October 27, 2017 to submit a request for a refund.

    According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants used high-pressure sales pitches to market tech support products and services by falsely claiming that people’s computers were infected with viruses and malware.

    The defendants in the case paid $10 million as part of a settlement with the FTC. The settlement also prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting that they have identified performance or security issues on people’s computers and from making any other misrepresentations while selling a product or service.

    The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook(link is external), follow us on Twitter(link is external), read our blogs and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

     

    News from the Federal Trade Commission:

    Grandpa spots scammers

    August 9, 2017One of my favorite parts about working at the Federal Trade Commission is hearing stories of folks avoiding a scam. A recent story involves Lou, who picked up the phone and spotted the scam almost as soon as he heard the young man call him “Grandpa.” The caller said he’d been arrested for drunk driving, needed money for bail, and wanted Lou to call a “lawyer” who would explain everything. (All while not telling “Mom.”)

    “I played along with it,” said Lou, 87, who was curious to hear the scammer’s pitch. But Lou also called his daughter, a consumer lawyer. She knew this scam — someone pretends to be a friend or family member in need of money for bail, a medical emergency, or other trouble. His grandson was fine.

    The scammers used common tricks.

    • They tested Lou to see how much money they could get. They first claimed bail was $7,000, but when Lou said he only had half that amount, the fake lawyer said he could get the bail reduced. Usually, scammers ask you to wire the money or get a prepaid card and give them the numbers on the card. If you do, your money will be gone.
    • They tried to keep Lou from talking to anyone. They even told Lou he could be arrested and fined if he told anyone about their conversation. Why? Scammers don’t want you talking to anyone else. They want you to act fast, without thinking too carefully.
    • The scammers used information Lou gave them to make their story seem more real. For example, the fake grandson told Lou the accident occurred “in the city.” When Lou named the District of Columbia, the fake grandson said, “Yes. In D.C.” Scammers also get information from social networking sites, or by hacking a loved one’s email account.

    If you get a call like this, get off the phone and check it out. Call your loved one using a phone number you know is theirs, or call another family member. Then, tell a friend your story. By talking about this scam, you can help someone else avoid it. And please, tell us too.


    A costly low-cost trial offer

     

    August 7, 2017

    You’ve probably seen online ads with offers to let you try a product – or a service – for a very low cost, or even for free. Sometimes they’re tempting: I mean, who doesn’t want whiter teeth for a dollar plus shipping? Until the great deal turns into a rip-off. That’s what the FTC says happened in a case it announced today.

    The defendants sold tooth-whitening products under various names, and hired other companies to help them market the products. These affiliate marketers created online surveys, as well as ads for free or low-cost trials – all to drive people to the product’s website. What happens next is so complicated that we created an infographic to explain it.

    In short, once people ended up on the product’s website, they filled in their info, put in their credit card number, and clicked “Complete Checkout.” When people clicked this button they not only got the free trial of the one product, but were actually agreeing to monthly shipments of the product at a cost of $94.31 each month.

    Next, another screen came up and people were asked to click “Complete Checkout” again. But the second screen wasn’t a confirmation screen for the trial of the product. Instead, by clicking this button people were actually agreeing to monthly shipments of a second product. So, what started as a $1.03 (plus shipping) trial of one product wound up being an unexpected two products at a very unexpected $94.31 each – for a total monthly charge of $188.96 plus shipping.

    Trial offers can be tricky – and there is often a catch. If you’re tempted, do some research first, and read the terms and conditions of the offer very closely. Sometimes, however, marketers might simply try to trick you – and it can be hard to spot. Look again at the infographic…would you have known what charges were about to hit your credit card? If you use your credit card for a low-cost trial offer, be sure to check your credit card statement closely. If you see charges you didn’t authorize, contact the company and your bank immediately. And then tell us about it.

    Paint Companies Settle with FTC over Safety Claims

       

    Four paint companies settled FTC charges that they deceptively promoted their paints as emission-free or containing zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during and immediately after application. Some of the defendants also made explicit safety claims regarding babies, children, pregnant women, and other sensitive populations. But the FTC says these statements were based on tests that weren’t consistent with how the paints are actually used. Under the terms of the settlement, the companies agreed to stop making unqualified emission-free and VOC-free claims and other unsubstantiated health and environmental claims. Also, two of the companies agreed to disclose that seals appearing in their promotional materials are actually their own designs.

    FTC Says Company Illegally Sold Personal Data

       

    Blue Global Media, LLC and its CEO agreed to settle FTC charges that the company misled borrowers into filling out loan applications on its websites, then sold personal information on the applications to anyone looking for sales leads. The websites that collected applicant data offered services to people seeking a variety of loans, and claimed the company would connect each applicant to lenders offering the best terms. However, the FTC says the defendants did not match applicants with lenders based on these criteria and, instead, sold applications to whomever offered to buy them.

     

    FTC Stops Operation Falsely Billing Businesses

       

    The FTC reached a settlement agreement with a telemarketing operation for allegedly tricking small businesses, non-profit organizations, and others into paying for overpriced office and cleaning supplies they never ordered. According to the FTC, the defendants — operating under several different names — had telemarketers offer to send the business “free samples” or catalogs. The defendants allegedly sent light bulbs and cleaning supplies without having disclosed any prices, then later, sent invoices for amounts far above the market price for these items. Businesses that paid, mistakenly thinking the invoices were valid, received more shipments of unordered merchandise and invoices seeking payment

     

    Deceptive Business Coach Operation Shut Down

       

    The FTC reached a settlement with a group of companies and individuals that allegedly used deceptive marketing tactics that robbed aspiring business owners of millions of dollars. According to the FTC, the defendants promised business coaching services that would help people earn lots of money. People paid thousands of dollars for the so-called services to start their internet business, but were only bombarded with more sales calls to buy still more services. Some of the defendants allegedly provided other telemarketers access to people’s information.

     

     

    Alimentation Couche-Tard to sell Fuel Stations

       

    Convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard (ACT) Inc. agreed to sell retail fuel stations to Empire Petroleum Partners to settle FTC charges that its proposed $4.4 billion acquisition of competitor CST Brands, Inc. would violate federal antitrust law.  ACT operates 4,700 convenience stores and retail fuel stations under the Circle K and Kangaroo Express banners, and CST operates 1,146 stores under the Corner Store banner. To preserve competition, the FTC order requires ACT to sell 70 CST fuel stations in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas.

     

     

     

    "Military.consumer.gov has helpful tips for you — whether you’re just starting out, managing your money during a deployment, or transitioning to a civilian career."

    — Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen on Military Consumer website

    Alleged Mobile Cramming Operation Settles with FTC

    Multiple defendants settled FTC allegations that they placed more than $70 million in unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills. According to the FTC’s complaint, the massive landline cramming operation charged anywhere from about $10.00-$25.00 per month for voicemail services that people neither signed up for nor knew they had until the bills came.

     

    FTC Says Scheme Collected Fake Debts from People

    A North Carolina-based debt collector allegedly bought phony payday loan debts through a debt broker and continued to collect on those debts even after learning the debts were fake. Almost immediately after the company started collecting on the loans, consumers provided evidence they didn’t owe the debts. But even when the defendants got refunds for the phony debts they bought and were told to stop collecting the debts, the defendants kept collecting from people for several more months.

     

     

    FTC Launches New Resources for the Military

     

    The FTC released a new video and Military Consumer Facebook page promoting the Military Consumer website. The video features Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen and two FTC staff members who are veterans. The Military Consumer website, video and Facebook page all encourage servicemembers and their families to use the tools to manage their money, avoid scams and understand their rights as servicemembers.

     

    Money Back

    Devry Refunds

    The FTC mailed 173,000 refund checks totaling more than $49 million to students whom DeVry University allegedly misled about the likelihood of finding jobs in their field of study and the income level they could achieve upon graduation.

     

    Goldman Schwartz Refunds

    The FTC is mailing 4,380 checks totaling more than $550,000 to people harmed by Houston-based Goldman Schwartz, Inc., a debt collection operation that also used other business names, including Cole, Tanner & Wright and Harris County Check Recovery. The FTC sued Goldman Schwartz for multiple law violations, including making false threats, and collecting bogus attorney’s fees and other unauthorized charges. The defendants are banned from the debt collection business under a settlement with the FTC.

    Information Management Forum Refunds

    The Federal Trade Commission is mailing 338 checks totaling more than $319,000 to people who lost money to Information Management Forum Inc., which also operated under several other names. The FTC says the defendants tricked consumers into paying “registration fees” for their timeshare resale services.

    FTC Returns Money to Victims of Auto Loan Modification Scheme

     

     

    The Federal Trade Commission is mailing 288 checks totaling more than $109,000 to people who paid an up-front fee to Regency Financial Services, which promised to get them better terms for their auto loans. According to the FTC, the company and its CEO, Ivan Levy, did not provide the promised services and failed to honor their “money-back guarantee.”


    Tech Support Scams:  Printable PDF

    Tech support scams often start with a pop-up that wants you to call now, or else...  If you get an urgent message like this, don’t click, call, send money or give anyone control of your computer.

     

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 28, 2017

    At One Year Anniversary of IKEA Recall

    Safety Advocates Call on IKEA and CPSC to Take Stronger Action on Hazardous Tipping IKEA Furniture

    Washington, D.C. — Today, the one year anniversary of the recall of 29 million units of IKEA dressers, Kids In Danger (KID), Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Shane’s Foundation, called on IKEA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to reinvest in the recall to remove more dangerous products from use.

    In a letter to CPSC Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle, the groups urged the safety agency to take strong, immediate action to better protect children from the tip-over hazard posed by IKEA dressers, the MALM in particular.

    “While we applauded last year’s recall of the MALM and other IKEA dressers after six deaths (a seventh death was announced after the recall), we have been repeatedly dismayed by the lack of preparation for the recall and the lack of action to encourage consumer participation with the recall,” the groups stated in the letter.  “IKEA quickly moved on to simply sharing their anchoring message with consumers without highlighting the recalled products.  In fact, recently MALM dressers and other recalled unit names returned to IKEA stores and are available for sale again – adding more confusion to the recall.”

    It quickly became apparent after last year’s June 28 recall that IKEA had not adequately prepared for the recall – news reports of long waits, unresponsive store employees and no response came quickly – and continue.  At least as recently as January 2017, twitter posts of unresolved recall issues were still appearing. As any marketing professional can tell you – many of those who called IKEA just after the recall was announced were frustrated by no response or a long wait, and never went back to complete the action – leaving dangerous tipping dressers in homes across the country.

    The process has not been transparent.  IKEA has withheld information about how effective the recall has been.  The most recent data we have is from January 2017 and may only go through the end of 2016.  But given that most recalls have larger responses soon after the recall announcement, it is unlikely that these response rates are significantly higher:

    • 175,000 refunds were provided to consumers,
    • 268,000 consumers received anchoring straps since the recall. And
    • an additional 439,000 straps were sent out by IKEA prior to the recall, based on the July 2015 announcement by CPSC and IKEA of the deaths. 

    The letter to Acting Chairman Buerkle concluded, “We urge IKEA to put more resources and effort into retrieving the additional 28 million dressers involved in the recall.  We ask the CPSC to review the corrective action plan to assure compliance, amend the CAP if inadequate, and work with IKEA to reach more consumers.  These unsecured dressers are ticking time bombs in our children’s bedrooms and homes.  Rather than move on with new versions of the tainted MALM name and sweep the recall under the rug, IKEA must do everything it can to retrieve its faulty dressers.”

    Janet McGee, mother of Ted McGee whose death on February 14, 2016 led to the recall, joined the consumer groups and said, “Every day that goes by, children are in grave danger when an unanchored dresser lurks inside their seemingly safe bedroom."


    From the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: 


    Spot the Red Flags

    Rogue movers typically work like this: Without ever visiting your home or seeing the goods you want moved, they give a low estimate over the telephone or Internet. Once your goods are on their truck, they demand more money before they will deliver or unload them. They hold your goods hostage and force you to pay more — sometimes much more than you thought you had agreed to — if you want your possessions back.

    Your best defense is to recognize a rogue mover before they have your goods.

    Here are the “red flags” to look out for:

    • The mover doesn’t offer or agree to an on­site inspection of your household goods and gives an estimate over the telephone or online — sight unseen. These estimates often sound too good to be true. They usually are.
    • The moving company demands cash or a large deposit before the move.
    • The mover asks you to sign blank or incomplete documents.
    • The mover does not provide a written estimate (can be binding or non-binding).
    • The mover doesn’t provide you with a copy of the Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move booklet and a copy of FMCSA’s Ready to Move brochure, which movers are required by Federal regulations to supply to their customers in the planning stages of interstate moves.
    • The company’s website has no local address and no information about their registration or insurance.
    • The mover claims all goods are covered by their insurance.
    • When you call the mover, the telephone is answered with a generic “Movers” or “Moving company,” rather than the company’s name.
    • Offices and warehouse are in poor condition or nonexistent.
    • The mover says they will determine the charges after loading.
    • On moving day, a rental truck arrives rather than a company­-owned or marked fleet truck.
    • The mover claims, “You’ve got more stuff than estimated!” Should this occur, be sure the mover provides a revised estimate that you both sign listing the additional items and/or services as well as a price that you both have agreed to and signed BEFORE they begin packing or loading. They should also provide you a copy of this new estimate.

      From the FTC: An identity thief stole my phone!


    June 8, 2017

    Identity theft can happen to anyone. I’m a fraud investigator, and I’d like to tell you about my identity theft. Knowing how to respond will help you if you ever have to recover your identity.

    My purse was stolen recently. Charges appeared on my credit cards before I even knew it was gone. I knew I had to act quickly to protect my identity, so I went to IdentityTheft.gov. It’s the site where you can file a report and get a personalized recovery plan. My plan involved putting alerts on my credit reports, notifying my bank, canceling all my credit cards, and getting a new driver’s license.

    But the thief also got my phone, which had everything on it. Contacts, photos, other valuable (to me) data. The thief turned off my phone, so I couldn’t locate it using the “Find my Phone” feature. Even though I had a strong password to lock my phone, I didn’t want to risk the thief getting into it. I was able to send an erase command that will wipe the device clean, once the phone connects to the internet. If I’d done a backup recently (which you really should – in fact, go do it now), all of my data would have been safe. But I hadn’t, so I lost some photos and files that were important to me. Seriously: go back up your phone.

    This led me to realize: there was a lot more I needed to do to protect my digital identity. Whether you’ve lost your device or you want to be prepared, here are some tips you can take to protect your digital identity:

    Smart Phone:

    • Lock your phone. Use at least a 6-digit passcode on your device, or use the pattern lock or fingerprint scanner. Set the device to lock when not in use. This is especially important if you use a mobile wallet or money transfer apps.
    • Update it and back it up. Back up your device regularly and make sure automatic updates are turned on. Backing up your phone regularly and automatically makes sure that you’ll still have your stuff – if it disappears.
    • Get help finding your phone. Install and turn on Find My iPhone (iOS) or Find My Device (Android). These apps could help you locate your device if you lose it. If your phone is stolen, these apps also let you remotely issue a command to erase your device – even if a thief turns it off.
    • Alert your wireless provider if your phone is missing. Make the call as soon as you know your device is missing. They can permanently or temporarily disable the SIM card to stop someone from using the device for calls or the internet. It helps, too, if you have a record of your phone’s serial number or IMEI number (a unique identifier for your phone).

    Accounts:

    • Turn on two-factor authentication. That means you’ll give your password and a second way to prove that you’re you. This extra layer of security makes it much harder for thieves to get into your accounts and lock you out. Many providers give several options to authenticate your identity, so be sure you have a backup method (like one-time use codes or a backup email address) in case you don’t have access to your device to receive texts or phone calls.
    • Know which devices have access to your accounts. Many social media sites and email providers, and some phone operating systems, let you view the logins for your devices from the settings menu. You can remove devices from the account, and log out of the site remotely using a computer or another device. That’s handy if ever you lose your phone, tablet, or laptop.
    • Check your log-in and account notifications. Many email and social media accounts can notify you if a new device connects to your account, or if someone tried to change your passwords.
    • When in doubt, change your passwords. If you’ve lost your device, change your passwords. Many of us set our devices to remember passwords – which could mean that someone who gets your phone could get access to your accounts and personal information. So: if you lose your phone, change your email, social media, online banking, shopping, and other passwords right away.

    For more tips on what to do to protect yourself from identity thieves, check out ftc.gov/idtheft.


    From the FTC: Student loan scam gets an F from the FTC

    The costs of student loans and fees can be overwhelming. You might see online ads that promise to help lower your payments or get your loans forgiven. But be wary of companies that make those promises, and never pay an upfront fee. Today, the FTC announced it had filed charges against Strategic Student Solutions, Student Relief Center, and related companies for lying to consumers about providing student loan debt relief and charging illegal upfront fees.

    According to the FTC’s complaint, Strategic Student Solutions promised consumers loan forgiveness or payment reduction and credit repair services, but they didn’t deliver. They told consumers that their monthly fees would be put toward their student loans. They also charged consumers illegal upfront fees of up to $1,200.

    Consumers found out later that they had not been enrolled in forgiveness or repayment programs, that none of their payments had been put towards their student loans, and their credit had not been repaired. In fact, consumers often ended up farther behind on their payments than when they first signed up for the companies’ services.

    If you have paid money to Strategic Student Solutions or Student Relief Center, contact your loan servicer immediately. Depending on the type of loans you have, you may want to discuss a repayment plan or other options for your situation.

    Remember, you do not have to pay for help with your student loans. Never pay an upfront fee for the promise of debt relief. Learn how to spot a debt relief scheme.

    To report a student loan debt relief scam, file a complaint with:

    ·       the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint

    ·       the CFPB at consumerfinance.gov/complaint

    ·       your state’s Attorney General’s office.


    Operation Tech Trap Shuts Down Tech Scams

     

     

    The FTC and federal, state and international law enforcement agencies brought 29 cases against operators of tech support scams. “Operation Tech Trap” went after companies that allegedly used pop-up ads that resembled security alerts from Microsoft, Apple or other technology companies, to trick people into believing their computers were infected with viruses and malware, and then charged them hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs. The FTC and its law enforcement partners filed complaints, entered into settlements, brought indictments, and secured guilty pleas against the entities running these scams.

    Court Halts Scheme that Preyed on Spanish Speakers

    A federal court stopped an operation that deceptively sold products for learning English to Spanish-speaking people. The FTC says the defendants pretended to be affiliated with the government, well-known companies, or a Spanish-language radio station — all to sell products that cost $200 to $800. If people refused the offer or canceled delivery, says the FTC, the telemarketers threatened to sue, arrest or jail consumers, or seize their homes. According to the FTC, in some cases, even after consumers paid, the telemarketers kept calling and making false claims and threats. The court froze the defendants’ assets pending resolution of the case.

    FTC: Opiate Addiction Product Claims are Unbacked

     

     

    The FTC reached a settlement agreement with Catlin Enterprises, Inc., and its owner — stopping them from misleading consumers with deceptive claims about their dietary supplements for opiate withdrawal. The company claimed its “Withdrawal Ease” and “Recovery Ease” products significantly helped alleviate symptoms of opiate withdrawal and increased the chances of overcoming dependency. However, the FTC says the company didn't have the required scientific evidence to back those claims. The settlement agreement bans the defendants from making claims that their products treat or cure any disease unless they have sufficient evidence.

    Site Helps Small Businesses Avoid Scams, Hackers

     

     

    At the direction of Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, the FTC launched FTC.gov/SmallBusiness, to help small business owners avoid scams and protect their computers and networks from cyberattacks and other threats. The site offers articles, videos, and other information that small businesses can use to protect their networks and customer data. It also includes a Small Business Computer Security Basics guide, which helps employees of very small companies be mindful about sharing account information, using strong passwords and keeping their wireless networks protected.

    FTC, DoJ Urge Alaska to Repeal CON Laws

     

     

    The FTC and the Department of Justice urged Alaska lawmakers to repeal certificate-of-need (CON) laws, which require healthcare providers to obtain state approval before expanding, building new facilities, or making large capital expenditures. The agencies suggest that CON laws can restrict entry and expansion, limit consumer choice, and stifle innovation. In addition, incumbent firms can exploit the CON process by thwarting or delaying entry by new competitors, and obstructing efforts to restore competition lost due to an anticompetitive merger. The agencies suggest the state consider whether its existing CON program best serves the needs of its citizens.

    From the FTC: Ransomware worries? Keep up to date.

    You’ve probably heard about the ransomware attack affecting organizations’ computer systems around the world. It seems to affect server software on organizations’ networked computers. But ransomware can attack anybody’s computer, so now is a good time to update your own operating system and other software. And then keep them up-to-date.

    The ransomware in the news now is known as WannaCry or WannaCrypt. It locks users out of their systems until they pay the crooks who installed it. This ransomware takes advantage of a security hole in Windows server software that can be closed by an update from Microsoft. Many of the organizations affected by the ransomware had not installed the software update.

    Even if you only have one computer, download security updates as soon as they’re available – no matter what operating system you use. Hackers are constantly looking for security gaps, and companies try to close those gaps as soon as they are discovered. So it’s important to download updates right away. Most operating systems have a setting to download and install security updates automatically. Use it. And install updates for your other software, including apps.

    If you use old software that doesn’t update automatically, set up a regular schedule to go to the company’s website and download and install updates yourself. It’s wise to check at least weekly.

    In addition to keeping software up to date, here are a couple of other things you can do to prepare for a ransomware attack:

    • Back up your important files. From tax forms to family photos, make it part of your routine to back up files often on your computers and mobile devices. When you’re done, log out of the cloud and unplug external hard drives so hackers can’t encrypt and lock your back-ups, too.
    • Think twice before clicking on links or downloading attachments and apps. Ransomware often is downloaded through phishing emails. You also can get ransomware from visiting a compromised site or through malicious online ads.

    IRS Imposter Scams:

    You get a call from someone who says she’s from the IRS. She says that you owe back taxes. She threatens to sue you, arrest or deport you, or revoke your license if you don’t pay right away. She tells you to put money on a prepaid debit card and give her the card numbers. The caller may know part of your Social Security number. And your caller ID might show a Washington, DC area code. But is it really the IRS calling?

    No. The real IRS won’t ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers. They also won’t ask for a credit card over the phone. And when the IRS first contacts you about unpaid taxes, they do it by mail, not by phone. And caller IDs can be faked.

    Here’s what you can do:

    1. Stop. Don’t wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card. Once you send it, the money is gone. If you have tax questions, go to irs.gov or call the IRS at 800-829-1040.
    2. Pass this information on to a friend. You may not have gotten one of these calls, but the chances are you know someone who has.

    If you spot a scam, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Report a scam online or call the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or TTY 1-866-653-4261. Your complaint can help protect other people. By filing a complaint, you can help the FTC’s investigators identify the imposters and stop them before they can get someone’s hard-earned money. It really makes a difference.

    From the IRS: Private Collection of Some Overdue Federal Taxes Starts in April; Those Affected Will Hear First From IRS; IRS Will Still Handle Most Tax Debts

    Taxpayers: Watch Out for Scam Calls
    IR-2017-74, April 4, 2017                                                                                 Español

    WASHINGTON — Starting this month, the Internal Revenue Service will begin sending letters to a relatively small group of taxpayers whose overdue federal tax accounts are being assigned to one of four private-sector collection agencies.

    The new program, authorized under a federal law enacted by Congress in December 2015, enables these designated contractors to collect, on the government’s behalf, unpaid tax debts. Usually, these are unpaid individual tax obligations that are not currently being worked by IRS collection employees and often were assessed by the tax agency several years ago.

    Taxpayers being assigned to a private firm would have had multiple contacts from the IRS in previous years and still have an unpaid tax bill.

    “The IRS is taking steps throughout this effort to ensure that the private collection firms work responsibly and respect taxpayer rights,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS also urges taxpayers to be on the lookout for scammers who might use this program as a cover to trick people. In reality, those taxpayers whose accounts are assigned as part of the private collection effort know they have a tax debt.”

    The program will begin this week with a few hundred taxpayers receiving mailings and subsequent phone calls, with the program growing to thousands a week later in the spring and summer. Taxpayers with overdue taxes will always receive multiple contacts, letters and phone calls, first from the IRS, not private debt collectors.

    How the New Program Works

    The IRS will always notify a taxpayer before transferring their account to a private collection agency (PCA). First, the IRS will send a letter to the taxpayer and their tax representative informing them that their account is being assigned to a PCA and giving the name and contact information for the PCA. This mailing will include a copy of Publication 4518, What You Can Expect When the IRS Assigns Your Account to a Private Collection Agency.

    Only four private groups are participating in this program: CBE Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Conserve of Fairport, N.Y.; Performant of Livermore, Calif.; and Pioneer of Horseheads, N.Y. The taxpayer’s account will only be assigned to one of these agencies, never to all four. No other private group is authorized to represent the IRS.

    Once the IRS letter is sent, the designated private firm will send its own letter to the taxpayer and their representative confirming the account transfer. To protect the taxpayer’s privacy and security, both the IRS letter and the collection firm’s letter will contain information that will help taxpayers identify the tax amount owed and assure taxpayers that future collection agency calls they may receive are legitimate.

    The private collectors will be able to identify themselves as contractors of the IRS collecting taxes. Employees of these collection agencies must follow the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and like IRS employees, must be courteous and must respect taxpayer rights.

    The private firms are authorized to discuss payment options, including setting up payment agreements with taxpayers. But as with cases assigned to IRS employees, any tax payment must be made, either electronically or by check, to the IRS. A payment should never be sent to the private firm or anyone besides the IRS or the U.S. Treasury. Checks should only be made payable to the United States Treasury. To find out more about available payment options, visit IRS.gov/Payments.

    Private firms are not authorized to take enforcement actions against taxpayers. Only IRS employees can take these actions, such as filing a notice of Federal Tax Lien or issuing a levy. To learn more about the new private debt collection program, visit the Private Debt Collection page on IRS.gov.

    Watch out for Phone Scams

    The IRS reminds taxpayers to be on the lookout for scammers posing as private collection firms. The IRS will be watching for these schemes as the collection program begins, and this effort will include working with partners in the tax community and law enforcement about emerging scams.

    People should remember that these private collection firms will only be calling about a tax debt the person has had – and has been aware of – for years and had been contacted about previously in the past by the IRS.

    “Here’s a simple rule to keep in mind. You won’t get a call from a private collection firm unless you have unpaid tax debts going back several years and you’ve already heard from the IRS multiple times,” Koskinen said. “The people included in the private collection program typically already know they have a tax issue. If you get a call from someone saying they’re from one of these groups and you’ve paid your taxes, that’s a sure sign of a scam.”

    If taxpayers are unsure if they have an unpaid tax debt from a previous year – which is what the private collection firms will handle – they can go to IRS.gov and check their account balance: www.irs.gov/balancedue. If the account balance says zero, that means nothing is due, and you typically wouldn’t be getting a contact from the IRS or the private firm.

    Whether or not a taxpayer’s account is assigned to a private collection agency, the IRS warns taxpayers to beware of scammers pretending to be from the IRS or an IRS contractor. Here are some things the scammers often do but the IRS and its contractors will never do.

    • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes, and if a case is assigned to a PCA, both the IRS and the authorized collection agency will send the taxpayer a letter. Payment will always be to the United States Treasury.
    • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
    • Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
    • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

    “Unexpected and threatening calls out of the blue from someone saying they’re representing the IRS to collect a tax debt is a warning sign people should watch out for,” Koskinen said.

    For more information, visit the “Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts” page on IRS.gov.

    Don’t Wait to Hear from the IRS or a Contractor

    As always, the IRS encourages taxpayers behind on their tax obligations to come forward and either pay what they owe or set up a suitable payment plan. This means there’s no need to wait for a phone call or letter from the IRS or any of its contractors.

    Frequently, taxpayers qualify for one of several payment options, and taking advantage of them is often easier than many people think. These include the following:

    • Most people can set up a payment agreement with the IRS online in a matter of minutes. Those who owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest can use the Online Payment Agreement to set up a monthly payment agreement for up to 72 months. Taxpayers can choose this option even if they have not yet received a bill or notice from the IRS. With the Online Payment Agreement, no paperwork is required, there is no need to call, write or visit the IRS and qualified taxpayers can avoid the filing of a Notice of Federal Tax Lien if one was not previously filed. Alternatively, taxpayers can request a payment agreement by filing Form 9465. This form can be downloaded from IRS.gov and mailed along with a tax return, bill or notice.
    • Some struggling taxpayers may qualify for an offer-in-compromise. This is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed. The IRS looks at the taxpayer’s income and assets to make a determination regarding the taxpayer’s ability to pay. To help determine eligibility, use the Offer in Compromise Pre-Qualifier, a free online tool available on IRS.gov.

    “If people have a problem paying their tax bill, we encourage them to reach out to us,” Koskinen said. “We have many programs designed to help people who are having trouble meeting their tax obligations. It’s better to reach out to us sooner rather than later for help, because interest and penalties on unpaid taxes can add up quickly.”


     

    From the FTC: 10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud

    Crooks use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. They often combine new technology with old tricks to get people to send money or give out personal information. Here are some practical tips to help you stay a step ahead.

    1. Spot imposters. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government officiala family membera charity, or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request — whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.  
    2. Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
    3. Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.
    4. Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear. 
    5. Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true for reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit or Vanilla. Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.
    6. Talk to someone. Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert — or just tell a friend.
    7. Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls.
    8. Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.
    9. Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.
    10. Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/scamsGet the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox.

     

    • For information on the Cuisinart food processor recall, Click HERE

    • Online shopping for the holidays? Check this list from the Federal Trade Commission:

    • In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it pays to slow down and take some precautions when shopping online. You see, the FTC has recently seen a spike of complaints about online retailers who didn’t deliver goods when they said they would, or didn’t deliver them at all. Late or no-show deliveries can make for less-than-jolly holidays. So here are a few tips to help make your online shopping merry and bright.

    • Do your research. Use search engines to find out more about a product, brand or seller. Type the name into a search engine with words like “review” “complaint” or “scam.”
    • Read reviews from other people, experts and columnists. They can give you an idea of how a product performs. Don’t put all your trust in any one review. Some reviews are based on testing by independent experts, others are from people who purchased the product. Both types can be useful.
    • Check the terms of the deal, including delivery dates and refund policies. Can you return the item for a full refund if you’re not satisfied? Who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees? When will you get your order? Can you pay extra for faster delivery? Federal law requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised. Many sites offer tracking options that let you see where your purchase is in the delivery chain, and when you can expect it to arrive.
    • Look for contact information. Several sites that generated complaints to the FTC had little or no information on how to get in touch with the company. If you don’t see a phone number or email address, consider it a red flag and take your business elsewhere.
    • For more tips, visit our online shopping page.

    IRS Wraps Up the "Dirty Dozen" List of Tax Scams for 2016

    IRS YouTube Video
    Tax Scams: English | Spanish | ASL

    IRS Podcasts
    Tax Scams: English | Spanish

    IR-2016-29, Feb. 19, 2016

    WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today wrapped up its annual "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams with identity theft topping this year's list but with phone scams and phishing schemes also deserving special mention. Taxpayers need to guard against any ploys to steal their personal information, scam them out of money or talk them into engaging in questionable behavior with their taxes.

    During the past year, as part of the Security Summit initiative, the IRS partnered with states and the tax industry to enhance coordination and create a more secure system for taxpayers. Participants now regularly share details of fraudulent schemes detected so both industry and government can provide increased protection. Many enhancements are invisible to taxpayers.

    "We are working hard to protect taxpayers from identity theft and other scams this filing season," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "Taxpayers have rights and should not be frightened into providing personal information or money to someone over the phone or in an email. We urge taxpayers to help protect themselves from scams — old and new."

    This is the second year the IRS has highlighted its Dirty Dozen list in separate releases over 12 business days. Taxpayers are encouraged to review the list in a special section on IRS.gov and be on the lookout for these scams. Many of these con games peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns or hire someone to do so.

    The IRS this week also renewed a consumer alert for e-mail schemes after seeing an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season. (IR-2016-28)

    Perpetrators of illegal scams can face significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them. Taxpayers should remember that they are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. Be sure the preparer is up to the task. For more see the Choosing a Tax Professional page.

    Here is a recap of this year's "Dirty Dozen" scams:
     

    Identity Theft: Taxpayers need to watch out for identity theft especially around tax time. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue the criminals that file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. Though the agency is making progress on this front, taxpayers still need to be extremely careful and do everything they can to avoid being victimized. (IR-2016-12)

    Phone Scams: Phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as scam artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things. (IR-2016-14)

    Phishing: Taxpayers need to be on guard against fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never send taxpayers an email about a bill or refund out of the blue. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS.Be wary of strange emails and websites that may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information. (IR-2016-15)

    Return Preparer Fraud: Be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest high-quality service. But there are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers. Legitimate tax professionals are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. (IR-2016-16)

    Offshore Tax Avoidance: The recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows that it’s a bad bet to hide money and income offshore. Taxpayers are best served by coming in voluntarily and getting caught up on their tax-filing responsibilities. The IRS offers the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) to enable people catch up on their filing and tax obligations. (IR-2016-17)

    Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers need to be on the lookout for anyone promising inflated refunds. Be wary of anyone who asks taxpayers to sign a blank return, promises a big refund before looking at their records, or charges fees based on a percentage of the refund. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony store fronts and word of mouth via community groups where trust is high to find victims. (IR-2016-18)

    Fake Charities: Be on guard against groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. (IR-2016-20)

    Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Taxpayers should avoid the temptation of falsely inflating deductions or expenses on their returns to under pay what they owe or  possibly receive larger refunds. Think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions and business expenses or improperly claiming such credits as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit. (IR-2016-21)

    Excessive Claims for Business Credits: Avoid improperly claiming the fuel tax credit, a tax benefit generally not available to most taxpayers. The credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. Taxpayers should also avoid misuse of the research credit. Improper claims generally involve failures to participate in or substantiate qualified research activities and/or satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses. (IR-2016-22)

    Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Don’t  invent income to erroneously qualify for tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. Taxpayers are sometimes talked into doing this by scam artists. Taxpayers are best served by filing the most-accurate return possible because they are legally responsible for what is on their return. This scam can lead to taxpayers facing big bills to pay back taxes, interest and penalties. In some cases, they may even face criminal prosecution. (IR-2016-23)

    Abusive Tax Shelters: Don’t use abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes. The IRS is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them. The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share, and everyone should be on the lookout for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, taxpayers should seek an independent opinion regarding complex products they are offered. (IR-2016-25)

    Frivolous Tax Arguments: Don’t use frivolous tax arguments in an effort to avoid paying tax. Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims Even though they are wrong and have been repeatedly thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes. The penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000. (IR-2016-27)

    Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube http://www.youtube.com/irsvideos and Tumblr http://internalrevenueservice.tumblr.com, where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

    CONSUMER ALERT: UTILITIES CALL SCAM

    Beware of Callers Posing as Utility Employees Demanding Immediate Payment

    WASHINGTON, November 15, 2016 – The Federal Communications Commission is alerting consumers to be on the lookout for callers pretending to be utility company employees demanding immediate payment, often by prepaid debit cards, credit cards, or gift cards.  As American consumers prepare for winter months when many people would be endangered by an interruption to heating fuel, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau wanted to make consumers aware of this scam and prepared to protect themselves.

    Key Consumer Tip: If consumers receive a call warning them of a balance they do not believe they owe their utility, they should hang up, independently look up their utility company’s phone number on a recent statement or legitimate website, and call that number to verify the legitimacy of the call. 

    In this scam, the caller typically poses as a representative of the consumer’s actual local utility, stating that immediate payment will ensure that the consumer’s heating service will not be disconnected. The scammers are known to spoof utility company telephone numbers so the caller ID makes it appear to be a call from the utility company. These scammers often use automated interactive voice response calling systems that mimic legitimate providers’ calls.  After consumers, many of whom are older adults, follow instructions via interactive prompts, they are connected to a live “customer service representative” who asks for the access code for a credit, debit, or gift card. This information allows the scammer to cash out the card or sell it to a third party.

    Anyone who believes they have been targeted by this scam should immediately report the incident to their actual utility company, to local police, to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant, and to the FCC’s Consumer Help Center.

    Consumers should always be on alert for this scam and others.  The following tips can help ward off unwanted calls and scams:

    •          Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them go to voicemail.
    •          If you are unclear if a caller is legitimate, hang up, look up the company’s phone number independently on your recent bill or their legitimate website, and contact them through an official number, web form or email address to see if they called you.  By initiating the communication yourself, you can verify that the request for payment is legitimate
    •          If you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify – and then target – live respondents.
    •          If you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC and other appropriate authorities so we can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
    •          Ask your phone service provider if it offers a robocall blocking service that allows subscribers to block unwanted calls.  If not, encourage your provider to start offering a blocking service.  You can also visit the FCC’s website on “Web Resources for Blocking Robocalls” for information and resources on available robocall blocking tools to help you reduce unwanted calls. 
    •          Legitimate utility companies will not demand payment via gift cards.

    As the agency that implements and enforces the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the FCC reviews all consumer complaints and will continue, when appropriate, to issue consumer alerts based on those complaints and other public information related to possible scams and frauds.  This is part of a new, standing series of consumer alerts from the FCC in hopes of informing, protecting, and empowering consumers.

    News from the Department of Justice:

    Dozens of Individuals Indicted in Multimillion-Dollar Indian Call Center Scam Targeting U.S. Victims

    Today, an indictment was unsealed charging a total of 61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.  In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement.  An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities.  

    Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas, Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Inspector General J. Russell George of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and Inspector General John Roth of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) made the announcement today.

    “The indictment we unsealed and the arrests we made today demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to identifying and prosecuting the individuals behind these impersonation and telefraud schemes, who seek to profit by exploiting some of the most vulnerable members of our communities,”said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “This is a transnational problem, and demonstrates that modern criminals target Americans both from inside our borders and from abroad.  Only by working tirelessly to gather evidence, build cases and working closely with foreign law enforcement partners to ensure there are no safe havens can we effectively address these threats.” 

    “This indictment will serve to not only seek the conviction of those involved, but will send a message around the world that no one is safe from prosecution for participating in such pervasive transnational fraud schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Magidson.  “We are extremely vigilant when the names of U.S. government agencies are used to perpetuate fraud for the purpose of victimizing so many innocent American citizens.” 

    “Today’s actions will not only bring a sense of justice to the victims in this case, but this significant investigation will also help increase awareness of this type of fraud,” said Executive Associate Director Edge.  “To potential victims, our message today is simple: U.S. government agencies do not make these types of calls, and if you receive one, contact law enforcement to report the suspected scam before you make a payment.” 

    “All agencies involved in today’s announcement are to be congratulated and commended on their outstanding efforts,” said Inspector General George.  “This indictment is the result of countless hours of solid investigative work and excellent cross-governmental collaboration concerning massive amounts of fraud that individuals have allegedly perpetrated on the American people.” 

    “This multi-agency, three year investigation illustrates the ability of federal, state and local agencies to successfully leverage resources, communicate and work together to achieve justice,” said Inspector General Roth.  “We commend the victims for overcoming any possible embarrassment or fear and coming forward and report this to the authorities.” 

    The indictment was returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016, and charges the defendants with conspiracy to commit identity theft, false personation of an officer of the United States, wire fraud and money laundering.  One of the defendants is separately charged with passport fraud.  

    The indictment alleges that the defendants were involved in a sophisticated fraudulent scheme organized by conspirators in India, including a network of call centers in Ahmedabad, India.  Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators allegedly called potential victims while impersonating officials from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  According to the indictment, the call center operators then threatened potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay taxes or penalties to the government.  If the victims agreed to pay, the call centers would then immediately turn to a network of U.S.-based co-conspirators to liquidate and launder the extorted funds as quickly as possible by purchasing prepaid debit cards or through wire transfers.  The prepaid debit cards were often registered using misappropriated personal identifying information of thousands of identity theft victims, and the wire transfers were directed by the criminal associates using fake names and fraudulent identifications.  

    The co-conspirators allegedly used “hawalas,” in which money is transferred internationally outside of the formal banking system, to direct the extorted funds to accounts belonging to U.S.-based individuals.  According to the indictment, these individuals were expecting the hawala transfers but were not aware of the illicit nature of the funds.  The co-conspirators also allegedly kept a percentage of the proceeds for themselves.

    According to the indictment, one of the call centers extorted $12,300 from an 85-year-old victim from San Diego, California, after threatening her with arrest if she did not pay fictitious tax violations.  On the same day that she was extorted, one of the U.S.-based defendants allegedly used a reloadable debit card funded with the victim’s money to purchase money orders in Frisco, Texas.

    The indictment also alleges that the defendants extorted $136,000 from a victim in Hayward, California, who they called multiple times over a period of 20 days, fraudulently purporting to be IRS agents and demanding payment for alleged tax violations.  The victim was then directed to purchase 276 stored value cards which the defendants then transferred to reloadable debit cards.  Some of the victim’s money ended up on cards which were activated using stolen personal identifying information from U.S.- based victims.    

    The conspirators would at times allegedly use alternative fraudulent schemes in which the call center operators would offer the victims small short-term loans or advise them that they were eligible for grants.  The indictment alleges that the conspirators would then request a good-faith deposit to show the victims’ ability to pay back the loan, or payment of a fee to process the grant.  The victims of the alleged scam never received any money after making the requested payment. 

    An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    DHS OIG, HSI and TIGTA led the investigation.  The Ft. Bend, Texas, County Sheriff’s Department; the Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Police Department; the Leonia, New Jersey, Police Department; the Naperville, Illinois, Police Department; the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection/Elder Abuse Unit; the U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General; IOC-2; INTERPOL Washington; and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, District of Nevada and District of New Jersey provided significant support in this case.  The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau provided assistance in TIGTA’s investigation.

    Senior Trial Attorney Hope Olds and Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Robert Stapleton of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Mark McIntyre and Craig Feazel of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.  

    A Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims, and the public.  Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the FTC via this website.

    Anyone who wants additional information about telefraud scams generally, or preventing identity theft or fraudulent use of their identity information, may obtain helpful information on the IRS tax scams website, the FTC phone scam website and the FTC identity theft website

    News from the IRS:

    Scam Phone Calls Continue; IRS Identifies Five Easy Ways to Spot Suspicious Calls

    Español

    Update September 2016 — To file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant, choose “Scams and Rip-Offs” and then “Impostor Scams.” 

    IR-2014-84, Aug. 28, 2014

    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 to demand immediate payment, nor will we call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill..
       
    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 at 1.800.829.1040. 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.
       
    • You can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose “Other” and then “Impostor Scams.” If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.  [See update at top of page.]

    Remember, too, the IRS does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issue. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

    Additional information about tax scams are available on IRS social media sites, including YouTubeand Tumblr where people can search “scam” to find all the scam-related posts.

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    Page Last Reviewed or Updated: 07-Oct-2016

    Tip from the Federal Trade Commission:

    DON'T BE  FOOLED BY SCAM CALLERS PURPORTING TO BE FROM THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE. DA SULLIVAN EXPLAINS.

     
    ___________________
    From the FTC:

    Helping Victims of the Flooding in Louisiana — Make Sure Your Donations Count

    It’s heartbreaking to see people lose their lives, homes, and businesses to the ongoing flooding in Louisiana. But it’s despicable when scammers exploit such tragedies to appeal to your sense of generosity.

    If you’re looking for a way to give, the FTC urges you to be cautious of potential charity scams. Do some research to ensure that your donation will go to a reputable organization that will use the money as promised.

    Consider these tips when asked to give: 

    • Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record with dealing with disasters.

    • Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events. Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, orGuideStar.

    • Designate the disaster so you can ensure your funds are going to disaster relief, rather than a general fund.

    • Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails unless you know who sent it. You could unknowingly install malware on your computer.

    • Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization yourself.

    • When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate. It can take as long as 90 days for the charity to receive the funds.

    • Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials. If they should be registered, but they're not, consider donating through another charity.

    To learn more, go to Charity Scams. For tips to help you prepare for, deal with, and recover from a severe weather event, visitDealing with Weather Emergencies. And watch this space tomorrow morning to learn how to tell if the car you're interested in buying may have been damaged in a flood.

    ______________________________

    MONEY WIRING SCAMS

    Money wiring scams continue to hurt our consumers in Western Massachusetts. The scam shows up in many different forms, but they all have one thing in common: the consumer is asked to use a money wiring service to send cash for one reason or another.

    Lottery, Sweepstakes, Job applications, Overpayment, Relationship, Mystery shopper, Online auction sales, Apartment rentals, Advance Fee loans, Family emergency or a Friend in Need

    SCAMMERS may ask you to send money in order to receive a big cash prize & even give you a Cashier’s Check to cover your “taxes” and “fees."

    -You might apply for a job online, and your new “employer,” who you haven’t met, sends you a check to set up your new office, asking you to deposit the money into your private account and wire money to the “main office supply company” to have your office supplies sent to you.

    -Some consumers have received a frightening call in the middle of the night from someone posing as their grandchild who’s in trouble and needs money wired to them right away. 

    The bottom line is once you deposit the check into your personal bank account, take cash out and wire the money to someone, somewhere-you are responsible for the cash you took out of your account, even if you fell for a scam.

    SCAMMERS like to get paid using money wiring services because it’s fast; the money is usually picked up in cash and in person making it hard to recover.

    The Office of the Attorney General issued the following press release on the Grandparent Scam

    http://www.mass.gov/ago/news-and-updates/press-releases/2012/2012-08-30-grandparent-scams.html

    From the FTC: Paying off holiday credit card debt

    Credit cards
    You’ve opened all your gifts, and now it’s time to open those post-holiday credit card statements. If you were a little too jolly with your holiday spending, here are some tips to help you pay down your credit card debt.

    Start small, then add on. When you use your credit card to buy something, you have borrowed money. If you can pay it all off, that’s great. If not, try to pay at least a little more than the minimum payment. You also can make more than one payment a month. If you can swing it, that extra payment can help you with the goal of paying off the total balance sooner.

    Take an ‘interest’ in your payments. If you only pay the minimumeach month, you could end up paying much more in interest. Understand your credit card’s interest rate. The more you pay off each month, the less you’ll pay in interest over time.

    Know when to pay. You were on time with your gifts, so don’t be late with your payment. Make a note of your credit card’s due date so you pay your bill on time. If you don’t pay on time, you could add extra fees to your final costs.

    Take stock. If you’re having trouble making the minimum payment, it’s time to take a hard look at your budget. Can you reduce any spending to free up some funds?

    Make a plan if you can’t pay. Owing more than you can afford to repay can damage your credit rating. If you cannot pay the minimum amount due, call your creditors ASAP. They may be able to place you on a payment plan, making your debt easier to manage.

    For more help, read using a credit card and paying down credit card debt.


    From the FTC: Has on online love interest asked you for money?

    Looking to start a new relationship? For some, that may mean meeting a new love interest online. Word to the wise: sometimes it’s best to lead with your head and not your heart.

    Millions of Americans use dating sites, social networking sites, and chat rooms to meet people. And many forge successful relationships. But scammers also use these sites to meet potential victims. They create fake profiles to build online relationships, and eventually convince people to send money in the name of love.

    The Federal Trade Commission receives thousands of reports each year about romance scammers who create fake online relationships only to steal their victims’ money.

    Unfortunately, an online love interest who asks for money is almost certainly a scam artist.

    The FTC’s new infographic, developed with the American Bankers Association Foundation, lists common signs of online dating scams and what to do if someone you meet online asks you for money. Read more HERE and HERE.


    From the FTC: New deadline for Western Union settlement requests

    Did you lose money to a scammer who had you pay using Western Union between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017? If so, you can ask for money back from the FTC’s settlement with Western Union. And the deadline to file your claim was just extended to May 31, 2018.

    Here’s the deal. Western Union agreed to return $586 million to people to settle the FTC’s charges that Western Union hadn’t adequately protected people from fraud, and didn’t properly discipline problem agents. To get money back, here’s what you need to do by May 31, 2018:

    • Start at FTC.gov/WU to file your claim online. If you got a letter in the mail about a complaint you filed earlier, you’ll have a Claim ID and a PIN. Click the blue “I got a pre-filled claim form” button and use those to file your claim. If you didn’t get a letter in the mail, click the orange button that says “I lost money, but did not get a claim form.”
    • Give as much information as you can about your loss. Upload any paperwork you have. The Department of Justice, which is handling the claims through their contractor, Gilardi & Co, will use that information to try to validate your Western Union money transfer.
    • Yes, you have to give your Social Security number or ITIN to file a claim. Read why here.
    • Don’t pay anybody to help you file your claim, or get money back. Anybody who asks you to pay for your claim or refund is scamming you. Tell the FTC.
    • Then, be patient. It might take a year for the Department of Justice to validate all the claims and start returning money.

    If you have questions, you might find answers here, and also check out the FAQs at FTC.gov/WU. Why not do it now? But you have until May 31, 2018. After that, you won’t be able to file your claim to get money back under this settlement with Western Union.


    You Invested In Us. Now It's Time to Invest in Yourself.
    Savings Tips for Veterans:

    • Check Your Eligibility for a Massachusetts Veterans' Bonus - ​The Veterans' Bonus Division is proud to provide bonus payments for veterans, service members, and their families for qualified service in the United States military. Check your eligibility to start saving today.
    • Save Automatically - ​In 2017, you can start an automatic savings transfer, taking the guesswork out of setting money aside for your future. It can be hard to put aside money for savings, but there is an easy way to save money without ever missing it by making your savings automatic in 2017. Get started today by setting up an allotment in MyPay. Already saving automatically? Find ways to automate other aspects of your financial life this year.
    • Save for Retirement - Saving now for retirement by contributing to your Thrift Savings Plan (or increasing contributions by one percent this year) will ensure you get into the savings habit prior to the launch of the Blended Retirement System coming January 1, 2018. Take action, get informed today! Learn more about the Blended Retirement System here​.
    • Saving at Tax Time - Saving a portion of your tax refund can be a big step toward meeting your savings goals. This tax season, get ahead of your financial goals by splitting a portion your tax refund into savings.
    • Pay Off High-Interest Debt -  With planning, discipline, patience, and maybe some outside help, almost anyone can reduce their debts and start to accumulate wealth. Find places to cut your spending so that you can pay down your debts faster and find places to trim your expenses.
    • Save for Emergencies and Military Life’s Changes - An emergency savings fund consists of a small amount of money, usually in a savings account that you do not have easy access to. Saving for this fund starts with small, regularly scheduled contributions that build up over time.
      ______________________________________

    From the FTC:

    Risk free trials were bait for rip offs

    February 22, 2017by 

    Bridget Small

    Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

    Did you ever sign up for a free trial of a product you heard about on the radio? Some sellers will send you — and charge you — a lot more than you agreed to. The FTC says one group of dietary supplement marketers sold products through deceptive “risk free” offers and charged people repeatedly for unwanted products. The FTC and the Maine Office of the Attorney General have banned the marketers from charging people without their permission and making deceptive health care claims.

    According to the FTC, the marketers used 30-minute radio ads that sounded like educational talk shows to promote their CogniPrin and FlexiPrin supplements. Their radio ads claimed CogniPrin could slow cognitive decline and improve memory by 44 percent, and FlexiPrin could reduce back and joint pain and rebuild damaged joints. But the FTC says the marketers didn’t have the science to prove any of those claims. When people called to request the “risk-free” offer, they were enrolled in monthly plans with continuing charges for products they didn’t order. People who wanted refunds of the “risk-free” offer had to go through a complicated process, return empty bottles and pay shipping charges.

    If you enrolled in a free trial offer from a marketer that overcharged you, contact the company. If the company won’t give you a refund, call your credit card company to dispute the charge. Ask the credit card company to reverse the charge because you didn't intend to order the additional merchandise. If you were wrongly charged for a free trial offer, report it to the FTC.

    Product reviews: you’re free to speak your mind

    Here’s some good news for everyone who likes to write — and read — product reviews. A new federal law says businesses can't use contracts that prevent you from writing a truthful comment, or penalize you if you do. If a business, including an online business, uses contract terms or conditions that limit your right to comment, it’s breaking the law, and the FTC can investigate.

    People benefit from reading what others have to say about their experiences with products and services. Before the Consumer Review Fairness Act passed, a company might sue customers who wrote honest but negative reviews, or claim they had to pay much more than the advertised price for the product. Now, Congress has made that illegal.

    Reading customer reviews and comparing products online are great ways to get information before you buy.

    If you have a problem with a company after you write a product review, please report it to the FTC.

    Shopping Online infographic

     

    From the FTC: Western Union settlement: $586 million in refunds

    You probably know that Western Union runs money transfer services in the US and worldwide. What you might not know is that, according to the FTC, Western Union has known for years that scammers were using its system to commit significant fraud. Even when faced with clear evidence that many of its agents were committing fraud, Western Union kept taking people’s money. Probably billions in fraud-related transfers, sent since January 2004. But today, in a global settlement with the FTC and the US Department of Justice, Western Union agreed to return $586 million to people and create a real and strong anti-fraud program.

    So, what kind of evidence was Western Union ignoring? Well, says the FTC, from January 2004 to August 2015, the company got more than 550,000 complaints about money transfers made for fraudulent lottery and prizes, family emergency calls, advance-fee loans, online dating and more. There were its own internal reports, which flagged fraud by some of its own agents, including many international agents that paid out fraud-induced transfers from US consumers. And there were warnings from US and international law enforcement about the fraud. And yet, the money kept rolling on through.

    Under the settlement, Western Union will return $586 million through a process to be named later. (Watch this space for more information.) The company will have to train and monitor its agents so that people are protected. It won’t be allowed to transmit a money transfer that it knows – or should know – is a fraud. It has to block money transfers to anyone who has a fraud report, make it easier for people to report fraud, give clear warnings to people who are sending money, and refund a fraud-related money transfer if the company didn’t comply with its own anti-fraud procedures.

    If you ever wire money, also keep in mind that it’s illegal for a telemarketer to ask you to pay with a money transfer. That’s right: Illegal. Scammers love using money transfer services because once you send the money, it’s gone forever. So, if a telemarketer asks you to wire money, already you know they’re a crook. Don’t wire the money, and then tell the FTC.

     

    From the FTC: Don’t pay for a car with Amazon gift cards. Ever.

    We’ve written before about scammers who trick people into paying with iTunes gift cards. The latest? They’re asking people to pay for big online purchases — like cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs and tractors — with Amazon gift cards.

    Posing as sellers, scammers say they need to sell a car fast — maybe they’re in the military or about to deploy. They tell you to pay with an Amazon gift card.

    Don’t do it. Amazon gift cards aren’t a way to pay someone — you can only use them at Amazon.com. So if someone asks you to pay with an Amazon gift card, it’s a scam. If you share the code from an Amazon gift card with someone, you’re giving that person control of the money on the card. By the time you realize it’s a scam and report it, the money will likely be gone.

    Scammers also might ask you to use Amazon gift cards to pay for electronics, taxes, bail money, debts, or utility or cable bills. Or they might ask you to pay with iTunes gift cards, PayPal, or reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit, or Vanilla, or by money transfers through services like Western Union or MoneyGram. If you tell someone the code from any of those cards, or send a wire transfer, you probably won’t get your money back.

    If you gave someone the code from an Amazon gift card, log into your Amazon account and contact Amazon Customer Service, or call them at 1-888-280-4331. Tell them what happened and ask if they can disable the card. If you hear from someone who wants you to pay with an Amazon gift card, don’t do it and report it to the FTC.

    For more about avoiding scams, read 10 Ways to Avoid Fraud.

     

    Police raids in India cut down IRS imposter calls

    Associate Director, Consumer & Business Education, FTC

    Over the last few years, we’ve warned about a lot of imposter scams. In one of the most common types, callers pretending to be from the IRS demand payments and threaten to arrest people.

    Last fall, we mentioned raids on illegal telemarketing operations by the police in India. After that, the US Department of Justice indicted dozens of scammers who also were impersonating the IRS. After those actions, the number of IRS imposter scams reported to the FTC plummeted. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a behind-the-scenes look at the call centers and the raids that took them down. It’s a great reminder that scammers are organized, and they’re really good liars.

    Here are four things that can help you avoid telephone scammers:

    1. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor will the IRS call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill. If you get a live or pre-recorded call claiming to be from the IRS and demanding payment right away, hang up. If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, you can call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040 to explore your options.
    2. Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can make caller ID look like anyone is calling: the IRS, a business or government office…even your own phone number. If they tell you to pay money for any reason, or ask for your financial account numbers, hang up.  If you think the caller might be legitimate, call back to a number you know is genuine – not the number the caller gave you.
    3. Hang up on robocalls. If you pick up the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal.
    4. Talk to someone. Before you give up money or information, talk to someone you trust. Scammers want you to make decisions in a hurry. Slow down, check out the story, search online – or just tell a friend.

      ***
      Franklin County Bar Association Offers Free Legal Advice

    On January 23, 2017 from 5 – 7 p.m., the Franklin County Bar Association will hold an “Ask-an-Attorney” free legal advice phone-in program.  Any Franklin County resident can call and get free, brief and basic legal advice. The number to call is 413-773-9839 or toll free 888-351-8038.

    Lawyers who are members of the Bar Association will volunteer their time.  This is an opportunity for people who have legal concerns but are not sure what to do. Referrals to community resources and private attorneys will be available. All calls will be answered, but the event is geared to meet the need of those in the community who cannot afford an attorney.

    Information about the event is on www.franklincountybar.org
    _________________________________

    From the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
    CFPB Orders TransUnion and Equifax to Pay for Deceiving Consumers in Marketing Credit Scores and Credit Products

    Credit Reporting Companies Misstated the Cost and Usefulness of the Credit Scores and Products They Sold, Lured Consumers into Costly Recurring Payments

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today took action against Equifax, Inc., TransUnion, and their subsidiaries for deceiving consumers about the usefulness and actual cost of credit scores they sold to consumers. The companies also lured consumers into costly recurring payments for credit-related products with false promises. The CFPB ordered TransUnion and Equifax to truthfully represent the value of the credit scores they provide and the cost of obtaining those credit scores and other services. Between them, TransUnion and Equifax must pay a total of more than $17.6 million in restitution to consumers, and fines totaling $5.5 million to the CFPB.

    “TransUnion and Equifax deceived consumers about the usefulness of the credit scores they marketed, and lured consumers into expensive recurring payments with false promises,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Credit scores are central to a consumer’s financial life and people deserve honest and accurate information about them.”

    Chicago-based TransUnion and Atlanta-based Equifax are two of the nation’s three largest credit reporting agencies. TransUnion and Equifax collect credit information, including a borrower's payment history, debt load, maximum credit limits, names and addresses of current creditors, and other elements of their credit relationships. These generate credit reports and scores that are provided to businesses. Through their subsidiaries, TransUnion Interactive and Equifax Consumer Services, the companies also market, sell, or provide credit-related products directly to consumers, such as credit scores, credit reports, and credit monitoring. 

    Credit scores are numerical summaries designed to predict consumer payment behavior in using credit. Many lenders and other commercial users rely in part on these scores when deciding whether to extend credit. No single credit score or credit score model is used by every lender. Lenders use an array of credit scores, which vary by score provider and scoring model. The scores that TransUnion sells to consumers are based on a model from VantageScore Solutions, LLC. Although TransUnion has marketed VantageScores to lenders and other commercial users, VantageScores are not typically used for credit decisions. Scores Equifax sold to consumers were based on Equifax’s proprietary model, the Equifax Credit Score, which is an “educational” credit score that also is typically not used by lenders to make credit decisions.

    TransUnion, since at least July 2011, and Equifax, between July 2011 and March 2014, violated the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act by:

    • Deceiving consumers about the value of the credit scores they sold: In their advertising, TransUnion and Equifax falsely represented that the credit scores they marketed and provided to consumers were the same scores lenders typically use to make credit decisions. In fact, the scores sold by TransUnion and Equifax were not typically used by lenders to make those decisions.
    • Deceiving consumers into enrolling in subscription programs: In their advertising, TransUnion and Equifax falsely claimed that their credit scores and credit-related products were free or, in the case of TransUnion, cost only “$1.” In reality, consumers who signed up received a free trial of seven or 30 days, after which they were automatically enrolled in a subscription program. Unless they cancelled during the trial period, consumers were charged a recurring fee – usually $16 or more per month. This billing structure, known as a “negative option,” was not clearly and conspicuously disclosed to consumers.

    Equifax also violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires a credit reporting agency to provide a free credit report once every 12 months and to operate a central source – AnnualCreditReport.com – where consumers can get their report. Until January 2014, consumers getting their report through Equifax first had to view Equifax advertisements. This violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which prohibits such advertising until after consumers receive their report.

    Enforcement Action

    Under the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB is authorized to take action against institutions engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices, or that otherwise violate federal consumer financial laws. Under the consent orders, TransUnion and Equifax must:

    • Pay more than $17.6 million in total restitution to harmed consumers: TransUnion must provide more than $13.9 million in restitution to affected consumers. Equifax must provide almost $3.8 million in restitution to affected consumers. The companies must send notification letters about the restitution to affected consumers.
    • Truthfully represent the usefulness of credit scores it sells: TransUnion and Equifax must clearly inform consumers about the nature of the scores they are selling to consumers.
    • Obtain the express informed consent of consumers: Before enrolling a consumer in any credit-related product with a negative option feature, TransUnion and Equifax must obtain the consumer’s consent.
    • Provide an easy way to cancel products and services: TransUnion and Equifax must give consumers a simple, easy-to-understand way to cancel the purchase of any credit-related product, and stop billing and collecting payments for any recurring charge when a consumer cancels. 
    • Pay $5.5 million in total penalties: TransUnion must pay $3 million to the Bureau’s civil penalty fund. Equifax must pay $2.5 million to the Bureau’s civil penalty fund.

    The full text of the CFPB’s Consent Order against Equifax is here:http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201701_cfpb_Equifax-consent-order.pdf 

    The full text of the CFPB’s Consent Order against TransUnion is here:http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/201701_cfpb_Transunion-consent-order.pdf 

    More information about credit scores can be found here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/what-you-need-know-understanding-why-offers-your-credit-score-are-not-all-same/ 

     

    ###

     

     

    FTC Action Halts Timeshare Resale Scheme
    Consumers lured into paying in advance to sell or rent their property

    The Federal Trade Commission has charged the operators of a timeshare reselling scheme with bilking at least $15 million dollars from timeshare property owners by imposing hefty up-front fees based on false promises that they would sell or rent their properties.

    At the FTC’s request, a federal court temporarily halted the operation and froze the defendants’ assets pending litigation. The agency seeks to permanently stop the allegedly illegal practices and return money to consumers.

    According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants telemarket to timeshare property owners and falsely claim that they have a buyer or renter ready and willing to buy or rent their properties for a specified price, or they promise to sell the timeshares quickly, sometimes within a specified time period.

    The defendants charge property owners as much as $2,500 or more in advance but fail to deliver on their promises, the FTC alleged. The FTC noted in the complaint that the defendants string some owners along with additional false claims, such as that they will soon send them money from a sale or rental, and often get them to pay extra for purported closing costs or other fees. Consumers’ requests for refunds are typically denied or ignored, according to the complaint.

    The defendants are Jess Kinmont, John P. Wenz, Jr., Pro Timeshare Resales of Flagler Beach LLC, Pro Timeshare Resales LLC, and J. William Enterprises LLC, doing business as Pro Timeshare Resales. They are charged with violating the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, including calling numbers listed on the Do Not Call Registry.

    The Commission thanks the Florida Attorney General’s Office for its contributions to this case.

    The Commission vote approving the complaint was 3-0. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, entered a temporary restraining order against the defendants on December 13, 2016.

    NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.

    The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).


     

    Telemarketing Defendants Charged by FTC in Tech Support Scheme Will Pay $10 Million for Consumer Redress

    The defendants who operated a Florida-based tech support scheme that the Federal Trade Commission and State of Florida charged deceived thousands of consumers, will pay $10 million for consumer redress to settle the action.

    According to the complaint, defendant Inbound Call Experts, doing business as Advanced Tech Support along with other defendants, used high-pressure sales pitches to telemarket tech support products and services falsely claiming to find viruses and malware on consumers’ computers.

    The stipulated final court order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting that they have identified performance or security issues on consumers’ computers and from making any other misrepresentations while selling a product or service.  Under the order, a federal judge will appoint a monitor to oversee the defendants’ business for two years, at the defendants’ expense.  In addition, the order requires the defendants to review the business practices of any third-party lead generators from whom they get leads.

    To fund the $10 million redress judgment, the order requires the defendants to transfer $5.75 million of their assets held in escrow by their attorneys to the FTC within 7 days after the order is signed by the judge, and to transfer an additional $2.25 million within 30 days. In addition, the court-appointed receiver will promptly transfer another $2 million of defendants’ assets to the FTC.

    A negotiated settlement with the lead generator defendants in this action was announced in July 2016. The stipulated order announced today against the telemarketing defendants resolves the case.

    In addition to Inbound Call Experts, the telemarketing defendants include Advanced Tech Supportco LLC; PC Vitalware LLC; Super PC Support LLC; Robert D. Deignan, Paul M. Herdsman and Justin M. Wright.

    The Commission vote approving the stipulated final order was 3-0. The FTC filed the proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and it was entered by the judge on December 19, 2016.

    NOTE: Stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

    The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)

    PASSWORD BREACHES – WHAT TO DO

    June 22, 2016
    With hundreds of millions of usernames and passwords exposed by breaches recently in the news, you may be wondering how to keep your information safe. Whether you’ve been part of a breach or not, it’s a good time to take steps to protect your usernames and passwords.

    Here are some valuable reminders for everyone: 

    • Use multi-factor authentication, when it’s available. Multi-factor authentication adds another layer of protection against attacks. What’s multi-factor authentication? To log in, you must combine something you know (like a password), with an additional factor, which is usually something you have (like a code texted to a mobile phone) or something you are (like a fingerprint). More and more companies are offering it.
    • Make your password long, strong and complex. That means at least twelve characters, with three different “character classes” (uppercase, lowercase, numbers, symbols). It’s best to put non-lowercase letters in the middle of your password. Also, avoid common words, phrases or information in your passwords. And if you’re not sure if you’ve been affected by recent breaches (such as LinkedIn, Myspace and Tumblr), it’s safest to change your passwords.
    • Select security questions where only you know the answer. Don’t use questions whose answers can be found through online public records searches – like your birthplace or your mother’s maiden name. Don’t use questions with a limited number of responses that an attacker can easily guess – like the color of your first car.

    If your username and password have been exposed in a breach, take these steps right away:

    • Change your password. If possible, also change your username. If you can’t login, contact the company. Ask them how you can recover or shut down the account.
    • If you use the same (or similar) password for other accounts, change them too.
    • Check your accounts. If the password and username were for a financial site – or even if a credit card number was stored on the site – look for charges you don’t recognize.

    For more tips, check out the FTC’s advanced password tips and tricks and our guidance on computer security. If your personal information is misused, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report identity theft and get a personal recovery plan.
     

    IRS Warns Consumers of Possible Scams Relating to Orlando Mass Shooting

    IR-2016-89, June 17, 2016

    WASHINGTON ― The Internal Revenue Service today issued a consumer alert about possible fake charity scams emerging due to last weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., and encouraged taxpayers to seek out recognized charitable groups.

    When making donations to assist victims of last weekend’s terrible tragedy, there are simple steps taxpayers can take to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate charities. IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to quickly and easily check out the status of charitable organizations.

    While there has been an enormous wave of support across the country for the victims and families of Orlando, it is common for scam artists to take advantage of this generosity by impersonating charities to get money or private information from well-meaning taxpayers. Such fraudulent schemes may involve contact by telephone, social media, e-mail or in-person solicitations.

    The IRS cautions donors to follow these tips:

    • Be sure to donate to recognized charities. 
    • Be wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Some phony charities use names or websites that sound or look like those of respected, legitimate organizations. The IRS website at IRS.gov has a search feature, Exempt Organizations Select Check, through which people may find qualified charities; donations to these charities may be tax-deductible.
    • Don’t give out personal financial information — such as Social Security numbers or credit card and bank account numbers and passwords — to anyone who solicits a contribution. Scam artists may use this information to steal a donor’s identity and money.
    • Don’t give or send cash. For security and tax record purposes, contribute by check or credit card or another way that provides documentation of the gift.
    • Consult IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions, available on IRS.gov. This free booklet describes the tax rules that apply to making tax-deductible donations. Among other things, it also provides complete details on what records to keep.

    Bogus websites may solicit funds for victims of this tragedy. These sites frequently mimic the sites of, or use names similar to, legitimate charities, or claim to be affiliated with legitimate charities in order to persuade people to send money or provide personal financial information that can be used to steal identities or financial resources.

    Additionally, scammers often send emails that steer recipients to bogus websites that appear to be affiliated with legitimate charitable causes.

    Taxpayers suspecting fraud by email should visit IRS.gov and search for the keywords “Report Phishing.”

    More information about tax scams and schemes may be found at IRS.gov using the keywords “scams and schemes.”
     

    THE FTC GETS RACHEL THE ROBOCALLER… AGAIN

    Have you gotten pre-recorded sales calls from Rachel from Cardholder Services? Or Bank Card Services or Credit Assistance Program? You’ve been reporting these illegal calls, and the FTC continues to take action.

    Today, the FTC and the state of Florida announced a lawsuit against Life Management Services, a company that the FTC says is behind hundreds of thousands of these calls.

    According to the FTC, Life Management Services swindled people out of their money by offering two types of phony debt relief: credit card interest rate reduction services and credit card debt elimination services. The company promised lower interest rates or government funds to pay off debt, and asked people to make initial payments ranging from $500 to $20,000. But almost no one got the help that was promised.

    This is one of six recent FTC cases that focus on illegal robocalls. How does the FTC build these cases? One critical tool is the FTC’s honeypot -- a large bank of phone lines designed to attract robocalls. That lets FTC investigators interact with robocallers, record the calls, and make undercover purchases. The FTC uses its honeypot to identify companies placing illegal calls and collect evidence of their illegal activities. It was particularly useful in the Life Management case announced today.

    So, what do you do if you get another unwanted robocall?

    • Hang up. Don’t respond in any way. Pressing buttons to get you taken off a list could result in more unwanted calls.
    • Block the caller’s number. You have a few options for blocking unwanted calls, including call-blocking devices, mobile apps, cloud-based services, and services provided by your phone carrier.
    • Report it to the FTC at www.donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222.

    Read on for more info and tips about robocalls.

    ***

    Read more from the FTC HERE about the "federal student tax" scam.

    STUDENT DEBT RELIEF SCHEMES TARGETED BY FTC

    May 25, 2016
    by Amy Hebert
    Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

    Do you have a lot of student debt? Wish it would disappear? You’re not alone. Scammers know that people are struggling with debt. They’re targeting borrowers with phony student loan debt relief schemes that can make things worse.

    Today the FTC and the State of Florida announced lawsuits against two student loan debt relief schemes — Consumer Assistance Project and Student Aid Center. The FTC also announced a settlement in a case we wrote about earlier this year.

    According to the FTC, Consumer Assistance Project and Student Aid Center promised to get people’s loans forgiven or significantly reduced. Consumer Assistance targeted people online and over the phone, claiming it would get relief through government programs or by disputing loans. Student Aid Center used radio ads, text blasts, and featured ads in search results to promote “Obama Loan Forgiveness.”

    But people who paid the companies didn’t get their loans forgiven or reduced. At best, the companies got people’s loans put into deferment or forbearance, where loan payments are postponed but the interest owed on them can keep growing. Student Aid Center made some situations worse by telling people to stop contacting their lenders and pay the company instead. People often ended up paying thousands, but didn’t get the promised relief.

    Student loan forgiveness programs are available in very limited circumstances. You can apply for debt relief yourself; you don’t need to pay a company. The FTC has new education materials to help borrowers:

    • Student Loan Debt Relief explains how to spot a debt relief scheme, and what people struggling with student loans can do themselves.
    • Maria and Rafael Learn the Signs of a Debt Relief Scam tells the story of a couple trying to repay debt they accumulated for their daughter’s college education. It’s the latest in a series of graphic novels to raise awareness about scams targeting Latino communities.
    • This list shows every company and individual ever banned from providing debt relief and mortgage assistance relief services by an FTC order.
       

    SCAMMERS CAN FAKE CALLER ID INFO

    Your phone rings. You recognize the number, but when you pick up, it’s someone else. What’s the deal?

    Scammers are using fake caller ID information to trick you into thinking they are someone local, someone you trust – like a government agency or police department, or a company you do business with – like your bank or cable provider. The practice is called caller ID spoofing, and scammers don’t care whose phone number they use. One scammer recently used the phone number of an FTC employee.

    Don’t rely on caller ID to verify who’s calling. It can be nearly impossible to tell whether the caller ID information is real. Here are a few tips for handling these calls:

    • If you get a strange call from the government, hang up. If you want to check it out, visit the official (.gov) website for contact information. Government employees won’t call out of the blue to demand money or account information.
    • Don’t give out — or confirm — your personal or financial information to someone who calls.
    • Don’t wire money or send money using a reloadable card. In fact, never pay someone who calls out of the blue, even if the name or number on the caller ID looks legit.
    • Feeling pressured to act immediately? Hang up. That’s a sure sign of a scam.

    Want more tips for avoiding scams? Check out 10 Ways to Avoid Fraud.

    If you’ve received a call from a scammer, with or without fake caller ID information, report it to the FTC and the FCC.

    Tagged with: personal informationphonescamspoof

    Blog Topics: Privacy & Identity

    Don't be fooled! The IRS won't call you and make demands, DA Sullivan explains.

    Vets targeted by debt collection scams can get help.

    How to protect yourself from scams.


    Consumer Protection Unit's Janice Garrett and Caroline Smith with Assistant Attorney General Ann Lynch in South Deerfield, Greenfield and Erving


     

    Click HERE for more information.

    ***

    Five Easy Ways to Spot a Scam Phone Call

    IRS Special Edition Tax Tip 2014-18, September 2, 2014                                                 

    The IRS continues to warn the public to be alert for telephone scams and offers five tell-tale warning signs to tip you off if you get such a call. These callers claim to be with the IRS. The scammers often demand money to pay taxes. Some may try to con you by saying that you’re due a refund. The refund is a fake lure so you’ll give them your banking or other private financial information.

    These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They may even know a lot about you. They may alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.

    The IRS respects taxpayer rights when working out payment of your taxes. So, it’s pretty easy to tell 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 sign of a scam. The IRS does not:

    1. Call you to demand immediate payment. We will not call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.
       
    2. Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the chance to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
       
    3. Require you to use a certain 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 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 to do:

    • If you know you owe taxes or think you might owe, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to talk about payment options. You also may be able to set up a payment plan online at IRS.gov.
       
    • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to TIGTA at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov.
       
    • If phone scammers target you, also contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov. Use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” to report the scam. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.

    Remember, the IRS currently does not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issues. For more information on reporting tax scams, go to www.irs.govand type “scam” in the search box.

    Tips from the IRS

    Tips to Protect Your Personal Information While Online

    IRS Security Awareness Tax Tip Number 7, January 4, 2016                              

    The IRS, the states and the tax industry urge you to be safe online and remind you to take important steps to help protect your tax and financial information and guard against identity theft. Treat your personal information like cash – don’t hand it out to just anyone.

    Your Social Security number, credit card numbers, and bank and utility account numbers can be used to steal your money or open new accounts in your name. Every time you are asked for your personal information think about whether you can really trust the request. In an effort to steal your information, scammers will do everything they can to appear trustworthy.

    The IRS has teamed up with state revenue departments and the tax industry to make sure you understand the dangers to your personal and financial data. Taxes. Security. Together. Working in partnership with you, we can make a difference.

    Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information:

    Give personal information over encrypted websites only. If you’re shopping or banking online, stick to sites that use encryption to protect your information as it travels from your computer to their server. To determine if a website is encrypted, look for “https” at the beginning of the web address (the “s” is for secure). Some websites use encryption only on the sign-in page, but if any part of your session isn’t encrypted, the entire account and your financial information could be vulnerable. Look for https on every page of the site you’re on, not just where you sign in.

    Protect your passwords. The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack.  Use at least 10 characters; 12 is ideal for most home users. Mix letters, numbers and special characters. Try to be unpredictable – don’t use your name, birthdate or common words. Don’t use the same password for many accounts.  If it’s stolen from you – or from one of the companies with which you do business – it can be used to take over all your accounts. Don’t share passwords on the phone, in texts or by email.  Legitimate companies will not send you messages asking for your password.  If you get such a message, it’s probably a scam. Keep your passwords in a secure place, out of plain sight.

    Don’t assume ads or emails are from reputable companies. Check out companies to find out if they are legitimate. When you’re online, a little research can save you a lot of money and reduce your security risk. If you see an ad or an offer that looks too good, take a moment to check out the company behind it. Type the company or product name into your favorite search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, you’ll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. If you can’t find contact information for the company, take your business and your financial information elsewhere. The fact that a site features an ad for another site doesn’t mean that it endorses the advertised site, or is even familiar with it.

    Don’t overshare on social media – Do a web search of your name and review the results. Most likely, the results will turn up your past addresses, the names of people living in the household as well social media accounts and your photographs. All of these items are valuable to identity thieves. Even a social media post boasting of a new car can help thieves bypass security verification questions that depend on financial data that only you should know. Think before you post!

    Back up your files. No system is completely secure. Copy important files and your federal and state tax returns onto a removable disc or a back-up drive, and store it in a safe place. If your computer is compromised, you’ll still have access to your files.

    Save your tax returns and records. Your federal and state tax forms are important financial documents you may need for many reasons, ranging from home mortgages to college financial. Print out a copy and keep in a safe place. Make an electronic copy in a safe spot as well. These steps also can help you more easily prepare next year’s tax return. If you store sensitive tax and financial records on your computer, use a file encryption program to add an additional layer of security should your computer be compromised.

    To learn additional steps you can take to protect your personal and financial data, visit Taxes. Security. Together. You also can read Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers.

    Each and every taxpayer has a set of fundamental rights they should be aware of when dealing with the IRS. These are your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Explore your rights and our obligations to protect them on IRS.gov.

    Additional IRS Resources:

    Holiday Shopping Tips from the Federal Trade Commission

     

    Visit the U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) webpage HERE to read the
     recently released "Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft" report

    Click HERE  and see below for tips to stay secure online. 

    STOP. THINK. CONNECT. TIPS & ADVICE

    STOP. THINK. CONNECT. Tips & Advice

    Keep a Clean MachineKeep a Clean Machine

    • Keep security software current: Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
    • Automate software updates: Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if that’s an available option.
    • Protect all devices that connect to the Internet: Along with computers, your smartphones, gaming systems and other web‐enabled devices also need protection from viruses and malware.
    • Plug & scan: USBs and other external devices can be infected by viruses and malware. Use your security software to scan them.

    Protect Your Personal InformationProtect Your Personal Information

    • Secure your accounts: Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you conduct business on that site.
    • Make passwords long and strong: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password.
    • Unique account, unique password: Having separate passwords for every account helps to thwart cybercriminals.
    • Write it down and keep it safe: Everyone can forget a password. Keep a list that’s stored in a safe, secure place away from your computer.
    • Own your online presence: Set the privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing. It’s ok to limit how and with whom you share information.

    Connect With CareConnect with Care

    • When in doubt, throw it out: Links in email, tweets, posts and online advertising are often the ways cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or, if appropriate, mark as junk email.
    • Get savvy about Wi‐Fi hotspots: Limit the type of business you conduct and adjust the security settings on your device to limit who can access your machine.
    • Protect your $$: When banking and shopping, check to be sure the sites is security-enabled. Look for web addresses with “https://,” which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. “Http://” is not secure.

     Be Web WiseBe Web Wise            

    • Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online. Check trusted websites for the latest information, share with friends, family and colleagues and encourage them to be web wise.
    • Think before you act: Be wary of communications that implores you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true or asks for personal information.
    • Back it up: Protect your valuable work, music, photos, and other digital information by making an electronic copy and storing it safely.

    Be a Good Online CitizenBe a Good Online Citizen

    • Safer for me, more secure for all: What you do online has the potential to affect everyone – at home, at work and around the world. Practicing good online habits benefits the global digital community.
    • Post only about others as you have them post about you.
    • Help the authorities fight cybercrime: Report stolen finances, identities and cybercrime to http://www.ic3.gov (the Internet Crime Complaint Center) and http://www.onguardonline.gov/file-complaint (the FTC).

    Visit http://www.stopthinkconnect.org for more information.

     

    Read HERE and below about the mailing some citizens have received seeking their input as the next Census is being prepared.

    The 2015 National Content Test Is Now Underway

    Written by: John H. Thompson

    This month, 1.2 million households began receiving the questionnaire for the 2015 National Content Test. For those who receive the test, your participation in this important milestone on the road to the 2020 Census will help us determine the best questions for you to respond to in the next census. September 1 marks Census Day for the test.

    The National Content Test has two main objectives. First, we want to evaluate and compare different versions of questions to ask in the 2020 Census, such as those about race and origin, relationships, and the best questions for determining where people should be counted as of Census Day.

    Second, during the National Content Test, the U.S. Census Bureau will try different strategies for encouraging households to respond to the census on their own. We will test nine different approaches to encourage households to respond via the Internet – the least costly and most efficient response option.

    The Census Bureau has sent National Content Test questionnaires to a statistically representative sample of households in the United States and Puerto Rico. For each household, we ask how many people live in the house, and each person’s name, sex, age, relationship, and race and ethnic origin. We ask whether the housing unit is owned or rented. Finally, we ask for the respondent’s telephone number and email address. Because studying the effectiveness of different content is part of the test, different households will receive different versions of question wording.

    If you receive a form, please perform your civic duty and complete it. You will help inform our decisions as we design the 2020 Census. Your participation will also help us to identify additional topics for 2020 Census testing later this decade. As always, the information we collect is subject to strict privacy and confidentiality laws, and we go to great lengths to protect your data. The National Content Test is part of our ongoing testing activities to research innovative methods for reducing the cost of the 2020 Census, while still maintaining a high-quality census. It will help us develop a census that is cost-effective, improves coverage, and reduces operational risk.

    The 2015 National Content Test is scheduled to run through November 2015

    Click HERE for information from the Federal Trade Commission on what should you do if you're affected by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach.

    ***

     

    IRS imposter schems are on the rise!

    Click HERE for an FTC infographic on how to recognize and respond to them.

     

    From the FTC on Tax-Related Identity Theft

    From the FTC on giving gift cards:

    Giving and getting gift cards this holiday season

    December 5, 2014 by Alvaro Puig, Consumer Education Specialist

    Mark Twain once said, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” If you live by this mantra, you might find yourself scrambling at the last minute to finish your holiday shopping this season. Enter the gift card.

    If you have gift cards on your shopping list, you’re not alone. Industry experts estimate gift card spending will top $32 billion this year – both for cards you can use at a specific store (think department store or coffee shop), and for bank or credit union cards that are accepted at many businesses (think Visa, MasterCard, AmEx, and the like). When you’re giving gift cards, here are a few things to know:

    • Are there fees to buy or use the card? Read that tiny print to find out what kind of deal you’re giving – or getting.

    • Does the card’s packaging look OK? Inspect it to be sure. If the PIN is showing, a thief might already have it – which could mean the thief can get any money you load onto the card.

    • Buying gift cards through online auction sites? Those could be fakes. Stick to sources you know and trust.

    • Sending a store card to your nephew in Oregon? Make sure that store is close enough for him to shop there.

    On the receiving end, there are things to know, too. For example, if you lose the card, you’re out of luck. Sellers don’t have to replace it. And there are reasons to use gift cards sooner rather than later: some cards start charging fees if you don’t use the card for a while. If the store goes out of business, your gift card is also out of business.

    A final word to the wise: whether you’re giving or receiving gift cards, keep track of the receipt. Whoever uses the gift card will need it in case problems come up with the card.

    Find out more on buying gift cards HERE.

    FRAUDULENT WEBSITES POSING AS GREEN DOT MONEYPAK CUSTOMER SUPPORT

    The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has received numerous complaints reporting fraudulent websites posing as MoneyPak customer support. MoneyPak is a non-reloadable, prepaid product offered by Green Dot.

    Complaints indicate victims locate the websites via internet search engines. Interaction between the victims and the fraudulent customer support generally occurs via telephone. The IC3 has noticed different variations of this scam.

    1. The victim is seeking a refund from an already purchased MoneyPak card and contacts the information listed on the website. A customer service “representative” will ask the caller to provide the identification number of the prepaid card.

    • Example – The victim loaded funds onto a MoneyPak card and now wishes to receive a refund of those funds off of the prepaid card. The representative will ask for the prepaid card number and a credit card or checking account number to which the refund can be processed. At this point, the scammer has access to the funds on the prepaid card and the victim’s personal account.

    2. Victim seeks support in connection with loss from other possible scams. The representative will instruct the caller to re-load the card with additional funds equal to the previously lost amount.

    • Example – The victim lost $500 from their MoneyPak card to a separate scam and is seeking a refund to the card. The representative will instruct the victim to load an additional $500 to the card. The representative states “re-loading is the only way to process the refund”, and the card will be refunded the full $1,000. Should the victim refuse to re-load the card, the representative will promptly disconnect the call.

     

    In most complaints, victims are given a tracking or confirmation number in connection with their call and report to be placed “on hold” for a length of time while the representative claims to be researching the problem regarding the card in question. In all complaints, any funds available on the card are drained while the victim is on hold or immediately after the call is disconnected.

    CONSUMER PROTECTION

    Consumers should only use the website and phone number listed on the back of the MoneyPak prepaid cards. MoneyPak customer support can only be accessed by email request via the website’s online portal. The phone number listed on the back of MoneyPak cards is for adding funds to an existing prepaid card. Green Dot customer service publicizes a customer service number; however, this number will not provide assistance with MoneyPak.

    Currently identified fraudulent websites are not secured websites (http).The MoneyPak customer support website is a secured website (https) and does not require personal (date of birth, social security number) to reload a card, add money to PayPal or make payments to authorized partners. Prepaid card information is needed to reload a prepaid card on the valid MoneyPak website. Visit https://moneypak.com for more information.

    FILING A COMPLAINT

    Individuals who believe they be a victim of a “MoneyPak Support” scam can file with the IC3 at http://www.ic3.gov. Please be as descriptive as possible, including prepaid card/account numbers affected and contact information of support “representatives”.

    Because scams and fraudulent websites appear very quickly, individuals are encouraged to report possible internet scams and fraudulent websites by filing a complaint with the IC3 at http://www.ic3.gov.

    TIPS ON HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FRAUD:2

    1. Never give your MoneyPak number to someone you don’t know.

    2. Never give receipt information about your MoneyPak purchase to another party.

    3. Use your MoneyPak only to reload your prepaid cards or accounts you control.

    4. Refuse any offer that asks you to buy a MoneyPak and share the number or receipt information by email or phone.

    5. To use your MoneyPak with PayPal or eBay or other online merchants, transfer the money to your PayPal account before you pay the merchant. Don’t email your MoneyPak number directly to any merchant.

    6. Unless it’s an approved MoneyPak partner, don’t use MoneyPak for any offer that requires you to pay before you get the item.

    FILING A COMPLAINT

    Individuals who believe they be a victim of a “MoneyPak Support” scam can file with the IC3 at http://www.ic3.gov. Please be as descriptive as possible, including prepaid card/account numbers affected and contact information of support “representatives”.

    Because scams and fraudulent websites appear very quickly, individuals are encouraged to report possible internet scams and fraudulent websites by filing a complaint with the IC3 at http://www.ic3.gov.

    TIPS ON HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM FRAUD:2

    1. Never give your MoneyPak number to someone you don’t know.

    2. Never give receipt information about your MoneyPak purchase to another party.

    3. Use your MoneyPak only to reload your prepaid cards or accounts you control.

    4. Refuse any offer that asks you to buy a MoneyPak and share the number or receipt information by email or phone.

    5. To use your MoneyPak with PayPal or eBay or other online merchants, transfer the money to your PayPal account before you pay the merchant. Don’t email your MoneyPak number directly to any merchant.

    6. Unless it’s an approved MoneyPak partner, don’t use MoneyPak for any offer that requires you to pay before you get the item.

    Fraud.org: Scammers demanding untraceable cash

    Scam artists are typically interested in one thing above all else: getting paid. They are out to make a quick buck (or many millions of bucks) by tricking consumers in to sending them money, especially if they can quickly turn it into untraceable cash. Over the years, wire transfer has been the method of choice for fraudsters looking to get paid by their victims. Recently, however, there has been an uptick in consumer complaints to Fraud.org reporting that scammers are asking them to use Green Dot MoneyPaks or Vanilla Reloads.

    MoneyPaks and Vanilla Reloads are sold at thousands of major retailers. Users purchase the MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload and give cash to the clerk at the register to load on to them. By using the control number or PIN on the back of the card, the consumer can then add the funds onto a reloadable prepaid card or pay a MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload partner company directly.

    While the misuse of MoneyPaks, Vanilla Reloads, or similar payment mechanisms isn’t new, NCL has received a significant number of complaints so far this year. The story of a consumer we’ll call “Chris,” who sent us complaint earlier this year is typical:

    “The man called my place of business to say that my previous payment on my bill didn’t go through and that my business’s electricity would be shut off that day. … He requested that we pay only Green Dot MoneyPak. He even called me back to make sure I was going to pay it. He said I would get a call in 30 minutes from [the] reimbursement center for the card fees. I then realized that this was a scam and it was too late.”

    These payment mechanisms have become popular with scammers because they are essentially the same as carrying cash. Fraudsters trick consumers into giving them the control number or PIN, which the scammer then uses to load the funds onto their own prepaid debit card. Since the funds are available instantly, the thief can use their debit card to take cash out of ATMs. These services aren’t protected from fraud the way that credit or debit cards are, the victim is typically left with nothing.

    NCL is warning consumers to be on the lookout for scams where they are asked to load cash onto a MoneyPak, Vanilla Reload, or similar cash-based payment device. Only give out the control number or PIN to approved partners of these services (a list of these partners is available on the companies’ websites). Be sure to only load funds from a MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload onto a prepaid debit card that you or someone you know controls. If you receive a telephone call or email from someone claiming that you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a fee via MoneyPak or Vanilla Reload to collect it, it’s a scam. Also be wary of callers claiming to represent bill collectors, the IRS, or other companies who ask for payment on one of these devices.

    Consumers who have been approached by a scammer can file a complaint at Fraud.org.

    IDENTITY THEFT 

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    Click HERE for tips from the Federal Trade Commission to Avoid Identity Theft.

    ***

    IRS Releases the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2014; Identity Theft, Phone Scams Lead List

    Feb. 19, 2014

    WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

    The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

    "Taxpayers should be on the lookout for tax scams using the IRS name,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “These schemes jump every year at tax time. Scams can be sophisticated and take many different forms. We urge people to protect themselves and use caution when viewing e-mails, receiving telephone calls or getting advice on tax issues.”

    Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

    For the list of 12 scurrilous scams, visit: "IRS Releases the Dirty Dozen" 

    ***

     

    IRS Warns of Pervasive Telephone Scam

    WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned consumers about a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country.

    Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

    “This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country.  We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves.  Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer,” says IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don’t pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn’t the IRS calling.” Werfel noted that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail

    Other characteristics of this scam include:

    ·       Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

    ·       Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security Number.

    ·       Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

    ·       Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.

    ·       Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

    ·       After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

    If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

    ·       If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

    ·       If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

    ·       If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should 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.

    Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

    The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.  This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail tophishing@irs.gov.

    More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.

    See also: the FTC's Tax-related identity theft

     

    Mystery Shopper Scam Strikes Again!

    By Amy Hebert, FTC Consumer Education Specialist

    It sounds pretty good: you walk into a store like any other customer. Then 20 minutes later, you’re done, ready to write a report that will earn you $50. And then you can do it again.

    If Shopper Systems and some companies like it were to be believed, mystery shopping jobs like this were not only widely available, but could generate “insane profit.” All for just $2.95 for training and a week’s trial, then $49.95 a month after that for an up-to-date list of interested retailers — and you’d be free to cancel any time.

    But they couldn’t be believed, the FTC says. According to the FTC’s complaint, people who paid to be mystery shoppers found there were few, if any, jobs in their area. And the jobs that did exist paid a lot less than $50. People who tried to cancel found they were still charged $49.95 a month, not knowing they were also enrolled in a second “opportunity” running their own webstore.

    The companies and people behind the alleged scam have agreed to settlements with the FTC that ban them from selling business or work-at-home opportunities and require them to surrender assets to the FTC.

    Legitimate mystery shopping opportunities are out there, but so are plenty of scams. Don’t pay to be a mystery shopper — information about mystery shopping jobs should be free, and certifications offered are often of little value. Many professionals in the field consider mystery shopping a part-time activity, at best, and opportunities generally are posted online by marketing research or merchandising companies.

     

    Want to learn more about these kinds of scams and get tips on finding legitimate mystery shopping jobs? Read Mystery Shopper Scams at ftc.gov/bizopps.

    Top 5 Cyber Monday Safety Tips       

    What to Know Before Shopping Online This Holiday Season

    The internet makes holiday shopping so easy—no fighting for parking spaces at jam-packed malls, no waiting in endless lines to get to the register.

    But even if you consider yourself a pro, shopping online isn't without risks. These tips from USA.gov can help you protect yourself and your finances as you hunt for that perfect gift:

    1. Use a credit card rather than a debit card. Credit card payments can be withheld if there's a dispute with a store, and if the card is stolen, you won't have to pay more than $50 of fraudulent charges. But with a debit card, you can't withhold payments—the store is paid directly from your bank account. And if your card is stolen, you could be liable for up to $500, depending on when you report it.

    2. Find out if the public WiFi hotspot you're using at a coffee shop or bookstore is secure. If it's not, your payment information could be compromised over the network.

    3. It's risky not to read the terms of service agreement before you buy online. You could inadvertently sign up for subscriptions or get hit with additional fees or restrictions. Terms of service are often in small print or presented right when you are anxious to purchase.

    4. Be careful if you're buying event tickets online as gifts. Some venues may practice restricted ticketing, requiring the same credit card used in the online purchase to be shown to get into the event.

    5. Use caution buying digital assets like books and music—they can't be given away as gifts if they've been downloaded to your account. You should either purchase a gift card for the book or music site, or check with the company. Some services have ways to "gift an item" but it varies depending on the provider.

    For more advice on safe online shopping and being a savvy consumer this holiday season and all year long, check out the Consumer Action Handbook–the free government guide to protecting your money.

     

    Hang up on Robocalls!

    From the Federal Trade Commission:

    The FTC's Robocall Action Plan

    Under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, calls that deliver a recorded message trying to sell you something are illegal, unless you’ve given written permission for the caller to call you.  These “robocalls” are illegal even if your phone number is not registered on the National Do Not Call Registry

    Most legitimate businesses adhere to the Telemarketing Sales Rule and do not place illegal robocalls.  Unfortunately, however, the prevalence of illegal robocalls has increased significantly in recent years due to technological advances that make it easier and cheaper to:

    • make large numbers of robocalls to consumers from anywhere in the world
    • fake Caller ID information in an attempt to obscure location and evade law enforcement

    The FTC is working on multiple initiatives to combat the problem of illegal robocalls, including:

    1. Continuing Aggressive Law Enforcement
      The Federal Trade Commission continues to target high volume offenders and pursue “chokepoints” in the calling process to stop the largest number of illegal calls. The agency has stopped companies responsible for making billions of robocalls since September of 2009, and will continue to identify, locate, and prosecute those responsible for illegal robocalls.
    2. Gathering Evidence Strategically
      The FTC is pursuing an innovative strategy to gather evidence about illegal robocalls directly and act on this information as quickly as possible.  Check this website for more details in the next few months.
    3. Pursuing Technological Solutions
      FTC staff continue to hold meetings and calls with engineers, technologists, and industry experts to discuss technological solutions to better trace illegal calls, combat caller ID spoofing, and stop illegal calls.
    4. Hosting Summit with Law Enforcement, Industry, and Other Stakeholders
      On October 18, 2012, the agency will host a public summit on robocalls. Check here later for further details.What to Do If You
      Get a RobocallTo Do When You Get One

    What's a Robocall?

    If you pick up the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, that's a robocall.

    If the recording is a sales message and you haven't given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. Period.

    What To Do When You Get a Robocall

    In short:

    1. Hang Up. Do not press 1 or any other numbers to get off the list.
    2. Consider blocking the number.
    3. Report it at www.donotcall.gov.

    For more info on what to do:

    Spread the News and Shareable Tips:

     From the Federal Trade Commission:

    FTC Settlement Bans Bogus Timeshare Resellers from Timeshare Business, Telemarketing

    Defendants Allegedly Did Not Help Consumers Sell Their Timeshare Properties as Promised 

    A telemarketing operation that allegedly deceived consumers who were trying to sell their timeshare properties is permanently banned from the timeshare resale and rental business, and from all telemarketing, under settlements with the Federal Trade Commission. The case is part of the FTC's ongoing effort to crack down on con artists who use fraud and deception to take advantage of consumers in financial distress.

    According to the FTC's complaint against Vacation Property Sellers Inc., Vacation Property Services Inc., Higher Level Marketing Inc., Frank M. Perry, Jr., David S. Taylor, and Albert M. Wilson, the defendants deceived consumers who were trying to sell their timeshare properties into paying an up-front fee ranging from $200 to more than $8,000, claiming they had buyers lined up or would find buyers for consumers' properties. When consumers realized they had been duped, the defendants allegedly ignored their phone calls and denied refund requests. The FTC charged the defendants with misrepresenting their refund policies and the existence of potential buyers, and calling consumers whose phone numbers were on the FTC's Do Not Call Registry.

    In addition to the timeshare and telemarketing bans, the settlement order against Perry, Vacation Property Sellers, and Higher Level Marketing prohibits them from misrepresenting material facts about any goods or services, and selling or otherwise benefitting from consumers' personal information. The order imposes a $23.5 million judgment that was suspended when Perry and the companies surrendered almost all of their assets. The settlement order against Taylor contains the same conduct prohibitions and imposes a $3.7 million judgment, which was suspended based on his inability to pay. The full judgments will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. Litigation continues against the remaining defendants, Vacation Property Services Inc. and Albert M. Wilson.

    To avoid pitfalls when selling a timeshare unit, read the FTC's Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats.

    The Commission vote approving the proposed consent order against Perry, Vacation Property Sellers, and Higher Level Marketing was 5-0. The Commission vote approving the proposed consent order against Taylor was 3-1, with Commissioner Rosch voting in the negative. The orders were entered by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, on September 30, 2011, and March 20, 2012, respectively.

    NOTE: This consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the defendants that the law has been violated. Consent orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.

    The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. 

    Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

    Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

    If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

    • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
    • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
    • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
    • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
    • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
    • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

    If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

    Contract Caveats

    Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

    If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

    Resale Checklist

    Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

    • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
    • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
    • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
    • information to identify your interest or membership;
    • the exchange company affiliation;
    • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
    • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.
    • Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

      Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

      If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

      • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
      • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
      • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
      • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
      • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
      • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

      If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

      Contract Caveats

      Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

      If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

      Resale Checklist

      Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

      • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
      • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
      • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
      • information to identify your interest or membership;
      • the exchange company affiliation;
      • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
      • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.

      For More Information

      To learn more about vacation ownership, contact the American Resort Development Association. It represents the vacation ownership and resort development industries. ARDA has nearly 1,000 members, ranging from privately-held companies to major corporations, in the U.S. and overseas.

      American Resort Development Association
      1201 15th Street N.W., Suite 400
      Washington, D.C. 20005
      (202) 371-6700; Fax: (202) 289-8544
      www.arda.org

      To File a Complaint

      Timesharing is usually regulated through the Real Estate Commission in the state where the timeshare property is located. The sale of vacation plans generally is not regulated at all. However, if you believe you’ve been the victim of false or deceptive advertising or marketing of a vacation plan, contact the FTC.

        The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.  

      As we work to put an end to predatory behavior in our financial markets, my Administration is taking action to empower individuals and families with the tools they need to get ahead. Last year, we collaborated with representatives from the private, public, and non-profit industries to release the National Strategy for Financial Literacy -- a comprehensive plan to improve financial education across our country. The President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability (PACFC) continues to identify and promote the most effective, data-driven strategies to better educate Americans on financial issues. With help from the PACFC, we are working to provide our young people with financial skills to become successful students, entrepreneurs, and leaders; to ensure American workers are able to provide for their loved ones and save for retirement; and to foster financial capability in families and communities across our Nation.__________________________________Tips from the United States Department of State:

      Sending Money to U.S. Citizens Overseas

      U.S. citizens sometimes face emergencies while overseas. We can establish a secure account so that friends and relatives can safely send money to help. The stranded U.S. citizen can then contact the Embassy to make an appointment to receive the money. We charge a fee of $30 to process the money transfer.

      Money can be transferred by Western Union or mail. You always need to include the U.S. citizen’s name and location (city and country) on the transfer. We can process these transfers during business hours (8AM – 8PM EST). If we receive a transfer after hours, we will process it the next business day.

      Western Union: This is usually the fastest way to send money. Be aware that some States place restrictions on the use of QuickCollect by phone or the Internet. Western Union can inform you of the States with these restrictions. There are three ways to send money to us:

      • If you have a MasterCard or Visa credit card, you can call Western Union’s QuickCollect service at 1-800-634-3422. Western Union has a limit per credit card within a 7 day period. A second credit card may be required to send an additional amount over the first during the same 7 day period.
        • The “code city” is “OVERSEASEMERGENCY, DC.”
        • The “pay to” name is “Department of State.”
        • Use your telephone number as the account number.
        • Ask the operator to add the name and location of the U.S. citizen you are sending money to in the “reference” field.
        • Click on “Make Payment.”
        • Choose a payment type.
        • Choose “Other Billers.”
        • Select code city “OVERSEAS CITIZEN SERVICES.”
        • Follow the instructions to register.
      • If you want to pay in cash, you can visit any Western Union location in person:
        • This is the cheapest way to send money.
        • Call 1-800-325-6000 to find the closest location.
        • Complete a blue payment form.
        • Include the name and location of the U.S. citizen you are sending money to on the form.
        • We will deduct our $30 processing fee during the transfer.
        • The final amount received overseas will be $30 less than what you send so you should include it in the total.
        • Western Union charges additional fees for its services.
      • U.S. Mail or Courier Service:  Overnight or courier mail may take 3-4 days to reach us. Regular mail may take 3-4 weeks to reach us, due to security procedures.  We do not recommend this method for urgent situations or emergencies.
      • We do not accept personal checks. Send a cashier’s check or money order, payable to “Department of State,” for the required amount plus the $30 processing fee, to:

      Overseas Citizen Services, Department of State
      SA-29, 4th Floor
      2201 C Street, NW
      Washington, D.C.  20520

        • Include the name and location of the U.S. citizen you are sending money to.
        • Include your name, address and telephone number.

       

      From the Federal Trade Commission:

      FTC Settlement Bans Bogus Timeshare Resellers from Timeshare Business, Telemarketing

      Defendants Allegedly Did Not Help Consumers Sell Their Timeshare Properties as Promised 

      Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

      Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

      If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

      • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
      • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
      • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
      • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
      • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
      • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

      If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

      Contract Caveats

      Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

      If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

      Resale Checklist

      Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

      • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
      • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
      • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
      • information to identify your interest or membership;
      • the exchange company affiliation;
      • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
      • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.
      • Selling a Timeshare Through a Reseller: Contract Caveats

        Thinking of selling your timeshare? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, cautions you to question resellers – real estate brokers and agents who specialize in reselling timeshares. They may be claiming that the market in your area is “hot” and that they’re overwhelmed with buyer requests. Some may even say that they have buyers ready to purchase your timeshare, or promise to sell your timeshare within a specific time.

        If you want to sell your deeded timeshare, and a company approaches you offering to resell your timeshare, go into skeptic mode:

        • Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), state Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Ask if any complaints are on file.
        • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing.
        • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
        • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
        • Ask about fees and timing. It’s preferable to do business with a reseller that takes its fee after the timeshare is sold. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
        • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

        If you want an idea of the value of a timeshare that you’re interested in buying or selling, consider using a timeshare appraisal service. The appraiser should be licensed in the state where the service is located. Check with the state to see if the license is current.

        Contract Caveats

        Before you sign a contract with a reseller, get the details of the terms and conditions of the contract. It should include the services the reseller will perform; the fees, commissions, and other costs you must pay and when; whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own at the same time the reseller is trying to sell your unit; the length or term of the contract to sell your timeshare; and who is responsible for documenting and closing the sale.

        If the deal isn’t what you expected or wanted, don’t sign the contract. Negotiate changes or find another reseller.

        Resale Checklist

        Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

        • the name, address, and phone number of the resort;
        • the deed and the contract or membership agreement;
        • the financing agreement, if you’re still paying for the property;
        • information to identify your interest or membership;
        • the exchange company affiliation;
        • the amount and due date of your maintenance fee;
        • the amount of real estate taxes, if billed separately.

        For More Information

        To learn more about vacation ownership, contact the American Resort Development Association. It represents the vacation ownership and resort development industries. ARDA has nearly 1,000 members, ranging from privately-held companies to major corporations, in the U.S. and overseas.

        American Resort Development Association
        1201 15th Street N.W., Suite 400
        Washington, D.C. 20005
        (202) 371-6700; Fax: (202) 289-8544
        www.arda.org

        To File a Complaint

        Timesharing is usually regulated through the Real Estate Commission in the state where the timeshare property is located. The sale of vacation plans generally is not regulated at all. However, if you believe you’ve been the victim of false or deceptive advertising or marketing of a vacation plan, contact the FTC.

          The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. sale Checklist

        Selling a timeshare is a lot like selling any other piece of real estate. But you also should check with the resort to determine restrictions, limits, or fees that could affect your ability to resell or transfer ownership. Then, make sure that your paperwork is in order. You’ll need:

        American Resort Development Association
        1201 15th Street N.W., Suite 400
        Washington, D.C. 20005
        (202) 371-6700; Fax: (202) 289-8544
        www.arda.org

        To File a Complaint

        Timesharing is usually regulated through the Real Estate Commission in the state where the timeshare property is located. The sale of vacation plans generally is not regulated at all. However, if you believe you’ve been the victim of false or deceptive advertising or marketing of a vacation plan, contact the FTC.

          The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

          From the Federal Trade Commission:

          April is Financial Literacy Month

          A Great Time to Share Free Resources from the FTC

          April is Financial Literacy Month, and the Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, has information to help you make the most of your money whether you're a student, young adult, parent, older person, or military service member.

          "At the FTC, we're focused on stopping frauds that rob people of their last dollar," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "In fact, you don't have to be an expert to help your friends and family avoid scams and protect their money. Financial Literacy Month is a great time to talk to them about their consumer rights."

          Information from the FTC can help people gain mental muscle by understanding how credit reports and credit scores affect the rates and terms they get on loans; how to exercise their rights when dealing with debt collectors; how to protect their personal information and minimize the risk of identity theft; how advertising affects them; and much more:

          Money Matters offers short, practical tips, videos, and links to reliable sources on a variety of topics in English and Spanish, ranging from credit repair, debt collection, job hunting, and job scams to vehicle repossession, managing mortgage payments, and avoiding foreclosure rescue scams.

          Free Annual Credit Reports offers details about a consumer's right to a free copy of his or her credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies, upon request, once every 12 months. Reviewing one's credit report regularly is an effective way to deter and detect identity theft.

          You Are Here is a virtual mall where kids experience the FTC's mission by learning about advertising, competition, and how to protect their privacy.

          All of the FTC's financial literacy materials are in the public domain. They can be posted, reprinted, or adapted to educate people about their consumer rights.

          The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

           

          It's National Financial Capability Month

          Read the Presidential Proclamation

          BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
          A PROCLAMATION

          Across our country, millions of Americans work hard and play by the rules to protect the gains they have made and secure a brighter future for their loved ones. The resilience and ingenuity of our people are driving our economic recovery, and as we lay the foundation for an America built to last, we must also promote a financial system that is fair and sound for all. During National Financial Capability Month, we recommit to ensuring everyone has access to the information and tools that empower them to operate safely and smartly in the marketplace.

          A strong and stable economy requires responsibility from top to bottom -- from banks and borrowers to workers and executives. To protect everyday Americans from abuses in the financial industry, I appointed Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). His responsibility -- and that of the CFPB -- is to ensure all Americans have the resources they need to make sound financial decisions, and to guarantee every individual receives fair treatment when they apply for a mortgage, take out a student loan, or use a credit card.

          As we work to put an end to predatory behavior in our financial markets, my Administration is taking action to empower individuals and families with the tools they need to get ahead. Last year, we collaborated with representatives from the private, public, and non-profit industries to release the National Strategy for Financial Literacy -- a comprehensive plan to improve financial education across our country. The President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability (PACFC) continues to identify and promote the most effective, data-driven strategies to better educate Americans on financial issues. With help from the PACFC, we are working to provide our young people with financial skills to become successful students, entrepreneurs, and leaders; to ensure American workers are able to provide for their loved ones and save for retirement; and to foster financial capability in families and communities across our Nation.

          During National Financial Capability Month, we rededicate ourselves to advancing robust consumer education and to helping every individual take ownership of their financial future. I encourage all Americans to take advantage of the free, reliable financial resources at www.MyMoney.gov, www.ConsumerFinance.gov, and 1-888-MyMoney.

          NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2012 as National Financial Capability Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month with programs and activities to improve their understanding of financial principles and practices.

          IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

          BARACK OBAMA 

          From thF 

           

          It's that time again!

          The IRS has released the "Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2012" (see below)  and the Federal Trade Commission offers consumers the following advice on tax-related identity theft, the Number 1 scam to beware of:

          FTC Offers Warning, Advice on Tax-Related Identity Theft

          Did you know that your Social Security number can help an identity thief get a job, or the tax refund that should be yours?

          The Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, cautions that thieves can use a stolen Social Security number to apply for a job or file for a tax refund under a false identity. The FTC advises that, if you think this has happened to you, or if you get an Internal Revenue Service notice indicating a problem, contact the IRS immediately for help with your tax return, any refund, and protecting your IRS account from identity theft in the future.

          The FTC also recommends three steps to minimize the potential damage from identity theft:

          • Put a fraud alert on your credit reports
          • Review your credit reports
          • Create an identity theft report by filing an identity theft complaint with the FTC and filing a police report.

          Read the FTC's Tax-Related Identity Theft to learn how to uncover and deal with this problem, how to avoid phishing scams, and how to contact the IRS. For more information, visit the FTC's identity theft website.

          The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call
          1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

          The Internal Revenue Service's "Dirty Dozen Tax Scams" of 2012:

          WASHINGTON –– The Internal Revenue Service today issued its annual “Dirty Dozen” ranking of tax scams, reminding taxpayers to use caution during tax season to protect themselves against a wide range of schemes ranging from identity theft to return preparer fraud.

          The Dirty Dozen listing, compiled by the IRS each year, lists a variety of common scams taxpayers can encounter at any point during the year. But many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their tax returns.

          “Taxpayers should be careful and avoid falling into a trap with the Dirty Dozen,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “Scam artists will tempt people in-person, on-line and by e-mail with misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. Don’t be fooled by these scams.”

          Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division works closely with the Department of Justice to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

          The following is the Dirty Dozen tax scams for 2012:

          Identity Theft

          Topping this year’s list Dirty Dozen list is identity theft. In response to growing identity theft concerns, the IRS has embarked on a comprehensive strategy that is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible. In addition to the law-enforcement crackdown, the IRS has stepped up its internal reviews to spot false tax returns before tax refunds are issued as well as working to help victims of the identity theft refund schemes.

          Identity theft cases are among the most complex ones the IRS handles, but the agency is committed to working with taxpayers who have become victims of identity theft.

          The IRS is increasingly seeing identity thieves looking for ways to use a legitimate taxpayer’s identity and personal information to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund.
           
          An IRS notice informing a taxpayer that more than one return was filed in the taxpayer’s name or that the taxpayer received wages from an unknown employer may be the first tip off the individual receives that he or she has been victimized. 

          The IRS has a robust screening process with measures in place to stop fraudulent returns. While the IRS is continuing to address tax-related identity theft aggressively, the agency is also seeing an increase in identity crimes, including more complex schemes. In 2011, the IRS protected more than $1.4 billion of taxpayer funds from getting into the wrong hands due to identity theft.

          In January, the IRS announced the results of a massive, national sweep cracking down on suspected identity theft perpetrators as part of a stepped-up effort against refund fraud and identity theft.  Working with the Justice Department’s Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the nationwide effort targeted 105 people in 23 states.

          Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit.  For more information, visit the special identity theft page at www.IRS.gov/identitytheft

          Phishing

          Phishing is a scam typically carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that poses as a legitimate site to lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.

          If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to phishing@irs.gov.

          It is important to keep in mind the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.  This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.  The IRS has information that can help you protect yourself from email scams.

          Return Preparer Fraud

          About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare and file their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But as in any other business, there are also some who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers.

          Questionable return preparers have been known to skim off their clients’ refunds, charge inflated fees for return preparation services and attract new clients by promising guaranteed or inflated refunds. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. Federal courts have issued hundreds of injunctions ordering individuals to cease preparing returns, and the Department of Justice has pending complaints against many others.

          In 2012, every paid preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and enter it on the returns he or she prepares.

          Signals to watch for when you are dealing with an unscrupulous return preparer would include that they:

          • Do not sign the return or place a Preparer Tax identification Number on it.
          • Do not give you a copy of your tax return.
          • Promise larger than normal tax refunds.
          • Charge a percentage of the refund amount as preparation fee.
          • Require you to split the refund to pay the preparation fee.
          • Add forms to the return you have never filed before.
          • Encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.

          For advice on how to find a competent tax professional, see  Tips for Choosing a Tax Preparer.

          Hiding Income Offshore

          Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities, using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the funds. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

          The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute tax evasion cases.

          While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting and disclosure requirements are breaking the law and risk significant penalties and fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.
           
          Since 2009, 30,000 individuals have come forward voluntarily to disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to bring their money back into the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore will become increasingly more difficult.

          At the beginning of this year, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. The IRS continues working on a wide range of international tax issues and follows ongoing efforts with the Justice Department to pursue criminal prosecution of international tax evasion.  This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.

          The IRS has collected $3.4 billion so far from people who participated in the 2009 offshore program, reflecting closures of about 95 percent of the cases from the 2009 program. On top of that, the IRS has collected an additional $1 billion from up front payments required under the 2011 program.  That number will grow as the IRS processes the 2011 cases.

          “Free Money” from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security

          Flyers and advertisements for free money from the IRS, suggesting that the taxpayer can file a tax return with little or no documentation, have been appearing in community churches around the country. These schemes are also often spread by word of mouth as unsuspecting and well-intentioned people tell their friends and relatives.

          Scammers prey on low income individuals and the elderly. They build false hopes and charge people good money for bad advice. In the end, the victims discover their claims are rejected. Meanwhile, the promoters are long gone. The IRS warns all taxpayers to remain vigilant.

          There are a number of tax scams involving Social Security. For example, scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with promises of non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. In another situation, a taxpayer may really be due a credit or refund but uses inflated information to complete the return. 

          Beware. Intentional mistakes of this kind can result in a $5,000 penalty.

          False/Inflated Income and Expenses

          Including income that was never earned, either as wages or as self-employment income in order to maximize refundable credits, is another popular scam. Claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to secure larger refundable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit could have serious repercussions.  This could result in repaying the erroneous refunds, including interest and penalties, and in some cases, even prosecution. 

          Additionally, some taxpayers are filing excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Farmers and other taxpayers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But other individuals have claimed the tax credit when their occupations or income levels make the claims unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.

          False Form 1099 Refund Claims

          In this ongoing scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), to justify a false refund claim on a corresponding tax return. In some cases, individuals have made refund claims based on the bogus theory that the federal government maintains secret accounts for U.S. citizens and that taxpayers can gain access to the accounts by issuing 1099-OID forms to the IRS.

          Don’t fall prey to people who encourage you to claim deductions or credits to which you are not entitled or willingly allow others to use your information to file false returns. If you are a party to such schemes, you could be liable for financial penalties or even face criminal prosecution.

          Frivolous Arguments

          Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous tax arguments that taxpayers should avoid. These arguments are false and have been thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.

          Falsely Claiming Zero Wages

          Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer may also submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS.

          Sometimes, fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any variations of this scheme. Filing this type of return may result in a $5,000 penalty.

          Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions

          IRS examiners continue to uncover the intentional abuse of 501(c)(3) organizations, including arrangements that improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or the income from donated property. The IRS is investigating schemes that involve the donation of non-cash assets –– including situations in which several organizations claim the full value of the same non-cash contribution. Often these donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can repurchase the items later at a price set by the donor. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 imposed increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and set new standards for qualified appraisals.

          Disguised Corporate Ownership

          Third parties are improperly used to request employer identification numbers and form corporations that obscure the true ownership of the business.

          These entities can be used to underreport income, claim fictitious deductions, avoid filing tax returns, participate in listed transactions and facilitate money laundering, and financial crimes. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and bring the owners into compliance with the law.

          Misuse of Trusts

          For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. While there are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some highly questionable transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means of avoiding income tax liability and hiding assets from creditors, including the IRS.

          IRS personnel have seen an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering a trust arrangement.

           

          Beware of Charities and Fundraising Phone Fraud

          Advice from the Federal Trade Commission:

          Charities perform a variety of valuable services in our society. Many are facing increases in costs and demands and decreases in funding. To meet these financial challenges, charities are asking for larger contributions from more donors - and they're asking more often than they used to, often using telemarketing and direct mail solicitations to raise funds for their causes. At the same time, fraudsters are using the phone and the mail to solicit for fraudulent charities.

          Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit people and organizations you want to help. They're good practices whether you're contacted by an organization's employees, volunteers, or professional fund-raisers, soliciting donations by phone, mail or in person.

          How to avoid charity & fundraising fraud

          • Donate to recognized charities with a history. Look up the organization at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or the American Institute of Philanthropy. Ask the caller "Are you calling on behalf of a charity? What is the name of your organization?"
          • Look closely at charities with names similar to well-known organizations. Some phony charities try to gain your trust by using names that sound or look like legitimate organizations. Ask the caller "Can you point me to a Website or another resource for more information about your organization?"
          • Avoid giving cash gifts. They can be lost or stolen. For security and tax purposes, it's best to pay by check, made payable to the charity, not the solicitor. Ask, "Can you give me a receipt showing the amount of my contribution and stating that it is tax deductible?"
          • Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making. If you have any doubts about whether you've made a pledge or previously contributed, check your records.
          • Reject high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers don't put you on the spot to give. Ask, "Can you mail me more information about the charity and how it works?"
          • Do not do business with any charity offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation.
          • Consider the costs. When you buy merchandise or tickets for special events, or get "free" goods in exchange for giving, remember that part of your contribution was used to pay for it.
          • Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.
          • A special word about appeals that tug at your heart strings, especially pleas involving patriotism and current events, before you give, make sure the organization has the infrastructure to deliver the help it is claiming to provide.
          • After receiving a call asking for a donation, call the charity in question to find out whether it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

          Facts about Fire, Police, or Military Fundraisers

          • Simply having the words "police" or "firefighter" in an organization's name doesn't mean police or firefighters are members of the group or will benefit from the funds raised.
          • An organization may claim it has ties with local police or firefighters, but that doesn't mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety. Call your local organization to verify the connection.
          • Many solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by professional fund-raisers who are paid to do the job.
          • Donations to some police or firefighter groups may not be tax deductible.

          The Department of Defense does not endorse specific war-related charities.

           

          FTC Publications

           

           

          More Resources

           

           

          Be car smart! 

           

              It's  almost time for the February car sales on President's Day, Monday, Feb. 20.  Click here for some tips from Massachusetts Consumer Affairs.

          You'll learn about the Used Vehicle Warrant Law, the Lemon Aid Law and the Odometer Law, and more.

          There are also links to publications on buying and maintaining your car, buying a used car, a Car Smart brochure and automobile resources in Spanish.

           

           

          Valentine's Day Shopping

          Buying Jewelry?  First, read the following helpful information from the Federal Trade Commission:

          Gold and Silver Jewelery

          Platinum Jewelry

          Gemstones, Diamonds, & Pearls

           

          Get your free Annual Credit Report

          Start the new year on the right financial footing by monitoring and reviewing your credit report. You can get a free annual credit report by clicking here to reach the Annual Credit Report website. It's a central site allowing you to request a free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

          AnnualCreditReport.com promises consumers that "Free credit reports requested online are viewable immediately upon authentication of identity. Free credit reports requested by phone or mail will be processed within 15 days of receiving your request.

          Here's what the Federal Trade Commission says:

           

          What is AnnualCreditReport.com?

          AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY authorized source for the free annual credit report that's yours by law. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you access to your credit report for free from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — every 12 months. The Federal Trade Commission has received complaints from consumers who thought they were ordering their free annual credit report, and yet couldn't get it without paying fees or buying other services. TV ads, email offers, or online search results may tout "free" credit reports, but there is only one authorized source for a truly free credit report.

          I’ve seen a box at the top of some websites saying:

          "You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under federal law."

          What’s this about?

          A new law requires commercial websites that say they offer free credit reports to include a box letting you know you can get a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Click on the link to www.AnnualCreditReport.com, the only place to get the free report that's yours by law.

          Many companies claim to offer free credit reports – and some do. But others give you a report only if you buy other products or services. Still others say they’re giving you a “free” report and then bill you for services you have to cancel. If you go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com and follow the prompts for your free credit report, you can be sure the reports you get really are free.

          How do I request my free credit report?

          You can request your free report online, by phone or by mail. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com, call 1-877-322-8228, or fill out the Annual Credit Report Request form and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.  No matter how you request your report, you have the option to request all three reports at once or to order one report at a time.  By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit more frequently throughout the year.  

          Why should I request my credit report?

          Because the information in your credit report is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, you should be sure the information is accurate and up-to-date.  In addition, monitoring your credit is one of the best ways to spot identity theft.  Check your credit report at least once a year to correct errors and detect unauthorized activity. 

          What should I look for when I review my credit report?

          If you see accounts you don’t recognize or information that is inaccurate, contact the credit reporting agency and the information provider.  For more information, read the FTC’s tips on how to dispute credit errors

          If you suspect identity theft, you may need to place a fraud alert on your credit report, close compromised accounts, file a complaint with the FTC, or file a police report.  Start by visiting the FTC’s identity theft website. 

           

          Twelve Seasonal Holiday Tips from the Consumer Protection Division

           

          1. Keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash: the sender has no protections against loss
          2. Don’t send money to someone you don’t know
          3. Don’t respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial information, whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message  or an ad
          4. Don’t play a foreign lottery; it’s illegal
          5. Don’t agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back, no matter how convincing the story
          6. In the wake of a natural disaster or another crisis, give to established charities rather than one that seems to have sprung up overnight
          7. Remember there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
          8. Know where an offer comes from and who you’re dealing with
          9. There are no charges for “real” government grants
          10. Read your bills and monthly statements regularly-on paper and online
          11. Get a free credit report yearly from www.annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228
          12. When shopping, find out the exchange and restocking policy, plus save your receipts

          Happy Holidays from the NWDA! 

           

          Beware of Charities and Fundraising Phone Fraud

          Advice from the Federal Trade Commission:

          Charities perform a variety of valuable services in our society. Many are facing increases in costs and demands and decreases in funding. To meet these financial challenges, charities are asking for larger contributions from more donors - and they're asking more often than they used to, often using telemarketing and direct mail solicitations to raise funds for their causes. At the same time, fraudsters are using the phone and the mail to solicit for fraudulent charities.

          Consider the following precautions to ensure that your donation dollars benefit people and organizations you want to help. They're good practices whether you're contacted by an organization's employees, volunteers, or professional fund-raisers, soliciting donations by phone, mail or in person.

          How to avoid charity & fundraising fraud

          • Donate to recognized charities with a history. Look up the organization at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving AllianceCharity Navigator, or the American Institute of Philanthropy. Ask the caller "Are you calling on behalf of a charity? What is the name of your organization?"
          • Look closely at charities with names similar to well-known organizations. Some phony charities try to gain your trust by using names that sound or look like legitimate organizations. Ask the caller "Can you point me to a Website or another resource for more information about your organization?"
          • Avoid giving cash gifts. They can be lost or stolen. For security and tax purposes, it's best to pay by check, made payable to the charity, not the solicitor. Ask, "Can you give me a receipt showing the amount of my contribution and stating that it is tax deductible?"
          • Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don't remember making. If you have any doubts about whether you've made a pledge or previously contributed, check your records.
          • Reject high pressure appeals. Legitimate fund-raisers don't put you on the spot to give. Ask, "Can you mail me more information about the charity and how it works?"
          • Do not do business with any charity offering to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect your donation.
          • Consider the costs. When you buy merchandise or tickets for special events, or get "free" goods in exchange for giving, remember that part of your contribution was used to pay for it.
          • Be cautious of promises of guaranteed sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a contribution. According to U.S. law, you never have to give a donation to be eligible to win a sweepstakes.
          • A special word about appeals that tug at your heart strings, especially pleas involving patriotism and current events, before you give, make sure the organization has the infrastructure to deliver the help it is claiming to provide.
          • After receiving a call asking for a donation, call the charity in question to find out whether it is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name.

          Facts about Fire, Police, or Military Fundraisers

          • Simply having the words "police" or "firefighter" in an organization's name doesn't mean police or firefighters are members of the group or will benefit from the funds raised.
          • An organization may claim it has ties with local police or firefighters, but that doesn't mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety. Call your local organization to verify the connection.
          • Many solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by professional fund-raisers who are paid to do the job.
          • Donations to some police or firefighter groups may not be tax deductible.

          The Department of Defense does not endorse specific war-related charities.

           

          FTC Publications

           

           

          More Resources

           

           

           

           

           

          Shopping Online This Holiday Season?

          The Federal Trade Commission Offers Advice on Getting the Best Deal.

          Here's what the FTC says:

          Whether your gift list is ready or you're wondering how long you can wait to start your holiday shopping, the Federal Trade Commission has online tips to help you get the best deals. The bottom line: Some extra research can really pay off:

          Set a Budget. Create a gift list and check it twice to help you stay on track and not overspend.

          Decide What Matters. Especially if you're buying gadgets, know what your "must-have" features are vs. those that are just nice to have.

          Use Search Engines. Type a company or product name into your search engine with terms like "review," "complaint" or "scam" to find out more about it.

          Read Reviews Online. Reviews from other people, experts, and columnists can give you an idea of how a product performs. But don't put all of your trust in one review.

          Consider Reputation. A brand's reputation for quality and good customer service can really pay off.

          Check Comparison Shopping Sites. They connect to many retailers selling the same product, sometimes at significantly different prices. Keep shipping costs in mind.

          Consider Coupons. Some companies offer discounts via e-mail, and some websites collect and list codes for free shipping and other discounts. Search for the store with terms like "discount," "coupon" or "free shipping."

          Read Return Policies. Not all stores have the same rules. Some charge fees for return shipping or restocking things like electronics.

          Decide How to Pay. When you shop online, credit cards can offer extra protections.

          Look for a Secure Checkout. Does the website start with https (the "s" stands for secure) when you're checking out?

          Learn more about researching products online at OnguardOnline.gov/SmartShopper.

          For hassle-free online shopping, keep records like e-mails and online receipts in case there's a problem. Also, make sure you know who you're dealing with and protect your personal and financial information, since anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. Learn more about safe shopping online at http://onguardonline.gov/articles/0020-shopping-online.

          The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call
          1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

          ________________________________________________________

           

          News from the Federal Trade Commission:

          FTC Adds New Protections for Consumers Seeking to Work from Home

          The Federal Trade Commission has approved changes to its Business Opportunity Rule that will ensure that consumers have the information they need when considering buying a work-at-home program or any other business opportunity. The changes simplify the disclosures that business opportunity sellers must provide to prospective buyers. The simplified disclosures will help prospective purchasers assess the risks of buying a business opportunity, while minimizing compliance burdens on businesses.

          In addition, the Final Rule, which will be effective on March 1, 2012, applies to business opportunities previously covered under the Rule, as well as work-at-home offers such as envelope stuffing and craft assembly opportunities. The final Rule requires business opportunity sellers to give consumers specific information to help them evaluate a business opportunity. Sellers must disclose five key items of information in a simple, one-page document:

          • the seller's identifying information;
          • whether the seller makes a claim about the purchaser's likely earnings (and, if the seller checks the "yes" box, the seller must provide information supporting any such claims);
          • whether the seller, its affiliates or key personnel have been involved in certain legal actions (and, if yes, a separate list of those actions);
          • whether the seller has a cancellation or refund policy (and, if yes, a separate document stating the material terms of such policies); and
          • a list of persons who bought the business opportunity within the previous three years.

          Misrepresentations and omissions are prohibited under the Rule, and for sales conducted in languages other than English, all disclosures must be provided in the language in which the sale is conducted.

          Consumers should use the disclosure document and supplementary information to fact-check sellers' sales pitches. This information will be helpful to consumers like Teresa Yeast, a stay-at-home mother who purchased a craft-assembly work-at-home program from a company called Darling Angel Pin Creations. The FTC filed a law enforcement action against that company in February 2010 for allegedly claiming that consumers could make hundreds of dollars assembling angel pins at home. "It's important to be skeptical and to be cautionary when you're approached with ... a business opportunity," Mrs. Yeast said. "I saw an opportunity that looked great, and took it. They took my money."

          The announcement of a final Business Opportunity Rule completes the process that started when the Commission published an Initial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and proposed creating a Business Opportunity Rule separate from the Franchise Rule. The FTC issued a Revised Proposed Business Opportunity Rule and conducted a public workshop, and the staff issued a Staff Report. At every stage of the Rule amendment proceeding, the Commission solicited comment on the economic impact of the Rule, as well as the costs and benefits of each proposed amendment. In issuing the final Rule, the Commission has carefully considered the comments received and the costs and benefits of each amendment.

          To find out more about business opportunity sellers' compliance obligations, read Selling a Work-at-Home or Other Business Opportunity? Revised Rule May Apply to You or watch this newvideo. Consumers thinking about buying a business opportunity should read Looking to Earn Extra Income? Rule Helps You Avoid Bogus Business Opportunity Offers to learn more about the final Rule.

          The Commission vote approving the final amendments to the Business Opportunity Rule was 
          4-0.

          The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 
          1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC's website provides free information on a variety ofconsumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

          _______________________________________

          Trouble paying your mortgage?

          Get connected with an HUD-approved housing counselor.  The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau explains how here.

          you get connected to a HUD-approved housing counselor. At no cost to you, the counselor can help you work with your mortgage company to try to avoid foreclosure. A housing counselor can help you organize your finances, understand your mortgage options, and find a solution that works for you.

          Here’s what to do:

          STEP 1: Collect your financial information

          Have this ready when you work with your mortgage company or housing counselor to discuss a possible work-out solution.

          • Mortgage loan number (account number)
          • Any additional paperwork from your mortgage company
          • Recent pay stubs
          • Recent tax return
          • Household expenses (bills including food, utilities, car payments, insurance, cable, phone, credit cards, car loans, and student loans)

          STEP 2: Call  the CFPB at 1(855) 411-2372

          If you would prefer to look for mortgage help online, HUD provides a list of foreclosure prevention resources arranged by state. Military members or veterans can call us or visit the VA’s home loan website to get personalized assistance.

          STEP 3: Be vigilant about scams

          Foreclosure prevention and loan modification scammers target homeowners who are having trouble paying their mortgages. These scammers might promise “guaranteed” or “immediate” relief from foreclosure, and they might charge you very high fees for little or no services. Don’t get scammed. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Call the CFPB if you think you may be the target or victim of a scam.

          Legal aid

          If you believe you are in need of an attorney, or if you have been served with a notice of foreclosure or other related legal complaint, there might be legal representation available at little or no cost to you. 

          ___________________________________________________________________________________________

          Due to the most recent flooding disaster facing the citizens of New England following Hurricane Irene in Aug., 2011, The Federal Trade Commission has issued Disaster Recovery, a consumer advisory on a variety of home ownership issues and scams ranging from crooked charities to fake disaster officials. From the FTC:

          ADVANCE FEE LOAN SCAMS

          These scams typically require that consumers or businesses pay some type of fee up front, say, to process the loan. The promised loan never materializes. A variation on this scam offers credit cards. But after you send in your money, all you get is a list of banks to contact yourself.

          APPLIANCES

          If one repair person tells you that an expensive or major appliance should be replaced, ask for the opinion and replacement cost in writing. Ask to see the contractor’s state and/or local business license. Talk to your insurance adjuster about the cost, and consider getting a second opinion. Make sure your contract lists materials to be used and a completion date. As always, don’t make the final payment until the work is completed and you are satisfied with the job.

          AUTOMOBILES

          If your car was submerged in at least a foot of standing water for more than an hour, have it checked out by a car dealer or repair shop. Even it runs, hidden damage could pose problems later on.
          Get detailed written estimates and keep copies of receipts and invoices.

          If you’re buying a used vehicle, inspect it carefully. Look at hidden parts or crevices to check for mud or silt, which indicates water damage.

          Some clues include:

          • new upholstery or carpeting;
          • dirt or mud in air vents or on top of the engine;
          • musty or moldy smell;
          • fluid contamination such as oil, power brakes and transmission. A mixture of motor oil and water looks milky white.

           

          Before you buy a used car, do a title search for the current owner’s name and address, purchase date, purchase price, sales tax, if owner is a car dealer, and odometer reading. You must have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to do this. It’s on the dashboard.

          The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has compiled a database of vehicles affected by hurricanes and other events. The information in this database was gathered from a number of sources, including insurance companies, salvage yards and state and local authorities. NICB is allowing individuals to check VINs free of charge as a public service to help determine whether a specific vehicle was involved in either hurricane. In addition, some, but not all, states require that a vehicle’s title indicate when it has been salvaged.

          CHARITY SCAMS

          Most charitable organizations are honest and put donations to good use. But some spend the majority of donations they receive on salaries and administrative costs. Occasionally, scam artists solicit donations for fake or existing charities and pocket the money. Before you give, ask three questions:

          • How will your contribution be spent?
          • What portion of your contribution goes to salaries and administrative costs?
          • If you are solicited by telephone, ask if the caller works for a professional fund-raiser. Many state laws require this disclosure.

           

          CONTRACTOR SCAMS

          After a disaster hits your area, you may discover that your damaged home or business may need extensive repair or demolition. Insurance settlements and relief from the federal government to property owners can provide con artists with opportunities to profit unfairly. It’s no secret that fraudsters follow the money, attracted by the demand for repairs and the availability of funds.
          When you deal with contractors:

          • Ask for copies of their general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
          • Check their identification and references.
          • Don’t pay more than the minimum in advance.
          • Deal with reputable people in your community.
          • Call the cops and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.

           

          If your house is severely damaged, make sure you can legally rebuild if you intend to. When you file for a building permit, local inspectors will determine what federal regulations you must comply with. Make sure you check the building permit for any restrictions yourself and that the new structure meets any elevation standards.

          If your house is basically intact, but you need a contractor to help with some repairs, ask questions first and pay later. Remember to be SKEPTICAL: watch what is charged in your name at the building supply store.

          Choosing a Contractor

          • Get recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, insurance agents, or claims adjusters.
          • Deal only with licensed and insured contractors. Check with the local Better Business Bureau and Home Builders Association to see if complaints have been lodged against any contractor you’re considering.
          • Be skeptical of contractors who encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs.
          • Get a written estimate that includes any oral promises the contractor made. Remember to ask if there’s a charge for an estimate before allowing anyone into your home.
          • Take your time about signing a contract. Ask for explanations for price variations, and don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Resist dealing with any contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job up-front. A deposit of one-third of the total price is standard. Pay only by check or credit card and pay the final amount only after the work is completed to your satisfaction. Don’t pay cash.
          • Ask a knowledgeable friend, relative or attorney to review a home repair contract before you sign. Get a copy of the final, signed contract before the job begins.
          • Ask the contractor you choose to provide a lien waiver before starting your job. This is a receipt that says the workers and suppliers of material will not ask you for money once you have paid the contractor. In any case, don’t sign a consent of owner statement: it says you, the property owner, will cover the costs of materials and labor if the contractor doesn’t pay.

          DAMAGED OR LOST DOCUMENTS

          It is important to replace any legal documents that have been damaged or lost. Among those documents that should be replaced – and the contacts – are:

          • Deeds and recorded real estate documents: County’s Recorder of Deeds
          • Mortgages and other credit: Lender or financial company
          • Leases: Landlord or financial company
          • Insurance policies: Insurance company/agent
          • Wills: Attorney. If the will is destroyed, you’ll need another.
          • Checks/Passbook Savings book/Investment materials: Bank, investment company, or your broker.
          • Auto Title/Drivers License: Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicles
          • Birth Certificate: Vital Statistics Office from county where person was born.
          • Social Security Card: local Social Security Administration Office
          • Tax Returns: IRS Center
          • Other important documents, such as contracts or divorce judgments: Attorney or the court

           

          A very important document to have at this time is your credit report because it lists all your creditors. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three national credit reporting companies. Call  toll-free, 1-877-322-8228 for your free credit report. If you have already gotten your free credit report this year from each of the companies, you may have to pay for another copy – but it won’t cost more than $9.50.
          DEBRIS REMOVAL SCAMS

          If you are dealing with a company or person who promises to remove debris from your property, ask them to list the services they will provide in writing. Don’t make the final payment until you have inspected the job and are happy with it. Check around for prices to make sure you are not overcharged.

           

          DOOR -TO-DOOR SALES (COOLING OFF RULE)

          After a disaster, you may find salespeople at your door offering a variety of home-repair products or services. You have certain cancellation rights when sales occur in your home, from the back of a truck, or anywhere but the seller’s established place of business.

          If the sale is more than $25, you can cancel within three days and still get a full refund. The salesperson is required to tell you about your three day right to cancel and give you a form to use.

          You can cancel for any reason, but you have to do it in writing. Sign and mail the form the salesperson gave you at the sale. Make sure it is post-marked before midnight on the third business day after the sale. Report any problems with door-to-door sales to teh Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov, or 1-877-FTC-HELP.

          FAKE DISASTER OFFICIALS

          Always ask for identification from any officials who stop at your home or your temporary shelter. Some scam artists claim to be government officials who could help you qualify for disaster relief payments for a “processing” fee. Others masquerade as safety inspectors or utility repair men who say immediate work is required. Still others say they can get you FEMA funds for a fee. FEMA does not charge application fees. In fact, no government agency charges application fees.

          Verify the credentials of anyone who is offering you low-interest government loans. Confirm that they are affiliated with such agencies by calling the agencies if necessary.

          FLOOD RESTORATION

          Your home and its contents may look beyond hope, but many of your belongings can be restored. If you do things right, your flooded home can be cleaned up, dried out, rebuilt, and reoccupied sooner than you think.

          Play it safe. The dangers are not over when the water goes down. Your home's foundation may have been weakened, the electrical system may have shorted out, and floodwaters may have left behind things that could make you sick. When in doubt, throw it out. Don't risk injury or infection.

          Ask for help. Many people can do a lot of the clean up and repairs needed after a flood. But if you have technical questions or do not feel comfortable doing something, get professional help. If there is a federal disaster declaration, a telephone "hotline" will often be publicized to provide information about public, private, and voluntary agency programs to help you recover from the flood.

          Floodproof. It is very likely that your home will be flooded again someday. You can save a lot of money by floodproofing as you repair and rebuild. You should also prepare for the next flood by buying flood insurance and writing a flood response plan.

          FOUNDATION, EXCAVATION, or WATERPROOFING WORK

          Occasionally, workers offer to use “leftover” materials to repair your home. Very often, these are not left over from a previous job, but rather poor quality materials. Some states report that common household paint has even been used in fraudulent waterproofing scams. What can you do?

          • Get all proposals and contracts in writing.
          • Get a second opinion.
          • Check the identification of the workers.
          • Inspect the work before it is covered – or ask independent and qualified people to check the work for you before it is covered and you pay for it.

           

          HOME OWNERSHIP ISSUES

          If your home is damaged and you can’t live there, you still have a mortgage. Contact your lender immediately. Many institutions are allowing a grace period during which they may suspend your obligation to make mortgage payments.

          Mortgage help from FEMA may be available if you face foreclosure proceedings.

          • FEMA operates a Disaster Housing Program to help homeowners who have been forced out of their homes by disasters. This includes Disaster Home Repair Assistance, which provides grants to homeowners for minor but necessary disaster-related repairs. Call the FEMA Disaster Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA.

          You may be eligible for loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make necessary repairs.

          • The SBA makes low interest loans of up to $200,000 to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.

          If you have a mortgage insured by the FHA (HUD) or VA, you may have additional protections, like a forbearance on the mortgage payments or a period of suspended payments. The FHA has extended its foreclosure moratorium and also offers extended payment plans on FHA mortgages. Call 1-888-297-8685 for further information.

          HOME REPAIR SCAMS

          Consider any offer that is made on a “now or never” basis to be fraudulent. Ask to sleep on any offer and get a phone number to call back.

          Deciding on a Contractor

          1. Check to see whether the company is local. Does it have a tack record with references in the area? Can you see previous work. Take a look at the company vehicle: Does it have the company name, address, and phone on it?
          2. Get at least two bids in writing.
          3. Look at the contractor’s business license, and keep the number.
          4. Check with the Better Business Bureau or friends and neighbors to make sure complaints haven’t been filed against the company.
          5. If someone offers you a “special deal” in exchange for your credit card number, forget about it. And if someone promises you a loan in exchange for a fee in advance, say no. Deal with established lenders only.
          6. Pay in installments as the work is completed or in one large payment once the work is done and has been inspected. Before you pay, insist that the contractor give you a sworn statement that all materials have been paid for and all subcontractors have been paid. This protects you from liens that may be placed on your property if all suppliers and subcontractors haven’t been paid.

          Paying for Repair Work

          • Never sign your insurance check over to a contractor. Instead, arrane with your bank for a Certificate of Completion. The bank will pay the contractor for each stage of the job only after you have given your okay.
          • The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operates a Disaster Housing Program to help homeowners who have been forced out of their homes by disasters. This includes Disaster Home Repair Assistance, which provides grants to homeowners for minor but necessary disaster-related repairs. Call the FEMA Disaster Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA.
          • The U.S. Small Business Administration makes low interest loans of up to $200,000 to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.
          • If you get a loan to pay for the work, be cautious about using your home as security: If you don’t repay the loan as agreed, you could lose your home. Consider asking an attorney to review the loan documents.
          • If you used a credit card to pay for a product or service in dispute, you may be able to recover your money. Write the credit card company a letter with the details of the matter; you must do this within 60 days after you get the disputed bill.
          • If you suspect a repair rip-off, contact the consumer division of your state Attorney General. For a list, visit www.naag.org.
          • If you suspect fraud, waste, or abuse involving FEMA disaster assistance programs, report it to Dept. of Homeland Security's Inspector General’s Office at 1-800-323-8603.

             

           

          IDENTITY THEFT

          Guarding Against Identity Theft in the Aftermath of a Disaster

           

          JOB SCAMS

          www.ftc.gov/complaint

          PEST CONTROL

          RENTAL LISTING SCAMS

          UTILITY RELATED SCAMS

           

          WATER TREATMENT OR PURIFICATION DEVICES

          Fraudulent firms may try to sell you overpriced or useless water treatment devices by offering to test your water for free. Offers to test the tap water in your home for free are almost always part of a sales promotion. No single device can solve all kinds of water problems. Don’t drink any tap water until the local authorities have said it’s okay.

          If you’re on a public water system, your local water-utility office can tell you about water safety problems and what to do. The health department can answer your questions about private wells. And if the seller claims the water treatment device can remove contaminants, don’t buy it until you find out if the seller is properly registered and the treatment system is properly certified with the state department of public health.

          Most disaster-related job scams involve advertising job opportunities, such as floor clean up or other labor), and require a payment in advance. But they don’t produce a job. Job listings from 800 and 900 numbers are of special concern. Classified ads telling you to call a 900 phone number for a job referral are an expensive way for someone to read you classified ad listings. Report job scams to the FTC at , or 1-877-FTC-HELP.

          Disaster clean-ups bring out pests. Check any offers of free inspections: They could result in unnecessary and expensive treatments. Get a second opinion. After a natural disaster, so many people are in need of someplace to live. In a rental listing scam, someone promises to find you housing, but asks you to pay for the promise in advance. Usually state law requires a prepaid rental listing service to give you a written contract. Read it carefully. Meanwhile, know that con artists may try to charge you a fee for the promise of housing that doesn’t exist.

          Sometimes, fraudsters lie about the quality of the water supply to get you to buy overpriced or useless water treatment devices. Or door to door con artists portray themselves as utility workers checking out safety issues. They’re really casing your place. Ask for identification before you let anyone in, and make sure you can believe it by checking out the company 

          •  

            • If you are recovering from the effects the California wildfires, you will need to share your personal information to get relief benefits from government agencies or other organizations, or replacement identification documents. Be cautious. Identity thieves may be posing as government officials or representatives for government agencies. Ask for identification, and when possible, initiate contact yourself using information posted on official websites or in official information dissemination areas.

               

            • If you find that you inadvertently gave out your personal information to a thief, if your wallet was stolen, or if you are concerned that your information may be accessible to thieves, contact your financial companies about closing your accounts. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them. Avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

               

            • If you inadvertently gave out your Social Security number to a thief or know that it was stolen, you may want to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Fraud alerts can help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts. But note that when you place a fraud alert on your credit file, companies take certain steps to verify your identity before they issue you credit. You may experience a delay in getting credit, especially if you have lost some or all of your identification documents. If you decide that placing a fraud alert is appropriate, call the toll-free fraud number of one of the following credit bureaus:

              Equifax: 800-525-6285
              Experian: 888-397-3742
              TransUnion: 800-680-7289

               

            • If you’re concerned that you may be a victim of dentity theft, you can check your credit report. If an identity thief is opening new credit accounts in your name, these accounts are likely to show up on your credit report. You can get your report free from www.annualcreditreport.com, or 1-877-322-8228. Check your report to make sure it is accurate.

               

            • For more information about guarding against identity theft and resolving problems, visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-IDTHEFT.

          ___________________________________________________________________________________

           

          What's one sure sign of a scam? if a stranger asks you to wire money.  Here's what the Federal Trade Commission says:

          Wiring Money

          Scammers come up with all kinds of convincing stories to get your money. And many of them involve you wiring money through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram.

          Why do scammers insist that people use money transfers? Because it’s like sending cash: the scammers get the money quickly, and you can’t get it back. Typically, there’s no way to reverse a transfer or trace the money, and money wired to another country can be picked up at multiple locations, so it’s just about impossible to identify or track someone down.

          In some cases, agents of the money transfer company have been in on the fraud. In fact, the FTC found that between 2004 and 2008, agents of one wire transfer company helped fraudulent telemarketers and other con artists trick U.S. consumers into wiring more than $84 million within the United States and to Canada alone.

          What You Need to Know

          Money transfers can be useful when you want to send funds to someone you know and trust – but they’re incredibly risky when you’re dealing with a stranger. Remember:

          • Wiring money is like sending cash; once it’s sent, you can’t get it back. Con artists often insist that people wire money – especially overseas – because it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transfer or trace the money.
          • Never wire money to strangers or someone you haven’t met in person. That includes:
            • Sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment
            • An online love interest who asks for money or a favor
            • Someone advertising an apartment or vacation rental online
            • A potential employer or someone who says it’s part of your new online job
            • Someone who claims to be a relative or friend in dire straits – often in a foreign jail or hospital – and wants to keep it a secret from the family
          • Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back. The check will bounce, and you’ll owe your bank the money you withdrew. By law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within a day or two, but it can take weeks to uncover a fake check. It may seem that the check has cleared and that the money is in your account. But you’re responsible for the checks you deposit, so if a check turns out to be a fake, you owe the bank the money you withdrew.

          Money Wiring Scams

          Money wiring scams can involve dramatic or convincing stories. Here are some you may have heard about:

          • Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams: The letter says you just won a lottery. All you have to do is deposit the enclosed cashier’s check and wire money for “taxes” and “fees.” Regardless of how legitimate the check looks, it’s no good. When it bounces, you’ll be responsible for the money you sent.
          • Overpayment Scams: Someone answers the ad you placed to sell something and offers to use a cashier’s check, personal check or corporate check to pay for it. But at the last minute, the buyer (or a related third party) comes up with a reason to write the check for more than the purchase price, asking you to wire back the difference. The fake check might fool bank tellers, but it will eventually bounce, and you’ll have to cover it.
          • Relationship Scams: You meet someone on a dating site and things get serious. You send messages, talk on the phone, trade pictures, and even make marriage plans. Soon you find out he’s going to Nigeria or another country for work. Once he’s there, he needs your help: can you wire money to tide him over temporarily? The first transfer may be small, but it’s followed by requests for more – to help him get money the government owes him, to cover costs for a sudden illness or surgery for a son or daughter, to pay for a plane ticket back to the U.S. – always with the promise to pay you back. You might get documents or calls from lawyers as “proof.” But as real as the relationship seems, it’s a scam. You will have lost any money you wired, and the person you thought you knew so well will be gone with it.
          • Mystery Shopper Scams: You’re hired to be a mystery shopper and asked to evaluate the customer service of a money transfer company. You get a check to deposit in your bank account and instructions to withdraw the amount in cash and wire it – often to Canada or another country – using the service. When the counterfeit check is uncovered, you’re on the hook for the money.
          • Online Purchase Scams: You’re buying something online and the seller insists on a money transfer as the only form of payment that’s acceptable. Ask to use a credit card, an escrow service or another way to pay. If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Insisting on a money transfer is a signal that you won’t get the item – or your money back.
          • Apartment Rental Scams: In your search for an apartment or vacation rental, you find a great prospect at a great price. It can be yours if you wire money – for an application fee, security deposit or the first month’s rent. Once you’ve wired the money, it’s gone, and you learn there is no rental. A scammer hijacked a real rental listing by changing the contact information and placing the altered ad on other sites. Or, she made up a listing for a place that isn’t for rent or doesn’t exist, using below-market rent to lure you in. If you’re the one doing the renting, watch out for the reverse: a potential renter will say she wants to cancel her deposit and ask you to wire the money back – before you realize the check was a fake.
          • Advance Fee Loans Scams: You see an ad or website – or get a call from a telemarketer – that guarantees a loan or a credit card regardless of your credit history. When you apply, you find out you have to pay a fee in advance. If you have to wire money for the promise of a loan or credit card, you’re dealing with a scam artist: there is no loan or credit card.
          • Family Emergency or Friend-in-Need Scams: You get a call or email out of the blue from someone claiming to be a family member or friend who says he needs you to wire cash to help him out of a jam – to fix a car, get out of jail or the hospital or leave a foreign country. But he doesn’t want you to tell anyone in the family. Unfortunately, it’s likely to be a scammer using a relative’s name. Check the story out with other people in your family. You also can ask the caller some questions about the family that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.

           

           

          Hang up on Robocalls!

          From the Federal Trade Commission:

          The FTC's Robocall Action Plan

          Under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, calls that deliver a recorded message trying to sell you something are illegal, unless you’ve given written permission for the caller to call you.  These “robocalls” are illegal even if your phone number is not registered on the National Do Not Call Registry

          Most legitimate businesses adhere to the Telemarketing Sales Rule and do not place illegal robocalls.  Unfortunately, however, the prevalence of illegal robocalls has increased significantly in recent years due to technological advances that make it easier and cheaper to:

          • make large numbers of robocalls to consumers from anywhere in the world
          • fake Caller ID information in an attempt to obscure location and evade law enforcement

          The FTC is working on multiple initiatives to combat the problem of illegal robocalls, including:

          1. Continuing Aggressive Law Enforcement
            The Federal Trade Commission continues to target high volume offenders and pursue “chokepoints” in the calling process to stop the largest number of illegal calls. The agency has stopped companies responsible for making billions of robocalls since September of 2009, and will continue to identify, locate, and prosecute those responsible for illegal robocalls.
          2. Gathering Evidence Strategically
            The FTC is pursuing an innovative strategy to gather evidence about illegal robocalls directly and act on this information as quickly as possible.  Check this website for more details in the next few months.
          3. Pursuing Technological Solutions
            FTC staff continue to hold meetings and calls with engineers, technologists, and industry experts to discuss technological solutions to better trace illegal calls, combat caller ID spoofing, and stop illegal calls.
          4. Hosting Summit with Law Enforcement, Industry, and Other Stakeholders
            On October 18, 2012, the agency will host a public summit on robocalls. Check here later for further details.What to Do If You
            Get a RobocallTo Do When You Get One

          What's a Robocall?

          If you pick up the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, that's a robocall.

          If the recording is a sales message and you haven't given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. Period.

          What To Do When You Get a Robocall

          In short:

          1. Hang Up. Do not press 1 or any other numbers to get off the list.
          2. Consider blocking the number.
          3. Report it at www.donotcall.gov.

          For more info on what to do:

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