Scammers never sleep, it seems. As Consumer Protection Week draws to a close, here are some of the latest plots that have come to light:
• The fake Federal Trade Commission consumer complaint notification. A recent attempt to phish for consumers’ personal and banking information is in the form of an FTC “Notification of a Consumer Complaint.” The e-mail message comes complete with a legitimate-looking FTC logo. The message states that a complaint has been filed against your business, requiring you to respond to allegations. A link that you are asked to click on in order to download a PDF of the complaint is actually a link to malware that will scan your computer for personal information.
The message should be deleted without any of the links being accessed. Remember that anyone can copy and paste logos onto an e-mail to make it appear official. Unexpected e-mails containing links are always suspicious. Try looking up the organization on Google, using the exact wording of the e-mail. This can often reveal alerts that have been posted about the scam. Also remember that as word gets around about a specific scam e-mail, the perpetrators will make changes so that the message doesn’t read exactly like the one that’s been discovered.
• Free trial offers that have strings attached. Sometimes a product or service that claims to have a free trial offer will end up costing the consumer money. That’s because there may be hidden time limits or fees. Usually the consumer must take some action to cancel with the company. Not doing so is an agreement to buy more products or services. Dishonest businesses make it difficult for the consumer to cancel. This can be done by hiding the terms and conditions of the offer in very small type, using pre-checked sign-up boxes as the default setting or putting excessively strict conditions on returns and cancellations that make it nearly impossible to stop the deliveries and billing.
Guard yourself by researching the company online to see what other customers have to say about it.
Look carefully at the offer to find out the terms and conditions. Can’t find them? Then don’t sign up.
Watch for pre-checked boxes that can give the company the green light to continue past the free trial offer.
Mark your calendar so you won’t forget to cancel before the time limit is over.
Read carefully for information about how to cancel future shipments or services. See if you will have to pay anything and what the time limit is.
• Debt collection scams. Scammers have called consumers recently claiming the consumer would be arrested in the near future if he or she did not remit payment for a payday loan taken out months or years before. Usually these loans were not ever taken out, and the scammer is relying on the consumer having a faulty memory. Nevertheless, reportedly people have paid hundreds of dollars, frightened by the prospect of arrest. Scammers may call repeatedly at home or at work to pressure potential victims into paying.
A variation on this scam is one in which the caller leaves a message in which he or she claims to be with a collection agency. The victim calls the number and is instructed to enter a Social Security number into an automated system. The scammer may then want the caller to make an immediate payment using bank account information. The bank account information along with the Social Security number is then used to further defraud the victim.
Always ask for official documentation of a debt that you are unsure of. Unless you have confirmed that a call is legitimate, never give out personal information over the phone. Report abusive calls to the Federal Trade Commission. Try to pay any money you owe directly to the business rather than through a third party.
Consumers can safeguard themselves against the constant onslaught of scammers by signing up for the Better Business Bureau’s Tip of the Day at the bureau’s national website at www.bbb.org/us/ or by visiting its Facebook page. For questions or concerns about area businesses, contact the local bureau at 800-856-2417 or visit the website www.kansasplains.bbb.org.