July 2015

Too close to call

Got a question about a product or an account from a big-name online retailer that makes you want to speak directly to their customer service representative? What do you do first? Go to their website, of course. Can’t find a phone number there? Then you may do what seems like the next best thing and just type the company name into a search engine.

But the FTC warns consumers that it’s a mistake to assume that all toll-free numbers that pop up in a search are legitimate customer service lines. Some are run by scammers out to hijack your credit card number or install malware on your computer.

Advanced password tips and tricks

Time to create another password? Make it a secure one. A little extra attention when you create a strong password can prevent an attacker from getting access to your account.

Supporting veterans at the VFW’s national conference

I recently spent a few days meeting many of our nation’s veterans at the annual VFW and Lady’s Auxiliary conferences in Pittsburgh. An estimated 12,000 delegates, dignitaries and guests convened in the Steel City, a little more than 100 years after the VFW was formally organized there by veterans of the Spanish-American war. This year’s convention included a speech by President Obama, workshops about veterans’ assistance, informational exhibits, a health fair, organizational business meetings and awards presentations.

Life happens…

What’s going on in your life today? Preparing to graduate? Have a changing family dynamic? Returning from military service? Or just moving into this country?

Big life changes seem to come frequently, and they don’t just impact your daily routine — they can affect your finances, too. Here are some ideas to help you land on your feet when you face a change.

Got 3 minutes for computer security?

Watch this video from OnGuardOnline.gov to learn how to foil a hacker — and keep your computer as secure as your most valued possessions.

image of computer security video

Card cracking: Not what it’s cracked up to be

The scam is called card cracking and it may start off innocently enough. You see a post on a social media site announcing a contest. Or maybe a webpage that claims to have a celebrity affiliation is offering a gift card giveaway.

The variations are endless, but here’s the tip-off that fraud is afoot. At some point, you’re asked for your bank account information, PIN number, or online banking credential. That’s when you can bank on the fact that those “innocent” offers aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

Are you following the “leads”?

Ever complete an online application to get the best rate on a loan? Or enter your email address on a website to learn more about colleges you’d like to attend? Getting products and information this way can be convenient and very fast. But the information you share may go through the hands of middlemen you may not know exist.

These companies are called “lead generators.”

It’s NOT the FTC calling about the OPM breach

If you’re an OPM data breach victim, you probably know to look out for identity theft. But what about imposter scams? In the latest twist, imposters are pretending to be the FTC offering money to OPM data breach victims.

Adiós fake debt collectors

“No hay mal, que por bien no venga,” as we say in Spanish. There’s nothing bad through which good doesn’t come.

It’s an appropriate phrase to describe the FTC’s settlement with Centro Natural – a telemarketing company that the FTC says deceived and harassed Spanish-speaking people into paying debts they didn’t owe. Thanks to the settlement, announced recently, the company is now banned from telemarketing and debt collecting. It’s an important case, because fraud really does affect every community. The case also aligns with the FTC’s work on how debt collection and credit reporting issues affect Latino consumers.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

It’s criminal

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced the extradition of six Nigerian nationals from South Africa to Mississippi to face a nine-count federal indictment for various Internet frauds. These six people join 15 others who were previously charged with, among other things, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, identity theft, and money laundering.

What were the scams? According to the indictment, the defendants found and reached out to their potential victims through online dating websites and work-at-home opportunities.

Scammers Impersonate the Police

We know scammers are out there, impersonating the authorities and conjuring up different schemes to fool people into giving them money. They might say they’re calling from the IRS because you owe taxes. Or claim they’re from the FTC, calling to help you recover money lost to a scammer. But now we’re hearing about a new ploy: scammers are impersonating the police! That takes some chutzpah, huh? Here’s how it works.

I’d like to thank…

At the Oscars, the best acceptance speeches are those with the story behind the thank you. Which is why, when we’re thanking all the legal services attorneys we get to work with, I’m going to tell you a few stories, rather than simply list the dozens of names.

In 2010, the FTC launched a Legal Services Collaboration: holding Common Ground conferences to bring together law enforcement and legal services; rethinking our consumer education to better serve legal services clients; talking regularly with our legal services colleagues – and getting their case referrals and help.

Faking it — scammers’ tricks to steal your heart and money

Not everyone using online dating sites is looking for love. Scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people — even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They profess their love quickly. And they tug at your heartstrings with made-up stories about how they need money — for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel. Why all of the tricks? They’re looking to steal your money.

Image of cupid and heart

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

Did you book that night at the hotel’s site?

Whether you travel a lot or just a little, you’ve probably gone online to book a hotel stay. Sometimes you might find a travel comparison site gets you the best deal. Other times, you might book directly at a hotel’s website — maybe to earn points for the company’s reward program, or because you have some special requests for your stay.

For those times you’re looking to book directly with a hotel, make sure that’s what you’re doing. The FTC has heard from people who searched online and thought they were booking on a hotel website, only to find they’d unknowingly been doing business with someone else.  

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

Call me maybe?

School’s out and your kids have days overflowing with fun and free time. You might be at the amusement park concessions while they’re riding the SuperVomitron Adventure Ride. Or maybe they’re at the pool bellyflopping with friends. Whatever the kids are up to, many parents like being able to stay in constant contact by getting them a mobile phone. If so, it’s time to teach them to think about safety and responsibility when using it.

Attention Grandparents: Watch out for phony debt collectors

My grandma kept an eye out for cheaters. (No, not that kind.) Back in the day, if a salesman knocked on her front door, she waved them off. Before caller ID, she hung up on telemarketers. But a call from a phony debt collector? She might have fallen for that one. Especially if the debt collector said she was responsible for her grandchild’s debt.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

FTC refunds nearly $4 million from debt collection scam

In the largest FTC debt collection refund program to date, the FTC is returning nearly $4 million to people who were harassed by Asset & Capital Management Group, a debt collection business that used dozens of fake names.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

Empower military families

It’s no secret that servicemembers and their families face particular challenges and stresses. Scam artists are skilled at knowing exactly how to exploit those challenges. They’ll lie or try any trickery to make a grab for a servicemember’s cash. That’s why the FTC has teamed up with the Department of Defense, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, and Military Saves on Military Consumer — a campaign to empower military and veteran communities with tips and tools to be informed consumers.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

A pill that makes your brain 15 years younger? Forget about it.

With aging, stress and being just plain busy, you might sometimes feel like you’re forgetting more things than you used to. So when an ad suggests a pill can reverse 10 to 15 years of memory loss, you might be tempted to buy it.

You may want to rethink that — even if the ad includes supposed backing by scientists, statistics and satisfied customers.

Blog Topics: 
Health & Fitness

Getting calls from your own number?

It’s like a scene out of a strange sci-fi movie. You get a call, look at the caller ID, and see that your own number is calling. Weird! No, this isn’t an alternate reality where your future self is calling the present you. It’s a scammer making an illegal robocall.

Rays on the roof

Have you ever thought about having your very own solar system — that is, solar panel system? There are several ways to get solar power at home: you can buy a rooftop system, lease a system, or sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) to buy power a system produces. If you’re thinking of using solar power at home, consider the costs and benefits of the arrangements.

Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit

If at first you don’t succeed…

At the FTC, one of our goals is to stop scammers and end their schemes. Sometimes, that requires persistence. Take the case announced today by the FTC and the Florida Attorney General against Lifewatch, Inc., a company that sells medical alert systems, mostly to older people.

Public Wi-Fi Networks

Whether in a hotel or airport across the world, or in the coffee shop just down the street, chances are you’ve used free Wi-Fi hotspots. While convenient, they’re often unsecure. So how can you reduce your risk? Encryption — having your information scrambled into code — is key to staying secure online.

Image of Public Wi-Fi Video

The FTC works for your community

“The Federal Trade Commission works for America’s consumers in every community.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said those words, or heard them from my colleagues – and that’s a good thing. Since fraud affects every community in our country, it bears repeating: the FTC works for your community.

A Text Message Mess

Let me set the scene: your friend John is rushing to get his daughter from school and his son to the soccer field, and he still needs to stop at the grocery store because there’s nothing in the fridge. In the midst of this everyday madness, he gets a text message from Google with a verification code. He thinks, “That’s weird. Maybe I should log in to my email and see what’s going on.”