Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission
As the centenarian agency in the consumer protection world, the FTC knows that changes in the marketplace almost always affect trends in fraud – and that fraudsters follow the headlines. And we listen when the US Census Bureau tells us that more Americans are 65 and older now than at any other time in US history. So we anticipate that fraud targeting older citizens will increase in the next few years.
That’s just one reason the FTC launched a fraud education campaign aimed at active older people, a group with life experience and social networks.
When severe weather strikes, utility outages often are par for the course. Unfortunately, utility scams are becoming part of the drill, too.
Here’s how the scam works: Someone claiming to be with your local utility company comes around during an outage and offers to reconnect your service for a cash payment. Sure, you think it’s a bit odd that they’re asking for cash, but maybe the company’s power is out, too, and they can’t operate the computers to process payments. Besides, the person looks and sounds legitimate, and you really need your service turned on.
The FTC recently attended DEF CON 22, and challenged the tech-savvy to help us zap “Rachel from Cardholder Services” and her robocall buddies. How? The agency hosted a contest to see who could develop a cutting-edge robocall honeypot — an information system designed to attract robocallers, and help researchers and investigators understand and minimize illegal calls. Today, the FTC announced the winners, who will receive a combined total of $12,000 in prizes.
Your caller ID says “FTC” or “IRS,” and the phone number has the “202” Washington, DC area code. You might even look the number up and see that it’s a real government phone number.
But the person calling isn’t really from the FTC, IRS, or any other agency. It’s a government imposter whose goal is to convince you to send money before you figure out it’s a scam. The big giveaway? They want you to send money.
You get an email from your boss’s boss requesting that you make a wire transfer to a new vendor. The email is marked urgent, so you ignore the 20 others that need your attention to take care of it. You handle wire transfers all the time, and you’ll definitely score points for responding so quickly, right? Maybe not.
In a recent scheme, sometimes called “masquerading,” a hacker poses as a senior executive and asks an employee to complete a financial transaction, like a confidential business investment or a payment to a vendor. Once money is wired to a bogus account, it can be nearly impossible to recover.
What do you get when you mix a fraction of truth and a whole lot of lies? The FTC’s case against scammers who allegedly operated websites that promote a fictitious “Bill Payment Government Assistance Program” — a debt relief program claiming to pay consumers’ bills and repair their credit in exchange for an advance fee.
All parents think their babies rock. But when a company says its product will help a kid master reading Harry Potter during the potty-training years, it needs solid science to support those claims.
The FTC says Dr. Robert Titzer and his company, Infant Learning, Inc., deceived consumers with ads for Your Baby Can Read, a set of DVDs, books and word cards that cost around $200. These ads and other promotional materials promoted the program’s ability to teach babies as young as nine months to read — with their skills advancing to books like Charlotte’s Web by ages three or four.
Concussions and their long-term effects on the brain are a hot topic — for good reason. If you play sports, a claim that a product could protect you from a concussion would be mighty compelling. And you’d expect it would be a claim you could trust, right?
The calendar says August: time for TV re-runs, back-to-school sales and the beginning of the futbol season. It’s also time to start planning for Hispanic Heritage Month. The FTC has free resources to help people learn their rights and avoid fraud.