Because you pay your income taxes on time, you have been awarded a free $12,500 government grant! To get your grant, simply give us your checking account information, and we will direct-deposit the grant into your bank account!”
Sometimes, it’s an ad that claims you will qualify to receive a “free grant” to pay for education costs, home repairs, home business expenses, or unpaid bills. Other times, it’s a phone call supposedly from a “government” agency or some other organization with an official sounding name. In either case, the claim is the same: your application for a grant is guaranteed to be accepted, and you’ll never have to pay the money back.
But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says that “money for nothing” grant offers usually are scams, whether you see them in your local paper or a national magazine, or hear about them on the phone.
Some scam artists advertise “free grants” in the classifieds, inviting readers to call a toll-free number for more information. Others are more bold: they call you out of the blue. They lie about where they’re calling from, or they claim legitimacy using an official-sounding name like the “Federal Grants Administration.” They may ask you some basic questions to determine if you “qualify” to receive a grant. FTC attorneys say calls and come-ons for free money invariably are rip offs.
Grant scammers generally follow a script: they congratulate you on your eligibility, then ask for your checking account information so they can “deposit your grant directly into your account,” or cover a one-time “processing fee.” The caller may even reassure you that you can get a refund if you’re not satisfied. In fact, you’ll never see the grant they promise; they will disappear with your money.
The FTC says following a few basic rules can keep consumers from losing money to these “government grant” scams:
- Don’t give out your bank account information to anyone you don’t know. Scammers pressure people to divulge their bank account information so that they can steal the money in the account. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Don’t share it unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.
- Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you have already been awarded — or to pay for a list of grant-making institutions. The names of agencies and foundations that award grants are available for free at any public library or on the Internet. The only official access point for all federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.
- Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. Just because the caller says he’s from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check the blue pages in your telephone directory to bear out your hunch — or not.
- Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists use Internet technology to disguise their area code in caller ID systems. Although it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
- Take control of the calls you receive. If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive, place your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. To register online, visit donotcall.gov. To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register.
- File a complaint with the FTC. If you think you may have been a victim of a government grant scam, file a complaint with the FTC online, or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
video hooked on phone
Crooks use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. They often combine sophisticated technology with age-old tricks to get people to send money or give out personal information. They add new twists to old schemes and pressure people to make important decisions on the spot. One thing that never changes: they follow the headlines — and the money.
Stay a step ahead with the latest info and practical tips from the nation’s consumer protection agency. Browse FTC scam alerts by topic or by most recent.
Most Recent Scam Alerts
April 6, 2018
March 22, 2018
March 16, 2018
March 12, 2018
March 9, 2018
March 8, 2018
March 5, 2018
February 26, 2018
February 23, 2018
February 22, 2018
February 15, 2018
February 8, 2018
February 1, 2018
February 1, 2018
January 31, 2018
January 30, 2018
January 26, 2018
January 26, 2018
February 14, 2017
BBB ANNOUNCES THE TOP 10 SCAMS, FRAUDS AND THINGS TO WATCH FOR IN 2017
Victoria, BC – Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Vancouver Island announces the Top Ten Scams, Frauds and Things to Watch For in 2017. The following list includes the most reported scams and suspicious activities of 2016, as well as consumer tips on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim of fraud in 2017.
1) Hoax News
Fraudulent or hoax news is becoming a chronic problem on social media and the Internet. In some instances “fake” news is being intentionally created and published to mislead the masses for political purposes or financial gain. In other instances, fake news headlines are used to lure victims to click on links and download malware and viruses onto their computers and mobile devices.
CONSUMER TIP: Don’t believe everything you read. Anyone can publish anything on the Internet. Social media allows both real and fake news to easily go viral. Consider the original source of all “news” content and be suspicious of unknown or pop-up news providers. Just because a news story has thousands or millions of views, does not make it legitimate. Use extreme caution when clicking on hyperlinks to news provided to you via email or social media and be sure to regularly update your virus software.
2) Online Loans
Beware unscrupulous online loan service providers. Fake loan companies with fake websites have been known to take victims for thousands of dollars. Most fake loan companies require applicants to pay fees in advance of securing the loan to cover items such as interest payments, legal fees or insurance fees. Once the “fees” are paid, the lender disappears, no loan is provided and victims end up in greater debt.
CONSUMER TIP: Before applying for a loan in person or online carefully research the company first. Make sure the business is a legitimate, reputable lender. Look up the company’s BBB Business Profile (bbb.org). Legitimate financial lenders will not require you to pay a fee for paperwork, administration fees, legal fees or insurance prior to getting a loan. Typically, the cost of such fees is included in the total loan amount and is not an additional sum that you must pay up front to secure the loan.
3) Bogus Customs & Delivery Charges
Do not to fall victim to unsolicited claims from fake delivery service providers stating that you owe customs and delivery charges for undelivered packages. Notifications may come via mail, email or phone for unanticipated deliveries. Such notifications are typically an attempt to canvas neighborhoods for absent homeowners and/or to extort bogus delivery and customs fees from unsuspecting victims.
CONSUMER TIP: Keep track of any expected packages or delivery services you commonly use (including the estimated delivery dates and delivery service provider companies being used). Ask friends, family members or other businesses that are sending you packages to notify you in advance that a package will be sent and which service provider they are using. Know that you do not have to pay taxes or duty on gifts valued at under $60 that are sent to you (Note: some exceptions apply).
4) Fake Apps
Use caution when purchasing retail store or online shopping apps. Counterfeit apps are designed to look and feel like they belong to legitimate retail stores. Some fake apps will inundate you with pop-up junk ads, while others will result in credit card and personal information being stolen, or malware being installed on your mobile device. In some instances, mobile devices have even been locked down and held hostage until a ransom is paid to the scam artist.
CONSUMER TIP: Be very cautious when deciding what apps to download. Read customer reviews associated with the app very carefully. Never click on a link in any email to download a new app. Go to the website of the retailer to get a link to the legitimate app in the App Store. If you do decide to use an app, give as little information as possible. Be very reluctant to link your credit card to any app. If you link it and that app is compromised, fraudsters could steal all your account information.
5) Auto Subscriptions
Many consumers taking advantage of online deals or trial offers for health and beauty products, vitamins, home care necessities, vacations and other items found themselves unknowingly signing up for expensive, seemingly endless, automatic monthly subscriptions for unwanted products. Beware difficult to find, non-existent, or complicated to understand fine print embedded in the terms and conditions or purchase contracts. Too-good-too be true offers often unexpectedly result in expensive subscriptions, cancellation fees and return shipping costs.
CONSUMER TIP: Always read the fine print before making any online purchases. Most online discounts and free trial offers come at some cost and are intended to lure consumers into becoming regular purchasers of a product or service. Unethical businesses and scam artists rely on victims to not have asked, looked for, or done their research before making such purchases. Do not provide your credit card or banking information to any company unless you are sure you understand the return and cancellation policies for a product or service.
6) Phishing Impostors
No one is immune! Many computer virus and phishing scams masquerade as the emails or websites of legitimate businesses and organizations. Using the logo and good name of reputable charities, non-profits, banks, government agencies and businesses, scam artists send out a variety of legitimate looking, but fake links designed for you to click on so that they can install malware on your computer or steal your private information (such as passwords and account information).
CONSUMER TIP: Never open an email, click on any links in social media accounts, or download any files unless you are certain you know for certain who it is from, what it is about and if it is legitimate. If at any time you think you might have become the victim of a phishing or other computer, email or Internet scam, be sure to have your computer scanned by a trusted computer repair professional to see if any malware is present.
7) Lottery & Prize Winner Scams
Lottery and prize winning scams come in many shapes and forms. Don’t fall for fantastic offerings of foreign lottery winnings, dream vacations, exciting prizes of money, a new car, a shopping spree or new technology, especially if you don’t recall entering to win such offerings. Unexpected prize and lottery scams rely on your excitement, to dupe you into paying fees to claim your prize, or into providing private personal, banking and credit card information for purposes of identity theft.
CONSUMER TIP: It is illegal to win money in a lottery from a country to which you are not a citizen, and typically a resident. Legitimate lotteries and prize giveaways do not require you to pay fees or taxes in advance to claim your winnings. Keep track of all contest, lottery and prize entry forms that you fill out. Make sure you know what items you may be eligible to win, when the award will be announced and where it is coming from. Never wire transfer money to claim a prize. Use caution when phoning to claim a prize. Know that some long-distance phone numbers charge a premium rate and can be very expensive to call. Don’t give out credit card or private personal information to claim a prize.
8) 3rd Party Application Services
Use caution when hiring third-parties to assist with filling out and submitting applications for government services, grants and loans. A variety of different organizations and businesses offer “pay-for” services to assist people with filling out applications for disability grants, passport applications, loans and debt consolidation, as well as other government services. While many of these organizations and business are legitimate service providers, there are also many scam artists claiming to provide similar services and targeting unsuspecting victims.
CONSUMER TIP: Legitimate “for-a-fee” application completion service providers typically charge money to assist customers in ensuring that their applications are filled out in full and submitted properly, in a timely fashion. Such services are usually intended to make the application process run smoothly for those with language barriers, disabilities, or a general lack of time. Before hiring such agents, it is vital that you weigh the costs versus benefits, that you clearly understand the specific services you are receiving, and that you understand the risks of providing personal information to a third party.
9) Tech Support Scams
Consumers are aggressively being targeted (by phone, email and online pop ups) by fraudsters pretending to represent Microsoft, Apple or other Tech Support companies. Victims are contact and informed that their computer has been infected with a virus. In order to “fix” the problem, the victim is directed to a website, asked to provide their credit card information as payment, and told to download an anti-virus program.
CONSUMER TIP: Computer manufacturers will not contact you to let you know if there is a problem with your computer. Computer upgrades, maintenance and virus scanning are the responsibility of the computer owner. Treat all unsolicited contact via phone, email or pop-ups with skepticism. Never give out personal or banking information to anyone unless you are confident you can trust the source. Be sure to independently install anti-virus software and update it regularly.
10) Foreign Money Transfers
New twists on the Nigerian Letter scam continue to dupe unsuspecting victims. Beware emotionally charged letters, emails and social media posts from people in foreign countries asking for financial assistance, discovering inheritance money, offering investment opportunities or suggesting the need to transfer money for any reasons. In most instance when an unknown party requests a wire or money transfer to a stranger in foreign country, the story is a lie and your money will be stolen.
CONSUMER TIP: Never wire or transfer money or share private credit card and banking information with strangers unless you are comfortable losing your money or having your information stolen. Money tranfers are virtually untraceable once sent and received. Beware complex cheque cashing and money transfer schemes, in which a cheque is given to you or money is deposited into your account, and you are then to write a cheque or send money to someone else. Overpayment schemes and identity theft are common outcomes from foreign money transfer scams.
For more consumer and business tips you can trust, visit bbb.org/Vancouver-island.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), along with the Florida attorney general, announced an operation a few months ago that successfully shut down a major computer tech scam that cheated people out of millions of dollars by convincing them that their computer was compromised and they needed to pay for the fix.
The FTC also warned that these types of scams continue to be a major threat to U.S. consumers.
Read more: Warning: The IRS phone scam is back
How the tech support scam works
In fact, there’s a new version of the scam making the rounds that involves a pop-up warning claiming to be from Microsoft. According to a recent report, the fake notification first warns you that your computer will lock up if the alert window is closed, and then it instructs you to call a specific phone number ‘immediately.’ The message from the crooks may also warn that your computer has ‘been infected with a suspicious activity’ and even claim that your information has already been stolen.
This is just one variation of how it can work.
The problem is that these scams come in all different shapes and sizes — including pop-up alerts, fake advertisements and even phone calls — making it difficult for consumers to be able to tell the difference between fake alerts and the real ones.
According to the FTC, the scammers often use ‘deceptive online ads and misleading, high-pressure sales tactics to frighten consumers into spending hundreds of dollars for dubious computer ‘repairs’ and antivirus software.’
To make users think these pop-up alerts are legitimate, hackers create them to look just like real updates you would get from Microsoft or Apple. Typically, the notification then prompts the user to call a toll-free number (displayed in the ad) to make sure their device, and any sensitive information stored inside, are protected.
When you call the number, you’re asked to give a fake tech support worker remote access to your computer by downloading a software.
Read more: Beware of new ‘can you hear me’ phone scam
In one case, fake ‘technicians’ sitting in a call center in Florida would then allegedly ‘run a series of ‘diagnostics’ that inevitably discovered the existence of grave problems that must be immediately fixed at a cost of $200 to $300,’ according to the FTC.
On top of that, consumers were encouraged to spend an additional $200 to $500 to replace their existing antivirus software, which they were told was outdated and useless. And when people did purchase the ‘updated software,’ it was typically something that’s already available as a free download, according to the FTC.
How to avoid tech support scams
If you fall for it and download whatever software the crooks give you, they can then secretly track everything you do on that device — just waiting for you to enter any password or payment information that they can steal.
On top of that, once you give the scammers remote access to your computer, they can then hold it ransom until you pay them a large sum of money — which may or may not actually get you your device back.
These scams have become such a big threat that the FTC now has a page on its site dedicated specifically to informing consumers about tech support scams. And since it can be difficult to determine whether an update or alert is legitimate, the FTC has provided some tips on how to spot this type of scam, how to avoid it and what to do if you think you’ve been a victim.
Here are some common tactics a scammer may use to try to get money and/or sensitive information from you:
- ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then make changes to your settings that could leave your computer vulnerable
- try to enroll you in a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program
- ask for credit card information so they can bill you for phony services — or services you could get elsewhere for free
- trick you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data, like user names and passwords
- direct you to websites and ask you to enter your credit card number and other personal information
What to do if you get a call from someone claiming to be from tech support:
- Don’t give control of your computer to a third party who calls you out of the blue.
- Do not rely on caller ID alone to authenticate a caller. Criminals spoof caller ID numbers. They may appear to be calling from a legitimate company or a local number, when they’re not even in the same country as you.
- Online search results might not be the best way to find technical support or get a company’s contact information. Scammers sometimes place online ads to convince you to call them. They pay to boost their ranking in search results so their websites and phone numbers appear above those of legitimate companies. If you want tech support, look for a company’s contact information on their software package or on your receipt.
- Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
- If a caller pressures you to buy a computer security product or says there is a subscription fee associated with the call, hang up. If you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly and ask for help.
- Never give your password on the phone. No legitimate organization calls you and asks for your password.
- Put your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, and then report illegal sales calls.
What to do if you’ve responded to an alert or other notification that you think could be a scam:
- Get rid of malware. Update or download legitimate security software and scan your computer. Delete anything it identifies as a problem. Here’s a list of free antivirus and malware protection options.
- Change any passwords that you gave out. If you use these passwords for other accounts, change those accounts, too.
- If you paid for bogus services with a credit card, call your credit card provider and ask to reverse the charges. Check your statements for any other charges you didn’t make, and ask to reverse those, too.
- If you believe that someone may have accessed your personal or financial information, visit the FTC’s identity theft website. You can minimize your risk of further damage and repair any problems already in place.
- File a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Tips to avoid similar scams
- Don’t click on any links in an email you weren’t expecting: Scammers often disguise malware attacks as emails that appear to be from a friend, helpful website or company you do business with. If you aren’t sure about it, delete the email and contact the friend or company directly. If you click on any link or attachment in an email you weren’t expecting, it could install malware on your device without you even realizing it until your bank account has been drained.
- If you receive an email claiming to be from your bank or other company that has your personal information, don’t click on any of the links: Even if it looks official, it could still very easily be a scam. Instead, log in to your account separately to check for any new notices. You can also call the company about the information sent via email.
- Research unknown sites before going to them directly: When it comes to spotting potentially-dangerous websites, before you go to an unknown site, double-check the spelling of the web address/URL by first doing a search for it.
- Run anti-virus software: Frequently run anti-virus protection programs on your devices to check for any malware that could be hiding in the background. Here’s a list of free options.
IRS phone scam alert: What you need to know
Hiya, a smartphone app that protects users from phone spam and scam calls, reports that IRS and tax phone scams have gone up 1218% year over year from January and February 2017 to 2018.
When the IRS impersonator calls, they’ll say you owe them money and may threaten legal action or an arrest. Don’t fall for it!
The scammers will often use caller ID spoofing to make their number show up as “IRS,” but that’s not always the case. Hiya says these are the top area codes where tax scams appear to originate:
- 202 – Washington, D.C.
- 206 – Seattle
- 315 – Upstate New York
- 470 – Atlanta
- 631 – Central and East Long Island, NY
- 314 – St. Louis, Missouri
- 415 – San Francisco
- 786 – Miami
- 646 – New York City
Many of money expert Clark Howard’s fans have stopped answering phone calls from anyone they don’t know because a family member or friend can always leave a voicemail and you’ll call them back.
The IRS will not threaten you or demand payment over the phone. It initiates most contacts through regular mail.
Fight Back Against Phishing Scams
What is Phishing?
Phishing is a form of fraud where cybercriminals/hackers pose as a legitimate source (e.g. financial institution, retailer, etc.) to steal your personal information. They try to disguise themselves as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication, both emails and text messages.
How Phishing Impacts You
Cybercriminals may use phishing scams to steal your username and/or password and other personal information to gain access to personal information or accounts to steal money, financial data, or other sensitive information, such as identity theft, or extortion, among other acts.
What can you do to protect yourself? Here are some practical tips to stay protected against phishing attacks. Use these tips on your personal devices, and at home.
- Be alert when it comes to phishing attacks
Never click on links, download files, or open attachments in emails (or on social media), even if it appears to be from a known, trusted source. Always be wary of emails asking for confidential information – expecially if it asks for personal details or banking information. Legitimate organizations will never request sensitive information via email.
- Does that email look suspicious?
Plenty of phishing emails are fairly obvious. They will be punctuated with plenty of typos, words in capitals and exclamation marks. They may also have an impersonal greeting – think of those ‘Dear Customer’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ salutations – or feature implausible and generally surprising content. Cybercriminals will often make mistakes in these emails intentionally to improve responses and weed out the ‘smart’ recipients who won’t fall for the con.
- Be watchful of threats and urgent deadlines
Most phishing attacks succeed because we are always in a hurry. Online surfing is serious business and things should not be done in haste. Usually, scamming emails contain threats and urgency, especially if coming from what claims to be a legitimate company. Some of these threats may include notices about a fine or advising you to do something to stop your account from being closed. Ignore the scare tactics and contact the company directly via their website or phone. Do not get pressured into providing sensitive information.
Door to door sales
Gas stations – open doors and sales people