Beware the Amazon Watch Raffle Scam

Everyone admires Amazon’s scope and efficiency. Scammers are no exception. Recently, they’ve been piggybacking on Amazon’s reach and excellent name to pull off a scam that’s already taken in thousands of innocent victims. The scam – also known as the “fitness watch text” or the “Apple Watch raffle scam” – involves a congratulatory text message pop-up on consumers’ phones and the fraudulent promise of a big win.

Here’s all you need to know about the Amazon watch raffle scam:

How the scam plays out

In the Amazon watch raffle scam, the target receives a text message that appears to be from Amazon and tells them they’ve won an Apple Watch, or a similar prize, such as Airpods or a Garmin Fitness watch.

The text may look like this: “Amazon: Congratulations [your name], you came in 2nd in this week’s Amazon Apple Watch raffle! Click this link to arrange delivery: t3fzv.info/7047VldUlg.”

The text appears to be sent by Amazon, and the victim, thinking they’ve just landed a big one, will happily click on the embedded link. Unfortunately, this move will lead the victim to another page where they will be asked to provide their personal information to claim the prize. Alternatively, clicking on the link may download malware onto the victim’s device. In either scenario, there is no prize waiting at the end of the rainbow.

Red flags

For the informed consumer, it isn’t difficult to identify the signs of a scam.

First, it’s important to note that Amazon will never ask a consumer for their personal information, such as their Social Security number or account information, or for remote access to the consumer’s device.

Second, familiarize yourself with the red flags that can help you know when you’ve been targeted by an Amazon watch raffle scam or a similar ruse:

  • The text message includes an unusual link.
  • The text message promises an instant and/or large reward.
  • The text message urges you to act now. If the prize is authentic, there’d be no rush.
  • The text appears to be sent from Amazon, but you know you have never signed up to receive text messages from this company. In general, companies cannot send you unsolicited text messages.
  • The text appears to be sent from a suspicious-looking number, such as a number that ends in “5555.”

Avoid the scam

Follow these precautions to protect yourself from becoming the next victim of the Amazon watch raffle scam.

  • Never click on a link sent in a message from an unverified number. This is likely an attempt to access your personal information, or to install malware on your device.
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re still not sure, you can try calling the number to verify if it is legitimate.
  • Never respond to suspicious-looking text messages. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), it’s best not to even reply “STOP” or “NO” to messages that are likely fraudulent, as every interaction can encourage the scammer to target you further. Instead, block the number.
  • If you receive a text message that appears to be sent from Amazon, update the login credentials on your Amazon account. If you’ve already clicked on the link, you may want to do a security sweep on your device for viruses and malware.

If you’re still unsure whether a text message has actually been sent by Amazon, you can check out Amazon’s scam information page here to help you verify the authenticity of the message.

Stop the scam

Do your part to stop those scammers by reporting all scam attempts to the FTC and the BBB. You can also warn your friends and family about the circulating scam.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by an Amazon watch raffle scam? Share your experience in the comments.

Learn More:
scam-detector.com
richmond-news.com
nerdsonsite.com

If You Hear This, You’re Talking to a Tax Scammer

It’s tax season, and scammers are working overtime to get your money. Tax scams are as varied as they are common, but when you know what to look for, you can beat fraudsters at their game and keep them from getting your money and your information.

If you hear or see any of the following 12 lines this tax season, you know you’re dealing with a scammer:

1. “We’re calling from the IRS to inform you that your identity has been stolen and you need to buy gift cards to fix it.”

If your identity has indeed been stolen, no amount of purchased gift cards will get it back. Unfortunately, there is also no way to reclaim funds that are lost through this kind of scam.

2. “You owe tax money. We’ll have to arrest you, unless you purchase iTunes gift cards.”

Yes, this really happened. A 20-year-old college student was tricked into putting $500 onto three separate iTunes cards and $262 on a fourth, when she received a call from an “IRS agent,” USA Today reports. As unbelievable as it sounds, when threatened with arrest, people will believe or do almost anything.

In this ruse, the scammer will make sure to get the access numbers of the iTunes card, which gives them easy and untraceable access to cash.

3. “If you don’t pay your tax bill now, we’ll cancel your Social Security number.”

Your Social Security number cannot be canceled, suspended, frozen or blocked.

“If taxpayers receive a call threatening to suspend their SSN for an unpaid tax bill, they should just hang up,” the IRS says.

4. “We’re calling you about a tax bill you’ve never heard about before.”

The IRS will never initiate contact about an overdue tax bill by phone; they will first reach out by mail.

5.  “This is the Bureau of Tax Enforcement. We’re putting a lien or levy on your assets.”

The Bureau of Tax Enforcement does not exist. If you receive a call from this, or a similar bogus agency, hang up.

6. “This is a pre-recorded message from the IRS. If you don’t call us back, you’ll be arrested.”

The IRS does not leave pre-recorded voicemails, especially those claiming to be urgent and/or threatening.

7. “You must make an immediate payment over the phone, using our chosen method.”

The IRS says that its agents will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. If you hear this, you’ll know you’re talking to a scammer.

8. “Click here for more details about your tax refund.”

The IRS will never send emails with information about tax refunds. Emails worded like this will lead the victim to an IRS-lookalike site that is actually created by scammers. Clicking on the link will load the victim’s device with malware.

9. “We represent the Taxpayer Advocate Service and we need some information.”

Although the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is a legitimate organization within the IRS to assist taxpayers, representatives of the TAS don’t call individuals out of the blue. The TAS also will not ask taxpayers to share sensitive information, such as their Social Security number, over the phone.

10. “You owe the federal student tax.”

The federal student tax is yet another invention of tireless scammers. It does not exist, and if you receive a call about it, you’re being targeted by a scammer.

11. “This is an SMS/social media post from the IRS. We need more information.

The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers, or ask for sensitive information, via text message or social media.

12. “We don’t need to sign your tax return even though we prepared it.”

A legitimate tax preparer must sign your tax return and will have a valid Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). If a tax preparer is reluctant to sign yours, or to share their PTIN, you are likely dealing with a scammer.

If you’ve been targeted by any of these tax scams, you can fight back by reporting the scam to the proper authorities. Phishing emails that appear to be from the IRS can be forwarded to phishing@irs.gov. Alert the FTC about IRS phone scams and report Social Security Administration phone impostor scams on the Social Security Administration’s website.

Stay alert during tax season and keep your money and your information safe!

Have you been targeted by a tax scam? Share your experience in the comments.

Learn More:
clark.com
nerdwallet.com
mybanktracker.com
irs.gov

Save Money When Shopping Online

With tens of thousands of people still out of work and the economy still limping toward a recovery, wise spending remains important. And with huge parts of life still happening on your screen, for many, this means saving on online shopping.

Here are some tips for saving money when shopping online:

Wait on every purchase 

Online retailers purposely make it quick and easy to buy the stuff in your cart. Outsmart them by waiting between choosing your purchases and actually purchasing them. This trick serves a dual purpose: First, you may find you don’t really need or even want the item after a few days. Second, the retailer will almost always email a coupon for you to use for the “forgotten items” in your cart.

Outsmart dynamic pricing

Dynamic pricing is one of the most powerful tools merchants use to get online shoppers to spend more. It involves using sophisticated algorithms and tracking to show shoppers prices based on their location, browsing history and spending patterns. Retailers learn each shopper’s price point and show them products in that range.

Fortunately, you can outsmart dynamic pricing by following these tips, especially when shopping for items with a wide price range, like airline tickets.

  • Clear your browsing history and cookies or shop with your browser in incognito or private mode.
  • Log out of your email and social media accounts.
  • Choose localized websites of international brands instead of being redirected to the U.S. site.
    Time your purchases right

Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness of online pricing. Learning how to crack the code can help you unlock substantial savings.

Sunday’s your day to score cheap airfare, with Mondays being the most expensive day to book your tickets, according to Airlines Reporting Corporation.

Bookworms are best off shopping for new titles on Saturdays, as this is when Amazon and Barnes & Noble launch most book sales.

Shopping for a new laptop or desktop computer? Major retailers, like Dell and Hewlett-Packard, distribute coupons each Tuesday.

For most other purchases, it’s best to wait until the end of the week for the best deals. According to Rather Be Shopping, most stores roll out discounts and special deals on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Layer coupons

You may already be in the habit of never completing a purchase without doing a quick search for coupons, but even when you have those coupons on hand, there’s a technique that will guarantee the best savings.

Always use a promo code before a discount coupon. A promo code will take a specified percentage off your entire purchase while a discount code will take off a dollar amount. For example, say you have a 15% off promo code and a $5-off coupon to use on a $100 purchase. First use the promo code to shave $15 off your purchase. Next, apply the discount to bring your total down to just $80. If you’d do it the other way, you’d save less money.

Ask for price-drop refunds

Discovering that an item you purchased yesterday has just dropped in price can be incredibly frustrating; however, some companies take the edge off by offering to refund the price difference within a specific time-frame. Amazon, for example, gives a grace period of seven days from the delivery date to claim discount refunds. You can use camelcamelcamel.com  to monitor price changes on the retail giant’s website.

Use multiple emails for discounts

Many online retailers offer one-time promo codes for new customers, but you can be a new customer more than once. All you need is a different email address.

Don’t shop alone

Take advantage of the many apps, websites and browser extensions that can help you save money every time you shop online. Here are just a few you may want to try:

  • PriceGrabber – Use this app to compare prices on millions of products to find the best deal.
  • Rakuten – Shop your favorite retailers through this site for instant kickback cash.
  • Ibotta – Shoot a photo of your receipt for rebates that will go right back into your pocket.
  • Retailmenot.com  – Check this site for discounts and coupons you may have missed.

Online shopping just got cheap again!

Your Turn: How do you save money when shopping online? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
lifehack.org
blesserhouse.com
people.com
rather-be-shopping.com

Beware Romance Scams

With COVID-19 forcing more singles to meet and date online, America’s most expensive scam is on the rise. Romance scams are all over the internet and can be difficult to spot  While the data for 2020 is not yet available, according to the FTC, Americans lost a collective $201 million to romance scams in 2019.

Don’t be the next victim of a romance scam! Here’s all you need to know:

How the scam plays out

In a romance ruse, a scammer will create a bogus online profile and attempt to connect to singles on dating apps and websites, as well as through social media platforms. After a connection is formed, the scammer will work to build up the relationship with the victim, calling and texting often. Once the scammer has gained the victim’s trust, the scammer will spin a sorry story and ask the victim for money.

The scammer may explain that they cannot meet in person because they are currently living or traveling outside the United States. They’ll claim to be a doctor working for an international organization, a blue-collar worker in the middle of a construction project or to be part of the military and currently serving overseas. They may ask for money to help cover travel expenses, pay for medical treatment, cover customs fees at the airport or to pay for a visa or other official travel documents.

The scammer will ask for payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Once they’ve received the funds, they will disappear. Alternatively, the scammer will ask their “date” to share personal financial information and then go on to empty the victim’s accounts.

How to spot a romance scam

If you’re in the market for a new date and you’re hoping to meet someone online, look out for these red flags:

Profile is too good to be true. If a single’s profile has unrealistic credentials, including a magazine-worthy photo, you’re likely looking at a scam.
Single rushes into the relationship. If the contact comes on too strong, too fast, it may be a scam.

Single asks you for money. Don’t believe a money-starved story of someone you just met online, especially if they start asking you to help them out.

How to play it safe online

Avoid falling victim to romance scams and similar ruses by following basic online safety rules.

First, never share personal details online with anyone whose identity you cannot verify. This includes all financial information, credit card details and personal information that can be used to unlock a password on any of your accounts.

Second, only visit secure sites and keep all the settings on your social media pages private. Never engage in conversation with a stranger who reaches out to you on a platform you’ve just begun using, or who sends you personal texts or emails you without any prior communication.

It’s equally important never to send money to anyone online.

If you suspect a romance scam

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a romance scam, take these steps to avoid further damage:

Research the name on the profile to see if the details check out. You can also use an online background checking tool, such as BeenVerified or TruthFinder, to verify the credibility of the profile.

Do a reverse-image search of the profile picture to see if it’s a stock photo or an image that was plucked off the internet. You can also ask the contact to share a current photo of themselves.

If your research confirms your suspicions, stop all communication with the scammer immediately. Block the scammer’s number and flag their emails as spam. If you’ve already paid a romance scammer with a prepaid gift card, call the company that issued the card to ask them to refund your money.

Report the scam to the FTC. It’s also a good idea to alert the website or app that the scammer is using. You may also consider warning your friends about the scam.

Follow the tips outlined above to keep your love life scam-free.

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a romance scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
romancescams.org
fbi.gov

Second Wave of Stimulus Checks Brings More Scams

The second wave of stimulus checks only started hitting checking accounts a few weeks ago, and the BBB  and the FTC are already warning of related scams.

According to the FTC, American taxpayers lost more than $211 million due to COVID-19 scams, with $20.9 million of that amount connected to the first round of stimulus checks.

Don’t get scammed! Protect yourself by learning all about these scams so you know when you’re being targeted.

How the scams play out

Stimulus check scams can take the form of phishing scams, in which a criminal asks victims to provide personal information to receive their check, and then instead uses that information to empty the victim’s account.

In other variants of the stimulus check scam, a victim receives an email prompting them to download an embedded link to receive their check.The link, of course, will infect the victim’s computer with malware.

In yet another stimulus check scam, a criminal impersonates an IRS official or a representative of another government office demanding a processing fee before the check can be sent.

Finally, there have been reports of taxpayers receiving checks that appear to be authentic stimulus checks, but are actually fraudulent. They deposit the check and, soon afterward, a scammer reaches out to them to inform them the check amount was incorrect and they must return some of the funds. Unfortunately, a few days later, the financial institution finds that the check is fake and it will not clear. The victim is now out the money they returned to the “IRS.”

Red flags

Unfortunately, technology has made it easy for scammers to spoof a Caller ID and to create bogus websites that look authentic. If you know what to look for, you can beat them at their game and recognize a scam before it gets past the first step.

Here are five red flags of stimulus check scams:

1. Unsolicited calls or emails

It’s best to avoid answering unsolicited calls and/or emails from unknown contacts to protect yourself from a stimulus check scam. Similarly, never click on a link in an unsolicited email or text message, as it may contain malware.

According to the BBB Scam Tracker, scammers have also been contacting people through robocalls and leaving messages about the stimulus checks and direct deposits. These calls should likewise be ignored.

2. Messages that ask you to verify or provide sensitive information

The BBB is warning of emails and text messages asking citizens to verify or supply information to receive their stimulus checks. Sometimes, the victim will receive an email instructing them to click on a link to receive their benefit payments. This, too, is a scam. The IRS will not call, text or email any taxpayer to verify their information.

3. High-pressure tactics

If a phone call or email demands immediate action on your part and uses a threat of losing your stimulus payment, you’re likely looking at a scam. There is no action you need to take to receive your check.

4. Fee solicitations

There is no processing fee or any other charge attached to the stimulus payments.

“If you do answer a call, and it’s about your stimulus payment, keep in mind that U.S. government agencies won’t ask you to pay anything up front to receive your funds. Anyone who does is a scammer,” cautions Jennifer Leach, associate director for the FTC’s division of consumer and business education.

There’s also no way to pay extra for receiving your stimulus payment earlier.

5. Inflated check amount

“We’ve seen a lot of scams involving bogus checks that look like government checks in the past year,” says Paige Schaffer, CEO of global identity and cyber protection services at Generali Global Assistance.

For the best way to protect yourself from this scam, the BBB recommends that all taxpayers receiving their stimulus payment via paper check verify that the check is authentic before depositing it in their checking account. Look up the agency or organization that allegedly sent the check to see if it really exists, and check the status of your payment to see if you actually should have received it.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a stimulus check scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
wwmt.com
marketwatch.com
cnbc.com
bbb.org

The Benefits of Using Mobile Payments

Why fumble for your wallet at checkout when you can just pay by using your phone?

With more than 81% of Americans owning smartphones, contactless payments by digital wallet and mobile payment apps are now more popular than ever. Contactless payment is also becoming increasingly available at checkout counters across the country, with six in every 10 retailers accepting digital payments, according to research by the National Retail Federation.

Switching over to paying for your daily purchases with a digital wallet is simple. You’ll need to choose between popular mobile payment apps, like Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. All of these apps are similar, but Google Pay is your app of choice for all Android phones, Apple Pay works with recent Apple devices, and Samsung Pay offers the widest acceptance of all digital wallet apps. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you’ll need to load your credit union credit and debit card information and then finish setting up the app with your personal authentication process. When this step is complete, your app is ready for use.

Here are some of the benefits of using mobile payments.

Convenience

The biggest and most obvious draw of mobile payments is their incredible convenience. No more pawing through cards at the checkout counter while the people standing in line behind you are growing impatient. No more hesitating over a stack of cash. Just pull out your phone, open your digital wallet app and tap or wave your phone near the payment-enabled terminal. It’s that easy.

Security

Using a mobile payment app to complete a purchase has several security advantages over traditional payment methods.

First, it eliminates the need to carry around cash or credit cards, which always has the risk of being stolen or lost. Misplaced credit cards in particular can be a nightmare for consumers, making them vulnerable to full-blown identity theft.

Second, mobile-payment apps use extra security measures to protect the user’s data, such as encrypting all personal information and utilizing bio-metric authentication features, like fingerprint scans and facial recognition.

Finally, each transaction that takes place over a mobile payment app is tokenized. This involves a one-time code generated by the payment terminal, or a “token.”  The token is used to complete the transaction in place of the buyer’s actual payment information. The token cannot be used for any other transaction and is effectively useless if hacked. The buyer is thus protected from fraud.

Speed

Mobile payments are super-fast. Instead of counting out cash or inserting a card into a payment terminal and waiting for the transaction to clear, it’s just a one-two-three tap to pay. With mobile payments, checking out in any store can take just seconds from start to finish.

Budgeting and expense-tracking

Digital wallets can be easily integrated with money-management apps, making budgeting easy. Every transaction will be instantly recorded for future reference and review. Additionally, retailers generally offer electronic receipts with mobile payments, as opposed to paper receipts which are easily misplaced.

Safety

Ever since the world entered the alternate reality of COVID-19, mobile-payment apps have enjoyed an enormous boost in popularity. In fact, retailers have seen a 69% rise in contactless payments since the beginning of 2020, according to a study done by the National Retail Federation. This is likely due to the fact that consumers are wary of shopping in brick-and-mortar locations and are hesitant to handle germ-infested cash. Inserting a debit card or credit card into a public payment terminal that processes payments for hundreds of cards a day is not much of a better option. All of this has made digital wallets the chosen method of payment now more than ever, with 67% of shoppers choosing self-checkout options from their own mobile devices over in-person payment.

Mobile payment apps enable consumers to complete a purchase without making physical contact at germ-laden terminals. There’s no need to use a wallet, cash or credit card at all. Just pull out your phone and your transaction is a quick wave or tap away. It’s the perfect way to pay for purchases without compromising your safety.

Mobile payments are the way of the future. There are so many reasons to love mobile payments. They’re convenient, secure, quick and safe.

Your Turn: Why do you use mobile payment apps? Share your favorite benefit of using digital wallets in the comments.

Learn More:
thefinancialbrand.com
mobilepaymentstoday.com
alacriti.com

All You Need to Know About Checking Accounts

The most obvious things in life are often overlooked, and your checking account is just one of them. Most people hardly give a thought to this important account and how to best manage it effectively. We’re here to change that.

Here’s all you need to know about checking accounts:

What is a checking account? 

Your checking account at Advantage One Credit Union offers easy and convenient access to your funds. The minimum balance required for opening a checking account can be as low as $25. Like most financial institutions, we also allow an unlimited number of monthly withdrawals and deposits.

Checking accounts are designed to be used for everyday expenses. You can access the funds in your account via debit card, paper check, ATM or in-branch withdrawals, online transfer or through online bill payment.

Making transactions using the connected debit card, or through a linked online account, will automatically use the available balance in your account and lower the balance appropriately.

A paper check is also linked directly to your account, but will generally take up to two business days to clear. It’s important to ensure there are enough funds in your account to cover a purchase before paying with a check.

Maintenance fees 

Many banks charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking accounts.

According to Bankrate’s most recent survey on checking accounts, only 38% of banks now offer free checking, compared with 79% in 2009. Monthly fees can be as high as $25 a month.

Interest rates

Most checking accounts offer a very low Annual Percentage Yield (APY) on deposited funds, or none at all. Institutions that offer checking accounts with interest or dividends will generally charge a monthly fee, with the fee being higher for accounts that have higher rates. They also generally require a minimum balance in the account at all times or a minimum number of monthly debit card transactions. According to Bankrate’s survey, you’ll need to keep an average of $7,550 in an interest-yielding checking account at a bank to avoid a steep maintenance fee.

Security

Funds that are kept in a checking account at a bank are federally insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000. Credit unions feature similar protection for your funds, with all federal credit unions offering government protection through the National Credit Union Association. State and private credit unions may be insured by the NCUA as well, or through their own state or private insurance. Advantage One Credit Union is insured by the NCUA to offer you full and complete protection for your funds.

Managing your checking account 

Managing a checking account is as simple as 1-2-3:

1 – Know your balance

It’s important to know how much is in your account at all times. This way, you can avoid an overdrawn account, or having insufficient funds to cover your purchases. Being aware of how much money you have will also help you stick to a budget and spend within your means. You can generally check your balance by phone [or via online checking or a synced budgeting app].

2 – Automate your finances

Make life a little easier by setting up automatic bill payment through your checking account. You won’t miss the hassle of paying your monthly bills, and you’ll never be late for a payment again. As a bonus, you’ll save on the processing fee that is often charged on bill payments made via credit card.

You can also set up direct deposit to have your paycheck land right in your account.

Finally, ask us about automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to savings so you never forget to put money into savings.

[You may also want to consider signing up for overdraft protection, or to have funds transfer from your linked savings account to checking when your balance is getting low.]

3 – Keep your account well-funded, but not over-funded

Financial experts recommend keeping one to two months’ worth of living expenses in your checking account at all times. This way, you’ll always have enough funds to cover your transactions without fear of your account being overdrawn. You’ll also be able to cover the occasional pre-authorization hold that a merchant may place on your debit card transaction until it clears.

It’s equally important not to keep too much money in your checking account. Once you’ve reached that sweet spot of two months of living expenses, it’s best to keep your savings in an account or an investment that offers a higher APY, such as a money market account or a share certificate.

Checking accounts offer the ultimate in convenience and accessibility. Now that you’ve learned all about these often overlooked accounts, let this financial tool help you manage your finances in the most effective way possible.

Your Turn: How do you manage your checking account effectively? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
investopedia.com
discover.com
bankrate.com
thebalance.com
kiplinger.com

Don’t Fall Prey to a Holiday Toy Scam

He’s making his list and checking it twice. Unfortunately, though, the scammers making the list aren’t being so nice.

Scammers famously exploit high-stress times, and the pre-holiday shopping frenzy is no exception. That’s why the BBB is warning of an uptick in holiday toy scams which can be difficult to spot.

Here’s what you need to know about these scams.

How the scam plays out

Every year, there are a few must-have toys that make it onto most kids’ wish lists (this year’s most popular toys include a realistic toy dog and an animatronic baby Yoda). These choice picks become the hottest-selling items online and in stores, getting plucked off shelves in a wink. Unfortunately, for anyone who didn’t shop early enough, these toys soon become more difficult to find than toilet paper at the height of the COVID shutdown. The parents search desperately, ready to pay almost any price to make their child’s wish come true, to no avail.

Here’s where the scammer steps in. Armed with a bogus website and some crafty online tracking, the scammer targets the vulnerable shopper with ads and online messages to draw them to the scammers site. On the authentic-looking site, the shopper finally finds what they were looking for — the sought-after toy! Often, the toy is even deeply discounted. The purchase is completed within minutes, but sadly, the shopper’s child will not be unwrapping the much-desired toy on Christmas.

Instead, the scammer will send a cheap knockoff that doesn’t work or quickly breaks. When contacted for a refund, the scammer will either be AWOL, refuse to provide a refund or only offer to refund a small percentage of the purchase price. Sometimes, they’ll also charge an exorbitant amount of money for shipping the toy back to the company, almost making the small refund not worthwhile.

As one shopper told the BBB, she believed she’d ordered a high-quality animatronic puppy that would move and act like a real little dog.

“I wanted to get it for one of my great granddaughters,” she said. “When I received the dog in the mail, it was a small stuffed animal that you could get out of a machine at an arcade.”

Another customer paid $59.99 for a Baby Yoda toy that turned out to be nothing like it was advertised.

“It was supposed to be animated and make sounds,” the customer reports. “When I finally got it, it [was] an ugly plastic hand puppet.”

After contacting the seller for a refund, the customer was instructed to send the toy back and pay for shipping to the tune of $20 — all for a $10 refund.

Red flags

Don’t be the next victim of a holiday toy scam!

Here’s how to spot these scams:

  • The seller has a large supply of toys that are in extremely high demand.
  • The website is not secure.
  • The seller is offering a steep discount due to a “flash sale” or “last-minute” deal.
  • The seller’s website is full of spelling and/or grammatical errors.

Stay safe

Keep yourself safe when shopping online by following these tips:

  • Research before you buy. Don’t purchase an expensive item from a company you’ve never heard of before without doing some digging. Feed the company name to Google and see what the search engine has to say about it. Look up the business on the BBB website. You can also try calling the customer-service number on the website to verify the legitimacy of the company.
  • Only visit secure sites. Always look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” on the URL of a site to check if it’s secure.
  • Pay with credit. Paying for a purchase with a credit card will offer the buyer purchase protection and an easier time backing out of the transaction if it doesn’t turn out as expected.
  • Update your security software. For the best protection against scams, your computer should be using the most updated version of its security software
    If you believe you’ve been targeted by a holiday toy scam, end all contact with the seller immediately. Alert the BBB and let your friends know about the circulating scam as well.

Shop safely this holiday season!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a holiday toy scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
scamicide.com
wkrg.com
bbb.org
lpheralddispatch.com

5 Steps to Take After Being Hacked

Uh oh — you’ve been hacked! Finding out someone has cracked open your accounts and helped themselves to your information can be alarming, but there are ways to mitigate the damage while jump-starting your recovery process.

Here are five steps to take after being hacked.

Step 1: Assess the damage

First, take a step back and determine how much damage was done. Unfortunately, one hacked password can often be the gateway to multiple hacked accounts and even complete identity theft. This is especially true if you use the same password for several accounts, or use the hacked account or device for password recovery on other accounts. So, first things first: Review your credit card and account statements for any suspicious activity.  Also, try accessing your email, social media accounts and mobile devices to see if they’ve been hacked.

Step 2: Change your passwords

Once you know which accounts and devices have been hacked, change the passwords and PINs on these accounts. For an added measure of protection, it’s a good idea to change the passwords on all of your accounts that may hold sensitive information. Remember to choose strong, unique passwords for every account. A strong password uses a combination of letters, numbers and symbols; varies the use of capital letters; and does not use a piece of personal information that can easily be scraped off the internet, such as your date of birth or home address. You may want to use a password service like LastPass  or  StickyPassword to make this step easier.

While completing this step, consider signing up for two-factor authentication for any accounts that do not already have it in place.

Step 3: Protect your credit

Now that you’ve blocked the hacker(s) from your accounts, it’s time for damage control.

First, dispute any fraudulent charges on your compromised account(s). If necessary, have the account(s) locked, or even shut and/or deleted.

Next, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This serves as a red flag to potential lenders and creditors, making it more difficult for the scammer to open up additional lines of credit or to take out a loan in your name.

Consider a credit freeze as well. This blocks potential lenders from accessing your credit report, making it impossible for the hacker to open new credit accounts in your name.

Step 4: Alert the authorities

You can alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about a possible or confirmed identity theft at identitytheft.gov.  You’ll also find a detailed recovery plan on the site to help you repair your credit and reclaim your identity.

Hacking is usually done remotely, but it’s still a good idea to let your local law enforcement agencies know about the breach. This way, they can be on the alert if the hacker decides to assume your identity and use your credit cards in stores near your hometown.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to let Advantage One Credit Union know what’s happened! Whether it’s a credit card that’s been stolen, a checking account that’s been breached or a social media account that’s been broken into, we’ll do all we can to protect your accounts. If you’ve been hacked, give us a call at 734-676-7000 to see how we can help.

Step 5: Proceed with caution

Once you’ve taken all necessary steps toward damage control and mitigation, you can start thinking about the future.

It’s important to keep a close eye on your accounts for the next month. Look out for any suspicious activity on all accounts, including charges you don’t recall making, large withdrawals of cash and even new loans being opened in your name. If you find any fraudulent activity, be sure to let the account holders know and to follow the steps suggested above.

If you’ve opted to go with a credit freeze, it will generally lapse after 90 days. If your accounts are determined to be safe, consider opening new lines of credit now to jump-start the recovery of your credit health.

If the hacker went all out and stole your identity, it’s best to follow the recovery plan outlined by the FTC . This plan may include replacing your Social Security number, driver’s license and more.

Getting hacked is never fun, but taking immediate and decisive action can help mitigate the damage, as well as speed up the recovery process.

Your Turn: How have you dealt with your accounts being hacked? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
allthingssecured.com
digitalguardian.com

Beware of Debt-Collection Scams

With the pandemic still wreaking havoc on the economy, many people are struggling to pay their monthly bills and meet their debt payments. Unfortunately, scammers are exploiting the financial downturn by tricking unsuspecting victims into paying for debts that don’t actually exist, or by using abusive tactics to collect legitimate debts.

Don’t be the next victim of a debt-collection scam. Here’s all you need to know about these scams:

How the scams play out

In a debt-collection scam, a caller claiming to represent a creditor or a debt-collection agency demands immediate payment for an alleged outstanding debt. The caller insists on specific means of payment and may even threaten to tell the victim’s family and friends about the outstanding debt. The alleged debt may be completely fabricated, or the scammer has hacked the victim’s accounts to learn of its existence. In either scenario, the caller does not represent the creditor and will pocket any “collected” money.

These scams can also take the form of abusive debt collection. In this variation of the scam, a caller collects money for a legitimate debt, but uses abusive and illegal practices to complete this task.

How to spot a debt-collection scam

You might be looking at a scam if an alleged debt collector does any of the following:

  • Withholds information — a legitimate debt collector is able and willing to tell you the name of the creditor as well as the exact amount owed.
  • Threatens the debtor with jail time — barring criminal fines or restitution, there’s no jail time for an overdue debt.
  • Insists on specific means of payment, such as prepaid debit card or money transfer.
  • Asks you to share personal financial information — a legitimate debt collector will not ask you to provide your Social Security number or account numbers.

Know your rights

When outstanding debts go unpaid, a lender is legally allowed to sell the debt to a collection agency. The agency can then attempt to collect the debt through letters and phone calls. The agency is not allowed to employ abusive practices or harassment when attempting to collect the debt.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act  (FDCPA) is an amendment to the Consumer Credit Protection Act, which protects consumers from abusive debt-collection practices.

According to the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot:

  • Contact borrowers at unreasonable hours, generally before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Call borrowers at their workplace if the borrower said they cannot accept phone calls at work.
  • Harass borrowers about a debt, including using threats of violence and obscene language, publishing the debtor’s name and calling the debtor multiple times each day.
  • Engage in unfair collection practices, such as collecting more than is owed, depositing post-dated checks early, or seizing property when it is not legally allowed.
  • Lie about the money owed.
  • Falsely represent themselves as an attorney, government official or another party.
  • Threaten the debtor with jail time or other unwarranted legal action.
  • Falsify the name of the agency they represent.

Protect yourself

If you are unsure of whether you are being targeted by a debt-collection scam, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Ask the caller for a callback number. A legitimate collector will not hesitate to share this information. You can also ask for the caller’s name, as well as the name and street address of the company they represent. Be sure to try the number the caller shares, as they may have rattled off a nonfunctioning number in the hopes that you wouldn’t actually dial it.

Ask the caller to confirm basic information about the debt. The collector should know the exact amount owed and be able to tell you the name of the company behind the debt.

If you still believe you are being scammed, contact the creditor the collector is claiming to represent and ask if the debt collection has been outsourced to another company.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by an illegitimate debt collector, let the FTC know. Report the scam at ftc.gov/complaint. You can also block the scammer’s phone number on your phone and let your friends know about the circulating scam. If a falsified debt appears on your credit report, you will need to dispute the charge as well.

If you’ve confirmed that a collection agency has been legitimately hired by a lender, but you believe the agency is employing abusive tactics, or you’d like them to stop contacting you, there are additional steps you can take. According to the FTC, under these circumstances, it’s best to send the collection agency a written letter asking it to cease all contact. Once the agency has received the letter, it can only reach out to the debtor to let them know there will be no further contact, or to inform the debtor of a specific action being taken against them.

If the debt collector continues to contact you for any other purpose after receiving your written request to desist, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit against the agency in state court.

[If you are having trouble meeting your financial obligations, we can help! Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to speak to a member service representative today.]

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a debt-collection scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
nerdwallet.com
ftc.gov
aarp.org
consumerfinance.gov