Beware Stimulus and Tax Scams

It’s stimulus season and tax season at once, and scammers couldn’t be happier. They know that taxpayers are eager to get their hands on their stimulus payments and tax refunds. As consumers are working to file their taxes before the May 17 deadline, all that paperwork and payments mean people may be letting their guard down. For a scammer, nothing could be better!

The IRS is warning of a surge in scams as the tax agency continues processing tax returns and distributing stimulus payments to eligible adults who have not yet received them. Here’s all you need to know about the latest round of stimulus and tax scams:

How the scams play out

In the most recent IRS-related scams, scammers will con victims into filing phony tax returns, steal tax refunds or stimulus payments or impersonate the IRS to get victims to sign documents or share personal information, such as Social Security numbers or checking account numbers. The scams are pulled off via email, text message or phone. Sometimes, victims will be directed to another (bogus) website where their device will be infected with malware. Other times, the victim receives a 1099-G tax form for unemployment benefits they never claimed or received, because someone has filed for unemployment under their name. Unfortunately, the losses incurred through most of these scams can be difficult or impossible to recover.

What you need to know

As always, information is your best protection against these scams. Here’s what you need to know about the IRS, the stimulus payments and tax returns:

The IRS will never initiate contact by phone or email. If there is an issue with your taxes or stimulus payment, the agency will first communicate via mail.
There is no “processing fee” you need to pay before you can receive your stimulus payment or tax refund.
The IRS is not sending out text messages about the stimulus payments. If you receive a text message claiming you have a pending stimulus payment, it’s from a scammer.

There is no need to take any action to receive your stimulus payment. Likewise, aside from filing your tax return, there is nothing additional you need to do to receive your tax refund.

If you’ve been targeted

If you receive a suspicious phone call, text message or email that has allegedly been sent by the IRS, do not engage with the scammer. Block the number on your phone and mark the email as spam.

If you are a victim

If you are the victim of identity theft related to taxes or stimulus payments, there are steps you can take to mitigate the loss.

If you received a 1099-G for unemployment benefits you’ve never filed for or received, it’s best not to ignore it. Contact your state’s unemployment office to report the fraud. It should be able to send you a corrected 1099-G showing you did not get any benefits.

First, report the scam to the correct authorities. If a fraudulent tax return was filed in your name, the IRS will mail you a Letter 4883C or 6330C to verify your identity. You may also need to call the toll-free number provided on the letter and visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center . After reporting the fraud, you’ll likely need to file a paper tax return. Complete an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039) and attach it to the back of your paper return.

If you’ve mistakenly shared your information with a scammer and they’ve stolen your stimulus check, you will likewise need to let the IRS know. Visit Identitytheft.gov where you will receive a personal recovery plan that will hopefully minimize the damage done by the scammer and help you reclaim your lost funds.

It’s tax season and stimulus season, so it’s also scam season! Keep your guard up and follow the tips outlined here to prevent yourself from falling victim to one of the many circulating scams. Stay safe!

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

Learn More:
wfmz.com
freep.com
cnbc.com
irs.gov

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

Don’t Get Caught in an Auto Warranty Scam

Another phone call, another scam.

It can sometimes feel like scammers have some kind of competition going to see who can hit you with the most robocalls in a day. In fact, according to Truecaller, scams and robocalls account for 67% of all phone calls in the U.S. Each American will receive an average of 28 of these calls a month. More than just an annoyance, scam calls cost 56 million Americans a financial loss in 2020.

One of the most common scams pulled off over the phone is the auto warranty scam. Here’s all you need to know about this scam and how to protect yourself from falling victim:

How the scam plays out

In this ruse, scammers posing as representatives of a car dealer or manufacturer will call to tell you that your auto warranty is about to expire. The scammer will then segue into a pitch for renewing your warranty. During the call, you may be prompted to press a number to stay on the line, and then are asked to provide personal information to continue the process of renewing  your warranty. If you follow instructions, you will be playing right into a scam.

How to spot a scam

It is possible for legitimate auto warranty companies to call you about purchasing or renewing a warranty. Look out for these red flags to help you pick out the authentic calls from the scams:

  • Hello, it’s Mr. Robot calling. When it’s a robocall on the line, you’re almost certainly talking to a scammer. A legitimate company will hire a live salesperson to promote their services.
  • Feel the pressure? Scammers notoriously lead victims to act without thinking by claiming their offer is available for a limited time. If a caller pressures you to act now, you’re likely talking to a scammer.
  • Just a small fee … Is the caller demanding a small processing fee, or a down payment on the plan before supplying you with real details and information on it? If yes, you’re being scammed.
  • You’ve got mail! Scammers aren’t content with playing games over the phone; they’ll often send bogus documents in the mail, too. These can be disguised to look like genuine alerts from the DMV or auto manufacturer, prompting you to act now because your auto warranty is expiring. Of course, when you call the number on the letter, you won’t be connected to the DMV or auto manufacturer, but to a full-blown scamming operation.

Protect yourself

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from auto warranty scams and similar ruses:

  • Never share your personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit card information or checking account details, with an unverified caller.
  • It’s also a good idea to screen all incoming calls by checking the Caller ID before answering the phone. Legitimate telemarketers are required to display their phone number and the name/or phone number of the company they represent. If this information is missing, it’s likely a scam.
  • It’s important to note that scammers often spoof authentic phone numbers to make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate company. If you suspect spoofing, you can always ignore a call, and then call the number of the company that allegedly reached out to you, to ask about the contents of the call. If the call was indeed spoofed, the company will not be aware that the call was made.
  • If those robocalls are not letting up, consider blocking the number on your phone. You may have to do this several times, as scammers often use more than one phone number to carry out a scam.

Alert the authorities

If you are targeted by a suspected scammer, you can alert the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at the FCC complaint center . These calls likely violate telemarketing and robocall regulations, and by alerting the FCC, you can help them identify the scammers.

If the call you received involved fraud, you can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.

Robocalls are incredibly annoying, but getting scammed is more than just an irritating experience. Follow our tips to protect yourself from auto warranty scams and similar ruses.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by an auto warranty scam? Share your experience in the comments.

Learn More:
fcc.gov
thebalance.com
cylanda.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

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

Beware of PPP Scams

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a welcome relief for small businesses struggling to stay afloat while also keeping their employees’ incomes flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The program provides eligible businesses with unsecured loans to help them cover payroll, rent and other ongoing business expenses, with the possibility of partial or complete loan forgiveness. The loans are furnished by the Small Business Association (SBA) with applications processed by private lenders or other organizations. There have been many changes and updates made to the PPP since it was first passed on April 24, 2020. Most recently, the SBA began accepting applications for Second Draw PPP Loans on Jan. 11, 2021 from participating lenders.

Unfortunately, the PPP has been plagued by fraud since its inception. In these scams, criminals posing as representatives of the SBA, another government entity or a legitimate lender trick business owners into applying for a loan through their organization, sharing information that can then be used to hack their accounts and more.

Here’s what you need to know about PPP scams and how to avoid them:

How PPP loans are processed

The more you know about how PPP loans work, the stronger protection you’ll have against possible scams.

If you want to apply for a PPP loan, simply download the loan application through the SBA. Fill it out and submit it to an SBA-approved lender. You may also need to provide all or some of the following documents:

  • Tax returns for 2019
  • Payroll reports showing how you achieved your requested total loan amount
  • Documents proving your company’s structure, formation and ownership
  • Verifiable payroll expense documents and breakdown of payroll benefits
  • Payroll summary report with corresponding financial statements
  • Certification that all employees live within the United States. If you have employees overseas, you’ll need to provide a separate list of these workers and their respective salaries.
  • Most recent mortgage or rent statement and utility bills
  • Documentation about how COVID-19 has negatively impacted your business

If you’re applying for a Second Draw PPP Loan, you will also need documentation that showcases how you have used, or plan to use, your original PPP funds.

After you’ve submitted your application, you can sit back and wait for approval. There’s no need to share any additional information on the phone or via email.

How can I protect my business from PPP fraud?

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help keep your business safe from PPP scams.

 Do:

  • Be wary of any individuals demanding immediate payment from you, or asking that you make immediate contact with them to be eligible for a PPP loan. These are likely scammers.
  • Only use a lender that is accredited by the SBA. You can find a full list of SBA-approved lenders here.
  • Look for the .gov at the end of each email or website allegedly from the SBA or another government entity, such as http://www.sba.gov.
  • Reach out to your local and state government if you need help applying for a PPP loan.
  • Report any suspected scams to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and your state’s attorney general office. If a suspicious caller or email contact alleges to represent the SBA, alert the SBA as well.

Don’t:

  • Share any personal information, like your Social Security number or checking account details, with an unverified caller or email contact.
  • Pay for a program that promises to process or expedite a PPP loan request if the organization behind the program is not truly accredited by the SBA. Click on links or download files from an unfamiliar email address. These links could infect your device with malware.

Times are tough all around as the world grapples with the “new normal” and small businesses have been especially hard-hit. PPP loans can help struggling organizations get back on their feet, but scammers don’t want to let that happen. Use the tips outlined above to protect yourself and your business from a PPP scam. Stay safe!

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

Learn More:
sba.gov
bloomberg.com
ucbi.com
chicagotribune.com

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

Don’t Get Caught in a Weight-Loss Scam!

January is prime time to get into shape.

This year in particular, many Americans are struggling to shed the “quarantine 15,” or the pounds packed on during all those months when life happened over Zoom and nobody saw what you were wearing below the waist. In fact, the snack company that brings us Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers reports that sales have increased  by more than 16% since 2019. And hard as it may be to believe, at some point in the future, it will no longer be socially acceptable to attend a business meeting, a friend’s formal dinner party or your sister’s wedding while wearing sweatpants.

Unfortunately, scammers know this as well as anyone, and they are out in full force, trying to scam consumers with bogus weight-loss products, miracle drugs and more. Gyms aren’t far behind, with many of them offering misleading contracts that are impossible to get out of once they’re signed.

Don’t get scammed! Lose the pounds you’re looking to shed this winter — not your money.

Here’s what you need to know about weight-loss scams and how to avoid them.

1. Gym scams

Scams at the gym generally fall into the category of false advertising and misleading claims. The BBB https://www.bbb.org/article/tips/13250-bbb-tip-joining-a-gym urges consumers to take the following precautions before signing up for a gym membership:

  • Check the gym on BBB.org  to see what previous and current customers have to say about it.
  • Ask about a free trial so you can see what the gym is like before signing a contract.
  • Don’t feel pressured into signing a contract. A reputable gym will grant you the time and the discretion to review the contract and to make the decision at your own pace.
  • Calculate the true cost of a membership. Gyms often lure new members with low prices that are only valid for an “introductory period.” Can you afford to pay the full monthly membership when this period ends?
  • Understand the terms of the contract. If anything is vague or unclear, don’t hesitate to ask a salesperson to explain it to you.
  • Find out the gym’s cancellation policy. What happens if circumstances beyond your control make you unable to attend the gym?

Despite your best efforts, you may end up getting scammed by the gym. Perhaps the terms of your contract were ambiguous, or you failed to calculate the extra added expenses that were only tacked on after the first month. In other circumstances, gyms will automatically renew a membership at the end of a contract unless the member takes action. And some gyms tack on extra “maintenance fees” without being up front about it when the contract is signed.

If you believe your gym has acted in bad faith, you may have legal options. Several states, including California, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon and Washington, have statutes for the health club industry. Facilities that fail to comply with these laws are subject to penalties and fines. If your gym fails to reimburse you for what you believe was a falsely advertised contract, it may be worthwhile to pursue legal action.

You can also file a complaint with the BBB at BBB.org.

2. Weight-loss product scams

Bogus diet products and programs are the most commonly reported health care scams to the FTC. These can range from miracle drugs promising instant weight loss, companies paying social media influencers to promote their unproven products and even phony websites filled with fake articles about celebrities who allegedly saw amazing results with these products.

Scammy weight-loss products can be ridiculously overpriced, may contain harmful or unregulated drugs or may offer a free trial that comes with hidden charges.

Here’s how to spot a weight-loss product scam:

  • Advertised products sound too good to be true, touted as “revolutionary” or a “miracle breakthrough.”
  • Product promises a specific amount of weight loss in a specific amount of time.
  • A search of the company on the BBB website brings up negative reviews and reports of scams.
  • As a general rule, it’s a good idea not to trust weight-loss products that offer you results without requiring you to change your eating habits or lifestyle. In addition, weight-loss body wraps, patches, creams, lotions or gadgets are always scams. The FTC cautions that nothing worn or applied to the skin can produce substantial weight loss.

If you’re looking to drop some of those pounds you packed on during quarantine, it’s best to go the old-fashioned route: Eat less and move more. Keep your money safe from weight-loss scams!

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

Learn More:
bbb.org
wnep.com
stories.avvo.com
aarp.org

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

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