TIP OF THE WEEK
August 20, 2021
Don’t buy fake COVID-19 vaccine cards or negative test results.
More and more places are requiring proof that you’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine or have recently tested negative before giving you access. Scammers see this as an opportunity to profit by selling fake verification tools or products, like fake vaccination cards, certificates, and test results. Our advice:
- Know that buying fake vaccine cards, making your own, or filling in blank cards with false information is illegal and could get you fined, or even land you in jail.
- Don’t share personal information with people you don’t know. Scammers will turn the tables and sell your data or use it to commit identity theft.
- The only legitimate way to get proof that you’re vaccinated — or that you test negative — is to GET vaccinated or to TEST negative. If you lose that proof, check with your state health department or the place you got vaccinated to find out how you might be able to get a replacement.
If you spot a fake vaccine card, report it to the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or oig.hhs.gov, or file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
You can also file a report with the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your report can make a difference. We use reports like yours to investigate, bring law enforcement cases, and alert people about what frauds to be on the lookout for so they can protect themselves, their friends, and family.
To learn more about COVID-related scams, visit www.ftc.gov.coronavirus/scams
Colleen Tressler, Division of Consumer and Business Education, FTC
JUNE 23 THRU JUNE 29 2021
What to know before you buy something online
Ahh, summer. Ten sweet yet short weeks to enjoy some of your favorite traditions. Maybe it’s sipping an ice cold drink on the porch, spending a weekend at the beach, or cooling off with the kids at the pool. Now that you think about it, you might decide to treat yourself to a new porch swing or a new beach umbrella. Or suddenly realize that you need to buy more goggles because the kids lost theirs…again. Before you start filling up your online shopping cart, we’ve got some tips you’ll want to check out (no pun intended!).
Do some comparison-shopping. Before you buy online, use the power of the internet to compare prices on different websites. We’ve got tips about using comparison-shopping sites.
Think critically about online reviews. Reading other people’s opinions about a product can help you make a decision. But some reviews are downright fake or not completely honest. You may not know when a reviewer got something — like a free product — in exchange for the review. Learn more about how to evaluate online reviews.
Pay attention to the details. Before you buy something online, know when it’ll ship and what to do if you want to return it. Read up on delivery, return, and refund policies.
Pay with a credit card if you can. That way, if you get billed twice for the same item, or you get billed for something you never got, you can dispute it. Learn more about the benefits of paying with a credit card.
Find out what personal information shopping apps collect. Shopping apps might give you exclusive deals or rewards points. But they might also take your personal information, like your name, phone number, and email. And they might use your device’s location. Here’s what to know if you’re using a shopping app. If you spot this or any other scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Alvaro Puig Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
December 15, 2020
Frosty the Con Man: avoiding family emergency scams
“Hello? It’s me — Frosty. Look it’s a long story but without my top hat, I’m melting. Please, I need your help — send money now or I’ll be nothing but a puddle!”
OK, so that’s a silly example and real imposters aren’t funny. But, on the 8th day of Consumer Protection, it’s definitely worth remembering that scammers can be really convincing. And they don’t take a break, even at this time of year. It’s surprisingly easy for a scammer to impersonate someone to snow you. Networking sites make it easier than ever to sleuth out personal and family information. And they play on your emotions. Scammers are banking on your love and concern to outweigh your skepticism.
You might get a call or message supposedly from an out-of-town family member or friend claiming to be in an accident, arrested, or hospitalized. To make their story seem legitimate, they may involve another crook who claims to be an authority figure, like a lawyer or police officer.
What do you do if you get a message like this?
- Stop – and check it out. Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
- Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Or reach out to another family member or friend to check out whether what the message claims is true.
- Don’t wire money — or send a check, money order, or gift card by overnight delivery or courier.
And then tell the Federal Trade Commission: ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Carol Kando-Pineda Attorney, FTC, Division of Consumer & Business Education
October 14, 2020
You’ve won! Now pay us” is always a scam
During these difficult economic times, it is easy to imagine our financial problems disappearing by winning a big prize. Who wouldn’t like to win a million dollars, a new car, or a vacation home? But if you get a call from someone saying, “You’ve won,” don’t believe the hype.
Here’s how it works. You get a call from someone who says they’re from Publishers Clearing House or some other well-known organization. They say, “Congratulations, you’ve won a million dollars, a Mercedes-Benz, and seven thousand dollars a week for life!” or some other amazing sounding prizes. Then they ask you to pay a “processing fee,” “taxes,” or “shipping and handling charges,” to claim your prize.
The scammers are trying to push you into a heightened emotional state, to knock you off balance just long enough to steal your money and personal information.
The fact is, Publishers Clearing House never notifies winners in advance. And anyone who says, “You’ve won. Now pay us,” is always scammer. Period. Consider these tips to avoid this scam: Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay a fee to get your prize. That includes paying “taxes,” “shipping and handling charges,” or “processing fees.” There’s also no reason to give someone your checking account or credit card number in response to a sweepstakes promotion.
- Don’t send money transfers or gift cards, or give personal information. Sending money transfers or gift cards (or providing the gift card numbers) is like sending cash: once the money’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. The same goes for sending money by mail or using a money order.
- Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can make any name or number show up on your caller ID. They might use an official-sounding name like Publishers Clearing House or Reader’s Digest.
Scammers don’t just scam one person. Tell your friends and family about the scam so they can avoid it. Then report it to the FTC: ftc.gov/complaint.
Jim Kreidler Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
TIP OF THE WEEK
September 30, 2020
How can you spot a tech support scam?
Are you getting pop-up warning messages on your computer screen? Or maybe a phone call that your computer has a virus? That may well be a tech support scam. But how do you know? And what do you do? Start by watching this video on tech support scams.
Scammers love to sound legit by pretending to be from a real company – say Microsoft or Apple. They’ll make your computer “problem” sound urgent, trying to get you to act before you have time to think. And they’ll ask you for access to your computer, your bank or credit card number, or for money. But that’s not how real tech support works.
So, before you click the link in the pop up or call that number, stop. Talk to someone you trust. Read about tech supports scams. And remember: Never share your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number with anyone who contacts you. Somebody who tells you to pay with a gift card, money transfer, or Bitcoin is a scammer. Always. Have you spotted a scam? Report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. To keep up to date with what the FTC is doing, sign up to get Consumer Alerts.
Traci Armani Consumer Education Specialist, Division of Consumer & Business ED
September 16, 2020
Spot and stop dishonest charity fundraisers
What’s worse than a bogus charity? A bogus charity with a dishonest fundraiser. That’s what we saw in a case announced today against Outreach Calling, Inc., its founder Mark Gelvan, and others.
The defendants in this FTC case are fundraisers that called millions of Americans on behalf of bogus charities. They claimed that the charities delivered care packages to Vietnam veterans in need, helped breast cancer survivors, gave grants to family members of fallen officers, and other things. But these fundraisers kept 90% or more of the donations they got. The bogus charities spent most of their share on salaries for their founders and family members, or administrative costs.
Today’s settlement bans the defendants from charitable fundraising. But when you get a call from a charity fundraiser, how do you know the caller is telling you the truth? Here are a few tips: Ask the caller specific questions: What is the charity’s name, phone number, or address? Write these down so you can confirm them later. Keep in mind that many charity names sound alike.
How much of your donation will go directly to the programs you want to support?
Will your donation be tax-deductible? Not every call seeking a donation is from a charity. Some calls might be from Political Action Committees or other groups where donations are not deductible. See more questions to ask here.
Resist the pressure to donate now. After you’ve listened to the caller, hang up the phone and think about what they said. Then, go online and do your own research:
Search for the organization’s name and phone number, plus the word “scam” or “complaint.” What you find might help you decide if you want to make that donation.
Look up the organization’s name and address. Does it show up? If it doesn’t, that could be a sign the caller was lying to you.
Rosario Méndez Attorney, Division of Consumer and Business Education, FTC
July 22, 2020
Hang up on business imposter scams
Scammers love to use the same old tricks in new ways. One of their favorites is to pose as a business or government official to pressure you into sending them money or personal information. Now, some scammers are pretending to be popular online shopping websites, phishing for your personal information.
For example, you get a call from someone who claims to be with “Amazon.com.” (Spoiler alert: they’re not really from Amazon.) The voice on the phone will say that your credit card has been charged a large amount of money for some order. Then, they’ll give you the “Amazon Support” phone number and tell you to immediately call if you didn’t make that purchase.
If this seems suspicious, that’s because it is. Scammers want you to call the number they give so they can ask for your passwords, credit card number, and other sensitive information to get your money. If you get a call like this, there are a few steps you should take:
- Hang up. Don’t call them back on the number they gave you. If you’re concerned about an order you didn’t place, contact the business through a customer service phone number or email you know is legitimate. You can usually find a company’s real information on their website.
- Check your credit card account. If you see a charge you don’t recognize, file a dispute with your credit card company immediately.
- Report the fake call to the business. Make sure to use the contact information from their website – not the information from the phone call. You can also report the call to the FTC.
If you gave information to a business imposter, head to www.IdentityTheft.gov for tips to protect yourself. To learn more about imposter scams, visit the FTC’s Imposter Scams page.
Jabari Cook Intern, Division of Consumer & Business Education, FTC
JULY 14 2020
Utility company calling? Don’t fall for it.
Every day, millions of people who have lost their jobs are making difficult choices about how to pay their bills. As the Coronavirus continues to spread, scammers are taking advantage of people’s heightened economic anxiety. Their latest ploy is posing as representatives from utility companies to dupe people out of their cash and personal information by convincing them their utilities will be shut off if they don’t pay.
If you get a call from someone claiming to be your utility company, here are some things you can do:
Thank the caller for the information. Then firmly tell them you will contact the utility company directly using the number on your bill or on the company’s website.
Even if the caller insists you have a past due bill or your services will be shut off, never give banking information over the phone unless you place the call to a number you know is legitimate.
Utility companies don’t demand banking information by email or phone. And they won’t force you to pay by phone as your only option.
If the caller demands payment by gift card, cash reload card, wiring money or cryptocurrency, it is a scam. Legitimate companies don’t demand payment by gift cards (like iTunes or Amazon), cash reload cards (like MoneyPak, Vanilla, or Reloadit), or cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin).
Tell your friends and loved ones about the scam so they can protect themselves. If you got this scam call, others in your community probably did to. We know when people hear about scams, they’re much more likely to avoid them.
Tell the FTC. Your reports help the FTC and our law enforcement partners stop scammers. Jim Kreidler Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
June 29, 2020
COVID mask exemption cards are not from the government
To help limit the spread of the Coronavirus, many states are requiring people to wear face coverings in places open to the public. But there are cards circulating online and on social media that say the holder has a disability that prevents them from wearing a mask, and that it’s illegal for any business to ask them to disclose their condition. Variations of the card include the seal of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), one of the federal agencies responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The fact is, these cards aren’t issued or endorsed by DOJ, or any other federal agency. DOJ urges the public not to rely on the information contained in these postings, and to visit ADA.gov for ADA information issued by the agency.
For information about your rights under the ADA, visit ADA.gov, or call 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY).
Want more information about the latest scams we’re seeing? Visit ftc.gov/coronavirus, and sign up for our consumer alerts. And, when you spot a scam, tell the FTC: ftc.gov/complaint. Because you can help us keep working to put a stop to these scams.
– Colleen Tressler Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
June 30. 2020
Spring Crime Prevention Tips
Spring often means an increase in criminal activity. The following tips can help keep you and your home safe.
Roll up your car windows, take any valuables out of your car, and lock your doors every time you exit your vehicle, even if your vehicle is parked in your driveway.
Lock your home at all times. If you are working in the back yard, lock your front door and close and lock your garage door.
Lock the back door when you are in the front yard. Always lock your doors when you leave, even if you only plan to be gone for a few minutes.
Close and lock your home windows and sliding doors when you go to bed or leave the house.
Install motion-activated lights in your front and back yards so when someone approaches your home, the lights automatically come on, illuminating that person.
Store all ladders and other tools into a secure storage area after use. Ladders and other tools can be used by criminals to access your home. Always lock storage units or sheds on your property.
Be aware of home improvement scams. If you did not solicit a contractor or salesman who shows up at your door unannounced, do not do business with that person.
If a utility representative comes to your house, request identification. True representatives will carry identification and they will show it to you. Call their company for verification.
Be a watchful, attentive neighbor to spot criminals and alert police to their presence.
Get involved in your community to help keep your spring happy and safe.
June 1, 2020
KEEP CALM and Avoid Coronavirus Scams
Here are 5 things you can do to avoid a Coronavirus scam:
- Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits.
Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
- Hang up on robocalls.
Scammers use illegal sales call to get your money and your personal information.
- Watch out for phishing emails and text messages.
Don’t click on links in emails or texts you didn’t expect.
- Research before you donate.
Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. Get tips on donating wisely at ftc.gov/charity.
- Stay in the know.
Go to ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams for the latest information on scams. Sign up to get FTC’s alerts at ftc.gov/subscribe.
If you see a scam, report it to ftc.gov/complaint
Federal Trade Commission
MAY 15, 2020
Did a nursing home or assisted living facility take your stimulus check?
Do you or a loved one live in a nursing home or assisted living facility? Are you (or they) on Medicaid? If you said “yes” to both, please read on and prepare to get mad. We’ve been hearing that some facilities are trying to take the stimulus payments intended for their residents on Medicaid. Then they’re requiring those people to sign over those funds to the facility. Why? Well, they’re claiming that, because the person is on Medicaid, the facility gets to keep the stimulus payment.
But here’s the deal: those economic impact payments are, according to the CARES Act, a tax credit. And tax law says that tax credits don’t count as “resources” for federal benefits programs, like Medicaid. So: when Congress calls these payments “tax credits” in the CARES Act, that means the government can’t seize them. Which means nursing homes and assisted living facilities can’t take that money from their residents just because they’re on Medicaid. And, if they took it already, get in touch with your state attorney general and ask them to help you get it back.
This is not just a horror story making the rounds. These are actual reports that our friends in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office have been getting – and handling. Other states have seen the same.
If you’ve experienced this already, tell your state attorney general’s office first, and then tell the FTC: ftc.gov/complaint. If a loved one lives in a nursing facility and you’re not sure what happened to their payment, talk with them soon. And consider having a chat with the facility’s management to make sure they know which side of the law to be on.
Need more back-up? Then let me get legal on you for a minute. You can go right here to get the federal tax law that says refunds aren’t considered a “resource” in federal benefits programs. And you can click this link to get the Congressional Summary that talks about the funds as tax credits not countable as resources for federal government programs. (It’s on page 3.) And here’s even more helpful information from the National Center on Law & Elder Rights for people who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Again, though: if this has happened to you or a loved one, find your state attorney general’s office contact information at naag.org and talk with them right away.
Lois Greisman Elder Justice Coordinator, FTC