How law enforcement doesn’t operate: scam alert from the BBB

October 18, 2013

If you live in the United States (I can’t vouch for other countries), there are certain ways in which law enforcement is carried out, and ways in which it generally is not.

Here’s one way law enforcement doesn’t work: if there’s a warrant out for your arrest, they usually don’t call you first and tell you.

Here’s another: if you’re accused of a crime, you can’t pay a fine to avoid charges (if you can, it probably means you’re bribing someone, and they’re accepting the bribe, and you’re both in a lot of trouble, mister. Bribing the police. That’s not right!). The fines (and other consequences) generally happen after you’ve been convicted, which is supposed to occur via due process.

The Better Business Bureau is warning of an active scam that has already claimed several victims. The fraudulent phone calls use spoofed caller ID to extort “fines” from victims, by money orders and prepaid debit cards. They’ve got the full lowdown here, but the proper response is one you’ve seen before: don’t give any money or personal information (even if they have some already—victims have reported the callers having information about loans), hang up, call the real police (because others are likely getting the same calls).

The problem is that such phone calls can incite a moment of panic, and panic makes it hard to think rationally. But if you’re aware that such scams exist, you’ll be able to stop, take a breath, calm down and remember how reality works before you become a victim.


Alert for businesses: beware of fake BBB complaint emails

January 18, 2013

I received an email recently that highlights the importance of business owners and employees being aware of various types of fraud activity:

From: Better Business Bureau <[redacted]@newyork.bbb.org>
Subject: Case #28475466
Owner/Manager

The Better Business Bureau has received the above-referenced complaint from one of your customers regarding their dealings with you. The details of the consumer’s concern are included on the reverse. Please review this matter and advise us of your position.

As a neutral third party, the Better Business Bureau can help to resolve the matter. Often complaints are a result of misunderstandings a company wants to know about and correct.

In the interest of time and good customer relations, please provide the BBB with written verification of your position in this matter by January 17, 2013. Your prompt response will allow BBB to be of service to you and your customer in reaching a mutually agreeable resolution. Please inform us if you have contacted your customer directly and already resolved this matter.

The Better Business Bureau develops and maintains Reliability Reports on companies across the United States and Canada . This information is available to the public and is frequently used by potential customers. Your cooperation in responding to this complaint becomes a permanent part of your file with the Better Business Bureau. Failure to promptly give attention to this matter may be reflected in the report we give to consumers about your company.

We encourage you to print this complaint (attached file), answer the questions and respond to us.

We look forward to your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

BBB Serving Metropolitan New York, Long Island and the Mid-Hudson Region

There was a 102KB file attached to the message named “Complaint Case  #28475466.zip”. Except for the fact that it appeared to come from a Better Business Bureau office a thousand miles away, it looked pretty legitimate.

However, looks can be very deceiving.

According to a report from Cisco, the attachment is an executable file that contains malicious code. They don’t specify what that malware is, but given the nature of the message I would guess it’s designed to log keystrokes or use some other method to steal online banking credentials from businesses. Once they’ve got account numbers and passwords, they wire thousands of dollars out of payroll, expense and other accounts, then use their network of (unwitting and witting) money mules to launder the ill-gotten funds.

So here’s the lesson today: if you receive a message like the one above, do not under any circumstances open the attached file. If you think there might be a legitimate complaint from the Better Business Bureau, contact them directly. It’s a general rule, but in this case it applied more specifically to business owners and their employees.


BBB launches Scam Source website

January 16, 2012

The U.S. Better Business Bureau has launched a new website called Scam Source.

The new site features a channel for consumers to report scams they’ve encountered, a “Scam Aggregator” with links to articles around the web, and email alerts.

I encourage you to poke around the site and sign up for the alerts. It’s still new, so it will be interesting to see what scams they uncover.


Holiday reminder: beware of charity scams

November 30, 2011

The holiday season is a time when many people think about ways to help those in need. However, scam artists have been known to exploit this tendency and set up fraudulent charities to skim money from generous people.

Never give money or personal information to a person who calls, emails or approaches you out of the blue. If you receive a request to donate, research the charity before you respond. www.bbb.org and www.charitynavigator.org are a great place to start.

Beware of charities with names that are similar to well-known organizations, and never make a check out to an individual. Also never make a check out to “CAS,” no matter what “CAS” allegedly stands for; a crook has simply to add an “H” and they’ve got a check from you made out to “CASH.”

Better yet, decide now which charities you’d like to support, and make your donation early. When asked to donate to others, politely explain that you’ve completed your budgeted giving for the year.


Locksmith Scams

August 15, 2011

If it hasn’t already happened to you, it will: you’re going to lock your keys in the car, lock yourself out of the house or find out that a lock rusted shut over the winter.

You’re going to need a locksmith.

It happens to everyone, and yet it’s a need now complicated by con artists; it seems locksmith scams are on the rise.

Typically, victims start by searching online for a locksmith. They call a random listing and get a reasonable-sounding estimate over the phone. When the “locksmith” actually shows up, however, they start adding charges until the price is completely out of line. Since most people in need of a locksmith are in a tight spot, they often end up paying. Sometimes, as a bonus, the phony locksmith will damage your property.

How do you avoid this scam? Choose a locksmith now, before you need one. Either get one you’ve used before and already know to be trustworthy, or check out the Better Business Bureau and online reviews. Make sure you’re dealing with an actual local business instead of having your call routed to a national number, and refuse to use any locksmith that only accepts cash payment.

Once you’ve got your locksmith, save the number in your mobile phone and keep it handy at home.

When you’re away from home, it’s a little trickier to choose one on the fly, but you can still watch out for warning signs like rapidly-escalating costs and cash-only operations.


How to choose a credit counseling agency: ten tips

June 6, 2011

If you find yourself unable to pay your debts, it might be time to look into a credit counseling agency. However, it pays to do your homework before deciding to go with a particular company. Here are ten tips to help you get started down the right path.

1. Ignore what’s on TV

If you watch TV for an hour during the day or late at night, you’ll probably see at least three commercials for some form of debt counseling, management or relief agency. Ignore them all—these are usually for-profit companies concerned only with their own interests; whether or not you get back on your feet doesn’t even matter to them. Many are outright scams; nobody at the cable company is really investigating the commercials they run. As long as somebody pays, they’ll run the ads.

2. Nonprofit only

Make sure any credit counseling agency you use is a nonprofit. There is no reason to go with a for-profit credit counselor. To be safest, stick with those with at least 10 years in business.

3. Check the BBB

Check out any agency with the Better Business Bureau before you contact them. Stick to those with A or A+ ratings; there are plenty of these, leaving no reason to go with a B, C or D-rated company.

4. Make sure they are accredited

Check out any agency with either the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) before working with them. These associations have strict guidelines for membership.

5. Find out about fees

Depending on what your needs are, many agencies do charge some form of fee. However, these should be in the $50 – $100 range at most. Anyone asking for thousands of dollars is running a racket.

6. Ask lots of questions

You need information, sure, but you also need to get a sense of who you’re dealing with. Even if you already know some of the answers, ask lots of questions anyway. If they’re evasive or give brush-off answers without explaining things, that’s a red flag. Move on.

7. Ignore offers to erase, reduce or repair

There is no legal way to remove accurate negative information from your credit history. If you go into credit counseling, your rating is going to take a hit for a while. That’s just part of the deal. But anyone offering to reduce your debts or erase your credit history is probably running a scam.

8. Don’t give them your information first

An agency that is unwilling to give you free information about their services without you first revealing personal details is to be avoided.

9. Talk to others

You probably know someone who’s already been through this. Talk to them. Find out if they had good or bad experiences with an agency.

10. Take your time

Don’t rush into making any decisions on credit counseling, and avoid agencies that pressure you. These are important decisions, and while it’s going to be great to eventually get out from under your debts, things can be less than ideal in the short term; you want to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Falling into a scam or getting ripped off will only make things worse. Proceed with courage, but proceed with caution!


T’is the season for another article about charity scams

November 18, 2010

To many people, this time of year is synonymous with “giving.”

It’s a season that brings out the best in us; we give thanks, we give gifts, and we give to those who are less fortunate than we.

However, it’s also a season that brings out the worst in others. They know a lot of people are in a giving sort of mood, and they take advantage of it. It seems like for every charity providing money and services to those in need, there is at least one organization whose primary mission is to line its own pockets. So how do you avoid charity scams during the holidays and throughout the year?

One of the best ways to give is to simply decide ahead of time which organizations you’re donating to this year, and make your contribution by contacting them directly. When a representative of another charity approaches or calls, simply explain that you’ve already made your contributions for the year. Many people give in this way, so they should be polite and accept your answer. A rude or hostile response is a sign of a charity that isn’t on the up-and-up.

You can also donate something other than money. Clothing and food are always popular items, or you can choose to help out where it is needed. Ask around—I can guarantee somebody needs you somewhere. Plus, donations of time and effort can be more rewarding than monetary giving, as they can bring new experiences and face-to-face contact with the people you’re helping.

Be wary of charities that contact you by email, unless you’ve given in the past and provided this information. Unsolicited email is always pretty sketchy to begin with; clicking on a link and providing credit card or other information can lead you straight into identity theft. However, if you gave to an organization before and provided your email, they may use it to contact you in the future, since it saves money on postage.

If someone approaches you in person or calls, be sure to ask what percentage of funds goes to the people the charity serves. A legitimate charity should expect this question and equip its callers, whether volunteers or paid employees, to answer it truthfully. The question is almost a litmus test in itself—every organization has operating expenses, so an answer like “100%” probably isn’t true, and as always a hostile or evasive response is a sign of a crooked charity. Ask for information to be sent to you, or ask for a website address, because you’re not going to give your credit card information to someone over the phone no matter who they claim to be, are you?

Donating by check is better than cash, because it gives you a way to track your donation. However, writing a check also puts your checking account number into someone else’s hands. If you trust the organization, that’s your call to make, but for an extra level of safety a cashier’s check is even better—even a legitimate charity can misplace a check or have its office burglarized. Finally, when it comes to checks, always make the check out to the charity, not an individual, and never trust anyone who tries to get you to make a check out to “CAS,” no matter what the initials supposedly stand for. All a thief has to do is add an “H” and they’ve got a check, from you, made out to “CASH.”

Do your homework before you give a single dime to anyone. Check out charities with the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator. Don’t assume that nonprofit status means anything, since crooked charities hide behind this designation. Finally, pay attention to the name of the charity—the difference between “Foundation” and “Fund” can be the difference between helping those in need and helping a thief buy a spare Jaguar.


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