FTC Consumer Alert
FTC Warns of Utility Bill Scam That Asks for Payment via GreenDot, Paypal or Prepaid Gift Card
Imagine receiving a phone call from your utility company saying they’re about to cut off your electricity. The caller ID looks like it might be a legitimate phone number, but you know you’ve paid your bill. The caller says, “I can stop this, but only if you pay me.”
It’s a scam, but there’s a new twist. Instead of asking you to wire money, a new scam wants you to use GreenDot, buy a prepaid gift card, or use PayPal. Scammers using reloadable debit cards, gift cards, or PayPal is not new, but it’s growing. It lets them get your money in a way that you’ll never get it back.
Scammers can use computers to make it look like they’re calling from one place – when, in fact, they’re someplace else. If you get a call, email, text, or even a visit from someone telling you to make a payment via PayPal, or to buy a GreenDot card or a gift card, it’s probably a scam. Call your utility company on the phone number that appears on your bill, describe what happened, and report the scammers to the Federal Trade Commission, online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
FTC Consumer Alert
Text Spammers Settle FTC Charges They Illegally Sent Consumers Bogus Offers for "Free" Gift Cards
An affiliate marketing company and its two principals have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges for allegedly sending out more than 42.5 million unwanted and deceptive text messages to consumers. The case is part of the FTC’s continuing crackdown on spam text messages and the settlement prohibits the defendants from sending unwanted texts to consumers, and from misleading consumers about whether they have won gifts or prizes and whether a product is “free” or without cost or obligation.
“FTC action in cases like this one have dramatically reduced the amount of illegal text message spam, especially as it relates to bogus gift card offers” said FTC Midwest Region Director C. Steven Baker. “Not only are spam texts annoying and illegal, but they can also cost consumers money.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, Rentbro, Inc., and its principals, Daniel Pessin and Jacob Engel, residents of Ft. Lauderdale, sent deceptive text messages to millions of consumers telling them they had been selected to receive $1,000 gift cards to major retailers such as Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. A typical message stated, “Your entry in our drawing WON you a FREE $1,000 Target Giftcard! Enter “312” at www.target.com.tgrz.biz to claim it and we can ship it to you immediately!”
The hyperlink included in the text message brought consumers to a website the defendants created to reinforce the deceptive gift card message and then to a variety of third-party websites where consumers were asked to submit personal information under the guise of claiming their gift cards. After collecting consumers’ personal information, consumers were told they had to sign up for more than a dozen risky trial offers, none of which was free, to qualify for the promised “free” gift card.
In addition to prohibiting the unlawful conduct, the stipulated order against the defendants requires them to turn over all of their remaining assets and imposes a partially suspended monetary judgment of $377,321, which is all of the money received in connection with the scam.
This case is the second settlement stemming from an FTC enforcement sweep initiated earlier this year against 29 defendants responsible for sending more than 180 million spam text messages.
The Commission’s vote authorizing staff to file the stipulated final order was 4-0. The FTC filed the stipulated final order for permanent injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The District Court judge signed and approved the order on Sept. 13, 2013.
NOTE: Stipulated orders have the force of law when signed and approved by the District Court judge.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releasesfor the latest FTC news and resources.
FTC Consumer Alert
How Not to Get Hooked by a 'Phishing' Scam
Internet scammers casting about for people's financial information have a new way to lure unsuspecting victims: They go "phishing" .
Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive you into disclosing your credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), phishers send an email or pop-up message that claims to be from a business or organization that you deal with - for example, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), bank, online payment service, or even a government agency. The message usually says that you need to "update" or "validate" your account information. It might threaten some dire consequence if you don't respond. The message directs you to a Web site that looks just like a legitimate organization's site, but it isn't. The purpose of the bogus site? To trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.
The FTC, the nation's consumer protection agency, suggests these tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:
- If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the messag. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company's correct Web address. In any case, don't cut and paste the link in the message.
- Don't email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's Web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for "secure"). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.
- Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
- Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Antivirus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Antivirus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones; that can effectively reverse the damage; and that updates automatically. A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Finally, your operating system (like Windows or Linux) may offer free software "patches" to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.
- Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
- Report suspicious activity to the FTC. If you get spam that is phishing for information, forward it to https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. If you believe you've been scammed, file your complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from ID theft. Visit www.ftc.gov/spam to learn other ways to avoid email scams and deal with deceptive spam. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues , visit http://www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following steps:
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and request a "fraud alert" be placed on your file and no new credit be granted without your approval.
- Close any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened.
- File a local police report and get a copy of the report to your bank, credit card company or others that may need proof of the crime.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, it can assist victims by providing information to help resolve problems that can result from identity theft. Should you find yourself a victim of identity theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC by calling toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
Most of us assume that thieves are only interested in the cash in our wallet or purse, when in many cases, they are more interested in access to sensitive information that can be used to steal our identity. Use caution and don't be the next victim of identity theft or other financial fraud.