Paying for a diploma? FTC halts alleged fake online school

There are several benefits of having a high school diploma. From getting a better job, applying for college, and being eligible for the military. But did you know there is such thing as a diploma mill? What some may think is a real program to earning their diploma, can turn out to be just a scam.

The Federal Trade Commission has recently stopped two alleged fake online high schools that charged from $135 to $349 for a certificate.

According to the FTC, Capitol Network Distance Learning Programs and Stepping Stonez Development. promised fast diplomas equivalent to the well-known GED®. The requirements were to take a test and pay the fee for the certificate. Testimonials the business had claimed some had kept their jobs or got new dream jobs with the diplomas they received.

However, the program had no classes, study materials, and homework. It just contained on multiple-choice test on the site. Those who failed to pass were able to take it again, but all answers were highlighted.

The companies, which went by Lincoln High School, Aberdeen Academy, Escuela Capital, and many other names, claimed many different organizations accepted the diploma. When former students of the program tried to use them to enroll in college, apply for jobs, get a promotion, or enlist in the military, they found out they were phony.

Here’s some tips offered by the FTC on how you can spot a diploma mill:

They want you to pay for a diploma. It’s ok to pay for classes or testing — but you shouldn’t pay for just a diploma.

You can get the diploma from home, ASAP. If you can earn the diploma without taking any classes or in-person tests, it’s a scam.

They claim to be affiliated with the federal government. The federal government doesn’t regulate high school equivalency diploma programs. Each state decides what high school equivalency tests and programs are approved there.

For more information on high school diploma scams, click here.

Posted in Consumer Alert, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

FTC sues DeVry University over job placement claims

A large for-profit college is being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly misleading consumers about students’ job and earnings prospects.

In their complaint, the FTC said DeVry University stretched the truth by claiming 90% of their graduates who were actively seeking employment landed new jobs in their field of study within six months of graduation. However, the government agency said DeVry’s numbers do not back up this claim.

So how did the school reach those numbers?

According to the FTC, the company counted graduates who had been working at their jobs for more than a year before graduating or even before enrolling at DeVry.

Second, it counted graduates who were not working in their field of study. For example, it would count a graduate who in health services management working as a server at a restaurant.

Lastly, it under-counted those “actively seeking employment” by considering only those graduates who were regularly using DeVry’s career services department.

Additionally, the school claimed that one year after graduation, the median or average earnings of DeVry graduates with bachelor degrees were 15% higher than the earnings of graduates from all other colleges and universities. The Federal Trade Commission is seeking a court order to stop DeVry University from making the advertising claims, via TV, radio, social media and elsewhere.

DeVry said they will  “vigorously contest” the complaint.

 

 

Posted in Business News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

BBB Investigation: Consumers allegedly misled into paying hundreds of dollars for tech support

An Austin-based company that offers PC support allegedly misled its customers by posing as different anti-virus companies and then upselling them into buying alleged unnecessary technical support.

Consumers throughout the U.S. have filed complaints against Volcy Ventures after claiming they reached the business when trying to contact their anti-virus company. BBB learned customers called the company because of the way it used Google AdWords. Volcy Ventures phrased the advertisement that led consumers into believing they were directly dealing with their anti-virus company.

An ad review by BBB verified this by Googling the contact information for various anti-virus companies. BBB found several Google Ads that said “Contact McAfee – Call Our Toll Free Number Now,” “Contact AVG – Call our toll free number today,” “Contact Kaspersky – Call Now on our Toll Free,” “Contact Avast – Call our Toll Free number Now,” and “Contact Norton – Call our Free Number Now.” Each ad contained the phone number to Volcy Ventures.

This confusion led one consumer to believe he was contacting AVG to fix his computer.

“My assumption was that it was AVG and because of that I gave Volcy credibility,” said Ian Elliott.

Elliott, a consumer from Brentwood, Tennessee, said he came back from a trip to China and started having problems with his computer. He immediately called AVG by looking up their contact information through Google.

“I called two or three times and they represented themselves as AVG,” said Elliott. “They said [my computer] had a serious problem. They told me I could go to Microsoft and pay $700 to have it fixed or go to Volcy and fix it for $450 dollars.”

Elliott allowed Volcy Ventures to take control of his computer and was told there were multiple IP address found on his computer. He paid $450 to have a supposed virus removed and also received annual protection from the business. However, Elliott felt something was wrong.

“I became suspicious and thought this had nothing to do with AVG,” said Elliott. “I called another number and AVG told me I had never spoken to them. I feel like I was tricked into believing I was dealing with AVG.”

Elliott received a partial refund of $200.

Another consumer, Jessica Heitzmann, tried to contact McAfee in order to cancel her subscription before it automatically renewed. She unknowingly contacted Volcy Ventures, but believed she was talking to a representative of McAfee.

“They needed me to get on my account but couldn’t because it was on my iPad,” Heitzmann said.

The home computer Heitzmann tried to use in order to supply her account information would continuously not work. At that moment, the alleged McAfee representative told her she would need to be transferred.

“He said he saw the problem, but needed to connect to a Level 7 technician. He was only a Level 3 technician and connected me to Volcy,” Heitzmann said.

Heitzmann was told her firewalls were not working properly and were not activated. Under Heitzmann’s permission, Volcy Ventures took control of the computer. She was charged $1,690 dollars in order to fix the problem. A week later the computer still did not work. After filing a complaint with BBB, Volcy Ventures refunded Heitzmann $1,130.

When BBB contacted Heitzmann, she was unaware she had not contacted McAfee. Heitzmann provided BBB with the number she believed was McAfee’s. However, the 1-844-798-4384 number she dialed is registered with Volcy.

Additionally, Heitzmann called McAfee and was informed no cancellation of her subscription had been submitted.

The company responded to BBB’s complaint concerns by making some modifications to their Google AdWords and indicated that they are always truthful to their customers. They further indicated that customers sign an electronic agreement for the services, which clearly informs the customer about the terms of service and who they are. Volcy generally responds to disputes by indicating that they have reached out to the customer and the issue is now resolved, or by issuing a refund.

The company also responded to BBB’s advertising concerns by initially stating they found nothing wrong with the Google Ads and designed them differently than they are appearing. On October, 20, 2015, BBB attempted to generate Google Ads for the company nationwide. BBBs outside of Texas were able to generate Google Ads for the company which were not appearing in the central Texas area.

However, on December 3, 2015, the business responded to BBB saying they updated Google Ads in the U.S. to include “Support by Volcy Ventures”. BBB continues to be concerned about the company’s misleading Google AdWords.

When looking for tech support for any of your computers, BBB offers these tips:

  • Online searches can be deceiving. Make sure you carefully look at who you’re contacting. Businesses can advertise certain phrases that will cause their company to pop up first on search engines, which can sometimes be confusing. If you want technical support, find the company’s website and look at their contact information. You can also look on your receipt for any listed phone numbers.
  • Be aware of the red flags. Some tech support companies use similar tactics. These include enrolling you in a maintenance or warranty program, asking for credit information to bill you for their services, tricking you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data and directing you to websites in order to obtain your credit card number and other personal information.
  • Be cautious when giving control of your computer to a third party. Allowing a business to take remote control of your computer can open you up to fraud or various malware. Be sure to ask questions, and don’t feel pressured into allowing a third party access to your PC.
  • Protect your personal personal information. Think twice before disclosing your credit card or financial information, especially if you are cold called by a company claiming to be affiliated with an anti-virus company.

For the latest news and information, follow us on watchyourbuck.comFacebook and Twitter. To check out a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org. Find other news story topics by visiting our Press Release News Center.

Posted in BBB Investigation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How your baby monitor may not be secure

Is your baby monitor secure? The question isn’t something you probably think to ask, but may have to.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Technology, Research and Investigation found some baby monitors that have WiFi could be at risk of being hacked. The monitor works by sending its feed to your home wireless router, then the router sends it over the internet so that you can view it remotely.

This means someone hack into the feed and watch your baby as well.

Out of the five baby monitors the agency looked at, only one required a complex password. The others allowed users to access the monitor with simple passwords, including one that was “password”. Additionally, three out of the five allowed you to repeatedly enter the incorrect password without locking you out.

Two of the five baby monitors didn’t encrypt the feed between the monitor and the home router, and one didn’t encrypt the feed from the router to the internet.

Here are some tips to ensure your monitor isn’t at risk:

Use the monitor’s security features. Be sure to look at the monitor’s security features and check which one best suits you. Once it’s purchased, be sure to use them by keeping the monitor’s software current and checking to see that a password is required. Make sure to choose a strong password and enable the security feature that encrypts information transmitted through the internet.

Buy a monitor with good security features. Look for monitors that use strong security protocols to transmit audio and video to your wireless router and internet. WPA2 is the standard wireless protocol for home routers. Protecting the feed is also important. Therefore, make sure the monitor uses an industry standard encryption protocol like SSL or TLS. Check the package or contact the manufacturer to find out.

Access the monitor securely. When accessing the monitor from a mobile device, confirm that your app is up-to-date and consider password-protecting your mobile device as well.

 

 

Posted in Consumer Alert, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

FTC warns against social security email scam

FTC

The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers around the U.S. of a phishing email scam that looks to infect your computer with viruses and malware.

According to the FTC, the email contains the subject line “Get Protected” and tries to deceive consumers by talking about new features from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that can help taxpayers monitor their credit reports, and know about unauthorized use of their Social Security number.

To try to convince consumers even further, the email mentions the IRS and the “S.A.F.E Act 2015” which does not exist.

Scammers are hoping consumers will click on the link provided in the email to either install malware or send you to a fake website where they can gather your personal information.

Remember, all government websites end with a .gov. Additionally, the email may not be safe if it originally ended up in scam or junk folder

If you’ve received this email you can use BBB’s Scam Tracker to help us investigate and warn others about the scam.

 

Posted in Consumer Alert, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBB Warning: Avoid Powerball Scams

With Powerball now breaking records for the largest lottery jackpot in history, Better Business Bureau is warning consumers that scammers will be taking advantage of the situation to trick people into thinking they are winners.

The big Powerball winners will be announced on television and online, but BBB expects to see scammers reaching out via email, telephone and snail mail to “inform” secondary winners of smaller prizes. Lottery scams were among the Top Ten Scams of 2015 as reported to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).

Typically, targets of a lottery scam are asked to pay “taxes” or other fees upfront before they can claim their “winnings.” Of course, once they make the payment (or several payments), the big prize never materializes and the scammers are nowhere to be found. In another variation, the target receives a congratulatory letter in the mail informing them of the big win. Included is a check to cover the taxes on the winnings. Victims are instructed to deposit it into their bank account and then send the money to a third party, usually by wire transfer or prepaid debit card, which are largely untraceable. The lottery check is a fake that bounces and the victim is out the money.

Here are BBB’s tips to avoid lottery scams:

  • Don’t pay up to claim your prize. You should never have to pay money or buy products in order to receive a prize. Be especially wary of requests to send money via wire, prepaid debit card, gift card or other unusual forms of payment.
  • Be wary of email announcements. Major sweepstakes organizations sometimes email about smaller prizes, but for big winners they usually show up at your house with a big check (and a camera crew).
  • You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter. You need to buy a ticket or complete an application to participate in a contest or lottery. Be very careful if you’ve been selected as a winner for a contest you never entered.
  • Verify — but not by using a source the scammers give you. Check if an offer is real, but don’t call the phone number in the email or website you suspect may be a scam. If it is a con, chances are the person on the other line will be involved, too.
Posted in Consumer Alert, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BBB Investigation: Did someone say free? Austin company’s free product allegedly comes at a cost

A website geared towards survivalists is causing consumers around the country problems. SurvivalLife.com offers its customers tips, news and products on how to prepare for an unexpected disaster.

But it is the company’s free products that catch the attention of consumers. However, some are alleging not only are they not receiving their free products, but that it comes with a price.

Madelyn Thompson of Illinois said she ordered something she considered “insignificant” in price, then began noticing charges on her credit card that she didn’t authorize.

“It was an EverStryke Match. They also sent a knife that I don’t recall ordering,” Thompson said. “Then I started noticing charges on my American Express account.”

It turned out she had signed up for a recurring subscription service but didn’t remember doing so. She received a refund for one month after filing a complaint with BBB and was refunded for two more months after filing a second complaint.

“I’m furious about it. Nowhere did I see anything about a membership fee. I was ordering a $3 or $4 item. The membership fee was $9.95 per month.”

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received 81 complaints against Survival Life in the past year. Thus far, the company has not responded to three of the complaints.

Consumers are alleging products they order through Survival Life are never delivered. After the transaction, customers say they have little to no communication with the business. When they try to reach the business to ask about a possible delivery date, the company does not respond. Additionally, complainants allege they are signed up for subscriptions they did not authorize while trying to purchase goods from the business.

BBB contacted Survival Life regarding these issues in January 2015. The company responded to BBB’s dispute resolution process by providing refunds. However, the pattern continued throughout the year.

Edgar Bautista purchased a Stone Mountain Gauntlet watch in August. He received an email that confirmed the purchase and stated it would arrive in 7-10 business days. After the item never arrived, he emailed Survival Life twice. The company contacted Bautista back and told him the product was on backorder. Bautista was told he would have to wait 15-21 business days until the watch would arrive. But, it never came.

“There was no customer support or anything. I had bought the watch for a friend,” Bautista said.

BBB also contacted the company with several advertising concerns.

In addition to complaints of items not being delivered, BBB has continuously received complaints from consumers who allege they don’t recall signing up for a membership to Family Protection Association. Consumers are later billed and are confused as to why. Survival Life offers the membership when ordering some of its free products.

BBB’s Code of Advertising states companies with any negative option plan must include a clearly visible disclosure of all materials including the negative option plan, the costs of the additional product or service, how consumers can cancel and avoid future shipments or charges, and how consumers can return unwanted items.

Additionally, BBB’s Code of Advertising states companies must ensure consumers firmly consent to the negative option feature before enrolling the customer in the plan.

Survival Life told BBB steps would be taken to ensure the negative option plan was visible to consumers. However, BBB continued to receive disputes, and as result, recommended they include a checkbox option at the end of the purchase.

Louisiana resident Scott Skiles said he remembered a little check box at the checkout page. He unclicked it and was never subscribed to any membership. But the survival bracelet and pocket knife he ordered was never delivered.

“The checkbox was very small and it was all in a clutter among the many things on the page,” Skiles said. “It was automatically clicked to subscribe, so it’s your responsibility to unclick it.”

Survival Life’s use of terms free and sale were also of concern to BBB. The Code of Advertising states sale should only be used when there is a significant reduction in the usual price and only for a limited time. Free should only be used temporarily and should only be offered a maximum of six months. BBB requested for Survival Life to verify if the promotion has been available for more than six months.

As of November 2015, Survival Life has not responded to BBB’s advertising requests.

When buying merchandise online, BBB offers the following advice:

  • Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, charges made on a credit card can be disputed up to 60 days after the purchase.
  • Keep documentation of your order. After completing the online order process, there should be a final confirmation page or an email confirmation. Save any receipts for future reference.
  • Know your rights. Federal law requires that orders made by mail, phone or online be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods aren’t shipped on time, the shopper can cancel and demand a refund. There is no general three-day cancellation right, but consumers do have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or was misrepresented. Otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit.
  • Do your research. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org before making a purchase to see its complaint history, details about complaints and any advertising-related issues.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Free Six Flag season pass promotion labeled as hoax

six flags promotion

A Six Flag promotion that promises free season passes has been called a scam by the amusement park company.

The picture seen on the left has popped up on Facebook and promises users who share it a free season pass. All you have to do is share the link with three friends and you’ll qualify for the season pass.

If that seems too easy, then you would be right.

six flagsSix Flag posted a status Sunday night that declared the promotion a scam and told Facebook users to not click on the link.

The website which was offering the season passes, http://www.getsixflagstickets.com, is currently down.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FTC stops company’s alleged office supply scam

A federal court has temporarily frozen the assets of a company that the Federal Trade Commissions says conned millions of dollars from nonprofit organizations and small businesses through an office supply scam.

Here’s how the scam worked.

Liberty Supply Company, which also did business as Omni services, told businesses and charitable organizations they were going out of business. They then offered pens, paper clips and other office supplies at low prices. The FTC complaint alleges that the business quoted a per-unit price even though they only sold multi-unit quantities, causing customers to believe the quoted price applied to a package of items, instead of an individual item.

Liberty Supply Company did not tell its customers how much the final price was or the shipping cost, even when asked.

For example, if a church asked  for a purchase order for their organization to approve, the business sent unordered merchandise and an invoice.

But the business didn’t stop there. The company would aggressively try to get their customers to pay for the unordered merchandise. Once all payments were made, a free gift, more unordered merchandise and an invoice were sent again.

Liberty Supply Co., Mia McCrary and John B. Hart, are charged with violating the FTC Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Unordered Merchandise Statute. The FTC complaint also names Nor-Jay Enterprises Inc. as a relief defendant who profited from the scheme.

Posted in FTC News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

EZCORP ordered to pay $10.5 million for illegal debt collection tactics

ezcorpa01a03

A payday loan company has been ordered to pay $10.5 million in fines and penalties for using illegal debt collection tactics against consumers.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said EZCORP used tactics that included illegal visits to consumers at their homes and workplaces, empty threats of legal action, lying about consumers’ rights, and exposing consumers to bank fees through unlawful electronic withdrawals.

The agency is ordering $7.5 million be refund to 93,000 consumers and pay $3 million in penalties.

Additionally, the company will not be allowed to collect remaining payday and installment loan debts owed by close to 130,000 consumers.

People struggling to pay their bills should not also fear harassment, humiliation, or negative employment consequences because of debt collectors,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray

Back in July of this year, EZCORP closed all payday lending operations in the U.S. The company now is one of the country’s largest owners of pawnshops.

EZCORP said “without admitting or denying any of the facts or conclusions of law in the consent order, in the interest of settling the legacy issues, the company agreed to pay a total of $10.5 million.”

“Given our decision in July 2015 to exit all payday, installment and auto title lending activities in the United States, we believe it is in the interests of all stakeholders to bring this issue to an amicable close,” EZCORP Chief Executive Officer Stuart Grimshaw said.

The company also said it self-reported many of the claimed issues and discontinued many of the questioned practices years ago.

 

 

Posted in Consumer Alert, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment