Don’t get burned by an IRS scam!

scam-alert-pic-150x150The IRS impersonation scam really seems to be taking off. In the past week alone, BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has had a dozen calls from consumers who were contacted by these scammers. Scams like this have cheated consumers in the U.S. out of $5 million.

Check out this clip from KVUE about the IRS scam and how to avoid it.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, you should do the following:

  • If you know or think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and speak with a real IRS employee.
  • If you know you don’t think you owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
  • You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their FTC Complaint Assistant at FTC.gov.  Add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.
Posted in BBB, impostor scam, IRS scam | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Find the right tutor for your child

ID-10094030School is back in session and report cards will be out before you know it. It’s important to stay proactive when it comes to your child’s academic success.

If your child struggles with new curriculum, or just needs a head start with standardized testing, a tutoring service can be a valuable tool. Researching and interviewing candidates now ensures that your child is academically prepared for the upcoming year.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin wants to make sure you get the most for your money when it comes to your child’s educational needs. Nationally, BBB has received over 400 complaints from January 2013 to August 2014. Most complaints allege contract and service issues, many of which stated promises were not met and students weren’t receiving the proper assistance. Also, some claim billing and refund issues.

BBB has this advice when seeking a tutor for your child:

  • Consider your options. Private, in-home tutoring? Small group lessons? Online step-by-step instruction? There are many different avenues to explore before signing your child up for anything. Think about how they learn, and what will be most effective to help them. What works for one child may not work for another.
  • Do your research. When seeking the right tutoring service or commercial learning center for your child, check out the company’s BBB Business Review at org to view its complaint history and details about the complaints. Also, read customer reviews for positive, neutral and negative feedback.
  • Get referrals. Ask for referrals from your child’s teacher. Other parents and friends can be a great resource as well.
  • Check the tutor’s credentials. Ask for transcript copies, copies of state teaching certificates, tutor certification, or proof of other specialized training. Ask the tutor to provide a complete resume. Also, make sure he or she is qualified in the right subject area for your child’s needs.
  • Schedule a meeting. Meet with the tutor and discuss measurable, specific goals. While a tutoring program can’t necessarily guarantee higher test scores, a tutor can help identify problem areas and address any specific subjects where your child needs help.
  • Check in. If you use a personal tutor, feel free to occasionally sit in on a session and observe how the tutor and your child are working together. Ask the tutor for advice on what you can do as a parent to help your child learn more effectively.
  • Read the terms and conditions. Be sure you understand details of your payment plan and what happens if you decide to cancel. Get everything in writing.
Posted in Top Tips | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Looking for a loan online? Filling out online forms could make you a target for scammers

ID-100207639Be careful where you put your personal and banking information online. Your BBB often receives complaints from victims of advance fee loan scams.

They basically go this way: A “lender” calls to say the consumer qualifies for a big loan; the  consumer agrees; the caller says some kind of fee is required for the loan to go through (or “the first loan payment”), and convinces the consumer to send payment with a pre-paid debit card; the loan never arrives; the scammer either tries to get another “fee” or simply hangs up.

Sometimes advance fee loan scammers will take money straight out of your bank account–if you tell them how.

When I talk to victims, I invariably learn that before they received the fake loan offer, they had been hunting loan offers online and filled out one or more online forms with all their banking information. Which is how the bad guys found them.

Online lenders and loan brokers might not be the ones who rip you off, but they can and do sell your information to people who will.

I recently spoke to a man from Oklahoma who lost over $400 to an advance fee loan scam. Sure enough, he had previously visited a website for an online broker and filled out a form with his banking info. It seemed safe, because he had seen a TV ad for the company, with a celebrity spokesman.

Not long after, he got a call from a lender who claimed to be based in Tyler, Texas, but who called using an Austin, Texas phone number with a (512) area code. (Turns out they were impersonating an actual payday loan outfit that is located in Tyler.) At first, he didn’t realize the connection between the call and the form he had filled out.

“They called me and said I qualified for a $10,000 loan,” he said.  “The caller had an accent that sounded like she might be from India or Bangladesh. She said I had great credit and her company was offering me a loan from a government-backed lender. ‘Jessica’ said I should prepare to make my first payment.

“She said they wouldn’t take anything out, they just wanted to make sure it’s there. She wanted the last four digits of my bank account to verify. Then they took money out of my bank account over a three-day period. First a $150 payment, then a $263 payment. They said I would receive the loan payment through Moneygram.”

The scammers didn’t need all of his banking info–they already had it because of the form he had filled out.

Once he realized he’d been ripped off, the man contacted his bank, filed a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and reported it to BBB. But there’s little chance he’ll get his money back. “It’s tough,” he said. “I have health problems, and I need the money for my kid’s spinal surgery.”

BBB offers the following advice when looking for a personal loan:

  • Don’t do business with someone who calls with a loan offer you never asked for. Financial institutions don’t work that way. You have to apply and be approved for credit.
  • Don’t trust someone who says you’re “guaranteed” a loan and asks for money in advance for insurance or other fees. They are operating illegally.
  • Beware of applying for a loan through an unfamiliar website. The application could be run by a scammer who will either take your money directly or sell your information to other scammers.
  • Don’t do business with someone who cannot give you an address you can confirm as legitimate.
  • Carefully read any contract documents and make sure you understand all requirements before you enter any loan agreement.
  • Don’t trust a website or loan document just because it “looks official.” Sophisticated, official-documents and websites are easy to copy or fake. Just because a business looks legitimate, doesn’t mean it is.
Posted in scam, Scam Phone Calls | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBB warning: Schools getting fake invoices

ID-100176732Scam artists commonly use fake invoices to get small businesses to pay for things they didn’t order. That ploy is also being used against schools.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin is warning schools and school districts across the country about possible fake invoices for educational supplies. In the past few weeks, there has been a rush of complaints filed with BBB against “Scholastic School Supply,” which claims either a Nevada or New Jersey address that turn out to be mail drops.

The first complaint against Scholastic School Supply was received on Aug. 20, 2014 by BBB serving Southern Nevada and since then has received nearly 70 complaints from schools across the country.

The company’s online BBB Business Review has also received more than 3,000 inquiries; there is an Alert posted there so that visitors are able to confirm the suspicious nature of the invoice. The company maintains a mail drop in Sewell, New Jersey, as well as Las Vegas, and BBB New Jersey has received more than 20 complaints so far.

The bogus invoices have been for $647.50 for the bulk purchase of “English-Language Arts Practice Books” or $388.50 for math workbooks (although the amounts and products could change at any time). Complainants say they cannot reach the company to inquire about the products or amounts allegedly owed, and all have denied ever doing business with the company previously.

BBB urges schools not to pay the invoices but to send them to the local Postal Inspector and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as their state’s attorney general or consumer protection agency.

So far, none of the complainants have sent money; however, BBB has no way of knowing if any schools have unknowingly paid the invoice, since they would not have filed a complaint.

To date, BBB has received complaints from schools in 27 states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Due to BBB’s process for handling complaints, which gives a business up to a month to respond, the complaints received to date are still considered pending.

Contact information available on the invoices was initially just going unanswered, but now email is bouncing and the phone number has been disconnected.  BBB has been unable to locate any corporation filings, business licensing, or documentation to substantiate a physical location in Nevada. Earlier this week, an agent in New Jersey filed as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) under the same company name, and the BBB there is investigating the connection.

The UPS Store in Las Vegas is a BBB Accredited Business and is cooperating with the Postal Inspector and other agencies investigating the scheme.

Scholastic, Inc. has issued a statement regarding the fraudulent use of their name and trademarks.

Posted in scam, scammers, Scams | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Want to comment about a business without filing a complaint? Your BBB now offers Customer Reviews

Did you ever do business with a company and wished you could post or read online comments at Better Better Business Bureau–positive, negative or neutral–rather than going through the formal BBB complaint process? Now you can at bbb.org/central-texas.

Crthummm

Customer reviews won’t affect a company’s rating, but BBB takes them just as seriously as formal complaints. “We verify each reviewer’s email address and give businesses the opportunity to respond if desired,” said Carrie A. Hurt, President/CEO for BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin.

BBB Customer Reviews give additional insight into a company’s marketplace behavior. BBB posts customer reviews to its BBB Business Review once the reviewer’s email address is verified and personal data or inappropriate text is redacted. The business can also respond to the reviews. This information is available as part of a company’s business review.

BBB Customer Reviews are for the times when you aren’t looking for a specific resolution. If you are looking for a resolution, you can still file a complaint against a business. Businesses that receive customer reviews can submit replies directly on the review.

Reviewers can also add more comments to their reviews at any time or in reply to a business’s comment. With the addition of verified customer reviews, BBB shows an even clearer picture of a company’s track record in the marketplace.

Consumers are encouraged to make their opinion count by leaving a customer review about a business. To post or read BBB Customer Reviews, visit the Customer Review page and in the search box, type in the business name and click the link to their BBB Business Review. At the top of the page, click the “Customer Review” tab. Click the “Submit a Customer Review” link to post your own review.

Posted in BBB, BBB Event | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Texas man arrested in alleged $2.2M fraud that targeted school teachers and other educators

ID-100128578Teachers have it hard enough without getting scammed out of their retirement funds.

According to the Texas State Securities Board, Christopher Anthony Zaal of McKinney, Texas was arrested on Sept. 8 after being indicted in Collin County for securities fraud and money laundering.

Zaal allegedly sold $2.27 million worth of fraudulent investments to victims that included mainly teachers, administrators and other school employees, as well as retirees.

Zaal allegedly sold promissory notes and other securities without telling investors he has never been registered to sell securities or that the Texas Department of Insurance had filed to revoke his license. The insurance department later revoked his license and the decision was upheld by the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

Some of the school employees allegedly made large withdrawals from their Teacher Retirement System pensions and made investments Zaal promised would be safe and secure sources of retirement income.

Zaal allegedly forged the signatures of two people on annuity applications he submitted to Annuity Investors Life Insurance Co. without their permission.

Zaal also allegedly committed fraud in the sale of investment contracts issued by Jerrald Green and Wealth Systems International, Ltd., and Delgreene Financial Services, L.L.C. Zaal did not tell investors he he had been sued in 2008 for fraud and breach of contract in Denton County over his sale of Delgreene investments.

Delgreene was eventually shut down by the state of Colorado. The Colorado Securities Commissioner, who accused Green and his companies of fraudulently selling securities marketed as investments in real estate notes and mortgages and consumer and commercial loans.

Zaal, who did business as Southwest Financial Group in McKinney, was named as a defendant in the civil complaint. Colorado securities regulators alleged Delgreene operated as a Ponzi scheme, using new investor funds to pay earlier investors.

Zaal also allegedly failed to tell prospective investors in Delgreene about his prior involvement in what the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago described as a $500 million Ponzi scheme involving a “universal lease” investment program by Yucatan Resorts, also known as Resort Holdings International Inc.

Michael E. Kelly, president and sole shareholder of the Yucatan and Resort Holdings, was sentenced to five years in federal prison in 2012 and died the next year with other criminal charges pending.

Posted in Government action | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking of donating to charity on 9/11 anniversary? BBB advises consumers to donate wisely

ID-100283787September is a time to commemorate events and promote worthy causes–the 9/11 anniversary and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, for example.

Last month, viral videos of people pouring ice water over their heads sparked a donation frenzy. Participants, including celebrities and a former U.S. President, were seen braving the chilly water all to support the ALS Association, a national BBB Accredited Charity.

Many people think about taking out their checkbooks around this time and donating to charity.

Unfortunately, not all charities manage donor contributions in the same manner. Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin encourages you to visit bbb.org before you donate to a charity. BBB charity reports will help you get a clear understanding of a charitable organization’s mission, programs and financials before you make a donation.

Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (BBB WGA) helps donors make informed giving decisions and promotes high standards of conduct among organizations that solicit contributions from the public. It produces reports about national charities, evaluating them against BBB’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. BBB Charity Reports offer an unbiased overview so that people can feel confident when giving.

Non-profit organizations are considered eligible for BBB Charity Accreditation if they are a publicly soliciting, locally governed, non-profit, charitable organization; at least two years old; and in compliance with BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. For details on the accreditation process for charities, visit give.org.

Before you donate, BBB has this advice for giving wisely:

  • Research the organization. Check org to view reports on how national charities measure up to BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. Confirm the organization is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) and verify the programs and distribution of money is where you want it to be. According to BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability:

At least 65 percent of total expenses should be spent on program activities.

No more than 35 percent of related contributions can be spent on fundraising.

  • Verify authenticity. If you’re suspicious about a page, email or link claiming to support a charity, do an online search of the charity’s name and verify that it’s the official website before donating. BBB Accredited Charities must include their IRS Form 990 on their website.
  • Avoid giving cash, where possible. It’s best to make contributions by check or credit card payable to the charity, not to the individual collecting the donation.
  • Keep records of your donations. You have to keep a record of all donations so you can document your charitable giving at tax time. Although your time as a volunteer is not deductible, out-of-pocket expenses directly related to your volunteer service to a charity may be deductible.
  • Be wary of imitations. Don’t be fooled by names that look impressive or that closely resemble the name of well-known organizations.
  • Confirm text code numbers. If you plan to donate by text, confirm the text code directly with the charity. You can also check out BBB’s Mobile Giving Foundation at mobilegiving.org to verify a text code. Keep in mind that text message donations are typically not immediate. Depending on your cell phone provider, the donation may not show up on your bill for 30 to 90 days.
Posted in BBB, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Top Tips | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Nigerian Prince scam comes with a Texas twist

scam imageOnce you get wise to certain kinds of scams, you can spot them again even when they come with a different spin. One of the most popular scams on the Internet is the 419 or “Nigerian Prince” scam.

In the classic version, a Nigerian prince or general or some other wealthy person needs to smuggle a fortune out of his country and needs to deposit it in your bank account temporarily, in exchange for a generous cut.

If you fall for it, the scammer either drains your bank account or convinces you to wire money to cover various fees and taxes. The money only goes one way: from you to the scammer.

Someone at Your BBB just got an email like that with a Texas twist: The money was supposedly found in the Houston airport by FBI agents based in Texas (but the fortune supposedly came from Nigeria):

Urgent Attention:

I am Special Agent John Edward from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Texas Division) Intelligence Unit. We have just intercepted and confiscated two (2) trunk boxes at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston Texas, and are on the verge of moving it to our bureau head quarters.

We have scanned the said boxes, and have found it to contain a total sum of USD$4.5M and also backup document which bears your name as the receiver of the money contained in the boxes. Investigations carried out on the diplomat who accompanied the boxes into the United States has it that he was to deliver this fund to your residence as your contract/inheritance payment which was due to you from the office of finance Minster of the federal government of Nigeria.

We cross-checked all legal documentation in the boxes, and were about to release the consignment to the diplomat, when we found out that the boxes is lacking one very important documentation which as a result, the boxes have been confiscated until the required document is provided.

According to section 229 subsections 31 of the 1991 constitution on release of unclaimed consignment payment, your consignment lacks funds ownership certificate and for that reason you must contact me for direction on how to procure this certificate, so that your consignment can be legally cleared and okay for delivery to you.

You are required to contact this bureau within 72 hours or we would take it that you do not want your consignment, and would move it to the treasury Also, you must not contact any other bank for any payment, because your payment is here in care of our storage vault team and will be released to you once you follow my directives.

Yours in service,

Agent John Edward

E-Mail: agentjohn.edward009@gmail.com

Special Agent in Charge of the FBIsTexas Division.

Helpful hint: One thing I’ve found with scams like this is that much of the text is going to be boilerplate, used over and over. If you copy one or two lines from the message and paste it into a search engine, you’ll find lots of other people talking about the same scam. I just did that with a sentence from this email and sure enough, I found lots of discussion on forums from others who got similar email offers.

Here is some advice on how to protect yourself from the Nigerian letter scam and its variations:

  • If you receive a letter from Nigeria, or any other country, asking for personal or banking information, do not reply! The BBB suggests you immediately delete or throw away any such correspondence.
  • If you have already responded to such a plea, or if you know someone who is corresponding in this scheme, contact the U.S. Secret Service as soon as possible (phone: 202.406.5572 or e-mail 419.fcd@usss.treas.gov).
  • Ignore individuals representing themselves as foreign government officials asking for your help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
  • Be leery when strangers are eager to place unexpected, large amounts of money at your disposal, in exchange for your bank account number or other personal or financial information.
  • Cashier checks and money orders can be counterfeit. When a stranger sends a check or money offer to purchase a product or service from you, consult with your bank about the time it will take to verify the check, and wait for the funds to clear.
Posted in Too Good To Be True | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBB warns: Don’t fall for the jury duty scam!

ID-100236976Jury duty is an important responsibility. You don’t want to miss it if you get called. I think we all have a nagging fear of missing an important piece of mail, of forgetting something official that could come back to bite us. 

Unfortunately, scammers have learned to take advantage of that fear to rip consumers off and compromise personal information.

The jury duty scam begins when someone, posing as a deputy or court official, contacts the victim via telephone. The con artists will often provide names of federal judges, courtroom numbers and addresses in an attempt to make the scam believable.

They will claim you have failed to report for jury duty. The scammer then alleges there is a warrant out for your arrest. In order to avoid arrest, the person is then instructed to pay a fine with a Green Dot Moneypak Card. Green Dot MoneyPak cards are reloadable debit cards that are widely available in stores.

In other cases, the scammer asks for the victim’s confidential information for “verification” purposes. The con artist asks for the victim’s social security number, birth date, and sometimes even credit card numbers or other private information. Facing the unexpected threat of arrest, victims are caught off guard and may be quick to part with some information to defuse the situation.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received a lot of calls from consumers who were called by people trying to pull this scam. 

Federal courts do not require anyone to provide any sensitive information in a telephone call or email according to UScourts.gov. Most contact between a federal court and a prospective juror will be through the U.S. mail, and any phone contact by real court officials will not include requests for Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, or any other sensitive information.

Scams by con artists who use threatening tactics to get the victim to purchase a Green Dot MoneyPak card or wire money come in varying forms so be wary of any person who demands this type of payment.

BBB offers this advice if you receive a scam call regarding jury duty:

  • Protect your personal information. Don’t provide any account or other personal information. Hang up the phone.
  • Protect your money. Never wire transfer money or purchase a green dot card without verifying who is on the other line. These payment forms are the most commonly used because it is cannot be traced. Green Dot MoneyPak users also need to remember that anyone they share their card number with has instant access to their funds. 
  • When in doubt, hang up. If you feel you may have missed jury duty, call your area County Clerk’s Office to verify if you have been summoned.

If a scammer contacted you and you already gave out your personal information, please contact the local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office and your BBB.

Posted in scam, Scam Phone Calls, scammers, Scams | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talk about the grandparent scam before it happens

ID-10034436Sunday, Sept. 7  is National Grandparents Day–a good time for a family discussion about scams that target older people. One of the most popular (and meanest) schemes is known as the “grandparent scam.” It’s a variation on the “emergency” scam or the “my awful trip” scam.

The grandparent scam is designed to fool seniors into thinking that their grandchild is hurt, arrested or stranded, and needs a lot of money very quickly.

Emergency scams can happen to anyone. Scammers make up an urgent situation — “I’ve been arrested,” “I’ve been mugged,” “I’m in the hospital” — and target friends and family with pleas for help… and money. Scammers are particularly fond of seniors, however. They know seniors are often trusting and willing to help loved ones. They know seniors can have Social Security income, pensions, investments and plenty in savings. Those qualities make them attractive targets.

Grandparents may know their grandkids’ voices in normal circumstances, but the scammers have done research for family details and might cry or otherwise make it hard to tell. Sometimes the scammer impersonates a police officer, court official or some other authority figure. If seniors wire money to the scammers, the transaction is untraceable and the money is gone for good.

Your BBB offers these steps that families can take to avoid the Grandparent Scam.

Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as their grandchild. The “grandchild” explains that he or she has gotten into trouble and needs help, perhaps caused a car accident or was arrested for drug possession. The “grandchild” pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons posting bail, repairing the car, covering lawyer’s fees, or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild has supposedly injured in a car accident.

Don’t disclose too much information. If a grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild in distress, BBB advises that the grandparent not disclose any information before confirming that it really is their grandchild. If a caller says “It’s me, Grandma!” don’t respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. People should also be careful sharing too much travel information on social media.

Ask a personal question. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as the name of a cousin or pet. Be careful not to ask something that can be easily identified via a social media profile (such as the name of the grandchild’s school).

Communicate. If a student really is traveling, he or she should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Let your older loved ones know where you’ll be and when you plan to return. Make sure everyone in the family has contact information in case of emergency. This should include a cell phone number and email for the student and for anyone they are traveling with. 

For more tips you can trust, visit bbb.org.

Posted in Scam Phone Calls, Scams | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment