Think you’re too smart to get conned? Think again!

ID-100183512There are certain scams you hear about and instinctively think of the victim, “What were they thinking? How could they fall for that?” On the flipside, scam victims are often so embarrassed they hate to even tell anyone what happened.

If you think you’re too smart to get scammed, or feel dumb because you did get scammed, it’s not a matter of intelligence. Con artists are very good at exploiting human nature to manipulate us into giving them what they want. We’re all vulnerable.

There is an interesting article from the BBC about the human impulses that con artists use to get past our defenses: How Con Artists Trick Your Mind. Make yourself aware of these impulses and you’ll be less likely to get scammed.

The article includes the following tricks con artists use:

Time pressure: The con artist pressures you to act quickly, before you can think and use self-control. (For example: “You will be [arrested/have your utilities shut off/lose a promised lottery payout] if you don’t wire us a payment immediately.”

Impersonate someone in authority: Deference to authority figures is something con artists frequently exploit. They might pose as policemen, attorneys or government officials to pressure you into following their instructions.

Use people’s ‘herd’ instinct: You’re more likely to do something if you think your friends–or just people you allign with in some way–are doing it or approve of it. A con artist might pose as a friend on social media to trick you into thinking a scam is legitimate.

Distract the victim. Con artists often distract you to keep you from seeing a scam in progress. For example, an attractive accomplice might divert your attention or an accomplice or accomplices might pretend to start an argument while the crook does his deed.

Use people’s deepest desires against them. Desperate for love or money? A scam artist can to use that desire to blind your reasoning. Dating scammers, advance fee lenders and lottery scammers know this.

Appeal to the victim’s innate dishonesty. Nobody is a complete angel. If a con artist can “find your price” and tempt you into doing something you shouldn’t, especially something illegal, you’re less likely to tell on them when you get burned.

Use people’s empathy and kindness against them. The desire to help people is a noble one, but unfortunately, scam artists can use that against us. For example, con artists often pretend to be a friend or relative in trouble–and you can always count on scams following any natural disaster. (Best defense against this is to take some time and check things out before you send money.)

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Don’t be a victim of tax identity theft this tax season!

Better Business Bureau (BBB) urges consumers to be smart during tax identity theft awareness week

It’s that time of year again. Over the next few weeks, W-2 forms will show up at your work desk or in your mail. And while the thought of a hefty tax return could be a happy one, the consequences of filing your taxes the wrong way is not.

This week is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, and your Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin along with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages taxpayers to take time and use caution when selecting a tax preparer you can trust. It’s important to avoid mistakes that could result in additional fees, or even becoming a victim of tax identity theft. That happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund, or even a job.

According to the FTC’s 2013 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, statistics show tax identity theft accounted for over 30 percent of all identity theft complaints.

According to the FTC, tax identity thieves get your personal information in a number of ways, including: going through your trash or mailbox; through emails asking for information, which appears to come from the IRS; employees at hospitals, nursing homes, banks and other businesses stealing data; and phony or dishonest tax preparers misusing confidential information or passing it along to identity thieves.

To lessen the chances of becoming a victim of tax identity theft, the FTC has the following advice:

  • File your tax return early. Do it before identity thieves have a chance to steal your information.
  • Use a secure internet connection.If you file your return electronically, don’t use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Shred documents. This includes copies of your tax return, drafts or calculation sheets you no longer need.
  • Check your credit report.Do it at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.

Additionally, BBB offers the following advice for taxpayers looking for a tax preparer:

  • Get references and do your research.Get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check out the company first at bbb.org to see its BBB Business Review for details about complaints, customer reviews and any advertising-related concerns.
  • Look for credentials.Ideally, your tax preparer should either be a certified public accountant, a tax attorney or an enrolled agent. All three can represent you before the IRS in all matters, including an audit.
  • Don’t fall for the promise of a big refund.Be wary of any tax preparation service promising larger refunds than the competition. Avoid any tax preparer who bases their fee on a percentage of the refund.
  • Think about accessibility.Many tax preparation services only set up shop for the months leading up to April 15. In case the IRS finds errors, or in case of an audit, make sure you are able to contact you tax preparer at any time of the year.
  • Read the contract carefully.Read tax preparation service contracts closely to ensure you understand issues such as how much it is going to cost for the service, how the cost will be affected if preparation is more complicated and time consuming than expected and whether the tax preparer will represent you in the case of an audit.

Tax-ID-Fraud_BBBcolors

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Protect yourself online this Data Privacy Day

ID-100291063BBB gives advice on protecting your identity and personal data

Wednesday, Jan. 28 is Data Privacy Day, an annual event created seven years ago by the National Cyber Security Alliance to empower and educate people to protect their privacy and control their digital footprint. In 2013, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received nearly 270,000 complaints related to online crime and fraud and of those complaints, almost 50 percent of those reported financial loss.

From phishing emails to unsecure websites to smishing texts, technology can be a minefield of hackers and scammers. Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin urges consumers to be aware your personal information could be at risk of exposure if you don’t have security in mind.

BBB has this advice for protecting your personal information online:

  • Update your software. Your computer should have the latest anti-virus software installed, along with a secure firewall.
  • Shop on trustworthy websites. Check a seller’s reputation and record of customer satisfaction at bbb.org. Look for the https:// in the address box to ensure you’re shopping on a secure website.
  • Set strict privacy settings. Consider restricting access on social network profiles to only friends or family, or people you know. Avoid connecting with anyone on social networking sites who you are unfamiliar with.
  • Set strong passwords. Make sure all passwords, most importantly your passwords for online banking, social media accounts and emails are difficult to guess.
  • What you post can last a lifetime. Before posting online think about how it might be perceived now and in the future and who might see it.
  • Be aware of what’s being shared. Be aware that when you share a post, picture or video online, you may also be revealing information about others. Be thoughtful when and how you share information.
  • Post only about others as you have them post about you. The golden rule applies online as well.

Your BBB wants to help consumers better understand how their personal information may be collected and the benefits and risks of sharing personal data. For more tips, visit bbb.org.

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Work-at-home scam targets college students

ID-100297158When you’re in college, money is always an issue, so an offer to make a little cash might be tempting, but Your BBB warns not to get caught up in something that could land you in big trouble.

There is a new twist on a classic  work-from-home scheme that specifically targets college students. Don’t let the promise of easy money lure you into this con.

How the Scam Works:

You receive an email to your school account offering you a job in a company’s payroll or human resources department. The work is simple. All you need to do is receive a “payroll deposit” from the company to your personal bank account. Then, you transfer the money to other accounts. It seems like an easy job for a busy student, and you are tempted to accept the offer.

Don’t do it! Not only is this “job” not what is seems, it’s actually a crime. If you take the position, you will be assisting cyber criminals in transferring stolen money. If you participate, your bank account will be flagged for criminal activity, and you could be prosecuted.

How to Spot a Job Scam: 

  • Watch out for these phrases: Scam ads or emails often contain the phrases “Teleworking OK,” “Immediate Start” and “No Experience Needed.” Watch out for ads that urge you to apply immediately.
  • Be very cautious of any job that asks you to share personal banking information. Scammers will often request banking info under the guise of running a credit check, setting up direct deposit or, in this case, using your bank account to transfer funds.
  • Some positions are more likely to be scams: Always be wary of work from home, secret shopper positions or any job with a generic title, such as admin assistant or customer service representative. These often don’t require special training or licensing, so they appeal to a wide range of applicants.
  • If a job looks suspicious, search for it online. If the result comes up in many other cities with the exact same job post, it is likely a scam. Also, check the company’s job page to make sure the position is posted there.
  • Watch out for on-the-spot job offers. You may be an excellent candidate for the job, but beware of offers made without an interview. A real company will want to talk to a candidate before hiring him or her.

For More Information

Read the full alert on the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center website. To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper.

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Don’t fall prey to a puppy scam!

ID-10048026Who doesn’t love puppies? They’re so cute and lovable. Just the word puppy inspires an emotional reaction in a lot of people–and if there’s one thing  scammers are good at, it’s playing on people’s emotions.

Your BBB recently heard from a Corpus Christi woman who got scammed out of $200 while trying to buy a Yorkie puppy for her kids. She found an ad online that appeared to be local offering a Yorkie for sale and responded.

The scammers told her they were moving and needed to get rid of some puppies. If she paid $200 each, the Yorkie pup was supposed to be delivered the next day. She paid the scammers via Moneygram. And no puppy turned up.

She figured out she’d been scammed when someone claiming to be with an insurance company called and emailed, saying they needed a $720 “refundable” payment for pet insurance before they could send the puppy. Luckily, she didn’t pay the crooks any more money, but losing $200 to criminals–along with the disappointment about the puppy she wasn’t going to get–had to sting.

WatchYourBuck has covered the puppy scam in the past. It’s a pretty common scam that comes with variations–one version we wrote about involved an attempt to purchase a kinkajou, rather than a puppy.

Here is some advice to avoid becoming a victim of a pet scam:

  • Do your research. Ask for the breeder’s references. You can also check BBB.org to see details about complaints against the breeder, advertising issues and other details about the seller.
  • Visit the Breeder First. It is essential to visit the breeder at their home to see the entire litter, the care and conditions given to the puppies prior to purchasing. This will allow you to see if the environment is clean and healthy for the puppies.
  • Beware of breeders who seem overly concerned with getting paid. Any reputable breeder will be far more concerned with the appropriateness of the potential pet home than what and when they are getting paid. Make sure you have clear expectations – ideally in writing – of how and when the pup will be paid for. Be especially wary of any breeder who insists that you wire money or insist you can only pay with a prepaid debit card.
  • Don’t be fooled by a slick website. Dishonest breeders and even outright scams can be represented by professional-looking web sites that lure you in with fraudulent pictures of adorable puppies.
  • Take your time. Beware of breeders who claim to have multiple breeds ready to ship immediately. It’s highly unlikely that your perfect puppy will be available for shipping on the very day you call. Gestation and socialization of a litter takes months–no puppy should be separated from the mom before eight weeks of age.
  • Report a scam. Anyone who has experienced a dog-related scam should report it to their local authorities, as well as your BBB.
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Online payday lenders to pay $21M settlement to settle FTC charges

government actionTwo payday lenders recently settled Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charges that they broke the law by charging undisclosed and inflated fees.

AMG Services, Inc. and MNE Services, Inc. will pay $21 million and will waive another $285 million in charges that were assessed but not collected.

MNE Services lent to consumers under the trade names Ameriloan, United Cash Loans, US Fast Cash, Advantage Cash Services, and Star Cash Processing. AMG serviced the loans.

The FTC’s complaint alleged that the defendants violated the FTC Act by misrepresenting to consumers how much loans would cost. For example, the defendants’ contract said a $300 loan would cost $390 to repay–but they actually charged consumers $975 to repay the loan.

The defendants were also charged with violating the Truth in Lending Act (TILA). They allegedly failed to accurately disclose their annual percentage rates and other loan terms as well as making preauthorized debits a condition of the loans, which violates the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA).

A U.S. district court judge ruled in May 2014 that the loan documents were deceptive and violated TILA.

In addition to assessing the $21 million payment and waiving an estimated $285 million, the settlement bans the defendants from misrepresenting the terms of any loan, including the payment schedule, the total amount the consumer will owe, the interest rate, annual percentage rates or finance charges, and any other material facts. Defendants are also prohibited from violating TILA and EFTA.

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Child Predator scam tries to trick you into downloading a virus

ID-100258813Parents love their kids and want to protect them from danger. Unfortunately, some cyber-criminals are taking advantage of parents’ fears with an email designed to scare them into downloading malware.

The email is disguised as a “community safety” alert warning for parents about a child predator in the area, but it’s really a scam.

Your BBB warns you to keep both your kids and your computer safe, by using legitimate resources and avoiding scam emails.

How the scam works:
The email carries the subject line “Alert:There is a Child-Predator Living Near You!” and claims to be a notification that “a registered-child-offender has just moved into your area.” The email claims this information is based on your “local area zipcode.” However, you don’t remember signing up for such a service.

The email tells you to click a link to “learn more about this predator-alert.” If you click, you are redirected through several sites to land on the website for “Kids Live Safe,” a service that sells localized reports on sex offenders.

Unfortunately, the spam message isn’t actually affiliated with Kids Live Safe. The scammers merely use a legitimate website to gain credibility and distract from the actual scam. Clicking the scam link in the email is enough to infect your machine with malware, even if you ultimately end up at a legitimate site.

Once it infects your machine, the malware will search for stored information such as usernames, passwords and credit card numbers.

How to spot a scam email:

Don’t click on links that come in unsolicited emails. Go to your browser and search for the real organization if you want more information.

Check out the “From” field: Scammers have the ability to mask email addresses, making the message appear to come from a legitimate source. But they don’t always use it. Look out for email addresses that don’t match the brand used in the email message.

Watch for typos, strange phrasing and bad grammar. Scammers can easily copy a brand’s logo and email format, but awkward wording and poor grammar are typically a give away that the message is a scam. In the example above, the awkward phrase “local area zipcode.”

Hover over URLs to reveal their true destination. Often, the hyperlinked text will say one thing, but the link will point somewhere else. Scammers either set up fake websites or hack into third-party sites and use them to host malware.

The email claims to have information about you, but you never signed up for it. Scams often pretend to be personalized for you, but they are actually blast emails. Don’t fall for this! If you never signed up for custom email alerts, you shouldn’t be receiving them.

For more information

To get information on registered sex offenders in your area, check out the FBI’s directory of state databases. To read more about this scam, check out this alert from CBS in San Francisco.

NOTE: Kids Live Safe is a BBB Accredited Business.

To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper.

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Don’t fall prey to phishing scam targeting Charles Schwab investors

ID-10067364Several employees at Your BBB have received phishing scam emails designed to trick investors with Charles Schwab accounts into giving up their login information.

This is similar to more widespread phishing emails that pretend to be from banks. If you click the link and follow the scammers’ instructions, you will be giving up the key to your bank account.

The email we received contained the following message:

SEC Rule 17a-3(17) requires that brokerage firms create a record for each account with an individual customer.

You need to login to online access by the link bellow to avoid your account be halted by the SEC:

The email contains a link to a phishing website and states:

Barber Jack, Managing Director, The Charles Schwab Corporation

© 2015 Charles Schwab & Co., Inc, All rights reserved. Unauthorized access is prohibited. Usage will be monitored. (0414-2223)

If you receive one of these emails, delete it–and don’t click the link! If you have concerns about your account, contact your financial institution directly, never through an unsolicited email.

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Want to be debt-free in 2015? BBB offers advice

ID-100296484If you started the new year with a mountain of debt, you’re not alone. Whether your debit crisis was caused by personal or family illness, the loss of a job, or overspending, it can seem overwhelming, but often you can overcome it.

Your financial situation doesn’t have to go from bad to worse. Make this year a year to reduce your debt!

If you or someone you know is in debt, your Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have five tips to help you get started this new year.

#1 Develop a budget. The first step toward taking control of your financial situation is to do a realistic assessment of how much money you take in and how much money you spend.

#2 Contact your creditors. Contact your creditors immediately if you’re having trouble making ends meet. Tell them why it’s difficult for you, and try to work out a modified payment plan that reduces your payments to a more manageable level. Don’t wait until your accounts have been turned over to a debt collector. At that point, your creditors have given up on you.

#3 Ask for lower rates. Most credit card companies will lower interest rates when asked, especially if you mention a “hardship plan,” designed for those that are going through a struggle for a short time. Lower rates mean your payments go more toward principal instead of interest.

#4 Send extra payments. Make at least the minimum payment each month on every account, but send that extra amount to help make a bigger dent. As soon as that debt is paid off, put its payment and the extra toward the next account on your target list.

#5 Stick to the plan. It can be tempting to use your credit cards again once the balances are lowered, but that will only make it harder to get out of debt, and the process may take longer. Resist the temptation and keep your eyes on your long-term goal.

To get started with budgeting and debt reduction, check out this Budget Calculator from the FTC.

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

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Want to lose weight this year? Don’t get tricked by false claims!

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