BBB offers tips for securing your mobile device

ID-100303666For years, we’ve had to deal with viruses and other malware on our laptops and desktop computers. Hopefully you’ve got good anti-virus software and are keeping it up to date.

But consumers are doing more and more of their web surfing on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets and as you might expect, cybercriminals are now targeting those devices as well.

Your BBB urges you to take steps to secure your mobile devices to protect yourself from ID theft and malware.

Smartphones can be a treasure trove for hackers. Through apps and mobile browsers, people store personal information like passwords, bank account information and credit card numbers in addition to their contacts and other information.

Here are a few practical tips from BBB to secure your mobile devices:

  • Lock your phone. If your phone is lost or stolen, your personal information is at risk. Add a security code to your phone to prevent thieves from accessing your data. Then set your device to lock automatically when not in use for  a specified time.
  • Update your operating system. Those alerts on your smart phone that tell you to update your apps and operating system are more than just a minor annoyance. These updates close security loopholes and other backdoors hackers can use to access your phone without your knowledge.
  • Beware of unknown apps and links. Do not download any apps or click on links in your email or social media pages without first researching their source. They may contain viruses, malware or spyware that can compromise your personal data.
  • Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi. If you choose to connect to an unsecured or public Wi-Fi network, do not enter any passwords or access any personal data. Bad guys can use such networks as an easy means to hack your device.
  • Turn off Bluetooth. Bluetooth creates a wireless connection between your phone and other devices or phones. If you are not actively using an enabled device, such as a headset, make sure your Bluetooth is turned off.
  • Check your permissions. Check all of your apps to see what data they are accessing and revoke permissions for information those apps don’t need to properly operate. Check your phone’s owner’s manual or contact your wireless provider for directions on how to do so.
  • Report missing devices. If your phone is lost or stolen, immediately report it to your wireless carrier and have the device disabled.
  • Back up your data. Make sure you have a backup of all the apps and information — especially important photos or other irreplaceable items — stored on your phone in case it’s lost, stolen, hacked or damaged.
  • Pay close attention to your phone bills. Unanticipated, sudden increases in data usage can indicate a problem. In addition, third-party content providers sometimes add erroneous charges to bills for apps or services the consumer never authorized. In addition, keep an eye out for strange texts and disrupted service. They can be red flags that indicate your phone has been hacked.
  • Erase old phones completely. If you’re selling, donating or recycling your old phone, ensure all your data is completely erased and the phone is returned to factory settings before letting it out of your possession. There are online tutorials to teach you how to do this, or your wireless provider can walk you through the steps.
  • Shop with caution. When shopping online with your mobile device, take the same precautions you would with a desktop or laptop. Look for the “s” in the “https://” in the address bar and research sites at before providing any personal information or credit card numbers.
  • Consider mobile security. Many sources offer antivirus or other security apps for your phone. Research them thoroughly before choosing which is right for you.
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BBB Investigation: Jarrell-based 5 Star Fence and Deck building reputation for unfinished jobs

ID-10046136Consumers who hired Jarrell, Texas-based 5 Star Fence and Deck to build fences, decks and other projects have told BBB they did not get what they paid for after making large upfront deposits.

A March 31, 2014 filing with Williamson County states the business is owned by Bert Henry. However, consumers who filed complaints with BBB say they dealt with Phillip Henry. Other business names associated with Phillip Henry include H&M Services and Intrusted Stewards. (Note: 5 Star Fence and Deck of Jarrell should not be confused with Austin-based Five Star Fence and Deck.)

As of Jan. 7, 2015, Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received four complaints about 5 Star Fence and Deck since September. The business has so far not responded to any of those complaints.

Consumers who complained to BBB report losses ranging from $1,500 to $8,600 after making down payments for work that was left unfinished or uncorrected. The consumers also report being unable to reach the company.

BBB sent two letters to 5 Star Fence and Deck in December, asking it to address the pattern of complaints, but has so far received no response.

Alecia Pemberton of Killeen says she paid Phillip Henry $3,240 in May 2014 for a deck that was to be completed in a week. After starting what she says was a substandard foundation, the company was stopped by the city of Killeen for not having a permit. After the permit was approved, the business never did any more work, she said.

“The city found out he didn’t have a permit,” Pemberton said. “It took a while for them to get the permit. Then he [Phillip] never did any work again. If he answered the phone, he would say ‘Next Friday, We’ll get it done in three days or it’s free.’ Now he won’t answer the phone.”

Merl Honeycutt of Round Rock said he paid 5 Star Fence and Deck $1,950 up front and only received about $500 worth of work before the company quit taking his calls.

“Phillip took down a gate and replaced it,” Honeycutt said. “He replaced four fence posts and put the gate back. I paid $1,950 up front for materials and he never came back. Fence posts cost about $50 each. That plus the cost of the gate probably comes to around $500.”

BBB offers the following advice when hiring a contractor:

  • Do your research. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at before signing a contract. For a list of BBB Accredited Businesses that meet BBB Standards for Trust, go directly to
  • Get a list of references. The contractor should provide names, addresses and phone numbers of at least three clients who have projects similar to yours. Ask about their experience with the contractor. Also, tell the contractor that you’d like to visit jobs in progress.
  • Don’t pay cash. Pay by credit card if possible. You may have additional protection if there is a problem. Otherwise pay by check so your cancelled check can provide proof of payment. Consider using an escrow company.
  • Spread payments out. Never pay too much up front. Make payments during the project contingent upon completion of a defined amount of work. Do not make the final payment or sign a final release until you are satisfied with the work and have proof that the subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.
  • Shop around. Get at least three bids in writing based on the same specifications, materials, labor and time needed to complete the project. BBB’s Request-a-Quote service is free to use and contacts BBB Accredited Businesses to give you an estimate on your job.
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BBB warns: Beware of ‘too good to be true’ diet products

ID-10031794Looking to shed some unwanted pounds? Some people do it by hitting the gym and cutting calories. Others try to lose weight by participating in a weight loss program or buying the diet products they see in ads.

If you’re in that second group, Your BBB urges you to be aware of deceptive advertising claims that sound too good to be true–and probably are.

Your BBB routinely contacts companies with ads that could be potentially misleading. These include unsubstantiated claims about consumers’ health, fitness and diet. Locally, BBB conducted advertising reviews for companies touting HCG diets as “proven successful” or that “most patients can lose 15 to 40 pounds per month on the treatment.” When asked to provide substantiation for these claims, those companies failed to provide it.

When looking for a diet plan or routine to kick off better health in 2015, BBB offers the following advice so you don’t fall victim to false or misleading weight loss claims:

  • Seek advice. Before buying any product which makes weight ­loss claims or committing to any weight ­loss program, consult your physician and/or a qualified nutritionist or registered dietitian. Significant weight loss should not be undertaken without competent medical supervision.
  • Research. Check out the company with your Better Business Bureau and contact your local or state health department, an extension agent with the United States Department of Agriculture, or your nearest Food and Drug Administration office to ask questions about a specific weight loss product.
  • Be skeptical. Be skeptical of self-proclaimed health advisors selling their products by using high-pressure sales tactics and one-time-only offer deals. Read all of the fine print.
  • Watch out for tricky ads. Be wary of claims that promise immediate, effortless and/or guaranteed weight loss. Also, watch for buzzwords like “breakthrough,” “secret,” “exclusive,” or “miraculous” in advertisements. These are not scientific words and often appear in misleading promotions for fraudulent products.
  • Seek proof. Be cautious of vaguely worded testimonials that cannot be verified. Testimonials should never serve as a substitute for scientific proof of a program or product’s efficiency.
  • Plan ahead. Keep in mind that any diet pill or weight­ loss product is at best, only a temporary or partial measure; long term weight loss requires a permanent change in lifestyle. In addition, every person’s metabolism and lifestyle are different, so no product should make universal promises of success or claim specific results for all users.

For more helpful tips from your Better Business Bureau, visit The Federal Trade Commission also offers advice on weighing the claims in diet ads and provides a reference guide for media on spotting false weight loss claims.

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Joining a gym? BBB has advice for those looking to shape up in 2015

ID-10076388Want to get fit this year? It’s one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. And joining a gym is one of the most popular ways of getting in shape.

But beware: Joining a gym often means signing a contract and not all contracts are the same. Before you sign a contract, Your BBB advises you to do your research.

BBB has seen a steady increase in complaint activity with fitness centers over the past three years. In 2014, BBB processed more than 3,300 complaints against fitness centers nationwide.

Most of the complaints were about contract and billing issues. In particular, many consumers complained they had a hard time cancelling their memberships without fees–even if the cancellation was due to unforeseen personal circumstances or health issues. Others said they were charged fees they weren’t told about in advance, or that they were charged even after they cancelled their memberships.

Before you signs on the dotted line, BBB recommends getting answers to the following questions:

What are the terms of my membership? Ask about the various options available. If you join at an introductory rate, be sure you fully understand the terms and conditions.

How can I get out of my contract?  Specifically ask about how you go about cancelling if needed and any fees that may be involved. Be sure to get this information in writing.

What happens if I move? Gyms have any number of different policies when it comes to how moving will affect your membership. It might depend on how far away you’re moving and if they have other locations nearby.

What happens if you go out of business? Ask the gym to explain what will happen to your money if they suddenly go out of business.

Once these questions are answered be sure to:

  • Visit Before signing a contract, research the gym at to see its BBB Business Review, which will show any history of complaints, customer reviews and any advertising issues.
  • Take a tour of the facility. Check the cleanliness of the equipment and the locker room area and see if the gym equipment is in good condition. Also, tour the gym at the time of day you will be using the facility to make sure the number of people there at that time will not limit your activities.
  • Do not give in to sales pressure.Walk away from clubs that pressure you to sign a contract on the spot. BBB recommends taking a sample contract home to review before making a decision.
  • Review the contract thoroughly before signing.Make sure the contract lists all services and fees, and any promises made by the salesperson. Find out what is included in the monthly fee and what will cost extra.

Now, stick to it and have a happy and healthy 2015!

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Caller asks for advance fee: The biggest and reddest of red flags

ID-10058480We’re accustomed to hearing about scams at Your BBB. People call in to ask about offers that sound too good to be true. Usually we point out “red flags” that could be signs of a scam and ask them to use their best judgment.

Number one red flag for almost any type of scam? Being told to pay upfront. Make that flag extra big and red if they ask for payment with a reloadable card of some type.

That applies to soooo many other scams: loan scams, rental scams, work-at-home scams, lottery scams, grant scams, puppy scams… You name it. It’s a favorite technique for scammers, because it works on way too many people.

Unfortunately, some people call BBB because they’re afraid they’ve already been burned and are hoping against hope that the offer was legitimate. Most of the time, we don’t have good news. They already paid upfront for a loan with a Greendot card or something similar and the money is gone forever.

I especially hate it when someone contacts us after getting burned for a lot of money. Usually it happens in smaller chunks that add up. Once a scammer gets you to pay a “fee” or a “tax” or whatever, he’ll get you to do it again and again, until you give up.

We recently got a visit from an Austin woman who got taken by an advance fee loan scam. She received a call offering her a $1,000 loan, then was convinced to make several reloadable card payments that added up to more than $500.

The people claimed to be with a payday loan company supposedly located in San Antonio, Texas, but they are likely not even located in the United States. Over several days, the woman received calls about her promised loan from people claiming to be with various companies and agencies—including the U.S. Department of Transportation, Bank of America, U.S. Postal Service and Better Business Bureau. All fake.

I wish we could’ve told her we could get her money back or even punish the people who ripped her off. Unfortunately, scammers get you to send payments with pre-paid cards for a reason: once you do it, it’s virtually untraceable. Your money is gone forever.

Best thing to do is always remember that biggest, reddest red flag: If someone calls with an offer and you have to pay upfront with some kind of pre-paid card, it’s a trap. Hang up!

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BBB Investigation: Consumers report they lost thousands with Austin-area hotel investment company

ID-100224540Round Rock, Texas-based company Rich In Five (also known as Rich Within Five) tells consumers on its website that it can show them how to make money by investing in hotels.

However, some consumers who enrolled in the coaching program told BBB they received no services after making large upfront payments. Some also told BBB that following Rich In Five’s investment program resulted in losses in the hundreds of thousands.

Rich In Five principal Jason Schubert offers a coaching program which claims to help people learn to invest in hotels. According to consumers BBB spoke to, coaching can cost between $25,000 and $45,000. Consumers told BBB that under the coaching arrangement they were told Rich In Five would help find hotels to invest in and help them obtain financing.

Some have told BBB that they lost their investments after Rich In Five took over management of the hotels they were investing in. Consumers said the hotels were taken back by the original owners when Rich In Five failed to make payments.

The website, describes Schubert as a “builder, national real estate speaker, entrepreneur, commercial real estate mentor and coach, hotelier and master of buying properties with none of your own money and deal structuring.”

The website includes a link from a webinar and testimonials from people who reportedly found success through Schubert’s coaching program, including one who it says now has a hotel with cash flow in the “thousands of dollars.”

That wasn’t the case for consumers who spoke to Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin. BBB has received complaints about the business claiming losses ranging from $7,000 to more than $45,000 from the Rich In Five coaching program. A BBB investigator contacted consumers who filed complaints against the business, as well as other consumers who worked within the program and was told of additional individual investments totaling between $250,000 and $600,000.

Rich In Five’s website has earnings statements, including “Except at the end of the day instead of only making an average of $200 a month in positive cash flow, you end up making between $5,000 – $15,000 or more a month in positive cash flow!”

BBB sent a letter to Rich In Five’s address at P.O. Box 2007 as well as Schubert’s email address requesting that Rich In Five include a clear and prominent disclaimer about the limitations or conditions related to potential results or provide recent objective data to show that the majority of consumers using the service will attain results described on the site.

Rich In Five principal Jason Schubert did not respond to the letter, but stated on Nov. 18 that he would respond to complaints “right after Thanksgiving” and on Dec. 11 that he would respond to BBB complaints “by next week.”  As of Dec. 29, 2014, the company has not yet responded.

Paula Fair of Arlington, Texas says she and her husband Bryan lost close to $250,000. That includes $44,900 for the coaching program and $200,000 invested in failed hotel purchases. She said the money for the investments was raised by cashing in two IRAs.

“In August 2010, we paid $44,900 for the Rich In Five mentoring program,” Fair said. “In April 2011, we took $100,000 out of an IRA to invest in a hotel in West Memphis, Arkansas. In May 2011, we took $100,000 out of another IRA to invest in a hotel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”

Fair said the West Memphis deal fell through when Schubert took over management and then stopped making payments to the original owners. “Sept. 12, 2012 was the last lease payment he made,” she said. “In April 2014, the West Memphis hotel went back to the previous owner.”

She said the Baton Rouge deal fell through for reasons that aren’t clear. “[Jason Schubert] claims two students negotiated with the prior owner behind his back to buy it,” she said.

Hugh Walker of Spring, Texas says he paid $44,900 to get into Jason Schubert’s coaching program, but that the business never found hotels for him to invest in and failed to honor other parts of his contract. He says he got some of his money refunded, but is still owed $12,900.

“Almost immediately I saw that he wasn’t doing what he said he would do,” Walker said. “He seemed unorganized. He was supposed to find us hotels to invest in. He kept promising he would change and improve. I found a hotel I was interested in, but he was so slow in reacting. By the time I put together a letter of intent, the owner changed his mind and was not interested in selling.”

Cory Wilkinson of Oklahoma City says he paid $20,000 to enter Schubert’s coaching program, then invested in a hotel—which he says he lost after Schubert took over management and failed to make lease payments. He says he lost over $250,000 total. “I did buy a hotel. I let him come in and manage it. After nine months, he bankrupted the hotel and it got taken back by the owner. He was managing member of my LLC. He was responsible for taking care of business.”

Consumers who want to invest should consider the following advice from BBB:

  • Beware of making required, large upfront investments. One of the most common complaints BBB receives about investment opportunities is when consumers pay fees and do not receive the promised income.
  • Beware of “high return for low risk” promises. Every real estate venture and financial investment comes with a level of risk. If a seminar offers a plan claiming large returns with little or no risk, beware, even if it comes with the promise of a money-back guarantee.
  • The use of high pressure sales tactics. Seminar leaders often try to get consumers to sign up immediately. They may claim there are only a few spots left or that you need to get in on the ground floor today to see the largest earnings.
  • Do your research. Before signing up for any investment program, research the company thoroughly. Check the BBB Business Review at
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BBB Investigation: Band merchandising company One Live Media receives influx of complaints

investigationOne Live Media, an Austin-area business that consumers suggest fulfills merchandise orders for various bands has been racking up numerous complaints with Better Business Bureau.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received nearly three dozen complaints in the past two weeks, which are still in the resolution process. Additionally, BBB received hundreds of inquiries about the business within the last 30 days.

Complainants generally tell BBB they order T-shirts, sweatshirts and other merchandise from band websites—including some big name artists—and do not receive their orders. Many consumers stated their delayed orders were intended as Christmas gifts. Purchase amounts stated by consumers range from less than $20 to nearly $200. Some told BBB they have been waiting for over a month.

BBB found many of the comments on the @OneLiveMedia Twitter feed involve discussions with consumers asking about orders that were late or not received at all. The business has two Facebook pages, one for One Live Media and one for Music One Live. Comments are hidden for the One Live Media Facebook page and are not enabled for the Music One Live page.

According to information provided to BBB by the company in the past, as well as contact information listed on several band websites, One Live Media is located at 210 Barton Springs Road, Suite 500 in Austin, Texas. BBB has been unable confirm the business’s current location, however. The above location appears to be a building under construction.

Based on information provided from consumers and online searches, One Live Media also uses the business names Music One Live, Sports & Music One Live and Sports and Music One Live LP.

Ann Baldwin of Massachusetts ordered merchandise from One Live Media through a band website on Dec. 10. She says she agreed to cancel her first order and pay extra to get the items shipped before Christmas, but has not received her order—or received a refund for  her first order. She says the company owes her $275.

“I ordered a hockey jersey and a glass for $124 and change,” she said. “I called to check on my order and they said they could have it shipped in two days if I paid extra for shipping. I paid another $156. They did not credit my original order back to me and I still have no product.”

Baldwin said when she calls, the business only offers to relay messages to management and has no information about her order. She said all her emails to the company have gone unanswered.

Brandon Tidwell of Florida says he ordered $109 worth of items from a band website on Oct. 2. He said the items never arrived and after he filed a dispute with his bank, the business refunded $30. However, he said, the business still owes him $79.

“It was supposed to be a present for my brother’s birthday,” Tidwell said. “On Oct. 20 I still didn’t have it. I called three times and no one picked up. Finally a lady picked up and said they were changing warehouses. I wanted to talk to management and she said she would pass it along. She said, ‘honestly, they don’t care.’”

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 before making a purchase to see its complaint history, details about complaints and any advertising-related issues.
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FTC cracks down on Dallas-area car dealership over advertising

government actionConsumers have gotten used to fine print disclaimers that limit the offer in an advertisement. Unfortunately, some businesses take them WAY too far.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently put a stop to such advertising practices by a Dallas, Texas-area car dealership. According to the FTC, Trophy Nissan engaged in deceptive advertising promote the sale and lease of its vehicles. Ads included one claiming consumers could get out of their current loan or lease for $1. The dealership has agreed to settle FTC charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising.

The FTC alleges that Trophy used enticing offers to draw consumers in, then disclaimed their offers in small text in print and video ads. Allegedly deceptive ads included one that made consumers think they could get out of their current loan or lease for only $1–when in fact they could not. Instead, Trophy would add the balance of any loan or lease obligation to the balance of a new loan.

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Got a gift you didn’t want? BBB gives the skinny on returns and exchanges

ID-1009035Hard as we might try to get the perfect gift for the ones we care about, we’re bound to get it wrong sometimes. Sometimes you appreciate the sentiment, but the gift just doesn’t quite fit. If that happened to you, Your BBB has  some advice for hassle-free returns and exchanges.

In most states, stores aren’t legally required to accept items for refund, credit, or exchange unless the merchandise is defective or misrepresented. However, stores do have to comply with their own stated return policy, which should be sufficiently conveyed before the customer made the purchase.

Before you stand in a long line to return holiday gifts, we encourage you to go online to read the retailer’s return policy on their website. BBB offers this additional advice for returns and exchanges:

  • Read and understand return/exchange policies. Return policies for clearance or holiday merchandise may be different than merchandise sold at full price. Every store has its own return and exchange policy and consumers should understand the policy before expecting a full refund.
  • Keep all receipts. Without the original receipt or a gift receipt, you will not be able to get cash when you return unwanted gifts. You may be able to get a store credit or be able to exchange the item for other merchandise.
  • Mind the time. Many retailers may only allow returns within a certain time frame and that time frame usually begins when the item is purchased, not when you receive it. If you have gifts to return, do it as soon as possible.
  • Be aware of restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking fee for returns of electronics products or large-ticket items. If you are returning electronics, you should keep the original packaging.
  • Online retailers may not refund shipping fees. If your gift was purchased online, you may have to pay a return shipping fee, or may not be refunded for your initial shipping payment. Sometimes merchandise can be returned to a store instead.
  • If all else fails, re-gift. If you get a gift that cannot be returned, you can recycle it by giving it to someone else, listing it on an online classified site or donating it to a good cause.
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BBB’s Naughty List: 5 holiday scams and how to avoid them

ID-100221118The holiday season certainly makes most of us feel merry and bright, but it can also bring out scammers looking to take advantage of you. Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin wants people to beware of the following five scams and frauds this holiday season.

  1. Fake websites promising fake deals. Some scammers will send fake emails or advertisements promising unheard of deals for a product, leading you to a fake website that steals your credit card information when you try to check out. Protect yourself by staying away from deals that are too good to be true, checking the URL and checking BBB’s Business Directory before buying.
  2. Santa letter scheme.While some legitimate companies sell letters from Santa Claus, some scammers are using this idea to steal credit card and personal information from unsuspecting consumers. When looking for a customized letter, research different companies and go to their sites straight from your browser, not from emails or social media.
  3. Fake gift cards.Gift cards are the most popular holiday gift, but also the most susceptible to fraud. Criminals will go to a store and record the activation code on a gift card. After checking if the gift card is still valid online, fraudsters can use the online code to cash the gift card for resalable products. Before buying, make sure the security code on the gift card is scratch-free and look for gift cards that come in an unopened, plastic container.
  4. False data breaches. Taking advantage of data breach fears, scammers will call pretending to be retailers asking for personal information to “sort things out.” If an incident does occur, the company will alert its consumers through their website or social media and will not call the consumer directly. If you are unsure, call the customer service number and ask to speak to the fraud department. Since you called the correct number, you should be safe to give out personal information if asked.
  5. Card skimmers. To steal your credit or debit card information, scammers will install skimming devices at ATMs or put faceplates over payment terminals so they can access your accounts. When shopping, stay alert by keeping your cards in sight and covering the screen when entering your pin.
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