Election-related scams to avoid before casting your vote

ID-100107012BBB warns of voting scams this election season

Early voting is in full swing and Election Day is only one week away. But unfortunately, with elections often comes the possibility scams. While politicians are seeking your support, scam artists are busy trying to steal money and identities by pretending to contact you about an election-related issue.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin is warning consumers of four common election scams to look out for before casting their vote for the Nov. 4 elections.

  1. Campaign Fund Collections - Be cautious when answering a call that claims to be from a political party representative, election committee or even the candidate themselves. While political groups are exempt from abiding by the ‘Do Not Call’ registry, scammers can easily spoof caller ID and sound like they are calling from a legitimate organization. They may call asking for your vote, a donation in support of the candidate or detailed personal information in order to possibly steal your identity.

Avoiding the scam: Get the caller’s contact information and do your own research on the candidates. If you decide to support a candidate, look online and find the candidates campaign number and call directly to ensure you’re reaching the right office.

  1. Re-register Scam – Scammers have also pulled a con in which they state you need to re-register. They will make claims that you have been taken off of the voter’s list. The caller is seeking personal information, including address, email and in more serious cases, bank account information and social security numbers.

Avoiding the scam: Never give out personal information to a suspicious caller. If you are concerned about your voter registration status, contact the Texas Secretary of State. If you believe you have received a call of this nature, report it to your County Clerk’s Office.

  1. Election Survey Scam – Another popular telemarketing scam that occurs during election season are survey calls. The con artist will explain that a survey is being conducted on behalf of a political party and if you answer all questions, you are eligible to win a prize (often cruise tickets or gift cards). The topic of the survey usually refers to a controversial headline in the news, making it seem legitimate. While the survey questions themselves are commonly vague, the scam occurs when you are asked to provide personal financial information to pay for shipping, taxes or the handling of the “prize” you’ve won. This is scam used to get your financial information.

Avoiding the scam: Protect your savings, never give out personal or financial information over the phone. Be suspicious of callers promising prizes, cash or other items if you pay a “fee” first.

  1. Vote by Phone – Never respond to a phone call, email or text message asking you to vote by phone. This is not possible. You can only cast your vote by ballot either by mail or at an official polling station. They are likely trying to obtain personal information to steal your identity.

Avoiding this scam: Do not respond to these messages or hang up the phone if you receive a solicitation of this nature and report it to your County Clerk.

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FTC shuts down tech support scam operation

scam imageWatchyourbuck has warned in the past about scam calls from people pretending to be with Microsoft or other software companies. Your BBB even got a call from someone trying to pull that scam (We didn’t fall for it).

If you give these scammers remote access to your computer, lots of bad things could happen–they could lock your computer and make you pay to unlock it again, they could install malware or steal bank passwords, or they could just charge you a lot of money for nothing.

The Federal Trade Commission recently cracked down on a fake tech support operation. At the FTC’s request, a federal court shut down a company that charged customers hundreds of dollars for tech support they didn’t need as well as software that was available for free, while pretending to work for Microsoft or Facebook. They reportedly told consumers that harmless files were signs of malware infection and sometimes claimed their computers needed to be repaired immediately.

Defendants in the case are Pairsys, Inc., Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya. The court froze their assets, banned them from misrepresenting themselves to customers, banned from deceptive telemarketing practices, and banned from selling or renting their customer lists. They also must shut down and disconnect their websites and phone numbers.

BBB has the following advice about how to avoid this scam and others like it:

  • Never let someone log into your computer remotely. If someone tries to get you to let them access your computer remotely, hang up. When someone logs in, they can do anything you can do on your computer. They can access anything, including personal and financial information.
  • Do not click links in emails. It is better to type the address in the search bar manually.
  • If the URL seems odd, do not continue to go to the site. If it is a scam, it will most likely have an unusual URL. It will likely contain a common name but be accompanied by some jumbled letters or numbers.
  • Always look up the company’s phone number on their website. If you need to call a company, look it up on their official website. This can make sure that you are calling a legitimate number. Don’t rely on Caller ID or official-looking emails, which can be easily faked.
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BBB to host Shred Day in Killeen on Saturday, Oct. 25

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) and between data breaches, cloud storage privacy issues, and bugs compromising personal passwords, identity theft protection is on the forefront of many people’s mind.

Cybercrime comes in many forms–online identity theft, financial fraud, hacking, e-mail spoofing, information forgery, and intellectual property crime. American consumers reported losing over $1.6 billion to fraud overall in 2013, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s annual report. Fraudsters looking to steal your identity actively seek to gain access to your personal information by any means necessary, which means it’s important to not only protect yourself online but also to discard personal documents carefully.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin invites consumers and businesses to participate in Shred Day. This identity theft prevention event features free on-site shredding and electronic recycling aimed at protecting your identity.

Killeen

Date: Saturday, October 25

Time: 9:00 am to Noon

Location:  First National Bank Texas

2511 W Trimmier Rd, Killeen, TX 76542

Free shredding and electronic recycling services will be available until noon or until the shred trucks reach capacity. Consumers can bring up to two boxes of sensitive documents per vehicle to be shred on-site. The program is a BBB-branded identity theft, fraud prevention and educational initiative. Monetary donations benefiting BBB’s Education Foundation will also be accepted.

BBB encourages you to take these extra security measures to protect yourself against identity theft during NCSAM:

  • Keep a clean machine. Whether it is a PC, mobile device or laptop, make sure security software is current and up-to-date. Having the latest software on all devices can be one of the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats.
  • Change passwords for all online accounts regularly. When changing your password, make it long, strong and unique, with a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. By keeping various passwords on your accounts, you lessen the risk of multiple accounts being compromised.
  • Steer clear of suspicious texts, emails and links. Unsolicited e-mails and pop-up ads can be full of computer viruses designed to steal usernames and passwords from your computer. Don’t give in to curiosity. Close or delete the message.
  • Connect with care.  Use caution when logging on to public Wi-Fi hotspots and send personal information only to websites that are fully encrypted.
  • Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online. Check trusted websites for the latest information, and share with friends, family and colleagues to encourage them to be web-wise. You can find your BBB on Facebook or Twitter for the latest scam alerts and information. You can also find helpful information and tips at watchyourbuck.com.
  • Report it. If your identity has been stolen or compromised, contact one of the three credit bureaus to report the crime (Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at 1-888-397-3742, or TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289). Request that the credit bureau place a fraud alert on your credit report to prevent any further fraudulent activity from occurring. As soon as one of the bureaus issues a fraud alert, the other two bureaus are automatically notified.
  • Protect personal information. Shred all statements and applications you get in the mail that you don’t want to keep, including credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms, and billing statements for utilities and phone service.
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Beware of scam calls claiming to offer money from surgical mesh settlement

 

ID-100279760A scam is circulcating that targets women who have had a surgical mesh procedure.

The scammers call potential victims and claim they are set to receive money from a class action lawsuit settlement–but instead they try to get money or personal information.

Sherri Lawhon of Corpus Christi was almost a victim of this scam. Fortunately, she got suspicious and reported the scam to Your BBB.

“They’ve been calling me for about seven months,” she said. “They somehow knew about my surgery. On Friday, I got a call saying they were distributing money from the lawsuit. They made it sound so good.”

The callers claimed to be with the “FDA Distribution Center.” They tried to reassure her by saying they didn’t want access to her credit card or bank account, but wanted her to load $126 on a card they referred to as a Galaxy Bond to prove her identity. When she couldn’t find one, they told her to load money on a Green Dot MoneyPak card.

Again, they tried to reassure her by saying they didn’t need the card number. They only wanted the reference number from the paper coupon–which if she had given it out, would have let the scammers take her money.

The scam call is similar to those mentioned in a March 17, 2014 press release from the New Hampshire Attorney General and a release by the California Department of Health.

BBB offers the following tips if you receive a phone call from someone claiming to offer money from a grant or lawsuit settlement.

  • Go off the call. If a caller claims to be with a government agency, find the number independently and get verification.
  • 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.
  • Stay private. Do not give medical or other personal information to unsolicited callers. Check your privacy settings on all your social media sites. Scammers often make their stories more believable by trolling for information on Facebook, Twitter and similar sites.
  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Don’t let a potential scammer push you into sending money before you verify the situation.
  • Know where to turn. If you fall victim to a scam, report the incident immediately to local police and your state Attorney General’s office.
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Counterfeit check scam targets lawyers

You don’t normally think of lawyers as potential victims of fraud–they’re usually pretty savvy folks. However, there is a check/wire fraud scam that specifically targets attorneys. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) posted a warning about it a couple of years ago, but it’s still going around.

scam imageAlthough he isn’t an attorney, a colleague at Your BBB recently received one of those emails–if it had landed in an unsuspecting attorney’s inbox, he or she could have become a victim.

The email is short and sweet: “Hello, I am seeking representation for a wrongful dismissal. Please advice if this is your area of practice and how much it will cost me to retain your firm.” And a name and phone number. A quick web search shows others have received the same email.

If an attorney responds, the scam artist will make some excuse why he can’t pay the retainer up front and will ask the attorney to take payment from the final settlement. At this time it turns into your basic check overpayment scam–the same one used on regular consumers in lottery scams, mystery shopping scams, work-at-home scams, etc.

The “employer,” who is in on the scam, will pretend to settle and send a check. The attorney is asked to take a fee and wire the rest to the scammer, usually overseas. Though funds might be available temporarily, the check turns out to be counterfeit and the attorney has to reimburse the bank for the full amount.

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BBB Warns About Ebola Scams and Schemes

ID-100291312Fundraisers for Victims May Not Be Authorized

Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about a variety of Ebola-related scams and problematic fundraisers that have emerged recently. BBB Wise Giving Alliance is working with BBB Serving Dallas and Northeast Texas, where the first victim died and two nurses became infected; BBB Serving Greater Cleveland, where one of the nurses traveled before getting sick; and several other local BBBs to investigate some of the Ebola-related efforts.

A fundraising page on GoFundMe was created on Wednesday to raise donations for Amber Joy Vinson, the nurse who traveled from Dallas to Cleveland and is currently being treated in Atlanta for Ebola. The site may behave been the work of a well-intentioned individual, but members of Vinson’s family tell BBB they did not authorize the effort. Although that page has since been shut down, there are more than 100 GoFundMe pages raising money for various Ebola campaigns.

Several BBBs have also reported on phone solicitation from an organization supposedly raising money to help with Ebola. When pressed, the caller says he is from a famous charity’s chapter in the Bronx, New York. BBB Metro New York confirmed that no such branch exists and that the solicitation is likely a scam.

BBB warns donors to carefully research any charitable efforts – especially those that surface following an event that gains media attention.

  • Check out charities at give.org, the charity reporting arm of BBB.
  • Confirm that the group is actually a charity; charitable organizations that have received tax-exempt status provide more opportunities for verification.
  • Give to individuals you know. It is safest to give to those individuals you personally know who are contacting you to support their specific project.
  • Projects that share updates provide greater transparency. Updates from a project’s organizers help to ensure they’re being honest about the uses of raised money.
  • Don’t assume your donation or gift is tax deductible. If you are funding a project run by an individual instead of a charity, the funding you provide may not be deductible as a charitable gift for federal income tax purposes.
  • Be especially careful after a disaster or tragedy. Con artists will strike while the emotional iron is hot.
  • Read the fine print. There could be credit card fees and administrative costs associated with donating.
  • Specialized crowdfunding sites may be more adept. A site that allows any type of crowdfunding may result in more challenging oversight hurdles.

For additional assistance on charitable giving issues, visit the BBB Wise Giving Alliance website at give.org.

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BBB Investigation: Consumers allege Austin-area business taking payments, not completing work

investigationComplaints allege Bright Fence charges upfront, leaves consumers hanging

Some consumers who hired Bright Fence have reported making upfront payments for fences that were never built.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin, received similar unresolved complaints about Bright Fence in the last year. Complainants told BBB that the owner took upfront deposits ranging from $790 to $1,200 and did not start or complete their projects.

The company also goes by the names Bright Fence Company, Brightwell Fence and Welding, Brightwell Fence Company and Centerline Fence & Welding.

Bright Fence does not have a website, but is listed in online directories with several addresses. BBB sent a letter to the business about their pattern of complaints to a P.O. Box in Pflugerville that is listed in online directories, but the letter returned undeliverable. Correspondence sent to the business’s email address went unanswered.

A BBB investigator contacted the owner about their unanswered complaints. He at first gave the P.O. Box in Pflugerville as his address and said he “didn’t do email.” When the investigator told him BBB received return mail from the Pflugerville address, he said to send mail to 11606 N. Lamar Street in Austin. BBB has not yet received a response.

“[The owner] gave a quote on our fencing job and I said go ahead and get it done,” said Karen Courter of Round Rock, who said she thought she could trust him based on previous work he performed for her and her neighbors. “I was going out of town and he said he was short on cash. He asked if I could pay upfront so he could buy materials. I trusted him and paid $835. He never showed up and didn’t call back.”

Melonie Malone of San Antonio said she and her neighbors lost their deposits after hiring the company to work on their fences. She said she paid $900. “He said he wanted half down to buy materials,” she said. “He took half down from each of us. He cashed the checks within minutes.”

Malone said the company’s owner gave excuses, but never did the work after several weeks. Malone said she was able to get a partial payment of $450 from the owner after reporting him to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. She said a detective with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office had made an informal arrangement with the owner, who agreed to return the rest of her deposit, but that he had missed a deadline set by the deputy to return the money.

BBB offers the following advice when hiring a contractor:

  • Do your research. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org before signing a contract. For a list of Accredited Businesses that meet BBB Standards for Trust, go directly to checkbbb.org.
  • 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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Some Halloween retailers may offer more tricks than treats

Halloween girl with pitchforkBBB offers advice for avoiding shady Halloween stores or websites

Halloween will be celebrated in record numbers in 2014, according to the National Retail Federation, with more than two-thirds of Americans buying Halloween costumes this year. Total spending for the holiday on costumes, decorations, candy and more is estimated to be $7.4 billion.

Halloween costume shops pop-up all over during this time of year. Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin advises shoppers to research unfamiliar stores or websites with BBB first before buying.

BBB has received hundreds of complaints against Halloween costume stores, both online and in-person in recent years. Complaints from consumers shopping online range from undelivered orders to difficulties obtaining refunds for cancelled orders. Complaints regarding in-store purchases involved unclear return and exchange policies, damaged products and missing pieces. In some cases, customers found stores closed when they returned to report a problem.

BBB offers this advice when shopping for your spooky supplies:

  • Do your research. If you’re interested in trying a new or unfamiliar online merchant, check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org. This will give insight into the company’s history, how they handle complaints, and any customer reviews.
  • Purchase safely and securely. Only provide your credit card number online in a secure environment. Look at the websites URL, it should contain an “s” in https://. This indicates that the site is secure.
  • Understand their policies. Determine the company’s refund and return policies before you buy. If companies can’t offer information on how they handle problems with their products or services, reconsider doing business with them.
  • Look for clear shipping information. Consumers purchasing Halloween costumes have just about a week to get their orders in. Consider the shipping times. Find out how long it will be before you receive your order. Federal law requires that goods and services be delivered within 30 days, unless a different delivery period is specifically stated by the merchant.
  • Seasonal issues. If you’re buying from a seasonal store, ask how long it will be open for in case you need to return the item.
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BBB Investigation: DealFlashy.com deals out allegedly poor customer service

investigationConsumers claim Austin-area business delivers faulty products, won’t honor return policy

DealFlashy.com, a website based in Cedar Park, Texas, uses social media to announce “deals” for consumer electronics and accessories such as cellphone covers. The website claims to negotiate discounts with popular local businesses and product manufacturers and promote those deals to thousands of consumers.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin  found a pattern of complaints from consumers who say DealFlashy.com will not honor its return policy. Consumers say they were billed immediately for their purchase, but either did not receive their order or received a faulty product and were unable to get the business to issue a refund. Consumers also told BBB they were unable to get the business to answer phone calls or emails.

As of Oct. 8, DealFlashy.com has received 12 complaints in the last year. The business failed to respond to eight of those complaints. In cases where the business answered complaints, it promised to deliver the product, stated it had already delivered the product (which the consumer disputed), or the consumers informed BBB they had received their order.

Scott Cobern of Cedar Hill, Texas, ordered an iPhone cover that didn’t fit his phone properly. When he tried to email DealFlashy.com about returning the phone cover for a refund, there was no response. He tried calling them, but just got a recording.

“I got the iPhone cover, but decided I didn’t want it and decided to get the money-back guarantee,” said Cobern, referring to the return policy on the DealFlashy.com website, which states, “Money Back – Don’t like a product? Returns are easy as 1-2-3! Simply contact us and you are done. That’s it!”

Cobern said, “The iPhone cover was not what I thought it would be. It was cumbersome on the buttons. I found them on Facebook. They’re still on Facebook, selling different products. I tried to return it, but they would not respond to my emails. When I called, I got a recording and no one called back. Finally, after a couple of weeks I called Better Business Bureau.”

Mark Blankenhorn of Roseville, New York, made a purchase from DealFlashy.com after finding an ad on Facebook for a Chrome iPhone 4 cover. He says he never received the cover and has been blocked from contacting the business on Facebook.

“I ordered it the day before Christmas, 2013 and still have yet to receive it. Now, I don’t even have the phone any more. I have an iPhone 5. It was inexpensive, less than $20, but that’s not the point. The point is their terrible customer service. They wouldn’t respond to me and blocked me from Facebook. They said they shipped it out, but I never got it. They wouldn’t give me a tracking number.”

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.
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BBB Quick Tips: Cyber Security Awareness

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) and between data breaches, cloud storage privacy issues, and bugs compromising personal passwords, identity theft protection is on the forefront of many people’s mind.

This year, Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin is partnering with National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) to promote the “STOP. THINK. CONNECT.” campaign. STOP. THINK. CONNECT. is an online awareness campaign that offers advice for all internet users to stay safe and secure.

Cybercrime comes in many forms—online identity theft, financial fraud, hacking, email spoofing, information forgery, and intellectual property crime. It can wreak havoc on victims’ lives and at its worst, cybercrime can lead to financial ruin. American consumers reported losing over $1.6 billion to fraud overall in 2013, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s annual report.

BBB encourages you to take these extra security measures to protect yourself against identity theft and other cybercrimes during National Cyber Security Month:

  • Keep a clean machine. Whether it is a PC, mobile device or laptop, make sure security software is current and up-to-date. Having the latest software on all devices can be one of the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats.
  • Protect personal information. Shred all statements and applications you get in the mail that you don’t want to keep, including credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms, and billing statements for utilities and phone service.
  • Change passwords for all online accounts regularly. When changing your password, make it long, strong and unique, with a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. By keeping various passwords on your accounts you lessen the risk of multiple accounts being compromised.
  • Steer clear of suspicious texts, emails and links. Unsolicited emails and pop-up ads can be full of computer viruses designed to steal usernames and passwords from your computer. Don’t give in to curiosity. Close or delete the message.
  • Connect with care.  Use caution when logging on to public Wi-Fi hotspots and send personal information only to websites that are fully encrypted.
  • Stay current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online. Check trusted websites for the latest information, and share with friends, family and colleagues to encourage them to be web-wise. You can find your BBB on Facebook or Twitter for the latest scam alerts and information. You can also find helpful consumer information and tips at watchyourbuck.com.
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