‘Clickbait’ scams use promises of ‘shocking videos’ to spread spam and malware

scam-alert-pic-150x150Anytime something makes the headlines or goes “viral,” scam artists are going to take advantage. BBB.org warns that fake version of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have been making the rounds lately, but it could be anything that tempts you to click without thinking.

How the Scam Works:

Say you’re on Facebook, and see a teaser for a shocking video, “Tragic: Ice Bucket Challenge kills girl,” or something similar. You click the link, thinking it leads to a video site. Instead, a popup appears, telling you to “update your video player.” When you click “OK,” you aren’t getting a new version of some software. You are really downloading malware.

This scam has many variations. Sometimes the fake video does not lead to a virus, but rather some spammy websites prompting you to take a survey before viewing the video. Sharing your information can open you up to identity theft. Or, more likely, your information will be sold to spammers.  

Facebook isn’t the only platform for this scam. Watch out for similar links on Twitter and other social media or sent by email. 

Your BBB has the following advice to protect yourself from “clickbait” scams in email and social media:

  • Don’t take the bait. Stay away from promotions of “exclusive,” “shocking” or “sensational” footage. If it sounds too outlandish to be true, it is probably a scam. 
  • Hover over a link to see its true destination. Before you click, mouse over the link to see where it will take you. Don’t click on links leading to unfamiliar websites. 
  • Don’t trust your friends’ taste online. It might not actually be them “liking” or sharing scam links to photos. Their account may have been hacked. But it may also be clickjacking, a technique that scammers use to trick you into clicking something that you wouldn’t otherwise (especially the Facebook “Like” button).
  • On Facebook, report scam posts and other suspicious activity by following these instructions.
  • On Twitter, if another user is sending you links to malware or other spam, report it to Twitter by following these instructions.
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Traveling for Labor Day holiday? Please drive safely!

ID-10045240Labor Day weekend is here and millions of drivers will begin taking to the road. It’s a great time to enjoy family, friends and a last summer fling. Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin advises drivers to practice safe driving to avoid potential accidents. 

A report by AAA Travel projects 34.7 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday weekend, the highest volume for the holiday since 2008 and a 1.3 percent increase over 2013. Nearly 86 percent of travelers will celebrate the holiday with a final road trip before summer comes officially comes to a close. 

Unfortunately, that influx of travelers on the road means increased risk. The National Safety Council has released traffic fatality information for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, estimating across the country 395 traffic fatalities and nonfatal medically consulted injuries resulting from crashes during the holiday period is 42,300. It’s vital to exercise safe travel when going to your special events, especially while on the road.

BBB provides the following safety tips for your weekend road trips:

  • Get some rest. Tired drivers are a hazard to themselves, those in their vehicle and often fatal or devastating mistakes can be made to other drivers on the road.
  • Create a car safety kit. It’s a good idea to be prepared for car troubles, long delays and road closures. Basics for a travel kit include: a blanket, flashlight with extra batteries, radio, first aid kit, jumper cables, non-perishable foods like granola bars and nuts, bottled water, family medicine and emergency telephone numbers.
  • Remember the rules of the road. Don’t tailgate and remember the three-second rule when following vehicles. Don’t rely just on mirrors when changing lanes; check your blind spot.
  • Watch your speed. Law enforcement will be out to ensure everyone is obeying all speed limits and laws.
  • Don’t text and drive. When behind the wheel, pull over if you have to do anything that would take your full concentration off of driving.
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Impostors, impostors everywhere! Fake IRS agents and grandparent scammers targeting Texas consumers

scam-alert-pic-150x150BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has been getting a lot of calls about two particular scams this week: The “grandparent scam” and the fake IRS agent scam.

Grandparent scam 

In the grandparent scam, someone impersonating law enforcement or a court official, is calling senior citizens claiming that their grandchild is in jail. Sometimes they put the “grandchild” on the line, but it’s hard to hear or understand the supposed grandchild’s voice. The “official” demands money to get the grandchild out of jail, usually by wiring money or through a pre-paid debit card. 

(In July, we wrote about a Midland man who got burned by this particular scam.)

BBB offers these tips to avoid becoming victim to a grandparent scam:

  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Don’t let a potential scammer push you into sending money before you verify the situation.
  • Be skeptical. Ask questions only the grandchild could know the answer to, without revealing too much personal information yourself. Ask the name of a pet, a favorite dish or what school they attend. Your loved one should not get angry about you being too cautious.
  • Verify information. Check with the parents to see if their child is really travelling as they say they are.
  • Don’t wire money. Never use a transfer service to send money to someone you haven’t met in person, or for an emergency you haven’t verified is real.
  • Stay private. 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.
  • 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.

IRS scam

Your BBB has written about this type of scam before, but we’ve been getting a lot of calls about it this week. Scammers are telling people they owe the IRS money, which must be paid immediately. Usually they get consumers to pay with a pre-loaded debit card or by wiring money. The money goes to criminals, not the IRS. If that happens to you, make sure you’re dealing with a real IRS agent and never wire money to scammers. 

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 grandparent scam, imposter scam, impostor scam, IRS scam, scam, Scam Phone Calls, scammers, Scams | Leave a comment

BBB Investigation: Austin-area online clothing store SoCo Vintage racks up complaints

ID-1008377SoCo Vintage, an online store based in Buda, Texas, advertises hand-picked clothing inspired by shops on South Congress Avenue in Austin. Unfortunately, many consumers complain that after many weeks the business has not delivered the items they purchased.

SoCo Vintage has a website at www.socovintage.com and also promotes its items on social media. Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin, received a pattern of complaints from consumers who say they paid for clothes that were not delivered. The complainants also told BBB that they were unable to reach the business about their orders.

As of Aug. 26, SoCo Vintage received 12 complaints in the last year. The business has failed to respond to nine of those complaints. Consumers whose complaints were resolved informed BBB that they received their refund or order, but well past the expected delivery date.

BBB attempted to contact SoCo Vintage by phone and sent a text message according to instructions in the business’s voicemail. BBB also contacted the business via email and by mail, but has so far received no response. Mail was sent to the Buda, Texas address currently listed on the SoCo Vintage website, as well as a Kyle, Texas address that was previously listed on the website.

Chavon Roman of Elgin, Texas ordered a pair of shoes from SoCo Vintage’s website in February after seeing them on Pinterest. The shoes never arrived and she has been unable to get the business to deliver them or issue a refund.

“I kept tabs on the order through their website and it was always hung up in processing,” Roman said. “I ordered them in February and my card has already been charged. I got some emails back saying they would look into it, but they never said why my order had been delayed. If they are no longer available and they want to offer me something else, OK. I just want something or my money back.”

Kelsey Ernsthausen of Ohio ordered a dress from SoCo Vintage that she hoped would arrive in time for an upcoming wedding. The dress did not arrive in time. In fact, she has been waiting for the dress since Feb. 16, 2014. 

“I ordered a dress from their website on Feb. 16. I asked them if it would arrive within two weeks for a wedding and they said yes,” Ernsthausen said. “I never received it. I’ve tried to contact them on the phone, but it goes straight to voicemail. I’ve tried to contact them online and through their Facebook page. They’ve blocked me on Facebook. They always delete those types of comments.”

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. Print and 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.

To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit BBB.

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College students and kids at risk of identity theft

ID-100128859Information sharing has become second nature for many of us, especially young people. With today’s smartphones, the Internet is everywhere. That has its pluses and minuses. 

That sharing mentality can put young adults in the crosshairs of identity thieves. Identity thieves like to target college-age adults because they often have good, clean credit scores. Young adults also have to fill out a lot of forms and applications and are comfortable making frequent online purchases.

ID theft isn’t just a risk for college age youth. Sometimes the problem can start even earlier. Child identity theft happens when someone commits fraud using the child’s information to get credit cards or take out loans. By the time the child is grown and tries to get credit, often in college, the damage is already done. Parents should start monitoring their child’s credit report at a young age so problems don’t turn up later.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin offers these simple steps college students can take to protect their identity:

  • Secure your mail. Campus mailboxes are often easily accessed in a dorm or apartment. Have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address such as your parents’ home or invest in a secure post office box. Shred all paper documents that contain sensitive financial information and any credit card offers that come in the mail.
  • Store personal items safely. You may want to invest in a lock box or locking file cabinet to store your social security card, passport, financial statements and any other private documents.
  • Safeguard your personal information. Don’t share your information with anyone without knowing why it’s needed. Most schools now use a student identification number instead of a social security number for added protection. 
  • Check your financial statements frequently. Look for any suspicious activity or purchases on financial accounts. Fraudulent purchases can sometimes come in small amounts which means it’s important to keep a close eye on accounts. Report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution immediately.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from one of the three free credit reporting businesses. Request a report and look for any unusual activity or inaccuracies.
  • Consider identity theft protection services. If you are unable to routinely monitor your accounts and information, consider enrolling in identity theft protection services. These services can help monitor your credit and public records for suspicious activity and will alert you if and when something is found. Some of these services also offer additional recovery and resolution help should you fall victim to identity theft.

If you are concerned about identity theft you can report and dispute errors or suspicious activity. Immediately notify your credit providers and notify each of the three credit bureaus. Also, you may want to fill out an online report to the FTC visit, www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

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Don’t get smished! Nigerian Prince (or heiress, or Hong Kong businessman, etc.) scam targets smartphone text messages

ID-100129142As technology changes, so do scammers. The scheme commonly known as the “Nigerian Prince Scam” has for years taken place mostly through email. (The scam might be known as “Nigerian,” but the crooks might be from anywhere in the world. There’s no way to tell who and where they REALLY are.)

Lately, though, scammers have taken this scam to cellphone text messages. You know the drill–or if you don’t, you should. The scammer claims to have a large sum of money he needs to get out of his country for some reason.

You, lucky person he picked at random and can somehow trust with a fortune, are asked to give up your banking details. The businessman, or prince or heiress, or whoever, just wants to wire the money into your account for a while and in exchange, you’ll get a big cut. 

Only if you fall for it, the scammer will just drain your bank account for as much money as he can get. Or he’ll come up with various taxes or fees that you have to wire to him or a third party in order to get the money out of his country. He’ll do it more than once till you get tired of paying and give up. Your bank account won’t see a fortune even temporarily and the money you sent will be gone forever.

Your BBB recently received a report from a woman in the Waco/Temple/Killeen area who got such a text message. The text message was from someone claiming to be “an executive out of Hong Kong” who “wanted to do some transaction with me entailing 18 million dollars, and because I’m not in Hong Kong, he wanted to launder money to me.”

Fortunately, she recognized the red flags of a scam and refused to take the bait. Because they place via text messaging, also known as Short Message Service (SMS), these scams are known as “smishing” scams. Other versions include requests to verify your information from someone pretending to be with your bank or other financial institution

You can take the following steps to protect yourself against the this scam and its variations.

  • Don’t reply! If you receive a letter, email or text from someone in another country asking you to send personal or banking information, do not reply! BBB suggests you immediately delete or throw away any such correspondence.
  • If you did, alert the authorities. If you have already responded, or if you know someone who has been caught up in this scheme, contact the U.S. Secret Service as soon as possible (phone: 202.406.5572 or e-mail419.fcd@usss.treas.gov).
  • Don’t fall for ‘big money’ claims. Ignore anyone who claims to be a foreign government official, heir or businessperson asking for your help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
  • Don’t let strangers into your bank account. Beware of strangers who are eager to place unexpected, large amounts of money at your disposal, in exchange for your bank account number or other personal or financial info.
  • Beware of cashiers checks or money orders. These can look very “official” and still 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.
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Don’t let your social media account get phished!

ID-100260534Phishing is a common threat to everyone who uses the Internet.

Usually a phishing scam comes in the form of an email from some important institution like a bank with alarming information, like “your account is being closed” and a link that takes you to a fraudulent website that looks a lot like the real thing.

Enter your information and the scammers can get into your account and steal your money. 

Lately, phishing has also come to social media outlets like Facebook. If scammers manage to steal your social media account, they can cause all kinds of havoc with your friends and family. If friends and followers see a link in their feed from someone they think is you, they are more likely to click and get caught up in whatever scheme the bad guys have cooked up. 

According to StaySafeOnline.org, scammers may use these methods to compromise your cyber security on social networks:

  1. Phishing links. Clicking these may hand over your account to a hacker. It is more effective to use real hijacked accounts than to create fake online account. If a phishing link comes from a social network friend, you are more likely to click on the fake site rather than from an unknown person.
  2. Hijacked accounts. Cybercriminals sell hijacked accounts to other cybercriminals who use them to spread spam, phishing links or malware. Hijackers most often make money by selling stolen data.
  3. Malware. These are downloads or attachments that put viral content on your computer. Just like with phishing links, social network users more readily download and open files coming from their friends.
  4. Spam. Scammers may send spam to the victim’s contact list and publish spam on social media sites where it can be seen and clicked by other users.
  5. Fraud. Scammers will use phishing to commit fraud. They may use a hijacked account to extort money from online connections through email messages.

To avoid phishing scams, Your BBB suggests the following tips:

  • Never give out personal information. Don’t reply to an email that is asking you to reply with personal information such as passwords or Social Security numbers. Even if the email or link appears to be from a trusted source, this may be a phishing attack.
  • Beware of suspicious links. Do not click on any links from anyone that you are unfamiliar with. These files can contain viruses or other malware that can weaken your computer’s security. If you really want to check out a link sent to you or posted by a friend, research the company or individual first to confirm they are trustworthy at bbb.org.
  • Always verify a website’s security before sharing information. Whenever you are providing sensitive information such as credit cards or bank information, the address bar should shows “https” which indicates that the web page is secure.
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Be careful when you buy online! BBB offers advice for smart online shopping

ID-100104045Online shopping, from your computer or portable device, is pretty convenient. It’s a good way to avoid standing in line and fighting through crowds.  However, shopping with online retailers also carries certain risks.

Last year, Better Business Bureau received over 2,000 complaints against online retailers nationally. Complaints cover a wide range of issues–including products that didn’t match the description, delivery issues and problems receiving a refund.

While many online shopping sites are legitimate, there are crooked online retailers out there trying to scam shoppers. These con artists set up fake or fraudulent sites to get hold of personal information or steal your money. Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin reminds shoppers it’s important to research a business before making any purchase online.

When shopping online, BBB offers this advice:             

  • Check for basic information. If you’re interested in trying a new online merchant who you’re not familiar with, be sure and locate the company’s physical location (address and phone number). If this information is not listed on their website, contact them directly to find out the information first before purchasing anything.
  • Keep personal information safe.Check the URL link to make sure it starts with “https://” before entering financial information. The ‘s’ means it is a secure site. Check the privacy policy to see how the business is using the information they have requested. Never email any personal information such as credit card and banking numbers or social security numbers.
  • Read and compare. When buying a product, read the whole description including the fine print. It is important to understand the details of the product being purchased so there are no surprises when it’s delivered. Also, be wary if products listed are significantly lower than typical retail prices. This may be an indication of a fraudulent site.
  • Check the return policy. Read the return policy to see if the business allows a full refund if the customer is not happy with the product. Review the policy to see who pays for the cost of shipping and handling for the return.  
  • Choose the correct payment method. Always pay with a credit card when shopping online. A purchase with a credit card is protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). This allows customers to briefly hold payment while a problem is reviewed and resolved. This act also protects customers in the event that credit card information is stolen and used without their permission.
  • Document your purchase. Make sure to print the receipts and product information of any online purchases to prevent incorrect charges. Print all important documents, including shipping information, receipts, customer service information and the return policy. This will come in handy if you need to dispute any problems or product issues.

If you experience issues or believe you have been ripped off by an online retailer:

Posted in Top Tips

Scammers prey on Ebola fears with quack products

ID-100186144If you’ve been following the news lately, you’re probably at least a bit nervous about the deadly Ebola virus. It might be a “far away” tragedy at the moment, but what if it spreads to the U.S.? What if you or your loved ones catch it?

Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but many Americans are still afraid.

Anytime people are afraid, you can count on scammers to step in and take advantage.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Aug. 14 alert that offers for bogus Ebola drugs are turning up. Thought drugs are being tested to treat the disease, there is currently no FDA-approved Ebola drug on the market. Dietary supplements are forbidden by federal law from claiming to be able to prevent or cure disease.

BBB and FDA warns consumers to avoid purchasing fraudulent health products. Beware of the following red flags:

  • One product does it all. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases. No one product could be effective against a long, varied list of conditions or diseases.
  • Personal testimonials. Success stories are easy to make up and are not a substitute for scientific evidence.
  • Quick fixes. Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, even with legitimate products.
  • “All natural.” Some plants found in nature (such as poisonous mushrooms) can kill when consumed. Numerous “all natural” products contain hidden, untested, or dangerous ingredients.
  • “Miracle cure.” If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the news media and prescribed by health professionals—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.
  • Conspiracy theories. These statements are used to distract consumers from the obvious, common-sense questions about the so-called miracle cure.

See more at: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2014/08/quack-products-prey-on-ebola-fears/#sthash.SGAptZNz.dpuf

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Texas AG shuts down Houston-area diploma mill

ID-100128578Getting an education is pretty important for career advancement. Unfortunately, some “institutions” that appear to be affordable alternatives actually just take your money in exchange for diplomas that aren’t worth the paper they were printed on.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has permanently shut down Houston-based Lincoln Academy, which it says falsely claimed to be an accredited educational institution. (You can read the final judgment and permanent injunction here.)

The final judgment requires the defendants to cease advertising; shut down the Lincoln Academy website, social media page and affiliated websites; decline to accept new students and wind down all operations.

The judgment also requires the defendants to provide more than $1.4 million in compensation to customers it deceived. Consumers with questions or who wish to file a complaint against Lincoln Academy may call (800) 252-8011 (for callers within Texas) or (512) 463-2100 (for callers outside Texas). Complaint forms are also available online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

Defendants in the judgment include:

  • Lincoln Academy
  • National Home School Accreditation of America
  • High School Diploma Online
  • Charles J. Lubbat
  • David C. Lubbat
  • Catherine Lubbat
  • Nancy Lubbat
  • Constandi Lubbat
  • Momentive Group, LLC
  • Nyloc Enterprises, LLC d/b/a National Home School Accreditation of America
  • Rylex, LLC d/b/a Brownstone Academy
  • The David Lubbat Special Trust
  • The Charles Lubbat Special Trust

Thinking about advancing your education? Your BBB warns you to make sure you don’t waste time and money on an institution that isn’t legitimate. Here are some tell-tale signs of a diploma mill:

  • No Studies, No Exams — Get a Degree for Your Experience. Diploma mills grant degrees for “work or life experience” alone. Accredited colleges may give a few credits for specific experience pertinent to a degree program, but not an entire degree.
  • No Attendance. Legitimate colleges or universities, including online schools, require substantial course work.
  • Flat Fee. Many diploma mills charge on a per-degree basis. Legitimate colleges charge by the credit, course, or semester, not a flat fee for an entire degree.
  • No Waiting. Operations that guarantee a degree in a few days, weeks, or even months aren’t legitimate. If an ad promises that you can earn a degree very quickly, it’s probably a diploma mill.
  • Click Here To Order Now! Some diploma mills push themselves through aggressive sales tactics. Accredited colleges don’t use spam or high-pressure telemarketing to market themselves. Some diploma mills also advertise in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web.
  • Advertising through spam or pop-ups. If the school caught your attention through an unsolicited email or pop-up ad, it may be a diploma mill. Legitimate institutions, including distance learning programs, won’t advertise through spam or pop-ups.
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