Invasion of Privacy? FTC claims mobile advertising company tracked users without consent

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When you set your privacy setting to not allow an app to know your location, you expect that privacy to be honored. But what if it isn’t?

According to the FTC, a mobile advertising company took an extra in trying to lure consumers. How? By secretly tracking people through their devices, regardless of their privacy settings.

The FTC says InMobi tracked people using information from the Wi-Fi networks connected to or near their devices. The idea was to send consumers location-based advertising — ads that display on a mobile app when the user’s location suggests they’re likely to buy, such as when they’re inside an advertiser’s store.

The company gave app developers software to display the ads in their apps. However, they allegedly did not clearly tell the developers the software would track location even if someone didn’t want to be tracked and had set a device to deny access to its location information.

So, if you had set your privacy setting for the app to never know your location, it wouldn’t have mattered.

InMobi’s network reaches more than a than a billion devices worldwide through thousands of popular apps, including children’s apps.

The case is the first time the Federal Trade Commission charged a mobile ad company with deception and with violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

In it settlement with the FTC, InMobi will pay a $4 million civil penalty, which is suspended to $950,000 based on the company’s financial condition. In addition, the company will be required to delete all information it collected without permission.

 

 

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FTC & Florida sue alleged phony debt relief company

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The state of Florida and Federal Trade Commission have teamed up in a lawsuit against an alleged phony debt relief company that robocalled consumers.

According to the FTC, Life Management Services tricked people out of their money by offering two types of  bogus debt relief services, credit card interest rate reduction services and credit card debt elimination services. The business promised lower interest rates or government funds to pay off debt, and asked people to make initial payments  from $500 to $20,000.

However,  almost no one got the help that was promised.

In reality, the company sometimes made a basic attempt to contact the consumer’s credit card company. But consumers report that  were almost never able to obtain the promised rates or savings, the agencies said. As far the government funds, no such thing existed. The federal agency said consumers who paid  the up-front fee wound up deeper in debt with damaged credit scores and higher interest rates and late fees.

The complaint from the FTC said the scheme defrauded consumers out of more than $15.6 million since at least January 2013.

“Working jointly with the FTC, our actions to stop these schemes and hold the scammers responsible will not only keep Floridians from falling victim to these scams, but also protect consumers nationwide.” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

A federal district court in Orlando has temporarily stopped the operation from making illegal robocalls and selling its services pending an upcoming hearing.

 

 

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ADT: Free security system promotion is not them

Has someone recently come to your home and tried to sign you up for a free security system? You may not be alone.

BBB has recently heard of reports in San Antonio and Austin about door-to-door salespeople and robocalls that have offered a free security system if the consumer signs up for security monitoring with ADT.

However, ADT has told BBB that they are currently unaware of any promotion from them or authorized third-party dealers offering a free system in exchange for signing up for monitoring.

Summer is a common time for scammers to pose as home security sales representatives since homeowners are more likely to be there to answer during the day.

So what’s the danger? You could end up giving away your personal and financial information to a stranger. Even worse, the scammer could also be a potential burglar who is scoping your house.

Here are some other tips you want to be aware of:

  • Know who you are buying from. Before you open your door or let anyone into your home, ask to see a photo ID, business card and some proof of the business they’re representing. Also, ask for a physical address and for local references.
  • Don’t give out information. If someone knocks on your door or calls you out of the blue, don’t give them any personal or financial information. If you want to take advantage of a promotion, contact the business directly.
  • Do your research. Look up the business online and get references from your friends, family, neighbors or from the company’s current clients. For a business you can trust, check out BBB’s Accredited Business directory at checkbbb.org.
  • Resist pressure to “buy now.” One sign of a security system scam is a sales representative that may pressure their way into your home and then refuse to leave. Don’t be pressured to take advantage of a time-sensitive offer, like “once in a lifetime” or “today only.” Take time to decide and ask for a sales representative’s business card to get more information at a later time.
  • Get written estimates. Ask plenty of questions, and find out who will perform the installation and monitor the system. Remember, don’t let anyone who hasn’t made an appointment into your home. If an estimation or installation needs to be done, call the business directly to make an appointment.

 

 

 

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Five suspects arrested for involvement in IRS scam

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TIGTA announced the arrest of five suspects for their involvement in an IRS scam that has collected an estimated $2 million from more than 1,500 victims.

Federal officials are accusing the five of making multiple calls while impersonating IRS agents or Treasury officials, telling victims they owed tax debts, and threatening arrests if payments weren’t sent immediately.

Victims were told to pay their tax debts through wire payments via MoneyGram, Walmart2Walmart and other money wiring services.

“These arrests indicate that TIGTA is making significant progress in our investigation of the IRS impersonation scam that continues to sweep the country, resulting in reported taxpayer losses of more than $36 million,” Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George said.

TIGTA officials said two of the individuals were arrested because  of information provided by a fraud investigator with the Aging Committee’s Hotline. The investigator followed up on an incident report filed by a victim in October 2015. The caller reported that her husband drove to a local Walmart store to wire $2,000 that the IRS agent demanded after threatening to arrest him.

The  victim crashed his car while en route, but was so worried that he left the accident scene to wire the money, said Sen. U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

The wire transfer was eventually traced to Minnesota and reported to TIGTA. TIGTA then sent agents to Minnesota, who pulled surveillance tapes and identified two suspects, which  led them to the three additional suspects.

“No legitimate United States Treasury or IRS official will demand that anyone make payments via MoneyGram, Western Union, Walmart–2–Walmart, or any other money wiring method, for any debt to the IRS or the Department of the Treasury,” George said.

The office identified the five suspects as Jennifer Valerino Nunez, Dennis Delgado Caballero, Arnoldo Perez Mirabal, Yaritza Espinosa Diaz, and Roberto Fontanella Caballero.

According to the TIGTA, the IRS impersonation scam has resulted in more than $36 million in taxpayer losses, averaging more than $5,700 in losses per taxpayer.

Here’s some tips to ensure you don’t fall for this common scam:

 

  1. Be wary if you are being asked to act immediately. Scammers typically try to push you into action before you have had time to think. The IRS will give you the chance to question or appeal what you owe.
  2. The IRS doesn’t call, text or email. The IRS won’t call about payment or overdue taxes without first contacting you by mail.
  3. Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card. Scammers often pressure people into wiring money or using a prepaid debit card. It’s like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t trace it. The IRS says it will never demand immediate payment, require a specific form of payment, or ask for credit card or debt card numbers over the phone.
  4. Contact the IRS directly. If you owe taxes or you think you might call 800.829.1040 or go to irs.gov. IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue, if there is an issue.
  5. If you know you don’t owe taxes. Report the incident to the Department of the Treasury at 800-366-4484 or tigta.gov.

 

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IRS impostors tricking students into paying for fake tax

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Have you heard of the “federal student tax”? Neither have we. But don’t worry because if you have, this may mean a scammer has tried to trick you into paying for a tax that doesn’t exist.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, impostors posing as IRS agents are telling students from various colleges they owe a so called “federal student tax”. To make the scam sound legitimate, scammers tell students personal information about themselves – including what school they attend.

The scammer demands the student to wire the money through a MoneyGram or another untraceable method. If you don’t do it immediately, the impostor will threaten to report you to the police. If you hang up, they might make follow-up calls with spoofed caller-ID information. The caller ID might say it’s 911 or the U.S. Government calling, but it’s not.

Remember, the IRS will never call you to ask for money. They will first send you a letter. If you get one of these calls, be sure to not give out any personal information and hang up.

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Tech support scam pops up in the Permian Basin

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BBB and the Midland Police Department are warning residents of a tech support scam that tricks you into allowing  remote access of your computer.

Here’s what’s happening.

Residents are receiving phone calls from an alleged Dell technician with a foreign accent who claims there is a problem with their computer. The scammer then requests remote access to fix it. However, in order to repair the computer immediately, the resident has to send money, usually by wire transfer.

But the computer won’t end up being fixed. Instead, the scammer installs malware on the computer, steals personal information or takes the money.

 

Your BBB and the Midland Police Department offers the following advice to avoid a tech support scam:

  • Do your research. Go online and research the person or business who is calling you. In some cases, scammers use technology – known as “spoofing” – to make it appear on Caller ID like the call originated from a real tech support company. If you’re questioning the legitimacy of the call, contact the business directly.
  • Watch out for red flags. These may include enrolling you in a maintenance or warranty program, asking for credit card information to bill you for their services, tricking you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data or directing you to websites in order to obtain your credit card number and other personal information.
  • Be cautious when giving control of your computer to a third party. Allowing a business to take remote control of your computer can open you up to fraud or various malware. Be sure to ask questions and don’t feel pressured into allowing a third party access to your computer. Also, never give control of your computer to someone who calls you out of the blue claiming to be from tech support.
  • Protect your personal information. Never provide your credit card, financial information or passwords to someone who calls claiming to be from tech suppor

To report this type of scam to BBB, click here.

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BBB Investigation: Consumer’s discounted vacation turns into expensive trip

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It was a deal too good to pass up for Betty Adams and her husband. To stay at a resort for five days in Cancun, all Adams would have to do is pay $496.99, book her own flight and attend a timeshare presentation. ClubBookIt, the company that allegedly made her reservation, would do the rest and even told Adams they would supply a taxi from the airport to the resort.

“They were so jolly on the phone,” Adams said.

But a fun trip to Mexico turned into what Adams called a frustrating series of events.

The taxi that was supposed to take Adams and her husband from the airport to the resort was never there. Instead, Adams paid for it.

After arriving at the hotel Adams tried to check-in, but the staff told Adams there was no record of a reservation with her or her husband’s name.

“They had never heard of us,” Adams said. “They had told us all these things like we would be met at the airport and there was nobody there.”

With no reservation in place for their trip, Adams said she paid for a one night stay. It was the second time that day she was forced to pay out of pocket for an expense she believed had been already taken care of. Not wanting to pay more money, Adams booked a return flight for the next day and took another cab back to the airport.

When she returned home, she called ClubBookIt to get some answers and a refund. Adams said she received neither.

“They told us we didn’t have a reservation because we didn’t give them our employment information, but we’re retired,” Adams said. “They then said we never gave them definite dates, but they emailed us a document with a supposed reservation.”

“They said there would be no refund and that it wasn’t their fault. The man on the phone was really nasty and aggressive,” Adams said.

In total, Adams claims to have lost close to $2,000.

BBB received complaints similar to Adams.

One complainant alleges they contacted the business, after paying upfront to book a resort reservations through ClubBookIt.com, and found out a reservation was allegedly never placed just prior to their planned trip. Some complainants also allege there was no record of a reservation after arriving to their booked resort. Complainants further allege they have difficulty reaching the business or receiving a callback regarding requested refunds for non-booked resort reservations.

BBB has contacted the business through email to discuss their complaints, but has yet to receive a response. Additionally, the business would not answer questions after BBB contacted it through the phone number listed on its website.

The company’s number was also listed on mystictravel.us and iigetaways.com, two different travel websites that have a domain registrant name of Thomas Cunningham and are allegedly located in Williamsville, New York. These two websites and ClubBookIt.com all share the same registrant email address.

The mailing address found for ClubBookIt.com was in Waco, but did not belong to the business. BBB confirmed the address listed on their website registration belongs to an unrelated business in Waco and have yet to receive a definite physical address.

If you are looking to travel to a resort or hotel, Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas, and the Permian Basin advises you to keep these tips in mind:

  • Be alert for travel scams. Unsolicited mail, emails, websites and calls offering deeply discounted travel packages could leave you out of a vacation and money. Watch out for scams saying that you have “won a trip.” If you have really won a free vacation, a legitimate company won’t ask you to pay any upfront or processing fees.
  • Get all vacation details in writing. Get all the details of your vacation in writing, including travel itineraries and booking confirmations before you leave. Get a copy of the company’s cancellation and refund policies. Be sure to verify your reservation with the hotel or resort directly. Ask the travel company to send contact information for any additional services like taxis or car rental agencies
  • Consider travel insurance. Travel insurance is designed to cover such things as trip cancellations or medical emergencies. The U.S. Travel Insurance Association maintains a list of licensed travel insurance companies. Certain travel companies have different policies and levels of coverage based on whether you purchase the car rental, flight or hotel. Ask questions, and always read the fine print to see what’s covered.
  • Pay with a credit card. A credit card gives you additional protection if something goes wrong with the travel reservation.
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National Small Business Week: What you shouldn’t do in advertising

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Advertising is a very powerful medium, and the more truthful it is, the better it is for both consumers and businesses.

Consumers are exposed to as many as 3,000-5,000 advertising messages DAILY through TV, radio, the internet, billboards, magazines, mobile phones, text messages, newspapers, etc.

You never want to hook a potential customer by lying to them about your business or product. Why? Consumers want to feel they can trust a company and will more likely visit your business again if you are up front. With that being said, here’s a look at what you shouldn’t do when advertising your business:

  • Using the word “sale” correctly. The word “sale” may be used in advertising only if there a big reduction from the advertiser’s usual and customary price of the merchandise offered and the sale is for a limited period of time. If the sale is more than thirty days, you should be prepared to substantiate that the offering is indeed a valid reduction and has not become their regular price. 

    Time limit sales should be critically observered. For example, merchandise offered in a “one-day sale,” “three-day sale,” “this week only,” sale should be taken off “sale” and be put back to the regular price immediately following expiration of the stated time.

  • What is actually free?. Use the word “free” when you are offering an unconditional gift. However, if to receive this “free”product or service you must first purchase another item, then you may have other things to consider. This includes clearly disclosing that the free item comes with the purchase of another item and not increasing the normal price of a product or service to be purchased nor reduced its quantity or quality.
  • How to use fine print or an asterisk. An asterisk may be used to impart additional information about a word or term which is not in itself inherently deceptive. The asterisk or other reference symbol should not be used as a means of contradicting or substantially changing the meaning of any advertising statement. Information referenced by asterisks should be clearly and prominently disclosed.
  • Defining what bait and switch is. A “Bait” offer is an alluring but insincere offer to sell a product or service which the advertiser does not intend to sell. The purpose is to switch consumers from buying the advertised merchandise or service, in order to sell something else, usually at a higher price or on a basis more advantageous to the advertiser. An advertisement shouldn’t be published unless it is a bona fide offer to sell the advertised merchandise or service.

 

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National Small Business Week: Common scams you should be aware of

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It’s the scams that come up time and time again against businesses. However unlikely you feel to be tricked by them, it’s a good tip to know that these scams are out there and can make you think twice. With National Small Business Week already rolling, here’s a list of some scams small businesses should look out for:

Business Directory Scams – One of the older scams, business listings attract small business owners due to the fact they want to get their name out. Especially if it means attracting the attention of new customers. Scammers prey on a business owners looking to get more visibility and will sell bogus business listings for print or online. If you’re look to market yourself better, talk directly to the directory listing company and don’t fall for a caller’s sales pitch.

Fake Yellow Pages Scam – If you receive an invoice for a renewal of a Yellow Pages advertisement in your directory, don’t fall for it. These solicitations disguised as invoices are mailed to businesses by copycat publishers. Many copycat publishers use the familiar “let your fingers do the walking” logo and the term “yellow pages”. In some occasions, a company will receive an email from a fake Yellow Pages company that tries to get businesses to think they are advertising with the real Yellow Pages. The email will have a link in the email to make you think they’re going to end your “real” Yellow Pages advertising. The email threatens to deactivate your business listing from the Yellow Pages. The email then asks you to confirm your business listing is accurate. company that allegedly tries to get businesses to think they are advertising with the real Yellow Pages. Be sure to be on the look-out for disguised solicitations and to carefully check suspicious bills from companies with which they don’t normally do business.

Fundraising Fraud – Most solicitations for police and fire service organizations are made by paid professional fundraisers.To show your support, you may consider making a donation when a fundraiser calls from a fire or police service organization.  Before you write the check, consider that simply because an organization claims it has local ties or works with local police or firefighters doesn’t mean contributions will be used locally or for public safety.

Website Scams – Some companies, claim to provide free Web design and hosting services, which result in billing small businesses for services that were never authorized.  The charges usually appear on businesses’ phone bills ‑ an illegal practice known as “cramming” ‑ or  fraudulent invoices. Here’s an example, you get a call from a company offering you a free, 30‑day Web site. Some service providers state that you’ll be billed automatically after the 30‑day period; others claim you won’t be billed after the 30 days unless you tell them you want to continue the service. Regardless of your actions, the service providers bill you.  The sites that do go up have little value because most are not listed with major search engines. If customers can’t find your site, it’s worthless to your bottom line.

Vanity Award Scams – These type of scams are relatively new and target smaller towns. The scam will say “Best of” and claim you are a winner. Most legitimate “Best Of” awards involve months of build up and are associated with a local organization like a magazine or a chamber of commerce. The voting is usually a big process with social media buildup. You’ll never be contacted out of the blue telling you that you won. It takes effort to win those awards.Scammers are generally located nowhere near the town you’re in. Look for out of state contact information. Be suspicious if there is no website listing all the winners.

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Federal judge finds Amazon liable after charging parents for in-app purchases made by their children

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A federal judge has found Amazon unfairly billed parents for in-app purchases made by their children in a lawsuit first filed by the Federal Trade Commission back in July of 2014.

According to the FTC, the judge found that Amazon received many complaints from consumers about unknown in-app purchases made by the children. The original complaint filed by the government agency stated that Amazon had violated the FTC Act by billing parents and other Amazon account holders for charges made by their children without the consent of the parent or other account holder. Amazon’s setup allowed children playing these kids’ games to spend an unlimited amounts of money to pay for virtual items within the apps such as “coins,” “stars,” and “acorns” without parental involvement.

The complaint further alleged that there was no password requirement for any in-app purchases, including kid’s games, when Amazon first introduced the practice to the Amazon Appstore in November 2011. It was not until June 2014 that Amazon required password for all in-app game purchases.

The complaint included one mother’s account of her daughter racking up $358.42 in unauthorized charges.The games would also often encourage children to buy certain virtual items, causing confusion on which purchases used real and virtual currency.

“We are pleased the federal judge found Amazon liable for unfairly billing consumers for unauthorized in-app purchases by children,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “We look forward to making a case for full refunds to consumers as a result of Amazon’s actions.”

The full refund amount for consumers has not yet been settled. The FTC also reached settlement with Apple & Google for unauthorized in-app, resulting in refunds to consumers for over $50 million.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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