Sunday, February 14, 2010

Consumer scams (Jess)

A Saturday panic began with an e-mail from Helen Davidson -- -- telling me that my "Order id: 45030199841" was "Accepted." And there was a link for "Info" and a "Thank you Amazon support."

Order? What order was accepted?

I hadn't ordered anything on Amazon since doing my Christmas shopping. I immediately go to Amazon and am just about to log into my account when I realize that the e-mail was sent to a permanent account and, with Amazon, I use my Yahoo account I've had since high school.

I go back to the e-mail and put the curser over "Info" to see where the link leads to. Some website that's address is gibberish (I don't click on links unless I know where they're taking me).

And I'm lucky on that. A lot of people getting the e-mail from Helen Davidson might not have attempted to pull up Amazon to see what order was made, they might have just used the link. And the page pulled up may or may not have appeared to be legit and who knows what would have happened after that?

I'm a laid back person. Jim, by contrast, is less so and told me he would have immediately clicked on the link. So the scammers don't just prey on the people who don't know better, they also prey on the quick to respond. Which had me thinking of a text message I've repeatedly ignored.

I'm told that a bank -- one I have no account with -- has stopped my credit card and I need to call 1-514-994-5964. I just ignored it because I didn't know the sender, didn't know the bank and didn't have the time.

But Jim and Dona both said that if they'd received a text like that, they would have called the number, thinking it legitimate, and wondering what was up with their credit card?

"You would have immediately called?" I asked to confirm I was understanding and they repeated that, yes, they would have immediately called.

If you Google the phone number 514-994-5964, you will quickly see the scam has targeted people all over the US and in Canada as well.

I think we're all used to some scams. I could be wrong. But as a Yahoo user of many years, I know what I assume most of us know, Yahoo never e-mails you asking you for your password or other information. So when I get those "Urgent!" e-mails telling me I have to provide that information or my account will be shut down within 48 hours, I just hit the "Spam" button and move on.

You may notice, on those e-mails, that they really aren't from Yahoo, that it's not a company address. And you may pick up other details. But texting, especially when it supposedly comes from your carrier, can seem so much more personal -- "Hey, look, it's right there in my hand! I'm holding the message!"

The Helen Davidson e-mail I would've immediately ignored did it not have that "" e-mail address. Mistakenly on my part, I gave the e-mail weight just due to the address.

As bad as the above scams are, imagine that you're in dire need of a job and you get scammed regarding employment. Not only does it happen, it's becoming such a problem that the Federal Trade Commission intends to address it next week. Friday, the FTC issued the following statement:

FTC Targets Scammers Pushing Phony Jobs, Bogus Money-Making Schemes

In conjunction with state law enforcement officials and other federal agencies, the Federal Trade Commission will hold a press conference on Wednesday, February 17, 2010, at 11 a.m. to announce a law enforcement sweep cracking down on job and work-at-home fraud fueled by the economic downturn.

WHO: David C. Vladeck, Director, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection

Tony West, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray

A job seeker who lost money to a scam

Also attending will be representatives of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and Microsoft

WHEN: Wednesday, February 17, 2010, 11 a.m. EST

Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Room 432
Washington, DC

Call-in Information: A toll-free phone number (in the U.S. and Canada) will be available for media only, beginning at 10:45 a.m. EST. Detailed instructions will be posted on the FTC’s Web site beforehand.

VIDEO: A new FTC consumer education video, available in English and Spanish, tells anyone looking for work how to steer clear of a job scam. Still shots from the Web sites of some of the operators charged in this law enforcement sweep, as well as video footage of Consumer Protection Director Vladeck, and Monica Vaca, an Assistant Director in the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices, also will be available. They can be downloaded at when the press conference begins.

PRESS CONTACT: FTC Office of Public Affairs

If the above seems familiar, this is the press conference that was supposed to take place February 9th. Due to the bad weather that hit DC, the conference was rescheduled.

Does the FTC ever get results? A good question. It's a government agency, it's supposed to be working for the public. This month they will be distributing $1.6 million to 24,916 people who were scammed by Check Investors, Inc, Check Enforcement, Inc. and Jaredco, Inc who billed themselves as National Check Control and whom the FTC began seeking a judgment against beginning in 2003 for "harassing and abusing consumers, falsely threatening criminal prosecution, illegally communicating with third parties, collecting amounts that were not due, and other violations of federal laws."

david vladeck

What may be most interesting is just how many scams there are. For example, David Vladeck (pictured above), the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, gave a speech in October at the National Advertising Division Annual Conference and spoke of common sense plans such as increasing children's advertising literacy but he also detailed a variety of new scams. Here is one that caught my attention and that I was completely unaware of until reading over the speech:

In addition, the Commission has brought two federal court actions against marketers of "miracle" devices advertised to dramatically increase gas milage in ordinary cars. Earlier this year, we filed a case alleging that Dutchman Enterprises falsely advertised in major magazines that its Hydro-Assist Fuel Cell could boost automobile gas mileage by at least 50% and "turn any vehicle into a hybrid." In the second matter, the defendant was charged with falsely advertising that its NanoDetonator would allow ordinary passenger cars to harness the power of nuclear fusion, thereby eliminating the need for gasoline. In both cases, the Commission charged that the claims for the devices violate basic scientific principles. Through litigation, the Commission is seeking to halt unsubstantiated gas savings claims and reimburse consumers who have purchased the devices.

PDF format warning, click here for the speech in full. To file a complaint with the FTC, click here. And to find out if you and your romantic partner are fiscally compatible (PDF format warning) click here for a seven question quiz.
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