A Consumer Action News Alert • June 2020
SCAM GRAM is Consumer Action's monthly e-newsletter alerting you to the dirtiest players in the world of tech fraud, credit card scams, ID theft and general con-artistry. Don't be fooled by liars, cheats and crooks; wise up with SCAM GRAM!
  Today is opposite day  
  We're accustomed to warning our readers about harmful scams, not cautioning that something that appears to be a scam is, in fact, not, and that you could actually be harmed if you treat it as if it were. What is this "something"? None other than your economic stimulus payment! Nearly 4 million Americans were recently mailed theirs via prepaid debit card--Americans who hadn't yet received the funds by check or direct deposit (through the IRS) into their bank accounts. Unfortunately, many have already tossed the cards--which can carry upwards of $3,000--straight into the trash. Why? Just take a look at 'em! As Gizmodo points out, the envelopes they come in are "marked only with the sinister-sounding 'Money Network Cardholder Services,'" while the card itself appears to be some sort of "pre-approved" VISA sample credit card. It doesn't help that most people have, understandably, been expecting paper checks (particularly since officials have referenced "checks" more than a few times, and sent them to many folks, including some who are deceased). One Texas woman illustrates how the confusion is playing out, reporting that she became "increasingly concerned" that she was facing an attempt at identity theft, since the mailings contain instructions to call a number--a number that prompted her for her personal info in order to "activate" the card. She dialed the digits "half a dozen times" before she could get through, around which time she called the FBI to report the mystery card. The Bureau, it appears, was unfamiliar with the card as well. Finally, the confused cardholder threw caution to the wind--a decision that rarely pays off in these sorts of cases--activated the card, and exclaimed to her husband: "Let's go buy dinner with it. Let's see if this works!" It did! But really, should the process be this distressing? The IRS takes some of the blame: It waited until after many people had received the cards to put info on its site confirming that the cards were, in fact, real. For more on the cards, including what to do if you've already tossed yours, shredded it, etc.--or if you suspect identity thieves are using it--click here. The one thing you can be sure of? Nobody but a scammer will be reaching out to you about the card--requesting the card number, asking for a fee to activate it, or any other such nonsense: If someone does, do not respond.  
  Not-so-standardized tests  
  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has earned an "F" for what some in Congress are calling a coronavirus antibody testing "free-for-all." In a nutshell, the federal agency admitted it had allowed 90+ tests--some "of dubious quality"--onto the market without prior review after the pandemic had begun in an effort to be responsive to the emergency situation. Just how dubious has the resulting test quality been? Reuters gave some examples, reporting that "an electronics salesman was hawking an unauthorized home test kit and a former physician convicted in a fraudulent gold-peddling scheme had also begun selling test kits." In theory, these types of (legitimate) blood tests would indicate if someone had caught the virus, developed the antibodies, and therefore either recovered from it, or was walking around like a carrier monkey. In practice, eh...not so much. The tests are known for such a high false positive rate that former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb declared he wouldn't trust 'em unless he took 'em at least three times in a row! Also casting some serious side eye is Rep. Lloyd Doggett, who's been a big critic of the whole FDA fiasco. The Texas Dem fired off a zinger in response to the agency's big reveal that it may have messed up, stating: "It seems to have come as a surprise to the FDA that if it does not do its job, fraud arises." Congressman Doggett is calling on the agency to pay consumers back and shut down any fraudulent test providers, like, yesterday. Unfortunately, Doggett pointed out, despite its admission, "The FDA has not outlined what oversight actions it will take to remove fraudulent tests and recoup payments made by abused consumers." Are you worried that the antibodies (formally called "serology") test you took was total junk? The FDA has detailed updates on the testing trauma, including lists of tests that have been pulled from the market. Still feeling test-y? You can click here to view the 15 (as of this writing) tests that the FDA has officially authorized. If possible, however, we recommend working with your doctor (televisit them!) to coordinate a test. And keep in mind: Even if you do turn up positive for the antibodies, scientists don't know if that means that you're immune to the virus. (And, it's no excuse to stop social distancing!)  
  Going "no contact"  
  There's been a huge effort by state health departments to ramp up hiring of coronavirus contact tracers as the economy re-opens. Contact tracers are the people who call you if they suspect you've been exposed to COVID-19. What they ask about typically includes your health, symptoms, who you've been in contact with lately (hence, their job title), if you've been to work, your travel history, and your housing situation/who you live with. They may even ask for basic personal information, like your full name and date of birth. What they won't ask you about includes your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, or your ability to pay anything (so basically, the type of super personal information that can be used to commit identity theft or siphon money out of your accounts). It's important to know this, because scammers are already doing a pretty good job of posing as contact tracers, and contact tracing isn't going away anytime soon--if anything, it will be ramping up in the near future. Another thing to know? Real contact tracers aren't allowed to mention the name of the person who you've been exposed to who has tested positive. If someone does this, it's a clear indicator that they're a criminal! If you're interested in keeping track of where the outbreaks are occurring, make sure any mobile "contact tracing" app you download is legitimate. One way to know it's not: if you receive a random text prompting you to "download" such an app. Don't do it! Get the official tracing app from the official health organization or government agency promoting it, off of an official App Store/Google Play platform! And yes, scammers are contacting people via text. The Federal Trade Commission offers this example of a message used by scammers: "Someone who came in contact with you tested positive or has shown symptoms for COVID-19 & recommends you self-isolate/get tested." Scammers are counting on your temperature rising when you read this, so, whatever you do, stay cool--and remain "no contact."  
  Performative hacktivism  
BLM QR codes. Black Lives Matter is a movement that, fortunately, thousands have gotten on board with. Unfortunately, that includes hucksters who are hacking into people's phones via fake QR (quick response) codes (bar codes you can scan with a mobile phone app) printed on "coupons" ostensibly created in honor of supporters. Recent coupons have included "deals" for stores like Starbucks and KFC (thus far), and we're sure to see many more in the future. Victims who scan these fake QR codes are often directed to malicious copycat websites with realistic-looking widgets asking them to input their personal or financial information, or prompting them to log in (particularly if they hold an account with the company already) in order to steal their passwords. The codes can also download malware, gain access to victims' bank and other accounts through their mobile apps, and more skullduggery. The FBI says they've seen a recent surge in banking app fraud, as more consumers avoid making deposits at brick-and-mortar banks due to the pandemic, or pay for essentials like groceries through payment services synced to their phones. Beware random QR codes; if you're looking to score a deal, visit the retailer's website or social media account directly or sign up for their emails.

George Floyd cryptocurrency?! Rumors are swirling that criminals have created a new type of cryptocurrency in "honor" of the deceased George Floyd. As the IB Times points out, however, "The [George Floyd Token] project raises red flags, including the lack of a whitepaper, a road map, and the names of its team members." The website also lacks a privacy policy or any info on the terms and conditions of its financial "product." It's understandable that people who feel they've been left behind by this country's institutions may want a new way to buy, sell and invest outside of the mainstream. This one, however, is highly dubious, and most likely a fake of the "exit scam" variety, where criminals get loads of people to invest in some new fantasy money through an "initial coin offering"--which they claim will be worth a lot more soon--before pulling the worthless "currency" off the market and taking the investors' real dollars with them. 
Do not pass go; do not collect $200. If you're a BLM supporter and you're not attending the protests, you're likely looking for ways to support the protestors. Scammers know that the money is flowing (an official Floyd GoFundMe page raised six times more than its stated fundraising goal of $1.5 million). Scammers also know that during times of high emotion, people are more likely to throw their money at an issue with few questions asked. This is why they're creating bogus crowdsourcing, "bail fund" and Venmo accounts to raise money in a (fake) effort to help victims of police violence get protestors (many of whom are no-to-low-income) out of jail, and otherwise support the cause. Learn more in this TIME article, where the National Bail Fund Network speaks to the problem of determining if an account--particularly one that uses the name of a real non-profit working on racial or criminal justice issues--is legit or not.
The RAT is the G.O.A.T. Did you know that the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) Recovery Asset Team (or RAT), which was established in 2018, could help you get your money back if you've started a (large) online domestic money transfer to a scammer? That's right, the suits may be able to recoup your almost-losses, but only if you're conscious of the clock. Time is of the essence when the RAT's on a scammer's tail, since the team works by coordinating with your bank to effectively freeze the funds you sent before they hit the criminal's account. Examples of the types of fraud the RAT has beat back include: mortgage closing cost transfers (which typically occur when a scammer emails posing as your realtor, lender, etc.); (s)extortion attempts (when you're willing to pay to stop those risqué pics from going public); romance scams (when you send money to sexy strangers "in need"); corporate digital invoice payments (yawn); money mule manipulations; and more. The RAT has a recovery rate of 79% (they helped save victims $300 million in 2019 alone!), so if you're worried that you just made some bad money moves, get on it: Contact IC3 right away! 
Rotten roofers. If a "home repair" rep just so happens to swing by your house to "inspect" your roof "for free," you're under no obligation to allow them to shimmy up your drainpipe! As the weather warms up, con artists are coming out of the woodwork, convincing people with perfectly good roofs that they've gone bad. Once the homeowners allow them up on the roof, the scammers might go all Tasmanian Devil on the shingles, carrying the resulting debris down to show the owner how the roof has been roughed up "by the wind." Or they might act like they just snapped a pic of the roof on their cell, but in reality, they're pulling up a shot of some random shoddy roof because, well, how are you supposed to know what your roof looks like? (Most of us aren't that familiar with our roofs--if you're not most of us, how's the weather up there?) Need a roofer for real? You can look up home repair and roofing companies on the Better Business Bureau site, but you're probably better off contacting your homeowners insurance company to see what your options are, reaching out to a company that's vetted on a respected consumer review site, or asking friends and neighbors for solid recommendations, rather than just going with whoever happens to ring your doorbell.  

Women and children first. State officials across the U.S. have been distributing alerts to the media warning recipients of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food benefits that scammers are calling and claiming to be with the government. This begs the question, "How low can they go?" Knowing that vulnerable mothers are already anxious about their finances and perhaps about the ongoing ability of government programs to provide them with assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudsters are threatening to kick the WIC participants out of the program or reduce the benefits they're eligible for if they don't give up their personal or financial info. If you get a call and have a question about your benefits, contact WIC directly here.