A Consumer Action News Alert • June 2022
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The new graduates in your life might be vulnerable to a new scam targeting job hunters. The Better Business Bureau warns against responding to anyone who contacts you about a job via email, text or social media. (You may have posted your resume online or posted publicly about looking for a new job. Or they might target you for no reason you can discern.) These so-called employers say they want to interview you, but first you need to download a messaging app (Telegram is a favorite) that they will use to "interview" you by text message. (Anything smell fishy here?) No matter what you say in reply to their questions (which, by the way, seem canned), they offer you a job and send along an official-looking form requiring your name, address, date of birth and bank account info, claiming they need it to direct deposit your pay. (Recognize the recipe for ID theft, anyone?) As the infomercial dudes say, "Wait, there's more!" They send you a check to buy supplies, then tell you that you were overpaid and to please send back the overage from your own account after you deposit the check. (P-yew, we smell a "fake check" scam!)


Sketchy job offers aren't the only thing recent grads (and other students) have to watch out for. The Pennsylvania attorney general's office has a terrifying rundown that includes: the student financial service scam (a great interest rate awaits you); the unpaid tuition scam (pay immediately or we withhold your degree); and the roommate/rental scam (have we got a place for you--too bad someone else lives there). To avoid scams, students should learn their "ABCs": awareness of how frauds and scams typically present themselves; beware those who contact you out of the blue; and call someone trustworthy to discuss the deal before going for it. And, extra credit for reading these tips for avoiding scams from our friends at Fraud.org.


Don't get milked. The dire impact of infant formula shortages widely reported in the news has predictably caught the eye of scammers. The shortage was caused by a recall and plant shutdown by a major manufacturer, along with ongoing supply chain issues due to the pandemic. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released an alert warning that scammers are tricking desperate parents and caregivers into paying steep prices for formula that never arrives. Worse, buyers need to watch for counterfeit formula. (The FTC's tips include using a search engine to check if others have complained about infant formula sellers before purchasing and, if the vendor appears reliable, using a credit card to pay.) "Anyone who demands payment by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency is a scammer," the FTC advises. Also, sadly, some have used the crucial shortage of infant formula as a political cudgel, suggesting falsely that the current administration is responsible for "bare shelves." Factcheck.org sets out the real reasons for the shortages, including that baby formula is a highly regulated product, which is necessary to ensure the safety of infants; there was a recall by Abbott Nutrition, a major manufacturer of formula; and there are ongoing supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the FDA and the White House last month took steps to ease the shortage.

OK, okay, ok? NOT ok! We sincerely hope people are not falling for a highly suspicious--even ridiculous--money flipping scam still making the rounds on social media, which promises to multiply money you send by "a zero" in a matter of minutes. So, send $100 and they'll send you $1,000 right away. Say what? (Eyeball roll!) If this weren't designed to trick people and relieve them of their money, we'd be laughing even harder as vlogger Ben Taylor tells how he hoists scammers on their own flagpoles at his Pleasant Green YouTube channel. Watch as he debunks the money flipping scam. And, if you missed it back when, check out the poignant story of how Taylor's efforts to scam scammers connected him to a needy cause in Liberia, "By D Grace of God." 


Dyn-NO-miny. According to one of our fave orgs, TINA, it's not all "Good Times" with the 2022 Benefits Helpline infomercial touting Medicare Advantage plans. While SCAM GRAM's publisher, Consumer Action, believes Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans can provide healthcare value for some beneficiaries, we recommend going to Medicare.gov to thoroughly research and compare plans--not calling this lead generator shilled by actor Jimmie Walker, who's famous for the catchphrase "dyn-o-mite!" on the 70s sitcom "Good Times." As TINA notes: "the reality is the health insurance products that this 'helpline' is hawking may not be dyn-o-mite." Ignore this ad and DON'T call now!

'Hail' yes! Consumer Action has been a longtime member of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, which works to combat insurance fraud, reduce costs for consumers and insurers, and promote integrity in the insurance system. Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime: The coalition says insurance-related frauds cost Americans an estimated $80 billion each year. Its website's got you covered with some very useful resources, including scam alerts, videos, and infographics that explain the myriad ways scammers rob insurers (and consumers, when premiums are hiked to cover losses). For example, homeowners who live in storm-prone areas or who might be contemplating a new roof should view the infographic "Roofing Scams: 'Hail yes!'" for quick tips on avoiding rip-off repairs. Other topics covered by the coalition's alerts and infographics include towing scams and "healthcare ministry" fraud, to name just a few--all with suggestions for how to identify and report insurance fraud.

Hello, it's [not] me. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a succinct warning about "imposter scams," a bucketful of bad things carried out by shadowy crooks. A popup says your computer has been hacked and they can "help." "Your bank's fraud department" has noticed an "unauthorized transfer." A "retailer" emails about the $600 mobile phone "you just bought." The "IRS" says you owe taxes. The "police" have a warrant for your arrest. "Your grandchild" is in trouble. You've "won" the lottery. While the come-on varies, the endgame is the same: Send money, and send it in the most untraceable way possible: a wire, Zelle, Venmo, Cash App or Bitcoin. And, send it now! You know this is not how legitimate businesses act!

High-tech fakery. If you get that anxious feeling you're missing out on something when you read about people making millions, billions and zillions on cryptocurrency and digital art, tamp it down. There is so much fraud in this world that you'd best be on your game if you're even considering dipping a toe in the world of crypto coinage. Even if the digital asset is legit, what goes up can come down--fast and hard, it turns out, to judge by last month's cryptocurrency rout. Don't gamble on any investment that you don't fully understand. And, if you do want to invest your money, get a good financial planner to bounce your ideas off of.

'Tool for fraudsters.' Law360, a subscription-based news service, reported earlier this month that a class action was filed against Bank of America over Zelle, an instantaneous peer-to-peer payment service owned by several major banks. The case was filed on behalf of lead plaintiff Mohammad Al-Ramahi on May 27 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. (Al-Ramahi is the victim of a job scam that cost him close to $5K.) The case claims that "BofA prominently touts Zelle to its accountholders as a secure, free and convenient way to make money transfers. However, it misrepresents and omits a key fact about the service that is unknown to accountholders: that there is virtually no recourse for consumers to recoup losses due to fraud." SCAM GRAM readers know that scammers attempt to convince potential victims to use peer-to-peer payment methods like Zelle and Venmo to send them money because these transactions are instant and mostly irreversible. (At presstime, Law360 reported that a similar class action was brought against Capital One in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida [Mensah v. Capital One NA].) Learn more about Zelle scams at CNET

What a relief. Maine recently warned its residents about scammers who are contacting people asking for personal information so their "pandemic relief payments" can be authorized. A few other states are still dispensing pandemic-related payments to certain consumers, so we think it's a good warning, and shows how fraudsters follow the news to make their scams sound convincing. Indeed, Maine is sending $850 relief checks based on residents' 2021 individual income tax returns. Residents don't need to do anything--if eligible they should get a check.

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