A Consumer Action News Alert • November 2022
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  Too good to be true  

Everybody loves a good deal! Less-than-reputable sellers and outright scammers know it, and they’re looking to snare holiday shoppers by deploying fake websites and bogus social media campaigns that might even impersonate major brands, says AARP. As you surf for bargains this holiday season, be on guard for attempts to get you to give up personal and financial information that, in the wrong hands, could be used for fraudulent activities. The FBI warns that two of the “most prevalent…holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes. In a non-delivery scam, a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received.” Sometimes fake-o sellers capitalize on popular but hard-to-snag products by saying they have these goods to sell. Even product reviews can be faked. The BBB has a page full of online shopping advice. One general tip for protecting yourself online is to shop with a credit card—if you get ripped off, you can dispute the charge. Ask your card issuer if it provides “virtual” credit card numbers linked to your card, so that you can use different numbers with various vendors (especially new and untried sites and sellers), while hiding your real credit card account number. When shopping online or in person, watch for counterfeit items, which can be found online (Amazon, eBay, etc.) and on the street (at holiday fairs, for example). U.S. Customs and Border Protection explains why counterfeiting is not a victimless crime.

  Head over heartstrings  

Many of us step up our charitable giving during the holiday season. After all, December is National Giving Month. And while, as a nonprofit that depends on donations, we wouldn’t want to discourage this, we want to remind you that scammers love to prey on our emotions. Don’t jump at every pitch, no matter how it pulls at your heartstrings. Make note of places you’d like to give, and check them out with a reputable charity watchdog, such as the BBB’s Give.org, the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search tool, or Charity Navigator. Then you can donate knowing that your contributions are going to an organization that will use them wisely.

  Out in the cold  

Snow laughing matter. In most of the country, winter is bringing us colder weather. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a timely warning about how to spot and avoid “home-related fraud” this winter. And the warning is especially important this year, with inflation and global unrest causing heating oil and natural gas prices to spike. As we often say, scammers read the news, too. Do not accept any “winterization” offers by email, text or a knock on the door. Hit delete on utility scams: It’s highly unlikely your power company will send you an email saying your service will be shut down if you don’t wire money immediately. Resist high-pressure sales. Ask for all offers to be submitted to you in writing. Find more tips on the FTC website.

A taxing fraud. Maybe you’re that organized person who gets ready ahead of tax season, or perhaps you’re itching to get your hands on your refund. Either way, if you’re doing any tax preparation, here’s a warning about common tax scams. Scammers would love to access your sensitive, personal data (like your Social Security number, or SSN) so they can file a tax return in your name and claim your tax refund. To keep your refund out of thieving hands, file your taxes as early as possible; keep paper tax returns in a safe place; and be super suspicious of any emails claiming to be from the IRS. (According to the agency’s website, the IRS will never reach out to taxpayers via email for personal information.) Also know that the IRS now allows you to establish an “IP PIN” (Identity Protection PIN) to prevent someone else from filing a tax return using your SSN. Even if you’re not required to file for 2022, an IP PIN will still protect your account.


Zelle-ous scammers. SCAM GRAM has written extensively about how scammers can pretend to be bank employees in order to initiate instant money transfers using the Zelle service. Good Morning America featured a story about one man whose entire account was drained after he responded to text messages he thought were from his bank, Capital One. Far from it! This is such a pervasive scam that we ask you to let everyone you know how easy it is for these scammers to convince people they are calling from “your bank’s fraud department.” Anytime you get an email, text or robocall saying it is from your bank (or any company you do business with), take a pause. Do not respond directly. Instead, call the number on the back of your bank card or on your bank statement or bill to verify the claim directly with the company.

Kim, how kould you? Last month, reality TV’s Kim Kardashian got hit with a $1.26 million fine by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for touting an EthereumMax crypto security on social media without disclosing she was paid to do it. (Watch SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s video warning about celebrity-endorsed investments, or read this Investor Alert.) Unfortunately, she’s not the only celebrity hawking things without disclosing that they were paid for their endorsements. Listen to this Scam Economy podcast, in which the host discusses the scourge of celebrity “crypto” endorsements with Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth In Advertising (TINA). Want to learn more about government guidelines concerning product endorsements? Click here.

Your Amex will be canceled. An email arrives stating that your “Amex” (or “Mastercard” or “Visa”) card account has been “paused.” Before you freak out, know that this is a common scam, and that credit card issuers don’t send this kind of email. One telltale sign this is a fake: The sender’s email is not even from an American Express domain. So, before you say, WTH?, peruse the email more closely--without clicking on anything, of course! Hover your cursor over any URLs and you shall see that they are 100% fake-o, and have nothing to do with your credit card company. And, you should automatically become suspicious if there is an attachment with the file type dot html (.html). Do not click it! If you want to check out if it’s real, call the number on the back of your credit card and ask.

Snake in the gas. You’ve probably heard about the gas station credit/debit card fraud where skimming devices are inserted in the card slot to copy customers’ card info and use it to make fraudulent charges. But we’d never heard of this real “hands on” scam, reported by KEVN in South Dakota. A woman was “trying to pump gas when the card reader at the pump told her to go pay inside...even though she had already used her credit card.” She gave the attendant her card, and later found a fraudulent “$500 charge for flowers from that same gas station.” If you know your card worked at the pump, resist entreaties to show it to anyone inside. And, monitor your credit and debit card charges closely.

Starry-eyed. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: If something sounds unbelievable, it most likely is. In a strange twist on a romance scam, Vice reported that a Japanese woman “d’un certain âge,” as the French so politely say, was targeted on Instagram by a man claiming to be a Russian astronaut in space who desperately needed money so he could return to Earth. Using a messaging app, he said he had fallen in love and vowed to marry her once he landed safely back on the planet. After sending him the equivalent of $30K, she grew suspicious and called the police. So, if it beggars belief, do not engage. As Robot says: “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” (And if you, too, are of “un certain âge,” you’ll know where the warning comes from!)

  Tell us how we’re doing!  

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