A Consumer Action News Alert • January 2023
We always warn consumers to be careful about the links in emails they receive. We want you to know that all links (URLs) in this newsletter are sent via VoterVoice, our content management services provider, in order to determine which stories are most interesting to our readers. No personal data about you is saved.

Click here to view this newsletter in a browser.
Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
  ‘Spray and pray’  

In a recent warning about Social Security-related scams on Yahoo, GOBankingRates quoted Giulia Porter, vice president at Robokiller, a maker of call-blocking apps, using a term we had never heard before to describe a method scammers use to blast huge numbers of messages out to their targets: “spray and pray.” Porter predicted this would be the tactic for bombarding area codes with lots of older people with robocalls and text messages to confuse them about Social Security’s 2023 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) (which, at 8.7%, is the highest in 40 years). The term sums up how scammers can rope in so many people--by sending zillions of calls and texts using low-cost technology and then sitting back and “praying” that some recipients will take the bait. Don’t be tricked! If you are a Social Security recipient, you don’t need to do anything--the increase is automatic. By clicking links in texts or replying to a robocall, you may open yourself up to being tricked into providing personal and financial information under the guise of activating the COLA increase. Remember: Social Security cost-of-living increases are automatic, and do not require recipients to take any action.

  Hearing ‘voices’  

The Federal Trade Commission alerted consumers to a scam targeting people who post things for sale on sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. The scammers contact you and say they want to buy the item. But before they commit, they “feign hesitation.” They might say they’ve heard about fake online listings and want to verify that you’re a real person. So, they send you a text message with a Google Voice verification code and ask you for that code. (Google Voice is a free online telephone service you can use to make calls or send text messages from a web browser or a mobile device.) If you give the scammers the verification code you received, they can create a Google Voice number linked to your phone number and use it to conceal their identity and rip off other people. Along with other details about you they might glean from the interaction, they could pretend to be you to access your existing accounts or open new accounts in your name. (The same scam may target people who post about other things, like lost pets.)

  On guard  

Fishy behavior. Catfishing refers to fake online profiles created to lure victims into a relationship--often romantic--with the aim of wrangling money or valuable information out of the victim. The term originated with the title of the 2010 film Catfish, documenting a man’s journey to learn if his online romantic interest was real. Many of us are aware of the dangers of connecting with just anyone online, but SCAM GRAM continues to hear of, and from, people who have been scammed by internet imposters--sometimes out of mind-boggling sums. (The FBI said in 2021 that 24,000 victims across the U.S. reported losing approximately $1 billion to romance scams, and that it’s likely that many more losses went unreported.) These scam artists use various tricks to hide from their victims, such as saying their webcam is broken or they are deployed overseas. The red flags are pretty obvious (read this Parade story)--get to know them!

Hear this! In late October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued final rules regulating the sale of “over-the-counter” hearing aids. As usual, the scammers heard the news, too. Now consumers should be aware that legitimate hearing aids are being sold alongside low-quality products--and, online, even downright scam products. Since these can be pricey items, ranging from around $200 to as much as $3,000 per set, we advise interested buyers to do their homework. AARP has solid information about over-the-counter hearing aids.


Take it from a banker. Vermont-based Community National Bank (CNB) released a video featuring its president and CEO, Kathy Austin, with a snappy message to the public warning against fraudulent activity and scams involving your bank account. As SCAM GRAM readers know, scammers target bank customers using phone calls, email and text messages purporting to be bank employees, law enforcement, potential romantic interests, lottery officials, government agencies and technology companies, such as Microsoft and Google. Using all kinds of lies, deception and false promises, they are able to convince bank customers to give up personal and financial data that can be used to gain access to accounts or to transfer money using instant payment apps. Never assume or take for granted that it’s your real bank contacting you--banks rarely, if ever, reach out in this manner. Even if you receive a communication you believe might be real, go to your statement or your bank card and call the number listed there. Do not reply to texts, press buttons to respond, or call back.

Gift card grifters. It’s unbelievable, but thieves have managed to manipulate gift card packaging in stores to gain access to the account numbers and, after someone buys the card and activates it, download the value before the recipient even knows what’s up. Indianapolis TV station WTHR13 News reported just such a scam involving Target gift cards purchased by unsuspecting grandparents as holiday gifts. The thieves go in-store to scratch off the protective sticker over the account number, gain access to the numbers they need, and cover their dirty deeds with a similar-looking decal. Gift card buyers are advised to look closely at the packaging to ensure it hasn’t been tampered with. (And, while we’re on the topic, don’t send gift cards as payment to people you don’t know!)

Un-classified. Online classified ads are a great resource for finding bargains, but buyers need to be super careful when purchasing. We read about one case where a Craigslist seller posing as a recent widow who needed to sell her late husband’s trailer listed it at a cheap price and then, in a rather obvious tip-off, asked to be paid in eBay gift cards. The same ConsumerAffairs article says to watch out for fake ticket resales for concerts, shows and sporting events. The FBI warns of another type of classified ad scam, involving rental listings. Scammers duplicate postings from legitimate real estate websites, alter them, and repost. When victims answer the ad, they are asked to quickly send money via payment app or wire to reserve the rental, and their money disappears along with the scammer. Never, ever send money for a rental without seeing the place and receiving a valid lease document.

Rental reconnaissance. USA Today recently warned of rental car-related scams. Would you believe that fake rental agencies can appear high up in online search results and deliver you right into scammers hands (who, in some cases, offer a “special deal” if you pay upfront with a prepaid or gift card)? Horrible. But there’s even more to think about when renting a car: When you sync your phone with a rental car (to make calls or listen to music), your contacts, locations, music subscriptions, social media and text messages are transferred to the car’s onboard computer. The next person who rents (or buys) that car has access to all your data. Before you return a rental car, remove your phone details from the paired devices and, if possible, reset the car’s system to factory settings.

  Tell us how we’re doing!  

We’d love your feedback on how we’ve been doing, and which of our services have been most important to you. Please fill out our (very) brief three-question survey here!