Spot a Bad Ad? Now You Can DO Something About It.
Better Business Bureau announced the launch of its latest consumer reporting service, BBB AdTruth (BBB.org/AdTruth), an online tool empowering consumers to identify advertisements that appear to contain claims that are questionable or which may lack evidence to support them and report them so BBB can investigate, and assess their truthfulness.
BBB AdTruth guides consumers through a series of questions about where they saw or heard the advertisement, which claims were made in the advertisement (based on the BBB Code of Advertising), and why the consumer was concerned about the truthfulness of the ad. Consumers are able to upload screenshots or photos, as well, enabling BBB investigators to gather information quickly.
So if you see something that looks a little too good to be true, report it to bbb.org/AdTruth
Gift Cards Targeted by Thieves
Gift cards are a quick and convenient gift giving solution. Whether you’re pressed for time or the recipient is hard to shop for, a gift card is sure to make the perfect gift. According to the National Retail Federation, gift card spending is expected to reach $27.6 billion this holiday season, with gift card purchasers planning to buy an average of four cards, worth roughly $45 each. According to the survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, 59 percent of survey respondents said they will be purchasing gift cards for their loved ones, while 61 percent of respondents will be asking for a gift card as a gift this year.Women are more likely than men to purchase a gift card for their loved ones with 57 percent of men and 62 percent of women planning on buying a gift card. Gift cards are a notoriously popular item to give during the holidays, and scammers know this. Scammers use multiple tactics to steal money off of gift cards without the cardholder even knowing.Better Business Bureau offers up the following tips when purchasing a gift card this season.Examine the gift card: give it a thorough look to make sure the PIN number isn’t exposed, or the packaging hasn’t been tampered with. If anything looks suspicious it’s best to grab a new one.Scammers are known to remove gift cards from the store rack and record the numbers associated with that card. They put the card back on the rack and wait until a customer purchases it. Once the customer buys the card, the scammer uses the number online and wipes the gift card clean before the customer even has a chance to use it.Scammers are impatient and will usually put the gift card toward the front of the rack, so it’s best to grab a card from the back.
Do your research: double check the terms and conditions, the expiration date or any fees tied to the gift card before you decide to purchase one. Some stores charge service or setup fees, or limit the gift card to in store only, meaning you can’t use it online. Some states have laws relevant to gift cards; you can check with the office of the Attorney General in your state for more information.
Treat it like cash: If you lose your gift card or someone steals it, it’s best to report it to the issuer immediately. Some issuers may not allow you to recover any of the funds, and some will, but for a fee. You may need to show proof of purchase and the ID number on the card.
Look for more tips on bbb.org.
Wait, Now I’m NOT Supposed to Trust the Padlock on the Website?
Millions of people are still searching for the perfect gift online. So too are countless scammers, ready to trick unsuspecting people into handing over their financial details.
One of the latest tricks was highlighted by Krebs on Security, which warned that while we once thought the green padlock icon on a browser’s website address bar was the sign of a legitimate website, that can no longer be taken as fact.
Experts say, almost half of all phishing sites in the third quarter of 2018 had a green padlock in the address bar, up from 35% earlier this year and 25% from more than a year ago. Yikes!
Cybercrooks have figured out it's become easy and cheap to use an encrypted connection and to obtain certificates that allow the padlock to be displayed on their sites. Instead of using the symbol alone as a sign of safety, type in an URL yourself if you know where you’re going and have been to the website before, and many of the common internet browsers like Google and Firefox as well as security software are getting savvier identifying which sites are secure too.
Free Trial Offers May Mislead Consumers with Fake Endorsements/Surprise Charges
The internet is rife with ads and links leading to pictures of celebrities and “miracle” products that promise easy weight loss, whiter teeth or disappearing wrinkles. You may be enticed to try these products through a “risk-free” trial: Just enter your name, address and credit card number, and the product will be on its way for only a nominal shipping and handling charge.
An in-depth investigative study by Better Business Bureau (BBB), found many of these free trial offers are not free. BBB receives complaints from free trial offer victims nearly every day and warns consumers to use extreme caution before agreeing to the offer and entering their credit card number.
The investigative study – “Subscription Traps and Deceptive Free Trials Scam Millions with Misleading Ads and Fake Celebrity Endorsements” -- looks at how free trial offers trick consumers into so-called “subscription traps” that hook them for expensive shipments of products they did not explicitly agree to buy.
Many free trial offers come with fine print, buried on the order page or by a link, that gives consumers only a short period of time to receive, evaluate and return the product to avoid being charged oftentimes $100 or more.
The same hidden information may state that by accepting the offer, you’ve signed up for monthly shipments of the products and such fees will be charged to your credit card. Many people find it difficult to contact the seller to stop recurring charges, halt shipments and get refunds. Such obscure terms in these offers often violate the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and BBB guidelines on advertising, as do the satisfaction guarantees that are ubiquitous in free trial offers.
The study found that many of the celebrity endorsements in these ads are fake. Dozens of celebrity names are used by these frauds without their knowledge or permission, ranging from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres to Mike Rowe, Tim Allen and Sally Field. Sometimes the fine print even admits these endorsements are not real.
Available FTC data shows that complaints about “free trials” more than doubled from 2015 to 2017, and BBB has received nearly 37,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports over the last three years, though not all of these complaints involve monetary loss. In addition, victims in 14 resolved FTC cases collectively lost $1.3 billion, and consumers making reports to BBB lost an average of $186.
FTC data on free trial offers strongly suggests that most such enterprises operate in the U.S. and Canada, though the companies do sell extensively outside the U.S. and frequently employ overseas credit card processing.
Because this fraud is dependent on the use of credit cards, more effort is needed to identify and combat deceptive free trial offers employing credit card systems. In any situation where a credit card is requested, read the contractual information on the offer before providing personal information.
Research the claims the company is making on the product or service that is offered. Then, take it a step further by researching the company and looking at reviews from other customers before committing to making a purchase.
If you believe you’re a victim of a free trial offer fraud, complain to the company directly.
Contact the credit card customer service number to cancel the order and file a complaint with BBB.
Report all suspicious, confusing or misleading ads to BBB AdTruth
Look out for Phone Scams
The Acting Inspector General of Social Security, Gale Stallworth Stone, is urging citizens to remain vigilant of telephone impersonation schemes that exploit the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) reputation and authority.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) continues to receive reports from across the country about fraudulent phone calls from people claiming to be from SSA. Recent reports have indicated that unknown callers are using increasingly threatening language in these calls. The callers state, due to improper or illegal activity with a citizen’s Social Security number (SSN) or account, a citizen will be arrested or face other legal action if they fail to call a provided phone number to address the issue. This is a scam; citizens should not engage with these calls or provide any personal information.
SSA employees do contact citizens, generally those who have ongoing business with SSA, by telephone for customer-service purposes. However, SSA employees will never threaten you for information; they will not state that you face potential arrest or other legal action if you fail to provide information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent, and you should just hang up.
“Unfortunately, scammers will try anything to mislead and harm innocent people, including scaring them into thinking that something is wrong with their Social Security account and they might be arrested,” Stone said. “I encourage everyone to remain watchful of these schemes and to alert family members and friends of their prevalence. We will continue to track these scams and warn citizens so that they can stay several steps ahead of these thieves.”
The OIG recently warned that some of these impersonation calls have “spoofed” SSA’s national customer service phone number, displaying 1-800-772-1213 as the incoming number on caller ID.
The Acting Inspector General urges citizens to be extremely cautious and to avoid providing information such as your SSN or bank account numbers to unknown persons over the phone or internet unless you are certain of who is receiving it. If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from SSA, you should report that information to the OIG at 1-800-269-0271 or online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
For more information, please visit https://oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/scam-awareness. For media inquiries, please contact Andrew Cannarsa, OIG’s Communications Director, at (410) 965-2671.