Kid actors: Talent agency misled, improperly gathered info, feds say

via Kid actors: Talent agency misled, improperly gathered info, feds say,

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In the past couple of decades, the children’s talent industry has been booming. Although the number of children who actually land a profitable modeling or acting gig is tiny compared with the number of those who dream of hitting the big time, promoters are still making millions by stoking those dreams of success.

While believing their child could be a budding star is a wish for many parents, it’s important to go into the search aware you could be investing in a scam. Not all child talent search companies are fraudulent, but many parents have spent their hard-earned money on companies that are outright scams or just can’t do what they promise. And, in some cases, you could be putting more at risk than your money.

The Federal Trade Commission recently settled charges with Nevada-based Prime Sites, a web-based talent search company going by the name of Explore Talent. The FTC said the company not only “misled consumers about the benefits of its premium paid services,” but also failed to obtain parents’ consent before collecting personal information about the children. Explore Talent has agreed to pay $235,000 in civil penalties to settle the charges.

In its complaint, the FTC alleges Explore Talent violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by “collecting and disclosing children’s personal information without obtaining parental consent and by failing to detail to parents and the public its collection, use, and disclosure practices.” The federal law, which went into effect in 2000, regulates what and how websites may collect information about children 13 or younger. Specifically, it requires that operators of websites must seek parents’ permission before collecting personal information about younger users.

Explore Talent’s website bills itself as the “Internet’s largest audition, job and casting call resource for actors, models, musicians, dancers, and production crews” and claims more than 10 million members. I couldn’t find any specific response to the FTC action, but the website contains two articles titled “ET is not a scam” and “ET is legit,” in which the company defends itself and its practices from charges of fraud and misrepresentation.

According to the FTC, Explore Talent marketed itself to aspiring actors, models and other artists as a link to information about upcoming auditions, casting calls, and other professional opportunities. The company allegedly required users (including children under age 13) to provide personal information such as their names, email addresses, telephone numbers and mailing address to create a free account or a premium, paid account. Some of the information was included in publicly searchable user profiles provided on its website. In addition, the complaint alleged, Explore Talent stated in its website’s privacy policy that it does require parental consent for a 13-or-younger user to create an account, but users 13 or younger were allowed to create accounts without restrictions.

Additionally, the FTC says the company deceived consumers by “baselessly representing to prospective purchasers of its premium services that casting directors either had interest in them or had specifically chosen them for upcoming roles.” For example, one user reported being told by a telemarketer that speaking roles in an upcoming “Jack Reacher” film would be chosen from among Explore Talent users who signed up for a $39.95 per month “pro membership,” but the film’s casting director, when contacted by the user, denied the producers were working with Explore Talent and that the film’s speaking roles had already been assigned.

“Explore Talent collected the personal information of more than 100,000 children, but failed to adhere to the safeguards required by law,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “Today’s settlement provides strong relief for consumers and will help ensure children are protected going forward.”


Cyberbullying tops parents’ fears about kids’ health


via Cyberbullying threat to kids, parents say,

PDF:  Parentfears1Parentfears2

Most parents never stop worrying about their kids. From the time when we first find out we’re going to become parents, there’s always something to think about, events to plan for, and many of those things keep us awake at night.

While the list of fears may change as our kids get older, they never go away. Initial worries about our kids’ health in the cradle give way to worries about their journey through adolescence and college, and then to concerns about their careers, families and their own children. Of course, for most parents, most of the things we spend time fretting over never come to pass. But that doesn’t stop us from worrying anyway.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national survey to determine the things that make us parents toss and turn, producing a list of the top 10 fears of parents of kids from birth to age 18. And — predictably — that list of worries changes with the times. This year, the impact of social media and technology is making its effects felt, as two of the Top 10 parent fears (expressed by parents as something they’re “very concerned” about) are related to technology. Topping the list is bullying/cyberbullying, which more than six in 10 parents expressed as their top concern.

Of course, bullying is an age-old problem, but with smartphones and social media, just about every child is eventually going to encounter cyberbullying from one side or the other. This phenomenon has been linked to increasing suicides among teens, as well as heightened levels of anxiety and stress for many kids.

Being a teen is hard enough without having to worry about someone using social media to trash your reputation or spread hateful rumors. Cyberbullying is still being defined, but most experts agree it’s aggressive behavior that targets an individual using social media or other electronic communications. Given the ability of a single person to use social media to spread information quickly to lots of people, coupled with the emotional roller-coaster many teenagers experience as they progress through adolescence and the importance of reputation, it’s little wonder that it’s become a threat.

“Adults across the country recognized bullying, including cyberbullying, as the leading health problem for U.S. children,” noted Dr. Gary Freed, a Mott professor of pediatrics and the poll’s co-director.

Another tech-related fear of parents is internet safety, including the increasing danger for many kids whose online contacts may appear to be harmless acquaintances in online gaming or chat rooms, but are actually child predators or identity thieves. And concerns about “sexting” (the sending of intimate photos and sexually explicit content in text messages) are rising as well.

But technology (at least, directly) is just part of the picture of the things that make us worry. Parents are also agonizing over their kids’ health. Many parents expressed concern their kids are not eating healthy enough or getting enough exercise, and others worry also about the possibility their kids could fall victim to drugs or alcohol abuse. Also on the list were suicide and depression, teen pregnancy and stress in general.

When broken down by race, the survey produced some enlightening results. For example, while African-American parents expressed many of the same concerns as everyone else, their primary worry was their kids would fall victim to racial disparities and school violence.

Many parents worried about automobile accidents, and for parents of kids under 5, the fear of cancer and similar threats, although, Freed noted, “parents may have concerns about very serious conditions despite the small risk for them.”

If you’re among the parents concerned about cyberbullying, I recommend a great website called This site lists some common-sense responses to help stop cyberbullying, including some tips for parents on how to effectively address it with their children.

Ransomware attacks demonstrate security vulnerabilities

via Ransomware attacks demonstrate security vulnerabilities,

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The recent ransomware attack has sent shock waves through the world’s data communities. The “WannaCry” attack began on May 12, quickly spreading to more than 250,000 computers in more than 150 countries across the globe. Some experts have linked the attack to North Korea, but it’s still being investigated.

Although brazen and record-setting in scope, this attack is just the latest in a long line of attacks that highlight the vulnerability of the data we use every day. Most of us remain oblivious to the millions of attacks that occur constantly, but this decades-long cyberwar shows no signs of abating anytime soon.

During the recent attack, users of infected computers received an email message that their computer’s data had been encrypted by a vicious “worm” and the only way to get it back was to pay a ransom of $300 in bitcoin currency. If the victim didn’t pay, the price would be doubled after three days, and then the data would be destroyed if payment didn’t come. Many users, frightened by the attack, paid up. The attack seemed to target largely Windows-based PCs.

According to many sources, the attack seemed to exploit primarily older computers, and those without recent security updates, or patches. “Any unpatched Windows computer is potentially susceptible to WannaCry,” noted cyber-security company Symantec. “Organizations are particularly at risk because of its ability to spread across networks and a number of organizations globally have been affected, the majority of which are in Europe. However individuals can also be affected.”

It’s clear that some security patches were effective in slowing the spread of the attack, highlighting the need to update your computer’s security on a regular basis. Most experts recommend that you update your Windows software on a regular basis and use a file encryption feature. Windows users can use BitLocker, which is built into Windows, while Apple users can use FileVault, built into the Mac Operating System.

Here are a few of Symantec’s other tips:

  • Keep your operating system and other software updated. Software updates will frequently include patches for newly discovered security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by ransomware attackers. You can set up automated backups, which will check for and install new updates on a regular basis at a time convenient for you.
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails. Don’t click on or open unexpected emails, Symantec advises, especially if they contain links and/or attachments. If you don’t recognize the sender, delete the message.
  • Don’t enable macros. Macros are programs that carry out certain tasks under specific conditions. “Be extremely wary of any Microsoft Office email attachment that advises you to enable macros to view its content. Unless you are absolutely sure that this is a genuine email from a trusted source, do not enable macros and instead immediately delete the email,” advises Symantec.
  • Backup your data. Performing regular backups to the “cloud,” external hard drive or other device can provide insurance against attacks. This will help protect you if your data is subject to attack by allowing you to restore your files once the infection has been stopped. However, be sure the backup method you use has adequate protection, and preferably is not easily accessible to thieves. For example, using an external hard drive that’s physically connected to your device and that doesn’t require a password is little better than having no backup at all.

Scammers hold computers hostage


via Scammers hold computers hostage

Recently, my mother-in-law told me about a lady in her Sunday School class who had been victimized by a scammer. The lady’s caller ID said the call came from Microsoft, and the caller claimed he could help her computer run faster. Because the call appeared legitimate, she went along with it and allowed him to access the machine remotely. She didn’t realize until it was too late that the caller had installed software on the victim’s computer that locked it, and then he threatened to destroy all the information on the machine unless she paid a fee.

“Tech support” scams are not new; for years, scammers have been trolling for victims by cold-calling, then convincing them their computer needed to be fixed, and demanding to be paid. It’s a lucrative business; the tech site quotes Microsoft estimates that scammers took in $1.5 billion in 2015 using the technique.

But in the past few months, tech-support scammers have started emulating the tactics of “ransomware” scammers, calling targets and claiming their computer has been infected by viruses. By using remote access (granted voluntarily by the unwitting user) to install malicious software on the machine, the scammer takes control of the machine and promises to release it if a fee is paid. This escalation gives unprecedented levels of control, and for victims, it can prove a costly intrusion — at risk is sensitive personal information, as well as photos, videos and other information stored on the machines.

In October, Malwarebites published a white paper titled, “The Anatomy of Tech Support Scams: How Tech Support Criminals Continue to Exploit Consumers and Businesses Without Getting Caught.” The paper noted that the target is still the elderly (who are often considered less tech-savvy), but the scammers’ nets are widening.

“Not surprisingly, most tech-support scams heavily target a demographic that is not tech savvy — the elderly,” the authors noted. “…However, with the emergence of tech-support scam lockers this year, anyone is now a potential victim. This new tactic no longer just employs social engineering, and criminals are no longer solely targeting less tech savvy individuals.”

What’s also changing, the white paper noted, is where these scams originate. While most tech-support scams came from India, Florida is becoming a hotbed of tech-support scam activity. The paper goes on to detail some tactics used by tech-support scammers, as well as potential ways to address the problem. If you’re interested in the topic, it’s worth a read.

There are ways to prevent yourself from being a victim of this pernicious scam. The Federal Trade Commission has shut down a number of such operations in the past couple of years, but criminals continue to seek victims. Here are a few of the FTC’s pointers for recognizing and preventing a scam:

  • Don’t give up control. If someone calls claiming your computer has been infected with a virus, hang up immediately. They may fool your caller ID into thinking it’s a local call, but these numbers can be “spoofed” to fool you.
  • Don’t fall for online ads. Here’s a new word to many of us: malvertising. This is advertising on the web, through email or search engine results, that promises to rid your computer of virus and malware. By clicking on links, you can highlight yourself as a potential victim. If you need tech support for your computer or a web service you use, the FTC advises that you look for the company’s phone number in your printed software documentation or confirmation emails, then call it.
  • Protect your personal information. Never provide your credit card number, bank account numbers or passwords to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
  • Don’t give in to pressure tactics. If a caller pressures you to buy a computer security product or says there is a subscription fee associated with the call, it’s a huge red flag.

More on this topic is available at

AG’s office victim of phishing emails


via AG’s office victim of phishing emails,

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is warning Mississippi consumers about a widely circulated email alleging to be from the “Office of the Attorney General,” a bogus solicitation that could infect your computer with malware.

The email, which Hood in a news release called a “brazen attempt to install damaging malware,” has reportedly been received by multiple businesses and individuals. It claims a complaint has been filed with the Hood’s office and includes a link to view the complaint. But when clicked, the address takes users to known malware sites. Recipients are warned to delete the message immediately, and don’t click on the link.

“We have received numerous calls and reports to our office this week from consumers who have received this email,” Hood said. “In one report, the recipient clicked on the link provided, which in turn wiped out her computer. The email is fraudulent. Our office does not send requests for responses to complaints by email.  Consumers should not open any links or attachments, nor should they reply back to this email.”

Like many “phishing” emails, this one appears legitimate, says it’s from the “Office of the Attorney General” and claims the “office” has received a complaint against the business. It provides a link to “view the complaint” along with a timeline and instructions to file a rebuttal. Cleverly, the email contains language that the office “cannot render legal advice nor can it represent individuals or intervene on their behalf in any civil or criminal matter.”

Even if the content of a message sounds reasonable or convincing, Hood encourages consumers to look for errors in spelling, grammar or wording that indicate the email is fraudulent.  “These errors are sure signs of a scam,” Hood noted in a news release.

In addition to deleting scam emails and not clicking on links in those emails, consumers who receive suspicious emails or text messages may want to contact the business supposedly sending the message to let the business know its name is being fraudulently used in a phishing attempt.

“We appreciate those who came forward to let us know that a scammer was impersonating our office,” Hood said.  “When consumers are vigilant in their efforts to avoid malware, computer viruses, and potential identity theft, it makes our job easier.”

If you have responded to one of these emails, call the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office at 800-281-4418.

Some uh-ohs with Pokemon GO


via Some uh-ohs with Pokemon GO,

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160718_A002_0

“Oh, wonderful,” I muttered to myself as I perused story after story about Pokemon GO. “Another way to keep people glued to their phone screens while they walk into open manholes and traffic.” And sure enough, this new game has exploded across the globe, reviving the moribund Pokemon brand and helping introduce a new generation to the devilishly cute cartoon creatures. If you see knots of people who appear to be wandering aimlessly around your neighborhood, transfixed by their phone screens and oblivious to all else around them, it could be Pokemon GO.

In case you’ve been on Pluto the past week and haven’t checked your newsfeed, Pokemon GO is an “augmented reality” game played through an app, a sort of scavenger hunt in which people visit a specific (real-world) location to find and “collect” Pokemon characters. The app will activate your phone’s camera feature when a Pokemon is “nearby”, superimposing the cartoon creatures on the image of a park bench, a monument, a landscape, or (disturbingly) inside people’s homes.

(For the uninitiated, “Pokemon” is a shortened form of “pocket monsters” and first became known a couple of decades ago as kids played Pokemon games on their Game Boy handheld consoles, watched Pokemon cartoons, and — of course — traded Pokemon cards.)

While it is laudable that the game is getting couch potatoes off their feet and involved in social interaction, the game has also created a slew of problems and concerns, ranging from players being targeted by crooks (even right here in central Mississippi), to users disrespecting somber sites, like Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum and the 911 Memorial. It has also alarmed many people because the app is collecting personal data from cellphone users, including users’ birthdays, email addresses and physical location.

Here are a few of the concerns that have been raised, and although many users are young adults, the game is especially magnetic for kids and teens. The ever-reliable Consumer Reports published an article by Tercius Bufete, who along with many others has highlighted things parents should be concerned about:

  • It’s only free to a point. While the app is free to download, users can make in-app purchases up to $99.99. Also, the app uses constant location tracking, which can drive up your data usage, and since distracted kids can easily drop their devices as they hunt, it could result in broken devices requiring costly repairs. Before using the game, check the settings to ensure in-app purchases are controlled.
  • Stranger danger. The game encourages players to work with other people, which could be concerning because your kids might be interacting with strangers. An in-game feature called “Lure Module,” which attracts Pokemon to a “PokeStop” for 30 minutes, could be used to lure people to a place where they could be attacked or abducted. It would be a good idea to ensure your kids travel in groups of people you know, and never go alone.
  • Personal data could be compromised. The product requires you to register, and although the app does include a parental notice that they can request restrictions on personal data, it will also collect data on the user’s specific location, and keeps messages sent between players.
  • Trespassing. When the geocaching craze hit a few years ago, property owners raised concerns about people stomping across their property looking for hidden caches of “treasure” using GPS devices. Similarly, there have already been many cases of Pokemon GO users entering personal property while hunting for Pokemon characters. Users could easily wander into a dangerous construction site, for example, or be mistaken for thieves.
  • Personal injury. When your attention is glued to your phone screen while walking, you might easily stumble on a curb or obstacle, or into a busy street. Studies have shown that texting can change the way you walk, leading to potential injury and even death. Over the past several years, people have been killed as they used their mobile devices while walking.

While Pokemon GO is probably like a meteor that will burn brightly for a while, then be replaced by the next shiny object, it’s likely that it’s a harbinger of things to come, as the “digital” world merges with the “real” world. For parents, the task will be to ensure our kids are as safe and informed as we can make them as they live in the new realities to come.

Are apps tracking your kids?


Stock Photo

via Moak: Are apps tracking your kids?,

When we install a new app on our smartphones or other devices, most of us will quickly give our consent to the verification screen that pops up, which asks us to verify our privacy preferences. It might ask for permission to peruse your social media profile, provide location information, and even post to Facebook and other social media on your behalf. Because you’re in a hurry to get the app loaded, it’s easy to click “OK” and get on with our lives.

Few of us pay attention to this small (but important) question, but the apps we download could actually be providing a lot of information about us to companies who want to track our movements and preferences, monitor our activities and even gather information about us to sell to others.

Since many devices have “geo-location” capabilities, they can detect where your smartphone (and, by extension, you) are, with an impressively small degree of error. Some devices can even track your location in stores, figure out what merchandise you might be examining and predict your purchasing habits with amazing accuracy. Of course, if you’re OK with this, it’s not a problem. But for many people, it would be disturbing if they knew how much information was being shared without their knowledge or consent.

But a recent case has illustrated that apps can be gathering much more than you think. A Singapore-based company called InMobi will pay nearly $1 million in civil penalties and implement a comprehensive privacy program to settle Federal Trade Commission charges it deceptively tracked the locations of consumers without their knowledge to serve them geo-targeted advertising.

“InMobi tracked the locations of hundreds of millions of consumers, including children, without their consent, in many cases totally ignoring consumers’ express privacy preferences,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “This settlement ensures that InMobi will honor consumers’ privacy choices in the future, and will be held accountable for keeping their privacy promises.”

Among the FTC’s allegations is that InMobi mispresented that its advertising software would only track consumers’ locations when they opted in and in a manner consistent with their device’s privacy settings. “According to the complaint,” noted the FTC, “InMobi was actually tracking consumers’ locations whether or not the apps using InMobi’s software asked for consumers’ permission to do so, and even when consumers had denied permission to access their location information.

The company, which has reportedly reached more than a billion devices worldwide through thousands of popular apps, has a huge global footprint. The FTC alleges inMobi “created a database built on information collected from consumers who allowed the company access to their geolocation information, combining that data with the wireless networks they were near to document the physical location of wireless networks themselves. InMobi then would use that database to infer the physical location of consumers based on the networks they were near, even when consumers had turned off location collection on their device.”

InMobi stands accused of violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting this information from apps that were clearly directed at children, “in spite of promising that it did not do so.” The complaint noted that InMobi’s software tracked location in thousands of child-directed apps with hundreds of millions of users without following the steps required by the act to get a parent or guardian’s consent to collect and use a child’s personal information.

Under the terms of the settlement, InMobi was originally assessed a $4 million civil penalty, which is suspended to $950,000 based on the company’s financial condition. In addition, the company will be required to delete all information it collected from children and will be prohibited from further violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

The company will also be prohibited from collecting consumers’ location information without their affirmative express consent for it to be collected, among other conditions, and must create an extensive privacy program, with monitoring and independent auditing every two years.

The FTC has some good tips at to help you learn more about device tracking.

Patient information released without OK, feds say

AdobeStock_94761244.jpegvia Moak: Patient information released without OK, feds say,

A company that produces Electronic Health Records has agreed to settle allegations from federal regulators that it allowed sensitive health information to be posted online without letting patients know it would be disclosing the information.

In 2012 and 2013, California-based Practice Fusion, described by the Federal Trade Commission as a “cloud-based electronic records company,” allegedly began posting online patient reviews of doctors it had collected, but failed to tell the patients the details of how they would be used. In some cases, sensitive information allegedly appeared in the reviews.

“Practice Fusion’s actions led consumers to share incredibly sensitive health information without realizing it would be made public,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies that collect personal health information must be clear about how they will use it — especially before posting such information publicly on the Internet.”

Electronic Health Records have been controversial, with advocates promising they will create a more seamless experience for patients who see multiple providers, help lower costs through greater efficiency and reduce the risk of errors. But privacy watchdogs have warned that consumer information could be compromised if the information is not handled with great care. In a 2012 survey conducted by Xerox, just over a quarter of Americans said they wanted their records to be digitized. It should be noted Practice Fusion wasn’t accused of allowing the compromise of EHR data, but of failing to give proper notification to patients before posting the information online.

Federal laws require any business that handles sensitive health information to go to great lengths to protect that information, with stiff penalties for violations. And consumers must be informed of any intent to share that information (that’s why you get those annual notices about protecting your privacy and have to sign separate privacy acknowledgement forms when you visit the doctor).

According to the FTC’s complaint, Practice Fusion began a public-facing, health care provider directory in 2013, including reviews of physicians. To populate the reviews, Practice Fusion began sending emails to patients of physicians who had contracted with Practice Fusion to provide electronic health records services. The emails allegedly were sent to “help improve your service in the future,” and asked them to answer questions about their recent visit to the doctor.

But when consumers discussed their recent visit, they often included details and could leave their name and contact information. For example, one consumer talked about a depressed child, another revealed she was concerned about a yeast infection and another spoke of a “Xanax prescription.”

Although the company didn’t admit any wrongdoing, it noted in a statement that it had discontinued the system in 2013. “The proposed consent agreement is not related to our core businesses, nor how we have operated the survey feature since April 2013,” noted a statement on the company’s website. “The complaint associated with the consent agreement does not allege that anything that we are currently doing is problematic.”

The FTC’s announcement didn’t disclose any monetary penalties, but did note the agreement prevents Practice Fusion from “misrepresenting the extent to which it uses” information. In addition, it must “clearly and conspicuously disclose — separate and apart from a privacy policy, terms of use or other similar document — that it is making such information publicly available and obtain consumers’ affirmative consent.”

Who are these imposters?



via Moak: Who are these imposters?,

Every day, Mississippians get calls from people who claim to be something they’re not. In past columns, I’ve written many times about various ways scammers dupe victims into sending money, turning over key pieces of their identity, or participating in international schemes. Nearly every time, the person getting the call ends up holding the bag, losing their life savings, or unwittingly helping someone commit a crime.

Fraudulent calls are rampant. Just last week, my own elderly parents called to tell me they’d gotten a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, saying they owed back taxes, and threatening them with prosecution if they didn’t pay up immediately. The only problem: These are all lies (my folks knew better, and didn’t take the bait.) The IRS is not going to call anybody to demand immediate payment, and in fact, if they have a beef with you, you’re going to get a lot of “snail mail” first.

This type of scam has become so prevalent it’s risen to become the top source of complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, with volume rising sharply in the past two years. Many of these schemes originate overseas, making it that much more difficult to stop and prosecute.

Other “imposter” schemes include:

The Grandparent Scam. This is where a crook calls an elderly person, pretending to be their grandchild (or claiming to be their lawyer, or a police officer). The criminal tries to get the grandparent to wire money or even purchase things like iTunes gift cards, to help their grandchild out of trouble.

Tech Support Scams. The potential victim gets a call from someone claiming their computer is infected with a virus, and that if they pay up, it can be fixed over the phone.

Government Agencies Scams. It may be the IRS, or Social Security, Medicare or any number of other agencies, but they’re all the same; the scammer indicates there is some problem, which will go away if you send cash.

Online Dating Scams. You might think the beauty (or hunk) you’re corresponding with online is all he or she claims to be. They say all the right things, and you think you’ve met your soulmate. But often, it’s just a ruse. In the worst cases, they are actually grooming you so they can steal your money or identity.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission released a new series of videos and informational pieces called “Imposter Scams.” For the first time, they’ve taken a wide-lens approach to helping bring these schemes to light and empower people with the means to recognize them.

It would be a good idea to spend a few minutes perusing the videos. They’re short (less than a minute), concise and easily understood.

But regardless, if you get a call from anyone claiming you have a problem that can be fixed with an immediate payment over the phone, don’t take the bait. Remember that such calls are usually from imposters who want you to panic and make decisions you wouldn’t normally make. If you think there might be some truth to the caller’s claims, ask for their contact information, then hang up and try to verify the information yourself. If you do need to make an emergency payment, get some advice, and never wire money to an unknown account, or give anyone the information they need to access your bank or credit card accounts. And, if someone threatens you, report the threat immediately to local law enforcement.

Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to educate ourselves, keep an eye on those who might be vulnerable, and not make it easier for crooks to find victims. Visit to view the “Imposter Scams” materials.

To catch a ‘phish’

via Moak: To catch a ‘phish’,

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is warning consumers about emails that appear to be from a legitimate business, but are actually designed to commit identity theft.

According to a news release from Hood’s officeWednesday, the so-called “phishing” email message attempted to gain the trust of consumers by claiming to be from a Memphis-based financial institution, but was in reality an attempt to gain access to their banking information. “(T)he scammers in this latest email ruse stole company letterhead and used language in the email that initially makes it appear that the customer is being contacted by the institution,” noted the release. “However, a closer look shows that the email is illegitimate.” And, brazenly, the message included verbiage warning consumers about the dangers of spam email.

“As we rely more and more on technology in our daily lives, scammers respond with increasingly sophisticated ways to use technology to cheat and steal,” Hood said. “Fortunately, there are often some red flags that can help consumers spot these brazen attempts at fraud and identity theft.”

Some of those red flags included grammatical errors and inconsistent fonts that were present in the purported bank message.

Phishing is one of many tactics used successfully by scammers. Although they’re sometimes poorly-executed as this one was, sometimes, the thieves take pains to ensure they look legitimate. They may contain actual logos of known businesses and financial institutions, and often use scare tactics to get consumers to click on links or request a response. For example, they might say your account has been compromised, or that you are in danger of losing money or benefits. By clicking on links or replying, unwitting consumers can open themselves to becoming victims.

Hood provided these recommendations:

  • Never provide personal or financial information in response to any unsolicited email or text. Instead, delete them and don’t respond.
  • Keep in mind that financial institutions themselves will not seek to “verify” such information as bank account or credit card numbers, since that particular information is generated and maintained by the institution itself.
  • Don’t open links or attachments on any unsolicited emails or text messages that request personal, financial or account information. It is likely such links and attachments lead to viruses and malware designed to steal data.
  • Always be suspicious of anyone who emails or sends a text message and asks for money to be wired or placed on a prepaid debit card.
  • If you get a suspicious email or text message, contact the business supposedly sending the message to let the business know its name is being fraudulently used in a phishing attempt.
  • If you’ve been victimized, or think you might be, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s Office at (800) 281-4418.

For more information, visit