$21B: Tax scammers eye repeat of 2016 haul

via $21B: Tax scammers eye repeat of 2016 haul, clarionledger,com

PDF: Tax scammers 2018

Each year about this time, Mississippi taxpayers gather their shoeboxes full of receipts and forms, preparing for the annual ritual of filing their taxes. Since Monday marked the official beginning of 2018 tax season, it’s also the time when scammers greedily eye the billions of dollars in potential loot as we file our taxes. And it’s a big haul, too: the IRS estimated that tax scammers took in $21 billion in 2016.

Monday also marked the start of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, which highlights some of the risks and scams that seek to cash in on your taxes. Each year, millions of taxpayers get a nasty surprise when they file their taxes: somebody’s already claimed their refund by using their Social Security number. Often, they don’t know their identity has been stolen until they get a letter from the IRS to let them know more than one tax return has been filed in your name.

Although these scams are still going strong, there is some good news: Efforts to thwart tax-related identity theft appear to be working. In 2017, fewer people complained to the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies about tax-related identity theft than in previous years (the second year of decreases in a row). Last year, about 22 percent of identity-theft complaints concerned tax-related activity, down significantly from 2016’s number of 33 percent.

IRS imposters activity appears to be declining as well. IRS imposters call consumers to claim they’re from the IRS, and often use scare tactics and threat of prosecution if they don’t pay immediately. Calls about IRS imposters dropped off by more than half in 2017.

But another type of tax-related fraud appears to be growing. The “W-2 Scam” (otherwise known as Business Email Compromise or BEC) is targeting businesses, educational institutions and organizations. In this diabolical ruse, scammers send an email that appears to be from the IRS (“phishing”), requesting copies of all employees’ W-2 forms. Of course, the W-2 is a virtual smorgasbord of information for scammers, containing official names and addresses, Social Security numbers, income and withholdings. “Criminals use that information to file fraudulent tax returns, or post it for sale on the Dark Net,” noted the IRS in a news release. Business Email Compromise scams cost companies $5 billion worldwide each year, added the FBI.

Hundreds of businesses, institutions, nonprofits and government agencies have all been fooled in 2017 by the official-looking emails. The IRS notes that the fraudsters often do their homework on businesses, finding the CEO or others in positions of authority. Once the victim has taken the bait, many victims reported that they get a follow-up email requesting funds by wire transfer. The emails are reportedly so good they have fooled many experienced executives who never thought they’d fall for a scheme like that.

The IRS advises it could be weeks or months before you realize you’ve been scammed. But if you have, report it immediately to dataloss@irs.gov, using “W2 Data Loss” in the subject line. And, the IRS cautions, don’t attach any sensitive information. For more on the W2 scam from the IRS, visit http://bit.ly/2ohM4D1.

While you may be eagerly awaiting your tax refund this year, be aware that crooks are out there, too. As always, being vigilant, aware and a little bit skeptical can often be the best protection.

Contact Bill Moak at moakconsumer@gmail.com.

Advertisements

Western Union fraud claim deadline is Feb. 12

via Western Union fraud claim deadline is Feb. 12

PDF: Western Union fraud deadline nears

In November, I wrote about the process involved in filing claims if you had been a victim of a wire fraud scam involving wire transfers through Western Union. Since then, I have received emails from several readers asking for more information. Since the deadline for filing a claim is Feb. 12, you should be taking action if you haven’t already done so.

To recap the issue, about a year ago Western Union reached a settlement with several law enforcement agencies after acknowledging it “hadn’t done enough” to stop scammers from using the company’s wire services to collect money from scam victims. Western Union was accused of turning a blind eye to the activity.

The massive $586 million settlement covers consumers who lost money to scammers who directed them to wire money through Western Union between Jan. 1, 2004, and Jan. 19, 2017. With the deadline quickly approaching, the Federal Trade Commission (a major party to the settlement) recently published some reminders and clarifications.

On her blog post, FTC attorney Karen Dodge laid out several things you need to remember regarding the claims process. Here are a few questions and answers:

Do I have to pay to get my money back? No. To file a claim, you must give your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number on the claim form. But nobody will call you to ask for those numbers, or for your bank account or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer, so tell the FTC right away. We’ve heard reports about attorneys and others offering to file on your behalf, but you can do it yourself, for free.

Where do I file? Start at FTC.gov/WU. The U.S. Department of Justice is managing the claims process through the company it hired, Gilardi & Co. Your claim will go to Gilardi, but Dodge suggests you start at the claims website.

I think I filed, but don’t remember. You can still file if you have already gotten a form. If you had previously reported your loss to Western Union, the FTC, or another government agency, you might have gotten a pre-filled claim form in the mail. But even if you didn’t, you can still file a claim.

What documentation must I have? While you can file a claim without documentation, copies of items such as receipts and transfer forms can help the Department of Justice to validate your claim.

Can I file by mail? Yes. If you got a claim form in the mail from Gilardi and you want to return it by mail, send it to United States v. The Western Union Company, PO Box 404027, Louisville, KY 40233-4027.

I hold power of attorney for someone else. Can I file on their behalf? Yes. If you have power of attorney for someone, or you represent their estate, you may file a claim on their behalf.

How much money will I get? That depends upon how many people file a claim, and how many claims the Justice Department can validate. I haven’t seen any reliable estimates on how much people might get back.

How long will it take to get my money? Dodge notes it might take a year for the Justice Department to process all the claims and send out checks.

Again, to file claims and for more information, visit http://FTC.gov/WU.

‘Easy Money’? Not so fast

via ‘Easy Money’? Not so fast, clarionledger.com

PDF: easy money

The lure of easy money has gotten a lot of people in trouble over the years. Get-rich-quick hucksters have always been around, looking for potential victims motivated by need or greed. Even people who would ordinarily be skeptical have been taken in, often paying thousands of dollars for books, seminars and “secret” codes and methods of getting something for nothing. Most often, though, they end up with empty pockets.

Recently, federal regulators announced they’d busted the operators of one scheme for allegedly deceiving consumers, promising they could work from home after an initial $49 investment and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars daily by using a software product called the “Mobile Money Code” to create mobile-friendly websites. In reality, the Federal Trade Commission alleges, the $7 million scheme was all smoke and mirrors.

In its action, the FTC charged that Ronnie Montano, Hyong Su Kim (also known as Jimmy Kim), Martin Schranz and their related companies “bilked consumers out of millions of dollars by falsely promising they could earn hundreds to thousands of dollars a day using the defendants’ Mobile Money Code products.” But what consumers got instead were “generic software applications and commonplace information for creating mobile-friendly websites,” the agency noted.

A typical email, sent through an affiliated marketer, promised investors could use a “secret method folks are using to make thousands of dollars per day (seriously!)” or that users can start “generating 60k a month on 100% autopilot.” Users were directed to visit websites such as mobilemoneycode.com, automobilecode.com and secretmoneysystem.com. The ploy was backed by testimonial videos, which the FTC now alleges were done using paid actors to pose as satisfied customers.

The complaint also alleged the company interfered with consumers’ website navigation. If an interested consumer visited the websites and tried to close the website without purchasing a product, they were allegedly blocked with a series of pop-up messages. “Even those consumers who agreed to make an initial purchase were asked to make additional purchases through upsells and add-ons,” the agency noted. And when dissatisfied customers tried to back out through the site’s “60-day hassle-free money back guarantee,” the company made it difficult (if not impossible) for them to get a refund.

 If you are considering putting your hard-earned money into something like this, you should ask a lot of questions, look for red flags, and check them out thoroughly. Warning signs might include:
  • Fake testimonials. Beware of “real life” rags to riches stories that show how ordinary people drastically changed their lifestyles. There are often glitzy videos, showing people living in lush mansions, traveling around the world to exotic locations and being with interesting people. Often, scammers will “seed” their pitches with a few carefully chosen examples of people who were “just like you” until they learned the “secret.”
  • Amazing claims. Ask any self-made wealthy person, and almost all will tell you a story of discipline and hard work, accompanied by trials, successes and failures along the way. But the purveyors of these schemes would have you believe you can change your lifestyle overnight, just by running a simple code in the background of a website or using some “secret” technique. It just doesn’t pass the smell test.
  • Upselling. Once they have your attention and you become an “insider,” get-rich-quick scheme operators will attempt to get you to invest in other products, often with a high price tag.
  • Evasion. If you are paying, you have the right to ask questions and get solid answers. The company should be responsive, transparent and answer your questions honestly. Often though, a visit to a website will only generate more questions. The company’s legal name, physical location, credentials, and key management should be clearly indicated. But a website containing only a sales pitch (or which blocks your navigation) is not a good sign.

If you’ve fallen victim to a get-rich-quick scam, you can file a complaint at http://ftccomplaintassistant.gov.

 

IRS scams starting early this year

via IRS scams starting early, clarionledger.com

PDF: IRS Scams off to early start 1IRS Scams off to early start 2

As each new year begins, so does tax-scam season. Consumer watchdogs, regulatory agencies and consumer writers like me start warning people about tax cons. Usually, we start ringing the warning bells sometime in January. But this year, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is sending out an early warning about scammers seeking to swindle you out of your tax refunds or scaring you into sending money.

Few things strike fear into the heart of John Q. Taxpayer as a call or urgent letter from the IRS, demanding payment. And of course, crooks know this and are looking to cash in. This week, Hood’s office sent out a news release revealing that they’d received recent reports from Mississippi consumers who were contacted by people claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service or Treasury Department and demanding payment.

“These con artists are intimidating and sound convincing and can even alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling,” Hood warned. “The number one thing to remember is that if the IRS needs to contact you, they’ll do it by postal mail first, and they will not threaten to arrest or sue you.” Hood added that the callers usually use frightening language such as, “This is your official final notice — the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you.”

“The caller claims the consumer owes money to the IRS and insists that it be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer,” he said. “If the victim refuses to cooperate, the scammer threatens the victim by stating that he or she will be arrested or that a lawsuit will be filed against them.”

Hood recounted another version of the scam, in which the scammer claims the victim has a refund available, but need a bank account number or other private information to process and deposit it. Often, the caller leaves an “urgent” callback request. Crooks have also been known to use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers.

If you think you owe the IRS any amount, call (800) 829-1040 to get advice on payment. If you get such a call, and know you don’t owe anything, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at (800) 366-4484 or visit www.tigta.gov.

Here are some other tips, courtesy of Hood’s Office of Consumer Protection:

  • Don’t answer the phone for a number you don’t recognize or that shows up as your own. If you do answer, hang up as soon as you realize it is a scam. Even answering simple questions in the affirmative or negative could be used to try to scam you.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who is vague or evasive in identifying themselves.
  • Never wire or send money in any form to unfamiliar people or organizations.
  • Don’t give out personally identifiable information; it could expose you to identity theft.

If you suspect your personal information has been compromised or think you’ve been a victim of fraud, identity theft or any other scam, call the Consumer Protection Division at (800) 281-4418. For more tips, visit http://www.ago.state.ms.us/releases/ag-hood-reminds-mississippians-of-fake-irs-collectors/.

Dietary supplements not always what they claim

via Dietary supplements not always what they claim, clarionledger.com

PDF: Supplements 1Supplements 2

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on dietary supplements, touted to relieve everything that could possibly be wrong with you. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements estimates that, in 2014, Americans spent nearly $37 billion on these products, with much of that money going toward products promising to help you lose weight, build muscles, increase sexual function and ease pain (among many others).

But increasingly, consumer advocates and regulators are warning that the marketing claims made by some of these products are questionable, if not patently false. Recently, federal regulators put the brakes on schemes by three Florida-based companies that they accused of deceptively marketing and selling dietary supplements, promising relief for a wide range of ailments.

According to the FTC’s complaint, NextGen Nutritionals, Strictly Health and Cyber Business Technology and their owners made false or unsubstantiated representations for five dietary supplements including BioMazing HCG Full-Potency Weight-Loss Drops, Hoodoba diet pills, Fucoidan Force (touted to fight cancer, HIV/AIDS and even high cholesterol), Immune Strong (claimed to be able to strengthen the immune system), and VascuVite (for blood pressure). Ads for the products appeared on a variety of websites.

The FTC took issue with a number of specific claims for each product, accusing the companies of making unsubstantiated claims, not backed by adequate scientific evidence, and accused the companies of posting a “Certified Ethical Site” seal on several of their websites, which directed consumers to “click to verify.” “Consumers who clicked on the seal were taken to another website claiming that defendants’ website had been verified as ‘ethical’ and ‘trustworthy’ by Ethical Site, ‘the most reliable evaluator of trust in the online marketplace,’” the FTC alleged. In fact, the agency noted, Ethical Site was not an independent third-party certification program, but was in fact owned and controlled by the company’s owners.

In addition to ordering the companies to cease and desist from making false or unsubstantiated claims, the company was ordered to pay $29,030 out of a total judgment of $1,344,173, after claiming they didn’t have the money to pay.

If you are thinking about taking a dietary supplement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urges you to think carefully, check with your physician and consider these tips:

Avoid “one product does it all” claims. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases, the FDA advises.

Be suspicious of personal testimonials, even from trusted celebrities. Success stories such as “It cured my diabetes” or “My tumors are gone” are easy to make up and are not a substitution for scientific evidence, the FDA notes on its website.

Watch for claims of quick fixes. Unfortunately, most diseases and conditions take time to treat, even with established products. If a product claims to do anything “in a few days,” it’s a red flag.

“All natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” Just because some things are found in nature doesn’t mean they’re safe to consume, yet unscrupulous marketers have successfully used this claim for years. In fact, products sold with this claim might include toxins, allergens or even ingredients found in prescription drugs.

“Miracle cures” usually aren’t. If someone really found a cure for the common cold or cancer, it would be all over the news, wouldn’t it? Avoid products that claim miraculous results or that the product has been purposely kept from public use.

Doubt claims that products are “FDA-approved.” “Domestic or imported dietary supplements are not approved by the FDA,” the agency advises on its website.

To read the full story, visit http://bit.ly/2Bv0Dtt. The FTC’s complaint is available at http://bit.ly/2ncB9hj.

‘No-call’ reporting app blocks unwanted telemarketers

via ‘No-call’ reporting app blocks unwanted telemarketers

PDF: New PSC No Call App

We’ve all had those calls that are trying to sell us something, or that appear to be scams. In the past few years, we’ve gotten some help in the form of Caller ID and call blocking, but these remain only marginally effective at stopping unwanted telemarketing and scam calls. “Do-not-call” lists have been somewhat effective as well, but are challenged by the explosion in automated calling (“robocalls”).

Now, the Mississippi Public Service Commission has unveiled a new smartphone app that makes it easier and quicker to report an unwanted call. The free “MS No-Call App” is available from the Apple Store and Google Play, and it allows users to register numbers with the statewide list, and file complaints immediately from their smartphones.

“We want to empower people by placing a tool literally in their hands to help us get at these predatory telemarketers,” noted PSC Chairman Brandon Presley in a news release. “This free app was a long time coming, and I know it will revolutionize the way we track down the lawbreakers and shut their call operations down.”

Since the rollout of “no-call” legislation both at the national and state levels in 2003, Mississippians have been able to place their numbers on “do-not-call” lists. And last year, the PSC began allowing cellphone numbers to be added to the list.

Last December, the Federal Trade Commission reported that more than 226 million numbers had been placed on the national list since the do-not-call lists became active in 2003. And in 2015, that number increased about 3 percent. Some industry experts attribute that rise to increasing use of robocalling technology. It’s a big problem; billions of robocalls are placed every month, and CNBC reported 2.6 billion robocalls last May alone.

For companies or individuals who violate the state and/or federal do-not-call laws, there can be stiff penalties, and many companies have found themselves on the wrong end of judgments and lawsuits from regulators, costing them millions. Around 20,000 companies and organizations have applied for access to the national list, according to the FTC report. But the list has not stopped criminals from violating the law on a regular basis, a lot of them using robocall technology. Many robocalls originate from overseas, making it difficult to stop them.

When I heard about the new app, I decided to give it a try. After downloading and installing the app, I was asked to enter my name, address, and email, as well as the telephone number I wanted to add to the list. Once registered, the user can add additional numbers to the list, file a complaint about a call they received and sign up for additional information. There was a disclaimer that your number will be added to the do-not-call list, and you may be asked to file an affidavit to support your complaint, should it be needed.

Usage is simple and straightforward, and should allow you to immediately report numbers that come to your cellphone or landline. When reporting a questionable call or text, you’ll be asked for specific information about the number the caller used, the time and date of the call, what the call was about, whether you have an existing business relationship with the caller and whether you answered the call.

There are numerous apps that use the national registry, and others that block calls from known scammers, spammers and robocallers. A list of some of these is available at https://www.ctia.org/consumer-tips/robocalls.

For more information about Mississippi’s No Call Law, visit www.psc.state.ms.us or call 1-800-637-7722.

Student debt: Scams hit students struggling to pay back loans

Source: Student debt: Scams hit students struggling to pay back loans

Student loan debt has ballooned in the past few years. The Federal Reserve reported recently that Americans owe more than $1.45 trillion in student loans, making it the second-largest segment of U.S. debt (second only to mortgages).

While many students are financing their college education through a mixture of scholarships, grants, loans, personal savings and help from their families, there can be a lot of confusion about the student loan process.

That confusion can make borrowers prone to being victimized by predatory companies, who make false promises of relief and assistance. That’s why federal and state regulators and private watchdog organizations are taking a team approach to battle a variety of frauds and scams directed at students and their families.

The Federal Trade Commission recently announced “Operation Game of Loans,” which included 36 separate actions, including seven FTC cases and other casesbrought by chief law enforcement officers in 11 states and the District of Columbia. In total, the FTC reports, the scams collected about $95 million in illegal fees from consumers.

“Winter is coming for debt relief scams that prey on hardworking Americans struggling to pay back their student loans,” said Maureen K. Ohlhausen, FTC acting chairman. “The FTC is proud to work with state partners to protect consumers from these scams, help them learn how to spot a scam, and let them know where to go for legitimate help.”
Federal actions included cases brought against five companies, including California-based A-1DocPrep Inc., Alliance Document Preparation and Student Debt Relief Group; as well as Florida-based American Student Loan Consolidators and Student Debt Doctor. The companies have been charged with a variety of offenses.
For example, the FTC charged A1DocPrep with contacting consumers while claiming to represent the U.S. Department of Education, while “targeting distressed homeowners” and making false claims they could prevent foreclosure.
Others are charged with making false promises of loan forgiveness; charging illegal upfront fees to assist with reducing student loan balances; and collecting Social Security numbers and other sensitive information to be used to “hijack consumers’ accounts while cutting them off from their loan servicers or the U.S. Department of Education.”

In addition, the FTC announced they had sued two Florida-based operations that allegedly targeted borrowers with fraudulent or ineffective services, while collecting millions in fees.

While Mississippi was not among the states listed in the recent announcement, it’s likely that Mississippians have been victimized by these scams. To help consumers avoid becoming a victim of fraud, the FTC advises us to beware of promises that a company or organization can promise fast loan forgiveness, which often comes from a telemarketer, email or direct-mail piece that claims to be affiliated with the U.S. Government. Scammers can duplicate an official seal, so don’t be fooled.

“Consumers should never pay an upfront fee for help,” continues the agency, “and should not share their FSA ID — a username and password used to log in to U.S. Department of Education websites — with anyone.”

Borrowers can find out about — and apply for — deferment, forebearance or discharge programs for free directly from the U.S. Department of Education or their loan servicer.

For more information about repaying your student loans, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans.

Brace yourself for Equifax scams

phishingSource: Equifax scams next consumer headache, clarionledger.com

It was perhaps only a matter of time before crooks jumped on the opportunity to cash in on the confusion following the massive Equifax data breach.

In case you have been in a cave the past couple of weeks, here’s a recap of what’s happened: Equifax, one of the “Big 3” credit bureaus that compile and sell credit data on hundreds of millions of consumers, announced recently that hackers had been playing around in its database for several weeks this summer.

The result: sensitive data on an estimated 143 million consumers from multiple countries had been compromised. Equifax is getting hammered by regulators and the public not only for having inadequate security in the first place, but also because they waited several weeks to report the breach; encouraged customers to sign up for free “credit monitoring” services that initially contained language that would potentially take away their legal rights, and then charged for “freezing” consumers’ credit accounts. After tremendous pressure, Equifax backpedaled on the last two items, but the damage to the company is likely to be long-lasting.

 Although it wasn’t the biggest breach in history by the numbers (that distinction belongs to Yahoo), it was particularly dangerous because thieves got away with information that connected Social Security numbers, names, addresses and other key pieces of information. These pieces of data are likely being sold on the black market, to be used by other thieves to steal your identity.

Last week, Attorney General Jim Hood joined with his counterparts across the nation to announce they were suing Equifax for failing to protect consumers’ information. Members of Congress are demanding investigations, and class-action lawsuits are certainly on the way.

The whole thing has left a whole lot of Americans trying to figure out what to do to protect themselves from the risk of identity theft. While freezing your account at Equifax and its counterparts TransUnion and Experian is the route most experts advise (as of this writing, the other two companies are charging for this service), scammers are already trying to convince people to give up personal information or even pay for additional scam services. A rising chorus of regulatory agencies is warning consumers not to take the bait.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are calling consumers claiming they’re with Equifax and are calling to “verify your account information.” But Equifax has stated they’ll only be sending notices through the mail to anyone who was exposed. “Stop. Don’t tell them anything,” warned the FTC in a blog post. “They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.”

The FTC advises that, if you get such a call, your best bet is to hang up. Do not press “1” or any other key or respond in any way. In any case, don’t give any personal information to the caller. Caller ID can’t be trusted, even if it looks like the call comes from your home area code and local exchange. It’s not; scammers have long ago figured out how to “spoof” the Caller ID information to fool you into thinking it’s a local call.

 It’s also likely that there’ll be email scams or even “snail mail” claiming to be able to help you deal with the Equifax breach. These communications might even look like they come from Equifax or some other known company, but in reality are “phishing” scams designed to fool you into clicking on links or call to get services. Again, don’t take the bait.

This week, Hood warned of scam websites that have popped up. He said some fake websites that attorneys general have gotten taken down included “equifaxsecurity2018” and another that had Equifax incorrectly spelled “Equifox.”

Equifax and the credit-reporting industry are in for what promises to be an extensive period of lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and media thrashing. Consumer advocates and regulators have complained for decades that the industry is in need of serious oversight because of recurring patterns of shoddy record-keeping, failing to safeguard our data and wielding tremendous power over the financial lives of nearly every American without adequate oversight. Perhaps it’s time for a serious look at this industry and a national discussion about its place in the American economic landscape.

Scam? Many ‘Invention promotion’ companies are nothing but

 

invention promotion

Clarionledger.com

 

Source: Scam? Many ‘Invention promotion’ companies are nothing but, clarionledger.com

Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes it comes when we least expect it.

For me, the “a-ha!” moment often hits in the dead of night, or when I’m in the middle of a meeting or driving. We Americans are a nation of problem-solvers, and it’s no wonder that we’ve come up with some of the world’s best ideas. The list of world-changing inventions dreamed up by Americans is astounding.

Sometimes, what you or I think of as a revolutionary idea has already been tried; other times they’re not practical, not marketable or are hamstrung by red tape and competition. But every once in a while, somebody comes up with something amazing and makes millions. It’s this quest for fame and fortune that drives many people to take their idea for a “better mousetrap” and go for it.

TV shows such as “Shark Tank” have propelled many inventors to riches and glory, as celebrity investors decide whether the ideas are worth a shot. An industry has even sprung up around the potential profit in new inventions, promising to help get your idea patented, protected and marketed.

But, as some budding Edisons have discovered, many “invention promotion” companies are nothing but scams, designed to hook the hopeful into spending big bucks with dreams of getting their products to market.

Back in March, the Federal Trade Commission busted a Miami Beach, Florida-based company called World Patent Marketing, which had allegedly promised would-be inventors it could help its clients successfully develop and market their products. Instead, the FTC told a federal court, all but a few consumers found themselves shelling out big bucks with nothing to show for it. In all, the FTC’s complaint alleges, the scheme bilked consumers out of more than $10 million. The complaint also accused parent company Desa Industries and its CEO Scott Cooper of involvement in the scheme.

 The company is accused of using a variety of tactics to lure new customers and reassure existing ones, such as made-up “success stories” about people the company had helped. Adding insult to injury, some customers claimed that when they tried to complain or wrote negative online reviews, the company used intimidating tactics to shut them down, including threatening them with lawsuits.

One potential inventor told the Broward County, Florida, Sun-Sentinel that he had given $300,000 to the company to promote his idea for a net device that could be attached to a cellphone case to hold keys and other small items, only to come up empty-handed.

 For its part, Cooper’s legal team has noted in court filings that the invention-promotion business is risky, and that fact is made clear on its website and promotional materials as a warning to potential clients.

If you do come up with an extraordinary idea, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office advises that you proceed carefully. The agency has a brochure at https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/ScamPrevent.pdf that lists some of the warning signs of an invention-promotion scam, and notes that the law requires invention promotion companies must disclose the following information:

  • The total number of inventions they’ve evaluated in the past five years and the number of those that received positive and negative evaluations.
  • The total number of customers with whom they’ve contracted for actual invention-promotion services.
  • The total number of customers who have received a net profit after working with the firm as a direct result of that relationship, as well as the total number of customers receiving licensing agreements as a result of the company’s work.
  • The names and addresses of all companies associated with the company.

If you want to find out more, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0184-invention-promotion-firms, as well as http://ipwatchdog.com.

Freezing your credit after the Equifax breach

 

freeze credit

NASA Federal Credit Union

 

Source: Freezing your credit after the Equifax breach, clarionledger.com

A recent data breach from one of the nation’s largest credit bureaus has sent shockwaves throughout an industry that holds information affecting the financial futures of millions of Americans.

Hackers reportedly broke into the files of Equifax for a six-week period from May through July, making off with personal information for about 143 million consumers. This brazen heist is one of the largest to date, potentially exposing nearly half of Americans to the risk of identity theft (along with considerable numbers of Canadians and British citizens).

“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do,” an apologetic Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard F. Smith said in a video statement. “I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes.”

 You may recall that Equifax and the other “Big 3” credit bureaus were sued in recent years by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and his counterparts around the nation after allegations of shoddy record-keeping and reporting practices led to errors and damage for some consumers. The suit resulted in a 2016 settlement of more than $7 million.

Of course, data breaches are nothing new, and happen constantly as hackers probe the security of databases around the world. The threshold for making the national news has gotten higher, so if a breach makes big news, it’s usually one that has set a record.

“The types of data potentially exposed in this breach could ruin lives, businesses, and might I say, credit scores,” Hank Thomas, chief operating officer at Strategic Cyber Ventures, a Washington incubator of cybersecurity companies, told McClatchy News Services. The trove of data (with a potential value of hundreds of millions of dollars on the black market) included names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, driver’s license numbers and credit card information.

As you read this news, you might be asking yourself, “should I be worried?” Most every source I’ve consulted says the answer is a resounding “yes.” The amount and type of data that has been compromised can expose you to the risk of identity theft for years to come. Using this data, fraudsters could open new credit accounts or lines of credit in your name, apply for driver’s licenses, even get speeding tickets on your record (for which you can be arrested) and steal government payments such as Social Security checks and tax refunds.

The danger is here, and it’s real. So, what next? In the wake of the announcement (which Equifax waited several weeks to do), the company announced it would be offering a year of free credit monitoring through its TrustedID Premier service. But many advocates pointed out that signing up for the service includes language that some said could be construed as signing away the consumer’s right to sue over the breach. After significant pushback, the language was changed. Still, some financial experts advise consumers not to sign up for the one-year monitoring, since the effects of the breach could last years.

Many experts advise that consumers who may be affected by the breach place a “credit freeze” on their reports at all three major reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Placing a freeze on your account takes a little effort and can be inconvenient. But if you are applying for credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze yourself, and re-enable it later. A credit freeze blocks your credit reports from being shared with potential new creditors. Without a credit report, most lenders won’t open a new line of credit. (It won’t stop them from changing information on existing accounts, however.) Freezing your accounts will not affect your credit or score.

Note: Bowing to public outcry after the breach, Equifax announced Sept. 11 that it would waive all fees for the next 30 days for consumers who request a credit freeze. To freeze your file on Equifax, click on: https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp. (It wasn’t known at the time of this writing whether TransUnion and Experian would also be waiving fees on credit-freeze requests.)

For more on credit freezes, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-data-breach-what-do.