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Beware of call claiming to be IRS


 

From the BBB of Western Michigan

 

For the past weeks many West Michigan residents have been receiving phone calls that purport to be from the IRS, advising them that there is a problem with their federal income tax return. The BBB serving Western Michigan is being informed every day about phone calls supposedly from the IRS that become increasingly threatening, and ultimately demand money from you. The real IRS says they won’t call you, they will communicate by mail.

If you have been contacted by phone by someone claiming to be from the IRS, BBB suggests that you file a complaint at http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.  You can also call 1.800.366.4484.

The IRS says that this is the latest in a series of scams aimed at taxpayers in an effort to steal your identity. They caution that you should avoid giving out personal information over the phone unless you are positive that you have the real IRS on the line. Keep in mind that the IRS does not take tax payments over the phone; however, they have a number of payment options on their website at www.irs.gov.

Additionally, IRS Criminal Investigation does not collect payments of taxes. If you do receive a summons from IRS they’re not going to call you in advance. The IRS is working with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to try to stop these frauds. The IRS asks taxpayers to be diligent as they work to “protect taxpayers from the ongoing trend of phone scams pretending to be the IRS.”

BBB reminds you that the IRS will never ask you for personal information using email or social media as a first contact: your first contact with the IRS is usually by mail. The IRS won’t ask for payment using a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer or ask for a credit card number over the phone. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. And the IRS won’t use threatening language or claim that you’ll be reported to other agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or local law enforcement.

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Warning: What to do about the “Heartbleed” bug


BUS-Warning-Heartbleed-web

By Katherine Hutt, BBB

Unless you’ve been vacationing on a tropical island for the past few days, you’ve likely heard of the “Heartbleed” bug, a computer security vulnerability that can reveal the contents of a server’s memory and expose private data such as user names, passwords and even credit card information.

The Heartbleed bug exploits a flaw in the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) of popular open source software called OpenSSL. SSL is the standard security technology that establishes an encrypted link between a user’s web browser and the server where a website is hosted. It is used to secure numerous kinds of data transfers, including email, instant messaging, social media, and business transactions. Encryption is essential to Internet security.

The flaw, discovered on April 7 but apparently in existence for two years, means that attackers can copy a server’s digital keys and use them to impersonate servers to decode communications from the past (and, potentially, the future).

For businesses:

BBB recommends that businesses immediately check to see if their website(s) use Open SSL or have been vulnerable. One way to check, recommended by tech/media website CNET, is a tool at https://filippo.io/Heartbleed/ developed by a cryptography consultant. If vulnerability exists, businesses should work with their IT department or computer professional to install a more secure SSL on their websites.

For systems administrators:

Systems administrators should follow the advice of US-CERT, the Computer Emergency Response Team. Although this information comes from the U.S. government, it is applicable to systems in other countries.

For consumers:

CNET has also published a list of the top 100 websites, which it is updating regularly as it checks for vulnerabilities and repairs. Consumers can check this list or use the tool mentioned above to see if websites they regularly use are free of problems, or have fixed vulnerabilities.

It’s also imperative that consumers change passwords on all sites, particularly those that retain personal identifying information. Change your password after confirming that the site is not vulnerable or has fixed its SSL.

The “Stop. Think. Connect.” campaign offers the following suggestions to protect your identity:

Secure your accounts: Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you conduct business on that site.

Make passwords long and strong: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password.

Unique account, unique password: Separate passwords for every account helps to thwart cybercriminals.

Write it down and keep it safe: Everyone can forget a password. Keep a list that’s stored in a safe, secure place away from your computer.

Own your online presence: When available, set the privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing. It’s ok to limit how and with whom you share information.

BBB also suggests choosing passwords that are phrases (for instance, ilovetofish) and making each letter O into a zero to make the password more complex. Look into password management software to help you keep track of really “long and strong” passwords.

BBB’s servers do not use Open Source SSL. All of its websites have been checked and found to be free of vulnerabilities.

- See more at: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2014/04/warning-heres-what-to-do-about-heartbleed-bug/#sthash.5DtW50Dn.dpuf

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Scammers capitalizing on tornado victims


From the Better Business Bureau

The Salvation Army released the following warning:

We received word from one of our National Advisory Board members about a robo-call from an organization (no name given) mounting an emergency appeal for funds for tornado disaster relief in Oklahoma. The pitch included specific reference to American Red Cross and Salvation Army, with text along the lines of “The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army are on site working, and we need more funds to keep help coming.” There was an option to press 1 to donate. The call came from phone number 888-981-6499.

Please be advised that this is NOT authorized fundraising of either The Salvation Army or the American Red Cross.  We ask that you please warn your territories and/or Board Members about this scam.”

BBB Serving Western Michigan offers the following basic wise giving tips:

1. Get the Charity’s exact name. With so many charities in existence, mistaken identity is a common problem. Thousands of charities have “cancer” in their name, for example, but no connection with one another.

2. Resist pressure to give on the spot, whether from a telemarketer, door-to-door solicitor or telephone call.

3. Be wary of heart-wrenching appeals. What matters is what the charity is doing to help.

4. Press for specifics. If the charity says it’s helping the homeless, for example, ask how and where it’s working.

5. Check websites for basics. A charity’s mission, program and finances should be available on its site. If not, check for a report at www.give.org.

6. Check with state charity officials. In many states, charities are required to register, usually with the office of the attorney general, before soliciting. Check http://www.nasconet.org/documents/u-s-charity-offices/ for the relevant office in your state.

7. Don’t assume that every soliciting organization is tax exempt as a charity. You can readily check an organization’s tax status at www.irs.gov/app/eos.

 

 

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BBB names top 10 scams of 2011


From the Better Business Bureau
Better Business Bureau investigates thousands of scams every year, from the latest gimmicks to schemes as old as the hills. Our new Scam Source (www.bbb.org/scam) is a comprehensive resource on scam investigations from BBBs around the country, with tips from BBB, law enforcement and others. You can sign up to receive our Scam Alerts by email, and you can also be a scam detective yourself by reporting scams you’ve discovered.
We’ve divided scams up into nine major categories and picked the top scam in each, plus our Scam of the Year.
Top Job Scam
BBB sees lots of secret shopper schemes, work-from-home scams, and other phony job offers, but the worst job-related scam can dash your hopes and steal your identity. Emails, websites and online applications all look very professional, and the candidate is even interviewed for the job (usually over the phone) and then receives an offer. In order to start the job, however, the candidate has to fill out a “credit report” or provide bank information for direct deposit of their “paychecks.” The online forms are nothing more than a way to capture sensitive personal data—Social Security number, bank accounts, etc.—that can easily be used for identity theft. And, of course, there is no job, either.
Top Sweepstakes and Lottery Scam
Sweepstakes and lottery scams come in all shapes and sizes, but the bottom line is almost always this: you’ve won a whole lot of money, and in order to claim it you have to send us a smaller amount of money. Oh, and keep this confidential until we’re ready to announce your big winnings. This year’s top sweepstakes scam was undoubtedly the email claiming to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the recipient was the winner of $1 million from the popular social networking site. These kinds of scams often use celebrities or other famous names to make their offer seem more genuine. If you aren’t sure, don’t click on the link but instead go directly to the homepage of the company mentioned. If they are really giving away $1 million, there will be some kind of announcement on their website. But don’t waste too much time looking.
Top Social Media/Online Dating Scam
On the Internet, it’s easy to pretend to be someone you are not. There are tons of ways to use social media for scams, but one this year really stands out because it appeals to our natural curiosity…and it sounds like it’s coming from a friend. Viral videos claiming to show everything from grisly footage of Osama bin Laden’s death to the latest celebrity hijinks have shown up on social media sites, often looking as if they have been shared by a friend. When you click on the link, you are prompted to “upgrade your Flash player,” but the file you end up downloading contains a worm that logs into your social media account, sends similar messages to your friends, and searches for your personal data. The next time you see a sensational headline for the latest viral video, resist the urge to peek.
Top Home Improvement Scam
Always near the top of BBB complaint data are home improvement contractors who often leave your home worse than they found it. They usually knock on your door with a story or a deal—the roofer who can spot some missing shingles on your roof, the paver with some leftover asphalt who can give you a great deal on driveway resealing. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law…and angry consumers. The worst are those who move in after a natural disaster, taking advantage of desperate homeowners who need immediate help and may not be as suspicious as they would be under normal circumstances. A large percentage of BBB’s Accredited Businesses are home contractors who want to make sure you know they are legitimate, trustworthy and dependable. Find one at www.bbb.org/search.
Top Check Cashing Scam
Two legitimate companies–Craig’s List and Western Union—are used for an inordinate amount of scamming these days, and especially check cashing scams. Here’s how it works: Someone contacts you via a Craig’s List posting, maybe for a legitimate reason like buying your old couch or perhaps through a scam like hiring you as a secret shopper. Either way, they send you a check for more than the amount they owe you, and they ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then send them the difference via Western Union. A deposited check takes a couple of days to clear, whereas wired money is gone instantly. When the original check bounces, you are out whatever money you wired…and you’re still stuck with the old couch.
Top Phishing Scam
“Phishing” is when you receive a suspicious phone call asking for personal information or an email that puts a virus on your computer to hunt for your data. It’s almost impossible to avoid them if you have a telephone or an email account. But the most pernicious phishing scam this year disguised itself as official communication from NACHA—the National Automated Clearing House Association—which facilitates the secure transfer of billions of electronic transactions every year. The email claims one of your transactions did not go through, and it hopes you react quickly and click on the link before thinking it through. It may take you to a fake banking site to “verify” you account information, or it may download malware to infiltrate your computer.
Top Identity Theft Scam
There are a million ways to steal someone’s identity. This one has gotten so prevalent that many hotels are posting warnings in their lobby. Here’s how it works: You get a call in your hotel room in the middle of the night. It’s the front desk clerk, very apologetic, saying their computer has crashed and they need to get your credit card number again, or they must have gotten the number wrong because the transaction won’t go through, and could you please read the number back so they can fix the problem? Scammers are counting on you being too sleepy to catch on that the call isn’t from the hotel at all, but from someone outside who knows the direct-dial numbers for the guest rooms. By the time morning rolls around and you are clear-headed, your credit card has been on a major shopping spree.
Top Financial Scam
In challenging economic times, many people are looking for help getting out of debt or hanging on to their home, and almost as many scammers appear to take advantage of desperate situations. Because the federal government announced or expanded several mortgage relief programs this year, all kinds of sound-alike websites have popped up to try to fool consumers into parting with their money. Some sound like a government agency, or even part of BBB or other nonprofit consumer organization. Most ask for an upfront fee to help you deal with your mortgage company or the government (services you could easily do yourself for free), and almost all leave you in more debt than when you started.
Top Sales Scam
Sales scams are as old as humanity, but the Internet has introduced a whole new way to rip people off. Penny auctions are very popular because it seems like you can get something useful—cameras, computers, etc.—for way below retail. But you pay a small fee for each bid (usually 50¢ to $1.00) and if you aren’t the winner, you lose that bid money. Winners often are not even the top bidder, just the last bidder when time runs out. Although not all penny auction sites are scams, some are being investigated as online gambling. BBB recommends you treat them the same way you would legal gambling in a casino—know exactly how the bidding works, set a limit for yourself, and be prepared to walk away before you go over that limit.
Scam of the Year
Yep, it’s us—the BBB phishing scam. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people have gotten emails that very much look like an official notice from BBB. The subject line says something like “Complaint Against Your Business,” and the instructions tell the recipient to either click on a link or open an attachment to get the details. If the recipient does either, a malicious virus is launched on their computer…a virus that can steal banking information, passwords and other critical pieces of information needed for cyber-theft. BBB is working with security consultants and federal law enforcement to track down the source of these emails, and has already shut down dozens of hijacked websites. Anyone who has opened an attachment or clicked on a link should run a complete system scan using reputable anti-virus software. If your computer is networked with others, all machines on the network should be scanned, as well.
For more information on these and other scams, go to BBB Scam Source (www.bbb.org/scam). Sign up for our Scam Alerts and learn about new scams as soon as we do.

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BBB New Year’s Resolutions for 2012


This week a security company’s computer was hacked and money stolen from many customer accounts.  It’s more important than ever to resolve to be a savvy internet user and wise consumer. Your Better Business Bureau offers the following New Year’s resolutions to become a safer and wiser consumer in 2012:

1.    Fight identity theft. Always shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data and dispose of computers, cell phones and digital data safely.  Don’t provide your social security number, credit card number, debit card pin, bank account information, or your driver’s license number to anyone on the phone unless you are certain they represent a legitimate business.  Don’t leave financial information in your mailbox that might be accessed by identity thieves.
2.    Keep criminals from stealing information on your computer and online.  Every password and every computer can be hacked with enough time and effort. Purchase virus software and keep it updated.  Don’t click through to links or websites you are unsure of.  The more difficult you make it for someone to get your password, the better.  Use at least 8 characters in your password, only do business online with reputable organizations on secure (https) websites.  Don’t use the same password on different important online accounts.
3.    Beware of job offers to make easy money. Scammers are targeting job hunters, so beware of offers, work-at-home schemes or business opportunities promising big money for little work and no experience.
4.    Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Many scammers request that you wire money back to them. Scammers know tracking money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union is extremely difficult. Even more troubling, it’s nearly impossible to get your money back.
5.    Fight fake check fraud. Educate yourself on the common types of check fraud and be wary of checks that come with claims you’ve won the lottery, are eligible for a government grant or have landed a job as a secret shopper.
6.    Get everything in writing. Don’t just take a business’ word for it. Get agreements in writing to limit miscommunication and misunderstandings between your expectations and what the business delivers.
7.    Look for the BBB seal and always check businesses out before buying. 400,000 businesses meet the BBB’s Standards for Trust and bear the BBB Accreditation Seal.   Your BBB doesn’t just report on Accredited Businesses, you can access BBB Business Reviews for nearly 4 million businesses by visiting www.bbb.org or calling (616)774-8230 or toll free (800)684-3222.
8.    Ask your BBB for help. File a complaint with your BBB if you have a disagreement with a business or been ripped off by a scammer.  The BBB will contact the business and ask for their explanation of the issue.  Often, the BBB can assist in reaching a resolution.

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Donor alert: Giving to tsunami and Japanese earthquake victims


Be sure disaster relief charities are legitimate and equipped to help

March 14, 2011 – Grand Rapids, Michigan – As we learn more about the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit near the northeast coast of Japan on Friday, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance warns that—as occurred following the tsunami in 2004, Katrina in 2005 and the earthquake in Haiti just last year—fraudulent charities will likely emerge to try and scam donations from well-meaning Americans. BBB WGA urges givers to make sure their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need.

“Whenever there is a major natural disaster, be it home or abroad, there are two things you can count on. The first is the generosity of Americans to donate time and money to help victims, and the second is the appearance of poorly run and in some cases fraudulent charities,” said Ken Vander Meeden, BBB President.  “Not only do Americans need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to make sure their money goes to competent relief organizations that are equipped and experienced to handle the unique challenges of providing assistance.”

BBB of Western Michigan offers the following seven tips to help Americans decide where to direct donations:

Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.

Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

Be cautious when giving online.

Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the tsunami disaster in 2004, there were concerns raised about many websites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.

Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the disaster impact areas.

Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to get new aid workers to quickly provide assistance.  See if the charity’s website clearly describes what they can do to address immediate needs.

Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.

Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations.  If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to charities that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to ensure the organizations are equipped to effectively provide aid.

Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.

Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims that 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting earthquake victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses.  They may use some of their other funds to pay this, but the expenses will still be incurred.

Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.

In-kind drives for food and clothing—while well intentioned— may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to be able to properly distribute such aid. Ask the charity about their transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.

Look for details when texting a donation.

Beginning with the earthquake in Haiti, it’s become common to send a text to make a donation. Make sure you understand the amount to be donated, and whether there will be any service fees charged to your account. Be sure the offer clearly identifies which charity will receive the donation, then check out the charity.

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Protect your debit card number from ATM skimming


From the Better Business Bureau of West Michigan

Even if you’re choosy about which ATMs you use, you can still become a victim of identity thieves who place seamless devices on machines to steal debit card information. ATM skimming is a growing problem and the Better Business Bureau recommends consumers take a few steps to protect themselves from becoming the next victim.
According to Bankrate.com, ATM skimmers are close to reaping $1 billion annually from unsuspecting consumers. Javelin Strategy & Research estimates that one in five people have become victims.
Identity thieves tamper with ATMs in any number of different ways in order to steal debit card numbers and PINs. It only takes a few seconds to install cameras over the keypad or a device over the card reader. ATMs aren’t the only hot spots, credit card swipers at gas pumps and retailers can be tampered with as well.
“Skimming devices are becoming increasingly harder to detect and often blend in seamlessly with the ATM,” said Ken Vander Meeden, President of the BBB Serving Western Michigan. “If you’re going to use an ATM, you could become a victim, and it’s important to monitor your accounts closely so you can quickly detect any fraudulent activity on your card and minimize your losses.”
Following are a few ways to fight identity thieves at the ATM:
Protect your PIN – When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to prevent any cameras from catching your digits. False keypads placed over the real keypad are also a way scammers get PIN numbers so if the keypad looks different, move on.
Give it a wiggle – Skimming devices are often false panels attached to the ATM – such as where you put your card into the machine. If parts of the ATM look damaged or different, give it a wiggle. Also look for new or suspiciously placed cameras and unusual signage. Don’t hesitate to walk away and use another ATM if it doesn’t feel right.
Be picky with your ATMS – Avoid using ATMs in poorly lighted or low trafficked areas. Experts often recommend choosing a bank ATM over standalone ATMs in public places. Not only do identity thieves attach devices to legitimate ATMs to steal numbers, they will also place their own phony ATMS in public places.
Keep an eye on your statements – The most vigilant person can still fall victim to ATM skimmers, and it’s important to always keep a close eye on your accounts—particularly the itemized breakdown of charges and debits—so that you can quickly report any suspicious activity on your account.
Report Fraud Immediately – Report any fraudulent activity to your bank as soon as you discover it. Consumer protections for debit cards vary but depend largely on when you report the fraudulent activity. If you wait too long to report the fraud, your bank account could be cleaned out and your bank might not reimburse you.
For more advice on fighting identity thieves and preventing fraud, visit us online at www.bbb.org/us/consumer-tips-scams/

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Free on-site document shredding and identity theft prevention tips


The Better Business Bureau (BBB) and its national partners, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the National Association for Information Destruction invite the west Michigan community to the BBB “Secure Your ID” Day Saturday, October 17, 2009 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Northview High School, 4451 Hunsberger Drive NE, Grand Rapids.

Residents and small businesses are encouraged to attend the event and take a key step in identity protection by shredding and properly disposing of their sensitive paper documents as well as CDs and floppy discs.  BBB staff will also be on-site to provide expert advice and tips for identity theft protection.

“Properly destroying documents that carry information you don’t want getting into the hands of crooks is an important first step to fighting identity theft, but it doesn’t end there,” said Ken Vander Meeden, BBB of Western Michigan CEO. “That’s why BBB staff will also be on hand offering important advice and simple steps everyone can take to prevent ID theft in their daily lives, both online and off.”

Last year alone, 8.1 million Americans became victims of ID theft, resulting in the loss of $45 billion, according to a 2008 report from Javelin Strategy and Research. The report notes that the majority (56 percent) of ID theft occurs when the thief has direct contact with the victim’s personal information, through a stolen or lost wallet, rifling through a personal mailbox or trashcan, or even lifting documents from inside a home or business.

Bring your documents to be shredded and take home the tips and resources you need to help protect yourself. Documents to be shredded should be removed from binders, but staples, paper clips, CDs and floppy discs are okay to be shredded.

As the result of two nationwide Secure Your ID Days in 2008 alone, the BBB helped individuals and small businesses at more than 83 sites across the country shred 1.2 million pounds of sensitive documents – all for free.  For more information on the BBB “Secure Your ID Day” and identity theft prevention measures for both consumers and businesses, visit:  www.westernmichigan.bbb.org.

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Hang up on this offer


The BBB of Western Michigan warns consumers that a Grant, Michigan based “call center” isn’t exactly getting right back to consumers who sign up for their services. The BBB has received a rash of unanswered complaints in 2009 from Georgia, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida and Ohio stating that KLH Call Center never sent the “leads” as promised, nor refunded any monies.

The local company in question is:

KLH Call Center Services, 1585 W. 120th St., Grant, MI  49327-9706

Phone:  (866) 578-6304  Principal:  John Woods, Sales Manager

The promise of “leads” for $35 to $50 per lead is met with indifference after KLH gets the money.  The BBB has made numerous attempts to present the complaints and obtain refunds for customers contracting for leads and paying $500 to $1,500 in advance. To date, no response has been received from KLH to the complaints presented by the BBB.  BBB review revealed only one customer was able to obtain a refund, and then only by having a local Sheriff’s Officer repeatedly attempt to have KLH pay up.

“KLH has had an ‘F’ rating at the BBB but apparently enough consumers are not checking our report at www.bbb.org before they send money,” stated Ken Vander Meeden, local BBB President. “We know good prospects are hard to find these days, however, sending money to an unknown company, in an unknown area of Michigan, without doing any research, just isn’t a smart thing to do.  Thus far, they have really earned that ‘F’ rating.”

Always check www.bbb.org for over four million reports on U.S. companies.

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