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Tag Archive | "BBB"

Renters and sellers beware of scammers 


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By Judy Reed

If you are trying to sell your home, don’t be surprised if someone comes knocking at your door and asks if it’s for rent. Or, if you’ve already moved out and are still trying to sell it, you might come by to find someone living there. That’s because scammers are stealing house for sale listings and putting them up on Craigslist as rentals.

Local realtor Brynadette Powell, with Arthur K. Eggerding Realty, said this happened to a home she had listed recently on Hoskins. “The lady of the house was home sick, and she had four people come to the door in two days asking if it was for rent,” she explained. She said the next day she was in a broker class and received three messages saying the home was listed on Craigslist to rent for $1200 a month.

“I sent the info to Craigslist and they took it down in about two hours,” said Powell.

Powell said she emailed the poster of the ad, pretending she was interested. She asked who they were, and they emailed back a form letter saying that they had recently settled in Nigeria, and sent her an application. She was told to send them the first month’s rent and a security deposit and she could move in.

Powell said that sometimes the listers tell people that they moved and forgot to leave a key, and that they can just break in.

“I also just recently had a buyer for another agent’s house, and that listing was also hijacked. There were people trying to break into the house because they thought they had a lease,” she explained.

Powell said that one agent she knows called the police about it. “The agent was told that the people who sent the money had a crime against them, but not the owners,” she said.

It’s possible that people get embarrassed and don’t want to report it, however, or they don’t realize they can. According to the fraud division at the Kent County Sheriff Department, there haven’t been any reports in our area recently, but they are aware of the problem, because it has been around awhile.

Powell said she now tries to avert this type of problem by putting a sign on the door that says, “This house is not for rent.”

Powell said part of the problem is that there are not enough rentals out there to meet demand, especially in Cedar Springs. “Cedar Springs is amazing in regards to people sticking around. There just aren’t enough rentals out there,” she explained.

Phil Catlett, of the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan, is also aware of the problem. “Scammers look on Craig’s List, or M-Live, or a Real Estate website, and find homes for sale. The scammer creates an ad listing the property for rent. Every year we learn of someone getting ripped off this way,” he said.

Catlett supplied the following info from the BBB:

Researchers reviewed more than 2 million for-rent posts and found 29,000 fake listings in 20 major cities. Of those, there were three key types of scams. In the first, a fake post instructs a would-be tenant to purchase a credit report. The scammer gets a commission from the credit reporting site, even though there is no property for rent.

In another scheme, con artists duplicate rental listings from other sites and post on Craigslist at a lower price. Prospective renters pay a deposit via wire transfer. Another pervasive scam is “realtor service” companies. Targets are asked to pay fees to access listings of pre-foreclosure rentals or rent-to-own properties. In the majority of cases, the companies leading the scams have no connection to the properties listed.

How to Spot a Rental Scam:

  • Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card: You should never pay a security deposit or first month’s rent by prepaid debit card or wire transfer. These payments are the same as sending cash – once you send it, you have no way to get it back.
  • Watch out for deals that sound too good: Scammers lure in targets by promising low rents, great amenities and other perks. If the price seems much better than offered elsewhere, it may be a scam.
  • See the property in person: Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t visit an apartment or house yourself, ask someone you trust to go and confirm that it is what was advertised.
  • Don’t fall for the overseas landlord story: Scammers often claim to be out of the country and instruct targets to send money overseas.
  • Search for the same ad in other cities: Search for the listing online. If you find the same ad listed in other cities, that’s a huge red flag.

For More Information

Read the full report from New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering on rental scams on Craigslist. The report is the first systematic study of online rental scams. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/renter-beware-study-finds-craigslist-catches-barely-half-of-scam-rental-listings-300228037.html.

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Be especially mindful with your W-2’s


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From the BBB of Western Michigan

Recently a BBB Accounts Payable Staff Member received an email from me, Phil Catlett, CEO of BBB, requesting that she wire money immediately, and to send a reply email to receive further details about where to send the funds. And had she responded to that email it would obviously have never reached me, it’d be headed to some scammer from who knows where.

The past couple of years, BBB has been hearing about scammers targeting W-2 employee tax forms.

W-2 forms have everything needed to file a fraudulent tax refund request, including the employer name, employer ID, address, taxpayer address, Social Security number and information about 2016 wages and taxes withheld.

The IRS just issued a warning that scammers are seeking W-2 information in order to file fraudulent tax refund requests. School districts, healthcare organizations, chain restaurants, temporary staffing agencies, tribal organizations and nonprofits are all mentioned in the IRS information as targets.

It could happen to any of us, but scammers don’t just stop after they get access to your sensitive information. The IRS reports that after they get your personal information, the W-2 scammers send an email to the payroll or comptroller of a company requesting that a wire transfer be made to a certain account.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” said the IRS Commissioner. “Although not tax related, the wire transfer scam is being coupled with the W-2 scam email, and some companies have lost both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars.” It is also being reported that scammers are selling 2016 employee W-2 forms that were stolen from victim organizations, peddling individual W-2 tax records for anywhere between $4 and $20 apiece.

But the simplest and best way for individuals to avoid becoming a victim of tax refund fraud is to file your taxes before criminals do it. To reduce risk of businesses being hit by these frauds, use two-factor authentication for email, such as telephone calls to verify significant banking transactions.  BBB advises that any information about employee activities listed on your websites or in social media can make you more vulnerable as well.

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Scammers use Venmo to fool sellers


 

Trying to make some quick cash, need to sell your items online? Be wary of too good to be true online ads.

From the Better Business Bureau

The money transfer app Venmo can come in handy when you need to pay a coworker back for lunch or send money to friend. Just be wary when using the app with someone you don’t know. Scammers are exploiting it and scamming sellers.

How the Scam Works: 

You are selling a big ticket item (such as a computer, tablet, or car) on Craigslist or another online service. You find an interested buyer, and he or she is ready to make the purchase. But rather than pay with cash, the buyer suggests sending money through Venmo. You’ve used the payment app successfully to transfer money to friends, so you agree.

At first, everything seems fine. You get an alert from Venmo that the buyer sent the money, so you hand over the item. However, a few days pass, and you notice the funds never appear in your account.

It turns out you’ve been scammed. Transfers in Venmo take several days to process. Scammers take advantage of this by setting up transactions and canceling them before they go through. By the time victims realize they’ve never received the money, the scammers are long gone.

How to Avoid a Venmo Con:

Protect yourself when paying with Venmo by following this advice:

Use Venmo with friends: Protect yourself from scams by only using Venmo for its intended purpose—sending money to people you personally know.

Link Venmo to a credit card. As with many other purchases, using a credit card will help protect you if you don›t get the goods or services you paid for. Linking to a debit card or directly to your bank account does not give you that added protection.

Check your account to be sure that the money transferred: It takes a few days for Venmo payments to transfer. If you have any concerns that a payer didn’t really send the money, be sure to check your account directly.

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).

 

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BBB Alert: IRS tax collection methods to change


 

The IRS will be hiring private collection companies to collect taxes in difficult cases.

The BBB is alerting consumers that the IRS is now required to use private debt collection companies to collect «inactive tax receivables.»

These include cases where the IRS can’t locate the taxpayer and more than a year has passed without interaction with the taxpayer for purposes of furthering the collection.

The law requires that IRS begin entering into agreements within three months. This provision was in the recent highway funding bill that Congress passed and the President signed into law.

The new law imposes specific reporting requirements on the IRS including an annual report of the number and amount of tax receivables provided to collection contractors, total amounts collected, and collection costs incurred by the IRS.

Also required is a report every two years of an independent evaluation of each private debt collection performance and a measurement plan that compares the best practices used by private debt collectors with those used by the IRS.

The timing of this new law follows a recent Federal Trade Commission crackdown on collections agencies related to questionable tactics used by some collectors.

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Consumers Energy scam


In December 2014, BBB began hearing from consumers who have received calls from someone claiming to be from the “Disconnect Department” of Consumer Energy. The caller stated the consumer was behind on their Consumers Energy bill and that they needed to make payment immediately to avoid disconnection. The company instructs the consumer to purchase green dot money cards for a specific amount due and then to call back once the cards have been purchased. The company provides generic contact names such as Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brown.

BBB contacted Consumers Energy, and they are aware of the scam.  They advised that they do not perform collection in this way and they do not accept payment via green dot money card.  Consumers Energy stated that there is a process that takes place when an account is delinquent:

• Bill is sent to consumer

• If payment not received, second bill is sent to consumer

• If payment is not received, shut-off notice sent to consumer outlining amount due and shut-off date

•If payment is not received, phone call made to consumer

• If payment is not received, service is disconnected

The BBB contacted the company making the calls, and the phone was answered PNG.  When asked what company was reached, we were informed we reached PNG Electric Company. BBB then stated we were trying to reach Consumers Energy and we were informed that they represent Consumers Energy and that we reached the Disconnection Department. When we asked where the company was located, the call was disconnected. During the BBB phone calls to the company, it sounded like a boiler room operations; we could hear several other conversations in the background. BBB has been unable to determine the true identity of the company or individuals making the calls or identify where they are located.

If you receive a call as described above, we suggest you report it to the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission.

Be sure to always research any organization you are considering doing business with by visiting www.bbb.org/western-michigan!

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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


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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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