Archives for posts with tag: FTC

Most consumers have gotten calls from people claiming to be from a tech support company. The callers tell the consumer that his computer has been infected with some kind of malware and that the consumer must immediately work with the caller to eliminate the malware — of course, at a cost.

What consumers find out is that this just a scam — there’s no infected computer and the consumer has spent unnecessary money and given scammers access to his computer.

There is a variation on these scam calls which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and its Federal, State and international law enforcement partners are combating. In a May 12th announcement, the FTC outlined the results already achieved through”Operation Tech Trap”. In the last year, there have been 29 law enforcement actions brought by Tech Trap partners against operators of tech support scams (www.ftc.gov).

How do these scams work? The general approach is the same: scammers cause ads to pop up on consumers’ computers; the ads look very much like the security alerts consumers might get from, for example, Apple or Microsoft or similar companies. The fake alert says the computer’s been infected and that the consumer should call a toll-free number. If they call, the consumer is connected to a telemarketer who claims to be affiliated with one of these well-known companies.  After giving the telemarketer access to his computer, the consumer’s told by the telemarketer that a serious problem exists. A problem which can, of course, be corrected by having one of their alleged certified technicians take over.

The phony technical expert then “corrects” the non-existent problem for which the consumer pays. The phony technical expert will also try to sell the consumer any number of unneeded services or anti-virus software.

Don’t fall for these scams. If a consumer gets one of these calls, he should contact one of the technology companies to see if a legitimate security alert’s been issued. Consumers should also notify the FTC about these scams; the FTC website has information on how to do so.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works year round on consumer privacy issues. Each year, there is one week dedicated to privacy awareness — and this year, that’s this week (May 8 to 12).

This year, the FTC has picked the theme of “Share with Care” and has listed numerous resources on its website (www.ftc.gov). Consumers should take advantage of the concrete, very useful information posted by the FTC as it includes ways to safeguard online personal and financial information.

Consumers also need to be aware year around to protect their personal information. Having one week a year that is specifically focused on key and emerging privacy issues is a helpful reminder for consumers.

 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ran a 3 part technology series this Fall. On December 7th, they held their final workshop on the timely topic of SmartTV. I listened to the workshop and found the information presented both informative and chilling.

The informative part comes from the insights offered by the various experts — FTC privacy attorneys, technologists working for companies developing the new SmartTV and related technologies and developers working for companies that want to collect and monetize the increasing flow of information.

SmartTV is the catch term for the types of new apps and streaming services being offered now and developed for the near future. The new technologies will, very succinctly, pose the real possibility of more information being captured about a consumer’s viewing habits. That is a rich data source for entities wanting to build and send more ads and ever more specialized customized ads to consumers.

SmartTV is not some far off technology. It’s here and consumers need to be ever more aware of the kinds of information these new devices are capable of collecting and sharing before making a purchase.

Why do I think this SmartTV workshop was so timely? It came right in the midst of the holiday shopping season when consumers are buying, among other items, new TVs and other devices. A good time for consumers to really examine a device before buying it.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has just issued some very helpful guidance aimed at helping businesses address data breach issues (www.ftc.gov). While the guidance is aimed at businesses, it is also very useful for consumers as the video and guide outline the steps the FTC thinks are reasonable ones for businesses.

So consumers should know about the guidance and review it. Why if it’s aimed at businesses? Precisely because it is aimed at businesses. Consumers can educate themselves about what businesses should do if they suspect a data breach. That way, consumers whose data has, or might have, been breached can be knowledgable and pro-active in asking the business the right questions — starting with, “did someone in your organization get, review and then implement the FTC’s guidance?”

The FTC’s guidance is called Data Breach Response: A Guide For Business. The video and written guidance provides concrete and sensible guidance for businesses that might suspect a data breach.  It’s excellent guidance and will help consumers as well as businesses.

I’ve written several blogs over the years about scams involving fraudulent tax returns.  One of the most common happens when a thieve steals someone’s Social Security Number (SSN), files a fraudulent tax return using the stolen SSN and gets a refund electronically.  The taxpayer whose SSN was stolen learns of her victimization when she files her return in her name and hears back from the IRS that someone has already filed a return with the same SSN.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting a week of activities from January 26th through the 30th devoted to educating consumers about the threat posed by tax identity theft.  They are partnering with several other organizations including AARP and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

There will be three webinars offered with the first on January 27th from 2 to 3:30 p.m..  The AARP and TIGTA will be participating in this webinar titled “Tax Identity Theft and IRS Imposter Scams.”

Information about the week of events and the webinars can be found at: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov.  That site provides details for accessing the January 27th webinar as well as providing links to background and informational materials.  FTC tax identity theft  materials can also be found at: ftc.gov/taxidtheft.

The FTC’s week of events is very timely as it comes at the start of the tax season.  It’s worth consumers time to take a few minutes to look at the site and see which webinar, and what materials, interest them.

I wanted to let you know about the mobile security workshop the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is hosting tomorrow, June 4th.  The workshop — “Mobile Security: Potential Threats and Solutions” — will be a live webcast starting at 8:45 a.m.  The workshop runs until 4:40 p.m.

The workshop is devoted to discussing mobile malware from multiple perspectives including:

  • what mobile malware is;
  • how it’s spread;
  • the consumer impact;
  • the role of mobile platforms and others in the mobile ecosystem (e.g., chipmakers; application developers) in helping secure mobile devices; and
  • the ways in which consumers can protect themselves, and their devices.

Information about submitting online questions can be found on the FTC website.  Go to: http://www.ftc.gov and on the home page there is an article titled “How To Submit Your Mobile Security Questions Online During the FTC Workshop.”  In that article, you’ll find links to send questions via FTC’s Twitter account; or on its Facebook page; or via emails.

I’ve written before about thieves and scammers who take advantage of disasters for their own gain.  These vile scams are not new and are repeated in slight variations with each disaster.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a new warning to consumers about the scams that are happening following the Moore, Oklahoma tornado disaster (www.ftc.gov; “FTC Warns Consumers: Charity Scams Often Follow Disaster”).

The FTC article repeats prior warnings that the scams are sent in multiple forms, e.g., emails, regular mail, phone calls, in person solicitations, on websites or social networking sites.  The good advice for consumers is the same: protect your private information!  Do not give out personal or financial information (e.g., credit card and bank account numbers) until and unless you’ve confirmed that the charity is a legitimate one.

In addition, the FTC article provides links to other resources consumers can use to check whether a charity is reputable as well as how much the charity spends on administrative costs.  The resources cited are the following:

  • Better Business Bureau’s “Wise Giving Alliance” (www.bbb.org);
  • Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org);
  • Charity Watch (charity watch.org);
  • Guidestar (www.guidestar.org); and
  • National Association of State Charity Officials: This is a way to find out information about a charity within a specific State.

People want to help disaster victims but scammers know that.  Consumers need to check out charities so the scammers don’t get the windfall of personal and financial information as well as contributions that were intended for the disaster victims.

As I mentioned in my May 10th blog, I was able to attend the first panel at the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) May 8th “Mobile Cramming” Roundtable.  The panel’s 6 experts addressed the topic of “Understanding Third-Party Billing and Mobile Cramming”.

The experts were: Mike Altschul from the CTIA- The Wireless Association; John Breyault from the National Consumers League; Larry Bryenton, from the Canadian Competition Bureau; Jim Greenwell, from BilltoMobile; Jim Manis, from the Mobile Giving Foundation; and Kate Whelley McCabe, from the Office of the Vermont Attorney General. They represented differing perspectives on this issue which helped provide a more complete and nuanced understanding of the scope and complexity of mobile phone bill cramming.

The FTC found a critical consumer issue in the Wise Media case that it’s filed — and it’s an issue on which the panel agreed.  Many consumers don’t expect their mobile phone bills to have charges from 3rd parties. Often the charges appear in a format that’s abbreviated, unclear or doesn’t clearly identify the company from which the charges are coming.

So what can consumers do?  Here are the top 2 tips from the panel:

  1. Read your mobile phone bill carefully.  Yes that sounds obvious but the panelists said, based on their respective experiences, that consumers either skip over the details of the bill or assume that the charges are legitimate.
  2. Contact your mobile phone carrier to ask about charges that look unfamiliar and/or to contest unauthorized charges.

The 2nd point is key since the panelists said consumers often contact the FTC or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as they think one or both of those Federal agencies can investigate and correct the charges.  Consumers can and should report mobile phone scams to these agencies but their mobile phone carriers are the place to start to seek reimbursement of the unauthorized charges.

The adage “what’s old is new again” certainly applies to scams.  The scam I’m writing about today is “cramming” unauthorized charges on phone bills.  The scam previously targeted landline phone bills.  Now that many consumers have moved to mobile phones, the scammers are moving their “cramming” schemes to this new technology via unauthorized charges for premium text messages.

How does this scam translate to mobile phones?  A consumer might, for example get a text message offering a subscription to get horoscopes or quizzes on his mobile phone.  The way the text message is written — purposively so — makes it sound as if the service is free.  What happens next is the complete opposite of free.  The consumer starts getting unauthorized, repeating charges on his mobile phone bill.  Alternatively, the consumer hasn’t responded “yes” to a text message offering a service but with the same result to his mobile phone bill.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) successfully brought “cramming” cases against landline scammers.  Now the FTC is moving against mobile phone bill scammers and 3 weeks ago filed its first mobile phone bill “cramming” case.  The case was filed against Wise Media, LLC, Brian M. Buckley, Winston J. Deloney and Concrete Marketing Research, LLC (the latter is alleged to have gotten ill-gotten money from the Wise Media operation).

The FTC alleges that Wise Media, Buckley and Deloney billed consumers for “premium services” that sent them text messages with horoscopes, flirting, love tips and other similar information.  In the complaint, the FTC alleges that consumers were signed up for these services seemingly randomly and were repeatedly billed $9.99 a month on their mobile phone bills without the consumers’ knowledge or consent.

The FTC complaint also states that some consumers got text messages from Wise Media indicating that the consumer had subscribed to one of the services.  That email was ignored by many consumers who thought it was spam.  But the FTC’s complaint notes that even those consumers who sent back a text message refusing the service were still charged for the service on a repeating basis on their mobile phone bills.

The FTC has asked a court for a permanent injunction to shut down Wise Media and force the defendants to return all of the money they got from their alleged “cramming” scam.  If successful, the FTC would use the funds to reimburse the scam victims.

The FTC held a May 8th “Mobile Cramming” Roundtable May 8th.  I was able to attend for the first panel where experts discussed the topic “Understanding Third-Party Billing and Mobile Cramming”.   On Monday, May 13th I’ll write about the information and insights from that panel — including their top tips for fighting back against mobile phone “cramming.”

There are still too many stories and cases about people stealing and misusing SSNs.  While those instances are always terrible, there are even worse consequences when it’s the SSN of a young child or teenager.  In those instances, the young child or teenager might not know for years that his identity has been stolen using this very powerful source of personal identity.

The good news is that there could be some additional relief soon specifically involving those cases where the SSN is of a child 13 years and younger.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a request in February for comments on a proposed policy change to assign new SSNs specifically for children age 13 and younger (February 11, 2012, Fed. Reg., Docket No. SSA 2012-0042; “Assigning New Social Security Numbers (SSN) for Children Age 13 and Under”).

Under the proposal, SSA would assign new SSNs to children in that age category under any one of the following 3 situations:

  1. The child’s Social Security card has been stolen in transit;
  2. The child’s SSN has been incorrectly disclosed via the SSA’s publicly available “Death Master File”; and
  3. The child’s SSN has been misused by a 3rd party.

In its request for comments, SSA asked if the age cut-off is appropriate; if the 3 scenarios are appropriate; and if there are other scenarios or circumstances that would warrant assigning a new SSN to a child 13 years and younger.

Staff from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) submitted comments on April 12th supporting the SSA’s policy proposal.  They recommended that the age group be expanded to children 17 years old and younger.  Their recommendation is based on the fact that many younger children (e.g., 13 and younger) might not know for several years that they’ve been identity theft victims. They might not learn about their victimization until they are first applying for credit or a loan or for some other transaction for which their credit status and/or SSN is needed (see, http://www.ftc.gov; “FTC Staff Comment Supports Proposed Social Security Administration Policy Change to Help Protect Children from Identity Theft”).

The FTC staff made other recommendations that would also help enhance what is already a very sound and, sadly, much needed policy proposal.  The SSA is taking a needed step to help protect children who are, or have been, victims of identity theft.