Got a question about a product or an account from a big-name online retailer that makes you want to speak directly to their customer service representative? What do you do first? Go to their website, of course. Can’t find a phone number there? Then you may do what seems like the next best thing and just type the company name into a search engine.
But the FTC warns consumers that it’s a mistake to assume that all toll-free numbers that pop up in a search are legitimate customer service lines. Some are run by scammers out to hijack your credit card number or install malware on your computer.
Attorney, Division of Consumer & Business Education, FTC
The scam is called card cracking and it may start off innocently enough. You see a post on a social media site announcing a contest. Or maybe a webpage that claims to have a celebrity affiliation is offering a gift card giveaway.
The variations are endless, but here’s the tip-off that fraud is afoot. At some point, you’re asked for your bank account information, PIN number, or online banking credential. That’s when you can bank on the fact that those “innocent” offers aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.
Associate Director, Division of Marketing Practices, FTC
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced the extradition of six Nigerian nationals from South Africa to Mississippi to face a nine-count federal indictment for various Internet frauds. These six people join 15 others who were previously charged with, among other things, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, identity theft, and money laundering.
What were the scams? According to the indictment, the defendants found and reached out to their potential victims through online dating websites and work-at-home opportunities.
Not everyone using online dating sites is looking for love. Scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people — even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They profess their love quickly. And they tug at your heartstrings with made-up stories about how they need money — for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel. Why all of the tricks? They’re looking to steal your money.
Whether you travel a lot or just a little, you’ve probably gone online to book a hotel stay. Sometimes you might find a travel comparison site gets you the best deal. Other times, you might book directly at a hotel’s website — maybe to earn points for the company’s reward program, or because you have some special requests for your stay.
For those times you’re looking to book directly with a hotel, make sure that’s what you’re doing. The FTC has heard from people who searched online and thought they were booking on a hotel website, only to find they’d unknowingly been doing business with someone else.
Whether in a hotel or airport across the world, or in the coffee shop just down the street, chances are you’ve used free Wi-Fi hotspots. While convenient, they’re often unsecure. So how can you reduce your risk? Encryption — having your information scrambled into code — is key to staying secure online.
Let’s be honest: I spend more time playing games on my smart phone than talking on it. Our phones have become our family photo albums, personal gaming systems, calendars, encyclopedias, navigators, and instant messengers. If you can think of an activity, there’s probably an app for it.
Unfortunately, some apps might not be what they claim, and downloading the wrong app could put your phone on the fritz. According to the FTC, that’s what happened to thousands of people who downloaded the Prized app before it was removed from the app store.
Office of Technology Research and Investigation, FTC
If you shop online — and who doesn’t? — you might notice that some websites let you pay with bitcoins. Virtual or crypto currencies like Bitcoin can be a fast way to pay online, or in person with a mobile app.
But using virtual currencies comes with risk. Their value goes up and down — sometimes sharply — depending on demand. In addition, payments made with virtual currencies aren’t reversible and don’t have the same legal protections as some traditional payment methods. Once you hit send, you can’t get your money back unless the seller agrees. That’s why it’s important to know who you’re buying from and what policies they have regarding refunds, returns, and disputes.
Attorney, FTC Division of Consumer and Business Education
A data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) – and you’re a current or former federal employee whose personal information may have been exposed. What should you do? Take a deep breath. Here are the steps to take.