“Can you hear me?” scam is rampant, BBB warns. Just hang up.

Western Union is being required to implement a fraud prevention program.

If someone you don’t know calls asking “Can you hear me”? don’t say yes. Just hang up. It’s an old scam with a creepy new twist, the Better Business Bureau warns.

The con artists want to use a recording of your saying “yes” to make it sound like you authorized a major purchase.

The “Can You Hear Me?” scam has long been used to coerce businesses into purchasing office supplies and directory ads they never actually ordered, but now it’s targeting individual consumers, as well.

For the last few days of January, more than half of the reports to BBB Scam Tracker were about this one scam.

Consumers say the calls are about vacation packages, cruises, warranties, and other big ticket items. So far, none have reported money loss, but it’s unclear how the scams will play out over time, or if the targets will be victimized at a later date.

Here’s how it works: You get a call from someone who almost immediately asks “Can you hear me?” Their goal is to get you to answer “Yes,” which most people would do instinctively in that situation. There may be some fumbling around; the person may even say something like “I’m having trouble with my headset.” But in fact, the “person” may just be a robocall recording your conversation… and that “Yes” answer you gave can later be edited to make it sound like you authorized a major purchase.

BBB is offering consumers the following advice:

  • Use Caller ID to screen calls, and consider not even answering unfamiliar numbers. If it’s important, they will leave a message and you can call back.
  • If someone calls and asks “Can you hear me?”, do NOT answer “yes.” Just hang up. Scammers change their tactics as the public catches on, so be alert for other questions designed to solicit a simple “yes” answer.
  • Make a note of the number and report it to bbb.org/scamtracker to help warn others. BBB also shares Scam Tracker information with government and law enforcement agencies, so every piece of information is helpful in tracking down scammers.
  • Consider joining the Do Not Call Registry (DoNotCall.gov) to cut down on telemarketing and sales calls. This may not help with scammers since they don’t bother to pay attention to the law, but you’ll get fewer calls overall. That may help you more quickly notice the ones that could be fraudulent.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements regularly for unauthorized charges. It’s also a good idea to check your telephone and cell phone bills, as well. Scammers may be using the “Yes” recording of your voice to authorize charges on your phone. This is called “cramming” and it’s illegal.

For more information: 

Report scams to BBB Scam Tracker (bbb.org/scamtracker).

Tax scams capture top fraud spot once again in 2016, BBB says

Tax-related scams the the most prevalent scam of 2016.
Tax-related scams are the most prevalent scam of 2016.

The top three scams of 2016 — tax scams, debt collection scams and sweepstakes /prizes/gift scams, were the same as in 2015, the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean said Wednesday.

The Internal Revenue Service has said that rampant identity theft by criminals who file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number is the nation’s biggest tax-related scam.

The IRS estimates it will lose $26 billion due to fraudulent refunds from 2012 through this year.

Florida has been a hotbed for identity theft that exploits the way the IRS doles out tax refunds.

Most victims find out when they file their tax returns electronically and it bounces back because someone has already filed a return using their identity.

For tips on how to prevent it, click here.

Based on more than 30,000 reports consumers submitted on bbb.org/scamtracker, the other top seven scams for 2016  are online purchase, employment, government grant, tech support, advance fee loan, fake check/money order and phishing.

 

 

 

BBB offers shopping tips for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday is only two days away.
Black Friday is only two days away.

Black Friday remains one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and plenty of deals are sure to be offered Friday  and on Cyber Monday on Nov. 28.

A well-informed shopper is less likely to make unwanted purchases and to fall victim to scams.

Better Business Bureau offers the following smart shopping tips:

o   Do your research. Before heading out to the store read product reviews, check out bbb.org for Business Reviews, look at the sales flyers and ads, compare prices, look for early promotions and “flash sales.”

o   Be alert. Keep your purse in sight and your wallet in your front pocket.

o   Take only one credit card with you. If your wallet gets stolen, you’ll only need to cancel one card. Avoid carrying a lot of cash.

o   Read the fine print. Some stores only honor sale ads during a certain time frame, or on certain days. Some stores may only allow you to purchase one item, particularly large, popular and/or deeply discounted products.

o   Ask about the return and refund policy. Some stores have a specific policy for items purchased during the holiday season. When shopping online, ask if you have to pay restocking fees or shipping costs for returns

o   Make Sure it’s Secure. When making an online purchase, look for the SSL encryption. You can recognize it by the “s” in https:// of the URL or the lock symbol; both ensure that the information you’re about to give out is encrypted for your safety.

o   Beware of phishing. Don’t respond to emails that ask for your credit card, bank account number or other personal information.

o   Beware of deals that sound too good to be true. Offers on websites and unsolicited e-mails often sound too good to be true, especially extreme low prices on hard-to-get items. Consumers should always go with their instincts and not be afraid to pass up a “deal” that might cost them dearly in the end. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

o   Save all Receipts and Warranties. Organize receipts and warranties by expiration date as it will make all return and exchanges much easier.

 

 

 

 

Considering a for profit college? Do some research, BBB says

ITT Tech operated this campus in West Palm Beach.
ITT Tech operated this campus in West Palm Beach.

ITT Tech’s more than 130 campuses, including one in West Palm Beach,  closed this week, following a cutoff of federal student aid. It’s buyer beware when it comes to for-profit colleges.

The  Better Business Bureau serving Southeast Florida and the Caribbean offers the following tips for students considering a for-profit college:
Do some research. First Google the for-profit institution and search for complaints, lawsuits, or questionable practices. Check BBB.org to see what the BBB’s rating is on the institution and to read complaints and student reviews. Talk to current and past students about their experience with the institution.
Side by side comparison.  Compare non-profit, private non-profit and for- profit colleges; consider factors such as average tuition cost, retention rates and graduation rates. These factors will give provide a snapshot of how for-profit colleges fair against other institutions. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015 the 6-year graduation rate for full-time undergraduate students seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution was 58 percent at public institutions, and 27 percent at private for-profit institution.
Audit classes. Most institutions allow prospective students to audit their classes for different programs to allow students to gauge whether or not their institution is a right fit. Pay attention to class size,
It is important for students to take into account that college is an investment and like all investments, due diligence must be exercised prior to making any decisions.

 

Avoid handyman horror story. Take care when hiring.

Hiring someone to do home repairs is serious business.
Hiring someone to do home repairs is serious business. Proceed cautiously.

Home repair experiences don’t get much worse than what happened to a suburban Boynton Beach woman who was allegedly brutally beaten by an air conditioning repairman a week ago.

But every day homeowners open their doors to handymen, electricians, plumber, exterminators and others for work they need done.

Although there’s no way to make sure nothing ever goes wrong, even when dealing with a reputable company recommended by friends or neighbors, there are precautions homeowners can take.

That includes never hiring someone who happens to knock on your door,  someone you happen to meet at the paint store, or who solicits your business by phone.

Read what happened last year to a 97-year-old North Palm Beach woman who fell for a scammer claiming to be with Florida Power & Light.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends checking with friends, neighbors or co-workers about who they’ve used. If possible, take a look at the work done and ask about experience. What was the quality of the work? Did the original estimate change?  Did the workers clean up or leave a mess?

Look for an established company whose record and reputation you can check out, the FTC advises.

Ask the company if they run criminal background checks before hiring someone, and how long the person they’re sending to your home has worked there. Of course, the company could say it has checked everyone out when it has not, and someone who has never committed a crime could decide to steal something.

If you’re hiring a one-man operator, it should be only someone recommended to you by a friend who used them. Ask for more references and actually check them.

Get a written estimate if possible. Some charge by the job; others by the hour. Is there a minimum charge? Make a list of what needs to be done.

Obtain the worker’s full name and street address so the person can be located later. Ask to see a photo I.D.

Handymen are required to have a “business tax receipt” from the county or city where they are working. Ask for that and ask to see a current insurance liability certificate.

If possible, have two adults present the first time the worker comes into your home.

Look at sites you trust that post ratings and reviews, the FTC advises. Do people seem to have similar experiences,  good or bad? You can also check out a contractor’s online reputation by searching for the company’s name with words such as “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”

Check for qualifications, such as licensing.

Don’t hire a handyman to do major home repairs. For those, you need a certified contractor. In Palm Beach County there are more than 60 construction trades that require licensing. “Handyman” isn’t one of them, but electrical worker, drywall, air conditioning, roofing and many more do require specific licensing.

Go to pbcgov.com/pzb/Constractors to find out whether the work requires certification.

Check to see if any complaints have been filed  with the Better Business Bureau at 561-842-1918 or seflorida.bbb.org/Home.aspx and Palm Beach County Consumer Affairs at 561-712-6600 or pbcgov.com/publicsafety/consumeraffairs.

 

 

 

 

BBB to hold free shredding event Saturday at Palm Beach State

A free shredding event is being held on April 19.
A free shredding event is being held on this Saturday, April 16.

Shredding personal documents can be a time-consuming chore, but it’s necessary to guard against identity theft.

Now help is on the way as the West Palm Beach-based Better Business Bureau serving Southeast Florida and the Caribbean plans to hold its first “Shred Day” event this coming Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

The free event is scheduled to be held in the parking lot of Palm Beach State College , 4200 S. Congress Ave., Lake Worth. Enter at the Sixth Avenue South entrance.  Get there early, as the event will end before 11:30 a.m. if  the shredding trucks fill up.

“Our goal is to help empower members of our community to be their own first line of defense against ID Theft scams by safely disposing of personal information and helping to insure it does not get in the wrong hands,”  BBB President Rod Davis said. “Since our Shred Day event in Palm Beach County occurs so close to Earth Day, we’re also pleased to expand our services at this event to help our residents properly dispose of unneeded electronics.”

Residents and small businesses are encouraged to attend the event to properly dispose of their sensitive paper documents, CDs and hard drives.

Attendees can bring up to three  boxes or bags of documents to be destroyed in a quick-and-easy drive through arrangement. Documents will be shredded on site and attendees can also park and request to watch their items be shredded. All Points Mobile Shredding will also destroy hard drives on site.

Representatives will also be on hand to take electronics for recycling, with the exception of televisions, older CRT Monitors (flat screens are accepted), VCRs, DVDs and home appliances. Electronics will be recycled down to powder by B.W. Recycling, Inc.

Identity theft related complaints continue to rank highest for the types of fraud and complaints being reported by consumers, with more than 332,000 cases being reported to Federal Trade Commission’s  Consumer Sentinel in 2014.

For more information on Shred Day, please visit bbb.org/sefl/shred or call BBB at 561-842-9278.