“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).

IRS imposter scam reports to BBB drop, but could easily surge again

Call centers in India where a tax scam was based was shut down, but such centers often re-open in a new location.
Call centers in India where a tax scam was based was shut down, but such centers often re-open in a new location.

Reports to the Better Business Bureau from victims of the “IRS tax scam”  have dropped dramatically since police raided nine call centers in Mumbai, India earlier last month, the BBB said Monday.

The scam involves robo callers or actual people who call victims and pretend they are with the IRS. They threaten their targets with financial penalties, lawsuits, and even arrest if they don’t pay the back taxes they supposedly owe.

Listen to IRS imposter scam robocall that threatens a lawsuit

The tax scam has accounted for about one in four reports to BBB’s Scam Tracker in its first year of operation. But since the raid, there has been a 95 percent decline in new reports. In a typical week, BBB Scam Trackers receives approximately 200 reports on tax scams. Now it’s about 11 a week.

Of the 770 employees working at the Mumbai call center when the midnight raid was conducted, 70 people were charged with fraud and other crimes, according to news reports, and the rest are under investigation.

Emma Fletcher, manager of BBB Scam Tracker warns that scammers are opportunists.

“Hopefully, this crew won’t be stealing from anyone again for a long while. But we will be keeping an eye on incoming scam reports so we can alert consumes what the ‘next big thing’ in scams turns out to be,” Fletcher said.

Often, scammers who are shut down re-open in another location under a different name.

Police in India said the callers were trained to speak with an American accent. The call centers were bringing in $150,000 a day over the last year. The victims’ would transfer their money to U.S. bank accounts before it was sent to India.

Law enforcement officials in India reported that the call center owners escaped, and that that they were believed to be working with accomplices in the U.S.




Scam targets seniors, letters ask for $16.45 to save Social Security, BBB says

The BBB is warning consumers about a scam targeting seniors.
The BBB is warning consumers about a scam targeting seniors.

A new scam is targeting seniors, preying on fears that they could lose Social Security benefits. Seniors are scared into donating to this fake cause and providing their personal information, the Better Business Bureau warned Friday.

Seniors across the country are receiving letters in the mail asking for a donation of $16.45 to fund the work of a group called the National Council for Survivors.

The letters claim Congress is attempting to abolish Social Security, and this group is working to save the benefits.

They are allegedly mailing referendum ballots to every senior citizen in the country, allowing them to vote to keep the government program.

The BBB is warning people not to donate to any group making such claims.

If you send money, you will be out $16.45. Victims who fill out the form to make a credit card donation, open themselves up to ID theft and additional fraudulent charges. As usual, the scam varies slightly in different reports. The name of the advocacy group often changes and so does the exact language used.


How to spot this phishing scam: 

  • Be wary if you are being asked to act immediately. Scammers typically try to push you into action before you have had time to think.
  • Don’t share your credit card information. Paying by credit card is typically a great way to protect yourself when purchasing online. But sending your name, address and credit card information to scammers opens yourself up to ID theft and other cons.
  • If it seems too outlandish to be true, it probably is: Many cons snare victims by offering deals too good to be true. But some, like this, scare targets into taking action. Either way, use common sense and a quick web search.
  • Know your government:  In the United States, referendums are not held on the national level and differ from state to state. Outside organizations do not pay for referendum ballots to be sent to voters.


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





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.





Millennials more likely to get scammed than Boomers, BBB says

Everyone is vulnerable to scams, especially those who don't think they are.
Everyone is vulnerable to scams, especially those who don’t think they are.

Millenials are more vulnerable to scams than Baby Boomers, the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust said Wednesday.

Marketplace scams affect one in four North American households each year, and losses are estimated at $50 billion, yet most consumers believe they are invulnerable.
The research, Cracking the Invulnerability Illusion: Stereotypes, Optimism Bias, and the
Way Forward for Marketplace Scam Education, is based on a survey of more than 2,000
adults in the U.S. and Canada.
Download “Cracking the Invulnerability Illusion” at BBB.org/TruthAboutScams.
“We’ve bought into stereotypes about scam victims – they’re usually seen as vulnerable and
elderly, or gullible and poorly educated,” said the paper’s co-author Emma Fletcher,
product manager with the BBB Institute, Council of Better Business Bureau’s foundation. “These stereotypes arestrongly held… and they are wrong. We are all at risk, but younger and more educated individuals are actually the most likely to be scammed.”
“Optimism bias – the idea that we all think other people are more vulnerable than we are –
is associated with risk-taking and failure to heed precautionary advice,” said co-author
Rubens Pessanha, CBBB director of marketing research and insights.

“Seniors may be the one group that does not suffer from optimism bias when it comes to scams. They’ve heard, loud and clear, that they are at risk. Seniors may very well be more scam savvy than
others. They are also less impulsive buyers than younger consumers, and less likely to be
making purchases online where so many scams take place.” Pessanha said.

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.

Wedding Photography LLC receives “F” rating following complaints

Royal Palm Beach couple married seven months, still waiting for wedding video and photo CD and rights to print.
Royal Palm Beach couple married seven months, still waiting for wedding video and photo CD and rights to print.

More than seven months after their Aug. 16, 2015 wedding, Jaime Plant and her husband David Diaz of Royal Palm Beach are still waiting for Wedding Photography LLC to deliver a 15-minute video.

They are also upset that they can’t print the photos they received in an emailed link and in a CD because Wedding Photography LLC hasn’t given them a copyright release letter as specified in the contract. The contract called for the photos to be edited, but they aren’t.

“It’s very sad how someone could do such a thing on the most important day of a couple’s life,” Jaime said. “It’s disgusting and heartbreaking.”

To view the  photos, go to https://service.pass.us/client/event/fLxnr1451938.

Jaime Plant signed a contract on April 9, 2015 for a $2,000 package with Wedding Photography LLC, operated by husband-and-wife team Veronica and Roger Miranda. The fee was paid in full before the wedding. The company was based in Wellington, but recently moved to West Palm Beach and also has an office in Orlando.

The Mirandas did not respond to emails and phone calls about the issue.

The couple isn’t the only one alleging the Mirandas didn’t fulfill their contracts.

Wedding Photography just received an “F” rating, down from a B-minus,  from the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean, headquartered  in West Palm Beach, following three other similar complaints since 2014.

To read the report, go to bbb.org/south-east-florida/business-reviews/photographers-wedding/wedding-photography-in-west-palm-beach-fl-90120874

“We are starting to  see a pattern of people not receiving everything they understood they would receive,” said Michele Mason, BBB senior vice president. “When you read the complaints, they are mostly about sentimental value. They are trying to get the moment from that special day.”

State Division of Corporation records state that Veronica Miranda previously owned Classic Photography of the Palm Beaches, which she opened in 2009 under her maiden name, Veronica Kercado.  Consumers had lodged similar complaints then with the BBB.

BBB’s records show that the company reported  that they closed Classic Photography of the Palm Beaches on July 30, 2012. At the time that the company closed, BBB had been reporting on four complaints. The BBB  received six additional complaints between August 16, 2012 and December 6,2013 that were closed as “unpursuable” due to the company’s closure, Mason said.

Mason said consumers need to do their homework when selecting a photographer. They should check the photographer’s track record with the BBB and also ask for contacts for previous customers. It’s also important to make sure everything stated verbally is in writing.

EP Pro Studio, Inc. another wedding photography firm with a West Palm Beach address, also has an “F” rating due 11 complaints filed with the BBB in the last three years.  The complaints state that the customers did not received photos as promised. Fred S. Thomas is listed as the company’s owner. Calls to the business from the Palm Beach Post were not returned.

Plant, 35, who works in corrections support at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, found Wedding Photography on the Internet. She met with Veronica and was told she would receive an engagement session and photos, 750 edited photos on a CD  and an 8-by-10-inch graphic-style custom album, plus a video.

All the family has received so far are about 200  engagement photos on CD, a link to 600 unedited photos and a CD with about the same number of unedited photos, many of which are duplicates, said Plant’s mother Roseann Plant, who provided a copy of the contract to the Palm Beach Post.

The contract is vague and never states how many photos will be provided, and it never states how many photos will be in the “custom album,” or that any photos at all will be in the album.  Jaime said Veronica told her verbally there would be 750 photos and the album would contain prints, some with special effects.

“Veronica refuses to return any of my phone calls or texts. The last time I actually spoke to her was January 6,” said Roseann Plant. “I mentioned to her that I thought it was taking way too long and I was considering hiring an attorney. She got extremely angry and hung up.”

“My husband and I are so upset. Jaime is our only daughter. We don’t have the edited photos,” Plant said. “We don’t have the video.”

Florida Department of State records show that Wedding Photography is an inactive corporation due to failure to file an annual report. Roger Miranda is listed as the officer.

The source of a “Photographer of the Year” award displayed on the company’s website, stated as “West Palm Beach Award,” could not be located or verified.

The BBB offers the following tips to avoid heartbreak when hiring a wedding photographer:

  • Do your research.  Research the photographer with the BBB by visiting bbb.org.  Also research the photographer on other wedding sites to see what other couples are saying.
  • Schedule Interviews.  Interview at least two or three photographers to see what kind of work they do and their pricing.
  • Ask if the rights to the pictures are included in the price.  We now live in an age where most picture are digital.  Be sure to ask your photographer if you have the rights to the pictures after the wedding day.  (This means you will be able to print them at your leisure to make scrapbooks, etc.)  Some photographers charge an extra fee for the rights.
  • Who will be photographing your wedding?  It’s important to ask if the photographer will personally photograph your wedding.  Some photographers book multiple weddings and let their assistants or other colleagues help them.  Also ask who will be photographing the wedding if an emergency should arise and the photographer cannot attend.
  • Ask for references.  It’s important to talk to previous clients.  They will be able to tell you more about the quality of the pictures, and what their experience was.
  • What is the payment schedule?  Be sure to ask the photographer if a deposit is required, and how much they need prior to the wedding.
  • Rules and Regulations.  Make sure your photographer is familiar with the photo policy at your venue and church.  Some places have specific rules.
  • What’s included in the package?  Most photographers have packages for clients to choose from.  If you don’t like what is in the package, ask if you can add certain services or make your own package.
  • Travel Fees.  Some photographers charge a travel fee if your wedding is outside their service area – be sure to ask.
  • Is an assistant included?  Some photographers include an assistant in their price, others charge extra.
  • How many hours will they shoot?  Some photographers will take pictures all day; others will only shoot for a certain time frame and charge extra if you go over.  Be sure to ask ahead of time.
  • Know how long it will take to get your pictures.  After your big day, it’s normal to be anxious for your pictures to arrive.  Make sure you talk to your photographer beforehand so you know how long the pictures will take.
  • Refund policy.  Make sure to ask what the refund policy is should your wedding be cancelled. 
  • Get a written contract.  Be sure to get everything in writing. Read the contract.