Western Union $586 million claims deadline extended to May 31

Ripped off by scammers who accepted payment by way of Western Union? The deadline has been extended to May 31 to file a claim in a $586 million settlement, federal officials said this week.

Western Union agreed to settle charges it failed to protect consumers adequately from scams and discipline problem agents.

The settlement goes way back. It covers scam payments between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017. The deadline to file claims was earlier announced for later this month, but is now May 31, 2018.

What kind of payments? This is about money transfers related to fake lottery prizes, phony family emergencies, fraudulent online romance and other scams. Such schemes generated more than 550,000 complaints.

Western Union said in a statement last year it was “committed to enhancing our compliance programs to prevent illicit activity on our network.”

Where do you file your claim? The Federal Trade Commission says start here:

FTC.gov/WU

You may be asked to provide documentation and your Social Security number, according to an FTC statement. It may take up to a year to verify and process the claims, officials said.

Reminder: Do not pay any money to file a claim, the FTC said. That means you’re in the wrong place and risking exposure to another scam.

 

 

 

Refunds are coming in Boynton tech support scheme, feds say

Refunds checks of more than $668,000 are on the way, U.S. officials said this week, in the wake of federal and state action against what they called a tech-support scam in Boynton Beach.

Big Dog Solutions LLC, also doing business as Help Desk National and Help Desk Global, and affiliated firms and individuals were accused of tricking people into thinking they had malware, viruses or other computer problems and selling them software and services to “fix” dubious or non-existent problems.

The Federal Trade Commission said it will send 3,791 checks averaging about $176 to victims. Got questions about the refunds? Contact Rust Consulting Inc. at 1-877-309-1959.

More than $6.4 billion in refunds for consumers flowed from FTC actions in the year ended last June, the agency said.

Tech support schemes, many with call rooms in Palm Beach County, have left a trail of complaints, enforcement actions and settlements with federal officials and the Florida Attorney General’s Office over several years. Operations in several other states and foreign countries also have been targeted in the crackdown.

As part of the resolution of this case, defendants agreed to turn over more than $700,000 in assets and were banned from providing tech support products or services and prohibited from deceptive telemarketing practices, officials said.

“Scammers like these use incredibly deceptive tactics that make consumers think they are receiving warnings from legitimate technology companies” such as Microsoft and Apple, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in 2016. “We are proud to work with the Florida Attorney General’s Office to put an end to these fraudulent practices.”

Defendants in the case included BigDog Solutions LLC (doing business as Help Desk National and Help Desk Global); PC Help Desk US LLC (doing business as Help Desk National and Help Desk Global); Inbound Call Specialist LLC; BlackOpteck CE Inc.; 9138242 Canada Corporation; Digital Growth Properties, LLC; Christopher J. Costanza (doing business as CJM Consulting, LLC); Suzanne W. Harris; Muzaffar Abbas; Gary Oberman; Donald Dolphin and Justin Powers.

Defendants neither admitted nor denied allegations in a settlement approved by a federal judge in Illinois last year.

The refund checks expire after 60 days, so don’t delay too long in cashing them. The FTC issued a reminder that it never requires consumers to pay money or provide account information to cash a refund check.

Update: Asked for comment, defense attorney Ruben E. Socarras of Boca Raton said by email, “We do not have authority to comment or provide a statement at this time but we can tell you that the Court record/filings speak for themselves with respect to the outcome of the case.”

 

Western Union scam refunds: Window on $586 million closes Feb. 12

If you ever wired money at Western Union for something that turned to out to be a scam, your chance at a refund expires Feb. 12.

Western Union has agreed to provide $586 million to settle charges it failed to protect consumers adequately and discipline problem agents, federal officials  reminded consumers Tuesday 

We’re talking scams that go back up to 14 years, generating more than 550,000 complaints about money transfers related to fees to collect fake lottery prizes, phony family emergencies, fraudulent online romance and more. Western Union knew from reports inside and outside the company that such frauds were occurring, and the reports in some cases implicated its own agents, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Western Union said in a statement last year, “We share the government’s goal of protecting consumers and the integrity of our global money transfer network, and we worked hard to resolve these matters with the government.” The company added: “We are committed to enhancing our compliance programs to prevent illicit activity on our network and protect customers who transfer money to friends, family and businesses.”

Consumers have until Feb. 12 to file claims for refunds for fraudulent payments made via Western Union between Jan. 1, 2004 and Jan. 17, 2017.

The FTC felt obligated to add this warning: Don’t pay anything to file a claim for your refund. That’s a sure sign you are not dealing with the right people.  In other words, don’t get scammed in your attempt to get a scam refund.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is managing the claims process through the company they hired, Gilardi & Co.,” a Federal Trade Commission statement said Tuesday. “Your claim will go to Gilardi, but we suggest you start at FTC.gov/WU, which will link you to the claims website.”

 

 

Robocalls: Feds OK new tools to fight IRS scam, others

Consumers receive an estimated 2.4 billion illegal robocalls a month, and many come with caller ID that can make it look like calls are from across town or an official government agency like the IRS.

Federal regulators took action this week to make it easier for phone companies to block some of these numbers before they ever get to your phone.

The idea is to allow “phone companies to proactively block calls that are likely to be fraudulent because they come from certain types of phone numbers,” the Federal Communications Commission said about rules approved Thursday.

Take calls that seem to be from the IRS to collect taxes owed, a common scam. The IRS does not operate that way, but many spooked consumers do not know that and are victimized by fraud or identity theft. Sometimes automated messages threaten fines or prison unless you call a certain number or take some action to pay up quick.

Bad actors often use “spoofed” numbers that are not really the source of the call. In some instances, they use this trick: They select real IRS phone numbers that only work on inbound calls, and don’t dial out, to carry out their impersonation, officials say.

Now such numbers can be placed a “do not originate” list that phone companies can consult to block the calls. Also targeted for blockage: Numbers with area codes that do not exist, numbers that have not been assigned to a legitimate user and similar red-flag categories.

To file a complaint about a caller you suspect is falsely claiming to be from the government or otherwise using a false identity, let the Federal Trade Commission know:

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

 

 

 

Fake debt collectors: Fla. crackdown highlights 3 ways to detect them

Florida-based debt collectors accused of pretending to be lawyers and threatening consumers with lawsuits or prison have been slapped with a restraining order after collecting more than $690,000, federal officials said this week.

The crackdown highlights several ways consumers can protect themselves against debt calls that may not be legitimate, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Here are three:

1. Jail threats are a red flag. “If a debt collector threatens you with jail time, hang up the phone. They’re violating the law and you should report them to us,” the FTC says.

2. Ask for it in writing. Ask for a written “validation notice” that includes the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor and your rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the FTC advises. Tell the caller you refuse to discuss the debt without this. Stop talking and do not give further information that can be used for identify theft or other purposes.

3. Ask the caller for his name, company, street address, and telephone number. “If a caller refuses to give you all of this information, do not pay!” the FTC says. “Paying a fake debt collector will not always make them go away. They may make up another debt to try to get more money from you.”

Among other precautions: If the debt may be legitimate but you suspect the caller is not, check independently with the original creditor.

But in many cases debts are just made up, federal officials said.

Many consumers pay by credit card or other means over the phone “because they are afraid of the threatened repercussions of failing to pay,” unsure if the callers might be legitimate or just wanting to make the harassment go away, FTC officials wrote in a complaint against Orlando-based defendants.

The complaint named Hardco Holding Group LLC, S & H Financial Group, Daryl M. Hall and Dequan M. Sicard. Attorneys representing them were not listed on a July 10 temporary restraining order and attempts to reach defendants were not successful.

 

Federal probe in Lake Worth drives hundreds of refunds

A Lake Worth company that promised to lower car payments delivered something else — a scam that took money from consumers struggling to pay debts, federal officials said.

Now hundreds of refund checks are going out, the Federal Trade Commission said this week.

A promotion from a Lake Worth firm included in an FTC complaint.

Regency Financial Services and principal Ivan Levy perpetrated a “vehicle loan assistance relief services scam,” the FTC charged. Websites promised beleaguered drivers could “lower your payments as much as 50% regardless of your credit score” and claimed consumers saved an average of $293 per month, according to an FTC complaint.

Instead customers paid up-front fees, often $499 in a lump sum or installments, relying on promises the company would prevent creditors from repossessing their vehicles and substantially reduce their interest rate, officials said. Regency typically provided “valueless referrals and advice,” according to the complaint alleging unfair or deceptive trade practices.

The FTC said it is mailing 288 checks totaling more than $109,000 to people who paid an up-front fee. Average amount: $380.

A settlement that produced the money also banned the defendants from telemarketing and selling debt relief products or services. Attempts to seek comment from defendants through an attorney were not successful.

Affected consumers should deposit or cash checks within 60 days, federal officials said, and if they have questions, they should contact the FTC’s refund administrator, Rust Consulting Inc., at 866-591-7249.

Fake number for medical care rips off veterans, feds say

A bogus phone number very close to the real one is a scam targeting veterans who are seeking medical care, federal officials said Monday.

The real number for the Veterans Choice Program is 866-606-8198. The program allows eligible vets to use approved health care providers outside of the Veterans Affairs system.

“Here’s the problem,” says an advisory from the Federal Trade Commission. “Scammers have set up a phony telephone line that very closely resembles the VCP’s real telephone number. Con artists often use names, seals, and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations. This time they’re using a phone number that’s almost identical to the real thing, counting on creating confusion.”

People call and think they have reached the real number.

“The fake line’s message says you’re entitled to a rebate if you provide a credit card number,” says FTC attorney Carol Kando-Pineda. “But if you give up your account information, they’ll debit your account and you’ll get nothing in return.  There is no rebate and you’ll need to cancel your credit card.”

The real program won’t ask for your credit card number over the phone, officials say.

You can check the website for the real Veterans Choice program  here:

https://www.va.gov/opa/toolkit/index.asp

 

 

FTC: No, we did not hire Lake Worth ‘scammer’ to fix your computer

A Lake Worth man told consumers he was on a mission from the Federal Trade Commission to fix their computers by removing dangerous software, FTC officials said. Emails even looked like official press releases from the agency, complete with the real FTC seal and motto, they said.

Trouble was, it was utterly “bogus,” the agency said.

Federal officials announced Tuesday a judge has ordered a temporary injunction against Daniel L. Croft,  doing business as PC Guru Tech Support and Elite Tech Support.

According to the FTC, Croft sent fake press releases and spam messages saying it was his job to call people and remove tracking software from their computers.

U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks in West Palm Beach ordered the defendant to stop claiming he is affiliated with the FTC, to shut down his websites and phone numbers and tell customers who contact him that he is not affiliated with the agency.

The  injunction comes as the FTC pursues a lawsuit against Croft. A court document does not list an attorney for Croft and an attempt to reach him for comment was not successful.

“To lure consumers into opening the unsolicited emails, the Defendant states in the subject line of the emails that ‘spyware was put on your computer’ by one of two purported technical support companies whose services the consumer had previously used: Fast Fix 123 LLC or One Bit IT Co.,” an FTC complaint says.

The agency says if you got one of those messages, please tell the FTC.

PC support scams have been prosecuted for years in Palm Beach County. This effort features a follow-up twist, offering to “help” people hit by an earlier scheme.

AT&T cramming refunds: $88 million on the way, FTC says

The first batch of checks went out Thursday in what federal regulators call the biggest settlement ever in a “cramming” case — $88 million in credits and refunds to current and former AT&T  customers for mobile phone charges they did not authorize.

The Federal Communications Commission said 2.7 million customers are affected, the most ever in such a case that the agency administered.

Cell phone captureThe average refund check: $31.

Unsolicited charges were often $9.99 a month, for services such as ringtones, wallpapers and text message subscriptions. The refunds relate to 2014 settlements.

“AT&T received a high volume of complaints related to mobile cramming prior to the FTC and other federal and state agencies stepping in on consumers’ behalf,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “I am pleased that consumers are now being refunded their money and that AT&T has changed its mobile billing practices.”

AT&T said when the settlements were first announced it had “rigorous protections in place to guard consumers against unauthorized billing” but ultimately chose to discontinue this kind of third-party billing. The settlement gave customers who believed they were wrongfully billed the ability to get a refund, the company said at the time.

Here’s what’s next for customers who submitted claims during the settlement process, according to the FTC:

  • Nearly 2.5 million AT&T customers will get a credit on their bill within the next 75 days.
  • About 300,000 former AT&T customers will receive a check. The first round of checks was mailed Thursday.

Questions about your refund? Officials say you can reach the refund administrator at 1-877-819-9692.

Data safe this season? Credit report firms lead agency gripe list

You might like to think credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the folks who are supposed to protect and keep your consumer data straight this holiday shopping season. But they lead all companies in the latest quarterly complaint list released Tuesday from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, outpacing banks led by Citibank.

Complaints from Florida increased 14 percent for June through August 2016, compared to same quarter a year earlier, ranking it among the top 20 states with the biggest increases in gripes.

credit reportCredit reporting firms compile information on more than 220 million U.S. consumers that can play a critical role in determining if people get favorable terms when they apply for loans and charge cards, apartments or even jobs or insurance. Some complaints are to be expected, but problems that consumers face in challenging or clearing up mistakes have proved persistent.

As The Palm Beach Post reported, the annual cost of ID theft has been tallied near $25 billion, more than burglary, vehicle and other forms of property theft combined.

Florida led the nation in identity theft complaints in 2015 to another federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission. The region including Miami and West Palm Beach topped the nation in reported identify theft per capita in 2014 and remained in the top three last year.

The Consumer Data Industry Association, whose members include big credit reporting companies, had no immediate comment.

Most Complaints by Company
1. Equifax
2. Experian
3. TransUnion
4. Citibank
5. Bank of America
6. Wells Fargo
7. JPMorgan Chase
8. Capital One
9. Ocwen
10. Navient Solutions Inc.

Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, June-Aug. 2016