Consumer Protection | Business Protection

A Scammer Might Be a Phone Call Away

September 2nd, 2015

Jackie here. You’ve got a question… what do you do? If you’re like me, you turn to the internet. I often believe that I can find the answer to anything online. That’s what’s makes this new scam so scary. Scammers are using our urge to find information online to set up unsuspecting victims. They are setting up fake websites and customer service lines that seem to be associated with big name companies.

Here’s how you can avoid this scam:

Start with the URL (if you can)- If you know a company’s official web address, start your search for phone numbers and information there. Look for a “Contact Us” page or something similar. If you can’t find a link on the main page, scroll to the bottom and look in the fine print. You may also be able to locate contact details using a site map if one’s available. It might take time to find contact details from the main company website, but it is a lot safer than calling a random number you find using a search.

First Isn’t Always Best- How do you find the right website for a particular company? Hint: it isn’t always the first web address you find. Scammers may use familiar looking variations of a company’s name or website address. The first phone number or website you find might not be legitimate, as these placements are often for sale on search engines.

There Isn’t Always a Phone Number- Some of us like to call companies with our problems, but as more and more companies embrace the internet, this isn’t always an option. Be aware that there may not be a toll free number available. Some companies choose to limit their communications to online chats, emails, etc. Others ask consumers to enter a phone number to receive a call back.

Keep Your Credit Card to Yourself- If you do call a number you find online, be cautious with your card information. Once they have you on the line, scammers will try to lower your defenses so you provide personal information or credit card details. Keep the information you share to a minimum.

Things you find online aren’t always true. Be careful when searching to avoid scams like this one.

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Avoid These Summer Travel Scams

June 5th, 2015

Jackie here. Summer’s coming, and that means everyone needs to be on the lookout for travel scams. Stay safe during your travels by brushing up on common scams before you hit the road. The Better Business Bureau has created an amazing infographic highlighting 40 of the most common travel scams. We’ll cover a few of the scams seen around the world below, but make sure you check out the complete list as well. Some of the scams are specific to a certain location so be sure to look for your summer destination on the list.

Fake Front Desk Call

You’re happily sleeping in your hotel room when the phone rings. It’s the front desk calling to verify some credit card information. Don’t share your info. The caller is actually an identity thief trying to get your card number. Instead, head down to the front desk and verify your information in person. This scam often occurs in the middle of the night to discourage guests from heading to the front desk. If you don’t want to get up in the middle of the night, surely they can wait until the morning.

Fake Takeout

You check into a hotel and grab the pizza flyer slipped under the door to order some dinner. Unfortunately, the flyer’s a fake. Dinner’s not coming and you just shared your card details with a thief. If you want to order takeout, look up the number online or in a phone book. Don’t trust fliers you find in your hotel room.

The Expensive Taxi

When you don’t know your way around a town, you don’t really know the quickest route from Point A to Point B. Some taxi drivers like to take advantage of this fact, taking unwitting riders on longer than necessary rides to rack up the charges. This one’s hard to avoid, but try to use licensed taxis if possible. Your hotel may have recommendations about which taxi service can be trusted.

Overly Helpful Locals

ATMs can be confusing in other countries, especially if you aren’t fluent in the language. In this scam, a helpful local will offer to help you navigate the cash machine, but really they are just memorizing your PIN. Later they’ll pickpocket your wallet or make off with your cash. Never use the ATM in the presence of a stranger. Cover the keypad when entering your PIN. A variation of this scam involves stealing your money as soon as it is dispensed.

May your summer be filled with fun, and scam-free travels.

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What Does a Scam Sound Like?

May 29th, 2015

Jackie here. How do you know when a scam comes calling? The Better Business Bureau has shared a recording of a real scammer calling a consumer. Head on over to their website and take a listen. While not every scam sounds the same, many of the call-in scams will sound similar. Knowing what to look for can help you stay protected from ID theft.

What Should You Do?

If you get a call like this one, what should you do? Here are some simple tips for dealing with scammers on the phone.

Hang Up- If it sounds like a scam, it probably is. Hang up the phone. You don’t need to be nice; just hang up. If you’re worried about missing crucial information from a company you do business with, call them back using a known phone number. Scammers often use popular companies to trick you into sharing information. Just because they say they are calling from Microsoft or your bank, doesn’t mean they actually are. Don’t engage with scammers like the caller in the BBB clip.

Report the Call- After a call, report it. Any information you have may help law enforcement to shut down the scam. The FTC Complaint Assistant is an easy way to report scam phone calls. It just takes a couple of minutes and can be done entirely online.

Most Importantly…Don’t Share Any Personal Information- Don’t give the scammers any information they don’t already have. Don’t share any personal information including your name, address, Social Security number, bank information, account numbers, etc. Some scammers tell you they need your information to verify your identity. If you didn’t make the call yourself, don’t verify anything.

Have you ever received a scam phone call? Let us know what happened and how you knew it was a scam.

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Scam: Don’t Watch that Video

April 14th, 2015

Jackie here. There’s a scam making its way around Facebook and other social media sites that could leave your computer ridden with malware if you aren’t careful. Here’s what you need to know:

What is Malicious Tagging?

This scam uses a practice known as malicious tagging. A friend will appear to share a video (often one with adult content) to their wall with the names of many friends tagged. If you’re tagged, you’ll receive a notification and likely want to view the video. If you click to view the video, a pop-up will appear that encourages you to update your video player software (like Flash Player). Click to update and you’ll unknowingly install malware on your computer. This malware not only steals personal information (potentially leading to ID theft), but also takes over your Facebook, tagging your friends in the malicious video and perpetrating the scam once again.

What Can You Do?

This scam is a scary one, but there are ways to protect yourself and your friends.

Just Because it’s from a Friend, Doesn’t Mean It’s Safe- We tend to trust links and videos shared by friends, but on social media, this isn’t always a wise choice. Your friend’s accounts may be compromised and they may be unknowingly sharing malicious links. If something seems suspicious, steer clear, even if it’s shared by a trusted friend. To spot a potential scam, look out for postings that seem out of the norm for your friends – if they don’t usually share videos with friends, double check with them before you watch.

Beware of Required Updates- Stay on top of your computer, plug-in, and software updates on your own (automatic updates are an easy way to do this). If an update notification pops up when you attempt to watch a video or follow a link, decline the update and head to the applicable website to do it yourself. Here are some tools to help you stay on top of the updating game:

Firefox’s Plug-In Checker- If you use Firefox, try the Plug-In Checker to see what needs updating. You’ll see which plug-ins are potentially vulnerable and will have access to easy links to update.

Chrome Plug-Ins- Chrome users can head to Chrome’s help page on Plug-Ins for links to supported plug-ins and their updates.

Microsoft Update Page- This help page from Microsoft has tips and tools for keeping your computer up to date.

Report It- If you come across spam or potentially malicious content on Facebook, report it. This helps Facebook to find and remove the bad content and may protect other friends from falling victim.

Think Before You Click- If something is touted as “exclusive”, “one-of-a-kind”, etc. keep your eyes open for a scam.

Stay on the lookout for malicious tagging and don’t fall victim.

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Online Job Hunting and ID Theft

February 20th, 2015

Jackie here. Is your job hunt putting you at risk for ID theft? The internet has certainly changed the way we find and apply for jobs, both for the good and potentially the bad. The convenience of being able to submit applications online also gives thieves a convenient way to steal information. What can you do? Keep reading for some identity protecting job search tips from the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Carefully Screen Opportunities

In job hunting as well as in life, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” If you see a job offer that offers great pay with little to no effort, its likely a scam. Some thieves use fake job postings to solicit identity information (like name, address, Social Security Number, etc.). If you see a suspicious job posting, contact the company doing the hiring directly and make sure the job is legitimate before you put in an application.

Don’t Provide Bank Information

Never provide your bank account information as part of the job interview process (even after hiring, your employer only needs this information to set up direct deposit if you plan to use it). Jobs that promise to pay you for cashing checks or managing money transfers through your own accounts are almost always scams; avoid them.

Offer First, SSN Second

Be very careful when providing your Social Security Number to a potential employer. You don’t need to provide it with the initial application. If a SSN is needed (for a background check or paperwork after hiring), provide it only after you have a job offer (or conditional offer).

Good luck on your job hunt! May your searches be identity theft and scam free.

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4 Facebook Scams to Avoid

February 17th, 2015

Jackie here. Every time I pop on Facebook, I spot a scam or two. Do you know a Facebook scam when you see one? Keep your eyes open for these red flags and use caution when you see an advertisement or offer on Facebook that looks suspicious. Make Facebook a place for friends and family, not falling victim to ID theft.

Free Stuff

You aren’t going to receive free airline tickets just for sharing a post or receive money from a wealthy benefactor by clicking “like”. Free can be risky on Facebook. That doesn’t mean you won’t find the occasional giveaway on the site (many legitimate bloggers and companies use Facebook to spread the word about promotions), but when you do, be cautious. Remember, there’s a big difference between giving away one blender to a single winner and offering a free iPad to anyone that wants one. When in doubt, use caution before entering a contest of giveaway.

Mysterious Videos

If a video promises the answer to becoming an instant millionaire, a sneak peak at a naked celeb, or a high speed car crash destined to be the next viral sensation, don’t watch it. Many of these videos are scams. Click on the video and you’ll be asked to download viewing software (complete with hidden malware). When you need that video fix, head to YouTube instead.

Password Requests

Don’t be fooled by offers to tweak your profile, change your Facebook background, or perform some other service to your account in exchange for your username and password. Your login credentials are yours and yours alone. Never share them with third parties.

Famous Friends

Are celebrities sending you friend requests? It’s likely a scam. Choose your friends carefully and be very cautious when friending those you don’t know personally. Double red flag if this new friend asks you to send them money.

Facebook and other social network sites are great ways to stay in touch with friends and family, but that doesn’t mean they are 100% safe. Use caution when you come across offers that seem too good to be true, or when a distant friend asks you to send them money – these are likely scams. Which of these Facebook scams have you seen?

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5 Scams to Watch for in 2015

January 23rd, 2015

Jackie here. We share many scams here on the AllClear ID blog. Each is a little different from the ones before, but many are surprisingly similar. Thieves have their tried and tested scams that they turn to again and again to trick unsuspecting victims. I can’t tell you what scams 2015 will bring, but odds are the majority of them will resemble these scams found on the list top 5 reported scams from StaySafeOnline. Keeping watch for variations of this scam will help you protect your identity this year.

Fake Check Scams

In this scam, you receive a check and are asked to cash it through your account. You get a portion of the money received as ‘payment’ and send the rest off to another bank account or by wire transfer. Turns out, the check is fake. Fall victim to this scam and you’ll be on the hook for the full amount of the check plus any fees.

Internet Merchandise Scams

You buy an item online from a bogus retailer and it never arrives. Spot this scam by looking for deals that are too good to be true – any deal that promises to sell you top shelf items at less than half the cost, for instance. Protect yourself by paying with a credit card (they offer protections against fraud like this).

Prize Scams

“You’re a winner!” Only if you fall victim to this scam, you’re not. This scam tells you that you’ve won a prize and asks for money to cover the fees, taxes, etc. There is no prize; pay out and you’ll simply lose the money and won’t receive the promised prize.

Loan Scams

Pay a fee and get a loan. This scam offers a line of credit in exchange for a sign-up fee. Once the fee is paid, the loan never materializes and you’re out the money you paid.

Phishing Scams

You receive an email (often from an organization that you’re associated with) that asks for personal information or asks you to follow a link. Share your info and you’ll likely fall victim to ID theft or fraud very soon. Avoid phishing scams by clicking on email links carefully. If you’re not sure if an email is legitimate, contact the company in question yourself and ask. Most legitimate companies will not ask you to share your personal information over email.

Watching out for scams such as these will help you protect your identity this year. As always, we will keep you updated with new scams as they arise.

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Keep Holiday Gift Cards Safe from Scammers

January 16th, 2015

Jackie here. Did you receive any gift cards for the holidays this year? While we won’t tell you how to spend them, we do have a few tips for how NOT to spend them. Scammers are hoping you’ll fall victim to one of the many gift card scams that are making the rounds after the holiday season.

Great Deals if You Pay with a Gift Card

When it comes to gift cards, scams abound. The latest scam encourages its victims to buy hot ticket items from a low priced selection on an unknown website. In order to pay for your bargains you’re encouraged to purchase an Amazon card and then to use this card to pay for your purchase.

Don’t let these bargains fool you into providing Amazon gift card information to a site that isn’t Amazon. If you use your Amazon gift card for payment, you’ll lose the balance on your card to the thieves and you won’t receive any merchandise in return. The website is just a front for stealing gift cards. While this scam is currently looking for Amazon cards, it could easily be replicated to target any big name retailer.

To avoid this scam, use your gift cards only at the corresponding retailer (Amazon cards at Amazon, Walmart gift cards at Walmart, etc.). Don’t share your gift card numbers with anyone. Register your card at the retailer’s site if that is an option as soon as possible (linking your card to your account can help you catch fraud sooner).

Other Gift Card Scams to Avoid

Since gift cards are a hot commodity for scammers and since you likely have several from the holidays, here are some other tips to keep you safe from gift card scams:

Buy Gift Cards from Reputable Sites Only- Gift cards are best purchased from reputable sources. Don’t buy heavily discounted cards from websites (or people) you don’t know or trust. It is worth paying a bit more for a legitimate card. If you have cards you don’t want, here are some tips for selling them.

Don’t Buy Gift Cards from Auction Sites- Auction websites like eBay are a common source of gift card fraud. Don’t buy your gift cards from these sites.

Keep Your Receipt- When you buy gift cards save your receipts until the card is fully used. Some retailers will replace stolen cards if you have your receipt.

Use Your Cards Quickly- Use your gift cards as quickly as you can once you receive them. Holding on to them for long periods of time can lead to fees and forgotten cards (as well as giving scammers more time to drain your balance).

Did you receive any gift cards this year? These tips will help you avoid scams both when you purchase and redeem your holiday cards.

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Healthcare Scams Abound During Open Enrollment

January 6th, 2015

Jackie here. We’re right in the middle of open enrollment season for insurance and that means that scammers are out in full force looking for opportunities to trick consumers out of their personal information. Be on the lookout for health care scams this time of year and use these tips to help spot and avoid scams.

Watch for Grammar and Spelling Errors- If you receive an email riddled with grammar and spelling errors, send it to your spam folder immediately. It is very unlikely that a legitimate company will send emails packed with errors. This is a great first level screening for any spam, healthcare related or otherwise.

Look Deeply at the Sender’s Address- Even emails that appear to be from your health insurance company could be from scammers. Hover over the sender’s address to see where the email is really coming from. – if the real address doesn’t match who is supposedly sending the email, use caution before you click any links or take any action.

Avoid Clicking Links- If an email asks you to click a link immediately to input personal information, don’t do it. This is a common tactic used to direct you to malicious sites that may install malware on your computer. Avoid clicking links in unsolicited emails.

ACA not “Obamacare”- Scammers often refer to the nation’s health law as Obamacare. While this is a commonly known nickname for the law (actually called the Affordable Care Act or ACA), you won’t see it on official insurance correspondence. If you see “Obamacare” know that the email is likely spam.

Call Customer Service Yourself- If you receive a call or email from your insurance company, call them back yourself using the number on your card. This is a great way to check in and make sure your coverage is setup and working without disclosing personal information to the caller. When in doubt, call yourself.

These simple tips will help you to avoid many of the healthcare scams this year. Check out more tips from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).

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A Letter from Santa is a Scam in Disguise

December 19th, 2014

Jackie here. Letters to Santa might seem as innocent as they come, but in this new holiday scam letters from the man in red are actually a ploy to steal your identity. Scammers love to use current events and upcoming holidays to trick potential victims; this scam is an excellent reminder to keep your eyes open for tailored scams created just for a specific event. Here are the details:

The Scam: A Custom Letter to Your Child from Santa

The scam sells a custom written letter from Santa to your child. Right now the price is typically set at $19.95, but this could easily change. The initial sales offer comes via email with a link to click if you’re interested in purchasing.

Once you click the link, you are directed to a website selling the letters. There may be a free shipping offer that ends in just a few hours to encourage you to purchase immediately.

If you provide your credit card info, you’ve just shared some personal information with potential scammers. You’ll likely be out the money for the letter and have the potential to become a victim of ID theft or credit card fraud.

Also, be on the lookout for variations of this scam that provide free letters from Santa. While they may not need a credit card, they will ask for lots of personal information which can be sold to scammers. Learn more from the Better Business Bureau.

Holiday scams are abounding at this time of the year; be on the lookout for this letter from Santa scam and others like it.

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Use Caution When Depositing Checks on Your Mobile Device

December 15th, 2014

Jackie here. Do you use mobile check deposit and other similar banking features? This feature is certainly convenient (and the only way to deposit checks in some online only accounts), but before you snap that photo make sure you know the potential risks of this service as well as other mobile banking options., supported by the National Consumers League, warns consumers that scammers are transforming old scams by adding technology. Here’s the scoop.

The Risks of Mobile Depositing

Not long ago, banks needed a physical check to make a deposit into your account. This limited the risk of fraud by ensuring that whoever had the check would be the one to obtain the money. With mobile check depositing, the physical check is only necessary before the photo is taken. Once the picture is taken, the check can be destroyed or, if it falls into the wrong hands, reused. When a check is deposited more than once it is called duplicate presentment and can lead to financial losses both for banks and consumers.

When depositing checks using your mobile device, be careful. Make sure you use the approved app provided by your bank so the funds actually make it to your account. Store your checks in a safe place and destroy them once the funds are deposited into your account. Never deposit checks for someone else, especially those you don’t know personally, through your account. The check might look real, but there is always the possibility the check has already been deposited or that it is fraudulent.

Old Scams- New Twists

Be on the lookout for new variations to tried-and true-scams. Mobile technologies have given scammers a new opportunity to reinvent scams and claim more victims.

Ways to Protect Yourself from Banking Scams

The best protection against banking scams is a little precaution. With a few simple tips you can avoid most scams and keep your family safe. Try these tips:

Avoid Easy Money- If you’re being promised money for completing easy tasks like depositing a check in the bank, it is probably a scam. Don’t use your bank accounts to help others move money. They are your accounts; use them for your personal purposes only.

Keep Banking Information Private- If someone is asking for your bank account numbers, PINs, debit card numbers, etc., it is probably a scam. Don’t give this information out. Sometimes sharing account information is needed (with your employer to set up direct deposit for example), but you should only share as needed and with those that you trust.

Think Before You Act- If you’re faced with a suspicious situation involving your bank account, take your time. Anyone that tells you that immediate action is needed is probably trying to get your information before you have time to realize that you’re actually being faced with a scam.

As you make use of new mobile technologies in banking always remember to be on the lookout for mobile scams!

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Job Hunting? Steer Clear of these Opportunities

November 10th, 2014

Jackie here. During a job search one common piece of advice is to look everywhere and be open to new opportunities. While this is true, job hunters do need to remain alert to the possibility of scams. Keep reading for the details on a couple of scams targeting job seekers. Wishing you scam-free success in your job search!

Craigslist Scams- Craigslist can be a wonderful place to find real job leads (although it does require a lot of searching and sifting through less desirable opportunities), but it can also be a hotbed for scams. Right now there’s a very deceptive scam on the site offering job opportunities through a company called ClearPoint. The company is real and unlike many scams the posting is typo-free. When you email for more information about the job, the manager will reply asking for additional information including your credit card number. This posting is a scam; don’t share your credit information.

Pay Up Front- Another job scam asks potential new hires to pay for specialized training up front. Once you pay, the training never occurs and the job doesn’t materialize. Be very cautious of job opportunities that require you to pay for training related to a specific position. Legitimate companies typically offer training to new hires or exclusively hire those that already have the needed training.

Deposit Scams- Another ever-present job hunting scam asks victims to deposit checks in their checking accounts. The job hunter keeps a small amount as a fee for their services and sends the remainder of the balance off. These checks are fakes and the depositor will be left without the money but with the possibility of big fees from their banks.

Real Company, Fake Job- Scammers like to use legitimate companies to lend credibility to their scams. They may post a job offer using a recognizable company name. The position is fake, but the company is not. One way to protect yourself from this scam is to double check job offerings you find on Craigslist (and other classified sites) with the company’s actual list of jobs from their website. Jobs found in both places are probably legitimate, while jobs found only on the classified site might be fakes. You can also Google the job opening looking for the exact same position listed in multiple cities as this is a sign of a potential scam.

These scams are just a few of the many that target job seekers. For more tips about job hunting safely, check out this helpful article from the Better Business Bureau.

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Emailed Court Summons May be a Scam

October 28th, 2014

Jackie here. If you get a court summons via email, be cautious, especially if the summons asks you to open an attachment or click on a link. One scam circulating through email inboxes right now uses fake court notices to get you to open malware laced attachments. Open the attachment, and you’re exposing yourself to malicious software and potentially ID theft.

Surprisingly, court notices can be served using email, so you can’t automatically assume that a summons is a scam, but there are ways to protect yourself from this scam and others like it.

Pick Up the Phone- If you receive a court summons you aren’t expecting, pick up the phone and make a few calls to check it out. A good place to start is with the court system or the attorney that is leading the case. Don’t forget to find the number yourself as numbers listed on the email could be fakes.

Emails Are Rare- While court communications can come via email, most of the time they don’t. You are unlikely to receive email notices unless you are involved in a case and have specifically opted in to receiving electronic communications. The same applies to emailed jury duty notices.

You Have Time- Scams like these encourage immediate action so you’ll take the bait before you have time to think things through. If you’re being told to act now, slow down. You have time to investigate to ensure the summons is real.

Don’t fall victim to this scam or others like it. When you check your email, make sure you are always on scam alert!

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Need Health Insurance? Make Sure You Know What You’re Buying

October 17th, 2014

Jackie here. As we head toward the end of the year, those of us wanting to make a change in our health insurance policies generally start shopping around. This year, the open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act plans is coming up quickly (enrollment starts November 15) and for many with employer sponsored health plans, open enrollment starts even sooner. Now is high time to be on the lookout for health care scams. When you start thinking about health insurance, scammers do too.

Recently, the FTC filed charges against one company operating a health care scam. This company sold medical discount cards to people under the guise of selling insurance. Purchasers were told that these cards were Affordable Care Act compliant and that they would cover things like doctor’s visits, emergency room visits, etc. when in reality they did not. Those buying the cards were out the money and left uninsured and unprotected should a medical emergency arise.

Avoiding Health Insurance Scams

Don’t be a victim of health insurance scams like this one. If you need health insurance, here are some tips for signing up for a legitimate plan.

Check with Your State Insurance Commissioner- Before buying a health insurance plan, make sure the company selling it is authorized to sell in your state. This will help you to ensure that you are actually buying insurance from reputable companies. You can find your state insurance commissioners contact information through the NAIC.

Know What You’re Buying- When purchasing a plan it is always good to ask a lot of questions. Know what you’re paying for and what your plan covers. While all Affordable Care Act plans cover essential services like hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity care, etc., other health plans are available that may not cover these services. These plans can be a good option for some consumers, but it is important that you know what you’re paying for when you sign up. Make sure you also find out about deductibles (the amount you must pay out of pocket before coverage starts), co-insurance (your portion of qualified medical bills), and yearly limits (the maximum amount your insurance company will spend in a year and the maximum amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket in a year).

Places to Buy ACA Compliant Plans- ACA compliant health plans are plans that meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. These plans cannot turn down consumers with pre-existing health conditions, must offer coverage in essential categories, and meet other requirements. You can find ACA compliant plans through the federal health exchange or your state’s health exchange, depending on where you live. Right now open enrollment is closed (it starts up again on November 15) so you can only buy plans from the exchanges if you have a qualifying event. In some states you can find ACA compliant plans available for purchase even when the exchange is closed, but you may not qualify for government subsidies.

Watch Out for Discount Plans- Some consumers get confused when shopping for insurance and accidentally end up buying a discount plan instead. These plans offer discounts on health services in exchange for a fee. While some are legitimate, many offer very little value to their purchasers. In any case, discount plans should never be a substitute for insurance, only a supplement. This article from the FTC will teach you what to watch out for.

When shopping for health insurance, make sure you’re actually buying insurance and not participating in a scam.

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Favorite Articles for the Week of September 22

September 26th, 2014

Jenna here. This week was full of new developments in the world of data security and protection. We have two articles that discuss the recently discovered ‘Shellshock’ bug and how you can protect your home computer as well as an informative piece about a scam that’s making the rounds on eBay.

‘Shellshock’ Computer Bug May Be As Serious As ‘Heartbleed’ Vulnerability, Huffington Post

Safe from Shellshock: How to protect your home computer from the Bash shell bug, PC World

eBay scam listings redirect users to phishing websites, Slashgear

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Shocking Videos and Malware

September 24th, 2014

Jackie here. Have you ever fallen victim to a “Click Bait” video scam? I know that I have friends and family that certainly have. These scams lure you in by promising some kind of shocking video. When you click the link to see the clip, a pop up appears that directs you to update your video player. Click the link and you’ll actually install malware, not a video player onto your computer.

What is “Click Bait” and How to Avoid It

“Click Bait” is a term for something that entices you to click on a link or video. Like a fish to a lure, these scams use your curiosity to get you to click. Often, the scams focus around recent events (for example, you might see a video promising some shocking ice bucket challenge footage right now) and typically promise outrageous, appalling, or scandalous footage of some sort. Rather than acting as a supplement to written text, these videos force you to click on them to learn the full story.

One of the best ways to avoid scams like these is to click with caution. Just because a friend shared it doesn’t mean something is safe. Your friend’s account could be compromised or they could simply be tricked by the scam. Don’t click unless you’re sure it’s safe. Reputable news outlets are generally a safer place to view video content than random sites or unsolicited emails.

I try to avoid updating video players and other software in response to a pop up. Automatic updates can help keep your software up to date so you don’t ever have to remember to update on your own. If you do need to update, consider doing it yourself manually rather than clicking on a pop up. Use the pop up as a reminder to go to the website yourself for the update.

Here’s more information on this scam from the Better Business Bureau.

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Is that Debt Collector Legit?

September 16th, 2014

Jackie here. The world of debt collection is often a treacherous one, for debt collectors and those that owe the debt alike. The selling of old debts is a common practice, and once those debts are turned over to a collection company, consumers may have a difficult time spotting debt collection scams.

One common scam involves contacting those with common names and pretending that they owe some obscure debt. Sometimes people pay without even questioning. In another scam the scammers obtain the names of real debtors and pose as a collection company to collect this debt. The debt is a legitimate one, so consumers often believe the claims presented by the scammer and may choose to pay up on this old debt. As scammers steal information from legitimate debt collection companies, both consumers and the actual owner of the debt are negatively impacted. What can you do to protect yourself?

If You Pay a Scammer, You Still Owe the Debt

Consumers are responsible for their debts, even if they think it has been paid. Paying a scammer won’t eliminate your financial responsibility for the debt in question so make sure you’re paying the right collector. One important step for verifying the debt is to obtain a verification letter concerning the debt. The collector should be able to tell you who the original debt holder was and when you made your last payment.

Find Out as Much as You Can

Asking questions can help you spot a fake debt collector. Ask questions about the specific collector, including their license number (Note: all states do not require a license), their address, what company they work for, their contact phone number, etc. The more information you have, the better able you are to research this debt collector and ensure the debt is real. A quick search online can often weed out fraudulent collections claims.

If You’ve Paid, Don’t Pay Again

If you’re being pestered about a debt you’ve already paid, you may be able to find resolution by contacting your original creditor. They can often provide you with a letter that states that your original account is in good standing which can be presented to the collector to resolve the issue.

For more tips, check out this article.

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Business Directory Scam

August 22nd, 2014

Jackie here. The FTC is alleging that small businesses are currently being targeted by telemarketing agencies based in Canada with a business directory scam. Here’s how the scam works and what you need to know to keep your business safe.

Confirm Your Info Then Receive a Bill

This scam starts off with a simple phone call. The caller on the other end wants to confirm a business’ contact information for their online business directory. Shortly after the call, an invoice arrives with hundreds of dollars in charges for a paid listing in the directory, something that was never agreed to. If the invoice is disputed, the scam often continues with collection calls, fake phone recordings supposedly showing an employee agreed to the charges, and threatening phone calls. Under the pressure of the threats, many businesses reported making a payment to make the problem go away.

Protecting Yourself from Scams Like This

Knowledge is one of the most powerful tools for fighting this scam and others like it. Educate yourself about the scams that are out there and be prepared should you encounter a problem. If you’re a business owner, also inform your staff about this scam to make sure an incorrect invoice isn’t accidentally paid.

If you do receive a suspicious invoice, check it out. Run a quick search on the business in question to see if there are other reports of scams that mention the business. You can also check out companies for free using the Better Business Bureau’s helpful service.

If you do come across a scam, report it to the FTC.

Learn more about this scam here.

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3 Hotel Scams to Watch For

August 13th, 2014

Jackie here. As summer winds down and we start to think about holiday travel (time flies), it’s important to be aware of scams that can pop up at hotels. At home or on the road we need to remain ever aware of potential scams. As you sneak in last-minute summer travel and plan for the holidays, be aware of these tricks scammers are using to trick hotel guests. Wishing you and your family many fun, safe, and ID theft-free travels.

Wi-Fi Scam

Are you lost without an internet connection? You’re not alone. Hotels love using free Wi-Fi to entice potential guests to their establishment. Scammers like to create their own Wi-Fi networks (and give them names very similar to the hotel) to trick guests into divulging information. If you choose one of these networks, scammers will have access to your information. Before you choose a Wi-Fi network, call the front desk and ask for the authorized network’s name.

This tip doesn’t just apply to hotels. Scammers also use this trick at other establishments that offer Wi-Fi including restaurants, libraries, coffee shops, and others. Find more information about how to safely use public Wi-Fi in this post from the FTC.

Pizza Delivery Scam

Pizza lovers beware: this scary scam is designed just for you! Scammers may slip flyers for local pizza joints under the doors of hotel rooms. The flyer looks legitimate, but the contact numbers have been changed. When you call to order pizza, you’re actually calling the scammers and providing your credit card information. Avoid this scam by finding the number to a desired pizza joint (or any other restaurant for that matter) yourself on their corporate website or another reputable source.

Late Night Phone Call Scam

You’re snuggled in bed, probably asleep, in your hotel room when the phone rings. The caller claims to be from the front desk and explains that there is a problem with your credit card. They ask you to read the number for verification purposes. The caller isn’t really from the hotel, but is a scammer looking to steal your credit card information. Rather than reading your card number to anyone over the phone, offer to head to the front desk to clear up any problems.

Be aware that scammers often go to great lengths to make this scam seem legitimate. In some cases they have compromised the hotel phone system, making it look like the call is actually from the front desk.

Learn more about these three hotel scams from the FTC.

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Don’t Trade Your Identity for a Free Gift Card

July 29th, 2014

Jackie here. Have you received an email or text message inviting you to complete a survey in exchange for a gift card? This might be a scam. The Better Business Bureau recently issued a warning that urges consumers to use caution when completing surveys. While there are many legitimate ways to complete surveys, they may also be a target for scams. Be alert and aware to keep yourself safe!

A $50 Gift Card You Can’t Have

This particular scam invites you to complete a survey in exchange for a gift card. The survey questions seem innocent, asking things you might expect from a survey like favorite place to shop. At the end of the survey you are instructed to choose a reward. Unfortunately the $50 card isn’t available and you must choose a different prize. These “rewards” are actually products the survey was designed to promote.

In a variation of this scam survey takers may be asked to provide personal information like credit card numbers that can be used to commit ID theft.

Tips for Protecting Yourself from Survey Scams

To protect yourself from customer survey scams like these, use caution and do your research. A quick web search may reveal scams that are currently circulating. If you want to complete surveys on a regular basis, choose a reputable survey company to register with. Here is a list of some legitimate survey companies recommended by Money Saving Mom.

Remember most authentic surveys are completed in exchange for a small prize or discount, not a $50 gift card.
Never provide banking or credit card information when completing a survey. If a company is collecting personal information,
read their privacy policy to find out how it will be used and stored.

Share your opinion if you like, but be cautious to keep your identity safe.

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A Scam Call from Your Own Number- What to Do

July 11th, 2014

Jackie here. The phone rings and you look at your caller ID. The number looks surprisingly familiar. In fact, it’s yours. Robocallers are confusing consumers around the country by changing the caller ID display to the consumer’s own number. Don’t let this scam trick you into sharing personal information.

A New Twist on Caller ID Spoofing

Although changing the number to look like your own is a relatively new phenomenon, it is actually a variation on an old tactic that illegal marketers and scammers use called spoofing. This technique creates a false phone number on an incoming call in an attempt to trick consumers into sharing more than they should. Callers may masquerade as a representative from a well-known company or pose as a government agent, all in an attempt to gain trust and get you to divulge your personal or financial information.

How to Protect Yourself

Don’t trust your caller ID display. While it is a great tool for screening unwanted calls from your Great Aunt Sally, things aren’t always as they seem. Don’t trust that a caller is who they say they are, even if the caller ID confirms it. Never share personal information with unsolicited callers–this can lead to ID theft.

Don’t be Afraid to Hang Up

One of the best ways to combat these calls is to just hang up. If you are worried that you are being contacted by a legitimate company for an important reason, call back using a known number found on their corporate webiste. Don’t push buttons or ask to speak to an operator as this may just increase the number of calls you receive.

If you receive a call that looks like it is coming from you, don’t pick up. Odds are it’s just a scammer at the other end of the line.

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Scam Alert: That Robocall Probably Isn’t the IRS

July 3rd, 2014

Jackie here. Tax season is over, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t still at risk for tax  scams. The FTC recently issued a warning about fake IRS calls that are tricking consumers into paying money they owe via prepaid cards. Be aware of this scam and keep yourself safe.

The Scam

This scam has been circulating for a few months, but seems to still be going strong. Scammers are faking caller ID information to impersonate the IRS and are threatening people with arrest, deportation and more if they don’t quickly pay up. There are several variations to scam, including ones using robocalls. One common thread each of these scams share is a demand for money paid quickly using prepaid debit cards, wire transfer or credit card.

Keeping Yourself Safe

Be aware that the IRS doesn’t ever ask people to pay tax debt using prepaid debit cards or wire transfers. If you need to be contacted about tax issues, the IRS will typically do so by mail. The IRS also doesn’t use text messaging, email or social media to request personal or financial information.

If you are worried about tax debt you may owe, contact the IRS yourself for help with payment questions. You can reach them at 800-829-1040.

If you get a suspicious call claiming to be from the IRS or the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report it immediately online or by calling 800-366-4484. You can also file a complaint with the FTC using their online complaint form (make sure you include IRS Telephone Scam in the notes section).

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Is a Picture the Key to Uncovering a Scam?

June 2nd, 2014

Jackie here. You can find almost anything on the internet: cars, furniture, houses, and unfortunately a lot of scams too. A recent article on Lifehacker explains that a reverse image search can help you spot online housing scams early and keep yourself safe. When fighting identity theft and fraud, we need all the tools we can find; give this one a try!

What’s a Reverse Image Search?

Like a search engine for words, a reverse image search combs the internet looking for other copies of the same image. It’s a useful tactic for spotting scams, as you can see if the image you’re searching for is really associated with whatever you’re looking at. Lifehacker mentions that it’s an ideal tool for spotting real estate scams, but I can see how this would be helpful any time you’re buying items from online classified sites. If the same image is being used to sell multiple items, you might be dealing with a scam. On real estate sales or rentals, this is especially useful for double checking the address of the property you’re considering.

Here’s how to do it:

Several search engines offer a reverse image search feature. I’ve personally used Google, but most work in a similar fashion. The easiest way to perform a search is to right click on a particular image and save the link location. Paste this link into the search bar and perform the search. You can also search by uploading images saved onto your computer if you like.

When the image listings come up, scroll through the results and examine them. Is the same image being used over and over again? While not foolproof, this is just one more tool you can add to your scam fighting arsenal.


Spoofing: Don’t Answer that Call

May 16th, 2014

Aaron here, AllClear ID Investigator. We’ve talked before about caller ID spoofing and what it is here on our blog. A subset of this, International Revenue Share Fraud, is currently a big concern for the United States. Recently telephone companies across the country are picking up on a suspicious pattern of missed calls. These missed calls are the catalyst to a web of fraud. The swindlers behind the scam are using call generators with automated spoofing capabilities to place a large number of calls to US cell phones. These calls ring once and then hang up so that it shows as a missed call. The number displayed is a high cost international number, usually located in the Caribbean. When the victim returns the call, they will usually hear a message stating something like “Hello, please wait on the line for the next available operator.” The goal with this is to keep the victim on the line as long as possible as the longer the victim waits on the line, the more revenue the fraudsters are generating.

How the Scam Works

When the recipient (victim) makes the return call the telephone company is required to pay a fee to transfer the call to that foreign country. This payment is then shared with the scammers who spoofed the calls. This is what is referred to as International Revenue Share Fraud. Cell phone users don’t realize that they are calling out to an international number and that they will be billed for these calls. Businesses are also falling victim to this because individuals are returning these missed calls from their work phones.

How to Protect Yourself

So, what should you do? It’s pretty simple – just do not answer calls from numbers you do not recognize or call those numbers back. We know this is difficult to do, but generally those people who truly want to get in touch with you will leave a message. The charge does not apply if you receive the call, only if you answer or return it. Likewise, companies that do not conduct business with the countries listed will want to consider blocking these area codes to avoid this type of charge:

• Anguilla
• Antigua
• Barbados
• British Virgin Islands
• The Commonwealth of Dominica
• Greanada
• Montserrat
• Turks and Caicos Islands

The area codes used in these spoofed numbers belong to these countries. They are part of the North American Numbering Plan and do not require 011 to be dialed as with other international calls. If you get a call from a number you do not recognize, you can always look that number up online to see if anyone else has reported calls from there. You can also always give us a call here at AllClear ID; we have investigators standing by who would be happy to help you look into any strange calls you may be receiving.

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Scam Alert: Financial Aid Scams Cost Students Big Money

May 2nd, 2014

Jackie here. Do you need help paying for college? As education expenses increase, students and parents look for ways to cut down on costs seeking financial aid, scholarships, and other monetary help. Scammers are taking advantage of the desperation students feel when searching for financial help to pay for school and are create fake financial aid offers. Get an education on what these scams look like, so you can head to school without falling victim to a financial aid scam.

Signs of a Financial Aid Scam

There are lots of great scholarship and financial aid opportunities out there. Don’t disregard all financial aid and scholarship opportunities because of a few scams. Instead, learn the warning signs of and keep a diligent watch for potential problems. A good tip to remember when it comes to education scams (and all others as well) is, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Here are some clues that might alert you to a potential financial aid scam.

  • Pay in Advance- Some fake scholarship opportunities offer a guaranteed scholarship in exchange for a small upfront payment. Be extremely cautious of any scholarships or aid opportunities that ask for an advance payment. Some scams call the payment a processing fee while others promise to do the work of getting the scholarship in exchange for a small payment. Also be aware of opportunities that guarantee results or that promise your money back if you don’t qualify for a scholarship.
  • Don’t Provide Banking Information- Most legitimate scholarships will make their payments directly to your college. Some will reimburse receipts submitted by their recipients and others mail out checks. Be cautious of any aid opportunity that requires bank account information for a direct deposit. Some scam scholarships will ask for bank information to confirm eligibility and will then charge accounts without authorization from the student.
  • Do Your Research- Before accepting an aid offer, do your research. Find out all you can about the company offering the scholarship. Often legitimate scholarships have websites and other information posted online. Past scam victims may share stories of their struggles if you look.
  • Be Wary of Scholarships You Didn’t Apply For- Everyone loves free money, but if you didn’t apply for a particular scholarship, grant, or contest, odds are you didn’t win it. Be very cautious as you proceed.
  • Ask Questions- Asking questions (and lots of them) is a great way to spot potential scams. Ask questions and watch for answers that don’t seem quite right. Don’t feel rushed; take your time and do your research.

For more information check out this great article about financial aid scams from the Better Business Bureau.

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New ATM Scam Allows Unlimited Withdrawals

April 23rd, 2014

Jackie here. I take comfort in knowing that my ATM has a daily withdrawal limit. I feel secure knowing that should my account become compromised, only a few hundred could be taken (while this is still a lot of money, it is much better than the alternative of having the entire account drained). A scary new development in ATM hacking allows scammers to change limits, making unlimited withdrawals.

This scam is often used over holiday weekends when the banks place extra money in their ATMs. With no caps, scammers take nearly unlimited amounts from accounts, often withdrawing much more than the accounts actually contain. One recent attack took $40 million from just 12 accounts.

While this is scary news, you can take some comfort in the fact that the losses from the stolen money are covered by various banking laws and insurance programs. You will be reimbursed for the lost money eventually, although it may take some time. Prepaid debit cards do not have the same protections which can lead to consumer losses in cases of theft—it may be best to avoid prepaid cards for everyday use.

How Does it Work?

This scam requires several different attacks to banking systems to gain the necessary information to execute the attack. Typically scammers obtain login credentials to banking software systems using phishing or malware attacks. Once the scammers can log in to banking systems to lift limits, they use fake debit cards made using numbers they’ve obtained through other attacks. The scammers then use these fake cards to clean out ATMs, typically over weekends or holidays.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

Although many losses from this scam will be eventually returned, it often isn’t worth the hassle and huge amounts of effort you may have to expend. Protect yourself from ever falling victim. If you can, skip the debit cards and use only a credit card instead. If you’re worried about the possibility of accruing debt, treat the credit card like a debit card and only purchase things you can afford and immediately pay the bill after making a purchase. More importantly, be wary of prepaid cards as these do not have the same legal protections as a traditional debit cards. This helpful guide will help you understand the differences in your protections when using credit and debit cards.

Monitoring your accounts carefully will also help you to find and report any discrepancies early.

Learn more about this scam here.

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Scam Alert: FTC Email Complaints

April 22nd, 2014

Jackie here. There’s a new scam making its way into email inboxes across the country. If you see an email that appears to be from FTC, be cautious. The emails look very official, but are actually an attempt to install malware on your computer.

The Scam

Like many popular email scams, this one attempts to impersonate a well-known organization. The FTC reports that these scam emails use the official FTC seal and contain links that appear to be FTC links. The email text references the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) and informs the recipient that a formal complaint has been filed against them. They are encouraged to open an attachment to receive more information.

A good tip for avoiding this scam and others like it is to remember how companies and government agencies get in touch. They typically don’t send confidential information via email. If a company or the government needs to get ahold of your regarding a complaint or another serious matter, they will often use postal mail. You can always double check if an email is legitimate by contacting the organization in question yourself. Use a known number for them, not one listed in the suspicious email.

Stay alert so you don’t fall victim. What should you do if you do receive one of these emails? Forward a copy of the email to and then delete the email immediately. Get more information about this scam from the FTC.

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Do You Have a Backup of Your Important Files?

March 28th, 2014

Jackie here. At times it feels like my entire life is on my computer. Family pictures, important work documents, financial records, favorite games, valuable software, and more fill my hard drive. I would be tempted to pay a pretty penny to keep my computer files if they were ever held ransom by a scammer. Cyber criminals are betting that many consumers feel just like me; they are using a clever new malware scam called Cryptolocker to take computers hostage. Pay up or your files are lost forever, so they say.

Cryptolocker is spread through malicious email links and “drive-by downloads” silently infecting computers and encrypting their hard drives. Once the encryption is complete the scammers demand a payment of $300 for the encryption code. If you don’t pay you’ll never see your files again. Do pay and you’re left at the scammer’s mercy; will they really send the encryption key? There is no other solution.

You don’t want to be a victim of this scam. Protect yourself by using caution when clicking on email links and by keeping your security software up to date. Another way to stay safe is to regularly back up your computer. An external hard drive works well as long as it’s disconnected from your computer when not actively in use (otherwise Cryptolocker will attempt to encrypt your back up too).

Have you backed up your files recently? What would you do if Cryptolocker were to strike your home or work computer?

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Scam Alert: Contest Scam on Snap Chat

March 26th, 2014

Jackie here. A favorite social media app of teens and young adults, Snap Chat is a great way to stay in touch. It is also a way for scammers to bait potential victims. Be aware of this scam and spread the word to friends and family that use Snap Chat so they can stay safe too.

The Scam

Snap Chat is an app where users share pictures (called snaps) that disappear once they’ve been viewed. Scammers are using the app to share photo messages. The scam messages typically congratulate the recipient for winning a contest and provide a web address to claim the prize. We all like to get something for nothing, making it very tempting to visit the site and enter personal information.

At the website the “winner” is asked to select a smartphone app for download before completing the claims process. This technique can be used to bolster an apps popularity and to spread malware and viruses to phones.

Tips for Avoiding This Scam

Avoiding this scam is simple; don’t ever download apps outside of the official app marketplaces. Also remember that you can’t win a contest you didn’t enter. If you don’t recall entering a particular contest, be very wary of a prize announcement. Scammers love using fake contest awards to fool consumers.

Another way to avoid scams on Snap Chat is to change your settings so you only receive snaps from listed friends. This will dramatically cut down on the amount of spam you receive. Changing this setting is easy; learn how to do so here.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.


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Scam Alert: Don’t be Fooled by the Verizon Voucher Scam

March 24th, 2014

Jackie here. Are you a Verizon customer? Be on the alert for this Verizon voucher scam. Scammers are using the promise of a voucher to fool customers into sharing their personal information. Not only will you not receive a voucher, you will increase your ID theft risk.

The Scam

This scam starts with a phone call. Scammers use Caller ID spoofing to masquerade as “Technical Support” from Verizon Wireless. They explain that they are offering bill credit vouchers to various customers. All you have to do to claim the voucher is fill out a short form on a website. The web address provided usually includes “Verizon” and possibly the amount of the promised voucher. A recent version of the scam directed victims to “”.

The website will look like an official Verizon site. It includes the company logos and color scheme. Visitors are encouraged to verify their accounts by entering their phone number, user name, password, and the last 4 digits of their SSN. Don’t do it! This is a clever phishing scam designed to trick you.

Tips for Avoiding this Scam

Phishing scams are always changing, targeting different people and different companies. The easiest way to protect yourself is to use caution before sharing personal information. If you are in doubt, contact the company in question directly and ask them. It’s important to remember that things aren’t always as they seem; just because a website looks like Verizon (or any other company for that matter) doesn’t mean it is an official company site. As a general rule, be wary of people offering you money or a refund for no apparent reason.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.

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