Consumer Protection | Business Protection

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.

Tags: , ,

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.

Tags: , , ,

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?

Tags: , ,

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.


Tags: , , ,

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.

Tags: , ,

Favorite Articles for the Week of March 17th

March 21st, 2014

Jenna here. Our favorite articles of the week are here. We have an interesting read about the rise in retail hacking, as well as information about an IRS phone scam that’s making the rounds.

Why So Many Retail Stored Get Hacked For Credit Card Data, Bloomberg Businessweek

If the IRS Calls, Hang Up, Forbes

Tags: ,

Scam Alert: Pinterest Scam

March 17th, 2014

Jackie here. Pinterest is a place for pretty things, inspirational ideas and unfortunately identity theft and malware too. Like other social media sites, Pinterest can be used by scammers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the site, but it is something to be aware of so you can avoid falling victim.

Common Pinterest Scams

Pinterest scams often involve “pins” shared from a friends account. These pins aren’t actually shared by a friend, but rather are shared by a scammer that has hacked the account. One way to spot a phony pin is to look for posts that are different from what your friend typically shares. Celebrity photos, beauty pins, before and after diet pictures, giveaway offers and infographics are common themes in these scam posts.

Don’t click on the link in the post. If you do, you may be directed to a site that will install malware on your computer. Clicking on the pin will typically direct you to a site selling counterfeit goods, promoting various other scams, etc.

Tips for Avoiding the Scam

Keep your Pinterest account safe from hackers and scammers by using strong passwords and using caution when you log in. Make sure you only log in to your account from the official Pinterest website or using their official mobile app. Log out each time you are finished using the site. You may want to use caution when linking your Pinterest account to other social media sites (like Facebook and Twitter); if scammers access one social media account they can easily share on your other ones too.

If you think your account has been compromised, change your password immediately. If you see a scam post, report it to Pinterest by clicking on the flag icon at the bottom of the picture. For more tips on avoiding Pinterest scams, check out this article from the Better Business Bureau.

Safe Pinning!

Tags: , , ,

Scam: Domain Registration Notices

March 12th, 2014

Jackie here. Do you have a business website? This scam preys on business and website owners, contacting them to register domain names at highly inflated prices. If you have a business (or are responsible for managing one) you may see this scam in the coming weeks and months; be aware and don’t fall victim!

The Scam

This scam involves notices that third parties are requesting to register various domain names relating to a business. The scammers claim they are offering the business the first opportunity to purchase the registration, before someone else is given the chance. The prices are usually very inflated and there is no other pricing option for completing the transaction. The domains in question are often obscure ones, or may be country specific (currently involving Asian countries).

Avoiding the Scam

Businesses can plan ahead and protect themselves from this scam by being aware of their domain registrations from the beginning. What domain names do you need to register? What foreign markets do you hope to someday explore? By registering in advance you can be sure that you have all of the domains you are interested in; you don’t have to worry about someone attempting to sell you a domain you already own.

Another way to protect yourself is to register all of your domains through one provider. Having multiple domain registration companies can get confusing. Register everything with one provider to make it easier to manage your accounts.

If you do get contacted by a company offering to sell you a domain, think carefully before making a purchase. Do you really want the obscure domain name? Don’t make an immediate decision based on emotion. Also watch for poor grammar and spelling as this can be indicative of a scam.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.

Tags: , , ,

Recap: Top 10 Scams of 2013

March 5th, 2014

Jackie here. We can learn a lot from the past, especially when it comes to scams. By analyzing the scams of this last year, we can prepare ourselves to better spot scams in the coming year. The Better Business Bureau recently published a rundown of their top 10 scams from 2013. Did you encounter any of these?

  • Medical Alert Scam- In this scam a free medical alert system is offered to seniors or their caretakers. A bank account is needed to verify identity. The alert system never arrives and a monthly service fee is charged to the bank account in question.
  • Auction Reseller Scam- Have you ever sold an item on eBay? This scam attempts to trick eBay sellers by claiming that there is some sort of emergency that requires the item to ship quickly (an upcoming birthday for example). The shipper agrees to send as soon as payment is received. The scammer uses a fake Paypal email to get the shipper to send out the items for which no payment has been made. This typically occurs with high end and expensive items.  We shared the details with you on this scam last October.
  • Arrest Warrant Scam- If you receive a phone call about an outstanding arrest warrant asking you to make an immediate wire transfer payment, don’t do it. This is a scam that has been circulating since last year.
  • Invisible Home Improvements Scam- Home improvement scams are common. This particular scam makes improvements to areas of your home that you can’t see (like the inside of the chimney). No work is actually done, but the homeowner ends up spending a fortune.
  • Casting Call Scam- Do you want to be a star? Don’t fall victim to this scam that tricks aspiring stars into paying fees for casting applications.
  • Foreign Currency Scam- Investing in foreign currency might seem like a great way to get rich, but often scammers use the allure of investments to trick unsuspecting consumers. Some consumers even receive foreign currency, but it is often difficult to sell and get a return on your initial investment.
  • Scam Texts- Phishing and scam phone calls aren’t your only worries; smishing (or spammy SMS text messages) are a big risk too. Beware of any texts that promise you a prize, that inform you of winning a contest, etc. as they might be a scam.
  • Do Not Call Scam- If you read our blog last year, you’ve probably heard of this scam. If you want to sign up for the Do Not Call Registry do so at Government representatives will not call you for sign ups. You will never need to pay a fee to register your number.
  • Fake Friend Scam- When you receive a friend request from an unknown person, don’t accept it. This scam uses fake friends to recommend fishy websites that may lead to malware and ID theft. Before you accept a friend request, make sure you actually are friends with the person in question.
  • Affordable Care Act Scam- The biggest scams of last year (and one that will likely continue into this year as well) are various scams relating to the Affordable Care Act. Be on the lookout for these scams and only sign up for health coverage through known and reputable channels. is a great resource if you need more information about the Affordable Care Act.

These were the big scams last year; what will this year bring? Stay vigilant and on the lookout for suspicious phone calls, emails, websites and more. These scams were popular last year, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still hanging around in 2014. Caution is the best way to avoid scams like these.

Tags: , ,

Scam Alert: Flappy Bird Scams are Flapping Around

February 27th, 2014

Jackie here. Like every internet trend, Flappy Bird has generated a trove of scams as scammers seek to cash in on the now forbidden app. Don’t find yourself a victim of a flappy bird scam and possibly identity theft; learn how to spot and avoid potentially dangerous apps. A few minutes of fun isn’t worth compromising your identity.

The Scam

Released in May 2013 Flappy Bird was a hugely popular app until it was removed from the app marketplaces early this year. The controversy surrounding its removal made the app even more popular. In fact, some people  who had the original app installed on their smartphones tried to sell them on eBay for thousands of dollars.

Now that the app is unavailable scammers are cashing in, creating look-a-like apps that secretly rack up phone charges and steal information. Be aware that the original Flappy Bird is no longer available; if you are downloading something called Flappy Bird, it is not a legitimate app. Flappy Bird has been removed by its developer and is not available for sale.

Spotting Malicious Apps

Before you install an app on your device make sure you know what you’re installing. Trend Micro has created a great guide for spotting illegitimate apps. Here are a few tips:

Check the Ratings

User ratings provide great insight into the legitimacy of an app. Popular apps should have many reviews and ratings, so if the one you’re considering does not, it might an imposter. Look at some of the reviews and look for potential problems before you install.


Before you select an app, check it out. Research the app not only in the marketplace, but also online. A quick search may reveal potential problems and scams you should be aware of.

Keep yourself safe from this Flappy Bird scam by choosing your apps carefully and by avoiding malicious ones.

Tags: , , ,

Scam Alert: Full Email Inbox Hoax

February 21st, 2014

Jackie here. A new hoax is making its way into email inboxes, tricking users into providing their username and password. Be on the lookout for this scam and others like it. Remember, you should never give out personal information in response to an unsolicited email. If you receive a request, delete it or contact the company requesting the information directly (via a verified number or email on their website) email before you reply.

The Scam

Most people rely on their email accounts, using them for important work messages, contact with family and friends and even keeping tabs on their bank and other accounts. A full email inbox could prove disastrous. This scam preys on the fear of a full email inbox by encouraging its recipients to provide sensitive information in exchange for a storage upgrade. Users are prompted to provide their email username, their password and their birthdate.

If you receive an email like this one, remember that email inboxes often have oodles of storage. Each email provider has different limits, but they are often very generous. For example, Gmail offers 15 GB of storage shared between your email account, Google Drive and Google Photos. You can even check where you are at capacity wise if you are concerned. Yahoo mail offers 1 TB of storage.

Don’t fall victim to this scam. Your email login credentials can be extremely valuable to thieves. Many people use the same username and password combinations across all of their accounts, giving thieves access to everything with just this one email scam. Even if you use varied account passwords, thieves can use email addresses to reset passwords on everything from bank accounts to credit accounts and more.

Be on the alert when you check your email and keep your family safe from identity theft.

Tags: , ,

Scam Alert: Fake Funeral Notices

February 20th, 2014

Jackie here. Be on the lookout for a new scam involving fake funeral notices. This scam preys on emotion by enticing victims to click on malicious links for more information about a departed family member or friend. If you see a notice like this one, play it safe and click delete. You don’t want to risk ID theft or computer viruses by indulging your curiosity.

The Scam

Fake funeral notices are popping up in email boxes around the country. The notice usually bears a subject line with something like, “Funeral Notification”. Once they open the email recipients see an official looking email that looks like it comes from a funeral home. While the reported emails at this point all claim to be from a Texas funeral home, this could change as more people become aware of the scam. The email invites the viewer to a celebration of life for a dear friend (name not included in the body of the email) and encourages clicking on the link for more information.

If you receive an email like this one, don’t click on the link. It will direct you to a foreign website that will install malware on your device. The email is not what it seems and is just a clever trick to get people to click on the malicious links within.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.


Tags: , , ,

Scam Alert: Watch for Small Credit Card Charges

February 6th, 2014

Jackie here. Do you check your credit card statement each month? If not, you are just the type of victim the scammers in this new scam are looking for. Check your statements carefully (monthly at least, but more often if you can) and be on the lookout for any charges you didn’t authorize—even small ones.

The Scam

In this new scam small charges are appearing on credit card statements that appear to originate from an unknown website. Victims of this scam that notice the false charges often visit the listed website for more information. They are directed to a customer service page with a call in number. Upon contacting the company they are promised a full refund (which probably won’t occur). In recent versions of the scam, the reported charges are $9.84, but this is likely to change as more people learn about the scam.

The scammers are preying on the fact that few people check their bank statements. They assume that most people won’t bother to contest (or even notice) such a small charge. The amount taken might appear small, but even small amounts taken from many people can add up to big dollars for the scammers.

How to Protect Yourself

The easiest way to protect yourself from this scam and other similar ones is to check your credit card information often. Write down the purchases you make and compare them with the amounts charged on your card to ensure they match. Report any discrepancies to your credit card company. In most instances you are you are legally entitled to fraud protections should your card be compromised, provided you report the problem quickly.

In addition to watching your statement, be aware that this scam is going around. If you do see a charge from an unknown company, contact your credit card company, not the company in question. Request a new card, even if you’ve been assured the false charge has been cancelled.

Learn more about this scam here.


Tags: , , ,

Scam Alert: Tech Support Scam Revisited

February 3rd, 2014

Jackie here. Last year we warned you about a tech support scam that was going around. Scammers were contacting people by phone pretending to be from major companies like Microsoft. They would then remotely access the victim’s computer, stealing information and charging for their “services”. While this scam was scary, I recently learned of a new variation on the tech support scam that is even trickier and that has the potential to claim many more victims. Be on the lookout for this scam and never share your financial information or computer login credentials with an unknown caller.

The Scam

This scam is a follow up to the tech support scam we saw in 2012 and 2013. This time the callers will ask if you’ve recently received tech support. They claim that if you received services you could possibly receive a refund. There are several variations to this scam, including ones where they offer to refund those that were unsatisfied and ones where they claim the company is going out of business and refunding those that have already paid.

The scammer claims they need bank account or credit card information to process the claim. They may ask for remote access to your computer, possibly under the guise of helping you fill out paperwork. This scam has the potential to create double the trouble for those who fell victim to the last scam, as well as reaching new victims.

Avoiding this Scam

Don’t fall victim to this scam or ones like it. If you have paid for phony tech support services, file a complaint with FTC and dispute the charges with your credit card company. Legitimate companies will not call and offer to reverse the charges for you. Never provide your bank account or credit card information to an unsolicited caller.

Learn more about this scam from the FTC.

Tags: , , ,

Scam Alert: Fake Credit Line Increase Emails

December 30th, 2013

Jackie here. I recently learned of a new scam fraudsters are using to steal personal information. This scam is a tricky one and could easily fool even the most cautious of consumers into sharing information they shouldn’t. Be on the lookout for spammy emails and remember that banks and credit card companies won’t typically use email to messages that ask for sensitive information.

The Scam

This scam uses excitement to draw victims in by sending an email indicating they are eligible for a credit line increase. This offer can be especially exciting around the holidays when a little extra spending power is certainly welcome. The email encourages the recipient to click on an email link to activate the new spending limit. Don’t do it; clicking the link could lead to malware, requests for personal information, and a host of other problems.

Avoiding the Scam

While this scam might seem convincing at first, there are ways you can protect yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Be Cautious of Emails- Banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions rarely send account-related information via email. Usually they’ll send an email notification of an update to your account which you can view by logging into their website. If you have questions about your accounts, contact the company directly. They can tell you if you’ve received a credit line increase, etc. without you having to follow a fishy email link.
  • Common Signs of Spam- Another way to avoid scams is to look for signs of spam and fraud. Does the email use your name or does it simply address you by email address? Most reputable companies will use your name in an email while scammers may only use your email address. Misspelled words and awkwardly worded text are other common signs of scam emails. In addition, reputable emails will often contain links to the company’s full site, social media accounts, and other legitimate resources.
  • Skip the Spam Folder- My email accounts are quite adept at finding and moving scams to the spam folder. While this isn’t a surefire method for identifying scams, I know to be extra cautious of emails I find in my spam folder. Take a look at your spam filter settings to make sure you are making the most of this resource.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.

Tags: , , , ,

Instagram Scam: Fake Business Pages

December 27th, 2013

Jackie here. We talk a lot about social media scams here on the blog. Often it’s spam Facebook or Twitter accounts that are involved in the latest scams. This new scam really stood out since it uses Instagram to trick unsuspecting consumers into sharing personal information. Be on the lookout for this Instagram scam and protect yourself from the potentially devastating consequences.

The Scam

This scam involves fake Instagram accounts. While many teens and young adults use the site often, businesses may not. This leaves scammers with lots of opportunities to create phony business pages and build up followers. Often, the scammers will create a page (it usually looks legitimate) and host some sort of giveaway to begin attracting followers.

While giveaways are common on social media, you can often spot a phony one by huge prizes, especially if they promise lots of recipients. For example, an offering of a free $250 gift card just for following an Instagram page is probably a scam.
Once the Instagram page has followers they start sending out spam messages asking you to share personal information or click on links. Those that are tricked into doing this may inadvertently load malware to their computers or expose passwords, financial, or personal information.

How to Protect Yourself

While this scam is new to Instagram, it is one you’ve probably seen countless times before on other social media accounts. Protect yourself with these tips:

  1. Beware of Free- Businesses may do promotions on social media, but odds are they don’t have a specific page solely devoted to freebies. If a page has free or giveaway in its name, it might be a scam. If a giveaway seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. No Photos- Instagram is a photo sharing site. If a business page doesn’t feature unique photos, it’s worth looking twice before following.
  3. Guard Personal Information- Don’t share personal information like your password with anyone. A legitimate business will never ask for passwords, bank information, etc. in a message.
  4. Double Check- If you want to interact with a specific business on Instagram, but are unsure if an account is legitimate, call and ask. They’ll be able to direct you to the company’s official pages on all your favorite social media sites. Often businesses will link to their official social media pages from their website.

Tags: , , ,

Holiday Scams

December 21st, 2013

Tamara here, AllClear ID Investigator. The holidays are here, and even the Better Business Bureau is getting into the spirit by re-creating their annual warning list about common scams during this season, The BBB’s “12 Scam of Christmas.”


On the twelfth day of Christmas,
The scammers gave to me:
Twelve malware e-cards,
Eleven stranded grandkids,
Ten counterfeit gifts,
Nine pickpockets,
Eight stolen gift cards,
Seven fake coupons
Six Santa scammers,
Five fake charities,
Four bogus websites,
Three travel scams,
Two phony loves,
And a totally fictitious puppy.

To help you avoid these scams, here are some tips to heed.

• Malware e-cards: That email you got claiming you were sent an e-card, but from someone you don’t know? That’s most likely malware or a virus, which would download itself upon clicking on the attachment or link contained within.
• Stranded grandkids: There are instances where a scammer will hack into an email or other type of social media account and contact the hacked family members and friends claiming to be stranded while traveling and need money. Check with other sources before sending money!
Counterfeit gifts: So, you found an excellent price on that brand name item for your loved one. Before spending your money, there are a number of ways to ensure the item is legitimate. One of which is making sure to shop at reputable stores and websites.
• Pickpockets: Ensure your pocketbook, wallet, or purse is with you at all times! Even if for a second, do not turn away from your wallet.
• Stolen gift cards: There are a number of ways scammers can get you with a stolen gift card. One way to ensure you’re purchasing a legitimate card is to obtain them from reputable dealers.
• Fake coupons: Every penny counts, but it doesn’t count as much as having your personal information compromised by giving it to a scam artist. Be sure you’re obtaining the deals from the retailer themselves.
• Santa scammers: Before you enter your personal information into a website claiming it will send a letter to your child from Santa, ensure the site it legitimate. It’s probably best to skip any site that asks for an abundance of personal information.
• Fake charities: This time of year charities are included in many people’s gift list. But, be careful. Scammers are aware of that, and will attempt to clone a charity or create a fake charity to finagle the funds from the well intended source.
• Bogus websites: Ensure the site you’re using is legitimate. One way to determine it’s more secure is to look for the “https” in the address bar.
• Travel scams: This time of the year is one of the busiest in terms of travel. When searching for deals, as always, be sure to use a reputable site and ask for references. A quick check of the airline, hotel, or car rental company on the BBB website is always a good step.

So, there it is folks. These tips will help prevent you from being victimized by fraudsters or scammers. Have a good holiday season!

Tags: , , , ,

How Do Overpayment Scams Work?

December 20th, 2013

Chris here, AllClear ID Investigator. Overpayment scams are some of the oldest and longest running forms of fraud. The scam can be done several different ways, but the general idea is that you receive a fraudulent check purposefully written for more than what you’re owed. You’re told that it is just a mistake, and to deposit the check, withdraw cash for the amount that you were overpaid, and return the cash to the original sender. It normally takes the bank a few days to determine that the check is fraudulent, by the time they do you have already returned the extra cash to the scammer. The bank then holds you responsible for the full amount of the check, while the scammer gets away with the easy cash.

Know What To Look For

A common overpayment scam to look out for is the “Work From Home Scam”. These scams are made to look like a quick way to get some easy cash, but the old rule of thumb applies here, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Here’s an example scenario:

You find a job posting online that promises weekly paychecks in exchange for you completing a few simple tasks such as filling out forms or entering data into spreadsheets. The best part is that you never have to leave the comfort of your own home. So you sign up, and spend the week doing the menial tasks that you were assigned. At the end of the week you receive your paycheck, but there’s a problem. You were supposed to be paid $500, but the check is written for $2,500. You then contact your “boss” to report the error. He assures you that it is just a mistake and offers an easy fix. He tells you to just go ahead and deposit the full amount into your checking account and to just return the extra $2,000 in cash. So you deposit the check and withdraw the $2,000 from the account. You return the cash and everyone is happy.

At least until a couple of days later when you get a call from the bank. As mentioned above, they tell you that the check turned out to be fraudulent, and that they are holding you responsible for cashing the check and defrauding the bank. You’re then left to try and explain things to the bank and your local police while the scammer just made an easy $2,000 and is nowhere to be found.

Knowing how these scams work is the first step in protecting yourself from them. Before taking a job online, thouroughly research the company and/or person in charge. The Internet Fraud Watch offers advice for how to avoid getting roped into these scams and working for the wrong person.


Cargo Scam Affects Consumers and Businesses

December 11th, 2013

Allison here. Anyone who works in logistics, sends cargo, or has cargo to ship across the country needs to pay attention to this scam. Thieves are posing as truckers to load their own vehicles and to steal huge shipments of cargo. Last year, nearly 1,200 cargo thefts were reported, according to CargoNet, resulting in losses of about $216 million. These numbers could be much higher as many incidents go unreported, and this type of cargo theft is growing by about 6 percent each quarter.

About the Cargo Scam

The scam works because the thieves pose as legitimate trucking companies, and with the help of the Internet, they are able to produce insurance policies, fake driver’s licenses, and other documents to appear legitimate. It’s also with the help of the Internet that the thieves are able to find the commodities they want to steal, most often food and beverages, and they show up as if they are going to deliver the goods. Often, the thieves even have the required documents, know what merchandise they are picking up, and where the intended destination is, making them appear to be a legitimate trucking service. Once loaded onto the trucks, the thieves drive away and the commodities dealers don’t know they’ve been scammed until they’re notified that the goods didn’t show up at the intended destination, which is often four or five days after the incident. By that time, the goods are already off the trucks and sold on the black market.

The Risks Involved

This is a type of business identity theft that hurts consumers as well as companies, as customers could get hurt from purchasing the stolen goods. Although food and beverages are most frequently targeted by this scam, pharmaceuticals do make up an estimated three percent of the stolen cargo. In these cases, customers lose the ability to feel confident that their medicine is still up to the quality standards on the pharmaceutical company they are purchasing them from. As for missing food and beverage shipments, they drive up food prices while potentially allowing spoiled and unsafe food into the marketplace. While there is nothing that consumers can do about this scam, it is important to be aware of the possibility that some of the goods we frequently purchase are not free from risks.

For more information, check out this article from Journal Star.


Tags: ,

Cash Back Scam: Is It Real?

December 2nd, 2013

Jackie here. Lately I’ve noticed a story about a “cash back scam” circulating around Facebook. It seemed a bit fishy to me, so I had to check it out. To keep you safe and informed, I’m sharing what I learned with you all.

The Scam

This scam starts with a story. It tells of a friend going to the store. They swipe their debit card and decline cash back at the card terminal. The transaction is completed and the tired shopper goes on their way. The next day the receipt is examined and although no cash back was received, the receipt shows a cash back amount. The story claims that this is a tactic cashiers use to steal money from unsuspecting customers. Readers are finally urged to carefully check their receipts to avoid falling victim.

The Truth Behind the Scam

While checking your receipts is always a good idea, this scam isn’t anything to worry about, nor are rumors of the scam anything new. Versions of this scam have been circulating since 2004. It started as an email warning, but is now making the rounds via social media. It is suspected that the scam originated when one customer misunderstood their receipt or requested cash back they didn’t receive. Cashiers cannot alter your cash back preferences from their end or change the amount of cash you’ve requested.

The next time you head out shopping, check your receipt, after all it’s the safest thing to do, but don’t worry about your cashier editing your cash back amount.

Tags: ,

How to Spot a Scam

November 26th, 2013

Jackie here. I spend a lot of time online which inevitably means I encounter my fair share of scams. From the offer of free airline tickets on Facebook to the promise of a great work from home opportunity with a minimal cash investment, scams are lurking in almost every corner of the internet waiting for unsuspecting victims. Seeing scams isn’t surprising, but seeing how often my friends are fooled is. Learning to recognize scams is an important skill, one that has the potential to save you from the devastating effects of ID theft.

To help you recognize scams and avoid them, I’ve put together some tips that I use to protect myself. Of course, we’re still here to help, but we always want to give our readers as many tools as possible to protect their identities.

Research It

One of the easiest ways to identify potential scams is to turn to your favorite search engine. Type in a description of the scam in question and hit search. If it is a scam, there is usually information out there on the internet about it. Another tactic I find useful is highlighting and copying a snippet of text from the potential scam and pasting it right into my browser. Pay attention to the results that come up. Look for scam reports, alerts, etc.

Check Reputable Scam-Busting Sites

Keep up to date on the latest scams by checking out some of the following scam fighting websites. Different scams may be featured on different sites; for the best results check them all regularly.

  • Looks Too Good to Be True- If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. This site seeks to inform and educate about scams by sharing scam alerts and victim stories.
  • Scam Detector- This website partners with the Better Business Bureau, the Identity Theft Resource Center, and many other organizations to keep people informed about the latest scams. Their weekly listing of the “Top 10 Scams” will help you avoid some of the most common online scams.
  • Fraud Avengers- Fraud Avengers also does a great job keeping you up-to-date on the latest scams and fraud attempts.
  • I love using this site to screen potential scams found on social media sites. This site isn’t just for financial scams; I’ve used it to determine if celebrity stories, rumors, and political warnings are true.

Know the Pattern

Scams are a lot like fashion: today’s trends are usually just different versions of previous ones. As a popular scam dies down, another appears. Being aware of past scams will help you recognize new ones. If a link, story or website looks like a scam you remember from the past, it probably is one.

Check the Better Business Bureau

Before making a purchase, signing up for an offer, or working with a new company, check it out. The Better Business Bureau is a wonderful way to screen potential companies and to root out scams in the process. I type in the name of a potential business and their location (you don’t have to use a location if you don’t know it) and then look for the company in the search results. Not every business will appear, but if one does you can find out their rating, the number of complaints the BBB has received and other helpful information.

Bear in mind that some legitimate companies can have bad ratings from the Better Business Bureau; they aren’t necessarily a scam, but they might be lacking in customer service skills or satisfaction.

Learn to Recognize Scams

I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing potential scams before I ever start researching them. This fact sheet from the ITRC will teach you how to recognize scams for yourself.

Before you share that scam, enter that “contest” or sign up for that “free offer” make sure you protect yourself. Knowing how to recognize a scam will help you avoid ID theft and fraud. Be your own scam detective and help keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Tags: , ,

Case Continues Against Spam Text and Robocalling Operations

November 23rd, 2013

Ben here, AllClear ID Investigator. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has moved to shut down an international network of scammers that sent millions of unwanted text messages, luring consumers in with an offer of “free” gift cards and electronics to entice them into an elaborate scheme designed to take their money and target them with illegal robocalls. These messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes such as gift cards worth $1,000 to major retailers such as Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target. In most cases it would be impossible for someone to receive this “free” card without spending money, having their credit score hit, and releasing personal information to be sold to marketers.

The complaint names nine defendants who allegedly were involved in operations violating the FTC Act and Telemarketing Sales Rule. According to the complaint, a consumer would follow a link in the unwanted text message and be directed to a site that collected a large amount of personal information. This information ranged from name, address, and telephone number to health information, and would then be sold for targeted marketing purposes. If a consumer was to put in their information for the $1000 gift card they would have to participate in several offers to qualify. These offers would include recurring subscriptions, paying upfront and shipping costs, and even submitting applications for credit that would be reflected on their credit score.

This complaint builds on a nationwide sweep conducted by the FTC in March to crack down on scammers. The FTC files a complaint when it has reason to believe that the law has been violated and that a trial is in the public interest. The FTC works for consumers to prevent fraudulent and unfair business practices, which they feel applies to these robocalling and texting operations.

Tags: , ,

ID Thieves are Getting More Savvy…Are You?

November 19th, 2013

Jackie here. Every time I get on social media I’m surprised to see how many of my friends are sharing scams, potentially risky links, and more personal information than they should. We talk about social media safety often, but all too often we get online and forget. Even those of us that are fairly savvy at recognizing scams can get fooled as identity thieves and scammers improve their tactics. We might talk about the risks of social media often, but it’s always a good time for a reminder.

I recently read an article written for information professionals about the increasing skill behind online attacks.. Today’s scammers don’t just post a link on someone’s Facebook timeline hoping to get a few clicks. They devise careful plans, created to maximize the number of victims and fool even the most cautious internet user. Although the article was written for those managing company networks, it has some great information we can all use to protect ourselves online.

Friends Aren’t Always as They Seem

Social media feels like a safe place. It’s where we go to chat with friends, network with colleagues, and unwind after a long day. Although you may be choosy about who you friend and which pages you like, accounts can be compromised, so don’t just randomly click on links. Thieves want to increase the odds of potential victims clicking on their infected links. They may steal profiles of users with large followings and distribute their links using the stolen profiles. Friends aren’t the only source of potentially risky links. Scammers may also use trusted profiles of large organizations to distribute their content.

Being vigilant before clicking links is important, but it won’t always keep you safe. In addition, be sure that your computer security is up to date. Install and use anti-virus software, make sure your programs are regularly updated and watch for potential problems. Be aware that friends, favorite businesses, and others may be compromised and sharing risky content. Trust goes a long way into making a scam work; social media scams can be so successful because of the natural trust we place in our friends and associates.

Special Interest Sites Are a Target

Another favorite place for scammers this year is special interest websites. These sites may not have a lot of visits from the general public, but they are a popular place for those with specific interests, careers, etc. Scammers choose targeted victims and then devise plans to compromise them through specific websites they are likely to frequent.

This type of attack is known as a watering hole attack. By poisoning a few select websites and installing malware, scammers can gain access to larger websites with stronger security. For example, thieves may target a company that sells security software and that has access to security certificates and login information for other companies. This type of attack can lead to thieves being able to access information they would otherwise be unable to.

Social media and online threats are constantly changing, but their intent is always the same: to steal information and make a profit. Protect yourself online by being aware of the risks and by closely monitoring your personal information to discover problems quickly.


Tags: , , ,

Area Code Scam: As Bad As They Say?

October 31st, 2013

Jackie here. Not everything you read online is the truth. Take for example the recent rumors of a scam known as the area code scam. According to reports this scam can cost you thousands and you can become a victim by just dialing a phone number. The truth is much less dramatic, although not completely harmless.

The Scam

Like many other scams, this one starts out with a message designed to lure you in. It might be a voicemail from a stranger explaining that a relative is in trouble and needs your help or informing you that you have recently won a big prize. The message leaves a call back number and urges you to return the call. The return number will start with an unfamiliar area code, typically 809, 284, 649 or 876.

When a potential victim returns the call the scammer may attempt to steal personal information by asking questions or they may simply try to keep the caller on the line as long as possible. Either way, the damage is already done (although if personal information is shared, ID theft could be in the victims near future).

A victim of this scam will notice a problem when their next phone bill arrives. Although these numbers appear to be U.S. area codes, they are not.  These area codes are associated with international calls. As such there are special charges that are applied when these numbers are dialed. Some of these area codes may even be the equivalent of an international 900 number, racking up big charges for every minute spent on the line.

You may hear reports that falling victim to this scam will cost you thousands or even tens of thousands. In truth, the charges will probably be less than $100, depending on the amount of time spent on the phone.

What Can You Do?

The best way to avoid this scam is to always check out unfamiliar area codes before dialing. A quick online search can reveal the location of a particular area code, helping you to know where you’re calling before you dial. If you do become a victim to this scam, don’t despair. Often you can get the charges reversed by contacting the carrier where the charge originated. If additional help is needed, contact your phone company. Check your phone bills carefully each month. And of course, never reveal personal information to an unknown caller.

For more information about the area code scam check out this scam alert from the Better Business Bureau and this informative article on

Tags: , , ,

Military Families Targeted by Identity Thieves

October 29th, 2013

Chris here, AllClear ID Investigator. According to the Federal Trade Commission, military men and women and their families are being targeted more often by identity thieves and scammers. In 2012, the FTC received 62,000 complaints from military families regarding identity theft, and military officials are expecting that number to continue to rise.

The spread of identity theft in the military is widely attributed to the noted over use of social security numbers. It’s common for socials to be used for everything from your military ID card, to checking out gym equipment for recreational use. This is why it is very important for military personnel and their families to continuously make sure that their information isn’t being misused. The best way to do that is to periodically pull and review your credit report.

Every 12 months you are legally allowed to pull one free copy of your credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus through We typically recommend pulling one of the reports every 4 months so that you can space them out evenly over the course of a year, and keep track of any lines of credit being opened. You can also place fraud alerts and active duty alerts through for extra security.

Tags: , ,

ATM Keypad Scam: What You Need to Know

October 24th, 2013

Allison here. We’ve seen those Facebook posts like the one below, warning you of various scams or conspiracies. The general rule with these posts is that they are hoaxes; scam posts meant to scare you that don’t have much truth behind them. That’s not the case with this post. The ATM keypad scam is legitimate.

About the Scam

The ATM keypad scam happens when scammers place a fake keypad over the real keypad of the ATM. You’re able to conduct your transaction without any problems, but the fake keypad transfers your PIN and card information to the scammers. This scam is legitimate, as there are reports of its use in the European Union and in Australia. Although reports of the fake keypad haven’t surfaced in the U.S. yet, there is a similar scam where scammers glue certain keys, rendering them unusable. You find someone at the bank to report the problem, and as you do that, the scammer completes the transaction.

The best way to avoid both scams is to use the touchscreen. In addition, make sure you’re mindful of what ATMs you use—ones at authorized banks may be more secure than those at convenience stores. Of course, you still want to do your best to hide what you’re doing when you are entering your PIN. This extra precaution will guard against prying eyes trying to access your pin.

Tags: ,

Favorite Articles for the Week of October 21

October 21st, 2013

Jenna here. Our favorite articles this week include a great article about Facebook’s new advertising and privacy permissions for teenagers, a new scam alert warning from the BBB about fake calls from local sheriffs, as well as an article about a proposed NY law designed to help eradicate smart phone theft.

Is Facebook Becoming a Permissive Parent?, Chicago Tribune–tms–msanchezctnms-a20131018-20131018,0,868405.column

Scam Alert–Police Calling? Could Be This New Scam., Better Business Bureau—-Police-Calling-Could-Be-This-New-Scam-44211

New York Lawmaker Pushes Bill to Thwart Phone Theft, New York Times Bits


Tags: , , , ,

Scam Alert: Fake Netflix Emails Attempt to Steal Credit Card Numbers

October 2nd, 2013

Jackie here. If you love Netflix as much as I do, you’d be pretty worried if you got an email from the company indicating a problem with your account. You might even take immediate steps to fix the problem, which may in fact make you vulnerable to ID theft due to the latest phishing scam. The Better Business Bureau walks consumers through the red flags they spotted in a recent phishing attempt disguised as an email from Netflix. Check out their post here and keep reading for some tips to help you avoid phishing scams like this one.

The Scam

In this particular scam, customers receive an email that appears to be from Netflix. The email looks official enough. It features Netflix’s bold red logo and uses an informal writing style characteristic of the company. Unlike many phishing emails, the grammar and English usage are good. The email indicates a problem with the member’s payment method and urges them to click a link to update the information.

As the email isn’t actually from Netflix, the link directs the victim to a site where they provide a credit card number and other information directly to the scammer. This information can then be used to commit fraud or ID theft. As you know, clicking on email links can also lead to sites where malware is installed. This scam could potentially pack a double punch.

Tips for Avoiding Phishing Emails

While some phishing emails are glaringly obvious, others are a lot more subtle. To the casual onlooker, this email could be legitimate, but when you’re on the lookout for scams (and you should always be), you need to look a little more closely. An easy way to avoid any problems is to avoid clicking links in unsolicited emails. It’s much safer to log in to the company’s website and access your account on your own.

Another tip to remember is to avoid using contact information found in a potential phishing email. If you want to verify an email, call the company using a known number, not the one listed in the email in question.
Remember, when it comes to your email inbox, things aren’t always as they seem; phishing emails do a great job of tricking unsuspecting readers into sharing personal and financial information.

Tags: , , ,

“Smishing”: The Latest ID Theft Tactic

September 27th, 2013

Allison here. Most of us are aware of what phishing scams are, what they look like, and what to do if we receive a phishing email (if not, visit the above link for great info). However, scammers have put a new twist on phishing, using text messages that appear to be bank alerts. The alerts ask consumers confirm their banking information. Dubbed “smishing”, banks large and small have been targeted by the scam.

About the Smishing Scam

The scam works by sending a text message that says you need to confirm your account information, whether or not you have an account with that bank. You might have to follow a link or call a number to provide your information. If you follow the link, your smartphone will become infected with malware that gives the scammers access to everything on your phone. Additionally, you might be asked to provide your debit card number and PIN to reactivate your card. But the goal is the same: to collect personal information and to commit id theft.

If You Do Receive a Phishing Text

If you do receive one of these alerts, DO NOT text back or reply in any way. The alert may say that you can text, “No” or “Stop” to prevent future alerts, but this is really just a ploy for the scammers to know that they have a legitimate number. Instead, follow these three steps:

  • Forward the texts to 7726 (SPAM on most keypads). This will alert your cellular phone carrier to block future texts from the number.
  • Call the bank to notify them of the text. If your bank has been targeted by a scam, they will likely have further information about it.
  • Delete the text. Take a screenshot before you do if you want to save it as evidence, but do not reply.

Tags: ,

Green Card Lottery Scam

September 26th, 2013

The Diversity Visa Lottery, also known as the Green Card Lottery, is a program administered by the Department of State on an annual basis. The program is designed to issue 55,000 permanent resident visas annually to natives of countries who have low rates of immigration to the United States. The results of this year’s lottery were made available on 5/21/2013, and can be found at This is actually the only place to find the official results, so be wary of scammers saying otherwise.

About the Scam

According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers have been sending out fake emails telling people they have won the Green Card Lottery, and asking them to send money in order to secure a spot. Beware of these emails. The U.S. Government does not notify winners by email and will never ask you to send money either through an online payment or via wire transfer. The only way to check the status of your application is to visit If you are a winner you will be required to pay an application fee, but the payment will be made to the US Embassy or Consulate Cashier at your scheduled appointment. You will never have to pay in advance. Other scammers may try and tell you that they can increase your odds of winning, but this also a scam. If you believe that you’ve already been a victim of this scam, you shoud report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

For more information about the scam, visit this article from


Tags: ,