Lakeshore News, News Around the World

Outsmart Social Media Scammers

Social media applications are everywhere: on our computers, our phones, our televisions and even in our cars. Nowhere is this more evident than on a college campus, where students use these apps as a means of making personal and professional connections to help them prepare for the future. But all of that goodwill can be undone by scammers and identity thieves who set up traps on these apps with a goal of capturing users’ money and personal information.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection asks college students to help protect their identities and their wallets by tightening the security around their social media accounts and by thinking before they click on links in social posts.

“Academic and lifelong learning is the primary focus for a college student, and spending time undoing damage caused by a scammer or identity thief takes away from that experience,” said Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “There are numerous scams targeting users of all of the major social media apps, and the best protection for a student is to limit the sharing of personal information and clicking of suspicious links.”

Users of all services should set up complex passwords or passphrases for their social media accounts, turn on two-factor authentication if it is offered, and use the security features available in the apps to block public access to their posts. To avoid scams, users should be very suspicious of links in posts that direct them to unfamiliar websites or that advertise unrealistic offers for popular products.

Scammers often use fake account support emails to gather login details from social media users. These “phishing” emails falsely warn recipients that they need to provide their usernames and passwords in order to update a social media account or avoid an account suspension. Delete similar emails and log directly into the service if you need to check your account status.

Each social media application has its own risks for identity theft and scams. Watch for these app-specific risks:

Twitter:

  • Watch out for links in direct messages from users you don’t know. These links may be included with a message intended to draw you in, like “Can you believe this is true?”
  • Watch for warnings from Twitter about unsafe links. According to Twitter, these links match a database of potentially harmful URLs which could lead to phishing, malware or spam sites.
  • Buying followers and engagements and using “free followers” apps could compromise your account and may also violate Twitter’s rules.

Facebook:

  • Watch for “profile viewer tracking” service pitches – Facebook does NOT offer this feature.
  • Hacked accounts can send malicious posts to everyone in your friends list, and the messages will post to their feeds (potentially attracting other victims). The links in these posts could drive users to websites where malware is transmitted to their devices.
  • Fake surveys and quizzes can be ploys to harvest personal information.

LinkedIn:

  • Watch for “get rich quick” and work-from-home scams. Do your research on a company before you apply for a job posting, particularly if it seems too good to be true.
  • Third-party websites claim to provide LinkedIn phone support for a fee, but these groups are not affiliated with LinkedIn. LinkedIn does not charge users for support and will not request login information from customers.
  • Other common scams according to LinkedIn: mystery shopper offers, phony inheritance scams (advance fee scams), romance scams.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

Lakeshore News, News Around the World

What to Do If a Scammer Won’t Stop Calling You

Some scammers just don’t quit. They’ve called you on multiple occasions pitching you the same message after you’ve repeatedly asked to be put on the do-not-call list. You’ve tried blocking them, but they call from all sorts of different numbers. What can you do?

According to BBB Scam Tracker, over 5,700 scams involving phone calls have been reported to BBB across the U.S. and Canada since January of this year. This number seems to be growing, seeing as only 1,000 more phone scams were reported during the entire year before.

“Once your information is out there, blocking your phone number won’t stop scammers from calling you,” says Jim Temmer, CEO/president of the BBB Serving Wisconsin. “As soon as you pick up the phone, your number is likely registered as active and can be sold for other scammers to contact.”

Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin (BBB) has the following tips to help stop these calls for good:

  • First and foremost, do not answer calls from numbers you do not recognize. If it’s a legitimate contact, they will leave a message. Even if a scammer leaves a message, this will give you time to think about what is being asked of you.
  • Be cautious of those automated messages asking you to “Press 9” to be taken off of their call list. It’s best to just hang up. Pressing your keypad is another way to alert the caller that they have reached an active number, and they will continue to call and sell your number to other scammers as well.
  • Be aware that scammers are calling and impersonating legitimate businesses, organizations, and charities. The best thing you can do to prevent yourself from falling victim is to hang up. If you wish to speak with a representative, find the appropriate phone number and call them directly.
  • Join the Do Not Call Registry (DoNotCall.gov) to cut down on legitimate telemarketing and sales calls. Although it won’t stop scammers, you’ll get fewer calls, making it easier to spot the fraudulent ones.
  • Write down the phone number of those callers violating the Do Not Call Registry and file a scam report with BBB Scam Tracker and report it to the FTC’s Do Not Call list.
  • There’s an app for that! Nomorobo.com takes you off any phone call that comes in as a robo call (an automated or machine-made call). The best part? Nomorobo is free for your landline and only $1.99 for cell phones.

For more information you can trust, visit us at bbb.org/Wisconsin, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter or Instagram.

 

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on TwitterFacebook and You Tube.

Lakeshore News, News Around the World

Fake DATCP Email Circulating

A “phishing” email is making the rounds, pretending to be from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, or DATCP. Officials there are warning consumers not to click on any links in the email.

The email says, “Wisconsin DATCP has sent you a PDF via Adobe® Cloud. Kindly read through and respond with the required details. Open in Adobe®.”

This message is not from DATCP. Do not click on the “Open in Adobe®” box or anything else in the email. The scammers may be trying to collect credit card information or personal data.

DATCP does not send emails under aliases. However, if you have any doubts about whether a message is actually from DATCP, hover your cursor over the sender’s email address to see the underlying, actual address. Messages from the agency will generally be in the format of “firstname.lastname@wi.gov” or “firstname.lastname@wisconsin.gov.” In some cases, the address may include the name of a program rather that an individual’s name, such as “datcphotline.” But the suffix will always be either wi.gov or wisconsin.gov.

For more information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an email to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov, or call 1-800-422-7128.

Lakeshore News, News Around the World

Don’t Get Tripped Up by Vacation Scams

The official start of summer is only weeks away, but many of us are still finalizing our vacation plans. With so many places to go and so many travel packages to consider, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks travelers to watch out for too-good-to-be-true deals and keep a close eye on any fine print that accompanies an offer.

“Scammers know that families are always on the lookout for a good deal on travel packages, and they use this enticement in their ploys,” said Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “Demands for upfront payments, vague promises and high-pressure sales pitches should all be signs that something is not quite right in a so-called ‘deal.'”

Fraudulent vacation-related operations often involve one of two elements: postcard mailers promising free or heavily discounted travel and online advertisements for rental properties.

The postcards may be fronts for high-pressure sales pitches for vacation clubs or timeshares.  In some cases they may be ploys to get potential victims to pay taxes or fees on a non-existent prize.

Online ads that feature unbelievably low prices on rental properties in vacation hotspots should alert you to be suspicious of the offer and to do more research. You might even notice that scammers have ripped pictures and descriptions of properties from real estate listings and posted the information to a classified ad as a rental property.

“The supposed ‘owner’ of the property then tells interested renters that he or she is out of town and offers to send the keys once a security deposit is paid upfront, typically by wire transfer,” said Frassetto. “These crooks just take the money and run.”

When considering a vacation offer, remember the following tips:

  • Look for a fraud alert or frequently asked questions page on the website where you found the deal to see if there are any warning signs you should watch out for in a solicitation.
  • Check that the address of an advertised rental property really exists. If the property is located in a resort, call the front desk and confirm specific details about the location and any promotions they are running.
  • Ask for written confirmation of all details: reservation dates, room rates, associated “fees” or mandatory charges, room amenities, time of check-in/check-out and the hotel’s cancellation or refund policy. Knowing this will help when comparing deals.
  • Buy your travel package from a business you have confidence in or that comes recommended by family or friends.
  • Use a credit card if possible for any purchases. Credit cards give more protection than paying with cash or check.
  • Never wire money up front.
  • If you receive a “robocall” saying you won a “free” vacation prize, it’s a scam.  Hang up and report the caller to DATCP.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wi.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-422-7128.

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Lakeshore News, News Around the World

Decluttering Your Digital Life

Start fresh this spring – online and offline. In addition to the traditional tasks on your spring cleaning list like tidying the closet and washing the windows, take time to create a “digital spring cleaning” list as well.

What exactly does a “digital spring cleaning” entail?

A digital spring cleaning means taking control of your digital life and the information that you share online. Similar to regular cleaning or tidying one’s home, it might seem like a daunting task at first. In reality, just a few simple steps can make a big difference in helping protect yourself online.

The Department of Homeland Security recommends that you incorporate these cyber tips into your spring cleaning routine this year.

Clean your machine. Update the security software on all of your devices that connect to the Internet.  Keeping the software on your devices up to date will prevent attackers from taking advantage of known vulnerabilities. Also review the applications you have downloaded. If you no longer use a particular app, delete it. It’ll not only free up storage space on your device, but it will also remove permissions that app has to potentially gather your information.

Turn on multi-factor authentication. Enable stronger authentication on your online banking and email accounts. Turning on a two-factor authentication, such as a PIN sent to your mobile device, helps verify a user has authorized access to an account. For more information about authentication, visit the Lock Down Your Login Campaign at www.lockdownyourlogin.com.

Tidy your online reputation. Review your social media accounts and delete old photos or posts that may no longer represent who you are. As you go through your online posts, think about how they might influence others’ opinions of you. Also take the time to review the privacy settings on your online accounts. Take advantage of the privacy settings offered by major online apps and websites by limiting the amount of people who can see the information you share.

Visit and download the National Cyber Security Alliance’s “Digital Spring Cleaning Checklist” for more steps to clean up your online life.

For more tips on how to stay safe online, please visit the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect. Campaign at www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.

Lakeshore News, News Around the World

IRS Will Not Call & Threaten You

Despite a recent lull, fake Internal Revenue Service (IRS) phone calls are back.  This nationwide scam appeared to take a temporary break following the crackdown on a foreign call center last year, but the Consumer Protection Hotline at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has recently received a number of reports of these types of scam attempts.

DATCP asks Wisconsin residents to watch for phone calls demanding payment or threatening legal action for unpaid taxes and to hang up on these scammers.  Given that the tax season is about to wrap up, consumers should be on guard against calls that use this as part of their ploy.

The best protection anyone can have is the knowledge that a threatening call about unpaid taxes is fake…period.  Similar scam calls may claim to be from the United States Treasury.  Spread the word about this to all of your friends and family members.

Fear-based tactics are a common element of these so-called “government imposter” phone scam pitches.  Callers often make specific threats about imminent arrest by law enforcement, loss of a driver’s license, or even deportation.  Put simply, phone threats from the “IRS” are scams.  To protect yourself and your family, remember these simple truths:

  • The IRS contacts taxpayers about their accounts by mail.
  • The IRS will never call you, make threats about your tax liability and demand immediate payment.
  • The IRS will never request that you pay your taxes using iTunes or Amazon gift cards, wire transfers, PayPal, prepaid debit cards or reloadable MoneyPak cards.

If you ever question the authenticity of a letter, phone call or email you receive that claims to be from a government agency, contact that agency directly to inquire.

For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-422-7128.

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Community Events, Lakeshore News, News Around the World

Beware of Email Scammers

When someone plays a harmless prank on April Fool’s Day, usually you laugh it off.  After all, it’s safe to assume that the tricks stop by the next morning.  But for email users, every day is another chance to get tricked by a scammer.  Scammers see email as a cheap way to send batches of rip-off attempts (known as “spam”) all over the world with one click.  The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection asks Wisconsin residents to be on the lookout for phony email pitches that could put their finances and personal information at risk.

“Some spam emails are carefully crafted and appear to come from legitimate sources while others are poorly constructed but aim to draw you in with over-the-top claims,” said Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection.  “Regardless of appearance, the risks to your finances and sensitive information are the same.  Any messages you receive need to be carefully screened and deleted if you suspect they are fake.”

A number of recent spam emails have falsely promised a gift card for a major retailer.  The email subject lines include “Thank You!,” “Congratulations!,” or something similar.  The emails appear to contain separate links for different actions, but the entire content of the email is actually one graphic that is presumably linked to a malicious website.  You will be sent to that same address regardless of where you click on the message.

Most of these emails end up in your “junk mail” folder if your security settings are high and your email provider is routing spam correctly, but the occasional junk email inevitably finds its way through the filters and into your inbox.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid spam emails:

  • Watch for poor grammar, misspellings, awkward language choices and a general lack of professionalism.  Legitimate corporate emails will be clear and grammatically accurate.  A spam email may have the name, logo and color scheme of a well-known business, but these language clues can tip you off to a fake message that otherwise appears to be real.
  • Check the sender’s email address for another easy tipoff.  In many spam messages, the web address (URL) referenced in the sender’s email address does not match the true URL for the business in question.  For example, an email that claims to come from the U.S. Postal Service may come from “JoeSchmo @ somefakecompany.com” instead of “___ @ usps.com.”
  • Be suspicious of any request to open an attached file or click a link (including to “view your account”).  Either action could cause you to download malware on your device.
  • If you hover your mouse over a link in an email (do NOT click your mouse!), the URL that the link directs you to will appear in the bottom of your browser window.
  • Refuse requests to reply to an email with confidential information such as user names, passwords and personal details.  If you question the validity of an email that claims to be from a major business, call the business directly to inquire about its legitimacy.

For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov.

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Lakeshore News, News Around the World

Beware of Grandparent Scams While on Spring Break

Spring break sends students all over the globe looking for adventure, creating an ideal opportunity for scammers to target these travelers’ families through “grandparent scams” (also known as “family emergency scams”).  In these operations, a scammer calls potential victims impersonating a desperate grandchild in need of money due to an emergency and asks for the money to be sent immediately, typically by wire transfer.

Before leaving for vacation, students and their families should have a pre-trip chat about the threat of these scams and have a plan in place.

“When a doting relative falls for the ploy, they often fall hard – thousands of dollars can be lost before the victim grows wise to the operation or a financial institution cuts off the transactions,” said Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection.  “Having a family plan in place before a spring break trip can help mitigate this risk, saving loved ones from being targeted in their absence.”

A family plan should consist of:

  • A detailed travel itinerary that includes contact information for any booked accommodations or transportation services
  • A plan for regular, quick check-ins from the traveling student
  • A code word or phrase that would be expected in any true emergency call (and an expectation that any emergency call is fake unless that word or phrase is used)
  • Open family communication to verify the safety of the student.

“When DATCP hears from consumers who received a similar threatening call but avoided being ripped off, the consumers almost always note that they reached out to another contact or called the student directly to verify their safety, despite the scammer’s demand that they keep the call secret.  One follow-up call is all it usually takes for the entire scam story to unravel,” said Frassetto.

DATCP offers these additional tips for recipients of these fraudulent calls:

  • Resist the pressure to act immediately.
  • Do not wire money or provide your bank or credit card account numbers.
  • Do not give out any personal information or confirm anything that is told to you.
  • If you cannot reach a family member and still are not sure what to do, call the Bureau of Consumer Protection or your local police on their non-emergency line.
  • Remember that this scam is not exclusively dependent upon the grandparent/grandchild relationship – scammers could also claim to be a niece or nephew or a family friend.

For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wi.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-422-7128.

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Beware of Identity Theft While on Spring Break Vacation

Students and families go on spring break to get away from their worries, so most travelers’ ideas of a relaxing vacation would not involve having the threat of personal and financial information theft hanging over their heads.  The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection asks travelers to follow some simple tips both during and after a getaway in order to protect against identity and financial theft.

“Recognize before your trip that you are going to be outside of your element and consider ways to minimize the exposure of your personal and financial information,” said Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection.  “For starters, mobile data users should avoid sharing sensitive information over public WiFi networks and keep the details they share on social media accounts to a minimum.”

“When you return home, be proactive and run an antivirus scan on your devices and update passwords for your social media, email and financial accounts,” said Frassetto.

 

While on vacation:

Use caution with public WiFi.  Avoid doing any banking or transmitting any sensitive personal information online using a public WiFi network.  Only enter sensitive information over password-protected networks and in secure websites (those that start with “https://” – the “s” stands for secure).

Keep personal documents close.  Make use of a room safe when available for mobile devices, valuables and sensitive documents like passports, ID cards, credit cards and airline tickets.  Do NOT pack a Social Security card unless it is necessary.

Always keep your mobile devices in a secure location.  Your smartphone, tablet and laptop contain a wealth of personal information like your contacts, messages, media files and schedules.  Know where these devices are at all times and keep them secure in public.  Log out of all websites so your accounts are not accessed if your device is lost or stolen.

Don’t broadcast your trip.  Limit the info you share on social media and strengthen your account settings to only allow access to friends and family. If you share the details of your travel plans, you are providing information for scammers to use in their ploys (think “grandparent scams”) and for thieves to use in determining when your home is unattended.
When you get home:

Change passwords.  Any website you accessed on your trip was fair game for scammers, so change all of your passwords – especially for your email account.

Check accounts.  Take a look through your bank and credit card accounts and identify any irregularities.  Bring them to the immediate attention of your financial institution.

Check credit reports.  Review your credit reports to ensure that no unexpected accounts have been created in your name.
For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

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Spring Pre-Trip Tips to Stay Scam-Free

There is no surer sign that spring is near than a stream of college students dropping off campus and heading to warmer locales.  Many Wisconsin families join in the fun, using the break in seasons to shake off the snow and spend some quality time together on a new and exciting adventure.

But this change in routine can put travelers at risk of getting ripped off by scammers and identity thieves.  The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks vacationers to take a couple of pre-trip steps to mitigate their risk and help them travel more securely.

“People tend to let their guard down when they are on vacation, opening up an opportunity for criminals to steal their personal and financial information,” said Frank Frassetto, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection.  “Travelers can take protective measures against some of the biggest risks like grandparent scams and identity theft via social media before the trip even begins.”
Before you start your trip:

Alert your financial institutions.  Call the number on the back of your credit and debit cards and let them know where and when you will be travelling.  This advance notice lets the bank know to expect transactions from the area you visit, keeping your account from being locked.

Verify your reservations.  If you booked your trip through a third-party website or travel service, confirm your reservations directly with the airline, hotel or car rental business so you don’t get stranded in case of a miscommunication with your booking.

Put your mail on hold.  Identity thieves could steal mail from unattended mailboxes, giving them the information they need to misuse your identity and open credit lines in your name.  The post office can hold your mail until you return, keeping letters and packages from sitting idle in your mailbox.

Limit what’s in your wallet.  Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse, keep your passport locked away, and minimize the number of bank cards you take on your trip.

Pack a second credit card.  If you lose your main card or it is damaged, you will need a backup.  Keep them packed in separate locations.

Photocopy your documents and cards.  Make two copies (front and back) of your passport, driver’s license, credit cards, tickets and hotel reservation confirmations.  Give one copy to a friend or family member at home and carry the other copy with you, stored securely and separately from the originals.  These can come in handy if your original documents are lost or stolen during the trip.

Share your plans with friends and family to avoid “grandparent scams.”  Phone scammers could call your relatives while you are away, claim to be you, and ask for money to get out of a phony legal or medical emergency.  Make sure your family has a plan in place and a way to reach you directly in case a relative or friend receives one of these frightening calls.  As part of the plan, consider using a family code word or phrase to verify legitimate emergency calls.

Tighten the security around your social media accounts.  Your social media accounts can reveal everything a thief needs to know to steal your identity or to rob your home in your absence.  Adjust the security settings on your social media accounts to only allow friends and family to view your posts, and consider turning off the location services on your phone so the photos you post online are not tagged with GPS data.   Make sure that the mobile devices you intend to take on your journey are password protected.

For additional information, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at http://datcp.wisconsin.gov, send an e-mail to datcphotline@wisconsin.gov or call the Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.

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