Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

January 2014 Archives

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is alerting cell phone users about a so-called "One Ring" scam. According to the BBB, scammers are making thousands of automated calls to random cell phone numbers that ring once and disconnect. Some callers are curious enough to call the number back.

Big deal, right? Well, as it turns out, you may be incurring huge cell phone charges when you return the "One Ring" call, which is how the fraudsters turn a profit. Other times, the calls are part of a telemarketing fraud scheme, where the scammers ask customers for money.

Here are three tips to avoid becoming a "One Ring" victim:

  1. Ignore calls from unknown international numbers. To err on the side of caution, don't pick up calls from international numbers you don't recognize. Most importantly, don't call those numbers back. The calls typically come from Caribbean Islands including Grenada, Antigua, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the British Virgin Islands, reports Baltimore's WBAL-TV.
  2. Beware calls from numbers with a 473 area code. If you see a 473 prefix on your cell phone's caller ID, be careful, reports Minneapolis-St. Paul's KMSP-TV. While it may look like a local area code, it's actually the prefix for Grenada. Calling the international number back can lead to hefty international charges.
  3. Carefully check your cell phone bills. "One Ring" victims typically discover the fraud by spotting charges on their phone bills. When cell phone owners return a "One Ring" call they are charged $19.95 for the international call fee. After that, there is a $9.00 per minute charge. "Often they will first hear music, then maybe advertising but it's easy to see how quickly these charges can add up," according to Steve J. Bernas, CEO of the BBB. Be aware, the charges won't show up until the following month's statement arrives. The charges will often show up as a "premium service" for $19.95.

If you've fallen victim to telemarketing fraud like the "One Ring" scam or the red-light ticket phone scam, report it immediately to the carrier and keep an eye on future cell phone bills. Document the date, time, and number received, along with the date and time the call was returned as well as any other information you think is helpful.

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Warning: $9.84 Credit Card Charge May Be Fraudulent

See a strange $9.84 charge on your credit card statement? It could be a fraudulent charge by criminals hoping you won't notice.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued a fraud alert last week after several consumers complained about a very specific, yet unidentified charge of $9.84 on their credit card bills, reports CBS News. These fraudulent charges have been connected to a handful of crooks overseas.

Some of the charges are purportedly for "customer support," while others purport to be linked to various websites. So what should you do if the $9.84 credit card charge pops up on your statement?

Contact Your Credit Card Company

The good news is that credit card companies and the BBB are aware of the fraudulent charge. If you see a charge for $9.84 that you don't remember making, contact your credit card issuer immediately. In most cases, the credit card company will issue a refund. They'll also issue you a new credit card or card number.

Be sure to monitor all of your receipts and bills to make sure that no other fraudulent charges have been made. If you're seeing multiple strange transactions that you didn't authorize, contact your bank or credit card issuer as soon as possible to set up a fraud alert on your cards.

What Are Fraud Alerts?

Fraud alerts are used by your credit card company to monitor your transactions. The credit card company will keep track of the type of purchases you make and the amounts you usually spend. Then if there's a strange transaction that's out of the norm that occurs, the credit card company will alert you.

In some cases, you won't be able to continue using the affected credit card until you've verified the purchases with your credit card company. For example, if you live in Baltimore, but a $600 charge from a restaurant in Belize shows up on your account, then your credit card company will be alerted of that potential fraud and will contact you to verify the transaction.

So when calling your bank about the mysterious $9.84 credit card charge, be sure to ask them about their fraud alert policies and whether your card is covered.

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Target’s Free Credit Report Email: What to Do Next

Did you get Target's email about free credit reports? If so, what should you do next?

In a push to regain the trust of its customers after a massive data breach, Target is offering impacted customers daily credit monitoring, identity theft insurance and access to a Fraud Resolution Agent.

Millions of Americans received Target’s free credit monitoring offer email recently, but considering all the risks associated with scam emails, they may be unsure about how to react, Credit.com reports.

If you received Target's free credit report email, here are a few steps you may want to consider:

  1. Make sure it's real. In a tragic twist of irony, email scams of Target's free credit report offer are making the rounds. Keep an eye out for telltale signs of Target email scams, CNNMoney advises. Watch out for email addresses that don't match (or addresses that just don't look quite right) and emails that ask for personal information or money. A red flag should also go up if the email contains spelling errors or stresses a sense of urgency.
  2. Sign up. Out of an abundance of caution, you may not want to click on the links in Target's email message. Instead, go to the address bar of your browser and manually type CreditMonitoring.Target.com. Fill out your name and email address there. Next, obtain and save the redemption code Target sends you (if you can't find it, check your spam folder). Manually type ProtectMyID.com/target into your browser’s address bar. That will bring you to Experian’s website for Target victims. Paste the redemption code into the box. Fill out the other identifying information. Keep in mind you'll have to enter some sensitive financial information and your Social Security number to verify your identity, cautions Credit.com.
  3. Check your report and repeat periodically. Once you make it through the authentication process, carefully review your credit report and check for errors. You should do this once every month, on Target's dime. Also, don't forget to set up text alerts -- again, on Target's dime -- so you'll be contacted if someone tries to open credit in your name.

Signing up for Target's free credit monitoring is an excellent way to help protect yourself from fraud stemming from the hacking incident. Keep in mind that guests have until April 23, 2014, to sign up to receive an activation code. Activation codes must be redeemed by April 30, 2014.

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'Court Case' Email Scam: Don't Click on Attachments

A nationwide court email scam could leave a nasty virus on your computer if you're not too careful.

Several federal and state courts are warning the public about an email scam that tells recipients that they have an upcoming court hearing, missed a jury summons, or have a warrant out for their arrest. The fraudulent emails will either contain an attachment that contains a virus, or the email will tell the reader to pay money to avoid arrest.

So what can recipients do to spot a scam email?

What Do the Fake Emails Look Like?

The court email scam is targeting people all across the United States, so everyone should be on high alert. The scam emails will appear to be addressed from either a court clerk or a law firm (i.e., from someone @jonesday.com or @hoganlovells.com).

While the emails appear to be coming from real courthouses and legitimate law firms, the fraudsters have apparently hijacked the email addresses.

The body of the email will likely be similar to this:

Notice to Appear,

Hereby you are notified that you have been scheduled to appear for your hearing that will take place in the court of [court name] on [some date] at [some time].

Please bring all documents and witnesses relating to this case with you to court on your hearing date.

The copy of the court notice is attached to this letter. Please read it thoroughly.

Note: If you do not attend the hearing, the judge may hear the case in your absence and [some type of threat of action (jail, fines, etc.)].

Yours truly,

Clerk of the Court

What Should You Do If You Receive a Scam Email?

If you think you received one of these scam email messages, delete it immediately. Some of the emails will allege that you're scheduled to appear in court and give you a phony case number; if you're concerned, you can call the court or check the court's online case database to see if you've actually been summoned, as the District of Columbia Courts suggest. Typically, you can look up a case using your last name.

If you've made the mistake of opening the email, try not to download any attachments. By downloading the attachments, you could potentially subject yourself to a computer virus or give the fraudsters access to your personal information.

To prevent further court email scams, you can also report the fraudulent email to the court and to law enforcement.

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Apple to Refund $32.5M for Kids' App Purchases

Apple is set to refund at least $32.5 million to customers whose children purchased apps without adequate parental consent. It's part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

If your child has a habit of going on app-buying sprees without your knowledge, this settlement should help curb your kiddo's spendthrift ways.

Public Comment on Consent Agreement Package

The FTC alleges Apple violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by failing to inform account holders -- in this case, parents -- that by entering a password, they were approving not only a single in-app purchase but also a 15-minute window in which children could incur unlimited charges without further action by a parent.

Considering Apple boasts a garden variety of kids' apps in its App Store that range in price from 99 cents to $99.99 per in-app charge, it's not hard to see how parents could get sticker shock from the unauthorized purchases.

According to the FTC's complaint, Apple received tens of thousands of complaints about unauthorized in-app purchases by children, totaling millions of dollars. But the company failed to act.

Refunds for Kids' Unauthorized Purchases

Under the settlement with the FTC, Apple will be required to provide full refunds, totaling a minimum of $32.5 million, to consumers who were billed for in-app purchases made by kids that were either accidental or not made by the consumer.

Apple is required to provide the refunds promptly at the request of an account holder.

If you're not sure whether you're affected or how to go about getting a refund, don't worry. Under the settlement agreement, Apple must give notice of the availability of refunds to all consumers charged for in-app charges, and provide instructions on how to obtain a refund for unauthorized purchases made by children.

Apple's New Billing Requirements

Apart from the refund, Apple will also be required to change its billing practices to ensure that it has obtained express, informed consent from consumers before charging them for items sold in mobile apps (specifically, in-app charges).

In addition, if Apple obtains consumers' consent for future charges, consumers must have the option to withdraw their consent at any time.

Apple has until March 31, 2014, to make these changes.

The consent agreement package is currently open for public comment until February 14, 2014. To weigh in on the agreement, you can submit your comments via an online Comment Form.

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Police Warn About Red-Light Ticket Phone Scams

Police are warning people about red-light ticket phone scams that are popping up across the country.

Although phone scams where criminals pretend to be police or government officials for money is nothing new, the current con artists are telling people to pay for a red-light camera citation or be charged with contempt of court, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

So what can you do to avoid being a victim of these scammers?

How Will I Know if I'm Being Scammed?

The red-light ticket phone scams involve criminals who call victims tell them that they're local police officers. In Georgia, the scammers are going as far as using names of real police officers in your area, according to the Journal-Constitution.

The caller will then tell you that you must send them money to pay for a red-light camera citation or you'll be charged with contempt of court. Some scammers will demand your credit card and Social Security numbers in order to process the payment. In Texas, the fake callers have threatened to arrest the victim unless he or she gives up his or her personal information, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

If you've received those calls, it's important to remember that police departments will never call you to collect money on traffic fines, including red-light citations. Additionally, police departments will never ask you to put money on a pre-paid debit card in order to pay fines. For example, in New Jersey, a caller told a woman to go purchase a $365 Green Dot money card and that he'd call her back so she could give him the serial number on the back of the card. Real police would never do that, reports NJ.com

What Should I do if I Receive a Call?

Scammers who trick people into sending them money can be arrested for criminal fraud. If someone calls and tells you that he or she is a law enforcement official collecting money for a traffic citation or any type of ticket, hang up immediately. Then call the police to report the scam. If you've already been a victim of the red-light citation scam, contact your credit card company immediately to stop payment.

However, if you've received a legitimate citation in the mail for a red-light camera violation, you can appear in court to fight the ticket.

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A Foster Farms poultry plant was shuttered by the USDA on Wednesday citing a cockroach infestation and unsanitary conditions.

The plant was one of three other Foster Farms facilities that were threatened with closure for being linked to nationwide salmonella outbreaks, reports the Los Angeles Times.

What is the USDA doing to stop dangerous chicken from hitting the market?

Foster Farms Plant Shut Down For Roaches

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials had warned Foster Farms to remedy the conditions at two processing facilities in Fresno and one poultry plant in Livingston, California, reports the Times.

These conditions were a major cause for concern for the USDA -- and anyone who consumes poultry -- as improper sanitation and contamination can mean illness or death from salmonella.

The three facilities managed to remain open once Foster Farms unveiled a sanitation plan, but this didn't stop federal inspectors from finding roaches in the Livingston poultry plant.

In a letter to Foster Farms' CEO, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service cited "five occasions between Sept. 14 and Wednesday" when FSIS inspectors found roaches in the plant, reports The Fresno Bee.

Since the plant was essentially shirking its promise to clean up its act, the FSIS temporarily shut it down.

Why a Health Warning but No Recall?

Despite have suspended operations at the Livingston plant, the USDA has not issued a recall on Foster Farms poultry products.

While it is not uncommon for chicken products to be recalled when they are found to be contaminated with some harmful microbe, salmonella is considered naturally occurring in all poultry products. So when Foster Farms chicken was linked to salmonella outbreaks in October, federal inspectors could not force a recall because the questionable meat was not "adulterated."

Federal courts have ruled that the presence of salmonella in meat from cattle and certain other animals requires a recall under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. But because poultry is not covered by the Act, the USDA only issued a "health alert" about Foster Farms chicken.

The USDA's health alert, which was actually released on October 7, reminds poultry purchasers to cook chicken to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees in order to kill food-borne pathogens like salmonella. It also identified the "establishment numbers" of the three possibly infested Foster Farms facilities.

According to the Times, Foster Farms reported the Livingston plant was treated on Wednesday, and "is expected to fully resolve this incident."

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FTC Fines 4 Diet-Supplement Makers for False Advertising

As part of an initiative to curb deceptive advertising in the weight loss product industry, the FTC imposed hefty fines on four diet supplement companies. The FTC will make these funds available for refunds to consumers who bought the products. In total, the weight-loss marketers will pay approximately $34 million for consumer redress.

Here's a breakdown of the four companies involved and how much they'll be "forking" over:

  • Sensa. The marketers of the powdered food additive Sensa -- who urged consumers to “sprinkle, eat, and lose weight” -- will pay $26.5 million to settle FTC charges for making unfounded weight-loss claims and misleading endorsements. Marketers deceptively advertised that Sensa enhances food’s smell and taste, making users feel full faster, so they eat less and lose weight, without dieting, and without changing their exercise regime.
  • L’Occitane. The FTC will require L'Occitane to pay $450,000 and stop making deceptive claims that its Almond Beautiful Shape and Almond Shaping Delight skin creams have body slimming capabilities ("Trim 1.3 inches in just 4 weeks!”) and are clinically proven (“Clinically proven slimming effectiveness.”).
  • HCG Diet Direct. The marketers of HCG Diet Direct Drops deceptively advertised an unproven human hormone (found in human placenta) that has been "touted by hucksters for more than half a century as a weight-loss treatment," according to the FTC. Marketers made false claims of rapid weight loss via YouTube videos, product packaging, and in statements and testimonials on the company website. The company also falsely claimed that the product was FDA-approved and failed to disclose that endorsers in some of the ads were compensated. But the $3.2 million judgment against the HCG Diet Direct defendants was suspended due to their inability to pay.
  • LeanSpa. The FTC and the state of Connecticut shut down owner Boris Mizhen’s operation, including LeanSpa and three other companies he controls. Mizhen used fake news websites to promote acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss products, made deceptive weight-loss claims, and misled consumers about the actual costs of the "free" trials. LeanSpa will surrender assets totaling an estimated $7.3 million in a partial settlement with the FTC.

Although the FTC is doing its best to trim the false advertising fat in the diet product industry, consumers should sprinkle some common sense into their diet plans. If a fad diet sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Even on a carb-free diet, don't forget to use your noodle.

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