Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

September 2014 Archives

‘Gas Station Scam’ Fueled by Fear of Prosecution

Scammers are once again using consumers' fear of possible criminal prosecution to scam them out of money.

One of the latest versions of this scam is being called the "gas station scam." According to Denver's KUSA-TV, it starts with a phone call from someone claiming to be the manager of "your" gas station, who goes on to tell you that on your last visit to the station, your credit card was declined for insufficient funds.

How the Scam Works

The caller then demands your credit card information, warning that failing to provide it will lead to criminal theft charges, KUSA-TV reports. The scammers may back up their claims by providing the phone number for the actual gas station for consumers to call. When consumers call the number, the gas station employees, of course, have no idea what's going on.

However, this is all part of the scammer's plan. When the scammers call the consumer back, the scammer explains that he actually works for the credit card company, not the gas station, and repeats the demand for your credit card information. The consumer, confused and fearing police involvement, eventually caves, providing the scammer the information he needs to fraudulently charge the consumer's credit card.

Fear-Based Phone Scams

Phone scams which use the fear of criminal prosecution are nothing new. Earlier this month, the IRS warned of a phone scam in which callers, claiming to be IRS agents, demanded victims purchase pre-paid debit cards and provide the account information or face arrest or even deportation.

In another scam making the rounds, criminals claim to be police officers and demand payment for a red-light violation caught by a red light camera. In both the IRS and red light phone scams, authorities remind consumers that IRS agents or police will never attempt to collect money over the phone.

What to Do If You Fall Victim

Consumers who believe they have been the victim of a scam are encouraged to notify the Federal Trade Commission by calling (877) FTC-HELP or by filing a complaint using the FTC's online complaint assistant.

Related Resources:

This month hasn't been a great one for well-operating cars, and these three separate recalls are proof.

Automakers GM, Chrysler, and Ferrari have all issued recalls related to their vehicles, with some potential defects proving to be less dangerous than others. For example, Chrysler's Dodge Durangos and Jeep Cherokees are being recalled because of a defect that may cause the engine to stall.

What else should you know about these three car recalls?

GM: Brake Fire Risk

This hasn't been the best year for GM. With litigation related to GM's ignition switch defect still cropping up, it seems that the company's reputation for safety may be seriously compromised.

This new recall is unrelated to the ignition switch defect, but rather is focused on a risk of brake fires caused by a parking-brake defect. The New York Times reports that the parking brake in more than 221,000 GM vehicles may stay partially engaged, causing "significant heat, smoke, and sparks" from the rear brake pads -- not to mention slowing the driver down and wearing down brake pads prematurely.

The affected vehicles include models:

  • Chevy Impala (2014 and 2015)
  • Cadillac XTS (2013 to 2015)

The Times reports that GM is not aware of any crashes, injuries, or deaths related to this brake defect, but you can find if your car is affected by entering your VIN on GM's website.

Chrysler: SUV Fuel Pump Problems

A striking amount of Chrysler SUVs, more than 230,000, are being recalled worldwide because of a faulty fuel pump that may stall or prevent engines from starting.

According to CNN Money, Chrysler hasn't reported any deaths or injuries from the defect; the problem appeared "as a pattern in repairs." The recall is expected to affect 189,000 vehicles in the United States -- mainly 2011 Dodge Durangos and 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokees.

Chrysler's website promises affected consumers will be notified via direct mail.

Ferrari: No Escape

Ferrari's may be the strangest recall. According to The Washington Post, the recall of more than 3,000 F458 Italia and F458 Spider vehicles is due to the risk of the emergency release latch inside the car's trunk not operating when the car is stationary. Without a fix, those who somehow find themselves trapped in affected Ferrari trunks can only escape when the car is moving, which may be a poor, high-speed choice.

For more information about vehicle recalls, check out FindLaw's section on vehicle recalls and defects.

Related Resources:

Fake USPS Email Scam Claims Parcel Can’t Be Delivered

Consumers are being warned about a new scam in which postal customers are receiving email messages that claim to be from the United States Postal Service regarding an undeliverable package.

The email looks official, with a Postal Service logo, reports WTKR-TV. The message says "Our courier couldn't make the delivery of a parcel today," and asks customers to click on a link or open an attachment to arrange for delivery of the package.

However, following those seemingly innocent directions may actually expose your computer to potentially harmful malware and expose your personal information to potential identity theft.

How the Scam Works

According to a crime alert issued by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the bogus emails typically contain a link or an attachment that when opened, installs malicious software on your computer to steal your personal information.

These viruses can potentially provide the culprits with your usernames, passwords, and financial account information, allowing scammers to access your accounts, transfer funds, or even make fraudulent purchases using your financial information.

How to Identity the Scam

The Postal Service does not generally use email to contact customers about packages. A Postal Inspector told WTKR-TV that consumers should be wary about any email that purports to come from a Postal Service employee, noting that the post office generally doesn't have email contact information for postal customers.

The hallmark of many scams is a false sense of urgency, and this one warns customers that they only have a certain number of days to pick up the package before it will be returned.

What to Do If You Receive a Scam Email

Postal inspectors recommend that anyone who receives a scam email to delete the message without taking any further action. The Postal Service is actively trying to catch the scammers and shut down the scam.

Postal customers who have questions about the scam or wish to report being scammed can call 1-800-ASK-USPS or email the Postal Inspection Service at spam@uspis.gov.

Related Resources:

Product Recalls: Kidde Smoke Alarms, Ikea Children’s Swings

Consumers should be aware of two new recall notices recently issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Retailer IKEA is recalling the GUNGGUNG child's swing, while safety products maker Kidde is recalling its hard-wired smoke and combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarms. Both products are being recalled because of possible mechanical failures that could lead to injury or death.

Here's what consumers need to know:

IKEA GUNGGUNG Child Swing Recall

The GUNGGUNG swing is an indoor or outdoor swing for children ages 3 to 7, sold exclusively at IKEA stores and on the IKEA website. The swing hangs from a plastic suspension fitting attached to steel hooks. According to the CPSC alert, there have been multiple reports of the suspension fitting breaking, which can cause a child to fall to the ground.

Although the CPSC reports there have been about 2,000 of the swings sold in the United States, all four of the reports of the suspension fitting breaking have come from other countries: two in Austria, one in Germany, and one in Canada. In one of the reported incidents, a child who fell sustained a broken leg.

Consumers who may have purchased the swing can return it for a full refund at any IKEA store. Proof of purchase is not required.

Kidde Smoke and Combination Smoke/CO Alarms

The Kidde smoke alarm recall affects more than 1.2 million of the company's hard-wired smoke and combination smoke/CO alarms. According to the CPSC, the recall was issued after it was discovered that the alarms could fail following a power outage.

The recalled devices include the Kidde residential smoke alarm (Model No. i12010S) with manufacture dates between December 18, 2013 and May 13, 2014; combination smoke/CO alarm (Model No. il2010SCO) with manufacture dates between December 30, 2013 and May 13, 2014; and combination smoke/CO alarm (Model KN-COSM-IBA) with manufacture dates between October 22, 2013 and May 13, 2014.

No incidents have been reported yet, and the CPSC advises that consumers should continue to use the alarms until they are able to obtain a replacement from Kidde. Consumers who have a recalled model can obtain a free replacement smoke alarm or combination smoke/CO alarm from Kidde free of charge by calling the toll-free hotline at (844) 553-9011 or online at the Kidde website.

Consumers who would like to report an incident involving the recalled products, or other defective consumer products, can do so using the CPSC's online reporting form. If you have been injured by a defective product, a products liability lawyer may be able to help you recover compensation for your injuries.

Related Resources:

Warning: Social Security ‘New Benefit’ Email Is a Scam

The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about a new email scam involving Social Security benefits.

According to the BBB, scammers are sending emails which appear to be from the Social Security Administration claiming that the recipient is eligible for new benefits. The email provides a link to an online form, instructing consumers to fill out the form in order to obtain the new benefits. However, those who do may be setting themselves up for possible identity theft.

Scammers Use Personal Information to Redirect Benefits

According to a fraud advisory issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration regarding the email scam, thieves use the scam to obtain the information necessary to create accounts on the SSA website. The scammers then use the victim's account information to redirect benefit payments to the scammers' own accounts.

In a variation of the scam also reported to the BBB, scammers may also be calling consumers and asking them to update or verify their personal information over the phone.

How to Identify the Scam

The most telling sign that the emails are a scam is the use of e-mail itself. Government agencies will typically communicate through regular mail as opposed to contacting you by email or by telephone. As in previous scams, any time you are contacted by someone purporting to be from a government agency by phone or email, you should be suspicious.

In general, links and attachments included in suspicious email messages should not be clicked or opened. Even sites that appear legitimate can be used to steal your personal information, and attachments may contain viruses or other types of malware designed to steal your information.

What to Do If You Suspect You're Being Scammed

Here's what the SSA's Office of the Inspector General recommends: If you receive a call or an email requesting personal information from someone purporting to be with the Social Security Administration, contact the SSA directly to verify that person's legitimacy. You can call the SSA toll-free at (800) 772-1213.

You can also report suspicious activity involving your Social Security accounts and the Social Security program at (800) 269-0271 or online via this link.

Related Resources:

FDA Wants Texas Compounding Pharmacy to Recall Products

The Food and Drug Administration is redoubling efforts to crack down on a Texas compounding pharmacy it has repeatedly accused of producing contaminated medicines.

The FDA issued a formal request that Downing Labs, which operates the the Dallas-based NuVision Pharmacy, recall all of its sterile products after an inspection performed this summer found numerous problems with the facility reports The Wall Street Journal.

Inspection Uncovered 'At Least 19' Contaminated Drug Lots

According to a letter sent by the FDA to Downing Labs requesting the recall last week, inspections of the Dallas facility this summer found that at least 19 lots of supposedly sterile drugs produced at the facility tested positive for microbial contamination and three more failed tests for bacterial endotoxin. According to the FDA, this means "there is a high probability that contaminated units from other purportedly sterile drug product lots produced at the Downing Labs facility are currently in distribution."

The FDA warns that being given a non-sterile drug that is intended to be sterile can cause infection, permanent organ damage, or even death.

Compounding Pharmacies in the News

Compounding pharmacies have faced increased scrutiny after steroids contaminated with fungus distributed by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy was linked to at least 64 deaths.

In that case, a pharmacist at New England Compounding Center was arrested and accused of instructing pharmacy technicians to label medication as properly sterilized and tested when it hadn't been. The fungal meningitis outbreak also led to a number of civil lawsuits, which resulted a $100 million settlement reached earlier this year.

FDA's Recall Power

The FDA is requesting that Downing Labs recall its products, but is unable to force them to do so, as it admitted in a news release following a previous warning about the company's products.

Even following the passage of last year's Compounding Quality Act, which implemented a voluntary registration program for compounding facilities, the FDA currently lacks the power to compel a mandatory recall of the drugs produced by NuVision.

Related Resources:

Prescription Drug Disposal May Be Easier Under New DEA Policy

A new effort by federal law enforcement to combat prescription drug abuse may make it easier for consumers to get rid of their old meds.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that in order to combat the "urgent and growing threat" that prescription drug addiction poses to the nation, a new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) policy would allow hospitals and pharmacies to act as "drop-off sites" for unused prescription drugs. The DEA has historically organized collection of leftover prescription meds, but this new policy will make it even easier for these drugs to be tossed.

How does this new federal policy impact your overcrowded medicine cabinet?

Serious Attention Paid to Rx Problem

In a video message, Attorney General Holder noted that more than half of the unintentional overdoses in this country were caused by prescription drugs. He continued by stating that nearly "four in 10 teens who have misused or abused a prescription drug have obtained it from their parents' medicine cabinet."

That number may sound surprising, but FindLaw.com's own surveys have found that at least one in four Americans admits to abusing prescription drugs. And a large part of that abuse lies in giving away meds instead of disposing them properly.

Building on Current Policy

To answer this serious problem, the DEA's new policy -- which would implement the policy changes enacted in the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 -- will allow "pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and other authorized collectors" to take old prescription drugs from patients.

This would build on existing efforts by the DEA to take back drugs as part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day -- a semi-annual event where collection sites would serve as safe places to dispose of unused prescription drugs. The next Take-Back Day is in a few weeks, but if this regulation is successful, consumers will be able to safely "take-back" their prescription drugs year-round. The DOJ reports that consumers will be able to "mail in" old meds to authorized collectors, and long-term care facilities (e.g., nursing homes) will be able to collect these unused prescription drugs from residents for disposal.

If you have prescription drugs you'd like to safely dispose of, use the DEA's online service to locate a collection site near you.

Related Resources:

IRS Phone Scam Alert: $5M Lost Over Phony Arrest Threats

A nationwide phone scam in which impostor IRS agents threaten victims with arrest or deportation if they refuse to immediately settle tax debts has reportedly already bilked more than 1000 people out of nearly $5 million.

The scheme, which federal authorities have been investigating since 2013, involves callers claiming to be with the IRS. The fake agents demand payment of taxes, often claiming that police are on their way and insist on remaining on the phone while the victim drives to a store to make a payment by loading money onto a prepaid debit card, reports The Arizona Republic.

How to Tell You are Being Scammed

The most obvious red flag that you may be the victim of a scam is the method of payment requested by the scammers. The scammers instruct victims to purchase Green Dot Moneypak cards, a brand of prepaid debit card, then provide the account information over the phone, giving the scammer immediate access to the money on the card.

According to an IRS alert regarding the scam, IRS agents would never demand payments using specific prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, or accept payments over the phone. In addition, IRS agents don't make cold calls to tax payers regarding problems with their taxes; official IRS correspondences will come through the mail. Although failing to pay your taxes may lead to some form of IRS action, generally the IRS does not threaten ordinary citizens with arrest for simple mistakes or omissions on their income taxes.

The scams may otherwise be convincing, according to the IRS, due to several other tell-tale characteristics of the scam, including:

  • Scammers often have the last four digits of a person's social security number;
  • Spoofed caller ID numbers that make the calls appear to be from an official IRS, or law enforcement number; and
  • Bogus e-mails backing up the callers claims.

Scammers also typically make more than one call, often claiming to be local police or DMV threatening enforcement action against the victim.

What to Do If You Get a Scam Call

The IRS advises that anyone who believes they have been contacted by a scammer report the incident to the IRS by calling 1-800-366-4484. In addition, the IRS suggests reporting the incident to the Federal Trade Commission.

Related Resources: