Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

March 2013 Archives

NHTSA’s SaferCar App Taps Recall, Crash Test Info

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an app called SaferCar that provides real-time vehicle-safety information for consumers.

Among other things, the SaferCar app allows consumers to find recall information and subscribe to automatic notices about recalled vehicles, among other features, according to NHTSA's press release. Users can also use the app to search for 5-star safety-rated vehicles and compare vehicles across brands.

The SaferCar app is especially helpful as it integrates real-time information with car safety information, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood emphasized. This will help ensure that users have all the information they need to drive safely.

Some of the features of the SaferCar app include:

  • 5-Star safety ratings. Consumers who are making vehicle purchasing choices can access the app for crash test ratings and other safety information and compare them across different makes and models.

  • Recalls and complaints. Automatic updates for recalls and complaints will be fed to consumers in real-time for vehicles they already own. The app also allows consumers to easily submit complaints to NHTSA.

  • Help with installing child-safety seats. With so many different types of vehicles and so many different types of child seats, it can be very difficult to properly install a child seat into a car. The app will give consumers directions to child seat inspection stations, and help drivers properly install their car seats and booster seats.

  • Safety headlines and alerts. Consumers can stay up-to-date on all the news and headlines from NHTSA. They can also receive "push notifications" when there's a safety alert about their vehicles.

NHTSA's SaferCar app is free and available for iPhone and iPod Touch devices. It can be downloaded from Apple's iTunes Store. A version for Android is currently not available, though NHTSA indicates that one is being developed.

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Online Dating Scams: Top 5 Ways to Protect Yourself

How do you protect yourself from online dating scams?

The MTV show "Catfish" has recently drawn attention to these scams. Many are concerned about how real the person on the other end of their Internet interaction is, and whether they may have ulterior motives.

The term "catfishing" is used to describe the creation of a fake online profile to lure unsuspecting friends, and in some cases, lovers, Slate reports.

While the events on the show "Catfish" may seem harmless, there are some scary stories out there of online dating scams, with women and even men as the victims. Just this week, police in South Bend, Indiana, reported some dangerous encounters in which men were lured to meet women in person, after falling for fake online profiles. Instead of meeting the women face-to-face, some of the men were robbed, WSBT-TV reports.

So, if you're dating online, how do you protect yourself from ending up a victim of an online dating scam? Here are 5 tips that may help:

  1. Look up the person's name. If someone gives you their name, it's very easy to run an Internet search. Do some digging and see what information you can dig up on the person.

  2. Perform searches on their photos. If you've seen the show "Catfish," you've seen how they verify someone's photo. It's really very easy: All you need to do is go to Google Images and run an image search. You then drag the person's profile photo to the image search box and see what comes up.

  3. Ask to chat via video first. There's no harm in asking to video chat. And there are so many ways to do it, too. You can use Skype, FaceTime, or Google Chat. But there's a lot of potential harm in not video-chatting.

  4. Meet in a pubic place. You might find yourself in more trouble if you go to someone's house, or meet in a poorly lit area. Instead, suggest meeting up at a public place like a coffee shop. Also, it's wise to let a close friend or family member know where you are going.

  5. Don't disclose financial information. Be very guarded about giving anyone financial information or any other personal information. That's a big red flag that you may have stumbled across an online dating scam.

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Don't Fall for a Spring Break ‘Grandparent Scam’

You may not associate spring break with grandparents, but some con artists do. They're out to target tender-hearted seniors with spring break grandparent scams.

The Better Business Bureau and even the U.S. State Department have issued warnings about these scams, which typically begin with a frantic phone call to a grandparent. The caller pretends to be a grandchild away on spring break, and will insist that he is in some sort of trouble and needs help immediately. This will often involve the need to wire money as quickly as possible.

The call may get interrupted by static, and the caller may say he only has a few minutes to talk. Another person may also get on the line, and claim he's a lawyer or police officer. As a result, grandparents may rush to deliver money without asking too many questions.

The BBB's warning is aimed at both grandparents and college students, as social media activity may be providing fodder for con artists. How? Students often post their travel plans online to share with their friends -- including detailed itineraries complete with pictures, reports the BBB. This allows criminals to paint a fairly realistic picture for grandparents of far-off places their grandkids are visiting, and the potential troubles they can get into.

To avoid falling for a spring break grandparent scam, the BBB offers these tips:

  1. Students: Share travel plans with your family. It is important for students to share their travel plans and contact information. However, they should share these travel plans and information only with immediate family members and not the whole world.

  2. Confirm the caller's identity. If you receive a call from a supposed family member claiming that they are in trouble, and the caller sounds suspicious, you should first confirm the person's identity before turning over any information like credit card or bank account information. For example, you may want to ask personal details about the caller's childhood.

  3. Watch for red flags. Anytime someone asks you to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram, alarms bells should be going off. Wiring money is a common tactic for criminals as these are very difficult to track. Once you wire the funds, they've virtually disappeared.

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3M Cans of Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea Tuna Recalled

A massive tuna recall is underway, and the popular brands of Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea are caught up in it.

The recall involves more than 3 million cans of various types of tuna, reports USA Today. The reason for the recall is that the tuna was improperly sealed at a California plant. This can reportedly cause the fish to spoil.

There have been no illnesses reported, and the manufacturing problem that caused the mistake is said to have been fixed. However, consumers are urged to throw out tuna purchased between certain dates.

The bulk of the recall affects Bumble Bee tuna, with about 2.4 million cans recalled. Another 660,000 cans of Chicken of the Sea tuna have been recalled as well. According to the FDA, the recalled products include:

  • Brunswick 5-ounce Chunk Light Tuna in Water (Brunswick is owned by Bumble Bee);

  • Bumble Bee 5-ounce Chunk Light Tuna in Water;

  • Bumble Bee 5-ounce Chunk Light Tuna in Vegetable Oil;

  • Bumble Bee 5-ounce Chunk White Albacore in Water;

  • Chicken of the Sea 5-ounce Chunk Light Tuna in Oil; and

  • Chicken of the Sea 5-ounce Chunk White Albacore Tuna.

The Bumble Bee brand tuna cans were sold from January 17 until March 6, and are stamped with "Best By" dates from January 14, 2016, to January 18, 2016. The Chicken of the Sea tuna cans were sold from January 23 through March 6, and have "Best By" dates from January 15, 2017, to January 18, 2017. Both brands of tuna were sold nationwide.

The recall is a voluntary recall and customers can call the companies with any questions. The number for Chicken of the Sea is (800) 597-5898. The Bumble Bee number is (800) 800-8572.

If you have fallen ill after consuming affected tuna, you may want to contact a product liability attorney. An attorney can help review any potential claims you may have against the companies.

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Top 5 Tips to Weather a Late Winter Storm

Winter is not quite over, as folks in parts of the Midwest and East Coast are digging out from a late winter storm.

Even with spring on the horizon, snow, sleet, and ice can still create hazardous conditions. As a reminder, here are five tips to survive this latest winter storm:

  1. Be a defensive winter driver. Winter poses obvious hazards to driving. Some tips for safe driving include leaving extra space between you and other drivers, slowing down, pumping the brakes, replacing windshield wipers, getting new tires, and putting on snow chains.

  2. Beware slip and fall injuries. If it's wet or icy outside, this may create slick spots inside your home or business. As a result, you may need to take extra care to clear up wet spots or to warn invitees or customers of possible slip and fall dangers.

  3. Snow shoveling laws are still in effect. If you don't shovel that icy sidewalk in front of your home or business, you could be sued for premises liability. Laws and regulations for shoveling the ice off your sidewalk vary greatly among jurisdictions. Make sure you know your local laws and comply.

  4. Landlords may be liable for power outages. Snowstorms may stretch power grids to the limit, or simply knock out power completely. Landlords may be responsible for maintaining the power supply at their building and exercising reasonable care in the upkeep of their buildings. However, if a regional blackout affects all residents equally, landlords may not be liable for any resulting injuries.

  5. Small business concerns. Depending on where you live, you may want to look into your insurance coverage for things like flooding, snow, or hail damage and possibly purchase additional coverage. You should also check your lease regarding who is responsible for making repairs from winter storm damage. Most importantly, make sure your business is safe for both customers and employees.

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Warning: Mobile Malware Infecting More Smartphones

Computer viruses are old news at this point, but mobile malware is a new and growing problem for smartphone owners.

It's not surprising really. Most viruses target virtual files and digital information. A smartphone is essentially a small computer, so it can easily be targeted by the same malware that can bring down a desktop or laptop.

The problem now is that people carry so much information on their smartphones. And some of the more sensitive data is being targeted.

One of the biggest targets of malicious hacking attacks on smartphones is banking information, according to a study by McAfee.

The security firm's latest threat reports indicated that there are many more malware issues for smartphones than there have been in the past. But not all of them require a download.

In many cases, hackers "phish" for financial account information by directing smartphone users to malicious websites. Because of the small screen size, it's easier for them to set up phony websites for banks and other financial accounts.

From there, they can get users to enter account numbers, passwords, and answers to various security questions. That information is all they need.

It's a nasty scam, but the good news is that it's relatively easy to avoid. Just make sure to:

  • Check the URL of any website;
  • Don't follow suspicious links purporting to be your bank's website;
  • Be wary of emails that ask you to provide secure information; and
  • Always follow up with your bank via phone if something comes up.

Many scams take advantage of consumers who respond immediately to emails that ask you to provide log-in information. Rather than going directly to the bank's website, they click the link in the email which takes them to a different site.

But savvy hackers can disguise the bogus website and make it look like the real thing. By the time the victim realizes the problem, the hacker may have already gotten enough information.

Don't forget that your smartphone is still really a computer and is vulnerable to attack. Be smart when using it and you'll avoid problems with identity theft.

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Do you fly Delta? Because if you do, then you may soon be the target of a "new" email scam. Wait, we take it back, it's apparently not even new.

But the scam and others like it tries to reel in consumers who think they're just responding to a normal email from a company like Delta. The email can take many forms, but what it's doing is phishing. That means it's trying to get access to your personal information.

The scam emails don't come from Delta, as a writer for the Avon Patch recently found out first-hand. So what's a frequent flyer supposed to look out for?

  • First, check where the email came from. Email from an airline like Delta should come from Delta's domain name. It's not a guarantee, but if the email address seems weird then it's probably a scam.
  • Some of these emails "confirm" your upcoming flight to somewhere you never booked a flight to, reports NBC News. That should also be a sign that something isn't right. But that's not the only email message connected with this scam.
  • The email might say your credit card was charged, your order is complete, or it may have an invoice that looks like your account. What they all have in common is a link. That link included in the email is probably a virus and clicking on it will make your computer vulnerable to attack. A hacker could then get into your machine and access your personal data.

So how can you protect yourself? The simplest way to keep your computer safe from this and other email scams is to not click on the links.

Links can hide any number of problems and by clicking on them, you may let whatever is behind that link into your computer. If the email doesn't come from a person you know, it's probably not a good idea to click on it. Same goes for links that look suspicious, regardless of who sends them.

If you get an email from Delta or another familiar company, instead of clicking the link, go to the website. Type the web address in yourself rather than copy and pasting.

When those emails come in, it's also good to delete them right away and label the sender as spam. They may try to resend the message to catch you when you aren't paying attention.

If you have provided personal information like your Delta account number in response to an email like this, Delta recommends that you change the login information for your account.

Then, keep an eye on the activity in the account to see if anything weird is happening. Notify the company if you see anything strange or just let them know that you account may be compromised.

Identity theft happens far too often and it can start from an email that seems innocent. For more ways to protect yourself, check out FindLaw's free Guide to Online Fraud and Identity Theft.

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FTC: 4 in 10 ID Theft Cases Involve Tax Fraud

Identity theft is still on the rise, and the fastest growing category of reports involves tax fraud. In fact, tax fraud accounted for 43.4% of ID theft cases in 2012, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Last year also saw the highest number of ID theft cases ever reported: more than 369,000 incidents. That means a lot of people were dealing with tax fraud issues last year that weren't their fault.

Some forms of ID theft are hard to prevent, but the silver lining to tax-related fraud is that there are steps you can take to minimize your risk. For example:

  • Choose a tax preparer you trust. Doing taxes can be complicated, and at some point you may need to get someone to do it for you. But you need to be careful about whom you choose. Your tax documents contain a lot of very personal information and if your preparer isn't above board or at least careful about record storage, that could be the way your information leaks out. It may be better to hire a lawyer to help with your taxes, or at least recommend a trustworthy accountant.

  • Keep your Social Security number to yourself. There are very few situations when you need to divulge your Social Security number. Your boss needs it for tax paperwork. the DMV needs it in order to issue your license, and banks need it when you open a new account. But many other entities, like that website you just clicked on, do not need your SSN and you shouldn't give it out. Keep it private because if it gets into the wrong hands, it could be years before you realize your identity was stolen.

  • The IRS is not emailing you. It's intimidating to get an email from someone who claims to be the IRS, but if that person is asking you to send information online, it's not the IRS. Scams like this happen and it's not just someone pretending to be from the IRS. Scammers can impersonate your bank, your credit card company, or a government agency. You're typically asked to send them some personal information, like your Social Security number, to clear up some problem. But remember, no one good ever needs your Social Security number via email. Keep your personal information safe, and you may be able to outsmart identity thieves during tax time.

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