Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

November 2014 Archives

Don’t Fall for 'Grandparent Scam' This Thanksgiving

Consumer groups and authorities across the country, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, are advising families to be on the lookout for a scam targeting grandparents this Thanksgiving.

In a press release, Schneiderman asked colleges in the state of New York to help stop the spread of a phone scam known as the "grandparent scam." The scam typically involves a phone call or an email to a senior citizen in which the scammer pretends to be the victim's grandchild. The scammer claims that he or she is in trouble and needs the grandparents to wire money immediately.

According to the FTC, more than 40,000 of these so-called grandparent scams have been reported since 2010, with many more likely going unreported.

How the Scam Works

According to the Consumer Federation of America, the scammers may target victims at random, but may also use information gathered through marketing lists, social networking sites, obituaries, or other online information to get the names of a victim's grandchildren or other relatives

Often, however, scammers don't need to know the names of a victim's grandchildren, or even whether the victim has any grandchildren at all. Rather, the scammer will simply address the victim as grandma or grandpa and wait for the grandparent to ask "Sally, is that you?" Scammers often call in the middle of the night, relying on the late hour to add to the victim's confusion.

Once the grandparent is convinced the person on the phone is indeed his or her grandchild, the scammer then makes a plea for money, usually for some form of legal or travel-related emergency, such as needing to get out of jail or get through customs. Whatever the issue, the request is always the same: Wire money immediately, using a service such as Western Union of MoneyGram.

According to one admitted scammer (currently awaiting sentencing in California) interviewed by CBS News, scammers can make as much as $10,000 a day running the grandparent scam. The scammer said that he would target those over 65, because "[o]nce you get them emotionally involved, then they'll do anything for you, basically."

What You Can Do to Prevent Being Scammed

Some ways to prevent being taken in by the grandparent scam include:

  • Being suspicious any time you are unexpectedly asked to wire money;
  • Verifying an emergency by calling a family member or friend who may be able to help (even if it's late);
  • Limiting what you share, such as vacation plans, on social media and other websites; and
  • Giving your family members a secret codeword to be used in the event of an emergency.

Those who have been the victim of a grandparent scam or attempted grandparent scam can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint assistant or by calling 1-877-382-4357

Related Resources:

Minn. Ground Beef Recall May Affect Your Thanksgiving

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a Minnesota meat company has issued a recall for 1,200 pounds of ground beef after testing revealed possible E. coli contamination.

Ranchers Legacy Meat Company issued the recall when a routine inspection by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service discovered the contamination, reports WISC-TV. The recall includes all meat products that were produced on November 19, the same day as the product that tested positive for E. coli

E. coli is a form of bacteria that can cause severe and sometimes fatal food borne illness in humans. Although there have been no reports of any illnesses associated with the recalled meat, E. coli can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea, and cramps, with symptoms typically appearing two to eight days after exposure.

Recalled Products

According to the USDA news release, the products subject to the recall all have a use-by date of 12/10/2014 and bear the establishment number "Est 40264" inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The products, all of which are ground beef products sealed in plastic packets, include:

  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Beef Patties 77/23
  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Chuck Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice Ground Beef 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice WD Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy RD Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend Oval Beef Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy WD Chuck Blend Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy USDA Choice NAT Beef Patties 80/20
  • Ranchers Legacy Ground Chuck Blend
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend Bulk Pack NAT Patties
  • Ranchers Legacy Chuck Blend NAT Beef Patties
  • OTG Manufacturing Chuck/Brisket RD Patties

The recall is a Class I recall, defined as a "health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death."

What Should Consumers Do?

According to the USDA, the products subject to the recall were shipped to distributors for sale nationwide and may have been purchased by consumers. Consumers should avoid consuming any of the products subject to the recall. Those who may have already consumed potentially contaminated beef should look for signs of potential food borne illness and contact a health care provider if symptoms appear.

Consumers with questions about the recall can call Jeremy Turnquist, Vice President of Operations for Ranchers Legacy Meat Co. at (651) 366-6575.

Related Resources:

Ford Recalls 65K Fusion Sedans Over Ignition Issue

Ford Motor Company is recalling 65,000 Fusion sedans in the United States, Canada, and Mexico because of an ignition switch issue.

The recall was issued after it was discovered that the vehicle's key can be removed from the ignition switch 30 minutes after the car is turned off when the car is left in gear. This increases the risk of the car inadvertently rolling away and violates safety regulations, reports New York's WNBC-TV.

What do Fusion owners need to know about this latest auto recall?

Includes 2014, 2015 Model Years

The recall includes Ford Fusion sedans from the 2014 and 2015 model years. Owners of Ford Fusion vehicles can determine if their vehicle is included in the recall by entering their vehicle's VIN at Ford's online recall search tool.

When an automobile defect prompts a safety recall, automakers are typically responsible for providing consumers a recall remedy at no cost. In this recall, owners of affected Fusion models can have the car's instrument cluster reprogrammed by a dealer at no cost.

No Injuries Reported

No injuries have been reported in connection with the Ford Fusion ignition switch defect, reports WNBC-TV. Last month, Ford recalled 850,000 vehicles for an electrical glitch affecting airbag deployment, including some Fusion models. No injuries were reported in connection with that recall, either.

However, Ford is among the automakers involved in the ongoing Takata airbag recall, which has so far been linked to at least four deaths. In that recall, airbag inflator mechanisms may explode when the airbag is deployed, causing metal shards to fly into the vehicle's passenger compartment.

The airbags, manufactured by Japan's Takata Corporation, were installed in vehicles made by Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, and BMW, among other automakers. Consumers can determine whether their vehicle is in need of recall repairs under these, or any other recall issued in the last 15 years, by searching the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's online database using their vehicle's VIN.

Related Resources:

Facebook has carved down its dense Data Policy in an attempt to clarify to users how their data is handled (or sold).

According to Forbes, the social networking company is proposing to trim its Data Policy from 9,000 words to a mere 2,700. Some may see this as a move to clear away "legalese" and leave only the straight talk, but is there more going on here?

Here are five things users should take away from Facebook's skinnier Data Policy:

1. Facebook Has a Chief Privacy Officer.

Yep. You may not think of Chief Privacy Officer as a title at most companies, but then again Facebook isn't most businesses. Erin Egan occupies this rare title and told the The Wall Street Journal that the Data Policy changes were aimed at making average users understand Facebook's terms of use. "Our goal is to make the information about Facebook as clear as possible," Egan said.

2. Maybe They Need One.

Facebook reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit over its misleading data policy in 2012, and it hasn't exactly been straightforward with the public about its data collection since then. Take, for example, the recent FTC complaint over Facebook's use of its users as guinea pigs in an emotion study.

3. You Still Don't Own Your Facebook Posts.

Even under the amended policy, you don't "own" your Facebook posts. Users still give Facebook a nearly unlimited license to use their photos and videos. The license is revoked when you delete your posts, but remember, you're mostly offering information to Facebook (and by extension third parties) for free.

4. The New Policy Is Q&A-Based.

While the old policy looked very much like an online contract, Facebook's updated Data Policy is much more user-friendly, with smooth graphics and categories based on frequently asked questions.

5. However, Shorter Doesn't Mean More Common Sense.

Writing for Forbes, Amit Chowdhry quipped that Facebook's original policy was 9,000 words, while the U.S. Constitution is only 4,543 words. But keep in mind that the U.S. Constitution has some very short passages that define fundamental rights, the ambiguity of which has been the subject of decades of court cases. Whole lifetimes have been spent on one or two sentences in the Constitution, so we're OK with Facebook taking some verbiage to explain its policy.

Users will have until Thursday to comment on the new policy before it becomes effective, but it would be a miracle if most of them even read it.

Related Resources:

McDonald's has issued a recall for more than two million Hello Kitty toys included in the company's Happy Meals.

The plastic Hello Kitty Birthday Lollipop toy may pose a choking risk for children. The whistle inside the toy can be removed and used to make sounds by inhaling and exhaling, reports CNN. At least two children have sucked the whistles into their mouths, with one requiring medical treatment.

What are the details of this latest toy recall?

Toys Distributed in U.S., Canada

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2.3 million of the Hello Kitty Birthday Lollipop toys were distributed in the United States with an additional 200,000 distributed in Canada. The toy is a red whistle inside a plastic Hello Kitty figurine measuring 3 inches in height and width. The whistle is about 1 3/4 inches in height and 3/4 of an inch deep with pictures of Hello Kitty on both sides. The bag the toy is packaged in includes the text "“Hello Kitty Birthday Lollipop” with the number 6 in the package's top right corner.

The toys were distributed at McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. and Canada between from October of this year through November in both Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals.

What Should Consumers Do With Recalled Products?

McDonalds has recovered around 1.6 million of the toys, according to a statement posted on the company's website. Consumers who still have one of the recalled toys should immediately take the toy away from children and return it to the nearest McDonald's restaurant. The company will replace the toy with a different toy and is also offering a yogurt tube or bag of apple slices to consumers who bring in a recalled toy.

Consumers with questions can call (800) 244-6227 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. CT, seven days a week. Consumers who wish to report an injury related to this product can report an incident to the Consumer Product Safety Commission via the agency's online report filing system.

Related Resources:

As the holiday shopping season kicks into full swing, consumers should be aware of the growing number of online shopping scams being reported.

When it comes to shopping scams, the number one rule is: If the price sounds too good to be true, many times it is. But for consumers looking for insane Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals, sometimes it can be hard to tell what's a screaming deal and what's a shopping scam.

What can consumers do to help avoid getting ripped off? Here are five tips:

  1. Don't click on pop-ups. Pop-ups advertising deals typically fail to deliver on what they promise. At best, they could be a waste of time; at worst, clicking on a pop-up ad may expose your computer to viruses or other malware.
  2. Only buy from sites that accept credit cards. Using a credit card for online purchases offers an extra layer of security for consumers. In addition, requirements that purchases be made using wire transfers or gift cards should be a red flag for consumers. If a site doesn't accept credit cards, it may be best to shop somewhere else.
  3. Watch what you search. Scammers know that consumers may use a search engine to search for items with words like "discount" and "deal" so be wary of unfamiliar sites that come up in your search results.
  4. Do some research. Search engines can be helpful, however, for double-checking the legitimacy of a website. Before making a purchase from an unfamiliar site, look up the company with the word "review" and see what (if any) experiences other shoppers may have had.
  5. Be wary of online auctions. Online auctions account for three-quarters of complaints registered with the FBI's internet division. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the site's rules and fraud policies. Avoid paying via wire-transfer or sending cash, and insist on safe shipping methods that provide tracking and shipping insurance.

Learn more about online scams, identity theft, and more at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Consumer Protection.

Related Resources:

GM Offers $25 Gift Cards for Ignition Switch Fixes

In an effort to persuade the owners of recalled vehicles to bring them in for repairs, General Motors has begun offering $25 gift cards to Amazon, Bass Pro Shops, Starbucks, and other popular merchants.

Owners of one of the estimated 1.96 million vehicles in the U.S. affected by the recall of GM cars with potentially defective ignition switches were notified of the new incentives by letter and in some cases email, reports USA Today.

Almost Half of Recalled Vehicles Remain Unrepaired

GM's gift card program is the latest unorthodox way the company has tried to compel vehicle owners to bring their recalled vehicles in for repairs. Last month, the company began attempting to contact car owners through social media platform Facebook.

Despite these attempts, the automaker reports that 45% of the recalled vehicles have yet to be repaired. This is somewhat underwhelming, considering the 30 deaths and hundreds of injuries caused by accidents linked to the faulty ignition switches that subject to the recall.

In some instances, consumers are reporting being turned away by dealers who don't have the proper parts or who falsely claim a car has already been repaired. In one case, reported by The New York Times, the daughter of a New York woman who had been denied repairs by two different GM dealers died in an accident allegedly caused by the defective ignition switch in her 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt.

Is Your Vehicle Affected by the Recall?

The ignition switch defect which led to the recall of millions of vehicles worldwide can potentially shut off all electronic power to a car while the car is in motion, disabling brakes, airbags, and the car's engine. The vehicles included in the recall include Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions, and other small cars made by GM.

If you believe your vehicle may be among the cars recalled or want to know if your vehicle is subject to other current recalls, find out by using the NHTSA's free online recall search tool using your vehicle's unique VIN number.

Related Resources:

How Do Mystery Shopper Scams Work?

Mystery shopper scams are nothing new, but consumers continue to be victimized by online job postings or mail offers for seemingly legitimate positions as mystery shoppers that turn out to be nothing more than fraud.

The latest victim of this scam is a mother of two who was looking for a way to make a little extra money, reports WTKR-TV. After filling out an online application she was "hired" for the job of mystery shopper. Unfortunately, after following the instructions sent by her new employers, she found herself on the hook for a $2,800 bad check.

How the Scam Works

As the Federal Trade Commission notes, there are legitimate mystery shoppers who evaluate the service in stores or restaurants. These job opportunities may be posted online by marketing research or merchandising companies.

However, consumers should be wary of mystery shopper job posts or help-wanted ads that require a fee to be certified as a mystery shopper or to be sent a list of mystery shopping companies. These certifications are typically worthless and the information being sold is almost always available elsewhere for free.

The more troubling variety of the mystery shopper job scam occurs when shoppers are hired to secret-shop a money transfer service such as Western Union. In this form of the scam, the victim is sent a check with instructions to deposit it in his or her own bank account, then wire a portion of the money to a third party using the service. Almost always, the check turns out to be fake, but the money that has been wired is long gone. And like the woman most recently victimized by the scam, the victim is responsible for covering the amount of the bad check.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

To avoid being victim of a mystery shopper scam, the FTC recommends keeping an eye out for these red flags:

  • Fees charged for access to mystery shopping opportunities or certifications;
  • Mystery shopper positions posted in newspaper help wanted sections or through email. In addition, the United States Postal Service has advised consumers to be aware of mystery shopper scams being perpetrated by mail; and/or
  • Companies that ask you to deposit a check and wire some or all of the money to a third party.

Consumers that believe they may have been scammed should file a complaint with the FCC and contact the attorney general's office in their states.

Related Resources: