Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

January 2017 Archives

The world we live in is not always what it seems. Simply put, just answering the phone can expose you to dangers from scam artists. The best we can all do is learn about the dangers so as to be ready to face them on a daily basis.

The "can you hear me" scam is a new scam that essentially uses the simple question in order to elicit the word "yes" from the phone call recipient. A scammer calls someone, and when the person answers, the scammer, who is recording the call, asks: Can you hear me? Once the scammer is able to record a person saying "yes," they will be able to use that recorded answer to potentially push through fraudulent credit charges either via a person's phone bill or credit card.

In our modern times of glasses made by Google, Bluetooth technology, and smart telephones, parents are increasingly wiring their children, and even their babies, up with wearable tech. While most parents and professionals would agree that being able to monitor where your child is via GPS is helpful, there is growing disagreement about wearables for babies. The market for such devices has exploded over the past few years. Now there are socks that measure a baby's pulse, pacifiers with thermometers, onsies that provide breathing a movement data, and a whole host of other types of baby-wearables that push your baby's data onto your smart phone's app.

Generally, there has been no big news story about a baby being injured due to wearable technology. In fact, one such device maker claims that in the 300,000 units his company has sold, he has not heard of a single infant death. Nevertheless, there are currently no wearable tech items for babies that are approved by the FDA. Additionally, numerous studies have been published which discourage the use of wearables for infants.

Everything seems automated these days. And the amount of data out there seems infinite. This is especially true in the investment world, where computer programs can execute trades in nanoseconds and the smallest piece of information can make the difference between profits and pitfalls. So it only seems natural that, at some point, robots would replace humans as financial advisors.

So-called "robo-advisors" are the hot new thing, and, as with any new invention, the regulators are on their way. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has, for the first time, included "electronic investment advice" on its annual list of examination priorities. So what regulations are in store for robo-advisors?

Drinkers of craft beer, take note: Sierra Nevada has issued a recall for the Midwest, East Coast, and the South on many of their popular 12-oz bottled beers. Fortunately, the recall is focused on a rather short production window, and the bottles and packaging are made in such a way that spotting a recalled Sierra Nevada is rather simple. So far, there have been no reported injuries.

Basically, there is a defect in the way one of their bottling plants was bottling their beverages. The defect could cause a little bit of the top to break off into the beer, exposing drinkers to potentially drinking broken glass, as well as flat beer.

Good news! The next time you go to wire your life savings to a prince from the country of New Africa that needs your help to claim his thousand million dollar inheritance, Western Union may not let you. As a result of a joint Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission prosecution, Western Union not only has to pay over half a billion dollars to the feds, they must implement new policies to safeguard consumers from getting scammed.

As part of the settlement, Western Union admits guilt to the criminal violations of "willfully failing to maintain an effective money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud." These crimes are related to scammers, confidence artists, and organized crime utilizing Western Union to perpetrate financial crimes. The money collected by the feds will be made available to the victims of fraud that have sent money via Western Union.

Email Scam Du Jour: Netflix

The most recent email scams making the rounds involve everyone's favorite movie streaming service, Netflix. While email scams are nothing new, the new Netflix scams, like the newest Gmail scam, have learned from the mistakes of past scams.

Scammers, in their usual style, utilize a phishing campaign, which involves sending out mass emails hoping that a couple people don't recognize the deception. However, unlike most phishing scams, where it is usually pretty easy to spot the tell-tale signs of a scam, the newest Netflix scam is much more sophisticated and difficult to detect.

The scam works like this: a person calls you up claiming to be from the state or county or court or whatever government entity, and says that you missed jury duty, which is a serious offense. Then, they tell you to pay some amount now over the phone, or else you'll face some sort of penalty, like public humiliation or being arrested or larger fines. The amounts vary with reports indicating some scammers demanding as little as a hundred dollars, while others demand over a thousand. Also, notably, this scam has gone digital and is also perpetrated via email.

Generally, if you miss jury duty, or are in legal trouble, you are not going to get a phone call. Maybe if you were actually selected to serve on a jury and you don't show up, or you mouth off to a judge on your first day of service, you might get a call from an upset judge or frustrated bailiff, and get in some real trouble.

However, it is highly unlikely that you'll get a call if you fail to show up for jury duty, and even more unlikely that the caller would demand money. Also, if you do get a call from law enforcement, or a government official, generally, they will want you to come in to the official location, like the court, police station, or city hall, rather than just pay money over the phone.

When it comes to child safety, parents tend to pull out all the stops ... or maybe parents are the ones actually putting in all the stops. Regardless, a recent study about baby teething toys, or chew toys, which are not regulated in the same category as baby bottles, has shown that "BPA-free" may not actually really mean BPA-free. The study showed that not only did toys labeled as "non-toxic" contain toxic chemicals, but a majority of toys labeled as "BPA-free" actually contained BPA.

The study was designed to look at whether baby teething toys contained EDCs (endocrine disruptor chemicals), BPA, and other toxic chemicals. EDCs are harmful chemicals that can affect a person's development in many ways. Because all the harmful links between BPA, EDCs, and other toxins remain unknown, some researchers suggest avoiding as many as possible.

A recently filed lawsuit in the Northern District of California Federal Court alleges that Coca-Cola engaged in unfair and deceptive marketing practices in an effort to mislead consumers. While there is no claim of tampering with the results of the Coke Versus Pepsi challenge results, the lawsuit does claim that the beverage-maker intentionally downplayed the harmful health effects of sugar in their advertising. Additionally, the suit alleges that Coca-Cola has deliberated focused marketing on children despite having pledged not to do so.

This case is part of the larger war on sugar. Makers of sugar-sweetened beverages, and food products that needlessly contain high-fructose corn syrup, have found themselves coming under increased scrutiny over the past decade as a result of the relatively new found public awareness of the dangers of sugar. The organization that filed suit specifically stated when asked about Pepsi, that they were not sued because Pepsi doesn't misrepresent the effects of sugar to consumers.

The credit reporting companies Equifax and TransUnion were fined over $20 million as a result of an order issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB found that both credit reporting companies had deceived customers by tricking them into signing up for recurring payment subscription-like services, as well as lied about the cost of their services. Additionally, the CFPB found that the companies misled consumers into thinking that the reports and scores provided were more useful than they actually were by falsely claiming that they were the same reports considered by lenders.

Equifax also violated a provision of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which required them to provide a free credit report once every 12 months. The company did provide it, but required consumers to view their advertising prior to receiving the report, which is a violation of the FCRA (which would have allowed advertising after receiving the report).