Tag Archives: fraud

That Get Rich Quick Scheme Is A Scam!

While trawling the Internet for part-time jobs in September after being furloughed from her travel company in March, Sumathi Rao, a New York-based travel agent, spotted a job offer in her FB newsfeed she could not pass up. It seemed too good to be true

The Fouray Foundation (account now suspended) had an opening for a Fundraising Assistant. Their pitch was promising.  She could work from home. Her responsibilities would include helping her manager Didiane Marcheterre (possibly an alias), write to donors for contributions. Funds from the charitable foundation would supposedly support non-profit hospitals, medical workers, and healthcare projects. The salary, at $1000 a week, thought Rao, would nicely supplement the $300 lost wages assistance New York state benefit offered to eligible workers looking for jobs.  It would serve as a cushion until the pandemic eased off and her old job, hopefully, was reinstated.

Fouray Foundation letter

So Rao contacted Fouray. A follow-up message invited her to send her resume and ask questions about ‘the excellent option’ posted in the ad.

After a promising interview with Marcheterre, Rao was set to go. All she needed to do next said Fouray, was to buy ‘bitcoins’ from an ATM, so they could ‘deposit money in her account’ via a direct deposit authorization.  The odd request raised an alarm bell. Rao says she trusted her instinct and responded with a firm no. And that was that.

When recounting her experience with former colleagues at her travel agency, Rao discovered that several of them had also been approached by Fouray. A little more digging revealed complaints filed by other victims against the foundation for fraud. Rao promptly reported Fouray to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). An internet search on the Fouray Foundation will now only produce an ‘Account Suspended’ message.

With record unemployment inflicted by the economic downturn and job losses, people like Sumathi Rao are simply looking to make ends meet. Scammers are taking advantage of their desperation with false promises of making money in the financial crisis, warned attorneys from the FTC at an EMS ethnic media briefing on December 15.

So if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it usually is. During the pandemic, scammers are ramping up fraudulent get rich schemes across the nation. “Scammers make big promises when pitching a fake money-making opportunity,” explained Rhonda Perkins, an attorney with the FTC, “but that’s just an income illusion.”

Kati Daffan & Rhonda Perkins, FTC

Impact of Income Scams

The volume of reports to the FTC “reached the highest levels on record in the second quarter of 2020,” added Kati Daffan. In the first 9 months of 2020 alone, people reported losing more than $150 million to harmful scams.

The FTC has joined forces with federal, state, and law enforcement agencies to announce action against deceptive income scams, said Daffan, pointing out that the 15 FTC cases represented in the sweep accounted for an alleged injury of more than a billion dollars.

Who Gets Targeted?

Scams tend to target certain communities, stated Daffan, who went on to describe scams currently under investigation at the FTC. In one case, scammers were pitching fake sou-sous savings clubs and illegal pyramid schemes on social media at communities that have historically engaged with Sou Sous  –  which are rotating savings clubs originating out of West Africa and the Caribbean. They promise big payouts to individuals out of a common savings fund sponsored by trusted family and friends. The majority of people in these fake schemes end up losing considerable amounts of money said Daffan.

Another FTC case featured a scam pitched at Latina women through Spanish language TV ads, which proposed a work-from-home scheme to make money from selling luxury goods to others in their community. An investment scam called Raging Bull promised profits through secret trading techniques to older people, retirees and immigrants – they lost at least $137 million in the last three years.  Other scams targeted students, veterans and college age adults in a variety of bogus opportunities.

According to FTC data, the average loss to scam over $500 affected more people who lived in zip codes that skewed older, but when the loss to scam was less than $500, those affected tended to live in zip codes with a black majority population. But more data is required said Daffan, to fully determine who is getting affected by income illusion schemes.

Operation Income Illusion

In an effort to combat income scams the FTC has launched Operation Income Illusion. The campaign is designed to raise awareness about consumer fraud and counter the proliferation of get rich quick scams – the many pyramid and chain letter schemes – flourishing on social media.

Daffan explained that the campaign wants to alert people to soundbites and false promises used in business coaching and job scams to catch people’s attention about making money. She warned consumers to watch for options that talk about working from home or starting their own business with little time and effort. People need to be on their guard about prospective fake jobs, investment schemes, coaching courses, business offers, pyramid schemes, and reshipping scams, cautioned Daffan.

An FTC video offered additional advice on how to avoid income scams which come in many forms, and offer money-making opportunities online, through real estate, in the stock market, or by selling goods. But the most obvious sign of a scam are ones that promise megabucks if consumers use ‘their methods.’

Scam language examples from the FTC

Spot the Sham

Perkins suggested looking for absurd claims in a typical pitch that includes words and phrases like –
‘amazing wealth’
succeed online’
‘earn hundreds of dollars per hour from home’
‘what if an online millionaire offers you his entire business no strings attached’

These sort of offers only guarantee only one outcome warned Perkins – that buyers will be out of their hard-earned money. Most scams guarantee success in a short time, which is unrealistic. She urged people to do their research before investing in any income schemes, and search online using the company name with keywords like scam, complaint, and review, and to be wary of glowing testimonials that could be fake or misleading. The best course of action said Perkins, would be for consumers to simply walk away.

So Buyer, Beware. If you see one of these offers, remember that the only people getting rich are the scammers selling the system.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

HELPLINES
Report scams to www.ReportFraud.ftc.gov and if people can’t get online, call 1.877.FTC.HELP (1.877.382.4357).
To find out more about
Vaccine Scams at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/12/covid-19-vaccines-are-pipeline-scammers-wont-be-far-behind
MLM Businesses and pyramids at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0065-multi-level-marketing-businesses-and-pyramid-schemes
Sou-sous at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/08/real-or-fake-savings-club
Other resources at www.ftc.gov/languages.

 

 

Does Equifax Owe You Money?

On July 22, 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a $700 million Equifax settlement to compensate consumers affected by the largest-ever data breach in history.

The breach exposed the personal information of approximately 147 million people (almost about half the US population). Hackers stole 147 million names and dates of birth, 145.5 million social security numbers, 17.6 million email addresses, 99 million physical addresses, as well as 23.3 million telephone numbers, and 209 thousand payment card numbers and expiration dates.

Following an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, Equifax has been required to pay up to $575 million to settle cases with the FTC Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

On Tuesday, July 30, in a tele-briefing organized by the FTC and Ethnic Media Services, Jacqueline Connor, an attorney with the FTC Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, shared information on the real benefits of the settlement and how consumers can determine their eligibility to apply for claims.

The FTC started investigating Equifax after the 2017 breach and had many of the same questions that consumers across the country were asking.

What happened? How did this happen? What can we do?

The investigation was undertaken by two federal regulatory bodies across 40 states and revealed that Equifax had not been doing what it should have been doing to protect the personal information it has on millions of consumers  The FTC says it has not identified the hackers and despite the loss of information, there is no evidence of direct harm from the breach as a result of information that was accessed.

The settlement is the largest ever for a data breach and includes cash payments, identity theft protection and credit monitoring services for consumers across the 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

How to find out if you were affected by the breach?

According to Jacqueline Connor, an affected consumer is someone whose personal information was exposed in the breach – that means an individual’s name, address, social security number and other personal data were actually part of the information that the hackers got their hands on. She said the settlement offers a number of benefits to consumers that are really easy to take advantage of.

Consumers should go to the website ftc.gov/equifax and enter their last name and the last six digits of their social security number to access a tool that will determine if they were affected.

The good news for consumers is that they do not have to prove that an instance of identity theft was related to the Equifax breach, to benefit from the settlement. They simply have to prove they are affected consumers, and any identity theft they have experienced has occurred after the Equifax breach, and involved the type of information that was accessed by the breach.

How to Claim your Free Benefits

Three categories of benefits are available.

1. Free credit monitoring

Credit monitoring is a service that monitors a consumer’s credit report for any key changes and sends an alert to the consumer when it detects a change. For example, if someone moves to a new address and triggers an address change on their credit report, the service monitoring their credit report will send them an alert about the change.

Free credit monitoring is available to consumers for ten years and at least four of those years will include three-bureau credit monitoring by all three nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and Transunion. The remainder of the ten years will be single-bureau credit monitoring, which in this case would be a consumer’s Equifax report.

If a consumer discovers they have been a victim of identity theft while being covered by this credit monitoring product, they can get up to one million dollars of identity theft insurance coverage for out-of-pocket losses.

A huge benefit that’s not making the news as much, is the eighteen years of credit monitoring for minors. If a consumer was less than 18 years old when their information was exposed by the Equifax breach, they are entitled to up to eighteen years of credit monitoring, with four years of three-bureau credit monitoring and single-bureau for the remainder.

2. Cash Compensation

Consumers who already have credit monitoring can request monetary compensation up to $125. This widely reported option is very popular, but the FTC wants to highlight that only a limited amount of money has been set aside for this option. As more people enroll, the smaller the check value will be. From the FTC perspective, the value of credit monitoring far outweighs the value of the cash payment that consumers may be able to get.

Another benefit category is reimbursement for time or other cash payments. Each consumer is eligible to receive up to $20,000 for the following:

  • Time spent protecting their identity or recovering from identity theft for up to 20 hrs. @$25 an hour; (Note: there is a limit to how much money is available for this type of compensation)
  • Other reimbursable expenses include money paid as a result of the breach, such as losses from unauthorized charges to a consumer’s  account, the cost of freezing or unfreezing credit reports at other credit reporting agencies after the breach,  the cost of any credit monitoring purchased after the breach to protect personal information, fees paid to professionals  such as accountants or attorneys, and other expenses including notary fees, document shipping fees, postage, mileage and phone charges resulting from having to deal with an identity theft event.

3. Identity theft restoration services

Consumers can get free identity theft restoration services for seven years. What this means is that if a consumer experiences any fraud or think that they have, they can call this service to get help. An identity theft specialist will help with the process – whether it’s drafting letters to a bank or other government agencies or making phone calls. Consumers will not have to file a claim to get this benefit.

When Will You Get Your Benefits?

From January 2020 through December 2026, all US consumers, regardless of whether or not their data was part of the breach, will be able to get a total of seven free credit reports from Equifax for a total of seven years. Under existing law, consumers were able to get one free credit report a year from Equifax but now can get six more for free.

Why is this important? Consumers can check credit reports more frequently to ensure there are no mistakes or problems with it. For example, if someone steals an identity to open a new credit card account– that would be on the consumer’s credit report. By looking at a credit report more often, consumers can catch any misuse of their identity and act immediately to stop it.

The FTC recommends thatpeople go to ftc.gov/equifax because it has a direct link to the legitimate settlement website. Consumers can sign up to receive email update alerts as new information is uploaded.

Although the Federal Government has played a key role in the settlement, the actual benefits are being provided by a third-party administrator. Neither the FTC nor any government entity has access to the information provided by the consumer on the settlement website.

Third-party administrators have started accepting claims from the week of July 22 so consumers can apply for benefits right now. The claims period ends on January 22, 2020. Consumers who want free credit monitoring must apply by this date and should expect to get money back after that.

Consumers can opt out of the settlement if they want to pursue other forms of legal action. The FTC suggests that one other option for consumers is to freeze their credit when they are not using it, to protect themselves from identity thieves who use the credit report to open new lines of credit; under federal law as of last fall, freezing credit is free in every state.

Meera Kymal is a Contributing Editor at India Currents and is interested in creating stories and podcasts on issues that impact the South Asian community. Before joining India Currents she was Head of Content at an online digital platform.