Category Archives: Consumer Protection

5 Holiday Scams to Avoid

People make more online purchases than usual during the holiday season, giving scammers increased opportunities to steal their money and information. Here are some of the sneakiest holiday scams that we’ve heard about and how to avoid them:

1.) Phony Gift Cards

If you want to buy gift cards for friends or family, the safest way to do it is to purchase them in-store. Scammers will sell them online from legitimate-looking websites or third-party sites at “discounts” or with special promotions. After you buy them, they’ll cancel the card and keep your money.

2.) Fake Public WiFi

While doing your holiday traveling, you may use free public WiFi connections to browse the web. But scammers can set up a fake WiFi connection that closely resembles a free public connection. To avoid having important information stolen, never make sensitive transactions when you’re using public WiFi.

3.) Name-a-Star Offer Continue reading 5 Holiday Scams to Avoid

Too Good to be True: Federal Grant Scams

This federal agend was a Sly Fox flickr-edenpicturesI received a very strange phone call today. My caller ID said that the number was “unavailable.” I usually ignore calls from numbers that I don’t recognize but today I was feeling froggy and decided to answer it.

An unfamiliar man’s voice with a very thick accent asked if he was indeed speaking with Ally Levise. Frowning and feeling irritated that someone was about to try and sell me something, I told him that yes, he was.

I absolutely hate telemarketing calls – I feel bad being mean to telemarketers or hanging up on them because, well, telemarketers are just trying to make a dime like the rest of us.

There’s no need to yell at them or try and ruin their day.

It’s politeness to the point of inconveniencing myself.

It’s irritating.

With my identity confirmed, the man proceeded to tell me that he was from the Federal Reserve and that I had been awarded a grant of $7,000 from the federal government.

I waited a beat, expecting him to tell me that first I had to subscribe to three different magazines.

“Okay… what do I have to do?” I humored him. Continue reading Too Good to be True: Federal Grant Scams

Consumer and Companies Working Together to Stay Safe from Cyber Fraud

Banks and other financial institutions are struggling to keep up with ever advancing technology while still protecting our money, in part because we want instant access wherever we are. But mobile banking comes with risks, especially that our information and account numbers are vulnerable without strong safeguards in place. And while the banks are continually increasing and assessing security measures, thieves are also working to learn ways around online security.

Today, millions of transactions are happening online or over mobile apps, and that brings an increase in the risk of cyber fraud, where skilled hackers can steal your information, your money and your identity.

One of the challenges banks face in protecting our accounts is that they have to keep us happy. That mean making sure we can access our own accounts with a minimum of fuss, yet we still expect the banks and other financial institutions to protect us from cyber fraud. Of course, it’s in the banks best interest to protect our money, or we might just take our business elsewhere, and they know that. It’s a fine balancing act they have, and it’s important that we play a bigger role in preventing cyber fraud.

Banks are realizing that Continue reading Consumer and Companies Working Together to Stay Safe from Cyber Fraud

DaVita HealthCare Accused of Medicare Fraud: How to Protect Yourself from Healthcare Fraud

One of the biggest dialysis clinics in the US, DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc, is facing a lawsuit for allegedly over billing Medicare for as much as $800 million dollars. The lawsuit was filed by two men, Dr. Alon Vainer and Daniel Barbir, a nurse, who worked for the company. They claim that expensive medicine was being thrown out so the company could charge Medicare for more than was actually necessary.

Once a vial of medicine has been used to withdraw a dose, the bottle must be thrown away for health and safety reasons. What the doctor and nurse are claiming is that DaVita should be using smaller vials of the medicine so less is being wasted. The company is accused to over billing Medicare for as much as $800 million.

DaVita earns over two-thirds of its income from Medicare from its 2,000 dialysis clinics nationwide. Nonetheless, after investigating the allegations against the company, the federal government declined to pursue charges, although they stated that didn’t mean the company was innocent. If the two men win the case, they could receive millions of dollars, although the government would get the bulk of any judgment against the company.

How you can protect yourself from Medicare fraud

Medicare fraud is surprisingly common, and the government doesn’t have the resources to pursue every allegation, so they depend on whistleblower lawsuits like this one to catch companies defrauding the government. You can help protect your Medicare benefits from being abused to, although on a more personal level.

Steps you can take to prevent Medicare fraud Continue reading DaVita HealthCare Accused of Medicare Fraud: How to Protect Yourself from Healthcare Fraud

Keep the Change, You Filthy Animal: Home Security Tips From Kevin McAllister

In the iconic 1990 John Hughes-produced film, “Home Alone,” eight-year-old Kevin McAllister is accidentally left behind when his family frantically takes off for a Christmas vacation in Paris. While his mother desperately tries to get home to her unattended son, Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, has to defend the family’s home from a pair of blundering burglars, Harry and Marv. Kevin’s creative security devices and traps are hilarious and inventive and end up saving the day.

“Buzz, I’m Going Through All Your Private Stuff! You’d Better Come Out and Pound Me!”

Today, more than two decades later, the type of scenario in “Home Alone” could be solved instantly with cell phones, Internet, high-tech security and other technologies. Unfortunately, we also have more to worry about, like the valuable information stored on our phones and computers. While home security has come a long way over the years, we can still take a page out of Kevin’s book when it comes to protecting our homes, along with utilizing the tools we have today.

“This is My House, I HAVE to Defend It!”

Kevin tried to keep the bad guys out with rigged doors, creative traps and psychological confusion. Before realizing Kevin was left behind, his mother, Kate, tries to remember anything she forgot like turning off the lights and shutting the garage door. Thankfully, home security today isn’t so exhausting. The newest security technology even lets you turn off lights, lock doors and even see into your home when you’re not there. A resource from the LifeShield home security systems blog suggested using alarm sensors not just on your doors and window, but within your home as well. They can sound an alarm and/or send a text message to your phone. Many security companies offer apps that you can easily access your settings and monitor your home.

“When I Grow Up and Get Married, I’m Living Alone!”

Although we have many conveniences today when it comes to protecting our home and family, make sure you prepare for any situation. Talk to your kids about what to do in emergencies. In “Home Alone,” although Kevin was only eight, he obviously had the sense not to answer the door to strangers and to call the police (eventually). Talk with your family about emergency plans and teach your kids how to make emergency calls and how to set the alarm system. Keep phone numbers, addresses, medical information, etc. easily accessible and visible for everyone in case something unfortunate happens.

“Had Enough? Or are You Thirsty for More?”

To keep Harry and Marv from pilfering his family’s valuables, Kevin came up with some creative schemes to hold them at bay. He strung together cardboard cut-outs and played loud music to make it look like a party was going on. He even played a violent movie to scare the burglars into thinking there were already thieves inside the house. Realistically you don’t have to come up with such elaborate hoaxes, but you still might want to take a cue from this crafty kid. Leaving a light on and maybe some music or the television can make robbers second guess if someone is home or not. Again, home automation is a convenient development that can save you from a break-in and also save energy. You can use a single screen to control alarms, water sprinklers, lights, heating and air conditioner, according to

“It’s Only My Imagination, It’s Only My Imagination.”

If you have a bad feeling, don’t disregard it; go with your gut. In the movie, Harry poses as a police officer to get invited into the McAllister’s home and learn about their trip. This gave him information he needed in order to plan a heist. If you are suspicious, take measures to ease your mind. Unlike in the early 90’s, there are simple Internet sites that give you background checks instantly. If there is an instance of you inviting a stranger into your home, even a maintenance person, maid or babysitter, you have the right to know their history. Sites like Angie’s List and are good resources when looking to hire someone you can trust. In this digitally dependent age, information is key.

Traveling for the holidays? Prevent Credit Card Fraud and Save Money

The holiday season is one for joyful celebration, thankfulness, and traveling to visit loved ones. During your travels, you might be tempted by a low posted price at the gas station, but make sure to pay attention to what your fuel is really costing you.

Debit and Credit Cards Can Increase Prices

Often, fuel prices posted on the main signs show the cash only price, and the station could charge as much as 10-15 cents more per gallon for the convenience of swiping your card at the pump. While stations are required to post the increased price of credit and debit card transactions, the label is usually as small as a normal 4×6 photograph!

Gas stations often will put a hold on your card when you swipe for fill-up, and this can be as much as $75 for several days. You can avoid the hold if you go inside and specify how much you want the card run for.

You can avoid the higher cost by using only cash, or you can purchase prepaid cards from the gas station before you go. If you do opt to buy the prepaid cards, make sure to map out your route and make sure you’ll be able to find those stations along your route.

Be Watchful For Signs of Fraud

Electronic skimmers have been around for a long time, but the devices are well camouflaged and often pass unnoticed. Thieves install the small devices into existing card readers, which collect card information whenever a card is swiped. Don’t use any card reader that appears to be loose or damaged, and look out for signs of tampering. Going inside to pay minimizes the risk of having your card numbers stolen by these devices.

Some gas stations have added special stickers that are designed to show if a pump or card reader has been tampered with, so be sure to pay attention to these also.

Cash is Safest

Not only will cash get you the low price that attracted your business in the first place, but it will protect your identity and avoid problems with your accounts being overcharged or overdrawn. It might be inconvenient to go inside to pay, but it’s far better than the work of repairing your identity.

Your holiday travel plans don’t have to increase your risk of credit card fraud or identity theft. With a little pre-planning and a healthy dose of caution, you can enjoy your trip and protect your good name.


Safer Online Shopping: Tips for Protecting Yourself This Holiday Season

With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, many shoppers are planning to shop online. Online shopping can net you some great deals, but it can also lead to identity theft. With a little caution, you can protect yourself and still get great deals!

How to Protect Yourself

Ideally, the least amount of personal information you share is best, which is why using prepaid cards works well. You can purchase these cards in most stores, either with cash or credit. They aren’t connected to any of your personal accounts, so they limit the amount of information a hacker can access about you.

If you do use your credit or debit cards online, don’t wait for your bank and credit card statements to come in the mail. Log on often to check for any charges you haven’t authorized, and if you see questionable activity, even for a small amount, call the bank or credit card company right away. Thieves sometimes do a test run with a small purchase to see if they can get away with it before really racking up the bill. The faster you catch them, the less damage you will have to work to undo.

One of the easiest ways to protect your information is to use better passwords. Your password should be difficult to guess, and shouldn’t use personal information like names and birthdays. Also, use a unique password at each site you use so that if one is compromised, only that site is affected.

Use only sites you trust when shopping online. Nearly every big name store has a website now, making it easier than ever to shop online without going to questionable vendors. Just be sure to verify the site address is correct, because hackers can make some pretty clever copies and fool shoppers by using a slight variation in the URL.

Avoid deals that promise too much for too little. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Deals that offer you expensive things for almost nothing are usually a phishing attempt to get your information. No, you most likely can’t get an iPad free, and these are usually scams to try to part you from your money and personal info.

Finally, use a quality anti-virus and malware program. Not keeping your computer protected exposes anything you do on it to possible thieves, meaning they can track your every digital movement. There are several quality programs that can protect your computer, even some that are free, and they can save you a big headache. Not only will preventing malware from infecting your computer help you protect your information, but it can also keep your computer running.

Tips for avoiding Sandy scams by so-called repairman and contractors

Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars worth of damage. If you’re one of the unfortunate homeowners to be affected, you need to be careful when looking for someone to rebuild or repair your home. There are a lot of corrupt contractors looking to make a quick buck by scamming those affected by the hurricane. This can make a bad situation even worse. Let’s take a closer look at what to look out for when hiring a contractor and how to find the best contractor for the job.

What to Look Out For

First of all, you want to make sure a contractor is licensed and has experience. This doesn’t guarantee that the contractor won’t rip you off, but it will give scammers pause when you ask to see credentials. You also want to watch out for contractors that ask for a complete upfront payment. A legitimate contractor will not do this. You may be asked to pay 10-25% of the total up front, but never 100-percent. Scammers are also very likely to point out damage that needs immediate attention. Don’t let this fool you. The contractor is only trying to get your money. Always get more than several opinions when getting work done. You should also be wary of contractors offering prices well below other estimates you’ve received. Remember, if it sounds too good be to be true, it probably is. Last, but not least, understand how long projects will take and how much they will cost. If a contractor says he can replace the roof in less than one day for $500, run! (And we don’t mean straight into the contractors arms)

What to Look for in a Contractor

Chances are the contractors in your area are in high-demand, especially if the damage in your area was severe. This means you may have to wait up to a week or longer to get estimates, but you should get several before moving forward. A good contractor will be able to look at your home and give you a list of work that needs to be done along with a price rundown and a final estimate. A good contractor should also be able to provide a good list of references. However, you need to do more research to find out if you’re making the best decision. Ask for referrals from friends and family who have had work done in the past and search websites that review local contractors.

The damage from a hurricane can be devastating. Unfortunately, scammers can make the experience much worse. If you’ve experienced damage to your home, make sure you make an informed decision before hiring a contractor.

5 Steps To Safely Buy Or Sell A Used Computer

Our computers and mobile devices increasingly carry our whole lives—work files, personal photos, tax information, and more. This makes used computers a powerful tool for opportunistic cyber-criminals; but there are ways to keep yourself and your data safe when it’s time to swap out your old computer. Here are a few rules to follow, whether you’re buying or selling, so you can move forward with confidence.

1. Never throw an old computer away

Not only are landfills a prime target for identity thieves, but most computers contain extremely toxic chemicals that can leach into groundwater. If your old computer is unusable and not worth the trouble of selling, drop it off at a local e-waste processing facility. They’ll responsibly dispose of the chemicals, recover valuable metals from the computer’s components, and ensure that the device is destroyed so that any residual information is completely unrecoverable.

2. Back up your data

Before scrubbing your old computer, make sure to back up all of your files—you might be surprised at what you find yourself needing later on, and hard disk space is getting cheaper every day. For this reason, you should try to keep your computer’s data organized, so you can just grab a few folders and transfer them to a flash drive in the event of sudden computer trouble. Just remember to wipe the flash drive once you’ve transferred the files to your new computer—having your backup on a portable device that you carry around regularly is a recipe for identity theft.

3. Carefully read any paperwork from a computer retailer

Just like buying a car, new is safer than used, so carefully read any contracts or agreements you’re asked to sign when buying a used computer. In many cases, small retailers may not accept any responsibility for malware that might be left over from the previous owner, so you won’t have any recourse if a registry key infection or other deep-rooted malware causes financial harm. To be safe, take the new device to a computer specialist you trust, and have them give it a thorough wipe. Make sure that the cost of these security measures doesn’t offset the savings from going used—sometimes you’re better off just looking for new laptops for sale online.

4. Don’t just reformat your hard drive

If you intend to sell your computer, reformatting your hard drive is a good way to make your personal information less accessible to identity thieves, but it isn’t foolproof—skilled specialists can often recover credit card numbers, account numbers, and passwords even from a reformatted hard drive. For the best possible results, AutoClave or DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) are the best freeware erasure options. If you want a software provider that guarantees their work, you’ll have to find a paid option, but DBAN and AutoClave are extremely secure.

5. Be wary of used computers with pre-installed software

You should be careful about any used computer with “free” software, particularly if you’re buying the computer from a private party online. A deal that seems too good to be true may be a Trojan horse for virus authors to access your personal information. A used computer that seems way beneath the price range for models with comparable specifications should raise red flags. Having said that, you can safely purchase almost any working computer as long as you completely clean it out before using it. For best results, install the erasure software from a flash drive or via a public wireless network to avoid passing malware to other devices connected to your home network.

Buying or selling a used computer can be a great option. When it’s time for an upgrade, practice good identity protection by keeping these security tips in mind.


Patricia Shuler is a staff writer from Oakland, California. She’s an admitted tech-junkie who’s quick to share her honest opinion on all things consumer electronic—including up-to-date news, user reviews, and “no holds barred” opinions on a variety of social media, tech, computer, and mobile accessories topics.

FBI Warns Of Superstorm Sandy Donation Scams

Father saves son from Hurricane Sandy.Hurricane Sandy absolutely ravaged the east coast, but there are scammers out there that are hoping to ravage your bank account. While donating to the cleanup and recovery efforts is certainly a good thing, the government is warning people to watch out for scams. If you want to help the recovery efforts, there are legitimate ways to do so.  Find out how to avoid Sandy-related scams and how you can help Sandy victims without getting caught in a “storm” of theft, fraud and hoaxes.

What to Watch Out For

There are a number of scams being sent through email. If you receive an unsolicited email asking for donations to help the victim of hurricane Sandy, there’s a good chance it isn’t real. These emails have been arriving from people claiming to be victims and even from those claiming to be elected officials. Scammers are also using social networking sites to lure in those that want to help those in need. If you live close to an affected area, you may even be approached on the street or at your home. Be wary of those asking for cash donations and never give out personal or financial information.

How to Help Continue reading FBI Warns Of Superstorm Sandy Donation Scams