Breyault and Amazon’s Alyssa Betz discuss policing fake reviews and counterfeits

 

By NCL Staff

 

This week, John Breyault, our Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud, sat down with Amazon’s Director of Public Policy, Alyssa Betz. On this episode of NCL’s We Can Do This! podcast, Alyssa and John discussed fake reviews, Amazon’s product liability, and more. This has been the latest collaboration between Amazon and NCL in our partnership towards improving consumer safety and online experiences.  

Fake Reviews 

With users increasingly relying on user reviews to make buying decisions, having access to trustworthy reviews is critical for consumers. Last month, Amazon sued a group of review brokers who were allegedly paying for fake reviews at large scale. In addition to discussing the suit, Betz outlined some of the steps they have taken to ensure that user reviews are trustworthy and accurately reflect consumers’ experiences. 

Counterfeits 

Given the vast number of products sold through nearly two million sellers worldwide, Amazon has an enormous responsibility to ensure consumer safety. Alyssa discussed some of the measures Amazon has taken to reduce criminals’ ability to operate on their platform, including investing over $700 million and employing more than ten thousand people to protect its store from fraud and abuse, including counterfeit products.

To hear the full episode, including John and Alyssa’s conversation about product liability and how to spot those phony Amazon delivery phishing texts, click here. 

If you have received suspicious communications or packages claiming to be from Amazon, you can find Amazon’s support page here. 

Annual fraud report highlights crypto insecurity

By Eden Iscil, Public Policy Associate

Earlier this month, NCL’s Fraud.org project released its annual Top Ten Scams report. After collecting thousands of consumer complaints, we sorted through the data to share the major trends from the past year. We saw some interesting trends! 

As the pandemic has entered its third calendar year, notable patterns included median dollar losses from fraud reaching a 10-year high and investment-related scams increasing by almost 170 percent, likely due to the rising popularity of cryptocurrency. So, consumers who lose money to scams are losing more of it. And cryptocurrency-related scams are something we all need to start paying attention to. 

These are the top ten scams reported to Fraud.org in 2021: 

  1. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts  
  2. Internet: General Merchandise  
  3. Phishing/Spoofing  
  4. Fake Check Scams  
  5. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles  
  6. Investment: Other (incl. cryptocurrency scams)  
  7. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers  
  8. Family/Friend Imposter  
  9. Computers: Equipment/Software (incl. tech support scams)  
  10. Scholarships/Grants 

The categories with the highest median losses were fake check scams at $2,000 and investment scams at $1,750. 

Focus: Cryptocurrency driving investment fraud 

Fake check scams have often scored near the top on our annual trend reports, but investment scams jumped several ranks, more than doubling their share of consumer complaints. Given the explosive growth of cryptocurrency usage in 2021, the emerging market likely provided an opening for fraudsters to take advantage of still-developing regulations and a lack of consumer knowledge about these new forms of investing.  

Fraud.org’s data appears to take the same shape as trends from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which had reported a ten-fold increase in cryptocurrency fraud. The FTC’s data spotlight on cryptocurrency scams also included a median loss of $1,900, a figure further demonstrating the heightened risk that consumers face within this sphere. Unfortunately, consumer protections in cryptocurrency usage are largely a patchwork of state-by-state rules, with some trading regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

Notably, Bitcoin and Ethereum (the two most popular cryptocurrencies) have so far been exempt from the SEC’s strictest oversight requirements, as it is considered a commodity rather than a security. The lack of comprehensive, nationwide protections coupled with the fact that these coins exist to be anonymous, instant, and irreversible creates an unsafe environment for consumers—especially ones who may be entering this space for the first time.  

Although media buzz has generated a lot of interest in crypto, with reports often centered on the potential for eye-popping returns, these articles do a disservice to readers if they don’t include the risks involved. Market volatility, a lack of consumer protections, and environmental damage only scratch the surface when it comes to hazards related to virtual currencies. These liabilities can be minimized by sticking with traditional forms of payment and investment—pending comprehensive regulation of digital coins. 

The full Top Ten Scams Report for 2021 can be found here. Additionally, Fraud.org’s February Fraud Alert includes great tips to help consumers better protect themselves against 2021’s top scams. 

Report: Fraud losses hit 10-year high in top scams report

Fast-growing investment scams linked to cryptocurrency

February 1, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org or (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—Being a fraud victim in 2021 was likely to cost more money than at any time in the last 10 years, according to a new report from the National Consumers League (NCL), which runs Fraud.org. In 2021, the median fraud loss reported to the NCL Fraud.org campaign hit a 10-year high of $800, according to the organization’s annual Top Ten Scams Report. Although the percentage of complaints involving financial loss (41.49 percent) took a slight dip from the previous year (47.48 percent), consumers who lost money reported losing it in greater amounts.  The median loss by victims was up $150 in 2021, according to the organization, which analyzed more than 4,300 complaints filed by consumers online, over the phone, and via postal mail.

“What this data tells us is that scammers are getting better at extracting more money from their victims,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud and the director of the Fraud.org campaign. “We remain concerned that consumers facing economic difficulty and isolation from friends and loved ones due the pandemic are creating fertile ground for crooks.”

The top complaint category reported to Fraud.org in 2021 was bogus prizes, sweepstakes, and “free” gifts. Complaints about such scams made up more than one in three (35.23 percent) complaints captured at Fraud.org, an increase of 48 percent year-over-year. Echoing data recently released by the Federal Trade Commission, the fastest-growing type of scam reported to Fraud.org was investment related, particularly those involving cryptocurrencies. Complaints about these scams more than doubled in 2021 (168 percent year-over-year increase).

Top scams reported to Fraud.org in 2021

  1. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
  2. Internet: Gen Merchandise
  3. Phishing/Spoofing
  4. Fake Check Scams
  5. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
  6. Investments: Other (incl. cryptocurrency scams)
  7. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
  8. Family/Friend Imposters
  9. Computers: Equipment/Software (incl. tech support scams)
  10. Scholarships/Grants

“We hear heartbreaking stories from fraud victims nearly every day,” said James Perry, NCL’s consumer services coordinator. “While these statistics are sobering, behind each one of them are real people,  some of whom have lost their life savings to criminals promising easy money to their victims.”

The goal of most fraudsters is, ultimately, to get paid. In 2021, consumers most frequently told Fraud.org that fraudsters were after their credit card information. However, complaints noting other payment methods such as gift cards, cryptocurrencies, and peer-to-peer payment apps continued to grow in popularity among scammers. In 2021, complaints involving such payment methods increased by nearly half (45.28 percent) year-over-year.

“We are very concerned that scammers are increasingly adopting new payment methods, many of which offer few—if any—consumer protections,” said Eden Iscil, NCL public policy associate. “This new data should serve as a wake-up call to federal regulators that it is past time to close the loopholes in federal consumer protection law that allows these scams to proliferate.”

To view the full 2022 Top Ten Scams report, click here.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL applauds decisive action by CFPB against fraudulent payments processor

January 19, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org or (412) 945-3242

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded action taken by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to hold payments processor BrightSpeed accountable for facilitating payments known to be associated with fraudulent tech support schemes. The Bureau, a critical safeguard for consumers nationwide, has banned BrightSpeed and its founder from participating in multiple financial service industries, including payment processing. Fraudulent tech support scams have been significant source of complaints that NCL receives via its Fraud.org website.

The following statement is attributable to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

“BrightSpeed processed payments for companies that took advantage of victims, especially senior citizens. They continued to serve scammers despite being aware of nearly 1,000 consumer complaints against their clients, as well as multiple inquiries from banks and law enforcement. BrightSpeed is not alone in this; many other financial institutions are also aware that they are being used to facilitate fraudulent activity. Given the massive spike in fraud since the beginning of the pandemic, we must tackle the problem by addressing all entities involved — especially the financial institutions.

“We hope that today’s action by the CFPB reflects a greater shift towards holding not just fraudsters accountable, but also the financial institutions that enable these crimes. Today’s settlement should serve as wakeup call that looking the other way while fraudsters take advantage of financial services platforms will not be tolerated under the Bureau’s new leadership.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly accelerated the growth of e-commerce…

A step forward on privacy legislation

By Sarah Robinson, Public Policy Manager

Earlier this monthNCL joined other consumer advocates and industry stakeholders in an event to highlight our consensus that Congress must act to create strong federal consumer privacy rights urgently. We joined colleagues at the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, the Business Software Alliance, and Common Sense Media in calling on Congress to commit to passing comprehensive privacy legislation by the end of the 117th Congress. In a virtual press conference, the groups, along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) agreed that Congressional action to strengthen consumers’ privacy rights is long overdue.   

The Washington Post Editorial Board highlighted our event stating, “the surprising degree of consensus around not only the general necessity of nationwide data protections but also the particulars” makes taking action a “no-brainer.” recent poll from Morning Consult revealed 80 percent of both Democrats and Republicans said Congress should make privacy a “top” or “important” priority in 2021.

There is bipartisan consensus and agreement from organizations across the spectrum that Congress must act. NCL’s message at the event is that it is now time to craft legislation that gives consumers back control over their personal data. At the event, Rep. Schakowsky, the chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, announced her intention to hold a series of bipartisan roundtable discussions to examine ways to pass comprehensive privacy legislation. NCL is ready and eager to participate in those conversations to help ensure that a comprehensive bill gives all consumers strong, enforceable privacy rights.  

While passing legislation this Congress is a priority, NCL made clear that we are not going to simply bargain away long held principles on data privacy. NCL believes that in order to protect the privacy and security of consumers’ personal data, the legislation must not preempt stronger state laws, must include strong enforcement provisions, including a private right of action and provide consumers with strong substantive privacy rights. The right legislation will include effective enforcement mechanisms that safeguard privacy rights for consumers and enshrine rules of the road for businesses.  

We applaud Reps. Schakowsky and Bilirakis, and Sen. Blumenthal for their leadership antheir commitment to continue fighting for comprehensive privacy legislation. We hope to continue to cooperate with this esteemed group as we work to achieve our shared goal. 

NCL calls on Congress to protect consumers in wake of Supreme Court ruling in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC

April 23, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org(202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) is deeply disappointed with today’s Supreme Court ruling in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission. For decades, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has relied on section 13(b) of the FTC Act to seek restitution for victims of fraud. The court’s decision in this case undermines that authority, making it significantly more difficult for the Commission to provide relief to consumers who are defrauded by scam artists and companies engaged in unfair or deceptive business practices.

The following statement is attributable to NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud John Breyault:

The Court today put the interests of a convicted scammer above the needs of fraud victims. We are incredibly disheartened at the decision to deprive the FTC of one of its most effective tools for clawing back criminals’ ill-gotten gains. This decision will embolden the criminals who annually defraud millions of consumers, costing them billions of dollars and untold emotional damage. We hear practically every day from victims of scams whose financial lives have been ruined by scammers. Consumer need and deserve a consumer protection agency empowered to make them whole. Congress should urgently pass legislation restoring the FTC’s 13(b) authority to obtain compensation on behalf of fraud victims.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

NCL statement on congressional demand that the Biden Administration investigate competition and consumer protection abuses in the live event industry

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org(412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org(202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded action by leaders of the House Commerce and Judiciary Committees calling on the Biden Administration to more actively enforce antitrust laws in the live events ticket marketplace. In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Acting Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Rebecca Slaughter, Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ-06), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09) and David Cicilline(D-RI-01) signed a letter urging the Administration to more aggressively police antitrust violations in the live event industry and, specifically, to revisit the Department of Justice’s 2010 consent order which allowed the Live Nation-Ticketmaster merger to move forward, and launch an investigation of Live Nation Entertainment’s potentially unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive conduct. The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud:

“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and live events begin again, we must use this moment to address longstanding competition and consumer protection issues in the live event industry. The Live Nation Entertainment conglomerate controls 80 percent of primary ticket sales while holding significant market share in other areas of the live event industry, including venue ownership, event promotion, artist management, and secondary ticket sales. We urge the Biden Administration to heed Congress’ demand for stronger antitrust scrutiny of the live event industry and Live Nation Entertainment, in particular. Reining in the abuses of a rigged ticketing marketplace is a critically necessary step to restore fairness for live event fans.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

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Annual Fraud.org report shows link between COVID-19, recession, and scammers preying on Americans

Watchdog group’s annual report tracking trends out today 

For immediate release: February 1, 2021

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—An analysis of the scams most frequently reported by consumers in 2020 tells the story of economic downturn, social isolation, pandemic fears, and opportunistic criminals, according to a new report released today by the National Consumers League’s (NCL) Fraud.org campaign. Through the Fraud.org website, NCL collects complaints from consumers about suspected and confirmed fraud incidents, tracks trends, and shares the data with law enforcement. 

The report’s findings note the pandemic’s impact on fraud trends, including increases in “get rich quick” schemes and predatory scams of the heart. The number of complaints received at Fraud.org regarding bogus prizes, sweepstakes, and free gifts nearly doubled year-over-year. Another pandemic scam trend: a notable increase (30 percent) in romance scams, which experts at Fraud.org are linking to the social isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic and Americans turning to online communication for companionship. 

“The COVID recession has fueled a rise in get-rich-quick schemes and romance scams,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud and the new report’s author. “The pandemic created a perfect storm for criminals: millions out of work and struggling with new financial hardship; people forced to isolate and seek companionship online; and incredible uncertainty about the future. Last year was a good year to be a con artist.” 

With many of the conditions from 2020 still in place, the consumer watchdog is cautioning consumers against the most common scams that plagued Americans last year.  

“While the exact pitch differs from scam to scam, there are red flags that consumers should consider,” said Breyault. “A request to send money to someone you’ve never met in person is almost always a scam. Another tried-and-true tactice scammers use is to create a false sense of urgency to get victims to send money before they stop and think. The best advice we can give to consumers is to stop, think, and talk to a friend or loved one before you send money.” 

In 2020, consumers submitted more than 5,700 complaints to Fraud.org. Forty-three percent of complaints reported a monetary loss, with the median loss of $1,628.  

Top Ten Scams of 2020 

  1. Internet: Gen Merchandise 
  2. Phishing/Spoofing 
  3. Fake Check Scams 
  4. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles 
  5. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts 
  6. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers 
  7. Computers: Equipment/Software 
  8. Internet: Auctions 
  9. Investments: Other (note in comments) 
  10. Internet: Extortion 

Other topline findings from the report include:  

New fraud entered top ten: extortion scams. 

 “As the pandemic and the recession continue to grind on in 2021, we are paying special attention to so-called ‘Internet extortion’ scams, which entered the top ten scams for the first time last year,” said Breyault. Such scams fall in to two broad sub-categories. The first category are “sextortion” scams, where consumers receive a message where the scammer threatens to release embarrassing photos, videos, or other personal information to the victims’ friends and family. The second sub-category involves “psychic” services, where the scammer claims to had discovered that a “curse” or other tragic event is about to befall the victim. Only by paying a significant fee can the victim have the “curse” lifted.  

Younger consumers and seniors are being targeted more frequently.  

The percentage of complaints received from consumers aged 26-65 decreased by an average of 8.76% in 2020.  By comparison, complaints from consumers aged 25 and below and those 65 and older increased by an average of 30.60% and 15.82%, respectively versus 2019. For consumers aged 25 and under, the top three most reported fraud categories were Internet merchandise scams, fake check scams, and romance scams. For those 65 and older, the top complaint categories were prize/sweepstakes scams, phishing/spoofing, and Internet merchandise scams.  

The Web and the telephone remain scammers’ preferred contact methods. 

With email spam filters growing increasingly successful at blocking out scam emails, fraudsters continued to turn to the Web and the telephone to find victims. Those two contact methods were mentioned in more than 81% of the complaints. “This highlights the need for consumers to be wary when responding to messages from unknown senders, particularly those encountered on social media,” said Breyault. “Consumers should also continue to be on guard for unknown callers seeking to offer them prizes or other inducements to send money.”  

Read the full 2020 Top Scams report from NCL.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.