Special message from NCL’s Fraud.org about coronavirus scams – National Consumers League

Special COVID-19 warnings: Scammers are pouncing on the opportunities presented by fear and uncertainty in our new environment. Don’t be a victim!

Fraud.orgIt’s a stressful time for consumers across the United States, with businesses closed, schools shut down, and more than a hundred million citizens under shelter-in-place orders. Unfortunately, scammers see this emergency as an opportunity to defraud consumers of hard-earned money we will all desperately need in the weeks and months ahead.

We’ve seen disturbing reports of all kinds of scams linked to the coronavirus epidemic, from sham “cures” being hawked on fly-by-night websites to phishing schemes seeking consumers’ mouseclicks with scary messages about economic collapse, and “pump and dump” schemes to get consumers to invest in coronavirus-related stocks.

With the end of the national emergency nowhere in sight, the situation with coronavirus scams is likely to get much worse before it gets better. Here at Fraud.org, we have many years of experience witnessing how scammers prey on citizens in times of disaster and distress, and we foresee challenging months ahead for consumers. But we are on your side, and we’ll be doing our best to bring you information you can use to spot and avoid these scams, as well as resources you can use to help protect your friends and family. For right now, here are some basic tips you can use to reduce your risk of becoming a victim:

  • Trust the experts. If a message you’re seeing is at odds with information being put out by trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control, Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, or your local health officials, there’s a high likelihood it’s a scam.
  • Check out this message from the FDA about Fraudulent Coronavirus Tests, Vaccines and Treatments.
  • You are likely to see messages urging you to act quickly, whether to buy a coronavirus “treatment” or send money for a can’t-miss investment. Remember that fraudsters try to get you to act before you think. Take your time.
  • In a time of social distancing, scammers will likely try to prey on consumers’ isolation to ensnare them in schemes like romance scams, lottery scams, or other scams where the criminals earn their targets’ trust over time.
  • Remember that scammers follow the headlines just like the rest of us. In particular, we expect scams promising COVID-19 stimulus checks to get more prevalent as the government’s coronavirus relief efforts ramp up.
  • The Federal Trade Commission has a wealth of information about coronavirus-related scams. Visit ftc.gov/coronavirus for up-to-date information.

NCL praises AG Barr for crackdown on COVID-19 scammers

March 25, 2020

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 applauding efforts by the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to crack down on a wave of scammers and hackers trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 outbreak by ordering U.S. attorneys offices across the country to investigate and prosecute “all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic.” NCL greatly supports the move to make this a priority.

NCL operates a fraud prevention and education program, Fraud.org, working with law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada to track trends in fraudulent activity. NCL also runs the Alliance Against Fraud, a coalition of nonprofits, government, and businesses dedicated to fraud awareness, prevention, and supporting criminal prosecution of fraudulent business practices. The League also works to advocate for science- and evidence-based claims about healthcare, foods, and dietary supplements.

As Barr noted earlier this week, “[i]n particular, there have been reports of individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud, reports of phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“AG Barr is right; we’re seeing an upsurge in phishing emails purporting to be from public health organizations offering information on the coronavirus outbreak,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “During this time of vulnerability and uncertainty, consumers shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves in determining whether the claims they are seeing are true. We are pleased that the Trump Administration is taking the risks of scammers capitalizing on this global crisis seriously.”

In his letter, the Attorney General also pointed to recent reports about “malware being inserted onto mobile apps designed to track the spread of the virus.” Last week, an Android app called “COVID-19 Tracker App” surfaced. It’s actually a piece of ransomware designed to lock down access to a consumer’s phone.

“NCL continues to work to fight fraud, protect consumers, and collaborate with law enforcement to track and prosecute those who prey upon our citizens,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud John Breyault. “Now more than ever, consumers need allies and watchdogs on their side to help protect them from predatory opportunists.”

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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.

Imposter scams drive big increases in phishing and spoofing complaints in annual top ten scam report

February 27, 2020

At the start of National Consumer Protection Week 2020 (March 1-7), watchdog group issues warning about most common scams plaguing Americans 

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

Washington, DC—Consumers on the receiving end of scary calls and emails claiming that the government is coming after them drove a big increase in phishing and spoofing complaints to the National Consumers League’s Fraud.org campaign in 2019, according to the organization’s annual Top Ten Scams report issued today. With National Consumer Protection Week 2020 kicking off this weekend and being observed next week (March 1-7), the national consumer watchdog org is cautioning consumers against imposter frauds and the other most common scams that plagued Americans in 2019. 

In 2019, consumers submitted 5,647 complaints to Fraud.org. Fifty-three percent of complaints reported a monetary loss; the median loss reported was $749. 

In 2019, the percentage of complaints Fraud.org received about scams involving phishing or spoofing nearly tripled versus the previous year. NCL attributes the increase to the high number of imposter scam calls that consumers reported receiving. Scammers reportedly impersonated government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, and USCIS, and some of these criminals even claimed to be representatives of the National Consumers League.  

“Scammers know all too well that impersonating a government agency and threatening consumers is one of the best ways to get victims to pay up, and they depend on authentic-looking emails or spoofing Caller ID to get victims to pay attention to their threats,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud and the new report’s author. “The best advice for consumers is to remember that a government agency will never reach out to you via email or telephone to demand money, so hang up or delete. If you’re worried about back-taxes, your immigration status, or a debt you may owe, look up the phone number for the bank or government agency yourself and call to check. Don’t take the word of someone on the phone making threats.” 

Top Ten Scams of 2019

  1. Internet: Gen Merchandise
  2. Fake Check Scams
  3. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
  4. Phishing/Spoofing
  5. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
  6. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
  7. Investment Related
  8. Computers: Equipment/Software
  9. Employ Agency/Job Counsel/Overseas Work
  10. Internet: Info/Adult Services

Other topline findings from the report include: 

Romance scams and friendship swindles on the rise in 2019. 

The percentage of complaints involving romance scams increased by nearly 50 percent versus 2018. This is especially worrisome considering that romance scams tend to be among the most expensive type of fraud for victims. 

Web remains most common place scammers are finding victims. 

While the telephone was the method of first contact used by scammers in nearly a third of complaints to Fraud.org in 2019, the Internet remains the most likely place for complainants to have encountered a scammer. Almost 45 percent of complaints to Fraud.org in 2019 said that they first encountered a scammer on the Web. 

Wire transfer no longer scammers’ top choice of payment method. 

After many years of wire transfer being the payment method of choice by scammers, credit cards bumped wire transfers as the most frequently-reported method of payment in 2019. More than 44 percent of complainants to Fraud.org reported that their loss occurred because a scammer charged their credit card. 

Read the full 2019 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.

 

NCL applauds House passage of safety bills

December 17, 2019

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 applauds the passage by the House of Representatives of three bills to protect consumers, all of which came from the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Chairman Pallone and Subcommittee Chair Schakowsky in getting these bills through the Committee and to the House floor for passage,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “The House is taking an important in protecting Americans—especially our children—from dangerous products and protecting consumers from overseas scams.  Children are the most vulnerable consumers, and they need our advocacy. Products that prove dangerous to their health and wellbeing – like inclined sleepers and crib bumpers – should no longer be on the market, and we hope the Senate takes up these bills immediately. Thanks once again to the bipartisan efforts through the Commerce Committee and full House leadership for these important consumer protection measures.”

The House passed the following bills:

H.R. 4779, a bill to extend the Undertaking Spam, Spyware, And Fraud Enforcement With Enforcers Beyond Borders Act of 2006, reauthorizes the U.S. SAFE WEB Act, which improved the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) ability to combat unfair or deceptive acts or practices that are international in scope, through Fiscal Year 2027 and requires the FTC to issue a report to Congress describing the Commission’s use of and experience with the authority granted by the Act. 

H.R. 2647, the “Safer Occupancy Furniture Flammability Act” or “SOFFA,” adopts the California upholstered furniture flammability standard as a national flammability standard for upholstered furniture to limit exposure to toxic flame retardant chemicals. 

H.R. 3172, the “Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2019,” designates inclined sleepers for infants as banned hazardous products under the Consumer Product Safety Act. The bill was amended to include the text of H.R. 3170, the “Safe Cribs Act of 2019,” which also designates crib bumpers as banned hazardous products.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.

How consumers must respond to the security threat inside nearly every computer

Nearly two years ago, researchers revealed flaws in the chips of virtually every computer made since the mid-1990’s. The flaws—primarily found in Intel’s chips—create a vulnerability that can be exploited by allowing hackers to obtain unauthorized access to privileged information.

Since the initial exploits were first exposed, new versions have continued to be discovered—the most recent of which was found this past NovemberWhile software “fixes” have been released, they tend to reduce the speed and performance of computers—as much as 40 percent, according to some reportsIn additionsince the flaw is hardware-based, the “fix is only good until the next exploit is discovered. 

At the time of the discovery of one of the “worst CPU bugs ever found,” there was significant alarm expressed in the news as well as across the cybersecurity communitySince that timepublic attention has waned. Unfortunately, the problem has only grown worse. And while there has been considerable discussion of the impact these flaws have on businessesthe impact on consumers has been somewhat overlooked. 

That’s why NCL’s #DataInsecurity Project recently released a paper detailing the threat that these bugs—with scary names like MeltdownSpectre, and Zombieloadpose to consumers, their data, and the performance of their computers.  

Every organization or individual running a server or computer with affected hardware should take action to protect themselves. Unfortunately, consumers are less likely to know what to do or have the resources to do it, leaving them more exposed 

For example, consumers are more likely to be running older or outdated software. Consumers are also likely to keep their computers much longer than a business, making their hardware older as well. The way these flaws work, older hardware generally sees a greater slowdown when the security patches are applied. 

Additionally, the small businesses that consumers interact with may also be running “legacy” hardware or software. These businesses may not be able to afford the high cost of additional servers to offset the speed loss from the patches or of entirely replacing old systems. This difficult choice for small businesses could mean that some decide against applying patches – with potentially severe consequences for consumers’ data security.  

Google has taken preemptive steps to protect consumers, but it also warned that as a result of these security measures, “some users may notice slower performance with some apps and games.” Apple, conversely, has offered software patches but left other security measures as an “opt-in” for consumers.  

So, while consumers may not face the same type of risk as businesses, they do face a lot of challenges when it comes to addressing these exploits. Consumers already live in heightened threat environment, filled with phishing emails and computer viruses. They shouldn’t have to choose between the security of their data or the performance of their computers.  

To learn more about these issues and the best way to protect yourself, you can find NCL’s white paper here.

National Consumers League applauds the Department of Justice for bringing phone scam perpetrators to justice – National Consumers League

July 24, 2018

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), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today commended the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for its crackdown on impersonation scams targeting vulnerable Americans. Last week, following their arrest in 2017, 24 perpetrators of a phone scam in which fraudsters extorted money from victims by impersonating IRS agents, or employees of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. The following statement is attributable to James Perry, Customer Services Coordinator and John Breyault, Vice President, Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud, both of the National Consumers League:

“Imposter scams consistently rank amongst the most prevalent scams reported to NCL’s Fraud.org campaign. Last year alone, Americans lost a whopping $327 million to scammers who were impersonating individuals or government agencies. With the DOJ’s announcement that they have ended a massive operation that extorted hundreds of millions of dollars from vulnerable consumers, Americans can feel a little bit safer from a threatening phone call from a scammer. While we applaud the DOJ for this hard-won victory, we must all continue working hard to both educate consumers about this scam and redouble our efforts to put other perpetrators of this scam behind bars.”

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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 https://nclnet.org.

Imposters, information theft, and internet scams: the dangers of unregulated online pharmacies – National Consumers League

By NCL Food Policy and LifeSmarts Caleigh Bartash

With technology improving rapidly over the past few decades, online retailers have proved more convenient, reducing the market share of brick-and-mortar retailers. However, the convenience of purchasing prescription medication online or over the phone can inadvertently trap consumers in internet scams.Countless issues can arise from ordering prescription medication online. Unapproved internet dealers often evade government recognition or detection, failing to comply with drug safety regulations. Consumers can receive counterfeit, contaminated, or expired drugs. In some cases, these drugs may contain deadly opioids like fentanyl. Unauthorized medications can also have varying amounts of a medicine’s active ingredient — if they contain the correct ingredient at all.

Consumers may be attempting to access medications that they have previously been prescribed. However, they face security threats as soon as they give their personal details to an illegitimate pharmacy. These sellers have poor security protections, with leaks of sensitive customer information all too common. Illegitimate online sellers may even outright sell consumer data to scammers. Moreover, these websites can trick unsuspecting consumers into downloading viruses which further risk personal property and information.

Counterfeit drugs, unauthorized data sharing, and cyber attacks are dangerous, but now, a new threat has emerged involving counterfeit letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, the FDA released a press announcement alerting consumers to fraudulent warning letters claiming to be sent from the government. They advised that any consumer who received a warning message is likely the victim of a scam.

The July 2018 FDA press announcement is unique in that it is targeted directly to consumers. Commonly, these warning letters are used as a tool to inform the public about drug safety issues and are typically sent exclusively to manufacturers and companies creating products under their jurisdiction. FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb summarized the FDA’s policy, stating “we generally don’t take action against individuals for purchasing a medicine online, though we regularly take action against the owners and operators of illegal websites.”

What’s next for those that received a warning letter? The FDA requests that potential victims contact them with information, including pictures and scanned documents if possible, in an effort to help them investigate the scams. Consumers can use the email address FDAInternetPharmacyTaskForce-CDER@fda.hhs.gov as the primary channel for communicating with the agency about suspicious warnings.

The best way to avoid falling victim to any scam involving illegal internet pharmacies is to abstain from suspicious websites. How do you distinguish fake internet pharmacies from safe ones? The FDA offers guidance with their BeSafeRx campaign. Asking a few simple questions at the doctor’s office or calling a certified pharmacist can help consumers protect themselves. Safe online pharmacies usually offer information including address, contact information, and state license. Consumers should be wary if the pharmacy does not require prescriptions to access pharmaceutical drugs. Other warning signs include international addresses, clear spam messages, and unreasonably low prices.

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Have more questions about fraud? NCL’s Fraud.org site has prevention tips, an outlet for consumer complaints, and an experienced fraud counselor to teach you how to avoid common scams. And for those wanting to learn more about proper medication consumption, our Script Your Future initiative has helpful advice and information so you can navigate your prescriptions with the utmost confidence.

Regulations Can Save Lives, Like Ted’s – National Consumers League

Sarah Aillon, NCL internWritten by National Consumers League Intern Sarah Aillon

The Trump administration is waging war against regulations. In January, President Trump announced in his State of the Union address that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” Since entering Office, the Trump administration rolled back many environmental, and economic regulations which secure the health, safety, and security of the American people. While the Trump Administration boastfully describes these rollbacks as progress, many public protection advocates have sounded their alarms.

Earlier this June, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and Georgetown Law organized a symposium which addressed the threat deregulation poses in the Trump era. Titled, The War on Regulation: Good for Corporations, Bad for the Public, the event featured a wide range of public protection advocates, including the mother of an accident victim, professors, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Their stories prove just how critical many regulations are for individual well-being and what happens when regulations do not monitor dangerous products.

little Ted

Janet McGee, an advocate on the event’s second panel, and described the harrowing death of her 22-month-old son, Ted. In 2016, the toddler was in his room napping. When Janet went in to check on him, she found Ted under a dresser that had fallen on him. Ted was unresponsive and cold but had a faint heartbeat. McGee started CPR and then rushed him to the hospital. Tragically, the boy passed away four short hours after she first found him.

McGee’s story is not outstanding: every 17 minutes someone in the United States is injured by falling furniture, televisions or appliances. These furniture tip-overs kill a child every two weeks.

Voluntary safety standards in the American furniture industry perpetuate the high risk of furniture tip-overs. Voluntary safety standards threaten the consumer’s safety and security. A Consumer Reports investigation tested 24 dressers against the industry’s voluntary safety standards and found only six dressers met the industry’s standards. In response to their findings, Consumer Reports suggested raising the test weight for furniture tip-overs from 50 pounds to 60 pounds and to apply tests to dressers that are 30 inches high and higher. Anchoring dressers to walls with brackets and straps is an effective strategy to prevent the problem, but few consumers are aware of the need to secure their furniture from tip-overs.

Voluntary safety standards make enforcement of furniture safety difficult. Companies can pick and choose what standards they comply with. Voluntary safety standards allow product design to remain poor and increase the threat of injury and death.

Ikea dresser safety diagram

The Ikea dresser responsible for the death of Janet McGee’s son did not meet safety standards. McGee’s Ikea dresser is not the only one from the company to fail their consumers. Over the course of 19 years, 8 children have died from Ikea dressers. As stated by McGee, the longstanding effects of furniture tip-over represent an industry-wide problem. However, with voluntary safety standards, little enforcement or change occurs.

Despite the danger many dressers on the market hold, little has been done to resolve the threat. Safety standards remain voluntary instead of mandatory. “Parents should worry about their children for many reasons, but furniture falling on them should not be one of them,” said McGee. Eventually, Ikea offered to take back 29 million chests and dressers in the Malm line, but very few consumers knew about the recall. Tens of millions of the Malm dressers are thought to still be in use and unsecured today.

McGee’s tragic, cautionary tale is just one example of why consumer regulations are necessary. President Trump’s focus on slashing regulations endanger everyday people, favoring big business at consumers’ expense. Regulatory safeguards enable people to live and work safely. “Strong government rules matter. We cannot, we must not accept a government that works only for a privileged few,” Warren said.

To learn more about furniture tip-over and Janet McGee’s story, click here.

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Sarah Aillon is a rising senior at Dickinson College pursuing dual degrees in Political Science and History. She is passionate about the National Consumers League’s work and is a child labor policy intern with them this summer.