Buyer beware: seven tips for giving tickets as a holiday gift – National Consumers League

Tis the season for gift giving, and for that special sports or music fan in your life, the right tickets to the right event can make the perfect holiday gift. But shady resale sites, scammers, and restrictive tickets can put a damper on your holiday cheer, resulting in the purchase of fraudulent tickets, or even genuine tickets that make terrible gifts because they cannot be transferred to your family and friends.

These restrictions can be a major hassle. Just ask Veronica, who purchased concert tickets for her nephew, and then had to drive seven hours to New York to wait in line and get him in.

NCL has teamed up with the Fan Freedom Project to bring you six helpful tips to avoid scams, non-transferrable tickets, and other hassles that could turn your thoughtful gift into a nightmare.

1. Know what type of ticket you are buying: Just because you bought a ticket doesn’t mean you can easily give it as a present. Some events have restricted “paperless tickets, which require the buyer to show up at the venue and present the purchasing credit card and photo ID.  This means you still have to go to the event with them – or they will not be able to get in. This can be inconvenient at the very least, or even impossible if you plan to give tickets to someone who lives far away.

2. Be prepared to pay additional fees: Unlike airline fares, now required by law to include all taxes and additional fees in the advertised price of a ticket, concert and sporting events tickets are not required to include fees upfront, leaving many consumers shocked at the final price of a ticket.

3. Use Reliable sellers: Beware of fly-by-night ticket sellers. If you’re unsure about a company, check with the Better Business Bureau. If you’re buying from a ticket broker, make sure they are members of the National Association of Ticket Brokers, whose Code of Ethics requires members to adhere to basic consumer protections.

4. Pay Attention to URLs: Check any website’s URL to ensure that you don’t get duped by an imposter. Remember, even if a website looks like the official site, it may be bogus.

5. Check Your Ticket Vendor’s Guarantee Policy: For example, websites like Stub Hub, TicketsNow, Ace Tickets and All-Shows guarantee every ticket sold on their sites and will replace them or refund money to consumers if they receive wrong or invalid tickets, or if an event is cancelled. Craigslist and other online classifieds sites do not offer such guarantees; it’s “buyer beware” when shopping there.

6. Buy with a Credit Card: Regardless of where you buy tickets, be sure to use a credit card so you can dispute any unfair or unauthorized charges. Before entering your credit card information online, be sure the site has “https://” at the beginning of the website address. This means the site is encrypted and safer for use.

7. Know the Rules: Some venues limit the number of tickets you can buy.

Scammers driving away with victims’ cash in bogus car advertising schemes – National Consumers League

Car wrapper advertisements have seen recent gains in popularity among businesses and consumers, seemingly a win/win for everyone. Unfortunately, scammers have recently started to catch on to the popularity of these car advertisement programs among consumers.Drive for long enough in any good-sized city, and you’re likely to see a car that’s been wrapped in an advertisement. For businesses, these ads are a unique marketing opportunity. For consumers, getting paid to turn their car into a rolling advertisement can be a way to effortlessly earn some extra money. The deal is so appealing that waiting lists are reportedly years-long and advertisers get to be choosy about the types of cars they work with and the number of miles drivers must commit to.

Unfortunately, scammers have recently started to catch on to the popularity of these car advertisement programs among consumers. In the last month, NCL’s Fraud Center has received a number of complaints from consumers who were the victim of a variation on the fake check work-at-home scam involving these ads. (For more on fake check scams, visit

Jennifer P. from Massachusetts told us how the scam goes down. She saw an ad on Craigslist that falsely claimed Monster Energy Drink was looking for people to advertise on their cars, offering a $300 payment in return. After she emailed the contact, she was sent a check made out for $1,900, allegedly to cover the costs of both installing the advertisement and Jennifer’s payment. She was instructed to cash the check, take out her payment and wire the remainder to the “support team” for the advertising campaign. Unfortunately for Jennifer, after she wired the money, she found out that the check was a fake and was left owing her bank $1,900. And, of course, the crooks got away with cash from the wire transfer.

NCL’s Fraud Center has received similar complaints from consumers allegedly asked to participate in fake Red Bull Energy Drink advertising program and numerous reports of the scam have emerged on message boards online since August of this year.

Consumers should never have to pay funds from their personal checking accounts to participate in these advertising campaigns. Any request to wire money to someone you don’t know should be considered a major red flag. Consumers who have been approached by or been a victim of these scammers should report it to NCL’s Fraud Center.

NCL’s Fraud Center tracking spike in mystery shopper scam – National Consumers League

With a still sluggish economy and steady unemployment figures, many Americans are looking for work opportunities, only to be unwittingly scammed in the process. Mystery shopping scams have become an increasingly popular swindle, with complaints to NCL’s Fraud Center regarding fake check scams involving fraudulent mystery shopper and work-at-home schemes up nearly 9 percent in the last six months.Last week, NCL’s Fraud Center was contacted by a woman we’ll call “Gloria.” Gloria has two young children who just returned to school, and with some extra time on her hands, Gloria began cruising online job boards for part time work. Gloria soon came across a mystery shopping position that looked promising—the assignment was to visit a local wire transferring service and send money back to the mystery shopping company, using funds from a check the shopping company would provide. After that, all she had to do was write a brief report about her experience at the wiring service location. She immediately contacted the company and was told she was the “perfect candidate” for the job. Within a few days, she was sent a realistic looking check for $5,700 and was instructed to deposit the money in her personal bank account, keep $200 as payment for her work, and wire the remaining balance back to the mystery shopping company. Gloria gladly did as she was told, only to learn that—instead of a quick payday—the fake check bounced, and she is now on the hook for $5,700 she doesn’t have. To add insult to injury, Gloria even wrote a report about the money wiring service she used—robbing Gloria of not only her money, but her time as well.

Mystery shopping scams work by first luring the consumer with the promise of easy money; in Gloria’s case it was 200 bucks for only a couple hours of work. Victims are then instructed to deposit a fake check, keep the amount that has been designated as their “payment,” and wire the money back to the scammer. Many consumers are unaware that, by law, banks must make the funds from deposited checks available within days, although uncovering a fake check can take weeks. Consumers are responsible for the checks they deposit, so if a check turns out to be a fake, they are responsible for paying the bank back.

The experts at NCL’s Fraud Center are tracking scams like Gloria’s and are reminding consumers of the most common red flags and tips for spotting these fraudulent mystery shopper opportunities, such as:

  • A legitimate company will never ask you to use a money transfer to send cash to them or anywhere else, for any purpose.
  • Remember that it’s never a good idea never to deposit a check from someone you don’t know—especially if the stranger is asking you to wire money.
  • Never pay a fee to become a mystery shopper. Legitimate companies don’t charge people to work for them—they pay people to work for them.
  • Be suspicious of any company that hires you on the basis of an email or phone call, without any interview or background checks.
  • If you are considering becoming a mystery shopper, do your research first. Spend some time online searching for reviews and comments about mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications.
  • Any company that promises you that can make a lot of money as a mystery shopper is almost certainly a scam.
  • If mystery shoppers are asked to make purchases, it’s usually for very small amounts for which they will be reimbursed.
  • Mystery shoppers are paid after completing their assignments and returning the questionnaires to the companies that hired them. Shoppers never receive checks upfront.
  • Businesses often arrange for mystery shoppers through independent companies, many of which are members of the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA). For more information go to

If you think you have encountered a mystery shopping scam, please visit NCL’s Fraud Center and file a complaint.

Parents: Take control over your children’s use of technology – National Consumers League

From smart phones to tablet computers, to the hundreds of channels and thousands of on-demand video offerings on TV, consumers have never had more options for how to spend their time. For parents, however, the amount of content that is out there can often lead to anxiety – about what their children watch on TV, what Web sites they are visiting and who they are talking to from behind all those electronic screens. So what’s a concerned parent to do?

To address this issue, many communications carriers have created technology that gives parents control over their kids’ use of their devices and services. “Parental control technology” describes a wide variety of software and hardware solutions that parents and caregivers can use to restrict the content their children can access and the people they can communicate with.

The challenge is that, depending on the technology, medium, and service provider, parental control options vary quite a bit, so finding the most effective way to protect your children from adult content you’d rather not let them access can be tough.

To address this, NCL has created a new series of articles to help consumers navigate the landscape of parental control technology and find the options that are best for their families.

Best practices

Parents often worry that, compared to their tech-savvy teens and pre-teens, they have little hope of keeping up with their use of technology. The truth is you don’t have to be a computer or technical expert to prevent your young ones from accessing content that you deem inappropriate. Here are some basic rules of the road to keep your kids safe online.

  • Talk to your children so they know what is acceptable, what sites you want them to stay away from, and who they are allowed to text, for example. This will help both you and your and children start a dialogue about safe use of technology.
  • Find out where they’re hanging out online. Get familiar with the Web sites your child or teen visits. Have them show you their favorite sites and discuss what they like about them.
  • Make sure your children understand that they should never give out identifying information about themselves, friends, or family members. This includes names, addresses, phone numbers, where you work, email addresses, passwords, social security numbers, and credit card numbers.
  • Create a technology “inventory.” Parents should know what technologies their children are using and what those devices are capable of. For example, does the families’ cable television service include on-demand content (potentially with access to adult programming)? Do the children’s cell phones include an Internet browsing capability? Are parental controls on the Internet browser’s software enabled?
  • Set up your computer in a central, open location, like the living room or kitchen, so Internet use can be supervised.
  • Create a family agreement for Internet use that includes items such as hours of use, what sites can be accessed, and what sites are off-limits.
  • Tell your children that if someone they are talking to online harasses, bullies, or makes them uncomfortable in any way, they should talk to a parent, teacher, or an adult they trust.

Every family is unique. We all have our own set of criteria for what we are comfortable with. Not all of these suggestions will apply to your family situation, and they are not intended to be a complete list of all available options. Hopefully, this can at least serve as a starting point to begin a conversation about safe practices for going online, watching TV, and connecting with others.

Parental controls and wireless phones

Many parents have come to the decision that their kids need access to wireless phones – for safety and peace of mind. Luckily, most carriers offer a variety of helpful features that give parents and caregivers a say in what their children see and do with their souped-up phones.

The use and accessibility of smartphones has skyrocketed in recent years, as more and more Americans now turn their wireless device to access the Internet. The ability to immediately access the Internet while on the go marks an important shift in the way we log on, and parents often worry that smartphones are just another way for their young ones to access inappropriate content, connect with strangers, and make unauthorized purchases—all while outside of the home. Luckily, most carriers offer a variety of helpful features that give parents and caregivers a say in what their children see and do with their souped-up phones.

Purchase blocker: prevents users from making purchases that are direct-billed to the account holder, such as ringtones, downloads, applications and games.

Content filters: Similar to blocking sites and services on your home computer, many wireless carriers offer content filtering features that help block access to mobile sites with mature content as well as filter out inappropriate sites from search results. Some carriers, such as Verizon, have created their own rating system of mobile content. Verizon offers three content settings: appropriate for ages seven and up, 13 and up, and 17 and up. These three setting are all easy to change and reset as your child grows and matures.

Usage restrictions: allow parents to set caps on the number of text messages or downloads allowed over a set period, as well as restrict when the phone can be used, who can be called or texted, and what kinds of content can be accessed online. Other restriction features include the ability to set a dollar limit on monthly downloadable purchases, selecting the amount of web browsing/data usage allowed per billing cycle, and creating lists of pre-approved “favorites” and blocked numbers for you child’s phone.

When your child begins to approach the monthly text, download, or talking limits, companies like AT&T will send an advance warning. Once a limit is reached, there will be a notification that the action is restricted and that the service will be stopped until the start of the next usage period. Depending on your wireless carrier, some of these features may cost a small monthly fee.

Family location services: Worried about where your kids are? Almost all major wireless carriers provide a tracking service that lets you know where your family members are. Using your phone or home computer to log on, you can set up certain boundaries for where you expect your child will be. When they move outside the arranged area with their phone, you can receive text or email alerts. You can also receive daily notifications at set times, assuring you that your child arrived home safely after school or other activities. All carries charge an extra monthly fee for this tracking service.

To find more about what options are available on your plan and carrier, contact your wireless service provider directly. For more general information on wireless parental controls, visit the Online Mom.

From phones to TV and computers, make sure your young ones understand that parental controls are not about punishment—they’re about safety. Talk to them about the importance of using the web responsibly instead of simply implementing tough restrictions. Teaching your kids about online safety can be a great opportunity to discuss good decision-making and time management skills. The Internet is an incredible tool that offers an amazing wealth of information and ideas. Go explore!

What are your kids watching?

Many shows on television, whether on broadcast or cable networks, are for adult eyes only. Like with their use of the Internet, there are a variety of different ways you can keep your children from stumbling across explicit or violent content.

Many shows on television, whether on broadcast or cable networks, are for adult eyes only. Like with their use of the Internet, there are a variety of different ways you can keep your children from stumbling across explicit or violent content.


As parents are well aware, the Internet isn’t the only place where kids can be exposed to inappropriate content. Many shows on television, whether on broadcast or cable networks, are for adult eyes only. Like the Internet, there are a variety of different ways you can keep your children from stumbling across explicit or violent content.

Since 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required that all televisions larger than 13 inches be equipped with what’s called a V-chip. A V-chip lets parents and caregivers block programming that they don’t want children to watch. All television programs are assigned a rating according to a system established by the television industry, which appears onscreen during the first 15 seconds of the program. The rating is encoded with the program before it airs. Parents can use their television set’s remote control to program the V-chip to block programs that carry certain ratings. The current rating system deems what’s appropriate as follows:

  • TV-Y: All children.
  • TV-Y7: Children 7 and up.
  • TV-G: General audience – suitable for children and adults.
  • TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested – violence, sexual situations, coarse language and/or suggestive dialogue.
  • TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned – intense violence, sexual situations, coarse language and/or suggestive dialogue.
  • TV-MA: Mature Audience Only – graphic violence, explicit sexual content and/or offensive language.

For more information on the V-chip, including specific instructions on how to program your V-chip at home, visit the FCC guide by clicking here.

Cable and satellite TV programming

If your family has cable television, you have even more options on how to block access to programs you deem too mature for young eyes. Almost all cable and satellite providers give you an option of creating a PIN you can use to block programs in three different ways:

  • by channel
  • by rating
  • by time period

Depending on your service provider, you may also have the option of blocking specific programs (by date, time, and channel), adult titles in programming guides, and movies that receive certain MPAA ratings on premium movie channels.

For example, Verizon FIOS TV and AT&T U-verse allow users to

  • Selectively block programming by channel or rating.
  • Selectively block Pay-Per-View and On Demand purchases.
  • Set up user-defined PINs (to purchases and block programs.)
  • Hide adult programming from the TV Listings.

For more detailed information, visit the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s site on getting started with parental controls.

Managing where they are surfing

The Internet is a powerful learning tool. It provides a world of information that is instantly available 24/7. However, the wide-ranging and anonymous nature of the Internet brings with it risks—from explicit or inappropriate content to predators lurking in chat rooms and using instant messaging services. Due to the Web’s potential dangers, many service providers offer free tools and software to help restrict certain types of content and features to keep young Web users safe.

Internet service providers (ISPs)

Web providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast offer such free parental control features as the ability to:

  • Get a Web activity report that shows you all the Web sites your children visit or attempt to visit. You can check out the sites your kids have visited and block specific sites or types of sites you don’t want them going back to.
  • Create unique profiles for different family members with individualized online usage limits. This can be useful if you have children of different ages. One master account can be used to manage the settings of several “subordinate” account users.
  • Block access to certain Web tools such as instant messaging, gaming, chat rooms, and message boards, allowing parents to keep better track of what their children are saying and to whom.
  • Remotely manage your account with the ability to change parental control settings from any computer with Web access, whether in or outside the home.
  • View your child’s online activities as they happen with real-time Web tracking features
  • Allow young Web users to request permission to visit unauthorized Web sites for an adult to approve.
  • Receive a tamper controls alert if someone other than you tries to change the control settings.
  • Set up a timer that limits the amount of time users can spend online.
  • View search monitoring results that track the words and phrases your children search for online to help learn about what they are interested in. This way you can find out if they are trying to seek out blocked or inappropriate content.

To get more detailed information about exactly what controls are available to you, and what the system requirements are, the best bet is to contact your service provider directly. To lean more about the different Internet provider options, visit the Safe Families site here.

Internet browsers and search engines

While Internet service providers offer a variety of great parental control options, you can also set up similar controls on the Web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, etc.) level. Most browsers let you restrict access to certain sites or pre-approve a list of sites your child has the ability to access. For example:

  • Safari users can create child user accounts that let you choose between three levels of Internet access:
    1. give your children unrestricted access to all sites
    2. a setting that only blocks access to certain restricted sites
    3. an option that only lets children access sites you that you have pre-selected. Email and chat features can be set up so that young users can only chat and email with contacts you know and trust. Weekday and weekend computer time limits can be put in place as well.
  • Firefox and Chrome have no built-in parental control features. But, if your computer uses one of these browsers, you can download extensions such as ProCon (which blocks accidental visits to adult sites), LeechBlock (which sets up time limits for different users), and FoxFilter (which blocks content based on user-defined criteria). To learn more about different extension options, click here.
  • Search engines like Google and Bing have “safe search” settings that screens for sites that contain explicit sexual content and deletes them from your search results. This can be a great option since kids often stumble upon inappropriate content by accident when searching seemingly innocent terms.

This is not an exhaustive list of the available browser and search options, but is intended to give you an idea of the types of useful features that are available. At the very least, almost all browsers will give you the option of blocking access to restricted sites, whether it’s a feature that’s available out of the box, or if it’s an extension you have to download.

Online auction scams: Scammers set their sights on sellers – National Consumers League

PayPal appeals to many consumers by offering a safe, hassle-free way to purchase items online without handing over personal information, such as credit card numbers, to merchants. Unfortunately, enterprising scammers are impersonating PayPal to take advantage of that trust and swindle unwary online sellers.A victim from Texas, who we’ll call Jane, recently contacted NCL’s Fraud Center. As a seller at an online auction site, Jane had done everything right. She listed a woman’s Rolex watch on eBay and was notified that a buyer named Joy Morgan had won the item for $3,800. Jane then received an email, purportedly from PayPal, stating that, in order to get paid, she first needed to send the Rolex in the mail and email the buyer the tracking number. Susan was initially uneasy about sending a valuable item to a buyer without receiving any payment, so she called the number provided in the email and spoke with what she thought was a PayPal representative that assured her that it was a standard procedure for all first-time sellers. Jane sent the item but, after not receiving any money in her account, contacted PayPal’s main customer service line. That’s where she heard the bad news: she had been scammed. Both the official looking email, complete with PayPal logos, and the friendly customer service representative she initially spoke with were frauds. Jane is out close to $4,000 and has little hope of ever getting her money back.

Scammers have become extremely sophisticated with the tools they use to trick consumers into opening their wallets. NCL’s Fraud Center has received reports of scammers creating realistic looking Web sites, emails, and hotlines all designed to fool unsuspecting consumers into believing they are dealing with a legitimate business. Don’t be fooled! Use caution and common sense with any online transaction.

Double-check the company’s information. A familiar name or brand on an email, in a letter or mentioned over the phone doesn’t guarantee that the deal is legitimate. Crooks often pretend to be from well-known companies to gain people’s trust. Find the company’s contact information independently, online or through directory assistance, and contact it yourself to verify the information.

Understand how online auctions works. Make sure you know the procedures regarding the payment and delivery of purchased items. If you get an email or call asking you to do something outside of standard operating procedures, it should be an immediate red flag.

Understand PayPal’s procedures. According to PayPal’s fraud FAQ, emails from PayPal will always address you by your first and last name or the business name associated with the account. Watch out for emails addressed to “Dear PayPal User” or “Dear PayPal Member.”

Inform auction sites and payment services about suspected fraud. They may have policies to remove sellers or buyers from their sites if they use “shills” or don’t live up to their obligations. Forward fraudulent PayPal emails to

Try mediation to resolve disputes. Not all problems are due to fraud. Sometimes people simply fail to hold up their side of the bargain in a timely manner or there may be an honest misunderstanding. Some auction sites provide links to third-party mediation services that help users resolve disputes. There may be a small fee that is usually paid by the party who requests the mediation.

Check out the seller or buyer Most auction sites have feedback forums with comments about the sellers based on other people’s experiences, but many sites also allow sellers to review buyers, which can provide pertinent information about a buyer who consistently creates payment issues and who is best avoided.

Avoid Fake Check Scams: Five things you should know – National Consumers League

You’ve won millions in a lottery, or you’ve been offered a job as a “mystery shopper.” Great news, right? All you have to do is deposit the checks or money orders you’ll receive and send the money somewhere, minus your “pay.” Is this your lucky day? NO! It’s a fake check scam that will cost you thousands unless you know the danger signs.The letter says that you’ve won millions in a sweepstakes or lottery, and there is a check or money order enclosed as part of your winnings. All you need to do to get the rest is send money to pay the taxes. Or someone offers you a job working at home as a “mystery shopper” or accounts manager.  It’s easy – you deposit the checks or money orders you’ll receive and send the money somewhere, minus your “pay.” Is this your lucky day? NO! It’s a fake check scam that will cost you thousands unless you know the danger signs.

If someone gives you a check or money order and asks you to send money somewhere in return, it’s a scam. That is not how legitimate sweepstakes operators or other companies operate. If you have really won, you will pay taxes directly to the government. Legitimate mystery shopper or account manager jobs don’t involve using money transfer services to send money.

A familiar name doesn’t guarantee that it’s legitimate. Crooks often pretend to be from well-known companies to gain people’s trust. Find the company’s contact information independently, online or through directory assistance, and contact it yourself to verify the information.

The check or money order may be fake even if your bank or credit union lets you have the cash. You have the right to get the cash quickly, usually within 1-2 days, but your bank or credit union can’t tell if there is a problem with the check or money order until it has gone through the system to the person or company that supposedly issued it. That can take weeks. By the time the fraud is discovered, the crook has pocketed the cash.

When the check or money order bounces, you will have to pay the money back to your bank or credit union. You are responsible because you are in the best position to know if the person who gave it to you is trustworthy. If you don’t pay the money back, your account could be frozen or closed, and you could be sued. Some victims are even charged with fraud.

Sending money using a money transfer service is like sending cash – once the crook picks it up you can’t get it back from the service. It’s not like a check that you can stop after you’ve given it to someone or a credit card charge that you can dispute. But if the money has not been picked up yet, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact the money transfer service immediately if you think you’ve been scammed.

Want to learn more? Go to to read CFA’s Don’t Become a Target brochure, watch the funny videos about sweepstakes/lottery and work-at-home fake check scams, and check out the other materials on the Web site. Visit NCL’s, where you can take a quiz to see how well you can spot this fraud, send an ecard to warn other people, and find information to help you and people you care about avoid losing money to fake check scams.

Planning a vacation? Avoid travel scams – National Consumers League

As temperatures are heating up, consumers’ thoughts are increasingly turning to making vacation plans. Unfortunately, scammers will be on the lookout as well … for unwary victims.Travel has always been an area where consumers should have their anti-fraud antennae perked. Here are some of the types of travel scams NCL’s staff have been hearing about recently:

Vacation Rental Scams – These scams typically crop up on online classified sites like The victim will search for an apartment or home for rent in a desirable destination and find an attractive rental at a very low price. The victim contacts the “renter” (who is in reality a scam artist) who then requests a “deposit” on the rental. Typically it is requested that the deposit be sent via wire transfer. When the victim arrives at the property she finds that it either does not exist, that the condition has been misrepresented, or that it was never available for rent. Efforts to get back the deposit fail. Scammers typically use images from a real property (often taken from real estate sites) to make their scams seem legitimate.

Timeshare Purchase Scams – Victims are lured to a high-pressure sales pitch (sometimes at the timeshare resort itself) with promises of a high-value “free” gift, such as a car, RV, or cruise package. To obtain the gift advertised, the victim must pay a “fee” for delivery or processing. When the gift arrives (if it ever does), it is typically of much lesser value than waht was originally presented to the victim.

Fraudulent Timeshares – The victim receives a package in the mail or via email detailing a timeshare for sale. If the victim invest, they later find that the timeshare does not exist, the timeshare company has “gone out of business,” or otherwise is unable to return the deposit paid.

Fraudulent Vacation Packages – Victims see an advertisements for a deeply discounted vacation package at a luxurious resort or cruise. After the deposit is paid, the victim finds that the quality of the package has been grossly misrepresented and/or there are significant additional fees that must be paid at the destination to take advantage of the “great deal.” Efforts to recover deposits are generally unsuccessful.

Airfare Scams – Victims are lured in by promises of steeply discounted airfares. Once the purchase is made, the victim receives no confirmation or a counterfeit confirmation e-mail or paper ticket. A variant of this scam occurs when the victim purchases the ticket and is then told that their credit card purchase has been declined. A wire transfer is requested which results in no ticket and no way to recover the funds.

Tips for Avoiding Travel Scams

So, before you head out on your dream vacation, bone up on these tips for avoiding travel-related scams:

  • Watch out for unsolicited e-mails, phone calls and faxes offering hard-to-believe deals on travel to desirable locations. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you are working with a travel agency or vacation planning service, make sure to get all details about the trip in writing. Watch out for vague promises that you’ll be staying at “five-star” resorts or riding on “luxury” cruise ships at cut-rate prices. Get as much information as you can including the total cost, any restrictions that may apply, and the exact names of the promised airlines and hotels.
  • Free is usually not free. Think again before you believe promises that you’ve won a “free” vacation. Often, these are just thinly-veiled ploys to get your credit card information to “verify” your eligibility or to pay a “processing fee.” You should never have to pay to collect a prize.
  • Check out the travel company BEFORE giving them any money. Call the company service yourself to see if the prices match or simply if they legitimately exist. A Better Business Bureau search is a good first step. Also make sure that they company is registered with the American Society of Travel Agents.
  • Watch out for “travel clubs” that offer “free” memberships. Often these services do little except charge your credit card every month and provide few, if any, benefits.
  • Use your credit card when purchasing a trip. If you feel that you’ve been swindled, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
  • Beware of any offers that involve high-pressure sales pitches that urge you to commit right away because the offer will “expire” otherwise. For example, Timeshare seminars are often thinly-veiled ways to get consumers to sign up for timeshare often featuring a come-on like “free” lunch or “free” vacation that are full of hidden fees and traps.
  • If you’ll be traveling overseas, call your credit card company and bank to let them know what countries you’ll be visiting and when you plan to return. This way they can be on the alert for any suspicious charges from a scammer that gets your credit card information while you’re on the road or after your get back home.
  • Ask questions and be cautious.Read all of the fine print carefully. Companies need to tell you how your trip will operate. Even if they make their policies difficult to read, look them over before sending any money. If you can’t get answers to your questions, avoid using that company.
  • Read your invoice. Confirm that it includes every cost, including fees. Take the time to understand the purpose and amount of each fee. Some common hidden fees to watch out for: International Departure and Arrival Taxes, Processing Fees, Peak Week Surcharges, Late Booking Fees, Departure City Surcharges, Travel Insurance, Fuel Surcharges.
  • Be aware of cancellation policies. Before sending any money, you should know how much you will lose if you need to cancel.
  • Avoid any company that mandates arbitration for disputes. Don’t give up your legal rights.

File a complaint if you have a dispute. In most states, you can do this through the Attorney General’s office. This calls attention to the company so that future travelers will not repeat your experience. Also, the attorney general may mediate your dispute to help resolve it.

Car shopping? – National Consumers League

In the market for a new car? Be on the lookout for unscrupulous sellers looking to take you for a ride! In response to an increase in consumer complaints to the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center, and with the arrival of the upcoming peak car-buying season, consumer advocates are warning that car shoppers this spring should consider themselves at an increased risk of falling victim to a scam.“Scam artists prey on consumers in search of a bargain, and these scams are no exception,” said John Breyault, Director of NCL’s Fraud Center. “Unfortunately, the only person that’s getting a steal are the con artists themselves.”

Since the beginning January 2011, NCL’s Fraud Center has received more than 100 complaints from consumers nationwide about these scams, with a total reported loss of nearly $293,674.

The used car scams reported to NCL generally involve a classified listing on any of a number of popular sales and auction sites such as craigslist, Yahoo! Autos, or eBay. The listings are generally for late-model automobiles, often luxury brands, at well below market value. In the schemes, when the victim contacts the scammer, they are told that the seller is not local and that payment for the car itself or for shipment of the car should be sent via wire transfer to the seller. Often, the seller claims to be a member of the armed services who is either already deployed or preparing to deploy. As such, quick payment is necessary to ensure that the buyer receives the “great deal” on the car.

NCL recommends consumers avoid used car sales with the following red flags:

  • The seller asks for payment via wire transfer or bank-to-bank transfer.
  • The car is listed at a price far below common market values (such as Kelley Blue Book value).
  • The seller asks for payment urgently since they are or will soon be relocating overseas.
  • The seller says that they are located overseas, but they have an American middleman or online escrow service that will hold the money until the vehicle is delivered.
  • The seller refuses to meet in person or communicate on the phone.
  • The seller’s email or instant messages contain multiple grammar and spelling errors.
  • The seller claims that the transaction is insured by a “protection program” associated with a real site (such as eBay, Google Checkout, PayPal, etc.) or another online payment system.

Victims of these or any other frauds are encouraged to file a complaint at

Disaster in Japan: Charity scam warning – National Consumers League

With heartbreaking images of the recent devastation in Japan—villages reduced to rubble and submerged under water, city streets leveled, and survivors searching for missing loved ones—many consumers around the world are reaching for their wallets to help. Advocates are warning that con artists have long exploited natural disasters, and the Sendai earthquake and tsunami will likely be no exception.Over the years, opportunistic con artists have exploited both natural disasters and terrorist attacks to bilk generous consumers attempting to make financial contributions to rescue efforts, warns the National Consumers League. The recent devastating earthquake and Tsunami in Japan will likely be no exception.

In the days following a natural disaster, NCL’s Fraud Center ( often hears from consumers about crooks’ attempts to take advantage of tragic events for their personal gain. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, as well as after Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, NCL’s Fraud Center received reports of a variety of scams tailored by con artists to capitalize on the rescue efforts. Scams typically involve con artists sending out emails purporting to come from a known and respected charity such as the Red Cross or Oxfam International. Victims are then directed to a fake Web site made to look like a legitimate charity’s site, where they are asked to hand over personal information or to donate via wire transfer, PayPal, or a credit or bank account. The scammer then makes off with the donation, and no funds are sent to support actual disaster relief.

“The continued tragedy of fraud perpetrated in the wake of such disasters is that charity scams not only rob the donors,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “They divert contributions from legitimate charities, who are in great need for money and goods to assist those who need it most.”

NCL warns consumers to be especially wary of emails from strangers. While many legitimate companies, organizations, and individuals are using the Internet to mobilize help for disaster victims and share information about the latest developments, crooks may use email or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter to reach a wide audience of potential victims.

Be cautious about any solicitation that mentions the disaster. Give only to charities you know and trust. If you want to support disaster relief efforts, you should contact respected charities directly to make a contribution – don’t respond to requests for aid.

What to watch for:

Be wary of clicking on links or on attached files labeled photos or video in emails from senders claiming to represent charities because they may contain viruses.

Consumers can confirm that charities are properly registered by contacting their state charities regulators, which are listed in the state government pages of their telephone books. Information about charities is also available from the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, 703-276-0100, can also check out charities at GuideStar (, and Charity Navigator (, both of which contain links to legitimate charities working on the relief effort.

Consumers can report disaster-related telemarketing or Internet fraud to NCL’s Fraud Center via the online complaint form on

Avoid tax season pitfalls – National Consumers League

April 15. The date fills many consumers with dread, since it marks the IRS tax filing deadline. For tax scammers, however, Tax Day equals (ill-gotten) profits. That’s why NCL is encouraging consumers to be extra-vigilant against predatory – or downright fraudulent – tax-related offers.Tax-related scams come in a variety of flavors. Here are a few of the more common variations:

Tax-related ID theft

Identity thieves have also increasingly sought to profit from their scams by filing fraudulent tax returns. According to the Federal Trade Commission Tax or wage-related fraud has also been the fastest-growing way that identity thieves misuse victims’ information since 2009. In 2011, the IRS’ Taxpayer Advocate Service received more than 34,000 tax identity theft cases, a 97 percent increase over 2010.

One of the more insidious dangers of this type of ID theft is that consumers may not become aware of it until they receive a note from their accountant or the IRS itself stating that their personal information has been misused (often to steal tax refunds or to apply for jobs).

While there is no fool-proof way to protect your identity, the IRS recommends several steps: 1) Don’t carry your Social Security card or other information with your Social Security number (SSN) with you; 2) Don’t give businesses your SSN just because they ask for it. Give it only when required; 3) Check your credit report every 12 months and challenge unusual activity; 4) Keep personal information in your home secure; 5) Protect your personal computer with firewalls, anti-virus software, security patches and change your passwords regularly; 6) Don’t give out personal information over the phone, mail or the Internet unless you know who you’re dealing with.

Tax relief scams

Around Tax Day, consumers would be wise to heed Benjamin Franklin’s old adage that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Consumers who owe back-taxes may be desperate to avoid the financial hit cutting a big check to the IRS may entail. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of fraudsters who claim that for an (often sizable) upfront fee, they can free taxpayers from having to pay the IRS. Others claim to be able to settle debts to the IRS for pennies on the dollar.

For example, in 2010, the FTC halted a scam run by a company called American Tax Relief (ATR) that had duped consumers out of more than $60 million. ATR claimed to be able to “free” consumers from tax liens, wage garnishments, levies and “unbearable monthly payments for up-front fees of $3,200 to $25,000. In fact, ATR provided little if any tax-relief for its clients

A complaint to NCL’s Fraud Center is illustrative of how these scams work. “Stephen” was worried about the money he owed the IRS. He contacted a company that assured him he would be work with tax attorneys who would settle his debt. Stephen sent them his personal information and tax returns from previous years. One week later, the company said they couldn’t help Stephen, but wished him “luck”. When Stephen asked for a refund for the $9,500 fee he paid via credit card, the company hung up on him.

Instead of paying big up-front fees to shady tax-relief firms, consumers who are having trouble paying taxes should contact the IRS or their state comptroller. The IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent office within the IRS that provides free help to consumers having trouble paying their federal taxes. Consumer experiencing difficulties paying state taxes should contact the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers (NASAA) to get guidance on how to get help from state tax authorities.

Tax preparer fraud

Millions of consumers turn to tax-preparation firms or personal accountants to help them file their taxes. While most of these companies provide a valuable and completely legitimate service, there are countless instances where fly-by-night tax-preparation outfits come in to town, hang out a shingle, and then disappear after charging outrageous fees for tax-preparation services.

According to the IRS, consumers should beware of tax preparation firms that claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers, who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of the refund, who ask consumers to sign a blank tax form, who refuse to provide a preparer tax identification number or provide copies of your tax returns.

Unfortunately, many tax-preparation scammers target certain neighborhoods, often with high concentrations of immigrants or low-income consumers.The 70 percent of consumers with adjusted gross incomes of $57,000 or less can take advantage of the IRS’s FreeFile service, which provides access to free tax preparation and filing services.

Other tax scams

The variety of tax scams is limited only by the imaginations of unscrupulous scam artists.

Misdirected refunds

“Pattie” reported to NCL that she responded to a tax refund company’s advertisement – receive a tax refund directly deposited into one’s bank account within 8-11 days for only $99! She provided her routing number when filling out the paperwork. The company told her that there was a delay but that her direct deposit was being processed. After following up with her bank, Pattie learned that the company had rerouted her deposit into their account – leaving her without a refund and helpless.


Tax scams are often variations on phishing schemes: the victim receives a phone call from an “IRS employee” offering a tax refund – however, they need the taxpayer’s checking account number, he or she is told, in order to deposit the money. Alternately, the victim gets an email claiming to be from the IRS – often with a realistic-looking sender address – stating that the consumer is due a refund and needs to click on a link and enter their personal financial information in order to have it processed.

Fake stimulus money

Con artists contact their victims claiming to be government representatives calling to initiate payment transfer of impending government tax “rebates,” often related to the 2009 government stimulus bill. Victims are urged to provide bank or credit card account numbers to receive these rebates, sensitive information which is then misused to drain these accounts.

Consumers should remember: the IRS does not use e-mail to initiate contact with taxpayers about issues related to their accounts. If a taxpayer has any doubt whether a contact from the IRS is authentic, the taxpayer should call the IRS customer service toll-free number (1-800-829-1040) to confirm it.