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. 

Tech support scammers dupe consumers – National Consumers League

sg.jpgEver heard of a tech support scam? Well, a very smart, savvy member of my family fell victim to one this week.My family member, who we will refer to as Sherry, was working on her laptop when she clicked on an ad. Clicking on that ad ending up installing malware on her computer, which then put up warning messages on her screen telling her that her computer was infected. A helpline phone number was displayed—appearing to be Microsoft tech support. Sherry, in a panic, called the phone number, which was actually a scammer. Unbeknownst to Sherry, she allowed him to remotely access her computer while she was on the phone with him. The scammer led Sherry to believe he was running a scan for viruses, but he was really scanning her computer’s information and possibly attempting to damage her hard drive so that Sherry would have to pay him money to “fix” it. Sherry’s computer, just like all of ours, is full of important work data, personal contact information, financial documentation, and more that we wouldn’t want anyone else to have access to. Before Sherry committed to giving this man her credit card information, a friend advised her to hang up with the scammer, shut her computer down, and disconnect it from the Internet.

From an FTC Post on tech support scams:

In a recent twist, scam artists are using the phone to try to break into your computer. They call, claiming to be computer techs associated with well-known companies like Microsoft. They say that they’ve detected viruses or other malware on your computer to trick you into giving them remote access or paying for software you don’t need.

These scammers take advantage of your reasonable concerns about viruses and other threats. They know that computer users have heard time and again that it’s important to install security software. But the purpose behind their elaborate scheme isn’t to protect your computer; it’s to make money.

This is exactly what Sherry experienced. Her scammer assured her that he was fixing her computer issues, while she asked several times if he was being honest. He responded, “You have to trust me.” Two days later, Sherry has been told not connect her computer to the Internet, which is vital to her work. She’s also waiting for the other shoe to drop – what happens when her friends start getting solicitations to help Sherry out of a travel jam and wire money to some phony address? Or who knows what other damage these scammers have done to her personal information linked to the laptop? There are many implications to this type of scam that can be very detrimental to one’s financial, work, and personal life.

So consumers, please, sign up for Fraud Alerts, which will warn you and your family on the latest scams. Read this Fraud Alert for more information on tech support scams. The more consumers know what to look for, the less likely you are to get duped. NCL’s Fraud.org is here to help! Microsoft also provides tips on how to avoid tech support phone scams here.