Risk free trials were bait for rip offs

Did you ever sign up for a free trial of a product you heard about on the radio? Some sellers will send you — and charge you — a lot more than you agreed to. The FTC says one group of dietary supplement marketers sold products through deceptive “risk free” offers and charged people repeatedly for unwanted products. The FTC and the Maine Office of the Attorney General have banned the marketers from charging people without their permission and making deceptive health care claims.

According to the FTC, the marketers used 30-minute radio ads that sounded like educational talk shows to promote their CogniPrin and FlexiPrin supplements. Their radio ads claimed CogniPrin could slow cognitive decline and improve memory by 44 percent, and FlexiPrin could reduce back and joint pain and rebuild damaged joints. But the FTC says the marketers didn’t have the science to prove any of those claims. When people called to request the “risk-free” offer, they were enrolled in monthly plans with continuing charges for products they didn’t order. People who wanted refunds of the “risk-free” offer had to go through a complicated process, return empty bottles and pay shipping charges.

If you enrolled in a free trial offer from a marketer that overcharged you, contact the company. If the company won’t give you a refund, call your credit card company to dispute the charge. Ask the credit card company to reverse the charge because you didn’t intend to order the additional merchandise. If you were wrongly charged for a free trial offer, report it to the FTC.

by Bridget Small

Scammers are spoofing news sites to promote health products

Scammers will do just about anything to rip you off. They will create fake websites, use fake endorsements from public figures, lie about the effectiveness of their products, and much more.

We did some investigating and found that a number of shady companies selling “brain booster” pills are using these exact tactics to promote their products. Here’s how:

They build spoofed websites that look like the news sites that we know and trust. The sites aren’t real news sites and the endorsements featured on the sites, often from figures like Stephen Hawking, Anderson Cooper and others, are fake. Representatives from Hawking and Cooper have confirmed that neither has endorsed any “brain booster” products.

The spoofed news sites link you to the sales page for the product, which allows you to place an order with a credit or debit card. The scammers may claim that the pills are proven to work — that you’ll experience an increase in concentration and memory recall by large percentages, but they lack evidence to support their claims. It’s a scam.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises that you talk to your doctor to get the facts about health products before purchasing.

If you already paid money to a scammer with a credit or debit card, you may still be able to get your money back.

-Call the card company immediately using the phone number found on your monthly statement
-Alert them to the fraudulent charge right away
-Ask if you are still eligible to get your money back
-Ask if you should get a new card with a new number to prevent more fraudulent charges

For more tips, stay connected by subscribing to FTC alerts. And report scams to the FTC.

by Andrew Johnson

What If Your Car Gets Totaled?

Each year, auto insurance companies declare millions of vehicles to be “totaled,” meaning it’s not worth the cost to repair them. It doesn’t matter whether the car was damaged in a collision, during a flood or after a thief’s joyride went bad.

It’s hard to argue with such an assessment if your car was wrapped around a telephone pole or the gas tank exploded. But what if the damage was more cosmetic, such as major dents on the roof and hood from a hailstorm?

A vehicle is considered a total loss if the insurance company determines that the total cost to repair your car to pre-accident condition, plus fees for storage, salvage and a replacement rental car (if included in your policy), is more than a certain percentage of car’s retail value. Insurers set their own allowable percentage, within state-mandated guidelines (typically around 60 to 75 percent), and use their own formulas to determine a car’s value and estimated repair costs.

Thus, if your $4,500-valued 2002 Honda Civic sustains $1,800 worth of damage – moderate bodywork and repainting these days – it might be deemed totaled, even though the engine still runs fine. On the other hand, a late-model Mercedes could sustain far greater damage and still be considered salvageable.

What’s worse, if the accident was your fault, or you must otherwise tap your own insurance (e.g., it was caused by an uninsured driver), you would only receive that $4,500 minus your deductible. Good luck finding a comparable car for that amount.

Other big losers when a car is totaled are people still paying off their auto loan. Since the lender technically owns the car, they’ll get first crack at any insurance payment; and you’ll still be responsible for paying off the loan balance.

As a preventative measure, you may want to purchase gap insurance if you owe more than the car’s retail value – or if you rolled past debt into the new car loan. It will pay the outstanding loan balance if your car is totaled or stolen. Most insurers will let you add gap insurance at any time.

Here are a few additional points you should know about when and why a car is declared totaled, and precautions you can take ahead of time to lessen the impact:

-Make sure the insurance appraisal includes the value of all extra features and aftermarket accessories, like heated seats, custom wheels or an upgraded audio system.

-Be prepared to show documentation of any major repairs or upgrades you made that might boost the car’s value – say you recently replaced the engine or bought new tires.

-Do your own research. Use independent pricing sites like Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds to determine your car’s worth, factoring in its mileage, added features and overall condition before the accident.

-If your estimate is far off from the proposed settlement, ask whether your policy includes the right to hire your own appraiser for a second opinion. Most states have a procedure for settling such disputes. Understand, however, that no matter the arbitration outcome, you’ll still have to pay your appraiser, and likely, a portion of arbitration costs.

-Make sure the insurer’s totaled car value includes estimated sales tax to replace the car, as well as registration and title costs, since you wouldn’t have incurred these costs if you didn’t need to replace the car.

Let’s hope your car is never totaled, but it pays to know in advance what to do if it is.

By Jason Alderman

Prepare Your Budget for Closing Costs When Buying a Home

Imagine the frustration that would follow if you spent hours planning and narrowing in on a dream home only to find out that you can’t afford it when push comes to shove. Starting with a price range can help you make the most of your search, but you’ll need to account for closing costs to create a realistic budget.

A catch-all for the fees and services that result from the sale of a home, closing costs are generally about 2 to 5 percent of the home’s value when you’re making a purchase. In other words, you could pay about $4,000 to $10,000 on a $200,000 home.

Estimating your closing costs. Your closing costs and fees vary depending on where you’re buying, how much you put down, who helps you with the home-buying process, the type of home you’re buying and the type of loan you’re taking out.

You can estimate the closing costs of homes you’re interested in by using one of the many closing cost calculators online. Also, ask your real estate agent to help you estimate the closing costs of homes in different neighborhoods.

A few of the fees you could encounter when closing on a home. While costs can vary and state laws dictate differences in the closing process, here are a few typical services or fees:

Inspections. You likely want to hire an inspector to make sure the home doesn’t need any major repairs and there aren’t any wood-eating pest (such as termite) infestations. Many lenders require you get these inspections, but even when they don’t it’s usually a good idea.

Attorney fees. You may have to pay attorneys to help prepare and review documents for the closing.

Survey. Some states require you to hire a surveyor to verify the size of the lot.

Homeowners insurance. You may need to pay several months’ worth of homeowners insurance premiums up front.

Origination fee. Mortgage lenders, banks or brokers often charge about 1 percent of your loan’s value.

Property taxes. Several months’ worth of property tax payments could be due at the closing.

You might see some mortgage lenders advertising “no-closing-cost” mortgages or refinancing. While these offers can be enticing, you’ll generally pay a higher interest rate on the loan or the closing costs will be wrapped into the mortgage. It might be a good option if you’re planning on moving within the next few years. Otherwise, you’ll likely wind up paying more in interest over the lifetime of the loan than you would have on the closing costs.

Try to do your own calculations to determine if a no-cost closing makes sense based on your estimated closing costs, increase in monthly payments and how long you plan on staying in the home.

You’ll know approximately how much you have to pay before the closing. Mortgage lenders have three business days from when you submit a loan application to give you a loan estimate. The standardized document shows your estimated interest rate, monthly payments, taxes, insurance and closing costs.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has an interactive example of a standard loan estimate form with explanations and definitions of terms. On the second page, there’ll be a list of closing costs, including a breakdown of which services you may be able to negotiate.

You shop mortgage lenders, compare the loan estimate you receive and then continue the process with the lender that gives you the best estimated terms.

Three business days before your scheduled closing, the lender you choose must give you a five-page closing disclosure form with the finalized terms.

Carefully look over the closing disclosure and ask your real estate agent, loan officer or attorney questions. If you don’t agree with the new terms of the deal, it’s not too late to back out. If you’re happy with the terms and the closing goes smoothly you’ll be a homeowner soon.

Bottom line: Estimating your closing costs, and budgeting accordingly, can help ensure you’re looking for homes within your price range. That’s important because you want to be able to move quickly when you find a home you love. However, don’t move so fast that you miss out on savings opportunities. Shopping mortgage lenders and service providers could help you minimize your closing costs.

By Nathaniel Sillin

Scammers Pull Heartstrings to Get to Our Money

There are a lot of scams being perpetrated by those who wish to make a quick buck. Some are very complex, but others are surprisingly simple to pull off and therefore, they persist. Following are three of the most common types of scams that take advantage of human compassion.

Advance Fee Lottery

In this one, the victim is promised a prize, a service, or money with interest if he or she pays a “fee.” The most well-known of this type is the Nigerian Prince or “419” scam. The story goes that a Nigerian prince is in trouble due to unrest in his country. He needs the victim’s help to move large amounts of money into a U.S. bank account so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands. All it requires is that money be deposited into a bank account in Nigeria in the victim’s name first. Then the transfer of funds won’t be detected by the “bad guys.” Once the money is in the Nigerian account, it is promised that a large sum will be transferred to the victim’s U.S. bank account later as a thank you.

Another version of this is that the victim has somehow won a lot of money in a foreign lottery. All he has to do is send a “fee” and identifying documentation and the money will be sent. Of course, this does not ever happen, but that fee will never be seen again.

Remote Impersonation

In these types of scams, someone claims to be a friend of someone who is in trouble and requests monetary assistance on behalf of the person in trouble. Often it is supposed to be for an injured relative or friend. Sometimes, the fraudster claims help is needed to bring a friend or loved one home from overseas after he or she has been robbed.

Another popular version, referred to as a romance scam happens on online dating sites. The scammer will pose as a potential love-interest, gain the trust of the victim, and ask for money. Many times the poser pretends to be in the military, stationed overseas, and needs money to buy things like pre-paid phone cards to call home.

Disaster Relief/Charity/Dying or Sick Baby

Americans are an empathetic lot and scammers know it. That’s why scams persist that piggyback on natural disasters such as the Nepal Earthquake in 2015 or Hurricane Matthew that hit the east coast of the U.S. late in 2016. Often these become so successful because they spread very quickly on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Dying or Sick Baby version is when someone pretends they have a very sick or dying child who needs medical care. The compassion for a sick child sets in and people donate to help pay the bills. There is also a “sick parent” version of this where someone requests financial help for a bus or train ticket to visit sick parents.

For all of these types of scams, there are some guidelines to follow to avoid being taken by them:

1. Always take time to verify the story independently; even if it sounds like a very urgent matter and even if your heartstrings are pulled tight. It doesn’t usually take long to place a separate phone call to another person to confirm if a relative or friend is sick and really does need help. If you cannot verify it, don’t send money.

2. If you are told that cash, a money service such as Western Union, or pre-paid cards are the only form of payment accepted, question the legitimacy of the request.

3. When natural disasters happen and you want to send money, donate through a well-known and respected charity. They will accept payment cards on their websites.

4. Beware of anyone who tries to place an undue sense of urgency on the matter. If it is a real need, taking a few moments to confirm it is not out of the question.

The Nigerian Prince or 419 scam is a newer version of the Spanish Prisoner Scam that started in the 16th century. As you see, it has been around and working for a very long time and is not going away any time soon. None of these will. Instead, they will likely morph into many new versions as technology changes. That is, along as they are still working.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security

It’s a Cookie Theft! Yahoo Announced Sophisticated Way Hackers Stole Data in 2013 Breach

Yahoo is notifying some users that their cookies were stolen. No, not by Cookie Monster, but by whomever perpetrated the breach that was announced in December 2016, occurred in 2013, and affected 1 billion Yahoo users.

The notice that is going out contains links opening this news event into a perfect phishing opportunity. Your safest bet is to never click on an unexpected or unknown link. If you want to go to a website, use a bookmark in your browser, manually enter it, or search it. Links can be spoofed and so can email address.

Cookies are little bits of corresponding text between a user’s device and a website. They are used to authenticate users and can track a user’s movement around the site or prevent the user from re-entering information over and over on frequently visited sites. This information could be login IDs, zip codes, or even theme settings. Most cookies are temporary and deleted once the session ends (session cookies), but others, such as those you give the site permission to save, such as perhaps your login ID and password, can stick around for a long time (persistent cookies) and these are the ones that Yahoo says were forged in order to get access to these accounts. The hacker(s) didn’t even need to know passwords in this case. They just copied them from the cookies.

You can delete or clear your cookies anytime you wish. Depending on your browser, the process should be very simple. Just search for the instructions and clear them out. Just keep in mind that many of your cookies were set up by you to make life simpler, so know that if you do this, you may have to re-enter data on a few of your favorite sites. Once they are cleared, you can check your cookie settings to be sure you are prompted anytime a website is requesting to use a cookie.

If you are a Yahoo user who has still not changed his or her password since these latest breaches were announced, take a moment to do that now. It’s a good idea to change passwords on a regular basis and considering how often sites are invaded these days, quarterly is becoming a better and better idea. When doing so, make sure that upper and lower case letters are used, a special character is included, as well as at least one number. Make sure all passwords are at least eight characters long whenever possible.

It’s also not a great idea to save your passwords for online accounts. It may not be desirable to keep re-entering them, but it’s much safer. In fact, if ever offered multi-factor authentication (MFA) for accounts such as email and online banking, take advantage of it. Then even if a hacker does get your cookies, he or she still can’t get into your account because your MFA code will still be needed.

Yahoo says it is nearing the end of its investigation of the 2013 breach and notifying those that were affected by the forged cookies. It’s uncertain what advice they will provide in those notifications, but likely changing passwords will be part of it.

If you think that a data breach doesn’t affect a business’ value, think again. Because of the combined breaches announced last year affecting 1.5 billion users, it might have saved Verizon a lot of money in its bid to buy Yahoo. It has been reported that the offer has decreased by $250 to $300 million.

© Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security