Fraud & Scams

Herbal Supplements at Major Retailers Contain Houseplants, Little Else

Yesterday the New York Attorney General reported the results of its tests on herbal supplements purchased at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart:

The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.

You read that right. Houseplants.

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Tax-Related Identity Theft Complaints Increased 2300% in 2014

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From the FTC, here’s what tax-related identity theft looks like:

Tax identity theft typically happens when a scammer files a fraudulent tax return using a consumer’s Social Security number in order to receive a refund. The year 2014 marks the fifth consecutive year in which tax-related identity theft topped the list of identity theft complaints, with tax identity theft accounting for nearly a third of all identity theft complaints to the FTC.

To avoid falling prey to the scam, file your taxes as early as you can. The scam won’t work if you have already filed. And be on the lookout for callers posing as the IRS. The FTC says “The IRS will never call a consumer about unpaid taxes or penalties – the agency typically contacts consumers via letter.”

If you think you were contacted by a scammer or a scammer filed a tax return in your name, file a complaint with the FTC right away.

Revenge for a Gym Membership Scam

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Reddit user virinix says he was scammed by GoodLife Fitness back in the 90s. In brief, he signed up for a trial membership, decided to cancel, and canceled his membership before it began. Two years later, the trouble started.

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A Third of Herbal Supplements Don’t Contain the Herb on the Label

Using DNA barcoding, Canadian researchers tested 44 popular supplements and found that a third of them weren’t what they claimed to be. Here’s the New York Times:

Many were adulterated with ingredients not listed on the label, like rice, soybean and wheat, which are used as fillers.

In some cases, these fillers were the only plant detected in the bottle …

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Bancorp Didn’t Think it Was Weird to Mail 1,000+ Tax-Refund Cards to the Same Address

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When a tax-refund fraudster left a wallet with 13 debit cards issued in 13 different names — none of them his own — at a United Airlines ticket counter, it raised a few red flags. It also resulted in the bust of a huge tax-refund fraud ring, centered in Florida.

Here is how the fraud works:

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Patent Trolls Find More Victims: Scanner Users

Imagine you are a patent troll, holding onto a portfolio of patents you can only assert against a handful of companies. At some point, you start running out of victims. So why not invent some more?

That’s what a group of companies with names like AccNum, AllLed, AdzPro, CalNeb, ChaPac, FanPar, FasLan, FulNer, GosNel, and HunLos do. They send out copies of a letter like this to small companies:

Apparently, something like 18% of companies that receive the letter do actually pay, according to Ars Technica. Why? Fear, I guess. And as Ars points out, invalidating these almost-certainly-invalid patents would be difficult or impossible, and would definitely be expensive. Similar to debt collectors sending thousands of robo-signed demand letters at a time, these patent trolls have found a sort of loophole in the system that allows them to engage in a sort of legalized extortion.

Gangs Add Identity Theft and Tax Fraud to Dealing Drugs

Guest post by Nussin S. Fogel.

Gangs across the country are finding white collar crime much easier than dealing drugs on street corners: they’ve learned how to profit from identity theft and tax fraud.

Florida is ground zero for the crime, but the problem is growing throughout the US.

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Ohio AG Goes After California Debt Settlement Companies

Debt settlement is basically debt collection by another name. Out of one side of their mouths, debt settlement companies promise creditors they will help them get paid. Out of the other side of their mouths, debt settlement companies promise consumers great “deals” to resolve their debts. In order to appear more effective (or trustworthy, maybe), many debt settlement companies go to great lengths to appear to be law firms, while putting WE ARE NOT YOUR LAWYER disclaimers in the small print to attempt to avoid violating unauthorized practice of law regulations.

At best, consumers spend a lot of money to get settlements they could easily have gotten themselves with a few phone calls. At worst—and far too often—consumers spend a lot of money and get nothing.

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Phishing by Phone

Tonight, I received the following official-sounding message from “the Transaction Review Department of Wells Fargo Bank” asking me to “verify recent transactions on [my] credit Visa card.” While I do have a Wells Fargo business card, this message doesn’t sound quite right. First, I’ve never heard anyone refer to a “credit Visa card.” Second, as far as I can tell, Wells Fargo does not have a “Transaction Review Department.” Third, there are no unusual charges to my account—by me or anyone else.

I haven’t called the number, because I’m pretty sure this is a phishing attempt, and I’m not interested in giving the phisher in question any verification that it has the correct phone number.

It is just good enough that many people would probably respond. I’m quite certain those who respond will be asked for their account information, and would find their cards maxed shortly after.

Be on the lookout for scams like this. Don’t believe anything that doesn’t sound right, and don’t ever give out your account information over the phone.