Fraud & Scams

Your Aloe Vera Gel May Not Contain Any Aloe

The aloe vera gel many Americans buy to soothe damaged skin contains no evidence of aloe vera at all.

According to the Chicago Tribune, if you bought Target Up & Up Aloe Vera Gel, Walgreens Alcohol Free Aloe Vera Body Gel, CVS Aftersun Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel, or Wal-Mart Equate Aloe After Sun Gel, you are basically just rubbing maltodextrin and an emulsifier on your skin.

This is just the latest example of herbal supplements that don’t live up to their labels. In 2013, Canadian researches found that a third of the herbal supplements they tested don’t contain the herb on the label. In 2015, the New York Attorney General tested herbal supplements from GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart, and found that 80% of them just contained houseplants.

Featured image: “Aloe vera leaf” from Wikimedia Commons.

Filing Bankruptcy, Avoiding a Scam

Guest post by Paul Kuzmickas.

The latest bankruptcy scam targets bankruptcy filers and those with significant debt. In the last few weeks, bankruptcy filers have been receiving phone calls from con artists disguised as bankruptcy attorneys, using software to look like a law firm on caller ID. These con artists are asking for immediate payment of outstanding debts and threatening to arrest those who do not comply.

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Illegal Signs Show Predatory Lending is Alive and Well

At MinnPost, Bill Lindeke reports on a silent war going on in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Predatory lenders staple their signs to utility poles and plant them in boulevards, and do-gooders like St. Paul City Council member Amy Brendmoen and North Minneapolis activist Jeff Skrenes take them down. It has even escalated — literally. Skrenes carries a 10′ ice scraper to reach the signs, which the lenders are posting out of reach to try to keep them up longer.

The signs are illegal, and the people and companies posting them are generally engaging in some form of DIY predatory lending — offering a bad deal to people struggling with a mortgage that was probably a bad deal to begin with. It must work, because the signs keep going up even though people like Brendmoen and Skrenes keep taking them down.

But there are better options for homeowners struggling with a mortgage. Both the Minnesota Homeownership Center and Habitat for Humanity have phone hotlines and can help homeowners figure out what they can do. The best option is almost certainly not taking a fraction of the equity in cash or converting bad mortgage into a bad contract for deed.

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

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

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

2421-Jackson-Bluff-Road-Google-Street-View

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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