New Investigative Series Wants to Help You Settle The Score!

Exciting New Investigative Series Wants to Help You Settle The Score!

Have you been the victim of a bait & switch?
Have you been stung by a scammer?
Have you been duped by an online seller, shamed on the internet or outright ripped off by someone on social media?

The internet is something we use everyday…but dangers lurk everywhere.
Online thieves, con artists, shysters & scammers are having a heyday, and their crimes are often too small scale to call the cops or file an expensive & time consuming lawsuit.

You don’t know where to go, or who to turn to…so turn to us.
If you’ve been burned by an online thief, if you’ve ‘clicked this link’ and ended up losing money, or had your reputation tarnished by a facebook or Yelp type post, then this is your chance to stand up & let your frustration be heard!

New TV Series for a Major Cable Network wants to help you find the perp, settle the score, and get even.
We’ll find out what happened, what went wrong, and chase down the person you think is guilty.

Please send an email to LetsEvenTheScore@gmail.com and tell us your story!
And please tell them that Shawn from Scam Victims United sent you!

How to Determine if an Online Institution is Credible

Guest Blog Post by Brittany Lyons ~ 


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According to a November 2011 study by Babson Survey Research Group, more than 6.1 million students enrolled in at least one web-based class in 2010, an increase of more than 10 percent from the previous year. Online degrees offer educational credentials from the comfort of one’s living home—but experts say the convenience carries substantial risk. Fraudulent institutions that offer worthless degrees pose a threat to well-meaning young people who hope to receive a real education.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reported that e-learning scams have snared hundreds of victims. Typically, these “schools” offer university and high school diplomas for cash. Students complete courses and receive a certificate in the mail, only to be told it holds no academic value by admission offices, employers and military recruiters. Unfortunately these “diploma mills” that have become more prevalent as online student numbers rise.

However that is not say all schools found online are scams. The BBB acknowledges that many online institutions are reputable and offer legitimate services, providing some students who may not otherwise been able attend school in a traditional setting an opportunity to enhance their education. BBB spokesman Steve Cox points out, “Education is one of the keys to advancing in life and having a diploma or advanced degree can certainly make a difference when it comes to getting into college or landing a higher-paying job.”

If a student does decide to attend an online school, a resource for accredited online PhD degrees explains that it is important for the student to thoroughly investigate the college prior to enrollment. The most crucial aspect to explore is whether the university is accredited and by whom. The BBB adds that one good way to determine accreditation is to crosscheck the program with the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. If students still have questions about the program, they want to visit an admissions office at a state college or university to ensure that the degree will help applicants earn consideration from admissions departments in the future.

There are also a number of red flags that indicate a potentially shady institution. A course-load that rewards points based on “life experience” or unusually easy exams often denotes a scam. The same is true of any “guarantees” of completion made by the program to the student, or deals for those who sign up to earn multiple degrees at once. “People who want to further themselves see something that looks really quick and easy,” Houston’s BBB spokeswoman told ABCNews.com. “People should know that if they get a college degree, there is a lot of time involved.”

Students should also note the program’s contact information. Illegitimate programs often list addresses with suite numbers and post office boxes, while the phone number may not be listed at all. Foreign offices should also be treated as suspicious, especially if the program’s description makes no mention of international culture or overseas-based curriculum.

The BBB shut down three fraudulent online degree programs last year, but the organization claims many more are still lurking on the web. Operated by the same parent company, Belford High School and Belford University are the biggest offenders—with 117 complaints from individuals in 40 states. The high school program offers a high school diploma based on “life experience;” according to its site, which also claims 99 percent of colleges accept the degree. The university program offers associate, bachelor and even doctorate degrees for no more than $1,400. However, the BBB says that in reality the degrees are not seen as proper credentials by colleges or military recruiters.

Another violator is MMDS Ltd., a company based in the St. Kitts. Their most popular program, Jefferson High School Online (JHSO), offers high school diplomas for roughly $200. Course results are determined by a “life experience” questionnaire, which asks students to list musical tastes and preferred weekend activities. Following the questionnaire, the student takes a multiple-choice test that provides hints and allows three incorrect guesses per question. More than a hundred JHSO “graduates” have complained to the BBB about numerous rejections from colleges nationwide.

As young men and women strive to earn a degree and enter the American work force, it is important for them to proceed with caution. Online college scams represent the most recent incarnation of fraudulent Internet practices that have evolved to match consumer trends and web activity. Luckily, the headaches associated with obtaining a worthless degree can be avoided with a thorough preliminary investigation, and an eye for sketchy web conduct.

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Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

When the Kids Are Away, the Scammers Come Out to Play

I was asked to share this information about scams related to students away on Spring Break.  That time of year is just around the corner, and this is something that all parents need to be aware of.  Much like the Grandparent Scams, this scam preys on an adult wanted to help out a child in trouble.

MoneyGram Offers Advice to Parents of College Spring Breakers 
To Avoid Fraud During Popular Travel Period

DALLAS (Feb. 22, 2012) – While most Americans will prepare to lose an hour of sleep when Daylight Saving Time ends in mid-March, many parents are preparing to lose something else: their peace of mind when their college-age children travel on spring break

According to MoneyGram (NYSE: MGI), a leading global money transfer company, spring break can end up “breaking the bank” if parents don’t stay alert to the “family scam” – when a scammer calls parents to inform them their child is in trouble in a distant location, asking for money for medical care or bail, even though the child is perfectly safe.

“Spring break can be a letting-go experience for parents of college students,” said Kim Garner, Senior Vice President of Global Security for MoneyGram. “But along with letting go, parents should hang on to their common sense, especially when it comes to helping their kids stay safe and avoid certain common scams.

Garner offers the following advice to parents of college students to safeguard their physical and financial health during spring break:

Check in before heading out: American students traveling internationally can register with the U.S. State Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which will help with communications in the event of an emergency. Canadian students can register with their country’s similar program, Registration of Canadians Abroad.

Take a lesson from E.T.: Phone home: Parents should make a deal with their students traveling for spring break – a little freedom for a few phone calls and some extra phone numbers. Parents should establish specific times for phone calls to check in, so they will know where their students are and what they’re up to, and get cell phone numbers for the friends of their traveling children as a back-up means of communication.

Just say no: With personal belongings left scattered on beach towels, scammers often will use student IDs to find parents and ask for money to be wired in the aid of their child who can’t come to the phone. Garner of MoneyGram advises parents to say no – and never wire money to anyone they don’t know – instead checking in by calling the child’s cell phone or the local authorities where their child is vacationing.

Give them credit: Parents can temporarily add a child as an approved user to a credit card, and place a pre-set spending limit on the card as a way to prompt financial responsibility while the student is traveling.

Put a policy in place: To guard against a financial loss, parents should check with their insurance company to make sure their child’s possessions are insured on their homeowner’s policy while the student is traveling, especially if the child will be traveling outside the United States.

“The best way to ensure a safe spring break and avoid a scam is to talk to your child in advance about these types of precautions, and schedule regular contact so you can hear directly from them that they’re safe,” said Garner of MoneyGram. “And while the student is traveling, parents should focus on their own protection against scams by never sending money to anyone they don’t know, regardless of what the individual on the other end of a phone might be telling them.”

As part of MoneyGram’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from wire transfer fraud, the company recently launched an enhanced version of its fraud prevention website – www.moneygram-preventfraud.com. MoneyGram recommends that before initiating a money transfer, consumers should:

· Know – Always know the person to whom you are sending money. Never send money to strangers.

· Show – Never show or share information about your money transfer to anyone but the recipient.

· Throw – Discard or throw away any offers that promise easy ways to earn money, especially if the offers require you to send money before earning money.

Consumers who suspect fraud associated with money transfers should contact their local law enforcement. Consumers should call 1-800-MONEYGRAM (800-666-3947) if they believe MoneyGram was used to wire money as a result of a scam.

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Another tip from Scam Victims United
When we were kids they taught us about “Stranger Danger” and avoiding becoming a victim of kidnapping.  We were told to never go with a stranger, even if they looked “nice” or said that they were a friend of your parents and your parents sent them to pick you up.  In my family, we had a “code word” so that if someone we did not know DID have to pick us up, they would have to know the “code word” before we would go with them.  Similar to this, create a code word with your child before they leave for Spring Break.  If someone calls saying that they are your child’s friend you just need to ask “What is the code word?”  If they don’t know it, you will know right away that they are lying.

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Minnesota Bill HF343

I have mentioned the Minnesota Bill HF343 on this blog in the past.  It is one that several people who are concerned about the growing number of scams and fraud wish to see become a law.  Just this week it was sent to the General Register, which means it is one step closer to becoming a law.

To hear the audio from that meeting you can go here . . . http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/audio/archivescomm.asp?comm=87004&ls_year=87

I encourage all of you to read the bill and contact the Representatives that are backing this bill to thank them for their work and share with them why you believe this bill needs to become law.

Computer Assistance Scam

Most of us use our computers on a daily basis, and the idea of a virus in our computer is something that no one wants to deal with.  So what if a computer technical support service called you and warned you that they had detected a virus on your computer, and they were able to help you to rid your computer of that virus BEFORE it corrupted all of your files and documents?

This is one of the phone scams that is going around right now, and I know about it because they called my house twice this week.  When I answered the phone the person on the other end identified themselves as a Tech Support Specialist from Microsoft.  They knew my name and address, and they told me that they had detected a problem with my computer.  It just seemed strange to me that a company like Microsoft would be calling me to alert me to a virus on my computer, but I listened to what they had to say because I knew it had to be a scam and wanted to get some more information from them.  They wanted me to go to my computer and go to a website and that is when I told them that I knew that there was no problem with my computer.

After hanging up, I jumped on my computer and started doing some Google Research.  I found that this scam has been hitting people in the UK, Australia, South Africa and now it seems to have made it’s way to the United States.  Had I stayed on the phone, the phony Tech Support caller would have directed me to look at some files on my computer that would have “proven” that I had the virus that they were calling about.  They would have then directed me to a website where I could download a file that would fix the issue, but what that file really does is allow them access to your computer!  Now they have all of your information!  And to top it off they will ask you to pay them for this service.

Microsoft has information about this scam on their website . . .

Once they have access to your computer, they can do the following: 

Trick you into installing malicious software that could capture sensitive data, such as online banking user names and passwords. They might also then charge you to remove this software.

Take control of your computer remotely and adjust settings to leave your computer vulnerable.

Request credit card information so they can bill you for phony services.

Direct you to fraudulent websites and ask you to enter credit card and other personal or financial information there.

Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes.

As with anything, do your research first.  One intended victim indicated that when they spoke with the phone Tech Support person they indicated that they had 4 computers in their home, and asked which computer had the problem . . . the phony Tech responded that they could turn on any one of their computers to fix this problem.  This was a dead giveaway that it was a scam.

If you have been hit by this scam you should change your passwords, use a trusted malware scanner to remove any unwanted software from your computer and contact your bank and credit card companies.

Thousands Scammed by Facebook Starbucks App

Guest Blog Post by Brittany Lyons ~ 

For many Facebook users, the offer of free Starbucks gift cards is simply too much to pass up. Recently, many users clicked on just such a link that popped up in their friends’ status updates, after those friends had “liked” the page. Instead of taking them to a legitimate corporate website, the users were directed to a fraudulent website, where they gave up their private information in order to receive the non-existent gift cards.
Facebook scams like these are not a new occurrence. In August of 2010, the statuses of users’ Facebook pages were flooded with messages letting people know that Justin Bieber was giving away free concert tickets. When users clicked the link, they went to a Facebook application page that asked for the user’s mobile phone number in order to enter a contest to win £50,000 (80,000 USD). The catch is that it was also a premium service that charged £4.50 (7 USD) to the mobile phone bill once a week.
The one thing that Justin Bieber and Starbucks have in common is an extremely large fan base, and thus more potential victims who scammers can target. This is also why scams will often be disguised as popular services like online PhD programs. That large number of potential victims is then multiplied by the number of friends that these fans have, and scams like these get passed along from friend to friend like wildfire. It is possible that thousands of people may have given up their personal information before the Starbucks scam app was removed by Facebook.
This connection between friends is what makes Facebook scams different than the email spam messages of the past. Email spam would just get sent to random people, typically by unknown senders, which made them relatively easy to block, filter or just ignore. Facebook scams, on the other hand, rely on trusted connections between friends in order to spread. Once someone has clicked on the link, the app re-posts that same link on their status, sending it out to all of their connections. Since a Facebook user would not be as suspicious of a message or link from a friend as they would with a random sender, there is a better chance of them opening the scam link or message and passing it on.
To avoid scams like this, it’s important to know the posting habits of your friends. For example, if friends are posting links when they normally do not post links, or they are linking to something you don’t think they are a fan of, there is a good chance that they have been scammed and didn’t even post the link in the first place. Most of these links are actually rogue Facebook apps installed on a user’s Facebook page. If you are ever taken to a Facebook application install page, pay attention to whether or not the application asks for authorization to post on your wall, and think carefully before granting that authorization—your friends will thank you.
Users should also avoid giving out personal information as a rule, especially in the case of promotional offers. Check the security setting on your Facebook profile, so that you are using “secure browsing”–that means there is an “https://” in front of the page URL rather than the “http://” that’s more common. Secure browsing has a tendency to block all apps, rather than just the scams, but the extra step it takes to open a link will prompt you to think twice about how secure it is. Finally, users can also keep track of ongoing scams and frauds by checking the Facebook page of Sophos, a company that monitors and reports scams, viruses and frauds that are spread throughout the Internet.
Overall, the best mentality to have when seeing promotions that offer gift cards and other goodies on Facebook is this: if something seems to be too good to be true, then it probably is.

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Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.

Guest Blog ~ Shredding Documents

Today we have a guest blog post to share with you from Chris at http://www.shreddingmachines.co.uk/

My parents and I were recently talking about ID theft and shredding over dinner. My father’s company purchased a Cross-cut Office Shredder from ShreddingMachines.co.uk to shred all sensitive information on site. This sensitive information includes corporate information such as invoices and pre-printed company letter paper but also the personnel files of his employees.

My mother works in the HR department for a much larger company so a vast majority of the documents that needed to be shredded relate to individuals who work at the company. This includes their names, addresses, home telephone numbers, bank account details and many other pieces of information that you wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands. I asked how this information was shredded and expected one of 3 answers:

1. Each member of staff has their own personalised shredder
2. There was a large centralised shredder for each department
3. A specialist company comes and does the shredding for them on site

The actual answer left me stunned. They got another company to shred all of her documents FOR FREE! They put all of the documents that need to be shredded into bags and then these are left in a room for the company to collect. The company would arrive every Friday to collect the bags and take them away with them.

I asked why the company didn’t charge any money for this service and was told that it was because they make their money from selling the paper. I asked how she knew that the paper had been shredded and she very proudly told me that they received a certificate through the post a few weeks later confirming that the paper had been shredded!

I could not believe what I was hearing. Sensitive information is left for over a week in bags marked “to be shredded” and are then collected by a company who makes money from the contents of these bags.

There are two problems that I can see:

1. Imagine someone broke into the property overnight and saw these bags. It wouldn’t take a genius to realise that bags marked “to be shredded” contained sensitive and potentially valuable information.
2. What is to stop the company who collects these bags from selling them to someone else and then providing you with a false certificate?

That is not to say that this particular company acts in this way. I have no idea of their name and they may be the most ethical company in the World. However why take the chance? If they could collect the paper and get $5,000 for the recycled value or sell the information for $20,000 then unfortunately there are some members of society that would choose the latter.

Do you know what happens at your company? In the UK companies must comply to the Data Protection Act. The important part is the 7th Principal that states that “Appropriate technical and organizational measures shall be taken against unauthorized or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of or damage to personal data”. This is clearly not the case if your information is taken off site. In the US there is no equivalent legislation, however companies are encouraged to self regulate this to ensure that data does not fall into the wrong hands.

This has hopefully made you think about what your company’s shredding policy is.
IT IS OKAY TO ASK!!

It is your personal information that could be at risk and it is your identity that could be stolen so you are allowed to know what the process is. All companies should have a shredding policy in place. If they don’t then why don’t you put yourself in charge of creating one? If your Company has their information shredded off-site then show them this article and see if you can get them to change how they do things.
The golden rule applies in this case as it does with most things in life. If something sounds too good to be true then it usually is!

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