The lead-generation bait-and-switch

You’ve probably shared your contact information online to, say, get details about a job opening. Usually, that’s fine. But sometimes you might be looking for one thing and wind up getting something else – like calls about stuff you never asked for or wanted.

Lead generators are companies that collect your contact information, then sell it to marketers who use it to promote their own products and services. While some lead generators are upfront about what they do with your information, others trick you into sharing it for their own profit – regardless of what you asked for.

The FTC sued Day Pacer, LLC for allegedly making unwanted calls as part of a scheme that used just this kind of bait-and-switch. According to the lawsuit, Day Pacer is a lead generator that got its leads from websites with convincing graphics and language to make people think they were in the right place to get what they needed. People went to these websites and shared their phone numbers to get help applying for jobs, health insurance, unemployment benefits and other assistance. But that’s not what they got. Instead, people got unwanted phone calls from Day Pacer with sales pitches to enroll in post-secondary and vocational schools operated by its clients. The company disturbed millions of people with these calls – even though their numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry.

When you search online for jobs, benefits, or government assistance, you want to be sure you wind up where you need to be. So, once you have your search results:

  • Check out the URL before you click. Search online for that URL, plus the words “review” or “complaint.” Do the same thing with the company name, if you can find it. That will tell you what other people have experienced with that site.
  • Look for sites with “.gov” in the URL. Of course, there are many reliable, non-government, online sources. But government sites are the safest bet. So, for example:

And if you know someone who’s gone through this kind of bait-and-switch, report it to the FTC.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Jumpstart your savings with Start Small, Save Up

National Tax Day was April 15. For many Americans, their tax refund is one of the biggest checks they’ll receive all year. If you received a tax refund, consider setting some of it aside as savings. Sometimes “life happens,” so having a rainy day fund to cover unexpected expenses throughout the year may help you breathe a little easier.

If you feel like you’re living paycheck to paycheck or always coming up short, it’s difficult to think about putting any money aside. And, you’re not alone. According to a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Board, 40 percent of Americans could not come up with $400 to cover an emergency expense, or would do so by borrowing money or selling something. 

CFPB recently launched the Start Small, Save Up campaign to provide tools and strategies to help Americans to save. A few small steps can really add up and help you realize your dreams for the future, regardless of whether it’s creating security for a rainy day, saving for your dream house, or building towards retirement.    

Learn how you can start small now and create lasting change.

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

SSA imposters top IRS in consumer loss reports

Have you gotten calls about supposed problems with your Social Security number from callers pretending they’re with the Social Security Administration (SSA)? If so, you’re not alone. Our latest Data Spotlight finds that reports about SSA imposters are surging, while reports about IRS imposters have taken a dive.

As the Spotlight puts it, “In the shady world of government imposters, the SSA scam may be the new IRS scam.” While reports of SSA imposters have swelled – nearly half of the reports we’ve gotten in the last year have come in the past two months alone – reports of IRS scammers have plunged. What’s more, people told us they lost $19 million to SSA imposters in the past year. That overtakes the $17 million reported lost to IRS imposters in 2016, the peak year of the IRS scam.

How can you spot SSA imposters? They often use robocalls to reach you, then launch into a story aimed at tricking you into giving them your money, your Social Security number (SSN), or both. They may say your SSN has been suspended and you need to confirm your SSN to reactivate it. Or, they may say your SSN has been involved in a crime and your bank account is about to be seized or frozen, but you can protect your money if you put it on a gift card and give them the code. Never do that – your money will disappear.

If you get one of these calls, remember – the real SSA will never contact you out of the blue or tell you to put money on a gift card or, for that matter, visit a Bitcoin ATM, or wire money. If your caller ID shows a number that looks like it belongs to the SSA, don’t trust the number – scammers fake their caller ID all the time. If you’re worried, hang up and call the SSA yourself at 1-800-772-1213.

Check out the Data Spotlight for more information. If you think a scammer has your Social Security number, visit IdentityTheft.gov/ssa to learn what you can do.

Hang up on Social Security Scammers

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

A no-cost way to prepare your credit for a big purchase

Thinking about buying a house, car, or other big ticket item, and know you’ll be using credit? Before making a big purchase, your first step should be to take a look at all of your finances. Check out these five steps to prepare your finances that won’t cost you a penny.

1. Take advantage of your free annual credit reports.

You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a copy of your credit reports for free. The three nationwide credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — each have to provide your free credit reports every 12 months – but only if you request them. You can check the three reports periodically throughout the year or all at once. If you decide to request one report every four months, you can monitor your credit reports more frequently throughout the year.

2. Review your credit reports for inaccurate information.

Take a close look at your credit reports to make sure all the information on your report is correct. According to an FTC study , one in five people have errors on their credit report. Not sure what to look for? Here’s a list of common credit report errors to help you through the process.

3. Dispute credit report errors with the credit reporting company that sent you the report.

Incorrect information on your credit report may hurt your ability to get new lines of credit or may make the terms of credit more expensive. You can dispute inaccurate information with the credit reporting company. You can use these instructions and template letter as a guide.

4. Dispute credit report errors to the company that provided the information.

The company that provided or “furnished” the information to the credit reporting company is known as the “furnisher.” Furnishers could be your bank, your landlord, or your credit card company. You can dispute inaccurate information directly with the furnisher. Use this template to send a letter to the company that provided the information you’re disputing.

5. Make a plan.

Even if you don’t have errors on your credit report, reviewing your report can help you make a plan for how to improve your credit. For more help putting your plan together, download this guide to Rebuilding Your Credit .

This article by was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

FTC Charges Telemarketing Operation with Misleading Job Seekers and Making Millions of Illegal, Unsolicited Calls

Alleges defendants make unsolicited calls about educational programs to consumers who submitted their contact information to job and benefits websites

The Federal Trade Commission has charged a telemarketing operation and its owners with making millions of illegal, unsolicited calls about educational programs to consumers who submitted their contact information to websites promising help with job searches, public benefits, and other unrelated programs.

According to the FTC’s complaint seeking civil penalties, corporate defendants Day Pacer, LLC and Edutrek, L.L.C., and individual defendants Raymond Fitzgerald, Ian Fitzgerald, and David Cumming, obtain consumers’ phone numbers from websites that claim to help consumers apply for jobs, health insurance, unemployment benefits, Medicaid coverage, or other forms of assistance. Instead of offering these services, the defendants and their affiliates call consumers to market vocational or post-secondary education programs, according to the FTC.

“Telemarketers have a duty to ensure that they are not placing calls to people on the National Do-Not-Call Registry,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, “And they cannot rely on affiliate websites that use fine print and other deceptive tactics to lure consumers.”

The job and benefits websites allegedly use different tactics, like small print, to hide their telemarketing purpose. For example, in the exhibit below, the web page states, “Jobs In Your Area” and “Thousands of Government Jobs In Your Area Are Looking to Hire Immediately,” and includes the misleading seals of several federal government agencies. At the bottom of the page is a block of small text that is illegible without substantial magnification. It states that clicking the “submit” button to request information about government jobs provides “consent” to receive telemarketing calls about various subjects unrelated to obtaining a government job.

FTC Exhibit: screenshot of website claiming to find government jobs for users

Similarly, the complaint alleges that the defendants have purchased leads from “FindFamilyResources.com,” a website offering to provide information about Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), welfare benefits, and unemployment insurance. The exhibit below shows a landing page that tells consumers they may “Learn More About Benefits Assistance” by submitting contact information in the boxes provided onscreen. The “yes” or “no” checkbox asking for consent to receive telemarketing calls is placed directly under an unrelated question about residency and age.

FTC Exhibit: screenshot of website claiming to help users find information about government assistance

The defendants are charged with violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by initiating over five million unsolicited outbound telemarketing calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry since 2013, and by providing substantial assistance to other telemarketers who placed calls to numbers on the Do Not Call Registry.

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on March 29, 2019, after being referred back to the FTC by the U.S. Department of Justice.

NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.

The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition, and protect and educate consumers. You can learn more about consumer topics and file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our blogs, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Online Lending Company Agrees to Settle FTC Charges It Engaged in Deceptive and Unfair Loan Servicing Practices

Avant to pay $3.85 million for harming thousands of consumers

Avant, LLC, an online lending company, has agreed to settle the Federal Trade Commission’s charges that it engaged in deceptive and unfair loan servicing practices, such as imposing unauthorized charges on consumers’ accounts and unlawfully requiring consumers to consent to automatic payments from their bank accounts.

“We have alleged that Avant gave the run-around to consumers trying to repay their loans, because of systemic issues with the company’s loan servicing platform,” said Andrew Smith Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Online lenders need to understand that loan servicing is just as important to consumers as loan marketing and origination, and we will not hesitate to hold lenders liable for unfair or deceptive servicing practices.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, Avant offers unsecured installment loans for consumers through its website. The FTC charged that in many cases, the company falsely advertised that it would accept payments by credit or debit cards, when in fact it rejected these forms of payments. The FTC also alleged that the company withdrew money from consumers’ accounts or charged their credit cards without authorization.  In some instances, Avant charged consumers duplicate payments without authorization, improperly taking consumers’ monthly payments twice or more in one month.  For example, one consumer’s monthly payment was debited from his account 11 times in a single day.

In many cases when consumers complained about the unauthorized charges, Avant  allegedly insisted that the consumers authorized the charges and refused to provide a refund. Despite hundreds of consumer complaints about unauthorized charges and internal documents repeatedly acknowledging this problem, the company continued to charge consumers without authorization, according to the FTC.

The Commission has also charged the online lending company with the following law violations:

  • failing to properly and timely credit payments made by check;
  • providing inaccurate payoff quotes to consumers;
  • collecting additional amounts even after consumers paid the quoted payoff amount; and
  • violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act by requiring borrowers to agree to recurring automatic debits of their bank account as a condition of obtaining a loan.

The stipulated final order imposes a judgment of $3.85 million, which will be returned to consumers who were harmed by Avant’s unlawful practices.

Under the settlement order, Avant, LLC will be prohibited from taking unauthorized payments and from collecting payment by means of remotely created check (RCC). The company also is prohibited from misrepresenting: the methods of payment accepted for monthly payments, partial payments, payoffs, or any other purpose; the amount of payment that will be sufficient to pay off in its entirety the balance of an account; when payments will be applied or credited; or any material fact regarding payments, fees, or charges.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Ask a health professional before popping that pill

When I was young, I wanted the shoes that would make me run faster and jump higher. Now, I wish my brain would run a little faster when I can’t remember my account passwords. Unfortunately, some shady outfits have been trying to “help” people like me by making some mind-blowing claims to sell their dietary supplements.

The FTC just settled charges against four people and a dozen businesses that sold bottles of “cognitive enhancement” supplements through a collection of websites, including fake news websites. The FTC says the defendants falsely claimed Geniux, Xcel, EVO, and Ion-Z could increase users’ focus, concentration, IQ, and brainpower. The settlement bans them from making false or unsupported health claims and requires them to pay over $600,000.

According to the FTC, the defendants didn’t have proof that Geniux can increase concentration by 312 percent, boost brainpower by up to 89.2 percent, and enhance memory recall. They made these claims on websites designed to look like real news sites and featuring false claims that Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking got dramatic results from Geniux. The FTC also says that customers — who paid up to $57 per bottle — couldn’t get a promised 100% money back guarantee.

If you’re considering a dietary supplement, remember: the government doesn’t review or evaluate supplements for safety or effectiveness before they’re put on the market. Your health care professional is the most important person to ask whether a supplement is safe for you. Even a natural supplement can be risky depending on your health and the medicine you take. If you see an ad with claims about miracle cures, ask a professional about the science behind the claims. If you think a product is being advertised falsely, please tell the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Financial tips for 2019 graduates

Congratulations students and parents! It won’t be long before young people across the country will put on their caps and gowns to celebrate their graduations. Many graduation speakers offer advice, some based on their own life experiences. The FTC has some practical advice to offer, too.

April is Financial Literacy Month and a great time to start planning for your financial future. The FTC has a library of free consumer materials, including a blog and media room, to help you make the most of your money and avoid costly scams.

Check out consumer.gov for basic, easy-to-read tips on budgeting, getting credit, renting a place to live, dealing with identity theft, and buying a car. And if you’re looking for a job, scammers may be looking for you. Some job placement firms misrepresent their services, promote nonexistent vacancies, or charge high fees in advance for services that don’t guarantee placement.

Speaking of scams, you might be surprised to learn that, according to recently released FTC data, younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people. It’s what the data has been telling us for a while, but it’s hard for people to grasp. Last year, based on those who reported fraud and gave us their age, 43% of people in their 20s reported a loss to that fraud, while only 15% of people in their 70s did. Check out 10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud to help stay a step ahead of the scammers.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Charity Scams Are Everywhere: How Can You Donate Safely?

When we see someone in need, it pulls at our heartstrings and we want to do anything we can to help them. That’s why charity scams are so devastatingly effective. You want to do something good for the world, but some greedy person is taking advantage of both you and the cause.

These scams are sinister traps, but don’t worry, we’ll show you how you to avoid them and make sure your money only goes towards worthy causes.

What Are Charity Scams?

Charity scams involve the fraudulent use of charities to take either money or information from victims. Con artists often use emotional appeals because they break down our guards and can get us to hand over money when we otherwise wouldn’t have.

These scams can happen in person, over the phone, through email, text message or social media. They go beyond trying to get money out of people – some fraudsters use charities as a pretext so that they can get the details they need to commit identity theft.

There are a range of different types of charity fraud, including inflated or continuous payments, crowd-funding lies, phishing, tax shelter scams and guilt tripping. If you want to learn about these scams in more detail, have a look at this rundown.

Check out the following tips if you want to avoid charity fraud and make sure your money goes to those in need.

Donate Actively, Not Passively or Reactively

One of the most common ways for people to donate is when they are prompted in person, over the phone, via email or through other channels. This is a reactive form of donation, and it can lead to problems.

If you are walking down the street and a charity worker waves a tin at you, asking for money, you might hand some over without thinking about it. Likewise, when you get called by a charity, you may be pressured into giving money before you can give it some proper thought.

This is dangerous, because in both of these situations, you don’t have time to evaluate whether or not the charity is legitimate. It could actually be a fraudster using manipulative tactics to solicit donations you otherwise wouldn’t give.

If you really want to make a positive change in the world and avoid falling for scams, the only way you can be certain is to take your time and do some research. Acting impulsively can easily lead to getting scammed and legitimate charities missing out on the money.

On top of this, you will also find that some of the most well-known charities are far less effective than they make themselves out to be. To avoid scams and make sure your donation has the most beneficial impact, have a look at one of these charity review sites and find an organization that you like:

Once you find one that you approve of, you can start sending it money. In the future, whenever anyone solicits donations from you, politely say, “No thank you, I already have charities that I support.” If you want, you can set aside whatever money you may have given to the tin-rattler, and give it to a charity you know is trustworthy.

Extra Tips for Donating Safely

The above advice should point you in the right direction, but there are some other tips that can also prevent you from falling for scams:

  • Pay with secure methods – use PayPal, a secure credit card platform, or checks. Never give out your bank details or send cash. You should also ask for a receipt for your records and tax purposes.
  • Avoid suspicious links in emails – make sure that any links you click on are the legitimate charity URLs and that their names are spelled correctly.

Reporting Scams

If you notice a scam, report it to protect others and to help punish the perpetrators. If we shut down these fraudulent organizations, we can make sure that more money is heading to those who really need it. Report scams to the following agencies:

If you are a victim of charity fraud, report it to your local police as well.

This article by Josh Lake first appeared on Comparitech.com and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Online lending company broke the law. FTC counts the ways.

If you need to borrow money to consolidate credit card debt, make home or auto repairs, or pay other unexpected bills, a personal installment loan may be an option.

Most personal loans are unsecured, meaning they don’t require collateral like a house or car, and typically have higher interest rates than secured loans.

Paying a higher interest rate is one thing, but when it came to one online lending company, customers were caught off guard by what the FTC says were lies and illegal conduct.

Today, the FTC announced a settlement with Avant, LLC, a company offering personal loans online. According to the FTC, Avant deceived customers in a bunch of ways about what and how they were supposed to pay. For example, the FTC alleges that Avant:

  • advertised that it would take payments by credit or debit cards when, in many cases, it wouldn’t;
  • illegally required customers to agree to automatic payments from their bank accounts;
  • deceived customers about the amount needed to pay off their loans;
  • collected — or tried to collect — more money from people who paid the quoted payoff amount; and
  • made unauthorized charges on customers’ bank accounts.

The settlement bars Avant from engaging in similar conduct and requires it to pay $3.85 million to thousands of customers harmed by its loan servicing practices.

If you’re shopping for an online loan, do some research, especially if you’re not familiar with the company. Type the lender’s name into your favorite search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If you find bad reviews, you’ll have to decide if the offer is worth the risk. After all, it’s only a good deal if the loan and servicing experience lives up to the written promises.

If you think a company has violated the law, tell the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information, check out our Credit and Loans page.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.