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County of Sonoma California
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Scams

If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, you should report the matter to the local law enforcement agency in your area to investigate. The law enforcement agency will forward the matter to the district attorney’s office for prosecution if they can identify a suspect.

Even if you do not fall victim to a scam, it is important to alert others of the existence of scams in our community in order to prevent losses to members of our community. Please call our office at (707) 565-5317 to report a scam.

Tell your friends and family members to sign up for Consumer Alerts so they will get updated information on recent reported scams.

Consumer Complaints

Consumer Complaints can be filed directly with the District Attorney’s Office to report a problem with a business in Sonoma County that you have been unable to resolve. Instructions for filing can be found at:

Cybersecurity for Small Businesses

Posted October 19, 2018

The Federal Trade Commission has posted new resources for small businesses to help protect them from cybersecurity threats.  The resources are located at www.FTC.gov/SmallBusiness.  See article at : https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/10/new-materials-cybersecurity-small-business?utm_source=govdelivery

Scammers Favor Gift Cards

Posted October 19, 2018

As many of our prior posts have indicated, scammers frequently use gift cards as a way to obtain payment because they are not traceable and no stop payment can be placed on them.  The Federal Trade Commission has released statistics indicating that there has been a 270% increase in scammers requesting payment with a gift card.  42% of people who paid scammers with a gift card used iTunes or Google Play.  Be cautious of anyone calling you and demanding immediate payment or pressuring you to make payment with a gift card.  For more information see: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/10/scammers-demand-gift-cards?utm_source=govdelivery.

New Law On Credit Card Freeze and Faqs

Posted October 19, 2018

A new law effective September 21, 2018 allows you to freeze and unfreeze your credit file with the credit reporting agencies for free.  It also provides for year long fraud alerts to businesses that check your credit that they should check with you before opening a new account.  For more information see: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/09/free-credit-freezes-are-here and FAQs at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.

Refunds to Pay Day Loan Customers

Posted September 28, 2018

The Federal Trade Commission announced that it is refunding $505 million dollars to consumers who took out loans between January 2009 and January 2013 from AMG Services and its related companies which include: 500 FastCash, Advantage Cash Services, Ameriloan, OneClickCash, Star Cash Processing, UnitedCashLoans, and USFastCash. Checks are being send automatically by the FTC to eligible consumers. For more information see https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/09/ftc-doj-return-record-505-million-consumers-harmed-massive-payday

Donating to Charities after a Disaster

Posted September 28, 2018

With the many recent disasters that have occurred locally and in the news, it is important to be aware that scammers unfortunately take advantage by exploiting these tragedies. For a helpful list of tips to consider when donating to charities see: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/how-donate-wisely-and-avoid-charity-scams

Costco and Retail Scams

Posted September 28, 2018

Many scammers take advantage of our familiarity with well know businesses and their logos so that you think you are receiving an email from a store that you may do business with. Costco and many other businesses have information on their websites regarding scams and how to avoid them. Be cautious of any “survey”, coupon or pop up saying you have won a contest that requires you to provide personal information unless you have verified that it is actually from the company by checking their website or calling NOT by clicking links in an email that was sent to you. Costco reports that fictitious job offers have been sent to individuals by email. Costco Wholesale does not extend job offers via email to individuals with whom it has had no prior contact. For more information see: https://www.costco.com/fraud-prevention.html

September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Scam

Posted March 26, 2018

The Federal Trade Commission has received reports that consumers are receiving calls from individuals pretending to be with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). According to the reports, callers are telling people that they may be entitled to money and ask for personal information to determine if they are eligible. Callers request information such as social security numbers, mailing addresses, bank accounts and whether a person worked in the 9/11 exposure areas. The callers are using spoofed phone numbers with New York area codes. This is a scam.

If you receive such a call, hang up immediately and report it to the FTC at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1. Although the VCF may contact people directly, they will not ask for your full social security number. If you are uncertain if the call is from the VCF, hang up and call the VCF directly at 1-855-885-1555.

Governor Extends Price Gouging Protections Through December 4, 2018

Posted March 26, 2018

On April 13, 2018, the Governor issued Executive Order B-51-18 which extended the price gouging protections under Penal Code 396 through December 4, 2018. With respect to rental housing, this means that property owners may not increase the price of rental housing by more than 10 percent of the rental price charged prior to the fires.

If you have been the victim of price gouging or wish to file a complaint, Complaints can be made on the District Attorney’s website at http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/District-Attorney/
or by calling (707) 565-5317. Please provide any documentation regarding the price gouging to the District Attorney’s Office.

Amazon Seller Scam

Posted March 26, 2018

The Federal Trade Commission announced it has filed a lawsuit against a company Amazing Wealth Systems—also known as AWX, FBA Stores and Online Auction Center—which advertised “Get started selling on Amazon and make $5,000-10,000 in next 30 days, even if you’ve never sold anything online before”. The company promoted seminars to learn how to use their “system” to sell on Amazon. People who enrolled did not make anywhere close to the advertised income or any income in some cases. The company failed to comply with the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule and caused many people’s Amazon accounts to get suspended because what the “system” instructed them to do was in violation of Amazon policies.

For more details on this and FTC articles on how to investigate companies offering business opportunities see: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/03/get-rich-scheme-sold-wannabe-amazon-sellers?utm_source=govdelivery

New Medicare Cards and Avoiding Scams

Posted March 7, 2018

Starting in April 2018, Medicare will begin mailing new cards to recipients of Medicare benefits. The new cards will not have your social security number on them but will have a unique Medicare number. This will happen automatically and you do not need to do anything or pay a fee for a new card. The cards will be send out in waves so do not be concerned if a relative receives their card before you do. You should, however, keep an eye out for your new card so that it does not get taken from your mail.

Be aware that scammers may try to take advantage of this change. Here are some tips to avoid being scammed:

Medicare will not call you uninvited and ask for personal information. If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, hang up and call Medicare at 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227)

Safeguard your card like any other health insurance or credit card because even though your social security number has been removed, identity thefts can still use the information to try and obtain medical services.

For more information on Medicare cards and the new cards see: https://www.medicare.gov/forms-help-and-resources/your-medicare-card.html.

Time to File Claim For Western Union Refund Extended to May 31, 2018

Posted February 19, 2018

We previously provided information that the Federal Trade Commission had reached a settlement with Western Union to refund money to individuals that scammers had pay money through Western Union as part of the scam.  The time to file a claim for a refund has now been extended to May 31, 2018. 

If you were a victim of a scam and sent money through Western Union, you can file a claim for a refund.  For further information, see information on the FTC’s website at:  https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/western-union-settlement-faqs

Health and Human Services Grant Scam

Posted February 19, 2018

We have received reports that individuals have been contacted by an individual representing that he is an officer with Health & Human Services that they have received a grant from Health & Human Services and they must first pay a fee with a gift card to receive the grant. This is a scam.

Sonoma County Human Services does not charge a fee for any application or access to benefits. If you have questions about benefits, contact (707) 565-5800.

Always question anyone who says that you are required to pay a fee to receive a benefit, prize or other type of award especially if you are told to pay with some form of a gift card or money gram—it is generally a scam.

Pay Pal Scam

Posted February 8, 2018

We have received a recent complaint that an individual who was attempting to sell an item on Craig’s List received a fraudulent email purporting to come from Pay Pal advising them that a payment had been received and to send money for shipping costs in order to receive payment for the item they were attempting to sell. Pay Pal has very helpful information on its website regarding how to spot scam emails that purport to be from Pay Pal at https://www.paypal.com/us/selfhelp/article/how-to-spot-fake-emails-faq2340 . If you receive such an email, report to Pay Pal. If you intend to conduct any business using Pay Pal it is good to review this information so that you can be alert to these types of scams. Always be cautious about providing any personal or account information via email or phone unless you have verified that the person is who they purport to be. Scammers are very good at “spoofing” email addresses and phone numbers so it appears that they are coming from a trusted source.

Back Brace Scam

Posted February 8, 2018

A local hospital has reported that several of its patients have received calls advising them that a back brace that has been ordered for them and asking for the patient for their Medicare information for payment when no such device was ordered for the patient. Medicare or other insurance information should be treated as confidential personal information and should not be provided to anyone except through your medical provider or other provider that your doctor has specifically referred you to.

Student Loan Debt Relief Scam

Posted February 8, 2018

The Federal Trade Commission has charged a student loan debt relief organization with bilking more than $28 million from thousands of consumers by falsely promising that consumer’s monthly payments would go towards paying off their student loans. The defendants are American Financial Benefits Center, also doing business as AFB and AF Student Services; AmeriTech Financial; Financial Education Benefits Center; and Brandon Demond Frere. Consumers received personally addressed mailers advising them they were eligible for a federal program to reduce their payments. Always check to verify any company or program that purports to be part of a federal, state or local government program is legitimate. If the business is legitimate, you should be able to verify through the appropriate agency that they are part of a sanctioned program. For the full press release see the attached link: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/02/ftc-charges-student-loan-debt-relief-scheme-deceiving-consumers

Fraudulent Debris Removal Bills

Posted January 3, 2018

Fraudulent bills for fire debris removal have been reported by property owners in Mendocino County who are participating in the state-sponsored fire debris removal program. While no instances have been reported in Sonoma County, both the County of Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa want residents to be aware of the potential scam. If you receive a notice or bill associated with debris removal, DO NOT pay it, and please notify the District Attorney right away by calling (707) 565-5317. The County of Sonoma and City of Santa Rosa will not send any insurance reimbursement notifications to property owners who participated in the state-sponsored debris removal program until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed the debris removal process in Sonoma County. A press release will be sent our notifying property owners of the process once it begins in Sonoma County.

If You Have Been The Victim Of a Scam That Used Western Union You Can File A Claim to Recover Payment

Posted December 4, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a settlement agreement with Western Union to pay $586 Million dollars to victims of scams that used Western Union to wire money. Many of these scams involved people posing as family members in need of money or requesting money to claim a prize.

In order to file a claim you must file a Remission Form along with any supporting documentation by February 12, 2018.

See information provided at the following links with the FTC and DOJ to file a claim.

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2017/11/ftc-alerts-consumers-if-scammers-had-you-pay-them-western-union

http://www.westernunionremission.com/

Price Gouging Protections Extended By Governor To April 18, 2018

Posted November 8, 2017

The Governor issued an Executive Order which extends the protections against price gouging under Penal Code Section 396 as discussed below through April 18, 2018.

To immediately file a complaint through our office visit our website at http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/District-Attorney/, or call (707) 565-5317. Please provide any copies of advertisements, communications or other evidence of the increased pricing if possible. Our office will investigate and determine if there has been a violation of the law.

FEMA Fraud

Posted November 8, 2017

We have received reports that fraudulent applications are being filed for FEMA relief. If you believe that you are the victim of disaster relief fraud associated with FEMA, please report the fraud directly to the FEMA Fraud Branch via the following phone number and/or email addresses:

FEMA Fraud Branch (also known as FEMA Office of the Chief Security Officer)
(866) 223-0814

FEMA-OCSO-Tipline@fema.dhs.gov
stopfemafraud@fema.dhs.gov

The FEMA Fraud Branch will process the complaint and attempt to remediate the fraud. The FEMA Fraud Branch will also refer the matter to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Unfortunately, the FEMA Fraud Branch will not respond individually to victim complaints. To determine if the fraud has been remediated by FEMA, victims should contact their local FEMA Disaster Recovery Center. It is unnecessary to file a separate report with a local or federal law enforcement agency, unless instructed to do so by FEMA. However, please continue to notify local law enforcement agencies and/or the FBI Santa Rosa Resident Agency regarding potential FEMA fraud, so that trends in disaster fraud activity can be monitored locally.

Additionally, if you believe that you are the victim of identity theft, please visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the identity theft and obtain resources for recovering from identity theft.

Fraudulent FEMA Inspections and False FEMA Claims

Posted November 8, 2017

Sonoma County and Napa have received complaints of persons identifying themselves as “FEMA inspectors” coming to resident’s homes and asking for personal information. Reports have also been received that false FEMA claims have been filed using resident’s personal information such as social security numbers and when the resident attempts to file for aid they are advised an application has already been filed under their name.

FEMA will not send inspectors to your residence unless you have filed an application for assistance. FEMA inspectors will not collect personal identifying information or bank account information at your residence. This information will only be requested when a person fills out the application online or at a Local Assistance Center. All FEMA employees and contractors will have federally-issued photo identification badges, which you should request to see.

If an individual shows up at your home to conduct a FEMA inspection and you have not filed an application for assistance, FEMA requests that you immediately contact the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General at (800) 323-8603 or www.oig.dhs.gov. If you attempt to file an application for assistance, but find that someone has already filed an application in your name, FEMA requests that you call the FEMA Office of the Chief Security Office at (866) 223-0814 or report at FEMA-OCSO-Tipline@fema.dhs.gov. Contacting FEMA as soon as possible may prevent payment to the individual responsible for the fraud. You can find more information at https://www.disasterassistance.gov.

If you have been a victim of this scam, you may also be a victim of identity theft. You should take the following steps: report the crime to the police and ask the police to issue a police report of identity theft and advised them you have reported to FEMA; report the fraud to the three major credit bureaus, Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) 397-3742, and TransUnion at (800) 680-7289; carefully review your credit reports for accounts you do not recognize or inquiries you did not authorize; and consider a credit monitoring service or a credit freeze for protection against new accounts being opened in your name. You can find more information on what to do if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft on the Attorney General’s website at https://oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/victim-checklist.

Wildfire Disaster - Price Gouging and Disaster Scams

Posted October 23, 2017

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of our community members who have been impacted by the wildfires. Unfortunately, this is a time when scam artists and unscrupulous people may try to take advantage of victims and the generosity of the community. Please be aware of the following information:

Price Gouging in Wildfire Areas

For 30 days after declaration of a state of emergency, California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. A State of Emergency was declared in Sonoma County on October 9, 2017. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, hotel accommodations, rental housing and gasoline.  For reconstruction services and emergency cleanup services, it applies for 180 days after a declaration of emergency.   However, please note that increased pricing standing alone may not always be considered price gouging. If an individual or business can show increased costs for providing the items due to increased cost of goods, shipping or labor that is an exception to the prohibition on increased prices. For example, due to the increased need for face masks, if a vendor had to have the masks sent by expedited shipping in order to restock the items to meet the need, the vendor would be entitled to increase its price to cover the increased costs.  Additionally, the fact that one business may charge more for an item that another business is not sufficient evidence of price gouging. You should look at the cost charged by the specific individual or business prior to the state of emergency and after.

Price Gouging is a violation of the law and is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000, or a fine and imprisonment under Penal Code Section 396. To immediately file a complaint through our office visit our website at http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/District-Attorney/, or by call (707) 565-2311. Please provide any copies of advertisements, communications or other evidence of the increased pricing if possible. Our office will investigate and determine if there has been a violation of the law.

Donation Scams

Scammers frequently create fraudulent donation organizations to pray on the kindness of those who wish to help out victims of a disaster. They pocket the money and generally it is difficult to trace such individuals. Make sure that any contributions your make to a relief fund or charity are known charities such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army or are funding efforts created by people or organizations that you are familiar with such as the local efforts by Redwood Credit Union.  The Attorney General’s office has a website that lists registered charities at  http://rct.doj.ca.gov/Verification/Web/Search.aspx?facility=Y

Unlicensed or Fraudulent Contractors

As a result of increased demand for constructions services, many unlicensed contractors seek out work. Please check with the Contractor’s State Licensing Board website to make sure that the contractor you hire is licensed, insured and bonded at  http://www.cslb.ca.gov/ and that they have the appropriate specialty license if required. Contracting without a license is a crime and enhanced penalties are provided for contracting without a license during a state of emergency. Reports of unlicensed contractors can also be made on the website.

Additionally, some contractors may take on more work that they are able to perform or try to exact a greater deposit than the $1,000 deposit they are authorized by law to require before work commences. Reports of any problems with licensed contractors should also be reported to the State Contractors Board.

Public Adjusters:

Be wary of anyone who offers to represent you for a fee to deal with your insurance company or to assist you in obtaining state or federal funding. The City and County of established Local Assistance Centers to offer these services free of charge to residents. Public Adjusters need to be licensed and can be checked with the Department of Insurance if you should require additional assistance.

Fake Disaster Officials --Guard Your Private Information

Before providing any personal information to anyone who comes to your door or calls asking for personal information, make sure that you ask for identification and check it out before providing information. Ask for a number to call back and then verify with the agency that the person calling works for the agency and is not an imposter.

Equifax SCAM

Posted September 15, 2017

As reported below, Equifax recently had a data breach. Reports are now being received that scammers are calling consumers pretending to be from Equifax and asking to verify your personal information. Equifax will not call consumers out of the blue. DO NOT disclose personal information on phone or rely upon telephone number being shown to verify the identity of the caller. For more information review the information at the following link: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/09/equifax-isnt-calling?utm_source=govdelivery

Equifax Data Breach—Important Actions to Take for All Consumers

Posted September 13, 2017

As may be aware from recent news articles Equifax, one the three major credit reporting agencies was recently hacked. The breach is estimated to affect 15 million Californians and compromised the names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and credit card information of millions of consumers. To check if you have been impacted by the data breach, please visit: http://templatelab.com/equifax-breach-potential-impact/

If you use Wi-Fi , Make Sure That You Are Using a Secure WI-FI Connection Before Submitting Your Personal Information.

Other steps you should take are :

  1. Put A Fraud Alert on your credit file
  2. Review Your Credit Reports. Look through each one carefully.
  3. Call the credit bureau at the number on the report if there is information on your report that you don’t understand or that looks suspicious.
  4. Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements.
  5. Be alert for persons calling, texting or emailing and trying to seek personal information to assist in using the financial information obtained. More detailed information about how to take these steps may be found at:
  6. Federal Trade Commission
  7. State Attorney General’s Office
  8. Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office to report a crime
  9. Santa Rosa Police Department’s Identity Theft Quick Reference Guide

SRJC Financial Aid SCAM

Posted September 5, 2017

Santa Rosa Junior College reports that a telephone scam has been targeting recipients of financial aid seeking personal information for possible fraudulent uses. Callers requested personal information from students including Social Security numbers, date of birth, credit card information and other person data. SRJC indicates that it will never ask for this information over the phone and students should not provide such information by phone. If you receive such a call, hang up and call campus Financial Aid at (707) 527-4471 and report the caller’s name and phone number and date and time of the call.

FTC to Administer Refunds to Consumers From Advanced Tech Support SCAM

Posted September 5, 2017

The FTC has announced that it will administer a $10 million settlement fund that will provide partial refunds to consumers who were victims of Advanced Tech Support between April 2012- November 2014. The form to apply for the refund can be found at the following link: https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds/advanced-tech-support-refunds. The company used high-pressure sales pitches to market tech support products and services by falsely claiming that people’s computers were infected with viruses and malware.

National Institutes of Health Scam

Posted August 8, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission reports that scammers are calling pretending to be from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The callers tell people they have been selected to receive a $14,000 grant from NIH and that to get the grant they must provide their bank account information or pay a fee with an ITunes or Green Dot Card. If you receive such a call, hang up. The government does not call to give grants. Grants are given to researchers who must apply for the grant. The federal government will also not call to request personal information on the phone or demand payment or bank information.

Fake Sheriff Scam

Posted July 20, 2017

The Petaluma Police Department reports that phone scammers pretending to be Sheriff Deputies are contacting residents advising them that they have an outstanding warrant and that if they do not purchase a prepaid phone card and provide the card information to the caller, they will be arrested. This is a scam. See story at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7211182-181/petaluma-police-warn-of-phone .

The Sheriff’s Office, or any other law enforcement agency, WILL NOT call you to tell you that they are coming to arrest you. Law Enforcement Officers also do not collect bail or penalties. If you receive such a call, please report to your local law enforcement agency.

Sweepstakes Scam—415488N, INC

Posted June 22, 2017

If you receive a “FINAL PAYOUT NOTICE”  from 415488N, INC advising you that you have won a sweepstakes raffle drawing and enclosing a check as the first payment to assist you in paying the “processing/clearance fee”, DO NOT DEPOSIT THE CHECK, SEND A PAYMENT or contact the person indicated in the notice. This is a scam. Sweepstake scams are a common vehicle used to steal money. The “winner” deposits the check sent by the company into their account and then pays a fee with their personal funds believing the check is covered by the funds deposited. The check sent turns out to have inadequate funds or be on a bogus account and is then returned by your bank and you are then out the funds. Additionally, by depositing the check you provide access to your personal account information to the scammers.

Our office has received a report that such notices have been sent out to residents in Sonoma County.

Be wary anytime you are asked to pay a fee to recover a prize, inheritance or unclaimed funds in your name—it is most likely a scam. Also, do not deposit unexpected checks from unknown sources into your account. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is!

Scam Debt Notice Purporting To Be From Higher Balance/Eric Pepin

Posted June 22, 2017

The District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement have received reports that a number of people have received letters purporting to seek collection of non-existent debts from Higher Balance and Eric Pepin. The letters threaten legal action including the filing of liens against property and additional penalties if the recipient contacts law enforcement. THESE LETTERS ARE A SCAM. The business has reported to authorities that someone has hacked their records and that the letters were not sent by Higher Balance or Mr. Pepin. DO NOT send any money in response to such letters and you do not need to take any further action.

Consumers should be aware, that a creditor cannot take any additional legal action or recover any additional penalties or fees from you if you contact law enforcement to report a suspected scam.

FTC Imposter Western Union Scam

Posted May 15, 2017

The FTC advises consumers to be aware that imposters are sending out letters to consumers indicating the letter is from Maureen Ohlhausen, the FTC’s acting Chairman, requesting bank account information to process settlement refunds from an action against Western Union. The FTC does process refunds for consumers who have lost money on scams but will never request your bank account information or social security number to apply for a refund. The FTC is involved in a $586 million settlement with Western Union but the U.S. Department of Justice will handle the refund process and that process has not yet been set up. DO NOT RESPOND TO SUCH EMAILS OR CLICK ON ANY LINKS IN THE EMAIL. You may forward these scam emails if received to spam@uce.gov .

Information on the actual settlement agreement with Western Union  can be obtained at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/western-union-update . This will provide information to see if you are eligible to receive a refund. You should never have to pay a fee to collect a refund if you are entitled to receive one or to provide bank information.

Veteran’s Choice Program Scam

Posted May 15, 2017

The FTC reports that there is a new scam targeting veterans with respect to medical care. The Veterans Choice Program (VCP) allows certain eligible vets to use approve health care providers outside the VA system. The scammers use a similar phony phone that is close to the real VCP program phone line. When a vet calls they ask for credit card or other financial information “to set up your account”.

If you are a veteran—or helping someone—please use following tips:

  1.  Be sure you are calling the real number for the Veterna’s Choice Program 866-606-8198.
  2. The VA will not ask for your financial account information.

To see full story click on the following link  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/phony-telephone-number-scam-targets-veterans?utm_source=govdelivery

Avoiding Tech Scams

Posted May 15, 2017

The FTC has posted a helpful article on avoiding Tech scams at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/pass-it-tech-support-scams after reporting that it has taken action against more scammers in recent months. Many of these scammers cause false pop-up messages that look like security warnings about viruses or problems with your computer urging the consumer to contact a toll free number. When victims call they are either charged for services they do not need, asked to provide credit card information or asked to allow access to their computer.

If you receive such a message, do not call. Use a legitimate security software or computer consultant to determine if you have a virus or other malware on your computer.

Don’t Purchase a Nintendo Switch Emulator

Posted April 18, 2017

The FTC reports that scammers have created on line ads to sell a “ Ninetendo Switch emulator” to attract those who are unable to purchase the new gaming system. The ads say that the emulator will allow you to play the Nintendo Switch games on your computer. There is no such device and these ads are used as a means to acquire access to your computer or to obtain payment for a non-existent product. DO NOT download anything that says Nintendo Switch Emulator or complete a survey to unlock a code to allow you to use such a device. See full story at:  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/theres-no-nintendo-switch-emulator?utm_source=govdelivery

PG&E Scam In Petaluma

Posted April 14, 2017

A Petaluma resident reported receiving a call from PG&E demanding payment on a bill and indicating that the customer’s bank account could not be accessed for payment. The individual purchased a $500 prepaid credit card and gave the caller the code. This was a scam. PG&E does not call customers regarding overdue bills. Do not provide personal information or provide other forms of payment over the phone until you verify that it is not a scam. See full story at  http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6887548-181/petaluma-resident-duped-out-of. It is important to report SCAMS such as this to local law enforcement, the District Attorney’s office or the Federal Trade Commission so that others can be warned about scams in our community. See the impact that one individual had when he let his community know of a scam that contacted members of his family: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/i-have-emergency-and-need-money?utm_source=govdelivery

Free Movies—Big Headaches

Posted April 14, 2017

The FTC reports that a number of sites are popping up offering free downloads of movies. When consumers download the movie they are also downloading  malware that provides a slew of unwanted ads or may steal your personal information or take over your computer. Some sites also request credit card information. These sites may be distributing pirated videos which is illegal and since they are already committing a crime you should not trust them with your credit information.

The FTC Won’t Offer to Fix Your Computer

Posted April 11, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  has announced that it just sued a scammer who sent spam emails claiming that the FTC had hired them to remove problem software. The FTC does not hire companies to provide technical support. The company created a fake FTC press release to make people believe that it was associated with the FTC.

If you get a pop up, call or spam email from anyone about a virus on your computer, DO NOT click on any links, don’t send any money and don’t give anyone control of your computer. The person behind the message probably wants to access your computer to obtain data, install malware or sell you unnecessary services. Please report those message at  www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Do You Have Questions About Whether Your Car Repair Was Done Right After an Accident?

Posted March 16, 2017

The Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) will provide a FREE inspection to determine if the work done on your automobile was done correctly and if it matches the work shown on the invoice.

If BAR inspectors find no discrepancies they will just document the results. If there is a problem they will help get the shop to correct the work.

To schedule an appointment call BAR's toll free number at (866) 799-3811. BAR also takes complaints regarding other issues with automotive repair facilities. For more information see: https://thedcapage.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/was-your-car-repaired-after-an-accident-was-it-done-right/. If BAR believes criminal activity is involved, such as fraud, they will refer the case to the local district attorney's office.

Tech Support Scam

Posted February 21, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission advises that a company it previously shut down has resurfaced using the name “Global Connect”. Consumers received a pop up on their computer claiming there is a problem with the computer that does not exist. The consumer is then requested to allow remote access to their computer to either reestablish service or process a refund into the person’s account.

Do not allow anyone who calls you to access your computer. Report any such activity to the FTC at www.consumer.ftc.gov.

“Can You Hear Me?”

Posted February 21, 2017

An old scam has resurfaced which been reported to the Better Business Bureau. Consumers report that they receive calls about vacation packages, warranties or other items. The person asks “Can you hear me?” The goal is to get the consumer to say “Yes”. The information is recorded and edited to make it sound like you agreed to a major purchase.

Do not answer calls where you do not recognize the phone number. If you receive a call where person is asking if you can hear them, just hang up. Register for the DO NOT CALL LIST if you have not already done so at www.donotcall.gov to cut down the number of calls although this may not stop scammers. Check your bank account and credit card statements regularly for unauthorized charges.

Report any suspicious calls to the Better Business Bureau or the FTC to help protect others.

“You Have Reached Your Storage Limit”

Posted February 21, 2017

Reports have been received that an email is being sent to look like it comes from your office IT department indicating that an update is required in order to add storage to your computer. The emails often have information in the subject line name@ company.com update required. The message indicates you will be blocked from sending or receiving emails and instructs you to click to a link which appears to look like your email. The link requests you to enter your email address and password. This is a way to obtain your password and opens you up to identity theft.

If you receive such emails, check first with your company IT dept.  Be cautious about generic emails, even if they appear real. Do not click on links or open files in unfamiliar emails. They may include viruses or phishing software to obtain your passwords and security information.

Quick Books Phishing Scam

Posted February 2, 2017

The Better Business Bureau reports that a new phishing scam has been reported that is targeting small businesses. An email is sent with the subject line “QuickBooks Support: Change Request”. The message says it is confirming that you have changed your business name with Intuit, the manufacturer of QuickBooks. The email contains a link to cancel which most businesses would use since they had not made the request. The link is bait to allow malware to download to your computer which will allow scammers to capture passwords or hunt for sensitive information which can lead to identity theft.

Do Not Click On Links in unsolicited emails. For more information about phishing scams and how to protect yourself see the FTC website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0003-phishing

On line Rental Scam

Posted January 19, 2017

The Federal Trade Commission reports fake online rentals are being posted to lure people to Credit Bureau Center LLC, credit monitoring site. Rentals are posted and when the owner is contacted he says that you need a credit report and refers you to their site which says you get a free credit report but the fine print says that you are enrolling in a credit monitoring service and charged $24.94 per month unless you cancel within 7 days. The FTC offers the following tips to avoid rental scams:

  • Don’t wire money to pay a security deposit, application fee or first month’s rent.
  • Don’t pay before you sign a lease. Before paying, visit the apartment or house.
  • Get a truly free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com

Additional information on rental scams is available on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Disaster Repairs

Posted January 19, 2017

Be cautious of persons hired to perform repairs or cleanup. Unfortunately scam artists take advantage of the damage caused by floods, mud slides and other water related problems to take money and not perform the work. The Contractor’s License Board (CSLB) is advising homeowners to be cautious. Check the contractor’s license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov. Other tips offered by the CSLB to avoid scams:

  • Get at least three bids
  • Make sure all project expectations are in writing and sign the contract only if you completely understand the terms. Never sign a blank contract!
  • Confirm that the contractor has workers compensation insurance for its employees.
  • Never pay more that 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less. Don’t pay in cash.
  • Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Don’t make final payment until you are satisfied with the work.
  • Your contractor must notify you of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract.

E-Z Pass Phishing Scam

Posted January 19, 2017

Bay Area Fast Trak is reporting that an email phishing scam is sending out fake emails advising customers that they have not paid a road or bridge toll with a link to download the invoice. Opening the invoice may cause a virus or allow access to your personal computer information. Do not open or respond to such messages. If you have questions about the validity of any message received from E-Z Pass, contact the E-Z Pass Customer Service Center at 1-877-BAY TOLL.

YAHOO Customer Service Scam

Posted January 14, 2017

The FTC advises that it has received reports from consumers of fake phone numbers for “Yahoo customer service”. These fake numbers may appear in an internet search but are not legitimate numbers. When consumers contacted the number they were offered “customer care services” for a fee. Yahoo does not charge a fee for its customer services and does not have a customer service phone number. Yahoo also will not ask to remotely connect to your computer for any support related request.

To read more about Tech Support scams see the FTC website at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0346-tech-support-scams

Watch out for Fake Retail Apps

Posted December 19, 2016

The Better Business Bureau and the New York Times have reported that scammers are fooling holiday shoppers my creating fake apps which show up in Apple and Android app stores and look like many of your favorite retailers. The apps require shoppers to enter Facebook information or credit card information which can open users up to fraud.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips:

Scammers love to impersonate popular apps. Here´s how to spot a con:

  • Evaluate before downloading. In the app store, look for warning signs such as apps with no reviews and no history of previous versions.
  • Look out for poor grammar. Most fake apps are developed with little or no quality control. Look for poor grammar, typos, and strange sentences or phrases within the app title, description, or instructions.
  • Make sure the retailor has an app. Not all retailors have apps, which makes it easier for scammers to pass off fake ones. When in doubt, do a quick search online before downloading.

See the New York Times Article

10 Things you can do to avoid fraud

The Federal Trade Commission publishes a list of 10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud. This is an excellent resource that provides helpful tips. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-things-you-can-do-avoid-fraud

False complaints from consumer affairs department and office of the attorney general

Posted December 6, 2016

Be careful not to open emails or click links which appear to be from the Consumer Affairs Department or the Office of the State Attorney General advising you that a complaint has been filed against your business. The suspicious emails have an “outlook.com” in their email address which is a clear indication it is not from one of the government agencies. These are “phishing” emails which seek to obtain sensitive information from your computer or infect your computer with a virus.

Phishing is a form of fraud in which the attacker tries to learn information such as login credentials or account information by masquerading as a reputable entity or person in email, IM or other communication channels. Attackers try to appear trustworthy by sending email from an address that looks reputable. Typically, a victim receives a message that appears to have been sent by a known contact or organization. An attachment or links in the message may install malware on the user’s device or direct them to a malicious website set up to trick them into divulging personal and financial information, such as passwords, account IDs or credit card details.

Recommendations:

  • Be suspicious of unsolicited emails, text messages, and phone callers. Use discretion when providing information to unsolicited phone callers, and never provide sensitive personal information via email.
  • If you want to verify a suspicious email, contact the organization directly with a known phone number. Do not call the number provided in the email. Or, have the company send you something through the US mail (which scammers won’t do).
  • Only open an email attachment if you are expecting it and know what it contains. Be cautious about container files, such as .zip files, as malicious content could be packed inside.
  • Visit websites by typing the address into the address bar. Do not follow links embedded in an unsolicited email.
  • Use discretion when posting personal information on social media. This information is a treasure-trove to spear phishers who will use it to feign trustworthiness.
  • Keep all of your software patched and up-to-date. Home users should have the auto update feature enabled.
  • Keep your antivirus software up-to-date to detect and disable malicious programs, such as spyware or backdoor Trojans, which may be included in phishing emails.

New IRS Tax Scam

The IRS has reported that there is a new IRS imposter scam. The IRS imposters send a fake tax notice that claims monies are owed from a prior tax year as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The form looks similar to an actual form used by the IRS.

The IRS advises to be aware of the following red-flags to help you avoid becoming a victim:

  1. The IRS does not initiate contact with you by email or through social media
  2. The IRS does not ask you to pay using a gift card, pre-paid debit card or wire transfer
  3. The IRS does not request personal or financial information by email, texts, or social media
  4. The IRS does not threaten to immediately have you arrested or deported for not paying.
See detailed information at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/irs-warns-new-tax-bill-scam

Fictious business name renewal scam

If you receive an official looking letter from the Fictitious Business Renewal Center urging you to renew your fictious business name for your business, be aware that this is a scam. This is a private company that charges a fee of $150 to process a fictious business name renewal statement and has no connection to the County.

Business owners can deal directly with the County Clerk’s Office when filing. Customers have two options when filing a Fictitious Business Name Statement. With either option, the cost of filing a Fictitious Business Name Statement is $40 for the first business name and the first owner name. Each additional name is $9. Forms are available in with the County Clerk’s office or online at http://www.sonoma-county.org/clerk/forms.htm.

IRS Scam

If you receive a phone call from someone purporting to be an agent with the IRS threatening that a lawsuit will be filed unless payment is made—often through an ITunes gift card, wiring money or other means be aware that this is a scam. The IRS does not call taxpayers in this manner or request payment in the form of gift cards.

Sheriff reports jury service telephone scam

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department has received at least 20 complaints that a person posing as Lieutenant Vance Berry from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has been telephoning residents stating they had missed jury duty. The suspect advises that the resident must pay money to avoid an arrest warrant. The County has no such person in the sheriff’s office. In addition, law enforcement will not call you to advise that you have a warrant. IF you received such a call, hang up and report to the Sheriff’s office. https://local.nixle.com/alert/5711940/

Fake ‘referendum’ scam targets seniors

If you receive a letter in mail which appears to be from a non-profit group claiming that Congress is attempting to abolish Social Security and asking for a donation of $16.45 or some other amount to help get a referendum ballot to all seniors—be aware that this is a scam. Do not give your credit card information to such groups or you may find yourself a victim of identity theft. See article at http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2016/09/bamboozled_group_accused_of_nationwide_scams_targe.html

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