I'm getting past due notices for a product I never ordered

January 27, 2016 16:15 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I keep on getting past due letters for a product I never ordered.  I've tried to explain the error to the company, but I never get responses; I only get past due notices with additional fees. What should I do?

Consumer Ed says:  

Above all, don't be pressured into paying for goods or services you never ordered. Many of these so-called “invoices” appear at first glance to be legitimate bills, and may include threatening or confusing legal jargon to create a false sense of urgency to pressure recipients into making quick payments. Scammers are hoping that you’ll simply pay the bogus bills without checking them out.  

Another variation on the phony invoice is a solicitation that is designed to look like a bill.  It may contain a required legal disclaimer that says in large boldface type:  “THIS IS NOT A BILL. THIS IS A SOLICITATION.”  Unfortunately, this disclaimer is often absent or obscure.  If you’re deceived into paying for the solicitation, you may never receive the goods and services advertised, and will probably have little to no luck in contacting the company, let alone getting them to refund your money.  If you don’t see the above disclaimer, don’t assume it’s a legitimate invoice.  

The following are steps you should take to avoid falling into this trap:

Verify. Search the name of the company sending you an invoice to see if others are reporting similar issues or other problems.  Check a company out with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and also try doing an online search using the company name and words like “complaint” or “scam.”

Carefully read all invoices and solicitations that are sent to you.  Check account numbers and the name of the company sending you an invoice.  If you do receive a bill that appears to be legitimate, or from a legitimate company, look it over carefully for the name and location of the company sending the bill.  If there is any difference (no matter how small) between the name of the business entity which sent the “invoice” and the name of a legitimate business, this is likely an indication that the invoice is phony.

Contact the company.  If you ever question an invoice that you have received, call the number on the invoice.  Legitimate businesses will have direct contact information, and will welcome questions.  Ask for a purchase order or other supporting documents.  An inability to contact the sender at the number provided is also an indication that the bill is a fake. 

File a complaint. If you’re getting bogus bills, file a complaint with the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint, as well as with the Better Business Bureau.  If the scheme involved and/or was sent to you via the U.S. mail, submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You also should alert the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit online at www.consumer.ga.gov, or by calling 404-651-8600.


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Work-from-home jobs: real or scam?

December 29, 2015 15:00 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I am a college student and I’ve been looking online for part-time work so I can make a little money.  I see work-from-home jobs advertised, but my friend says most of them are scams.  How can I tell if a job posting is legitimate or not? 

Consumer Ed says:  

It can be difficult to distinguish legitimate online job offers from those placed by people who are just out to get your money, especially when it comes to work-from-home jobs.  Scammers advertise jobs where real employers and job placement firms do, like the Internet and online job boards, newspapers, TV, and even the radio.  For every legitimate job posting out there, there are plenty designed to steal your identity and cheat you out of your hard-earned money.  But there are certain aspects of an offer that can help you spot a potential scam:

  • Requests for payment.  Legitimate employers and recruiters don't charge to hire you, whether through a fee for certification, training materials, background and credit checks, or their expenses for placing you with a company.  Real placement agents or employers don’t require payment from applicants for the prospect of a job.
  • Requests for sensitive financial or personal information.  You should be suspicious of any company that requests via phone or email your social security number, driver’s license, bank account, PayPal, or credit card information as part of the initial application process.  Scammers may try to elicit this information from you so that they can steal your identity and your money.  Legitimate employers will typically ask for this information after you have been hired and are setting up payment and tax information.  You don’t want to grant any organization access to your information until you know it’s completely trustworthy.
  • Offers high salary for simple tasks or minimal experience.  A legitimate employer will evaluate your experience and abilities before deciding on what to pay you.  If the company offers you a big income that is far beyond the type of task involved, or is completely out of your range based on your education and experience, the offer is likely a scam.  Before trusting an offer, do a little research on what the position you’re applying for generally pays. 
  • Communicates via non-business address.  Any company that communicates from a free email account such as Yahoo, Live, Hotmail or Gmail is likely a scammer. Legitimate job-related emails will come from corporate email accounts.  Also, carefully examine links in emails to guarantee they are linking to a legitimate website, rather than some fake site.  If there’s a phone number in the email, call it to see what information the person on the other end gives you.
  • Immediately offers job.  Actual employers take their time to research and get to know potential job candidates before offering a position.  Be skeptical of a job offer that has come via email, when you’ve never had a telephone or in-person interview.

Additionally, you can avoid being a victim of an online scam by being proactive in your search:

  • Research the company.  Visit the company’s website.  If they don’t have a website, or if the website company listing doesn’t match the job description, consider it an indication that the job might be a scam.  Check with the Better Business Bureau or the FTC to find out if any complaints have been filed about a company.  Keep in mind that a lack of complaints doesn’t mean the business is legitimate.  You may want to do an Internet search with the name of the company and words like “review”, “scam”, or “complaint.” 
  • Ask Questions. Legitimate work-at-home employers should be willing and able to answer a variety of questions about their programs.  The FTC suggests you ask the following:
    • What tasks will I have to perform? (Ask the employer to list every step of the job.) 
    • Will I be paid a salary, or will my pay be based on commission?  
    • Who will pay me?  
    • When will I get my first paycheck?

And don’t be afraid to ask for references if you're not sure if the company is legitimate. Request a list of other employees or contractors.  If the company isn't willing to provide references (names, email addresses, and phone numbers), be skeptical of the opportunity.

  • Know the common scams. Some industries are more likely than others to offer real opportunities for at-home work. Many legitimate employers utilize home workers to take orders over the phone or as customer service representatives.  But other job offers, like envelope stuffing, at-home assembly work, medical or claims processing, and refund recovery, are commonly used by scammers.  Additionally, be on the lookout for scams that request that the applicant or employee accept payment to his or her own bank account and then wire money on behalf of the company. Almost always, the money the victims are transferring is stolen, and therefore, the victims are committing theft and wire fraud.  

Finally, as a rule of thumb, avoid offers that seem too good to be true.  If you think you’ve been targeted by a job scam, you can submit complaints to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at www.consumer.ga.gov

 

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Elderly parent conned into purchasing extended vehicle warranty

April 7, 2015 15:43 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I came across a $395 charge on my 88 year-old father’s Visa card statement.  My father has dementia, and was conned into purchasing an extended warranty on his 2011 vehicle.  My father will be charged $160 per month for the next 18 months.  I have contacted the business directly, but the issue has not been resolved. What can I do, and how can I help prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future? 

Consumer Ed says:

If your father is in fact mentally incompetent, then there may be an issue as to his capacity to enter a legally binding agreement.  Whether the business actually understood your father’s condition at the time it sold your father the extended warranty isn’t clear, but if his condition is obvious, or there are other ways you can prove that the business knew or should have known this at the time of the transaction, then the business may have been acting in an unfair or deceptive manner in violation of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act (“FBPA”). If you believe this is the case, you should seek the assistance of an attorney.  Additionally, you may file a complaint with the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at www.consumer.ga.gov or by calling 404-651-8600.

As far as your options for preventing this type of situation going forward, you may want to consider becoming your father’s guardian in some capacity.  The Division of Aging Services within the Georgia Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a summary of guardianship law in Georgia that you may find helpful.  You can contact them at www.aging.georgia.gov or by calling 404-657-5258 (toll-free at 1-866-552-4464).

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