Is Walmart gift card text message a scam?

August 9, 2012 18:33 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I received a text message that says I won a Walmart gift card. How can I tell if this is legitimate?    

Consumer Ed says: 

It is highly unlikely that the text message you received is legitimate.  This sounds like a version of similar scams involving purported “free” gift cards.  In March, the Better Business Bureau reported a scam in which many people received text messages promising “free” Walmart and Best Buy gift cards.  One such message read, “Walmart $1,000 gift card for the first 1000 users to go to [link] and enter code 2938.”  Another said, “You have been randomly selected for a Best Buy gift.  Get your $1,000 gift card at [link].”  Neither of these offers panned out.

This type of scam is known as “smishing”, a type of “phishing” scam where the scammer sends you a text message, instead of an e-mail.  If you click on the link in the text message, you’ll be required to provide personal information such as your credit card number or social security number before you can claim any gift card.  The scammers then use this information to steal your identity. 

If the link provided in any text (or e-mail) message doesn’t lead you directly to a page on the company’s main website, it’s more likely than not that the offer is a scam.  The most popular website being used in this particular smishing scam, for example, is www.walmartgift.mobi (rather than the store’s actual site, which is www.walmartstores.com). 

Walmart does give away legitimate gift cards to the winners of drawings for receipt surveys, and these drawings take place four times per year.  However, the winners of these gift cards are always notified by certified mail, not via email or text message.

Walmart, along with most other major reliable retailers, will never send you a text, telephone, or e-mail message asking for your personal information. 

Don’t respond to any messages that ask for this kind of personal information.  Also, you should never click on any links provided in the message. The scammers who send these messages are just trying to get your personal information.  Walmart’s current policy is that it never asks consumers, either online or in e-mails, to complete online surveys in order to receive a gift card.  And Walmart will not send you any e-mails or surveys that require you to make a purchase or pay money as a condition for participating.
 
Anyone receiving this type of text message should report it by forwarding the text message to 7726 (“S-P-A-M”).  You can also report it to the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection at www.consumer.ga.gov or by calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123, and to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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How can I tell if an online lender is legit?

November 16, 2011 17:25 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I applied for a $10,000 loan online.  I provided my Social Security Number and bank account information for the credit check. The company wants me to pay $1,200 up front (via wire transfer) to secure the loan.  They have a really good explanation for why they need the money up front, and I really want to send it, but I am afraid it might be a scam. How can I tell if a lender is trustworthy or not? 

Consumer Ed says: 

You are right to be concerned about this company and its request. Legitimate loan companies do not generally charge an upfront fee for a loan. Instead, they simply deduct any loan fees from the amount borrowed once the loan has been approved.  Another red flag is presented when a company asks you to pay via wire transfer. Scammers love wire transfers because they are hard to trace and it's practically impossible to get your money back once you have wired cash.
 
You should make sure the company has a legitimate street address and phone number. Avoid companies who use a post office box as their corporate address or who can only be reached by leaving a message on an answering machine or with a call-center operator. Companies who guarantee loans to anyone, regardless of their credit history, are typically scammers.
 
A good way to find a reputable loan company is to ask trusted friends or family members for a recommendation. You should also check the reputation of a company through the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).  In addition, you can check with the city or county in which the company is located to verify that it has a valid business license. 
 
Don't provide your Social Security Number or financial account information to a company unless you first have determined that the business is reputable.  If you believe you have provided such information to a scammer, you should inform your bank or credit card company and request that they close down your account and set up a new one. In addition, you should consider putting a security freeze on your credit reports so that the scammer cannot open up a new account in your name.  To do so, contact each of the three credit bureaus:
 
          Equifax:  1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com 
          Experian:  1-888- 397-3742; www.experian.com     
          TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com

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Can I get a grant or rebate for doing a home energy audit?

August 13, 2011 00:13 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I received a call from a company that said I could get a $3,000 federal grant if I had them do an energy audit of my home.  They then requested my social security number and bank account information so they could check my credit rating. I got suspicious and hung up. Do you think this was a scam? Are there really grants or rebates available for doing an energy audit of your home?

Consumer Ed says:

You were wise to be suspicious of the caller. Unsolicited calls or emails asking for your personal or financial information are usually attempts at identity theft.  There has also been a scam reported in Florida where con artists posing as utility workers have been going around neighborhoods and calling consumers offering free energy audits. To ensure you’re contacting the actual utility company, you should call the number on your power bill.

There are several legitimate programs that offer Georgia residents rebates or financial assistance with energy audits or energy-efficient home improvements. However, they generally require you to initiate contact with them, not vice versa.  Here are some programs that you may be able to take advantage of:

Weatherization Assistance Program - Low-income homeowners may be eligible for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which provides weatherization services allowing income-eligible households to reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient.  For more information and to apply for Weatherization Assistance, visit www.gefa.org.

Free Online Energy Audit - Georgia Power offers a free online energy audit tool to help residential customers determine where the most energy is consumed in their homes and what they can do to lower their monthly bill.  Go to www.georgiapower.com to access this tool.

Free In-Home Energy Audit - Georgia Power also offers customers a free in-home energy audit. An Energy Expert will visit and visually inspect your home and help show you how much you can save on your energy bill. To schedule a free energy audit, call 1-800-524-2421 ext. 200, or visit www.georgiapower.com.

Zero-Interest Financing for Energy Improvements - The residential energy efficiency financing programs, which are funded through Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, allow homeowners to apply for funding to complete a number of energy-efficiency improvement projects, and for the purchase of eligible ENERGY STAR appliances. Financing is available through Oglethorpe Power Corporation, Electric Cities of Georgia, Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia and Estes Heating & Air. Contact your electric and/or gas provider for more information on available energy-efficiency loan programs.

Georgia Power Rebates – Georgia Power customers may qualify for rebates of up to $2,200 on energy-efficient home improvements. To be eligible, you must get an energy assessment by a participating contractor (for a fee), and the improvements must be done by a qualified contractor participating in the Georgia Power Home Energy Improvement Program. Rebates are based on actual energy savings achieved. For more information, visit www.georgiapower.com.

Federal Income Tax Credits - As a homeowner, you may also qualify for federal income tax credits if you purchase certain energy-efficient products or renewable energy systems for your home during 2011. For more information on what products qualify, visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s website at www.energysavers.gov.

One final note:  If you hire a contractor to make home improvements, ask people you know for names of contractors they would recommend. You can also check their reputation with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).  Ask the contractor for his license number so you can verify that he is licensed with the Secretary of State’s Office. Make sure the contractor provides you with a detailed written contract before any work is begun, and don’t pay for work that is incomplete.

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