Post Your Problems / Lawrence Walsh: Even most careful consumer can be duped by these scams

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Stacey Keacher stopped by the Better Business Bureau’s table at the City-County Building earlier this month to look at some of the free printed material that was being offered to consumers.

“I look at your website on a regular basis,” the Baldwin Township resident said to Caitlin Driscoll, the bureau’s public relations director. “It’s very helpful.”

Ms. Keacher was referring to www.pittsburgh.bbb.org, one of the best places for local consumers to stay up to date on the latest scams that crooks use to cheat them out of their hard-earned money.

The BBB’s table was one of nine set up on the first floor of the building to showcase consumer education resources as part of a four-hour Consumer Fair, hosted by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. The fair was part of National Consumer Protection Week March 2-8.

Also participating were the state Bureau of Consumer Protection; AARP; Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services Area Agency on Aging and the county treasurer’s office; the state Department of Banking and Securities; Public Utility Commission; Social Security Administration; U.S. Postal Service; and the Urban League of Pittsburgh.

“Consumer protection education is promoted every week at the Better Business Bureau,“ said Warren King, president of the BBB chapter that serves 28 Western Pennsylvania counties.

“Together with the resources of our federal, state and local governments and consumer groups, we can reach out and inform more people about the importance of making smart marketplace decisions as well as avoiding scams and fraud that can be financially devastating.”

Topics discussed at the fair included tips on how consumers can protect themselves against identity theft and how to safely shop online, spot fiction in advertisements, maintain good credit, make wise buying decisions and get out of debt.

Ms. Driscoll said the BBB is warning cell phone users about the “One Ring” scam that can result in unauthorized charges and international fees.

She said crooks program computers to send thousands of calls to random cell phone numbers and only ring once before disconnecting. They hope the calls will pique the interest of the recipients enough to prompt them to return the call from a number they don’t recognize.

If the victims’ curiosity gets the better of them and they return the calls, they often find themselves connected to music and advertising messages, an international adult entertainment service or chat line.

Later, when they get their wireless bills in the mail, they discover that they have been charged $19.95 for the international call fee and an additional $9 a minute. Victims said the calls come from area codes originating in the Caribbean Islands, including Antigua (268), British Virgin Islands (284), Dominican Republic (809), Grenada (473) and Jamaica (876).

Mr. King said One Ring scam victims should immediately notify their cell phone providers and monitor their wireless bills for any unauthorized charges. He said the earlier the fraud is detected, the better the chance of having some or all of the charges removed.

He said the best way to avoid this scam is to never answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number, especially if the area code is from out-of-state or from a different country. Don’t return the call. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message.

But consumers also have to be wary about “emergency” messages that appear to come from family members or friends who need help because of an emergency of some sort — an accident, an arrest, a robbery, etc. Be suspicious.

The BBB also is encouraging consumers to examine  monthly credit card statements for any unexplained charges and challenge them by calling their bank or credit card company. Use the number on the back of the card.

Crooks charge stolen credit card numbers for a small amount of money in the hopes that the victims won’t notice the relatively small charge and credit card companies won’t pursue such a small sum. Recent victims were all charged $9.84, but the thieves may change that amount.

Consumers who check statements carefully see that the source is an unfamiliar website. They check the Web address and discover that it’s not a business website. It turns out to be a generic landing page that claims to offer “Customer Support.”

The wording promises to “refund 100 percent of your last payment” and provides a phone number and email address. Victims who call receive verbal assurances that the charge will be canceled. Don’t believe it. Call your bank, report the charge and ask for a new credit card.

“Your credit card information has been compromised and its likely the scammers will be back for more,” the BBB said.


Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email or phone call.

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