Columbus, OH - March 5-11 is National Consumer Protection Week, which focuses on protecting consumers from scams and money-loss. BBB is partnering with multiple organizations to help educate Central Ohio consumers on different types of scams, schemes and dishonest business practices.
Because money loss and identity theft can happen to anyone, BBB encourages community members to protect and inform others by reporting any scam-related experiences to BBB’s Scam Tracker. In February, consumers reported losing a total of $1,033 out of $16,183 attempted dollars.
BBB analyzed over 100 Scam Tracker reports from February 2017 to shed a spotlight on scams affecting our Central Ohio community:
Can You Hear Me? Scam: 90% of the total scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in February involved a caller asking a consumer “Can You Hear Me?” or other questions in an attempt to get a “yes” answer. Once the consumer says yes, their affirmative may be recorded and used at a later time to say they agreed to a payment or a product.
BBB recommends screening your calls and only answering numbers you recognize. If the call is important, there will be a voicemail. If you receive any calls asking “Can you hear me?” or any other questions that seem to be fishing for a yes, hang up immediately.
Facebook Government Grant Scam: A Reynoldsburg, Ohio woman reported that she received a call from someone claiming she had been referred to her via Facebook and qualified for a government grant. The woman was instructed to text an attorney and was given a number. After texting him, the “attorney” asked her name, and said he would search their database to see if she was eligible for the government grant. He confirmed later that she was eligible for a $20,000 grant, but she had to send him $200 first. At that time, she did not have the money and was told to contact him again when she did.
She was later contacted by both scammers, and again explained that she didn’t have the money. After both denied working together, she grew suspicious and ended contact.
How the scam works: You receive a new friend request along with a message, or a message from a current Facebook friend detailing information on free grant money from the government. The message might include other Facebook users who have successfully received "grant money" to look more credible. The message may also have a link to a law office or phony government website. The scammer could list a real U.S. Government website, address or phone number to appear legitimate. In the end, you will be asked for personal information and a payment for processing fees.
BBB urges any consumers who receive messages concerning government grants on Facebook to not respond, and block or unfriend the person right away. If the message came from a friend you know in real life, it is possible their account may have been hacked.
The United States Government will not contact you directly for loans, or require that you pay any sort of fee.
A Bitcoin Scam: Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment system that uses its own currency to transact business. Bitcoins are not issued by banks or governments, but was designed as an alternative to national currencies.
A man from Groveport, Ohio reported finding a website titled cloud-m.biz advertising investment returns of 10% per day. He decided to invest and sent 0.030589 Bitcoins (worth $34.83 USD) to a username using Coinbase. The next day, $3.45 was sent to his Bitcoin account, making it seem like cloud-m.biz was a legitimate site for investment. After making another payment for investment, he went to login the next day and found that the site’s name had changed to bitfin.biz and he was no longer able to sign in. The website looked the same with the name change being the only difference. After his initial investments, he lost a total of $543.
Like with any investment, losing money is a possibility. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has issued an Investor Alert about Bitcoins, calling them “more than a bit risky” as an investment.
Before investing or shopping online, BBB recommends researching the company on bbb.org. Consumers should consider paying with a credit card, because charges can be disputed after a purchase if something were to go wrong.