234 posts categorized "Fraud" Feed

There's No Evidence Our Election Was Rigged

[Editor's note: Given recent allegations of voter fraud and hacks into voting systems, today's guest post is by reporters at ProPublica. This news story was originally published on November 28, 2016. It is reprinted with permission.]

by Jessica Huseman and Scott Klein, ProPublica

President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Sunday to claim that he would have won the popular vote "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

There is no evidence that millions of people voted illegally. If there were, we'd have seen some sign of it.

ProPublica was an organizing partner in Electionland, a project run by a coalition of organizations including Google News Lab, Univision, WNYC, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the USA Today Network. We monitored the vote with a team of more than 1,000 people, including about 600 journalism school students poring over social media reports and more than 400 local journalists who signed up to receive tips on what we found. We had access to a database of thousands of calls made to a nonpartisan legal hotline. We had four of the nation's leading voting experts in the room with us and election sources across the country. Thousands of people texted us to tell us about their voting experience.

We had an unprecedented real-time understanding of voting in the United States, and while we saw many types of problems, we did not see mass voter fraud of any kind 2014 especially of the sort Donald Trump alleges.

Trump's claim tracks closely with an Infowars piece published less than a week after the election, claiming that 3 million votes were cast by illegal aliens. The website, run by conservative radio host and noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, attributed the number to an unsubstantiated tweet by Gregg Phillips, the founder of VoteStand, a voter fraud app. While Infowars attributed the number to VoteFraud.org, there has been no report on the number by VoteFraud.org and Phillips told Politifact he was not affiliated with the organization. He would not provide Politifact with any information about how he arrived at the number, saying he was still verifying its accuracy. As Politifact points out, there is no evidence to support the number.

On a call Monday morning with reporters, Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller cited two studies to back up the president-elect's claim of illegal voting. The research, he said, spoke to "issues of both voter fraud and illegal immigrants voting."

Experts say the studies did not speak to these issues. The first study Miller cited was published in 2014 and has been widely debunked by a number of researchers. While the study claimed that 14 percent of non-citizens were registered to vote, that turned out to be an error in self-reporting. The question pertaining to citizenship was confusing, leading citizens to regularly mark themselves as non-citizens.

Miller also cited a 2012 Pew Study which found that there were thousands of people on the rolls who had moved or died. David Becker, now the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, was the primary author of the study, and told us there was "no link" between this study and voter fraud.

"The rolls are out of date because people are moving or dying in the normal course of things, not because people go and intentionally register in two states," he said, adding that his two decades of experience has shown him that out-of-date rolls are not used for fraud. He added that now that 20 states are participating in the Electronic Registration Information Center Inc. 2014 or ERIC 2014 which allows states to share registration information, the voting rolls in 2016 were "far more up to date" than the rolls in 2012.

Beyond the study, Becker said the warning signs of millions of ineligible voters casting ballots are simply not present, nor were they on Election Day, which Becker spent in the Electionland newsroom. In fact, he said, it's likely Electionland 2014 and many other election observers 2014 would have known about this long before the election actually took place.

"There would have been an unprecedented number of new registrants that would not have had matched social security or driver's license numbers," Becker said. "There was no exceptional registration, there were no crazy long lines, there were no language difficulties, and there wasn't an exceptionally high number of mail-in ballots."

Tammy Patrick, another Electionland expert and a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said that no elections officials have raised flags related to tampering. Jurisdictions do regular audits to ensure that the number of sign-ins equals the number of votes being cast, and none of those audits have found problems. In fact, with the fervor raised in advance by the president-elect himself, Patrick said this election was the best monitored in her memory.

"People were watching," she said. "We had more international observers than ever before. Thousands of political party observers at the polls. Campaign observers in the polling places."

Third-party candidate Jill Stein has raised less sweeping doubts about the validity of the vote. These came on the heels of a Nov. 22 piece in New York Magazine, claiming that researchers had found "persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked." The story went on to say that "in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots."

Stein has now used this study in her recount petitions in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

However, the story did not seem to hold up under scrutiny. One of those researchers, J. Alex Halderman, writing in a Medium post, disagreed with New York Magazine's characterization of his research, saying only that systems were vulnerable, pointing to the hacks on the Democratic National Committee and the voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona. He did, however, call for manually checking paper ballots.

Nate Silver at 538 and others rebutted the New York Magazine claims via Twitter and later in a longer story. Silver pointed out, among other things, that in Wisconsin, the disparity between counties that use paper ballots and ones that use electronic voting systems disappears when controlling for race and education.

Charles Stewart, elections expert and professor at MIT, noted in his blog, "virtually all" ballots in Wisconsin and Michigan were cast on paper, so the "core empirical claim" of the New York Magazine story "cannot be true."

But Stein, citing "very troubling news about the possibility of security breaches in voting results," created a crowdsourcing campaign to fund a recount effort in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She first set a fundraising goal of $2 million, which was very quickly met, and raised it ultimately to $7 million, where it currently stands as we write this.

The Clinton campaign is participating in the Wisconsin recount process. Marc Elias, general counsel to the Clinton campaign, expressed skepticism, saying that the campaign had "not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology," but that they would participate in the recount "in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides."

Both Becker and Patrick say the idea that a hack could meaningfully impact an election is far-fetched. In Wisconsin alone, there are 1,800 jurisdictions, none of which have machines connected to the internet, said Becker. "It would have taken thousands of people working in concert without being discovered to hack the result, just in Wisconsin," he said.

And while some have asserted that malware could have been built into the software used to run electronic voting machines and optical scanners for paper ballots, Patrick said this would either require a lot of foresight or time travel.

"This software is years old. The voting machines are not new. Someone would have had to years ago decide they were going to hack this election, without knowing who the candidates are," she said.

While it's important to investigate voting irregularities, claims made without evidence about fraudulent voting and hacking may have costs that go beyond the expense of a recount. Studies suggest that voters especially low-information voters 2014 who fear that their vote may be tampered with might not vote at all.

Members of the losing party often blame defeats on flaws in the voting system, Becker said. He said it's "particularly difficult" this year, when all of the polls seemed to be lined up against the ultimate winner, "but it doesn't change the facts about the process."

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


You Gave President Elect Donald Trump a Whale Of A Holiday Gift

Just before the long holiday weekend, the Attorney General (AG) for New York State announced a settlement agreement with President Elect Donald J. Trump regarding his now defunct, educational business Trump University. Reportedly, the $25 million settlement agreement resolves two class-action lawsuits and an action by the New York State AG.

About 7,000 students paid up to $35,000 in tuition and allegedly received little to no education. Terms of the settlement require Mr. Trump to pay $21 million to settle the two class-action lawsuits and $4 million to New York State. The New York Times reported:

"Trump University, which operated from 2004 to 2010, included free introductory seminars across the country, focusing largely on real estate investing and learning Mr. Trump’s secrets... Documents made public through the litigation revealed that some former Trump University managers had given testimony about its unscrupulous and exploitative business practices. One sales executive testified that the operation was “a facade, a total lie.” Another manager called it a “fraudulent scheme.” Other records showed how Mr. Trump had overstated the depth of his involvement in the programs. Despite claims that Mr. Trump had handpicked instructors, he acknowledged in testimony that he had not... the conclusion of the Trump University cases brings vindication to former students, mostly ordinary people across the country who felt they had been robbed of their savings by Mr. Trump..."

The settlement terms did not require Mr. Trump to admit any wrongdoing:

"At a hearing on the case in San Diego on Friday, [Trump's attorney] Daniel Petrocelli said Mr. Trump had settled the case “without an acknowledgment of fault or liability.” "

Why settle now? The Los Angeles Times reported:

"The law firm Zeldes, Haeggquist & Eck, which helped represent the plaintiffs, said in a statement Friday that it was “incredibly painful” to end the legal battle now. “We stand behind their claims 100%,” the firm said, “but there is always risk in taking a case to trial and that was particularly so here, when the defendant was poised to be the next president of the United States.” The lawsuits dogged Trump on the campaign trail, and he denied the allegations many times and said he would not settle the cases."

Some might conclude that not having to admit wrongdoing is a whale of gift. Reportedly, attorneys for the students waived their fees so the students would receive more compensation. Students would received 55 to 100 percent of the money they spent. Some might also say that settling 3 lawsuits for pennies on the dollar is also a whale of a holiday gift. Sadly, there is more.

Much more. Forbes Magazine explained:

"Of course, the real cost to Mr. Trump is after tax, not before it. And most business settlements are fully tax deductible. The only part that arguably may not be here is the $1 million in penalties. But barring express non-deductibility commitments, many penalties can be deducted, too. In general, fines and penalties paid to the government are not deductible. Section 162(f) of the tax code prohibits deducting "any fine or similar penalty paid to a government for the violation of any law."

Despite punitive sounding names, though, some fines and penalties are considered remedial and deductible. That allows some flexibility. Companies often deduct ‘compensatory penalties,’ a maneuver affirmed in a recent Circuit Court ruling. Some defendants insist that their settlement agreement confirms that the payments are not penalties and are remedial. Conversely, some government entities insist on the reverse.  Explicit provisions about taxes in settlement agreements are becoming more common."

You may remember the fines and payments paid by JPMorgan bank in a 2013 settlement agreement. Frobes explained that only $2 billion of the $13 billion was not tax-deductible. So, taxpayers nationwide have given Mr. Trump a whale of a holiday gift similar to gifts given repeatedly to big banks: tax-deductible payments in settlement agreements that allow them to pay less taxes. You'd think that the tax-deductible benefit would come with a price: having to admit wrongdoing.

Is this fair? Is it right? A 2014 survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that most Americans disapprove of tax-deductible payments in settlement agreements, and want more transparency and disclosures about the contents of settlement agreements.

It is infuriating to this taxpayer. Hopefully it infuriates you, too. It seems that often payments and fines to resolve and penalize a defendant for wrongdoing are anything but. What are your opinions?


The List of Fake News Sites

New York Magazine reported:

"As Facebook and now Google face scrutiny for promoting fake news stories, Melissa Zimdars, a communication and media professor from Merrimack College in Massachusetts, has compiled a handy list of websites you should think twice about trusting. “Below is a list of fake, false, regularly misleading, and otherwise questionable ‘news’ organizations that are commonly shared on Facebook and other social media sites,” Zimdars explains. “Many of these websites rely on ‘outrage’ by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits.” (Click here to see the list.)

Be warned: Zimdars’s list is expansive in scope, and stretches beyond the bootleg sites (many of them headquartered in Macedonia) that write fake news for the sole reason of selling advertisements. Right-wing sources and conspiracy theorists like Breitbart and Infowars appear alongside pure (but often misinterpreted) satire like the Onion and The New Yorker’s Borowitz Report."

For consumers seeking "hard" news (e.g., the raw who, what, when, and where something happened), some sources: Associated Press (AP), Reuters, and United Press International (UPI). What sources do you use for "hard" news?


Wells Fargo Tries To Do The Right Thing For Its Customers

Wells Fargo logo After the massive $185 million fine for its phony accounts scam, Wells Fargo bank is trying to do right by its customers. The bank published this statement with promises:

"Steps we have taken to ensure our Community Bank sales culture is wholly aligned with our customers’ interests include: 1) Eliminating product sales goals for all retail bankers to make certain nothing gets in the way of doing what is right for our customers; 2) Sending customers a confirmation email within one hour of opening any deposit account and an acknowledgement letter after submitting a credit card application; 3) Contacting all deposit customers across the country to invite them to review their accounts with their banker and calling the credit card customers identified in the review to confirm whether they need or want their credit card; 4) Expanding the remediation review to 2009 and 2010; and 5) Conducting an independent, enterprise-wide review of our sales practices."

There is more. A September 27th news release by Wells Fargo stated:

"The Independent Directors of the Board of Directors of Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) today announced that they have launched an independent investigation into the Company’s retail banking sales practices and related matters. A Special Committee of Independent Directors will lead the investigation, working with the Board’s Human Resources Committee and independent counsel Shearman & Sterling LLP. Chairman and CEO John Stumpf, a member of the Board, has recused himself from all matters related to the Independent Directors’ investigation and deliberations.

The Independent Directors have taken a number of initial steps they believe are appropriate to promote accountability at the Company. They have agreed with Mr. Stumpf that he will forfeit all of his outstanding unvested equity awards, valued at approximately $41 million based on today’s closing share price, and that he will forgo his salary during the pendency of the investigation. In addition, he will not receive a bonus for 2016. Carrie Tolstedt, until recently Head of Community Banking, has left the Company, and the Independent Directors have determined that she will forfeit all of her outstanding unvested equity awards, valued at approximately $19 million based on today’s closing share price. Ms. Tolstedt will not receive a bonus for 2016 and will not be paid severance or receive any retirement enhancements in connection with her separation from the Company. She has also agreed that she will not exercise her outstanding options during the pendency of the investigation. These initial actions will not preclude additional steps being taken with respect to Mr. Stumpf, Ms. Tolstedt or other executives as a consequence of the information developed in the investigation."

Conducting an investigation? That means the bank's senior executives still don't know what happened, or may still be happening -- or even worse, some executives know and haven't admitted important facts. Is this a bank to do business with? John Chiang, the Treasurer for the State of California announced on Wednesday that the State has suspended doing business with Wells Fargo for 12 months. Chiang issued this explanation:

"... the Treasurer oversees nearly $2 trillion in annual banking transactions, manages a $75 billion investment pool, and is the nation’s largest issuer of municipal debt... The Treasurer announced in a letter to Wells Fargo Chairman John G. Stumpf and board members that he has ordered the suspension of Wells Fargo’s participation in its most highly profitable business relationships with the State of California. Those sanctions include: i) Suspension of investments by the Treasurer’s Office in all Wells Fargo securities; ii) Suspension of the use of Wells Fargo as a broker-dealer for purchasing of investments by his office; and iii) Suspension of Wells Fargo as a managing underwriter on negotiated sales of California state bonds where the Treasurer appoints the underwriter... These sanctions take effect immediately and will remain in place for the next twelve months. Wells Fargo is expected to comply with all of the terms of the consent orders it has entered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Los Angeles City Attorney, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency... The letter warns the bank that if it fails to demonstrate compliance with the Consent Orders or evidence surfaces that Wells Fargo has engaged in the same behavior it will face tougher sanctions up to and including complete and permanent severance of all ties between the Treasurer’s Office and Wells Fargo..."

Hopefully, the board will assess more penalties upon Stumpf, Tolstedt, and senior bank executives. The penalties mentioned above seem woefully insufficient, since they penalize the executives in 2016 for activities that perpetuated during the last five years.

The bank's statement was also silent about important issues: a) remedies for customers whose credit ratings were damaged by the phony new accounts, and b) compensation for customers for lost interest revenues when their money was withdrawn from interest-bearing accounts to set up the phony new accounts.

The bank's news release included this statement by Stephen Sanger, Lead Independent Director:

"... We will conduct this investigation with the diligence it deserves -- and will follow the facts wherever they lead. Our thousands of outstanding team members and millions of loyal customers and shareholders deserve no less. Based on the results of the investigation, the Independent Members of the Board will take such other actions as they collectively deem appropriate, which may include further compensation actions before any additional equity awards vest or bonus decisions are made early next year, clawbacks of compensation already paid out, and other employment-related actions. We will proceed with a sense of urgency but will take the time we need to conduct a thorough investigation. We will then take all appropriate actions to reinforce the right culture and ensure that lessons are learned, misconduct is addressed, and systems and processes are improved so there can be no repetition of similar conduct."

While clawbacks into executives' compensation during prior years sounds good, the key takeaway seems to be: the board still does not know what is happening in its bank, nor what corrective actions to implement beyond the promises listed above. And it can't rely on Stumpf to tell them. Stumpf should be fired immediately for not keeping the board informed. Same for Tolstedt. In a perfect world, both would be in prison. Fraud is fraud.

What are your opinions about Wells Fargo? Would you do business with the bank?


Tax Related Identity Theft And Fraud: Next Steps For Victims

This morning, a friend sent the following via e-mail:

"Just learned today that I was a victim of identity theft. My accountant tried to electronically file my income tax but it was rejected. The IRS told him I already filed. Since the early return is obviously fraudulent I was told I could not electronically file but had to file with paper. Spent the last couple hours notifying credit bureaus and the Federal Trade Commission. It doesn't appear they have applied for any new credit card yet. I wonder whether they got a refund in my name. I also have been involved in a couple big data breaches where the company who lost my data has provided free credit monitoring services. None of the services have detected fraudulent activities. It must've been through one of these that someone got hold my Social Security number. So far so good, but this is an extra headache I didn't need."

It was sad to read this e-mail message. Identity theft is always a major pain and inconvenience. I experienced this in 2007 after IBM, Inc. had its massive data breach. There's a lot to consider and to do. Most consumers have no idea what to do next. That’s why I started me blogging about identity theft, data breaches, and corporate responsibility. The blog has been a good tool for me to catalog what I've learned about what to do next.

Since my friend's sensitive information (e.g., name, address, phone, social number, and maybe more) are out in the wild, that means thieves will sell and resell it as long as they think the information is usable. The criminals now know enough about my friend that they will try to commit more fraud -- often by impersonating my friend to gain access to their financial accounts. Thieves may call the customer service departments at banks pretending to be my friend. While writing this blog the last 8+ years, I've learned that identity thieves are smart, persistent, and go where the money is.

I suggested that my friend do the following to protect their self:

  1. It seemed like my friend is already following the advice by Internet Revenue Service (IRS) for victims of tax-related identity theft and fraud. That’s a good start. Another good place to start is the Identify Theft site by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Follow the next steps recommended by the FTC.
  2. File a police report with the local police department. They’ll probably do nothing, but this will help my friend create a paper trail. Certain documents will be needed when filing claims with insurance companies.
  3. While my friend has already contacted the three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax), don't stop with a Fraud Alert. That’s weak tea. Do a Security Freeze instead. That will prevent fraudsters from taking out new loans or getting credit in my friend's name. This will cost up to $10 for each.
  4. Call financial institutions and advise them of your identity theft. Follow any processes the banks have. Get new debit/credit card numbers if your card information (card name, account number, security code, etc.) was exposed in #6.
  5. Change online passwords for all financial accounts (e.g., checking, savings, mortgages, insurance, credit cards, 401-K, IRA’s, etc.). Notify them that your data has been stolen and used. Follow any procedures the banks have for reporting fraud. Don’t use the same password at multiple sites. Why? Thieves will use a stolen password at several websites, to see where else they can break in.
  6. Since one or more companies had data breaches that exposed my friend's sensitive information, my friend should notify each company that thieves have used their sensitive information for tax-related fraud. These companies will probably deny that their breach was the cause, but my friend is informing them of the consequences. If the breach was bad, there may be an upcoming class action, so I encouraged my friend to consider and join any class-action lawsuits. The financial rewards may be beneficial.
  7. Thieves will continue to use my friend's stolen information as long as they think it is useful. So, my friend will need to be vigilant. That means continuing to periodically monitor bank account statements and credit reports for fraudulent entries (if my uses only the Fraud Alert option). This sucks, but that is the reality in the digital information economy. When companies have data breaches, we consumers are usually left with the cleanup burden.
  8. If the companies in #6 offer free credit monitoring services, accept the offer and use it. Those monitoring services can help with #7. Plus, these monitoring services usually offer fraud resolution services: the detailed, time-consuming, and complicated process of cleaning up accounts and records muddled by thieves. If the corporate data breaches in #6 included my friend's spouse and/or dependents, be sure that any credit monitoring services cover these persons.
  9. Keep a solid paper trail. My friend will likely need some of this documentation later.
  10. Stay in touch with both the IRS and the Department of Revenue in the state where you live. The thieves may file fraudulent state tax returns, too. Both the federal and my friend's state tax agencies have fraud procedures. Respond to any notifications you receive from both; preferably in writing.
  11. If any of the companies in #6 was a health care provider and the breach included medical records, then my friend is at risk for both financial fraud and medical fraud. More steps apply for medical fraud and the resolution process is even more complicated. For example, the thief's blood type and other health data could be co-mingled with the victim's, introducing errors and other risks.
  12. Some criminals use stolen identity information to get bogus driver’s licenses. If my friend gets stopped by the police while driving, don’t panic. Explain to law enforcement the identity theft and and #2. My friend may have to get fingerprinted, since that is a good method to distinguish the fraudster from my friend.
  13. Some criminals sell stolen information to undocumented people to gain employment. So, my friend's stolen Social Security Number may be used by another person. When several persons use the same Social Security number for employment, there are plenty of consequences. (There's the infamous case of 81 persons using the same SSN.) The Identity Theft Resource Center recommends solutions for SSN fraud victims. See the Social Security Administration's process for reporting fraud. Check the contractual agreement for a credit monitoring service to see if its resolution services cover this.
  14. Keep the anti-virus software updated on all devices (e.g., desktop, laptop, phone, tablet) and run scans at least once monthly.

That was my advice to my friend. What might you advise?


Facts About Debt Collection Scams And Other Consumer Complaints

Logo for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released a report about debt collection scams. The report is based upon more than 834,00 complaints filed by consumers nationally with the CFPB about financial products and services: checking and savings accounts, mortgages, credit cards, prepaid cards, consumer loans, student loans, money transfers, payday loans, debt settlement, credit repair, and credit reports. Complaints about debt collection scams accounted for 26 percent of all complaints.

The most frequent scam are attempts to collect money from consumers for debts they don't owe. This accounted for 38 percent of all debt-collection-scam complaints submitted. This included harassment:

"Consumers complained about receiving multiple calls weekly and sometimes daily from debt collectors. Consumers often complained that the collector continued to call even after being repeatedly told that the alleged debtor could not be contacted at the dialed number. Consumers also complained about debt collectors calling their places of employment... Consumers complained that they were not given enough information to verify whether or not they owed the debt that someone was attempting to collect. "

The two companies with the most complaints:

"... were Encore Capital Group and Portfolio Recovery Associates, Inc. Both companies, which are among the largest debt buyers in the country, averaged over 100 complaints submitted to the Bureau each month between October and December 2015. In 2015, the CFPB took enforcement actions against these two large debt buyers for using deceptive tactics to collect bad debts."

Compared to a year ago, debt collection complaints increased the most in Indiana (38 percent), Arizona (27 percent), and New Hampshire (26 percent) during December 2015 through February 2016. Debt collection complaints decreased the most in Maine (-34 percent), Wyoming (-26 percent), and North Dakota (-23 percent). And:

"Of the five most populated states, California (10 percent) experienced the greatest percentage increase and Illinois (-4 percent) experienced the greatest percentage decrease in debt collection complaints..."

The report lists 20 companies with the most debt-collection complaints during October through December 2015. The top five companies with with average monthly complaints about debt collection are Encore Capital Group (139.3), Portfolio Recovery Associates, Inc. (112.3), Enhanced recovery Company, LLC (65.7), Transworld Systems Inc. (63.7), and Citibank (54.7). This top-20 list also includes several banks: Synchrony Bank, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo.

While the March Monthly Complaint Report by the CFPB focused upon debt collection complaints, it also provides plenty of detailed information about all categories of complaints. From December 2015 through February 2016, the CFPB received on average every month about 6,856 debt collection complaints, 4,211 mortgage complaints, 3,556 credit reporting complaints, 2,021 complaints about bank accounts or services, and 1,995 complaints about credit cards. Most categories showed increased complaint volumes compared to the same period a year ago. Only two categories showed a decline in average monthly complaints: credit reporting and payday loans. Debt collection complaints were up 6 percent.

Compared to a year ago, average monthly complaint volume (all categories) increased in 40 states and decreased in 11 states. The top five states with the largest increases (all categories) included Connecticut (31 percent), Kansas (30 percent), Georgia (25 percent), Louisiana (25 percent), and Indiana (24 percent). The top five states with the largest decreases (all categories) included Hawaii (-25 percent), Maine (-19 percent), South Dakota (-14 percent), District of Columbia (-8 percent), and Idaho (-6 percent). Also:

"Of the five most populated states, New York (12 percent) experienced the greatest complaint volume percentage increase, and Texas (-8 percent) experienced the greatest complaint volume percentage decrease from December 2014 to February 2015 to December 2015 to February 2016."

The chart below lists the 10 companies with the most complaints (all categories) during October through December, 2015:

Companies with the most complaints. CFPB March 2016 Monthly Complaints Report. Click to view larger image

The "Other" category includes consumer loans, student loans, prepaid cards, payday loans, prepaid cards, money transfers, and more. During this three-month period, complaints about these companies totaled 46 percent of all complaints. Consumers submit complaints about the national big banks covering several categories. According to the CFPB March complaints report (links added):

"By average monthly complaint volume, Equifax (988), Experian (841), and TransUnion (810) were the most-complained-about companies for October - December 2015. Equifax experienced the greatest percentage increase in average monthly complaint volume (32 percent)... Ocwen experienced the greatest percentage decrease in average monthly complaint volume (-18 percent)... Empowerment Ventures (parent company of RushCard) debuted as the 10th most-complained-about company..."

To learn more about the CFPB, there are plenty of posts in this blog. Simply enter "CFPB" in the search box in the right column.


Learn How To Spot These 5 Energy Scams So You Don't Get Duped

Eversource logo Maybe it was a visit by door-to-door sales person. Maybe it was a phone call; or a text or e-mail message. There are six energy scams you should be aware of, so you don't get duped and lose your hard-earned money. Eversource, the largest energy delivery service in New England, alerted its customers about common scams:

  1. Shut-off Threats: callers claim to represent the Billing or Disconnect Department, and state that your power will be shut off if you don't make a payment immediately.
  2. Pay immediately: callers instruct you to make a payment immediately to a third-party location, such as a grocery store, or to a "Green Dot" VISA card. Then, the scammer directs victims to call another phone number to report the card payment information, so the scammers can drain the card account online.
  3. Faulty meters: callers claim your electric (or gas) meter is broken and it overcharging you. Then, the scammer directs victims to buy a $200.00 prepaid card. The scammers calls again claiming the first payment hasn't posted, and the consumer should buy a $300.00 prepaid card. Of course, the scammer lies about the meter being fixed soon.
  4. Unsolicited technician: a door-to-door person, with a hard-to-read badge, claims he is there to check your usage since your neighbors reported have claimed about high monthly bills.
  5. Unsolicited salesperson: a door-to-door person claims there is a problem with your utilities, and you failed to respond to urgent notices. The scammers insisted that you could get a rebate, or savings, but needs to see a copy of your energy bill.

These are all scams because:

"Eversource would never ask you to purchase prepaid cards or make an immediate payment at a third-party location, like a grocery store. We have a very secure, protected billing system, and you have multiple, convenient options to pay your bills, including direct debit, check, credit card and cash. Customers who are scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment receive written notice that includes the actions they can take to maintain service... All [Eversource] employees carry company-issued identification, and any electrical contractors working with us carry documentation explaining the nature and location of their work. Customers can always call us to verify this information. Eversource would never solicit door-to-door or over the phone on behalf of a specific competitive/alternate energy supplier."

The information on your monthly energy bill is sensitive information. Protect it. Eversource advises:

"Never provide personal financial or utility account information to any unsolicited individual, in person, on the phone, or online, even if the individual seems legitimate."

And Eversource advises its consumers to:

"Always verify whether these contacts are legitimate by asking for some basic information about your account. Our representatives will always be able to provide the name on the account, the account address, and the exact past due balance. If the caller cannot provide that information, the call is not from us."

If you use a different energy provider, check it's website for scams. For example, earlier this month PG&E warned its customers in California about similar scams.

I've received some of these robocalls from scammers. Long ago, I registered both my landline and mobile phone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry. When I receive unwanted and un-requested robocalls, I hang up the call immediately and submit a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You should, too.


FCC Seeks $29.6 Million Fine Against Phone Carriers For Alleged Cramming And Slamming

Federal communications Commission logo The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeks $29.6 million in fines against three phone providers for allegedly switching (a/k/a "slamming") consumers' long distance service without their consent, applying (a/k/a "cramming") unauthorized charges on their monthly bills, and obstructing the FCC investigation. The FCC press release stated:

"... the Commission asserts that OneLink Communications, Inc., TeleDias Communications, Inc., TeleUno, Inc., and Cytel, Inc., “slammed” consumers by switching their long distance carriers without authorization and “crammed” unauthorized charges onto consumers’ bills. In addition, it is alleged the companies, which operate as a single enterprise, fabricated audio recordings that they then submitted to the FCC as “proof” the consumers authorized these changes and charges... The FCC found that the companies’ apparent unauthorized charges and deceptive marketing calls constituted “unjust and unreasonable” practices under the Communications Act. The FCC also determined that the companies apparently violated federal law by submitting fake consumer authorizations and providing false and misleading information to the FCC during its investigation..."

OneLink Communications logo The FCC action included a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture. More than 140 consumers filed complaints with the FCC. There was an FCC order in August 2009 against TeleDias Communications for slamming. The OnelInk website lists an office in Tamarac, Florida. The Cytel, Inc. website lists an office in Pompano Beach. Florida. A check of both the Cytel or OneLink sites couldn't find lists of their executives or corporate officers.

How the companies allegedly performed deceptive marketing:

"Some consumers alleged that the companies’ telemarketers pretended to be from the post office calling about a nonexistent package delivery to obtain information to create fake consumer authorization recordings. In other cases, it appears the companies impersonated individuals in the authorization recordings. The companies then allegedly provided the fake authorizations to the FCC in response to its investigation into the consumer complaints. Even after consumers repeatedly contacted the companies about the alleged unauthorized charges and carrier switches, the companies purportedly refused to provide refunds until consumers filed complaints with the FCC, Better Business Bureau, or state regulators."

Kudos to the FCC for investigating the complaints. Kudos to consumers for filing complaints with the FCC, BBB, and state regulators when a company fails to do the right thing.


Safe Shopping Tips For the Holidays

The holiday shopping season is here. Experts estimate that consumers will spend about $83 billion. Everyone wants to shop safely and avoid both identity theft and fraud. The California Attorney General's office issued several safe-shopping tips for consumers that are applicable everywhere and not only in California. Some of the items were already covered in this blog, so I added links.

Online

  • Shop at secure websites. Look for https in the website address, or for the yellow lock icon
  • Don't shop online at public WiFi hotspots, such as coffee shops. This can put at risk your payment information (e.g., bank account, credit/debit card numbers, etc.). If you must use a public WiFi hotspot, use encryption software on your mobile device.
  • Do not send personal and payment information in e-mail messages. Legitimate companies won't ask you to do this, since it is an insecure way of transmitting information. Learn to spot package delivery scams.
  • Use reputable websites when booking travel or lodging for trips. However, scammers also insert listings on vacation websites. If the price is too good to be true, it usually is. Learn to spot vacation payment scams.
  • Identity thieves and fraudsters use mobile apps. Before purchasing an app, find and read independent reviews. Also, read the terms of use and privacy policy for the app desired. Download and buy apps only at reputable websites. Use these tips to protect your phone from online crime.
  • If you receive text messages on your phone claiming you have won a prize or gift card, do not click on the link in the message. It probably is a scam and may install a virus on your phone. E-mail scams are common. Learn to spot phishing e-mails. Be wary of e-mails from persons claiming to be a shipping company. These e-mail message often contain attached files that contain computer viruses. Do not open attached files from strangers.
  • Consider using a two-step process to protect your email account and sensitive personal information. For example, after inputting your password, you will then receive a text on your phone, that provides a one-time-use code to sign into your e-mail account. Your e-mail provider has instructions about how to set this up.

In Stores

  • Thieves use handheld scanners and counterfeit credit cards to use gift cards that they do not actually have. Only buy gift cards that are kept behind the store’s customer service counter or activated upon checkout. Before buying the card ask for it to be scanned to show that it is fully valued.
  • Learn to spot and avoid prepaid gift card app fraud.
  • Package theft is happening more frequently. If you do not have a secure area for delivery companies to leave packages, consider requiring a signature for packages, or have your packages held for pickup at a nearby shipping center.

General

  • Review your bank and credit card statements frequently for fraudulent transactions. Contact your bank or card issuers immediately if you see unusual or suspicious transactions.
  • If you receive a phone call from somebody claiming to be your bank or credit card company, who asks you to verify your account information, don't. Instead, ask them for their phone number so you can call them back. Then, call the phone number listed on the back of your credit card.
  • Learn to spot and avoid prepaid card phone scams.
  • Parents and grandparents should be wary of phone calls, e-mails, and social networking posts by scam artists pretending to be a child, friend, or relative stuck in an emergency abroad and needing cash immediately. Scammers try to get the victim to wire cash or disclose sensitive personal and financial information. Don't do this. Before taking any action, verify the health or status of the child, friend, or relative abroad.
  • Use these ten tips for safe vacation travel.

Happy holidays!


Federal Prosecutors Pursue Criminal Charges Against Banking Executives

Department of Justice logo Reuters news service reported yesterday that federal prosecutors are pursuing criminal charges against executives at two banks for allegedly marketing mortgage-backed securities loaded with faulty loans after warnings by coworkers. If so, this would be the first cases of criminal charges against bankers.

Citing an article in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters reported possible criminal investigations at both JPMorgan Chase & Company (JPMorgan), and at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS):

"Prosecutors are scrutinizing a $2.2 billion deal that repackaged home mortgages into bonds in 2007 at RBS and two people who worked on a different residential-mortgage deal at JPMorgan, the Journal said. JPMorgan, RBS and Department of Justice declined to comment. JPMorgan said in a filing in November that it was responding to an investigation by the DoJ's criminal division.

It would seem that the news reports in May 2015 covered in this blog were largely accurate. At that time, news reports mentioned possible charges against five banks. Also in May, a federal court ruled that the Japanese bank Nomura Holdings and the Royal Bank of Scotland had misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while selling them mortgage bonds that contained errors and misrepresentations.

J.P.Morgan logo JPMorgan has a colorful history, part of which is worth reviewing. In January 2015, it was one of four banks that settled illegal foreclosure charges with the Massachusetts Attorney General with a $2.7 million payment. In November 2014, both RBS and JPMorgan were part of a group of banks that paid $4.2 billion in fines to U.S., U.K., and Swiss regulators for rigging the foreign exchange, or FX, market. In December 2013, JPMorgan paid $515.4 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), $300 million to the California Attorney General, and $13 billion with the U.S. Justice Department to settle charges about the misrepresentation of offering documents for residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS).

December 2013 was a big month. JPMorgan Chase announced a data breach that affected half a million prepaid card customers. U.S. taxpayers also learned that month that much of the huge fines JPMorgan paid were tax-deductible and reduced the bank's tax payments. in September 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ordered both Chase Bank USA, N.A. and JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. to refund about $309 million to more than 2.1 million customers for illegal credit card practices, where customers were enrolled in credit monitoring services without their authorization and charged for services not delivered.


How The Teenager Hacked The CIA Director's Email Account

Central Intelligence Agency logo You've probably heard about it, or read some of the initial news reports. The New York Post broke the story about a teenager hacking into the e-mail account of John Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The methods the hacker used are a good example of pretexting: when a criminal pretends to be somebody they aren't in order to acquire sensitive information about the target(s).

Wired provided a detailed report about the incident, which I've distilled into seven steps:

  1. The hacker did a reverse number lookup of Brennan's mobile phone number. Several websites provide this feature. From that, the hacker learned that Verizon was Brennan's provider of phone services.
  2. Pretending to be a Verizon technician, the teenage hacker and his accomplices, called Verizon asking for details about Brennan's account. The Verizon phone rep asked for their Vcode, a unique number assigned to each Verizon technician. The hacker provided a fake Vcode which somehow passed Verizon's security. From that, the hacker learned Brennan’s account number, four-digit PIN, the backup mobile number on Brennan's account, Brennan’s AOL email address, and the last four digits on Brennan's bank card.
  3. The hacker accessed Brennan's AOL e-mail account on October 12, and read several e-mail messages including messages forwarded from his work e-mail account. From that, the hacker learned Brennan's secure White House e-mail address, his security clearance application, topics discussed by Brennan and other intelligence officials, and work-related documents attached to several e-mail messages. One attachment included a spreadsheet with names and Social Security numbers of several persons, including intelligence officials.
  4. The hackers posted photos of several documents online via a Twitter account they had set up. The hackers accessed Brennan's account for at least three days.
  5. On October 16, the hacker posted via Twitter that Brennan had deleted his AOL e-mail account supposedly because the hackers had accessed it.
  6. Brennan reset the password on his AOL account, which the hackers accessed again. This suggests that they called AOL customer service pretending to be Brennan and reset the password on his account so they could access it. Reportedly, the dueling password resets happened three times.
  7. The hackers called Brennan's mobile phone number and told him his account had been hacked. After asking them what they wanted, the hackers reportedly answered, "We just want Palestine to be free and for you to stop killing innocent people."

What should consumers make of this incident? First, the incident provides a window into the hassles and inconveniences when your e-mail account is hacked and taken over by a criminal. The hackers could have sent out spam messages from Brennan's account to his friends, family, and coworkers. Second, the incident highlights the necessity of not using the same password on multiple accounts. When consumers do this, it makes it easy for criminals to access several of your online and financial accounts. Hackers will try the same stolen password at other online accounts to see where else they access.

Third, the incident is a reminder for consumers never to disclose sensitive personal and financial information over the phone. Why? Simply, the caller's identity is unknown and unverified. We consumers frequently receive calls from identity thieves from fake computer support vendors or bogus cardholder services.

Verizon logo Fourth, Verizon should improve its security processes. A fake Vcode should not allow access to customers' sensitive information. There should be consequences for Verizon for this breach. Fifth, the hackers' techniques provide a tiny view of the activities spies and counter-intelligence agencies perform, and why these entities want to hack into government agencies' websites, such as the Office of Personnel Management breach earlier this year.

Sixth, adding your mobile phone number to your social networking and e-mail accounts is not a data security cure-all. Smart hackers will target your mobile phone number so that they receive any notifications  you've set up about changes to your account.

Seventh and perhaps most troubling, the Brennan and Clinton e-mail incidents suggest that many government officials highly value convenience (just as consumers do), by forwarding work-related e-mails and documents from secure work systems to less secure commercial systems. You could argue that this desire for convenience is a security weakness. Fifth, you can bet that spies will try to take advantage of this weakness by replicating pretexting attacks on other high-value executive targets, in both the public and private sectors. If a teenager can do it, then so can an experienced spy.

What are your opinions of the hacking incident? Of Verizon's role?


Today is The Date Banks Set To Transition To New Chip Cards. Are We There Yet?

Today, October 1, 2015 is the date banks and card issuers set to transition to the new EMV chip cards. The transition was to reduce card fraud. EMV is the name of the technology jointly developed by Europay, MasterCard, and Visa. Was the transition completed? The American Banker reported:

"Most credit cards (about 70%) will have chips on them. But most of these cards will be chip-and-signature cards, not chip-and-PIN... Many small merchants won't be ready. Depending on which study you believe, somewhere between 20% and 30% of merchants have purchased and deployed the EMV-capable point-of-sale terminals and software they will need to handle EMV chip cards. Big-box stores like Target that have suffered data breaches have done this work. But most small stores and restaurants have not. New EMV equipment is expensive and sometimes difficult to implement, and many seem unaware of the dangers of not adapting."

So, the transition is incomplete. In Europe, the United Kingdom transitioned to chip-and-PIN in 2006, and saw store-related card fraud drop 70 percent. The PIN is a short number the cardholder enters at the terminal to authorize their purchase. Chip-and-signature refers to new chip cards when the cardholder signs at the terminal to authorize their purchase.

It' is troubling that many retailers in the USA haven't upgraded to the new terminals. The result: consumers will encounter a frustrating mix of stores with and without the new chip card terminals. Cardholders will have to insert their chip cards at stores with the new terminals, and swipe the swipe the magnetic stripe on the back of their chip cards at stores without the new terminals.

The new chip cards contain both a chip that encrypts and stores your sensitive payment information, plus the obsolete magnetic stripe on the back of the card, which fraudsters have used to clone cards. Some experts have criticized this approach, arguing that the less-secure magnetic stripes should have been eliminated. The counter argument:

"Duplicating the chip on a chip card is difficult if not impossible [for ciminals]. Most new cards are being issued with both a magnetic stripe and a chip and the new EMV terminals accept both the chip and the stripe. So theoretically [criminals] could duplicate just the magnetic stripe on the chip card, create a new magnetic stripe card and try to use that. However, if an EMV card is swiped on an EMV-compliant merchant terminal, the system will reject the transaction and force the consumer to insert the chip."

Time will tell which experts are correct. Some cite two statistics. First, 37 percent of total card fraud is from criminals using cloned cards in stores. Second, the bulk of card fraud is online:

"Online card fraud is expected to rise. So-called "card not present" fraud — where someone uses a card but does not physically present the card (this could be over the phone, over a fax machine, on a mobile device or a computer, but most people equate "card not present" with using a card on a website) — represents the bulk of card fraud in the U.S.: 45%, according to Aite Group. The analyst group expects online card fraud to more than double from $3.1 billion in 2015 to $6.4 billion in 2018."

To help consumers, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides easy answers about the new chip cards. The CFPB is a great resource for consumers to learn about their rights and to get help. The CFPB enforces rules that financial institutions must follow when marketing financial products to consumers. For unresolved problems with credit/debit/prepaid cards, student loans, debt collection agencies, or other financial products, you can submit online a complaint to the CFPB for assistance.

Discover notified its credit card customers in July about the transition. Its notice provided helpful images of the new terminals, the new chip card, and how cardholders insert chip cards into the new terminals. As I wrote then, before traveling in Europe, Discover cardholders should set up a PIN number, since Europe requires chip-and-pin authorizations.

What are your opinions of the new chip cards? Of the partial transition? If you have experienced problems with a new chip card, please share below.


Silent Phone Calls Indicate The Start Of Identity Theft And Fraud

At some point we all have received these "silent" phone calls. After answering the call, there's nobody on the line. The call is silent and then we hang up. The problem is over, right?

Security experts reported that these "silent" phone calls can be the start of identity theft and fraud. An NPR report explained the identity theft and fraud process.

Step one includes an Internet-based robocall (e.g., an automated phone call using computers) from anywhere in the world -- usually offshore -- by scammers to verify your 10-digit phone number. With the multitude of corporate data breaches, the criminals may have acquired your name and phone number from hackers. Step two is another robocall pretending to be your bank, computer company, collection agency, or tax agency to trick you into revealing sensitive personal information (e.g., e-mail, address, age, bank name, bank account numbers, card numbers, etc.) over the phone.

NPR reported:

"... these robocalls are on the rise because Internet-powered phones make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world... researchers estimate 1 in every 2,200 calls is a fraud attempt."

Experts advise consumers not to disclose any personal information over the phone. Verify the caller first. Demand their name, company name, e-mail, phone number, website address, and how they acquired your phone number. (Most phone scammers will refuse or make excuses.) If the do provide contact information, check to see if matches the contact information you can verify independently (e.g., the phone numbers on the back of your bank card). If it doesn't match, then the caller is probably a scammer.

I always tell callers two things: a) I don't give out personal information over the phone, and b) I need to verify the caller first. If the caller provides a website address, I will check it during the phone call. If the site doesn't exist or looks crappy, that's a huge clue the caller is probably a scammer.

When you disclose personal information over the phone, the criminals' proceed with step three of the identity theft and fraud process. They will contact your bank or credit card company pretending to be you to takeover your account by changing the address on your account. How? The scammers will use the personal information you provided.

What should consumers do when you receive these robocalls? Experts advise that you simply hang up. Don't ask to be taken off their phone lists. Don't access their voicemail system to be removed from their calls. All that does it help the scammers verify your existence.

Parents: now you know what to teach your children about phone calls, privacy, and safety.


Payment Scam Dupes Airbnb Customer. Was There A Data Breach?

Airbnb logo Readers of this blog are aware of the various versions of check scams criminal use to trick consumers. A new scam has emerged with social travel sites.

After paying for a valid stay, an Airbnb customer was tricked by criminals using an wire transfer scam. The Telegraph UK described how an Airbnb customer was tricked. After paying for for their valid rental with a valid credit card, the guest:

"... received an email from Airbnb saying that the card payment had been declined and I needed to arrange an international bank transfer within the next 24 hours to secure the apartment. Stupidly, I did as asked. I transferred the money straight away to someone I assumed was the host as they had all the details of my reservation."

Formed in 2008, Airbnb now operates in 34,000 cities in 190 countries.

After checking with their bank, the guest determined that the credit card payment had been processed correctly. So, the guest paid twice, with the second payment to the criminal. The guest believes that Airbnb experienced a data breach. According to one security expert:

"The fraud works by sending an email to a host that appears to come from Airbnb asking them to verify their account details. The host foolishly responds thus giving the fraudster access to their account and all the bookings correspondence. Even though the addresses are anonymised the fraudster can still send emails to the customers via Airbnb to try to extract a second payment by bank transfer."

What can consumers make of this? First, hosts should learn to recognize phishing e-mails. Don't respond to them. Second, guests need to remember that inattentive hosts can compromise their identity information. Third, guests should never make payments outside of Airbnb's system.

Criminals are creative, persistent, and knowledgeable. Consumers need to be, too. Read the Scams/Threats section of this blog.


Police Officer Charged with Insurance Fraud

[Editor's Note: I am happy to feature a post by guest author Arkady Bukh. He leads the law firm of Bukh & Associates, PLLC which specializes in criminal law, family law, and several areas of civil law. He is a frequent contributor on CNN, Wired, Forbes, Huffington Post, and several other sites. Today's post is about insurance fraud.]

By Arkady Bukh, Esq.

Occasionally, insurance claims are more fiction that reality.

Adjusters know that not every case is as it seems. Some are complex and others bizarre — if not downright creative. Sometimes it appears that the protected have no remorse when it comes to submitting claims that no sane and rational person would think about.

Insurance fraud claims probably require the greatest ingenuity. According to the Insurance Information Institute, fraud losses are over $30 billion a year. Add-on costs for health care fraud, $77 billion to $359 billion, and the damages add up quickly.

Insurance fraud falls into two types: hard and soft.

Hard fraud typically means someone deliberately creates a bogus claim application. Soft fraud is more of a crime of chance — padding a legitimate claim, changing a home location so that the insurance premiums are lower — that sort of thing.

Regardless if it’s hard or soft fraud, it’s all illegal and accounts for 5% to 20% of insurers’ claims costs.

The good news is that roughly 95% of insurers use antifraud technology that makes it easier to catch the crooks.

The best technology though doesn't stop some individuals from filing claims that shouldn’t have been filed.

Sometimes though the crooks’ stupidity trips them up. Here are two examples:

The Golfer

In a discussion on Quora.com, the online Q&A forum, one case of insurance fraud stands out.

An executive for a publicly traded corporation was big on golfing. As most serious amateurs, he was also big on the new clubs and all the gadgetry that golfers like to purchase.

The executive filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit for disability, claiming that he had fallen and hurt his back while on a business trip out of town.

Several private investigator firms, hired by our fraudster’s employer, were unable to gather information to disprove the disability claim.

Then, a creative Private Investigator came along and figured he could trap the alleged swindler using his love of golf against him.

Running a fake ad in the local newspaper, the PI announced that a new golf club manufacturer was opening up and would be giving away brand-new sets of clubs in exchange for a testimonial.

The VP saw the ad, made the call, and the PI came to the suspect’s house to measure him for his new clubs.

There was just one catch. The PI wanted to take some photographs of the VP using the clubs to go along with the testimonial.

The VP obliged, swung the clubs while the PI snapped away, and the rest of the story can be figured out quickly enough.

The Cop

Perpetrators of workers’ compensation fraud can be found in any job. Law enforcement officers aren’t immune.

Jaime Robinson, a veteran Pasadena police officer, found her undoing during the 2014 craze — ALS’s Ice Bucket Challenge.

Robinson was away from work on a disability claim when someone with a camera captured her on video showing her pouring a bucket of ice water on a fellow cop.

The five-gallon bucket, weighing in at 42 pounds, wasn’t too much for her to lift despite receiving over $116,000 for the past year in disability payments.

Charged with four counts of insurance fraud, Robinson faces a maximum of six years and four months in prison if she’s convicted.


Editor's Picks

Readers: I apologize for the recent lack of blog posts. No worries. Simply, I have been busy with my "day job," which pays the bills. I will resume new posts soon. Meanwhile, twelve must-read items from this year:

  1. Report: Researchers Compare High-Speed Internet Services Worldwide. Consumers In The USA Pay More And Get Slower Speeds
  2. Technology Firm's Consent Agreement With The FTC Highlights The Spying Of Consumers At Brick-And-Mortar Retail Stores
  3. You Own That New Car You Bought, Right? Not So Fast…
  4. What You Need To Know To Pay With Your Phone And Ditch The Plastic In Your Wallet
  5. Update: Bank Of America Price Increase For Its Checking Customers
  6. Hydraulic Fracturing, Safety, And America's Future
  7. Telemarketers Offer Energy Discounts. Have You Received These Calls?
  8. Looking For An Electric Company With Lower Prices? What Massachusetts Residents Need To Know
  9. Corinthian Colleges Students Loan Repayment Strike. Is This A Revolt?
  10. The Starbucks Prepaid Gift Card App Fraud. What You Need To Know
  11. Prepaid Card Phone Scam: How To Spot It And Not Get Duped
  12. 5 Banks Plead Guilty And Pay More Than $5.5 Billion In Penalties

5 Banks Plead Guilty And Pay More Than $5.5 Billion In Penalties

U.S. Department of Justice logo Earlier reports have proven true. Five banks have plead guilty and will pay more than $5.5 billion in total penalties to U.S. and European regulators to settle charges that traders rigged foreign exchange markets. USA Today reported:

"Five major banks Wednesday agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay more than $5.5 billion in collective penalties... The Department of Justice, the Federal Reserve and other U.S. and European authorities and regulators said corporate units of Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, London-based Barclays, and Royal Bank of Scotland acknowledged their traders rigged foreign exchange prices of U.S. dollars and euros from Dec. 2007 to Jan. 2013... UBS also acknowledged involvement in the rate-rigging. However, the Swiss banking giant received conditional immunity from criminal prosecution because it was the first to report foreign-exchange misconduct to DOJ investigators."

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch described in the Justice Department announcement the wrongdoing:

"Starting as early as December 2007, currency traders at several multinational banks formed a group dubbed “The Cartel.” It is perhaps fitting that those traders chose that name, as it aptly describes the brazenly illegal behavior they were engaged in on a near-daily basis. For more than five years, traders in “The Cartel” used a private electronic chatroom to manipulate the spot market’s exchange rate between euros and dollars using coded language to conceal their collusion. They acted as partners – rather than competitors – in an effort to push the exchange rate in directions favorable to their banks but detrimental to many others. The prices the market sets for those currencies influence virtually every sector of every economy in the world, and their actions inflated the banks’ profits while harming countless consumers, investors and institutions around the globe – from pension funds to major corporations, and including the banks’ own customers..."

The fines by bank:

"... to pay criminal fines totaling more than $2.5 billion – the largest set of antitrust fines ever obtained in the history of the Department of Justice. And the fine that Citicorp alone will pay – $925 million – is the largest single fine ever imposed for a violation of the Sherman Act... Switzerland’s UBS AG, has agreed to plead guilty and pay a $203 million criminal penalty for breaching the non-prosecution agreement it entered in December 2012 regarding manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR – a benchmark interest rate used worldwide. he breach of the NPA was based in part on UBS’s fraudulent and deceptive currency trading and sales practices related to foreign exchange markets, its collusion with other participants in the FX markets and its failure to take adequate action to prevent unlawful conduct after prior civil, criminal and regulatory resolutions.  In other words, UBS promised, in other resolutions, not to commit additional crimes – but it did."

The announcement did not state which, if any, bank executives would go to prison for the wrongdoing. The announcement did not state what portion, if any, of the fines would be tax-deductible. Previously, penalties and fines paid by some banks have been tax-deductible. Some experts and politicians have stated that better disclosures are needed for settlement agreements.


The Starbucks Prepaid Gift Card App Fraud. What You Need To Know

Starbucks logo Criminals have targeted Starbucks gift card and mobile app users. In this fraud, criminals have drained victims' accounts by using the auto-reload featured with Starbucks prepaid gift-card apps linked to consumers' checking, credit-card, or Paypal accounts. Consumer reporter Bob Sullivan first reported about the fraud:

"Maria Nistri, 48, was a victim this week. Criminals stole the Orlando women’s $34.77 in value she had loaded onto her Starbucks app, then another $25 after it was auto-loaded into her card because her balance hit 0. Then, the criminals upped the ante, changing her auto reload amount to $75, and stealing that amount, too. All within 7 minutes."

Other customers have reported fraud this month. The coffee retail chain has had problems before with its mobile app. Starbucks announced in January 2014 a security update to its mobile app after the data of 10 million customers was exposed. Sullivan explained how criminals perpetrate the latest mobile gift-card fraud:

"Because Starbucks isn’t answering specific questions about the fraud, I cannot confirm precisely how it works, but I have informed speculation, based on conversations with an anonymous source who is familiar with the crime. The source said Starbucks was known to be wrestling with the problem earlier this year. Essentially, any criminal who obtains username and password credentials to Starbucks.com can drain a consumer’s stored value, and attack their linked credit card."

So, the fraud suggests that criminals have already stolen large numbers of Starbuck customers' usernames passwords, perhaps by keylogging malware, phishing e-mails, phishing texts, vulnerabilities in the mobile app, brute-force password attacks (since many consumers use the same password at multiple sites), or a combination. Starbucks claims its mobile app has not been hacked and the problem is not widespread.

Some banks have flagged multiple reloads through checking accounts and temporarily closed victims' accounts to stop the theft. Security experts fault Starbucks for not using two-factor authentication for gift-card reloads and for not flagging multiple reloads of consumers' cards within minutes.

Security experts advise consumers:

  1. Use strong passwords and don't use these weak passwords.
  2. Don't use the same username and password at multiple websites and mobile apps
  3. Change your passwords every 90 days

Be very careful about enabling auto-reload features with prepaid cards. Or, disable it. Instructions to disable the auto-reload feature are available at the Starbucks site.

Criminals love prepaid cards because they are a source of cash. You now know the risks for ignoring this advice. The whole situation highlights is a reminder that Apple branded mobile devices can be hacked, too.


Fraudulent Insurance Claims Affect Mobile Device Users

The Best Techie blog published a very interesting post about how easy it is for criminals to file fraudulent insurance claims for mobile devices. The problem isn't just the ease that the fraud is committed, but also that consumers probably aren't aware of fraud claims submitted against their accounts until they file a valid insurance claim:

"If you use one of the major carriers in the U.S. such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and/or Sprint the insurance you buy comes from a company called Asurion Insurance Services, Inc... : it appears Asurion’s claim system is very easy to defraud... The only real deterrent in the claim system is that you need to sign an affidavit and provide a photo ID but if high school students can get fake IDs, I’d imagine for a fraudster obtaining a fake ID to scan is laughably easy..."

The I've Been Mugged blog has reported about Asurion. When evaluating mobile insurance offers, it is wise for consumers to do the math first. You'll want to decide if you want malware protection, and if the one- or two-year total of monthly insurance premiums exceeds the cost of your mobile device.

According to the Best Techie report, the fraudster used a combination of the victim's name and valid phone number with a different residential address. You'd think that Asurion would have easily spotted that and contacted their customer at their current address to confirm the claim and the new address.

Consumers pay good money for mobile device insurance, and deserve better protection against insurance fraud. What are your opinions?