Avoiding FDA & DEA Prescription Drug Scams Online

Avoiding FDA & DEA Prescription Drug Scams Online

The number of scams involving prescription drugs online has blown up in recent years, with scam artists posing as DEA and FDA agents and using an extortion scam in an attempt to get a “fine” out of online pharmacy customers.

With prescription drug prices at an all-time high, it’s no surprise that millions of people across the globe are looking online for the best prices for their medication. But where there’s opportunity, scammers can’t be far behind. The typical scam sequence goes something like this:

The Rx scam artists call their victims, who usually have purchased drugs online at some point, and claim to be either an FDA or DEA agent. During the conversation they tell their intended victim that buying their prescription drugs on the Internet is illegal and that a fine must be paid; generally ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but even six-figure numbers have been reported. Side note: While most victims have only had phone interactions with the extortionists, at least one victim in Fort Worth, Texas has claimed that people came to their home claiming to be agents.

The truth of the matter is that this fine is actually a thinly veiled attempt at extortion, and the money they demand is usually sent via wire transfer. If you refuse to send money, they threaten you and your family with arrest, search and seizure of property, and even deportation or physical harm. Basically they’ll say anything to get you to comply with their extortion attempt.

Take caution when using online pharmacies. Since the pharmacists and their wares are all dealt with virtually instead of physically, the risk of succumbing to extortion, blackmail, and fraud increases exponentially.

You can protect yourself against extortion by adopting the following precautions when purchasing prescriptions and other drugs on the Internet:

  • No Prescription Required:

    If the online pharmacy claims that no prescription is required, that’s a huge red flag. Your best bet is to find another Internet pharmacy.

  • No FDA Approval:

    If you’re offered drugs that aren’t approved by the FDA then keep away from them. No FDA approval means there’s been no formal testing of the medications they’re selling.

  • Unsealed Prescriptions:

    If your prescriptions come to you unsealed, opened, or altered in any fashion, do not use them! Better to be out a few dollars than to take meds that have been tampered with.

  • No US Contact Info:

    If there’s only contact information for the Dominican Republic (where most of the Rx scams seem to be coming from), or some other foreign country, or even if there’s no contact info at all, avoid buying from that online pharmacy.

  • Call the DEA and FDA:

    If you suspect you’re being targeted by scammers in an attempt at extortion, call the DEA at 1-877-792-2873, or the FDA at 1-877-792-2873, and speak with a real agent or other representative.

Image courtesy of lifementalhealthpics

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7 Common Work From Home Scams To Avoid

7 Common Work From Home Scams To Avoid

With the current state of the world economy, it’s no wonder that many people are looking for ways to supplement their income. The problem is that taking on another full-time or even part-time job usually involves added expenses for child care, gas to and from work, and even less quality time with loved ones. Because of this, many people look to find ways to make money with a home-based business.

Working from the convenience of your home is a popular notion. So popular, in fact, that there are reportedly 300 new ones started every hour, and there are an estimated 38 million home-based businesses in the US. Part of what makes them attractive (besides the extra money) is the idea of setting your own hours, creating a better work/life balance, and the fact that many home-based businesses have a very low start-up cost.

But as with anything, there are risks involved, and in this case, the risk goes beyond not being able to pull in enough cash to make ends meet. Identity theft, lost money, compromised personally identifiable information, and more are all on the table when you invite the wrong company or people into your life.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a home based business, here are 7 of the most common work at home scams to avoid:

  1. Mystery Shopping:
    It’s the easiest job in the world: Visit a series of stores in your area and give the mystery shopper company a review of your purchases and experience. All you have to do is pay out a registration fee to get your training materials, your list of stores to visit, and some may even require you to become “certified”, which of course the scammers can do for another fee.
  2. Assembly Work:
    You’ve probably seen this in your local paper: Earn money in your spare time by putting together crafts, small pieces of equipment, or similar things. Of course you need to pay a nominal amount to get the boxes. Or maybe it’s the training materials. Regardless, you’re required to pay a little up front to make so much more later one.
  3. Data Entry:
    If you can type, you can make money online. At least that’s what the ad says. Not surprisingly, you have to pay to play based on some cockamamie requirement: training, materials, a list of sites, whatever. The end result is that you’re left in the cold and out of cash.
  4. Survey Scam:
    Many of these scams involve you setting up a profile on a site, and then you can get to work. Your profile may include things like your name (first and last, naturally), home address, some likes or preferences (favorite color, favorite food, TV shows, etc.), and possibly your social security number. You know, for tax purposes. Then you’re directed to a number of sites where you can get a cash reward for filling out more information. All the while the scammers are scraping your valuable info to sell to someone else, and at the end of the day you find out that there are so many restrictions on getting paid (sometimes including you being required to purchase something) that you’re never going to see that money.
  5. Envelope Stuffing:
    This one has been around forever, but people seem to keep falling for it. For a small fee (this is a common trend for home-based business scams) you’re supposed to receive regularly scheduled boxes of papers and their associated envelopes and, well, you get to stuffing envelopes. Simple, right? The problem is that those boxes never come, and you’re out the “small fee.”
  6. Pre-screened Job Lists:
    This one is often a scam within a scam, making it particularly nasty. Pay to join a site that has compiled a list of pre-screened work-at-home jobs so you don’t have to get fleeced by those other bad scammers. Right. These are probably the same crooks on the other sites, they just found a way to get you to pay twice. You may even get access to a large list of sites with work-at-home jobs listed, but all kinds of things can happen: You could lose your account for some made-up violation of site policies, the jobs on those other sites are bogus, or there are so many restrictions or requirements to the jobs that you’re never going to be qualified for a decent job.
  7. Rebate Processing:
    Process other people’s rebates for companies that are overwhelmed and you can earn a boatload of cash. Here’s another scam involving training kits to become certified or registered with their service.

Those most likely to be exploited by these work at home opportunities are those who may have more trouble finding a job: The elderly, people drowning in debt, the disabled, single parents, high school and college students, and the unemployed… but anyone can be fooled by the right con artist. If you want to avoid the majority of work-at-home scams out there, just remember the following:

  • If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If they make you pay to play, it’s probably a scam.
  • Check the BBB to make sure that the company is on the up-and-up.

Filtering out work at home opportunities with those 3 tips will save you endless headaches, keep your cash in your pocket, and maybe even find a few gems to choose from because work at home jobs do exist! But they tend to be hard to come by and are very competitive. Do you have any experience with home-based businesses, good or bad? Let us know in the comments below.

Image courtesy of nikcname

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Senior Citizen Guide To Avoiding Internet Scams

Senior Citizen Guide To Avoiding Internet Scams

Senior citizens are a vital community in modern society, but unfortunately they’re often targeted by Internet scam artists looking to make a quick buck. In fact, the Attorney General of Washington state did some research on senior fraud and discovered the following statistic from AARP:

Consumers lose billions of dollars each year to fraud. People over age 50 are especially vulnerable and account for over half of all victims…

That’s a staggering number, and a clarion call for seniors to be proactive in their own defense against fraudsters who would scam them out of their hard earned money.

With a few simple precautions, computing seniors can defend themselves against scams and fraud. And while there’s no end to how many different ways there are to try to bilk someone out of their hard-earned money, these tips can help knock out some of the most common scams.

  • Be Sure To Be Secure Senior citizens are an ever-growing segment of online shoppers, and with many Internet retailers offering discounted or free shipping, it’s no wonder. But fake websites and non-secure shopping can put a damper on anyone’s day. Learn how to tell if you’re shopping on a legitimate website to avoid trouble online. It’s not just shoddy workmanship we have to watch out for when we buy things sight-unseen online, it’s convincing websites that look like the real deal but are secretly swiping your credit card numbers and personal information.
  • Learn How To Avoid Credit Card Scams Keeping a low balance on your credit cards is a great idea, but it’s also a dream come true for fraudsters. Be wise with how you use them and use these tips on avoiding credit card scams. Check your balances monthly, question purchases that you don’t remember, and always be sure to only shop on sites you can trust, like Amazon.com.
  • Your Password Is Your Armor A strong password is your first line of defense against anyone looking to hack into your accounts. And while no password is 100% fool-proof, it’s better to err on the side of caution and use a password that’s much harder to break than using the old standbys like “password”, “iloveyou”, or “asdf1234”. (If you use any of those, change them now) Passwords don’t have to be a big pain in the rear. In fact, with only a few modifications you can make a better, stronger password in minutes.
  • If it sounds too good to be true… We’ve all heard this since we were little, but it’s easy to forget. And somehow, online scammers seem to know how to word things just right to make their scheme seem legitimate. If you do think a good deal has dropped into your lap, do a little research on the company first and make sure that there aren’t any complaints from the BBB, your state Attorney General’s office, or on review sites like Yelp and Consumer Reports.

We could go on and on about fraud prevention and online security, but the tips noted above are a great start for any senior citizen looking to protect themselves from Internet scams. Do you have any additional tips that we may have missed? Leave us a comment below and share your thoughts with the rest of us.

Additional resources for seniors:

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Fake Website: What is Spoofing?

Spoofing - Phishing Emails and Fake Websites

By now, chances are you’ve heard the preaching about how important it is to have good, strong passwords – and how your passwords should contain at least twelve digits and be peppered with special characters whenever possible.  You’ve also probably heard you should have a different password for each and every account or website you frequent. And let’s just assume you’re heeding that advice.

Regardless of how long, strong, or clever your passwords may be, none of that matters if you share your passwords with the wrong person.  So it goes without saying that you wouldn’t willingly or knowingly give your password to just anybody. In fact, as wise as you are, you probably wouldn’t share any of your passwords with someone else. However, in spite of your prudent intentions, you might do just that if you’re not extremely careful.

With today’s sophisticated “phishing” and “spoofing” tactics, you could easily be duped into providing your login credentials for a website by typing your user ID and password into what you think is the real website, but in actuality, it’s a very convincing fake.  These lookalike or “spoof” websites appear to be the real thing, so much so that you could easily be lulled into providing your username and password without batting an eye.

It’s important to understand how and why you might end up on a fake website in the first place. Often it starts with a phishing email message you receive.  The email is fake and comes from an online scam artist posing as a credible organization that you trust and with which you normally conduct business.  The emails can truly seem authentic, containing believable imitations of the company’s logo.  But because they are contacting you, and through email no less, you should put your “suspicious” shoes on, even if nothing appears amiss.  Here’s what to do if you receive an email likes this:

First, if the message is seems overly suspicious, don’t open it at all – just delete it.

Secondly, assuming you’ve opened the message, take a look at the actual email address of the sender by hovering your mouse over the sender’s name/address, right-click your mouse to display a menu, then left-click on “Properties” to see if the message is really from who it purports to be from.  In other words, if the email says it’s from Chase Freedom, the email address should end in “chase.com.”  (NOTE:  Just because the email passes this test, doesn’t guarantee you’re in the clear.  It’s easy for hackers to spoof a legitimate email address, so don’t rely solely on this check for verification.) 

Spoof emails usually contain links within the body of the message that take you to other websites.  DO NOT click on them!  First, check for fake links.  Move and hover your mouse over the link in the email message and study the URL, which is usually displayed in your system tray at the lower left portion of your screen.  If it looks suspicious, don’t click it.  Spam (phishing) emails are geared to redirect you to a spoofing website where they’ll ask you to enter your personal information.  Never respond to emails asking for your account related information, such as account number, user ID, and/or passwords.  If you want to be sure you’re visiting the authentic website of a particular organization, it’s safest to open a new browser window and type the URL yourself, such as www.chase.com.

If you have clicked on a link and landed on a website, be sure to verify it’s not a spoofing website – even if everything else looks exactly like the real deal.  It’s possible you’ve been redirected to a webpage resembling the login screen for the business in question. BUT WAIT!  Slow down, take a minute, and think.  Spammers (aka “cyber criminals”) hope you don’t hesitate or take the time to think.  In fact, that’s exactly what they’re counting on! They want you to just plow ahead on “auto-pilot” and enter your user name and password when prompted, without thinking twice.  But if you do and the website is not the “Real McCoy”,  they’ve got what they wanted — your information!

To prevent this, anytime you are prompted by a website to enter information specific to you, whether a login, password, account number, or any other piece of information, make sure you verify you are really on the actual website and not a fake one.

  • Study the website URL in the address bar. For example, make sure it is really “twitter.com” and not a deceivingly close “twiter.com”. Close doesn’t cut it.  If it’s not exact, it’s not the site you want.
  • Some fake websites will insert a false address over the actual, evil address, making it appear as though you’re on a legitimate website. Just because a URL contains the name of the business in it, doesn’t mean it’s legitimate.
  • Also, look for a secure lock icon in your browser where it normally would appear, such as immediately to the right of the address bar if you’re using Internet Explorer. Check to be sure it isn’t a fake icon placed somewhere else on the page just to fool you.
  • Look for “https” before any website address (URL) where you’ll be entering personal information. The “s” stands for secure. If you don’t see “https” you’re not on a secure website and you shouldn’t enter any personal information.
  • Never respond to any online forms or popup windows asking you to login, change or update your user ID or passwords, or provide any other sensitive personal information. Only do this if you’ve initiated the visit to the company’s website yourself by typing the URL directly into your browser’s address bar.

Some of the more commonly spoofed organizations for emails and websites include financial and banking institutions like Chase, Citibank, PayPal, social media outlets, escrow service providers, as well as online commerce websites like eBay.

The intent of spamming and spoofing is to trick you into handing your personal information over to online dirtbags.  They are identity thieves, plain and simple, and they’re hoping you’re not paying attention. Make sure you slow down and scrutinize the emails you receive and verify the websites you visit. It will be worth it!

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An Ounce of Prevention Can Protect Your Identity

An Ounce of Prevention Can Protect Your Identity

Your personal information is important to you.  Or is it?  It should be and you should want to protect it.  But what exactly should you want to protect and what are you protecting it from?  And how do you protect it?  Do you really need to worry about it?  And if so, can’t you just pay a service to do it for you?

Lots of questions and even more answers.  Like noses, everybody’s got an answer…or at least an opinion…and, yes, they all smell!  But some smell better than others.  Get a whiff of these tips…

Your personally identifiable information (PII) can include many things, such as bank account numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, security codes, driver’s license or state-issued ID numbers, date of birth (DOB), addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, and more.  When someone gets their hands on one or more pieces of your PII, it can potentially be used in many ways; most of them are not good.  Cyber criminals can use your information to make purchases on your credit/debit card and withdrawal or transfer funds from your bank account without your knowledge or permission.  They can also assume your identity for the purpose of opening new accounts, obtaining credit or services, or applying for loans – all under your good name!

Many services are available to monitor your information and accounts.  But these services typically alert you after the suspicious activity has occurred on one or more of your accounts.  That could be a day late and a dollar short.   (Maybe several dollars!)  Think of it this way…would you rather prevent the leak in your roof from occurring in the first place, thus, saving you the headache of cleaning up the mess at all?  Or, would you rather wait until the leak happens, making a mess and causing water damage, before you take action?  Waiting too long means a lot more damage and work for you because then you not only have to fix the leaky roof anyway but you have to clean up the mess, too!  It’s the same idea with the maintenance and protection of your valuable information.  An ounce of prevention could save you a lot of headaches down the road.

Try following these guidelines:

  • Do not carry your Social Security card with you and do not give out your Social Security number. Legitimate businesses and vendors recognize the vulnerability created for customers when they are asked to provide their SSN.  Consequently, most don’t ask for it.  And even if they ask, it doesn’t mean you’re obligated to provide it.
  • Do not carry your PIN or passwords in your wallet and choose a PIN number that’s not obvious like consecutive numbers or your birthday.
  • Regularly review your bank statements, credit card invoices, and bills every month.
  • Monitor your credit reports at least once per year.  You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax / Experian / TransUnion).  By requesting your report from one of the bureaus every four months, you can obtain three separate reports over the course of a year.
  • Shred your documents before you throw them in the trash or recycle bin.  Bills, bank statements, credit card statements, cash machine receipts, medical benefits statements, credit card and loan offers, and old credit cards can provide someone digging through your trash with a wealth of information.  Don’t give them that chance.
  • Don’t leave credit, debit, ATM card, or gas station receipts behind at terminals or machines.  Shred them like other personal documents.
  • If you’re not making your bill payments electronically or online, mail them at the post office or use a blue USPS mailbox.  Don’t put your paid bills in your mailbox for pickup.  Identity thieves make a living stealing mail with all that sensitive data.  The amount of damage an ID thief can do with just a signed personal check is limitless.
  • Be suspicious and a little bit paranoid.  Always question when someone asks you for any piece of personal information.  Give out your information sparingly.  Provide as little information as necessary and be very hesitant to give any information to someone who contacts you (vs. someone you have contacted for a specific purpose).  Never give any information to someone calling you on the phone, even if the caller says it will be used to claim a prize or award.
  • Don’t respond to phishing scams, which are fake emails and web sites that appear to be from authentic businesses.  These fakes are trying to get you to provide personal account numbers, logins, and/or passwords.  Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to update your personal information through an email.
  • Don’t click on, open, or download files received in emails or instant messages from anyone, unless you were expecting it and have verified that the file, picture, attachment or website is valid and safe.  Even if the message appears to be from friends, family members, or others with whom you are familiar, be sure to verify with the sender that they really did send it to you and that they are familiar with its contents.  A picture, attachment, or website may contain malicious content.
  • Ignore and delete emails that ask you to forward something on to your friends or contacts and don’t provide any personal information in response to chain emails.
  • Take care not to install programs unwittingly.  Often, software that is free to download online may actually be malware or an infection.  Also, beware of other programs that are bundled with the software you’re intending to download.  Read all user agreements and pay attention to boxes that are checked by default to install an unwanted program.
  • Create and use secure passwords for all accounts online.  Even though it may seem like a hassle, sophisticated software now makes it extremely easy and quick for cyber criminals to crack your passwords if they are less than twelve characters long.  Be creative and make up your own words and use special characters, if allowed.
  • Make sure you know the correct website address you wish to visit and verify it is legitimate before providing any personal information.  Be diligent about ensuring that you are really visiting the website you think you’re visiting, even if it’s one you think you frequent often.  Fake websites are remarkably good at imitating the look and feel of the real thing.
  • Be careful of any advertisements you may click on when visiting a website or that are contained within an email message you’ve received.  They, too, may contain viruses or malware.
  • Always use a firewall on your PC or laptop.  A firewall provides a security barrier between the Internet and your computer, monitoring your connection for suspicious activity and blocking hackers from accessing your machine.
  • Make sure your wireless network (Wi-Fi) is secure.  Lock down your home’s wireless network by using the security features of your wireless router. If you use a Wi-Fi connection away from home, be sure it is secure, or at the very least, avoid sending or receiving personal information over a public connection.
  • Install and always use security software (firewall, antivirus, anti-spyware software) and keep it up-to-date as a safety measure against online intrusions.
  • Always use security software and make sure it includes antivirus, anti- malware, a firewall, an email spam filter, a popup blocker, and protection against identity theft.  Keep the software up-to-date to stay safe and secure against online intrusions.
  • Use an updated Web browser to make sure you’re taking advantage of its current safety features.
  • Don’t share too much personal information online through social networking sites.  Remember, it’s the Internet and once it’s out there, it’s out there to stay.
  • Be sure to destroy all of the digital data on your hard drive when you sell, trade or get rid of an old computer.  The same goes for other storage media like thumb drives, DVD’s, CD’s, etc.  Make sure the data is completely erased and destroyed.  Besides deleting the data and reformatting the hard drive, use a product like Microsoft-backed SDelete to ensure all data is completely wiped beyond recovery from the hard drive.  Completely destroy DVD’s or CD’s by shredding them or cutting them up with scissors.
  • Be aware of the latest scams and use caution to combat fraud.  Share what you learn with your friends and family.

Following these simple preventative measures can save you big headaches down the line.  It could be worth a pound of cure!

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Don’t Take the Bait! Avoid “Phishing” Lures to Protect Your Identity

Don’t Take the Bait!  Avoid “Phishing” Lures to Protect Your Identity

So my wife asked me the other day, “Why are we getting this?”  She was referring to an email we received that said, “Your Federal Tax Payment ID:  9387589 is failed.”  I could see she was a little concerned and wanted to resolve it right away.  And that’s exactly what they want.  That’s how they get ya!  Get an unsuspecting but otherwise conscientious person, who has their stuff together, to respond quickly without questioning or verifying things.  They just want to address it and get it resolved.  Normally that’s a good thing.

Poor grammar notwithstanding, I knew without even reading the body of the email that it was a hoax – a scam.  How?  For starters, I don’t owe Uncle Sam any money for taxes last year or the several years prior.  Secondly, the number referenced in the email doesn’t even contain the correct number of digits to be a valid Social Security or tax ID number.  Even if it did, the number they provided was nowhere near my SSN.  Plus, I don’t own a business, so I don’t have a “Federal Tax ID Number” (also called an EIN “Employer Identification Number”).

Among the other clues indicating the request was bogus is the fact that our Federal government does not notify taxpayers of delinquencies, rejected tax returns, or failed electronic payments by way of an email message.  And if by chance they did, I’d hope it wouldn’t come from some random joker named “Francisco Maghee”.  Not to mention, “Francisco’s” email address prefix was a string of gibberish — “ghnqcsuvktecvy” to be exact.  Never mind that a quick Google search of the domain used in the email address (everything after the “@” symbol) revealed that a spammer had been using a legitimate organization’s domain as the “From” address on their spam emails .  And that was a far cry from a “.gov” top-level domain (TLD), which you’d expect to see from a government agency like the IRS.

Another red flag was the attachment, which I did not open!  It was an executable file (its name ended in “.exe”), which you should never click on or open, unless you’re absolutely sure of what the file contains and that it came from a trusted source.  Since neither of those conditions were the case, there’s a good chance the sender’s objective was to get one of us to click on, and therefore open, the attached file.  Opening the attachment would launch or run the executable file, possibly containing a virus, trojan, spyware, or other form of malware.  Malware can slow down or break your computer, and can be costly and time-consuming to repair.  Malware could also run a program in the background, without your knowledge, and gather your personally identifiable information (PII) for use without your consent, for evil purposes, and/or to steal your identity.

Identity theft occurs when your PII is stolen, taken without your permission, or obtained under false pretenses.  Your information is then used to do any number of things including making unauthorized purchases on your credit card, opening new credit or bank accounts, and applying for and obtaining a loan, just to name a few.

So, what if you get a “phishy” email like the one I received?  Simple.  Delete it immediately and do not open any attachments!

BOTTOM LINE:  Be skeptical.  Question everything.  Don’t be so quick to respond to inquiries received in an email.  That is, if you even respond at all.

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