The FTC and its law enforcement partners announced actions against several income scams that conned people out of hundreds of millions of dollars by falsely telling them they could make a lot of money. One of those scams was 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle, which touted a “proven business model” and told people they could make thousands of dollars in a couple of weeks if they paid to join the program. The FTC says those income claims were false. Customers paid between $2,395 and $22,495 to get started, and many took personal loans or racked up credit card debt to buy in. Approximately 94% of those customers lost money, with losses averaging almost $10,500 per person. That’s equal to two months of take-home pay for someone making the median household income.
FTC economist Devesh Raval matched the addresses of the 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle customers to U.S. Census Bureau data to learn how the scam impacted different communities. He found that the percentage of customers who lost money and live in zip codes that skew older (median age of 55 or above) was 43% greater than their share of the population. In other words, they were over-represented in the 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle customer database.
Raval did a similar study of several cases the FTC has brought against other income scams. The analysis showed that these income scams affected different communities at different rates. Where the average loss to scams was more than $500, more of the people affected tended to live in zip codes that skewed older. Where the average loss to scams was less than $500, more of the people affected tended to live in zip codes with a majority Black population.
Savvy scammers know that many of us want financial freedom or to be our own boss. But as FTC cases show, many of these so-called opportunities are money-losing propositions. That’s why it pays to learn how to recognize these scams. If you’re tempted by an opportunity like this, read When a Business Offer or Coaching Program is a Scam. It might save you from losing hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars. Share it in your community to help others recognize these scams. And if you see a scam like this, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
“Hello? It’s me — Frosty. Look it’s a long story but without my top hat, I’m melting. Please, I need your help — send money now or I’ll be nothing but a puddle!”
OK, so that’s a silly example and real imposters aren’t funny. But, on the 8th day of Consumer Protection, it’s definitely worth remembering that scammers can be really convincing. And they don’t take a break, even at this time of year. It’s surprisingly easy for a scammer to impersonate someone to snow you. Networking sites make it easier than ever to sleuth out personal and family information. And they play on your emotions. Scammers are banking on your love and concern to outweigh your skepticism.
You might get a call or message supposedly from an out-of-town family member or friend claiming to be in an accident, arrested, or hospitalized. To make their story seem legitimate, they may involve another crook who claims to be an authority figure, like a lawyer or police officer.
What do you do if you get a message like this?
Stop – and check it out. Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Or reach out to another family member or friend to check out whether what the message claims is true.
Don’t wire money — or send a check, money order, or gift card by overnight delivery or courier.
Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.
The never-before-revealed meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, allegedly sent Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, about a year after Hunter joined the Burisma board at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month.
“Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email reads.
An earlier email from May 2014 also shows Pozharskyi, reportedly Burisma’s No. 3 exec, asking Hunter for “advice on how you could use your influence” on the company’s behalf.
The computer was dropped off at a repair shop in Biden’s home state of Delaware in April 2019, according to the store’s owner.
Other material extracted from the computer includes a raunchy, 12-minute video that appears to show Hunter, who’s admitted struggling with addiction problems, smoking crack while engaged in a sex act with an unidentified woman, as well as numerous other sexually explicit images.
The customer who brought in the water-damaged MacBook Pro for repair never paid for the service or retrieved it or a hard drive on which its contents were stored, according to the shop owner, who said he tried repeatedly to contact the client.
The shop owner couldn’t positively identify the customer as Hunter Biden, but said the laptop bore a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation, named after Hunter’s late brother and former Delaware attorney general.
Photos of a Delaware federal subpoena given to The Post show that both the computer and hard drive were seized by the FBI in December, after the shop’s owner says he alerted the feds to their existence.
13A federal subpoena showing the computer and hard drive were seized by the FBI
But before turning over the gear, the shop owner says, he made a copy of the hard drive and later gave it to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello.
Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, told The Post about the existence of the hard drive in late September and Giuliani provided The Post with a copy of it on Sunday.
Less than eight months after Pozharskyi thanked Hunter Biden for the introduction to his dad, the then-vice president admittedly pressured Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk into getting rid of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin by threatening to withhold a $1 billion US loan guarantee during a December 2015 trip to Kiev.
“I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,” Biden infamously bragged to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2018.
“Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.”
Shokin has said that at the time of his firing, in March 2016, he’d made “specific plans” to investigate Burisma that “included interrogations and other crime-investigation procedures into all members of the executive board, including Hunter Biden.”
Joe Biden has insisted that the US wanted Shokin removed over corruption concerns, which were shared by the European Union.
Meanwhile, an email dated May 12, 2014 — shortly after Hunter Biden joined the Burisma board — shows Pozharskyi attempting to get him to use his political leverage to help the company.
The message had the subject line “urgent issue” and was also sent to Hunter Biden’s business partner, Devon Archer, who also sat on the Burisma board at the time.
Pozharskyi said that “the representatives of new authorities in power tend to quite aggressively approach N. Z. unofficially with the aim to obtain cash from him.”
When the alleged shakedown failed, “they proceeded with concrete actions” in the form of “one or more pretrial proceedings,” Pozharskyi wrote.
“We urgently need your advice on how you could use your influence to convey a message / signal, etc .to stop what we consider to be politically motivated actions,” he added.
Hunter Biden responded by saying he was with Archer in Doha, Qatar, and asked for more information about “the formal (if any) accusations being made against Burisma.”
“Who is ultimately behind these attacks on the company? Who in the current interim government could put an end to such attacks?” he added.
The exchange came the same day that Burisma announced it had expanded its board of directors by adding Hunter Biden, who was put in charge of its “legal unit and will provide support for the Company among international organizations,” according to a news release that’s since been scrubbed from Burisma’s website.
Hunter Biden actually joined the board in April 2014, according to multiple reports.
His lawyer said last year that Hunter was “not a member of the management team,” adding, “At no time was Hunter in charge of the company’s legal affairs.”
About four months after Hunter Biden’s correspondence with Pozharskyi, Archer forwarded Hunter Biden an email chain with the subject line “tax raise impact on Burisma production,” which included Pozharskyi saying that the Ukrainian cabinet had submitted new tax legislation to the country’s parliament.
17Photos from Hunter Biden’s hard drive
“If enacted, this law would kill the entire private gas production sector in the bud,” Pozharskyi wrote.
In the Sept. 24, 2014, email, Pozharskyi also said he was “going to share this information with the US embassy here in Kyiv, as well as the office of Mr Amos Hochstein in the States.”
At the time, Hochstein was the State Department’s newly appointed special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs.
In December 2017, the Naftogaz Group, Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, announced that Hochstein had joined the company as an independent director, but on Monday he announced his resignation.
“The company has been forced to spend endless amounts of time combating political pressure and efforts by oligarchs to enrich themselves through questionable transactions,” Hochstein wrote in an op-ed published by the Kyiv Post.
In addition to denying that’s he’s spoken to Hunter Biden about his overseas business dealings, Joe Biden has repeatedly denied any conflict of interest or wrongdoing by either of them involving Burisma.
“Well, that’s not true. You’re saying things you do not know what you’re talking about,” the elder Biden responded.
14Photos from Hunter Biden’s hard drive
Last December, Joe Biden also lashed out during a Democratic primary town hall event in Iowa, where a man accused him of sending Hunter to Ukraine “to get a job and work for a gas company, he had no experience with gas or nothing, in order to get access to . . . the president.”
“You’re a damn liar, man. That’s not true and no one has ever said that,” Biden fumed.
Biden then continued berating the man as he stepped forward, called the man “fat” and challenged him to “do push-ups together, man.”
The FBI referred questions about its seizure of the laptop and hard drive to the Delaware US Attorney’s Office, where a spokesperson said, “My office can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Hunter Biden’s lawyer refused to comment on the specifics but instead attacked Giuliani.
“He has been pushing widely discredited conspiracy theories about the Biden family, openly relying on actors tied to Russian intelligence,” the lawyer, George R. Mesires, said of Giuliani.
Pozharskyi and the Joe Biden campaign did not return requests for comment. Hochstein could not be reached.
If there’s a high demand online for health and safety items, like facemasks and paper products, guess what scammers pretend to sell? That’s right: health and safety items, like facemasks and paper products.
Since the beginning of March, dozens of people, including healthcare workers, have told the FTC they paid online stores for facemasks and toilet paper but didn’t get anything. Most people said the scammers took their money and then ghosted them by cutting off all contact, refusing to answer questions, or closing or deactivating their online store websites.
Before you order from an unfamiliar online store, consider these tips to help avoid a scam:
Check out the company or product by typing its name in a search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” See what other people say about it. Read the seller’s description of the product carefully. If the seller has name-brand goods at steeply discounted prices, they might be fakes.
Look at the terms of the sale. Calculate the total purchase price, including taxes, shipping, and handling. Find out when you can expect your delivery. By law, sellers should ship your order within the time stated in its ads, or within 30 days if the ads don’t state a time. If you have to return the item, can you get a refund? Who pays for return shipping? Is there a restocking fee?
Pay by credit card. You’ll get protections under federal law, so you don’t have to pay for merchandise you ordered but didn’t get. If a business charged your account too soon, and didn’t deliver the merchandise on time, you can dispute the billing error and report it to your credit card company.
If you have a problem with an online purchase, you can try to work it out with the seller, but remember: you have the right to dispute a billing error directly with the credit card issuer. And if you suspect a scam, tell the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. For more for more tips, blogs, and videos about avoiding Coronavirus-related scams, visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.
Phishing scams can be hard to spot. For example, we’ve been hearing about one where people get a text message saying that there’s a package waiting for them, and asking them to click a link to learn more. Sounds innocent enough, right? Unfortunately not.
The messages are coming from scammers. In some cases, they’re targeted at college students. In that version, scammers text returning students to say there’s a package waiting for them — sometimes claiming it’s been waiting since last spring, when many students had to go home from campus quickly.
Whatever the message is, this rule stays the same: If you get an unexpected text message about a package, don’t click on any links. If you think the message could be legit, contact the company using a website or phone number you know is real. But don’t use the information in the text message.
Why do you want to avoid clicking the link? Once you click, they can trick you into giving personal information — letting scammers steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. Clicking these links could also let scammers download malware onto your device.
Have you seen a message on WhatsApp or Facebook offering you free help during the pandemic? People have reported seeing messages that seem to be from Pepsi, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target, and other big-name brands. These messages all offer money to people who need it — through grants, coupons for food support, or other giveaways. But they’re all fake, and not from those companies at all.
You might get this kind of message, in English or Spanish, from a friend or contact. The message tells you to click a link to get your money. If you click, you might find a survey to take. Or they might ask you to enter your name, address, phone number, or other information. And they might ask you to forward the message to several friends to be eligible to collect.
But what these message are really doing is running a phishing scam to collect your information (and your friends’ info), and possibly putting malware on your phone, tablet, or computer if you click the link. There’s no money to get, and no help to be had. Just scammers. It could have been a real (and hopeful) friend who forwarded that message to you – but it could have been a scammer who hacked your friend’s account.
So: what do you do if you get one of these messages?
Don’t click on any links. That could download malware, expose you to even more scams, or add your phone number to lists sold to still other scammers.
Delete the messages – and certainly don’t share them.
Call the friend who shared the message. Did they forward it to you? If not, tell them their account might have been hacked. If so, share this blog post with them.
If you already clicked or shared, run a security scan on your device to look for malware. And then share this blog post with the friends you forwarded the message to – and ask them to do the same.
Be sure to watch out for Russian phishing scams. This one in particular has sent fake invoices to an administrative email address through PayPal (as seen in screenshot) and also sent through the postal service. They most likely get your information from somewhere in GoDaddy’s systems and then pose as GoDaddy itself to try to get money out of you, or even use the payment information to steal your identity.
In this example, you can see that the GoDaddy image they used through the PayPal invoice is not the actual GoDaddy logo. Then below that, you can see that the person sending the invoice is obviously Russian. Make sure you don’t use PayPal for paying ANYTHING without confirming with the actual source first.
If you’ve gotten a fake invoice through PayPal, forward them the email to email@example.com and they’ll investigate it for you.
When you decide to support a cause you care about, you want your donation to count. Doing some research and planning your giving can help ensure your donations get where they’ll do good. Here are tips to help you plan your donation– and avoid scams.
Do some research online
Looking for a charity to support? Search for a cause you care about – like “hurricane relief” or “homeless kids” – and phrases like “best charity” or “highly rated charity.”
When you consider giving to a specific charity, search its name plus “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.”
If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. That’s how scammers ask you to pay.
To be safer, pay by credit card or check.
It’s a good practice to keep a record of all donations. And review your statements closely to make sure you’re only charged the amount you agreed to donate – and that you’re not signed up to make a recurring donation.
Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. That’s something scammers do.
Some scammers try to trick you into paying them by thanking you for a donation that you never made.
Scammers can change caller ID to make a call look like it’s from a local area code.
Some scammers use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities. This is one reason it pays to do some research before giving.
Scammers make lots of vague and sentimental claims but give no specifics about how your donation will be used.
Bogus organizations may claim that your donation is tax-deductible when it is not.
Guaranteeing sweepstakes winnings in exchange for a donation is not only a scam, it’s illegal.
If you see any red flags, or if you’re not sure about how a charity will use your donation, consider giving to a different charity. There are many worthy organizations who will use your donation wisely.
Report scams to FTC.gov/complaint. Find your state charity regulator at nasconet.org and report to them, too. Share any information you have – like the name of the organization or fundraiser, phone number, and what the fundraiser said.
Organizations that can help you research charities
These organizations offer reports and ratings about how charitable organizations spend donations and how they conduct business:
You probably know that COVID-19 tests are in short supply. But did you know there’s no shortage of scammers setting up fake COVID-19 testing sites to cash in on the crisis?
The fake sites can look real, with legitimate-looking signs, tents, hazmat suits, and realistic-looking tests. And the damage these fake testing sites can cause is very real. They aren’t following sanitation protocols, so they can spread the virus. They’re taking people’s personal information, including Social Security numbers, credit card information, and other health information – all of which can be used for identity theft and to run up your credit card bill. Worst of all, they’re not giving people the help they need to stay healthy. In other words, these testing sites are bad news.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking into testing sites.
If you think you should get tested, ask your doctor. Some people with COVID-19 have mild illness and are able to recover at home without medical care. They may not need to be tested, according to the CDC. Not sure if you need to get tested? Try the CDC’s self-checker.
Get a referral. Testing sites are showing up in parking lots and other places you wouldn’t expect to get a lab test. Some of these are legit – and some are not. The best way to know is to go somewhere you have been referred to by your doctor or state or local health department’s website. In other words, don’t trust a random testing site you see on the side of the road.
Not sure if a site is legit? Check with your local police or sheriff’s office. If a legitimate testing site has been set up, they should know about it. And, if an fake testing site is operating, they’ll want to know.
Spotted a fake COVID-19 testing site? We want to hear about it. Report it at ftc.gov/complaint.
“Scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both. Don’t let them,” the FBI said. “Protect yourself and do your research before clicking on links purporting to provide information on the virus; donating to a charity online or through social media; contributing to a crowdfunding campaign; purchasing products online; or giving up your personal information in order to receive money or other benefits.”
Unsolicited emails that prompt you to click on an attachment should always raise a red flag when you’re checking your inbox. But these classic email phishing scams still lure unsuspecting users into downloading malicious items and giving up their login information every day.
With the news that the government is going to issue payments of up to $1,200 in coronavirus relief to US taxpayers in the coming month, the FBI recently issued a warning to be on alert for attackers masquerading as the agency and asking for personal information supposedly in order to receive your check. “While talk of economic stimulus checks has been in the news cycle, government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money,” the warning said.
Among other steps to create a safer inbox, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommends turning off your email client’s option to automatically download attachments. Not all email clients offer this and each client is different, but some do. Because social engineering attacks — scams designed to persuade you to hand over your sensitive information by targeting specific information about you — have become increasingly common in times of crisis, it’s also a good idea to read up on how to identify these security risks.
And remember, never reveal personal or financial information in an email, or respond to requests for it.