Hidden payments warning for change of address services: Internet Scambusters #569
Paying for a change of address service may be a legitimate option -- but it's definitely not worth it if the service provider rips you off.
Learn more about what can go wrong with these services, plus payment requests for 911 calls and online tech support in this week's Snippets issue.
We also have information on how a "photos on request" offer can cause havoc with your PC.
Let's get started...
Payment Alert for Change of Address, 911, and Tech Support
Among the 1,001 things you have to remember and sort out when you're moving is to make your change of address.
With so many other things on your mind, maybe it seems like a good idea to use a commercial address change notification service.
But beware! All may not be as it seems -- and you may end up paying more than you bargained for. We'll tell you more in this week's Snippets issue.
And we'll also explain how your hard-earned dollars may also be targeted at another key point of contact -- your phone and its 911 emergency service.
Plus, we've got the lowdown on dubious tech support services and another sneaky way of getting malware onto your PC.
Address Change Rip-Offs
Just when you feel you're about to be overwhelmed by all the things you have to do before you move, you discover a firm that promises to look after your mail forwarding and address change notifications for a small fee -- usually $15 to $30, but they may offer to do it for as little as a dollar.
The trouble is, this can turn out to be just a "foot in the door," a way of getting you signed up for a service that could end up costing you a whole lot more -- because you signed up online with your credit card to which the service providers now have unrestricted access.
Extra charges may be hidden in the small print, not mentioned at all, or simply something you hadn't understood clearly -- and then just charged to your card without further approval.
To make things worse, some people who have used these services have claimed they never even got the service they paid for.
And, because you've handed over your new address, you could find yourself bombarded with junk mail and "special offers."
Action: Most address change services are reputable and reliable, but you can get the service for free (or for $1 online) from USPS.
Other providers may offer additional services, but check them out first by doing a search using their name and words like "complaint," "scam" or "rip-off."
Paying for 911
Another thing you usually don't have to pay directly for (though you do via your taxes) is the 911 emergency phone service. But that doesn't stop crooks from claiming you should pay them.
We say "usually" because there are some Internet-based services that do make a charge and we've come across reports of individual local governments proposing a fee-based 911-service membership.
However, the one thing they don't do -- but the crooks do -- is call their victims, tell them their "subscription" is up and demand payment via credit card over the phone.
The crooks even spoof a caller ID that shows up as "911" on the phone screen.
They ask for card information and other personal details, which are then used for identify theft.
Action: Don't pay this way. Never give your credit card number to an incoming caller for any reason.
If you think there might be a charge, which would be highly unusual, check with your city or county finance department or your phone service provider.
PS: If you use an Internet-based phone service (sometimes referred to as VoIP), check whether they provide a 911 service at all. Some don't.
Malware on Request
Ever seen an online ad that offers "photos on request"?
They're pretty common, but when you think about it, you're inviting someone to send you an attachment or a link that you then have to click on -- the very thing we're always warning against here at Scambusters!
That's because it's easy for hackers and scammers to include malware that loads onto your PC when you click the attachments or links.
And that's exactly what the FBI reports is happening.
In this particular case, the link directs victims to a bogus website where they can "buy" whatever's being offered -- in reality, just a phishing ID theft site.
But it could just as easily be used for loading almost any type of malware onto your PC.
Action: Always be wary about clicking attachments and links from people you don't know.
Good security software will spot any attempt to install malware on your PC -- so keep it regularly updated.
Research the seller if possible and, if you're buying online, make sure you're on a secure website, with an address that starts "https" (the "s" is the important letter).
PC problems always seem to happen at the worst possible time and, in a panic, we desperately search online for a solution.
But there are crooks lurking out there, ready to take your money for little or no support, or overcharge you for their advice. They may even give you the wrong answers and land you in deeper trouble.
How can you avoid getting your fingers burned by bogus or poor tech support?
According to computer mag PC World, it's best to start with recommendations from friends and to try your hand with free online support services.
Look out, the magazine warns, for misleading company names that use "Microsoft" and other well-known companies in their title, implying they're somehow connected to these firms.
And before handing over any payment card details, check them out independently online (using their name and those scam terms we mentioned earlier) and make sure you know exactly how their fee structure works.
In this week's Snippets we've highlighted several cases where all is not what it seems -- the classic sign of a scam.
Do your research and especially look out for free services that you're being asked to pay for -- whether it's 911 calls, tech support or a change of address request.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.