Snippets issue reports on pandemic coin shortage, Roku activation, solar and roofing scams: Internet Scambusters #923
A coin shortage driven by changed shopping habits and a slowdown at the US Mint is being used by some stores as an excuse to shortchange customers.
We'll explain how and why, and what you can do about it, in this week's Snippets issue.
We'll also tell you about new scams targeting owners of Roku streaming TV devices, people considering solar panel installation, and homeowners with potential roofing problems.
Let's get started...
Don't Let Coin Shortage Scammers Shortchange You
Are you out of loose change, you know, coins? Many stores are. So much so that some big retailers have switched their automatic self-checkout stations to card-only payments.
Some others, notably fast-food restaurants, are asking for exact money only.
Supposedly, the dramatic changes we're seeing in shopping habits as a result of the pandemic have led to a shortage of coins.
It's difficult to understand how this happens, but we have to accept the retailers at their word. And the US Mint has admitted that it's slowed down coin production.
However, that doesn't mean we should accept some of the attempts to shortchange consumers that now seem to be happening.
It's a simple trick: You go into a store, offer a bill in payment and the retailer says they have no coins, so they can't make your change. Then you have the option of returning the items you're buying or agreeing to forego your change.
In some cases, this may be a genuine situation but there's evidence that less scrupulous stores are using the situation as an excuse to shortchange shoppers.
You can avoid this scam quite simply by ensuring you bring plenty of change with you from home when you shop or by paying by card.
If you don't have either, ask the cashier to give you a store credit.
And, if you suspect a scam, file a complaint with the office of your state Attorney General.
Roku, the TV service that delivers scores of streaming channels into your home, seems like a neat idea. Paying to activate it is not.
Roku makes its money in several ways -- the sale of dedicated receiving devices, advertising on its own channels and carrying fees from other channels -- but activating an account or device is free.
Sounds like a great opportunity for scammers to step in and try to charge victims. And that's exactly what's been happening.
Scores of complaints have been filed about one company in particular that was said to be charging up to $250 for supposed activation.
Scammers find their targets in one of two ways:
- Demanding the fee when they sell Roku devices, notably on online sites like eBay.
- Showing up in online support searches and appearing to be connected with Roku support.
Roku confirms on its website that there's no activation fee.
If you have problems setting up or activating your device, contact the company rather than following up links that show up in a search.
Solar Stimulus Scams
As with Roku, so it is with so many other scams that rely on consumer ignorance.
Solar panels are a good case in point. There's probably no other consumer technology that is so misunderstood, which makes it a perfect subject for fraud and deception.
Most of us probably go along with the idea that, used properly and located in the right place, it's possible to save money, or even to make money by selling home-generated solar electricity back to the power company.
But few know the precise details or financials behind a roof solar panel installation, which makes us sitting targets for unscrupulous vendors making all kinds of promises.
Sometimes, they're just out-and-out thieves, taking deposits after a hard sell and then never being heard from again. Often, they claim there are special stimulus grants that will only be available for a short time.
Other times, they just make unfounded claims about the savings, which turn out to be totally unjustified.
Installing solar panels can be a big investment, and you need to be sure of the mathematics behind it before buying.
If you're interested, do your research and work only with reputable companies with an established reputation. And don't give in to high pressure sales techniques.
For more, check out this guidance from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Solar Power for Your Home.
Free Roof Inspection
And, while we're on the subject of roofs, watch out for another trick -- an offer of a free inspection.
Door-to-door scammers tell victims they're working on another roof in the area and will carry out a full survey of their roof at no cost.
They frequently target older folk and, again, use high pressure tactics, often trying to belittle victims by suggesting they must be crazy to turn down a free offer.
Once on the roof, they damage it and take photos they can then show the victim as evidence that they need work.
The crooks will inflate the price, demand an upfront deposit and, if they do the work at all, it'll be poor quality.
The simple way to avoid this scam is to refuse the free survey and, if the caller persists, close the door. If you have concerns about your roof, call in a reputable local firm.
Student Loan Forgiveness
Student loan debt in the US is said to be around $1.6 trillion, with around 45 million borrowers.
That's a mighty big target for scammers pretending to offer loan forgiveness. And the additional financial pressures arising from the Covid pandemic are causing extra money headaches for many past students.
They're sitting targets.
In one of the latest incidents, scammers contact borrowers saying their loan has been forgiven under a lawsuit settlement involving a major lender.
The lawsuit and the lender are genuine, as it happens, but the forgiveness is not.
The scammers pretend they work for the loan company and tell victims they must pay an upfront fee to have the debt removed.
Of course, this is totally untrue. The victim ends up out of pocket and may even find themselves a victim of identity theft.
You don't need a coin shortage to be shortchanged!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!