The Florida Department of Financial Services' Division of Consumer Services continuously monitors the insurance and financial industry to inform and protect consumers from various financial scams designed to steal your hard-earned money. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a financial scam please call 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (639-5236) or REPORT FRAUD now. To view a listing of common Fraud and Scams, click here.
Last year, nearly 75% of Americans planned to travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Scam artists attempt to take advantage of individuals who are out of their normal financial routines, spending more money and have lowered their guards. Scam artists attempt to prey on individuals in a numbers of ways and do so even more during the holiday season.
Review the following scams and tips to protect your finances this holiday season.
Many retailers offer apps to make shopping easier. However, scam artists are taking advantage of consumers’ thrill for finding the best deals and streamlining the shopping experience. Scam artists are also building apps that look legitimate, similar to a company’s official app, and requesting personal information during registration that can later be used to steal a person’s identity. A fake app can also contain malware, which will download a virus on your device, and provide access to personal information.
To avoid accessing a fake app:
Go to the retailer’s official website to locate and download the app.
Read reviews of others who have downloaded the app. If it’s a fake, other consumers are sure to comment.
Look for typos, misspellings and bad grammar. If it is an official app, all content should be well-written.
Fraudulent Receipts or Shipping Labels
Scam artists are depending on consumers who make several purchases during the holiday season but may not be tracking all items closely. Scam artists email a fake receipt or shipping label that appears legitimate in hopes that the consumer will click on it. Clicking on the receipt or label can download malware on the computer or phone and provide the scam artist access to personal information.
To protect yourself:
Do not click on emailed receipts or shipping labels before checking to ensure you made a purchase at the retailer represented.
Check to ensure you recognize the sender of the email. Hover over the sender’s email to determine if it’s an email address associated with the retailer.
Do not click on any links in the email.
Contact the retailer directly to verify that it sent you a receipt or shipping label.
Scam artists are aware that people tend to be more generous during the holiday season and are taking the opportunity to scam consumers by creating fake charities. A scam artist may call or send an email misrepresenting a legitimate organization and requesting donations for those in need.
To avoid donating to a fraudulent charity:
Do not click on a link or respond to an email from a charity.
Do not provide personal or credit card information over the phone or via email unless you contacted the charity.
Do not donate to a charity that you have not heard of.
Review the Check-A-Charity site to ensure the charity is legitimate.
Fake Gift Cards
Scam artists can create gift cards that look legitimate but may not have actual value. Remember to:
Only purchase gift cards from a retailer or company authorized to sell a retailer’s gift cards, such as Walgreens, Walmart, etc.
Avoid purchasing gift cards from individuals.
Check the packaging of the card to ensure it has not been opened or used.
Online Hotel Booking Websites
When looking to book a hotel for travel, many consumers search online for their destination followed by “hotels.” The results populate a list of reputable and some not so reputable websites and advertisements. You may believe you are booking directly through the hotel website, yet are on a third party online booking site. This is not always a problem; there are many hotels that work with legitimate online booking websites, however, using a third party site can lead to:
Consumers arriving at a hotel without an actual reservation.
Paying more for the hotel room than its standard asking price.
The hotel being unable to issue a refund in the event of a cancellation.
Special room requests not being fulfilled.
Avoid these potential problems by doing research and being diligent in checking details when booking a hotel online.
Verify that you are booking directly through a hotel’s website before providing credit card information.
Be sure the hotel site is secure. To determine if a site is secure, look for https in the URL (the “s” stands for secure) or the lock symbol near the URL or at the bottom of the webpage.
Be aware that if you call a phone number listed on a third party booking site, it may direct you to a call center where employees from the booking site act as representatives of the hotel. Look up the hotel’s direct phone number.
It is estimated that consumers are holding approximately 14 trillion unused airline miles and loyalty points. This can be a tempting target for scam artists. If unprotected, scam artists can transfer miles into their own private accounts. To protect these airline miles and prevent theft:
Monitor your loyalty accounts regularly, just as you would a bank account, for any unauthorized or unrecognized activity.
Be sure to protect and update, frequently, your online passwords. Diversity your online account passwords from account to account and be sure to use easy to remember, yet hard to guess, unique passwords.
Taxi Meter Fraud
During the holiday season, many consumers rely on taxi and ride sharing services to get around town. Unfortunately, some of these drivers may take advantage of a traveler’s unfamiliarity with a city to defraud them. To avoid falling victim:
Confirm with the driver that the meter and card machine are working.
Travel in official and licensed taxis or through trusted ride sharing companies.
A driver may try to take advantage of your unfamiliarity with an area and you not knowing the best route to your destination. To avoid a driver taking a longer than necessary route, plug in your destination to a smart phone GPS and pay attention to the route the driver takes. If you believe this is taking place, voice your concern to the driver.
Free Wi-Fi Scam
Free Wi-Fi networks are a very common and tempting service at airports, cafés, restaurants, etc. It is extremely important to use caution if using these networks, as scam artists may create fake, free networks to lure you into signing on and accessing sensitive files, bank accounts or any personal information you may be viewing on your device. Scam artists will attempt to give their network an official or legitimate sounding name and even go as far as to set up a Wi-Fi network that requires payment in an attempt to make you believe it’s legitimate.
To avoid this scam:
Ensure the Wi-Fi network is legitimate before inputting sensitive information. The network’s name may be posted in the establishment or available if requested.
If you have doubts about a network’s legitimacy, locate an employee and ask for the correct network name and password.
Avoid Wi-Fi networks that are open and do not require a password.
If possible, wait until you get back home or to a family member’s house before accessing personal, sensitive information.
The Department of Financial Services (DFS) and the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) have received calls from consumers who have received a scam email, appearing to come from Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, informing them that their insurance has been cancelled. The fraudulent email indicates that it is coming from the Office of U.S. Insurance Regulation and references DFS’s mailing address. The unauthorized email includes a link for consumers to view their policy information. This email is a scam. OIR does not send notices of cancellation and those who receive it should disregard the information. If you receive a similar email, do not open any links and do not provide any personal information; instead, immediately delete the email. If you are concerned about your insurance, please contact your insurance company directly using a number you know to be legitimate, such as the number found on your insurance card, bills, or policy.
Consumers should report this scam and all fraudulent activity to the Department of Financial Services’ Insurance Consumer Helpline by calling 1 (877) 693–5236. The Helpline is also available to consumers who have insurance-related questions or need assistance with the filing of post-storm insurance claims.
Taylor County officials have received several calls regarding a scammer who is claiming to represent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and demands a deposit of $150 in order to initiate the claims process.
FEMA does not require a fee to file a claim; do not provide payment in order to start a claim with FEMA.
The Department’s Divisions of Investigative and Forensic Services and Agent and Agency Services have teamed up with Taylor County officials to investigate.
Official Florida’s State Emergency Response Team (SERT) and FEMA team members will carry identification and may request information about your damage or insurance; they will typically not request personal information such as Social Security Numbers and should not ask for a fee to initiate a claim.
If you receive this scam call or are approached by someone fraudulently representing FEMA or SERT, please dial 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236), or 850-413-3089 if you are calling from an out of state number. You will be asked for contact information that will be delivered to the investigators so they may follow up with affected consumers as necessary.
The Department of Financial Services was recently notified of a series of fraudulent phone calls that have the appearance of coming from the Department’s Division of Treasury's main line (850) 413-3165. The callers are claiming to be from the "Department of Revenue" and are demanding payments from the recipient of the call stating that they "owe them money". Spoofing, also known as “ghosting”, allows the fraudulent caller’s incoming call to show the Department’s number on caller-id so if one were to call the number back, they would be directed to our Department. This is done in an effort to legitimize the fraudulent scheme.
The Department of Financial Services does not conduct any form of bill collecting or financial transacting in this manner. If you receive a call from the Department of Financial Services that matches this description or seems suspicious, please remember to hang up, and dial (850) 413-3165. Do not provide any information until you have called the Department back and have spoken to a DFS representative. If the fraudulent or suspicious call is being made to appear as a different Department phone number, please hang up and call the Department of Financial Services Consumer Helpline (In-State) 1-877-693-5236 (Out of State) (850) 413-3089.
Florida consumers should be wary of fake emails that claim to be from the Office of Financial Regulation. These email messages indicate that the consumer is behind on a payday loan and threats of legal action are often made.
Phone/E-mail Pitch: Scammers often identify themselves as “Officer Joel Winston” or “John Smith.” These individuals will use official logos, without permission, to create falsified email messages that appear to be very authentic. They claim the consumers have outstanding payments on a payday loan. Consumers are instructed to call a number, which typically contains a 904 area code, in order to resolve the issue.
Target: All consumers.
Result: Consumers that provide personal and financial information to these scammers via email or phone risk having their identity stolen or fraudulent purchases made using their accounts.
How to avoid this scam: Do not immediately respond to emails that claim to be from the Office of Financial Regulation. Be on the lookout for incorrect grammar, misspelling and vague information. Consumers should also inspect the author’s email address to determine if it is an official state government email address.
Do not hesitate to contact the Office of Financial Regulation to report these fake emails. Visit www.flofr.com or call (850) 487-9687 for more information or to file a complaint.
This scam claims to come from the Director or Assistant Director of the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud. It requests personal information to help with an investigation or to avoid criminal prosecution.
Email Pitch: An email arrives claiming to come from the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud’s Director and/or Assistant Director. The message will include the Division of Insurance Fraud’s physical address and logo, but it is not legitimate. The email may claim that an item of great value was being sent to you and has been confiscated or cannot be delivered because it lacks the proper insurance. The email directs the consumer to contact an organization- in this instance, the Tucson International Airport- and provide personal information to avoid prosecution or confiscation of the item. The Division of Insurance Fraud will not ask that confidential information be sent over email, nor does it direct consumers to contact a third party to provide this information.
Target: All consumers, particularly those who have insurance products in Florida.
Result: Consumers who respond to this message risk compromising their confidential, personal information and becoming a victim of identity theft.
How to avoid this scam: Do not respond to unsolicited emails asking for personal information and refrain from calling the phone number provided. If you receive an email claiming to be from the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud asking for personal information, call 850-413-3115 to verify and report the email.
Cyber security refers to protection from security risks like unauthorized access to networks, programs, information and data, and attacks or damage to computers and other devices. As cyberspace becomes more and more integrated into professional and personal tasks, it’s even more important to increase awareness on the topic, be aware of the risks that go along with online activity and take steps to increase cyber security.
Identity Theft Scams - Through phishing, for example, scammers look to gain access electronically to personal information such as Social Security Numbers, credit cards and bank account information to open fraudulent accounts or make fraudulent purchases. Phishing is accessing personal data by posing as a legitimate organization or entity via email or a website. The goal is to install malicious software on your computer and other devices. Another way is through social engineering, which is convincing you to install the software by providing a link, pop-up advertisement or encouraging you to download something from a website.
Cyber criminals use many other scams to access personal information, which include:
Tech Support Scam - In this scam, you receive a phone call or an email from someone posing as a computer support technician, typically from Microsoft or Dell, asking to remotely access your computer or download software to fix a problem. They will try to sell you software to fix your computer or install malicious software to steal your personal information. Once the scammer has access to your computer, they are able to change the settings on your computer that could leave it vulnerable to viruses.
Chip Card Scam - The new credit and debit cards embedded with a microchip are designed to reduce fraud, but scammers see it as an opportunity to commit fraud. Scammers and cyber criminals try to capitalize on the delay in consumers receiving the new cards from credit card companies or financial institutions. In this scam, you receive an email or phone call from someone claiming to be from your financial institution or credit card company stating that personal account information needs to be updated so that a new credit card with a microchip can be issued in your name. The scammer states that this can only be done by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link within the email. Again, once you click on the link, the scammer can unleash a virus onto your device that provides access to personal information.
Lottery Scam - In this scam, a cyber criminal may contact you by email claiming that you have won a prize or the lottery. They may request your bank account information to wire the prize money. You may also be asked to click on a link or attachment to claim the winnings. Again, clicking on the link or opening the attachment could download a virus onto your computer or other devices.
Below are common red flags to recognize a cyber crime:
Below are a few tips to protect your identity:
To report cyber crimes and other scams, visit the Florida Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant.
For information on additional scams and cyber crimes, visit the Department’s Frauds and Scams page.
The Florida Lottery reported that scammers have been sending emails using the department's logo and letterhead claiming the recipient has won a monetary prize. To claim a share of the funds, the email requests that the recipient contact the person listed, provide financial information and pay taxes.
Florida Lottery officials will not contact players unless they have entered a game or drawing on the official Florida Lottery website or social media sites. Remember, you can’t win if you didn’t enter. To report a lottery scam, contact the Florida Lottery's Division of Security at 850-487-7730. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a financial scam please call 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (639-5236) or REPORT FRAUD now.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed a complaint in federal district court against Florida debt-relief company American Debt Settlement Solutions, Inc. (ADSS) alleging that the company misled consumers by charging illegal fees for their services. ADSS is accused of routinely charging illegal upfront fees for debt-relief services that rarely, if ever, materialized. Other charges include falsely promising to settle debts within a specific timeframe and enrolling consumers who were not likely to successfully complete their programs causing further debt. Read more...
Floridians who have received a warranty offer from HomeServe USA Repair Management Corp. are urged to carefully review the offer for an “optional service plan.” The Miami-based insurance agency is reported to have mailed notices to 600,000 Florida residents in November 2012, and consumers are complaining that the notice looks like a bill from a government agency. Click here for an article about the complaints.
The Division of Consumer Services has provided a list of suggestions to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners on steps to improve the recovery process for disaster victims. Click here to read the list of suggestions.
Two Michigan-based insurance companies, iWorld Financial Group (iWorld) and United Defend Company a/k/a United Defendco (UDC), have been ordered to stop engaging in the unauthorized and unlicensed sale of insurance in the state of Florida. The companies offered, issued and/or administered errors and omissions coverage to insurance agents in Florida without a license. These actions were done through Facebook and the following websites: Read more…
We have encountered an insurance agency located in California who sold commercial property and liability policies in Florida without being licensed. The policies sold were bogus. Please call the Departments' Insurance Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) if you believe you or someone you know may have purchased a policy from this agency. As always, please verify the product you are purchasing before you buy it.
An unlicensed company named Unlimited Fulfillments Services, LLC has been contacting seniors about an annuity they may have that has reached the end of its surrender period. Misleading postcards sent to these consumers advise that they needed to contact the company's "Scheduling Department" to discuss options. This company is not licensed to transact insurance business in Florida, and the Florida Department of Financial Services has filed a Notice of Intent to Issue Cease and Desist Order against the company. Read more...
A company calling themselves National Sweepstakes has contacted a senior consumer in South Florida claiming to require payments to the IRS in order to collect her $1 million-plus prize. Legitimate lotteries do not ask for money up front to collect winnings, and it should always be a red flag if you have been notified of winning a lottery for which you never submitted an entry. Read more...
A company calling themselves The Florida Department of Financial Restitution has been contacting consumers claiming to be on contract with the Department of Financial Services and trying to collect a $600 upfront fee to recover unclaimed property. There is no legal entity named The Florida Department of Financial Restitution, and consumers should not agree to this offer, sign a contract or send any money to the Florida Department of Financial Restitution. Read more...