Scam alert: Beware of phony Secret Service email requesting personal data


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Beware of an e-mail claiming to be from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on behalf of the FBI requesting that you “kindly get back to us for further directives.”  It is a scam, according to a report in the Miami Herald on Wednesday.

“It didn’t appear very convincing to me when I opened it,” former WSVN-TV reporter Derek Hayward told Examiner.  “An award of almost 11 million dollars would come in quite handy now that I’m retired,” he stated with a chuckle.

The fake e-mail claims as follows:

SECRET SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

WASHINGTON, DC 20528, USA.

Good day,

This is the Department of Homeland Security we have vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face as well as internet Fraud. This requires the dedication of more than 230,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cyber security analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear — keeping America safe.

We are happy to inform you that your funds valued at US$10,700,000.00 (Ten million Seven Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) have been approved by the Treasury Department of the United States.

Kindly get back to us for further directives.

Note: Do not reply to any e-mail that comes from the FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. The FBI director does not e-mail people; He will rather send an agent to your door step in person. Do not fall a victim of scam again, a word is enough for the wise.

Thank you and have a good day.

Signed: Julia Pierson

Director, United States Secret Service

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528, USA

The signatory of the e-mail – Julia Pierson – is the real director of the U.S. Secret Service.  She is an Orlando native, former Orlando police officer, and spent several years in the Secret Service’s Miami office back in the 1980’s. She became the agency’s first female director in late March.

As in other variations of this scam, this is not a legitimate communication from law enforcement, but rather an attempt to obtain personal banking information from an unsuspecting victim.  If you have received this e-mail or something similar to it, do not follow the instructions.  It is suggested that you forward the communication to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.IC3.gov.

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FTC Cracks Down on Advance Fees to Debt Settlement Companies


The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted strict new rules on Thursday that ban debt settlement companies from charging advance fees for elimination of credit card balances and other consumer debt. Effective October 27th, for-profit companies that sell debt relief services by telephone will no longer be allowed to charge a fee before they successfully settle or reduce a consumer’s outstanding debt obligation.

“This rule will stop companies who offer consumers false promises of reducing credit card debts by half or more in exchange for large, upfront fees,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz,, said Thursday, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden.  “Too many of these companies pick the last dollar out of consumers’ pockets – and far from leaving them better off, push them deeper into debt, even bankruptcy.”

The rule concerning upfront fees covers for-profit debt relief telemarketers, including credit counseling, debt settlement and debt negotiation services.  It does not cover Internet sales or nonprofit firms, but does cover companies that falsely claim nonprofit status.

Scheduled to take effect on September 27th are three additional Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) provisions that will require debt settlement companies to make specific disclosures to consumers; prohibit them from making material misrepresentations; and extending the TSR to cover calls consumers make to these firms in response to debt relief advertising.

Since the start of the recession, consumers from all 50 states have filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) about debt settlement companies.  In addition to the BBB, angry customers have taken their complaints to their state Attorney General.  The FTC and state enforcers have brought a combined 259 cases in the past decade to stop deceptive and abusive practices by debt relief providers that have targeted consumers in financial distress.

Attorneys General from Florida, Maine, Texas , Idaho, Missouri, New York, Illinois, West Virginia, Vermont and Minnesota have taken action against companies such as Debt Settlement America, Debt Rx USA, Financial Freedom of America, Clear Your Debt, Swift Rock Financial Solutions and Credit Solutions, a company that has received over 1,600 complaints in the past 36 months.

“My office works to protect Floridian’s from misleading debt relief activities by seeking to stop deceptive practices and resolving consumer complaints,” stated Attorney General Bill McCollum.  “In these tough economic times, a consumer’s best defense is to be aware of misleading advertisements and avoid sending money to companies offering such services.”

The rule further specifies that fees for debt settlement services may not be collected until a debt has been successfully renegotiated, settled, reduced or the contract terms have been changed.   Moreover, there must be a written settlement agreement, debt management plan or other agreement between the consumer and the creditor and the consumer must have made at least one payment as a result of the agreement negotiated by the debt relief provider.

If a consumer has enrolled multiple debts in one debt relief program, the rule specifies how debt relief providers can collect their fee for each settled debt.  To ensure providers do not front-load their fees, the fee for a single debt must be in proportion to the total fee that would be charged if all of the debts had been settled.  Alternatively, if the fee is based upon a percentage of what the consumer saves, the percentage charged must be the same for each of the debts.

The rule further specifies that consumer’s may maintain fees and savings for creditor payment in a “dedicated account.”  However, providers may only require a dedicated account under the following five conditions: the dedicated account is maintained at an insured financial institution; the consumer owns the funds (including any interest accrued); the consumer can withdraw the funds at any time without penalty; the provider does not own or control or have any affiliation with the company administering the account; and the provider does not exchange any referral fees with the company administering the account.

If you have been victimized by a debt relief program, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by calling (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226) or visiting their website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com.  The Federal Trade Commission also offers a variety of resources detailing consumer rights at http://www.ftc.gov.