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Posted December 17, 2019 | 4:07 PM

Scam Likely

7 things to know that'll make you a smarter consumer

Looking to protect yourself from fraud, identity theft, and scams? Maybe you're wondering about the best way to use credit, how to recover stolen wages, or maximize your security online. Hillsborough County Consumer & Veterans Services has tips and resources to inform and empower consumers that are useful no matter the time of year.

Know your trespass towing rights

Did you know Hillsborough County has standards of service and requirements in place for towing and wrecker companies to protect residents and visitors from deceptive business practices? As part of these requirements, all companies conducting trespass towing in Hillsborough County from private property must:

  • Alert law enforcement within 30 minutes of the vehicle removal explaining the tow
  • Accept consumers' money orders, cashier's checks, debit cards, and cash to pay the bill
  • Provide a legible, written receipt bearing the name of the towing company, the list of charges imposed, and payments received

Consumers with trespass towing-related concerns can file a complaint electronically or in person at one of the four Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Offices.

Protect yourself from the "Grandparent Scam"

Seniors nationwide are receiving calls from scammers claiming to be their grandchild. A typical scenario is this: The "grandson" claims to have been in a car accident and it's his fault. He needs money in the form of a gift card, so he won't go to jail. The scammers then instruct their elderly victim to call a cab, go to a store, purchase gift cards, and call back with the gift card pin numbers.

In an effort to help individuals before they become victims, law enforcement agencies around the country are asking people who work in an environment that sells gift cards to ask questions when an elderly person needs thousands of dollars in these cards. Victims can report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission online, or by calling their Consumer Response Center at (877) 382-4357. You may also call Hillsborough County Consumer & Veterans Services at (813) 635-8316.

Be aware of "phishy" email

Phishing is when someone uses a familiar company name or pretends to be someone you know to send you fake emails or text messages, hoping to get you to share valuable personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, or your login IDs and passwords. Scammers are after your identity and money. Some phishing emails are trying to gain access to your computer or network. For example, you may click on a link, and scammers can then install ransomware or other programs that can lock you out of your data. Take these steps before clicking on an email link or sharing any sensitive information, and report phishing to the Federal Trade Commission.

Use credit and debit cards wisely

People often use debit cards to control their spending. But did you know there is less protection if you are a victim of debit card fraud than if you had used your credit card and it was compromised?These tips will help you determine when it's best to use your debit or credit card:

  • Don't use your debit card for online purchases. Paying by credit card is safer and comes with more protection.
  • Don't use your debit card at a gas station. Gas stations are prime targets and statistics show that 1.3 percent of payment fraud in the U.S. occurs at fuel pumps.
  • It's better to use cash or credit when eating out.
  • Book your hotel with a credit card because hotels might put a hold on your debit payment, sometimes for $100 or more.
  • Rent a car using your credit card to avoid a hold on your debit card and a credit check.
  • Big ticket items should be paid with a credit card. If unsatisfied, you can dispute the charges.
  • Free-standing ATM's put your debit card in danger because the machines are less likely to be monitored. Use the ATM at a physical bank.

Don't fall victim to wage theft

Working off the clock, stealing tips, not paying overtime, requiring unpaid training, and mis-classifying workers are just a few ways dishonest employers might steal wages. Wage theft often affects low-income workers in construction, agriculture, and service industries. The burden of proof rests upon the employee who needs evidence to support their claim and win their case. Learn more about this national problem and Hillsborough County's local solution.

Funeral Fraud and scams can cost you in your time of grief

Each year, people spend billions of dollars arranging funerals for family members and friends. These funeral planning tips will help make expensive funeral services more affordable.

The federal government protects consumers from unfair business practices with a law called The Funeral Rule. For assistance, consumers can contact the Federal Trade Commission, the agency that enforces this rule and offers guidelines for consumers planning a funeral.

Understanding Buyer's Remorse and "The Cooling-off Rule"

  • There is no automatic three day right to rescind "all sales" in Florida.
  • In Florida, if you contract for services to be rendered in the future on a continuing basis, you are entitled to a three-day cooling-off period under state law.
  • You are also entitled to cancel a contract for future services if you can no longer physically receive the services, or the services are no longer available as originally offered.
  • If you purchase goods or services worth more than $25, during the course of a "home solicitation sale," you maintain a three-day right to cancel. A sale is considered a "home solicitation sale" if it takes place in your home, or at a location which is not the main or permanent place of business for the seller.

There are some exclusions and limitations under the law. If you have questions, contact Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Services Division at (813) 635-8316.

Visit Consumer Protection online, file a consumer complaint, search existing consumer complaints, or learn more about the County's Consumer Protection education programs.

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