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AG ALERT: Springtime Scams Hit the Streets

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALERT: Springtime Scams Hit the Streets

Wed, Apr 4, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – Scammers are taking to the streets to con homeowners, convincing unknowing and trusting Arkansans to make costly repairs that are not needed. Worse, these criminals may demand payment up front for promised work that they have no intention of completing.

“Many hard working Arkansans look to make pricey updates and repairs to their homes during the spring season,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “But con artists are taking advantage of the warmer temperatures and looking to scam homeowners this time of year. Consumers should do their due diligence in hiring contractors and researching companies to ensure they are reputable.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips homeowners should consider before hiring a contractor:

  • Think twice before hiring out-of-town or unknown contractors, especially those soliciting door-to-door.
  • Question contractors who use terms like “special introductory offer,” “limited-time offer” or those who offer discounts to use your house as a “model home.”
  • Do not fall for high-pressure tactics from contractors who want to discuss the price of the job later.
  • Beware of those demanding payment in full before work is finished.

Arkansans should also insist on a written contract or agreement that includes the name, address and telephone number of the contractor and consider a payment plan that pays for a third of the work up front, a third to be paid while work is being done and the final third upon completion.

Consumers should also know that the Arkansas Home Solicitation Sales Act allows consumers to cancel any home-solicitation sale made within three days of purchase of the item or service.

Any contractor building, repairing or doing improvements to a home costing more than $2,000 is required to be licensed by the Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board. Contact the board at ACLB.Arkansas.gov or (501) 372-4661 to verify a contractor’s license, the date it was issued and whether any complaints have been filed against that contractor. Ask for recommendations from people you trust.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov, or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Hackers Target Social Media ‘Friends’

AG ALERT: Hackers Target Social Media ‘Friends’

Wed, Mar 28, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – Hackers are attempting to infiltrate social media accounts in order to target friends of account holders by posing as the person and pushing programs that allege to provide financial assistance. The hackers prey upon trusting relationships between friends and family by claiming that completion of a simple application will allow them to help with a variety of expenses, ranging from paying bills to starting a new business.

“In their latest criminal ploy, hackers try to exploit trusted relationships between friends and families to scam innocent Arkansans out of thousands of dollars,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “While social media users should only connect with individuals they actually know, criminals will not hesitate to hack accounts and pose as trusted friends to push their scams. Arkansans must remain vigilant and avoid giving out any personal information online or over the phone – if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips to help Arkansans keep their personal information secure on social media:

  • Use a unique password for each social media site you use. If an unauthorized individual accesses your account, they can use it to send spam to other users, scam your friends and family or use the information they obtain to scam you.
  • Be sure to set privacy settings to the most secure setting available. Ensure that information is only shared with friends, not with the internet at large. Some social media sites, like Facebook, allow users to see how their profile looks to specific individuals and the public.
  • If you receive a friend or follow request from an individual who you think you are already connected with, double-check your friends or followers list. If you are already connected with that individual, the new request is probably a hacker. When in doubt, reach out directly to the individual to verify the request.
  • If your profile is publicly viewable, do not post information that would let someone know that your house was empty or that you are home alone. Posting that you are leaving town for a few days could be an invitation for someone to break into your home. Likewise, if you have children or roommates who use these sites, make sure they are aware that they should never indicate online that they are home alone.
  • Think carefully about what information you post online. An electronic record of what you say will likely be online forever, which might come back to haunt you in the future. Follow the “Front Page Rule.” Do not post anything online that you would not be comfortable seeing on the front page of your newspaper. Remember that employers, universities and even attorneys often check other social media sites for information that you have posted online.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Attorney General Alert: Predators Exploiting App Popular with Children

Attorney General Alert: Predators Exploiting App Popular with Children

Wed, Mar 21, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – A seemingly innocent mobile phone application is now being used by child predators to exploit children. Recent news reports explain a dark side of the lip syncing app, Musical.ly, where predatory users manipulate keywords and hashtags to create secret video groupings of app users, often children, engaging in inappropriate behavior at the encouragement of other users.

“As adults, it is our job to protect our children,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Aunts, uncles, moms, dads, grandparents and family friends should all educate themselves about the latest apps the children in their lives are using. We must also make every effort to talk with children about the dangers of posting personal information online and the ways that information can be spread across the world – sometimes into the hands of people who do not have good intentions.”

Attorney General Rutledge released the following tips for children and families to remember when posting online and using apps.

  • Do not respond to messages that are inappropriate. Encourage children to tell an adult if they ever encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Parents and guardians should consider using available parental controls offered at no cost by most providers and/or downloading a monitoring service app that allows them to view the child’s smartphone activity.
  • Children should never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online as they may not be who they say they are.
  • Follow the “Front Page Rule,” which reminds social media users not to put anything on a social media site they would not want to see on the front page of a newspaper.
  • Assume that status updates, photos and videos posted on social networks are permanent. Just because a profile is deleted or information is removed, older versions can continue to exist on other sites.
  • Make a unique password for every social media site. Consider making the passwords stronger by adding numbers or special characters. Having strong, unique passwords for each site helps prevent hackers from taking over social media accounts to send spam, scam friends or use information against the owner of the account.

Musical.ly is a popular app that boasts use by millions of people around the world every day. Users can create 15 to 60 second videos, adding music and filters to post on the site and for others to comment or “like.”

In 2016, Rutledge teamed up with Common Sense Media and AT&T to adopt the Digital You training program, which offers tools, tips, apps and guidance about staying safe online for people of all levels of online experience. Digital You training is available to parents and teachers across the State to teach them the latest internet safety tips, and encourage the implementation of lessons about staying safe online.

Concerned parents are encouraged to report instances of online exploitation of children, including unsolicited obscene materials sent to a child and misleading words on the internet, to the CyberTipline at http://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Shining a Light on FOIA During Sunshine Week

AG Alert: Shining a Light on FOIA During Sunshine Week

Wed, Mar 14, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) helps ensure government transparency and allows the public to hold government officials accountable for their actions. In conjunction with National Sunshine Week, March 11-17, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge highlights the FOIA to educate Arkansans about their rights when it comes to government accountability.

“Arkansans can be assured that government officials are held to a high standard of transparency at every level, including state and local leaders,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “I am committed to ensuring our Freedom of Information Act is used consistently and in accordance with the law – transparency is key in holding government accountable to the people it serves.”

Arkansas’s FOIA was enacted by the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller in 1967. It is considered one of the strongest and most comprehensive open-records and open-meetings laws in the United States.

Attorney General Rutledge released the following information regarding Arkansas’s FOIA:

  • The law gives Arkansas citizens broad access to public records and public meetings, with limited exceptions.
  • A public record is defined as any writing, sound recording, video or electronic or computer-based information that is required by law to be kept or is otherwise kept that reflects the performance or lack of performance of official functions.
  • All records maintained by public employees within the scope of their employment are presumed to be public records, although several exemptions may shield a record (or certain information in a record) from disclosure.
  • Government entities generally have up to three working days to provide a record requested under the FOIA.
  • Custodians of records may only charge for the “actual costs” of reproducing public records, plus mailing expenses. Employee time spent complying with a FOIA request is not a cost that can be charged.
  • When a governing body meets to conduct the people’s business, the meeting is a public meeting and is subject to the open-meetings provisions of the FOIA.
  • Notice of public meetings must be provided to anyone who has asked to be notified, and two-hour notice of special or emergency meetings must be provided to members of the news media who have requested notice of such meetings.
  • Governing bodies may only enter into closed meetings, also known as “executive sessions,” for the limited purposes of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of an individual officer or employee. But if any action is to be taken after the executive session, the governing body must reconvene in public and take a formal vote on the matter. Any governing-body action decided upon in an executive session without a public vote has no legal effect.

The Attorney General’s office partners with the Arkansas Press Association and other organizations to produce and distribute the “Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook.” The Handbook’s 18th edition was published in October 2017. Free copies of the handbook are available at ArkansasAG.gov, or can be ordered by completing the short online form or contacting the Attorney General’s office at community@arkansasag.gov or 501-682-2007.

The Attorney General’s office recently presented an online webcast about the Arkansas FOIA.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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Attorney General Alert: Top 10 Complaints of 2017

AG Alert: Top 10 Complaints of 2017

Wed, Mar 7, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – In conjunction with National Consumer Protection Week, March 4-10, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today announced the top 10 most common complaints the Attorney General’s office received in 2017.

“The Consumer Protection Division mediates all types of complaints each day,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Attorneys and investigators work tirelessly on complaints on a number of common issues including: automobiles, timeshares, healthcare and utilities.”

The 10 most common complaint categories from 2017 were:

  • Sales of goods and services
  • Automobile sales, service, financing and repair
  • Credit repairs and other financial services
  • Satellite, cable and internet service providers
  • Home repair, construction and maintenance
  • Landlord/tenant and real estate
  • Health care
  • Wireless and landline telephone services
  • Utilities
  • Travel and timeshares

For the first time in five years, automobile-related transactions were not the most common type of complaint reported to the Attorney General’s office. The sales of goods and services was the top complaint category in 2017 and brought in 1,383 complaints. These types of complaints often involve problems when purchasing goods both in store and online, along with door-to-door sales.

The most common scam reported to the Attorney General’s office in 2017 was the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scam, in which scam artists intimidate Arkansans by posing as the IRS and demanding payment immediately. To protect themselves, Arkansans need to remember that the IRS will never call and demand payment, require taxes be paid in a certain way, ask for credit or debit card numbers or threaten to bring police or other agencies to make an arrest for unpaid taxes.

In total, Attorney General Rutledge’s office resolved 7,229 formal complaints in 2017. File a complaint online at ArkansasAG.gov.

National Consumer Protection Week is a partnership with attorneys general from across the country, along with many national organizations, including the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and American Association of Retired Persons, to encourage consumers to understand their rights and make educated consumer decisions.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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AG Alert: Tax Time Tricks from Thieves

AG Alert: Tax Time Tricks from Thieves

Wed, Feb 28, 2018

LITTLE ROCK – With tax season in full swing, scammers are ramping up efforts to steal data from tax professionals and scam their clients. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently issued an identity theft warning indicating that thieves hack into a tax professional’s files, steal sensitive client information and file a tax return in that person’s name. While the money may go to your personal account – reports indicate some amounts are as much as $20,000 – the scammer has plans to impersonate the IRS and collect that money later.

“This scam is heating up as more Arkansans file their taxes,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “Scammers gain access to a tax preparer’s data and file fraudulent tax returns. The thieves then pose as the IRS and threaten legal action if the money is not turned over to them immediately, usually in the form of a wire transfer or pre-paid card.”

Some victims receive threats of being turned over to the IRS collection agency, while others have been told that their social security number would be “blacklisted.” These are both scams and the IRS asks consumers who receive an erroneous refund to follow the established procedures listed below.

Attorney General Rutledge and the IRS released the following tips if Arkansans find a large refund in their name that they were not expecting:

  • If the erroneous refund was a direct deposit:
    • Contact the Automated Clearing House department of the bank/financial institution where the direct deposit was received and have them return the refund to the IRS.
    • Call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 to explain why the direct deposit is being returned.
  • If the erroneous refund was a paper check and has not been cashed:
    • Write "Void" in the endorsement section on the back of the check.
    • Submit the check immediately to the local IRS location.
    • Do not staple, bend or paper clip the check.
    • Include a note stating, "Return of erroneous refund check because (provide a brief explanation of why the refund check is being returned)."
  • If the erroneous refund was a paper check and you have cashed it:
    • Submit a personal check, money order, etc., immediately to the appropriate IRS location for the amount deposited by the scammers.
    • If you no longer have access to a copy of the deposited check, call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 and explain to the IRS assistor that you need information to repay a cashed refund check.
    • Write on the check/money order: “Payment of Erroneous Refund,” the tax period for which the refund was issued and your social security number.
    • Include a brief explanation of the reason for returning the refund.
    • Be aware that repaying an erroneous refund in this manner may result in interest due to the IRS.

The IRS has also encouraged tax preparers to increase their own security measures to avoid these data breaches. Tax preparers should consider consulting with a reputable data security consultant or provider in order to give greater protection to their customers.

The IRS encourages Arkansans with any questions about owed taxes to contact their office directly at (800) 829-1040.

For more information and tips to avoid scams and other consumer-related issues, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at (800) 482-8982 or consumer@arkansasag.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov or facebook.com/AGLeslieRutledge.

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