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Entries in Federal Trade Commission (6)

Thursday
Nov292012

FTC Warns Hotels over Resort Fees, Says They May Be 'Deceptive'

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to 22 hotel operators that they may be breaking the law by misrepresenting the cost of a hotel stay by hiding mandatory surcharges, including "resort fees."

The FTC said it reviewed a number of hotel reservation sites but did not identify which companies it warned.  It found that some hotels exclude what are commonly referred to as resort fees from the quoted reservation price, for amenities like newspapers, exercise facilities or Internet access.  These fees can be as high as $30 a night or more.

The Palace Station Courtyard in Las Vegas has a resort fee of $14.99 per night, which increased one traveler's hotel bill by more than 50 percent, USA Today reported.

The hotels were warned that the FTC may take action to enforce and seek redress for any violations of the FTC Act.

Betsy Lordan, spokeswoman for the FTC, said this was the first time the agency has publicly stated its position that it is deceptive for the hotels not to include mandatory fees as part of the total price they quote.

Lordan said it did not reveal the names of the 22 hotel operators to give them an opportunity to come into compliance voluntarily before naming them publicly.

"Consumers are entitled to know in advance the total cost of their hotel stays," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a statement.  "So-called 'drip pricing' charges, sometimes portrayed as 'convenience' or 'service' fees, are anything but convenient, and businesses that hide them are doing a huge disservice to American consumers."

The FTC has previously warned about "drip pricing," described as a technique in which firms advertise part of a product's price and reveal other charges when the customer completes the transaction.  One common complaint involves mandatory fees that hotels sometimes list nearby but separate from the quoted price on their websites, the commission said.  

Sometimes a quoted price is accompanied by an asterisk that leads to another part of the hotel's website.  Other websites fail to identify applicable resort fees and instead inform consumers that other undefined fees may apply.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jun242011

Federal Regulators Reportedly to Probe Google

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly ready to issue subpoenas to Google as part of an antitrust investigation into whether the search engine giant unfairly uses its potency to stifle competition.

Citing people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal says the probe will look into whether Google's ranking of search results and related advertising are skewed to give the company a financial advantage.

The civil subpoenas are expected to be served within days, according to The Journal.  Other companies that deal with Google may also be asked at a later time for information on their relationship with the search engine, those familiar with the matter told the paper.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jun242011

Employer Background Checks Now Include Twitter, Facebook

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Surviving a background check just got tougher.  And it's soon going to get harder still, as Internet search technology grows more sophisticated. Employers have started scouring the web -- social networking sites in particular -- to check up on potential hires.

If you've ever posted anything that suggests you might be somebody who likes a racist joke, drinks too much booze, or maybe is a bit too fond of guns -- these all can be grounds for an employer telling you, "Thanks, but no."

And it's all perfectly legal.  The Federal Trade Commission has just given the okay for Social Intelligence Corp. to sell these reports to employers and the file will last for seven long years.

But suppose you're clean as a whistle with your online use of social network sites.  It's still possible that among your Facebook friends, unbeknownst to you, there's someone with a criminal record.  An employer could turn you down for having iffy friends and not run afoul of any employment discrimination law.

"You can be deemed a bad apple by association," says Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.  "Are all your friends gay, rich, poor?  Do they all live in California or New York or Kansas?  What are your hobbies?  Do they look expensive or entail high risk?"

If so, Dixon warns, your chances of landing that dream job, depending on your would-be employer's predilections, may vanish.  The employer's decision not to hire you may be ethically outrageous.  But it's not illegal.

"It's kind of scary," says Tena Friery, research director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.  "We know social networking sites can be hacked -- that someone can post something under someone else's name.  What happens if somebody wants to sabotage a job applicant?  And would the potential employee even know it was taking place?"

Likely not, says Michael Fertick, founder and CEO of Reputation.com, which provides products and services that a job seeker (or any other user of the Internet) can use to minimize the impact of false or inaccurate information posted about them.  It's not the present, says Fertick, that job seekers should fear: it's the future.

Right now only one company -- Social Intelligence in Santa Barbara, California -- specializes in conducting Internet background checks that are compliant with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  The Act regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information.

Where a search turns up evidence that might be used to deny an applicant credit (or a job), it requires that employers notify applicants they are in danger of being disqualified and state the evidence on which disqualification would be based.  The applicant then has five days to dispute the finding.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May182011

Beware of 'Get Rich Quick' Investment Scams

Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many companies prey on consumers, promising them a means to make money fast.  But as a scam involving a telemarketing firm shows, people need to be aware of these "get rich quick" investment schemes.

The Federal Trade Commission says many people were duped by a firm called American Precious Metals, which deals with gold, silver, and other precious metals.

Dama Brown, an attorney for the FTC, says the firm was "calling up consumers, generally cold calling consumers and promising them very high profits with very low risk in these leveraged precious metals transactions."

The firm, which has since been court ordered to shut down, ran its leveraged schemes by using borrowed money, putting consumers at great risk.

"Consumers have been induced to borrow money against their homes, take money out of their IRA accounts, borrow money from home equity lines, life insurance policies," says Brown.

She advises consumers to get on a "Do Not Call" list to cut their risk of being targeted.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar292011

'Grandparent Scams' Among 60,000 Imposter Scams Reported Last Year

Medioimages/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A growing number of scam artists who target senior citizens have stolen thousands of dollars from victims in what is known as the "grandparent scam," officials say.

The con is within a category of "imposter scams" for which there were 60,000 complaints last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.  And officials have urged the public to report the scams to law enforcement.

For example, Jim and his wife, of Wilmington, North Carolina, received a call last month from a man saying he was their grandson.  The man said he had been in a car accident while traveling in the Dominican Republic.  After explaining his injuries and that he badly needed money to get out of jail and return to the United States, the man begged Jim, 78, not to tell his "parents" and blamed his voice change on the accident.

"'Con man' is short for confidence man," Steve Baker, director of the FTC's Midwest region, said.  "Their expertise is gaining your confidence."

Jim, who asked ABC News not to publish his last name, worried about his grandson's safety and health, followed the man's instructions and wired him several installments totaling $7,200 through Western Union.  He and his wife had not spoken to their several grandsons in weeks, all of whom live out of state.

Jim learned he was the victim of an imposter scam when he called his son after a day to check up on him, and the grandson was fine at home.

"I obviously felt terrible about it," Jim said.  "My first reaction was I felt stupid.  I can think of 1,000 questions that would have stopped it."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's Consumer Protection Division has seen a spike in the grandparent scam targeting the elderly in North Carolina.  From Jan. 20 to March 17, the office received 12 complaints from people ranging in ages from 72 to 88 targeted by scammers posing as their grandchildren or other family members.  The scammers stole from $1,200 to $25,549 from each individual, with a total loss of $129,889 in the period.

The Federal Trade Commission said that complaints of "imposter scams" have been growing for several years and was the sixth most frequent FTC complaint last year, breaking into the top-10 list for the first time. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Oct242010

Poll: Most Americans Worry About Identity Theft

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A new poll from a non-profit credit counseling group finds two-thirds of Americans worry about whether their personal information is at risk.

Identity theft has been the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission for three years in a row. 

Adam Levin of Identity Theft 911 says you could put your information and yourself in danger simply by posting too much on a social networking site such as Facebook.

"For some reason people feel the need to give your physical address when you don't really need to do it," Levin says, adding that your home address is one of the "critical building blocks" in identity theft. 

Other information vital to a crook who's anxious to hack into your bank account includes your birth date and social security number.

Experts say the bottom line is to think before you put anything online that you wouldn't wear on a t-shirt.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

 







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