Aug 30

Grandparent scammers request iTunes gift card payment

itunes gift cards

Do not reveal any information to these scammers.

Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Upstate New York is warning the public about scammers asking for iTunes gift cards as a method of payment. The trend began to appear in reports to BBB’s Scam Tracker system late last year and so far, there have been 200 reports nationwide of scammers asking people for iTunes gift cards.

BBB recently received two reports to our Scam Tracker from victims of the “grandparents scam.” The scammer called the victims saying they are the grandchild/lawyer for the grandchild and ask for either bail money or lawyer’s fees. The scammer demands the person pay them with an iTunes gift card instead of a traditional method.

From Scam Tracker:
“The caller identified himself as my grandson and said he was in Florida and had been a passenger in a traffic stop where marijuana was found. He said he was being held over for a hearing and needed $5000 for an appearance bond. I was to purchase iTunes gift cards and telephone the numbers to the scammer.”

“A young individual called pretending to be the grandson of an elderly couple. He stated he was arrested and desperately needed help and needed to be bailed out. The scammer told the couple to go to ******* and purchase $2000 in iTunes cards and call back with the card numbers. The scammers later called back stating the cards did not work and the grandfather went back and purchased another $2000 in iTunes cards and gave the numbers to the scammer. By the time elderly couple contacted family members about the situation and were informed they were being scammed, the cards had already been redeemed. Endless calls to the credit companies and ******* administrators resulted in no action. Police report filed.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), once you tell a scammer the code on the back of an iTunes gift card, you give them access to the amount on the card. The scammer can then use the code or sell it. However, as soon as you put money on an iTunes card or once they redeem the card the money is gone for good.

To avoid getting scammed, BBB of Upstate New York offers the following tips:

  • Never pay with an iTunes gift card. If you are not shopping at the iTunes store, you should not be paying with an iTunes gift card. Do not pay with any gift cards, including Amazon gift cards, or re-loadable cards. Scammers may even ask you to pay through PayPal.

  • Call Apple Support. Apple states on its website: “iTunes Gift Cards are solely for the purchase of goods and services on the iTunes Store and App Store. Should you receive a request for payment using iTunes Gift Cards outside of iTunes and the App Store please report it at” If you think you may be a victim of this type of scam, call Apple Support right away and explain what happened. They may be able to disable the card. Also, consider going back to the store that sold you the iTunes gift card and talk with their customer service staff.

  • Never wire money. We know scammers like you to “wire the money” to them, including wire transfer through services like Western Union or MoneyGram. Government offices do not require you to wire transfer money as a method of payment.

  • Report it. If you are the target of a scam like this, you can file a complaint with the FTC or report it to BBB Scam Tracker.

Remember, government agencies, financial institutions and reputable retailers (unless it is iTunes) will not accept iTunes gift cards as a form of currency.

BBB’s Scam Tracker provides information on trending scams in our area.  For updates, visit our blog and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Aug 19

Avoid scams at college

College is a time of freedom and self-development. However, students must be careful or else they may put themselves in situations that could harm their financial future. Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York offers the following tips on the most common scams targeted at students:

college students

These are some of the most common scams to affect college students.

  • Roommate/rental scheme. Beware of roommates who are out of the country but can provide rent through a money order. The amount received will be higher than what was requested. You will be asked to cash it and wire the rest of the money back. This is an overpayment scam.

  • Credit cards. It’s good to build credit, but it’s more important to maintain a good credit score. Look for the best interest rate and be sure to pay on time.

  • Employment. Remember our advice about fake job offers? It still applies here. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” No job will offer high pay for no experience. Other signs include an interview in a hotel lobby or having to sign a contract on the spot.

  • Scholarships/grants. Scholarship-finding services “guarantee” that they can find you extra scholarships or grants. However, most financial aid comes from the federal government or the school itself. Check out for more information.

  • Safeguard your identity. Keep your personal information, including driver’s license, student ID, debit cards, credit cards, and bank information in a safe place. Never carry your Social Security card with you. Avoid online solicitations, emails, social media sites, or phone calls asking for your personal information. Never give out personal information to anyone you don’t know.

  • Online shopping. Many students shop online for the convenience, but if a website wants your payment through a wire transfer or a prepaid credit card instead of a credit card, it’s a red flag. Make sure you have the company’s address and be sure to see that it’s a physical location (not a P.O. box).

  • Trial offers. Read all of the information about a trial offer before saying yes. Many people don’t know the cost associated with the products or subscription after the free trial is over.

  • Be careful with downloads. It can be tempting to download textbooks, music, and other media for free. But we know that sometimes those files may contain malware that will either steal your information or lock you out of your computer. Be wary of any free downloads!


Aug 10

Disney clickbait pops up again

Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York is getting reports again of Disney clickbait on Facebook. Scammers take advantage of well-known brand names in order to gather your personal information or access to your accounts and devices. Facebook has recently taken steps to cut back on the amount of clickbait that shows up in your News Feed. If the post falls into one of two clickbait categories, Facebook will limit the reach of the post.

In the meantime, keep this advice in mind to spot clickbait.

Disney clickbait

Notice the URL in this post has nothing to do with Disney – a red flag

Look at the page title. This page is not official because it does not have the blue checkmark. A blue checkmark signifies that Facebook has been verified. The real Walt Disney World page has over 15 million fans.

Poor spelling/grammar. Scammy posts often feature spelling, capitalization, and grammar mistakes.

Too good to be true. Disney is a wealthy company, but it’s unlikely they could afford to give away 8,000 free park tickets and $4,000,00 in prize money. The scammer’s goal is to get your personal information or access to your devices and accounts.

Disney clickbait

Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York offers the following tips to avoid being caught by clickbait:

Don’t fall for it. Stay away if it sounds too good to be true.

Check the link before you click. Hover over the link to see where the link is taking you. If you don’t recognize it, don’t open it.

Report scam posts on Facebook here.

Jul 27

Fake email trying to take advantage of Pokemon GO players

Did you get an email from Pokemon GO…well, it’s a scam. Scammers are trying to take advantage of players of the popular game. The latest version is a phishing email that tries to fool players into thinking they need to pay for the game.

Email scams are showing up in Pokemon Go user's inboxes

Email scams are showing up in Pokemon Go user’s inboxes

How the scam works 

You receive an email which reads “due to the overwhelming response to our new Pokémon GO app and the need for more powerful servers we can no longer afford to keep your account as free. The developers are now charging $12.99 a month, and your account will be frozen if you don’t upgrade.”

The email urges you to click a link and log into the app store and purchase the “full version.” Don’t do it! The log-in form isn’t run by an official app store or Ninatic Labs, the game’s developers. It’s on a third party site, and it is a way to steal users’ passwords.

Be careful when playing Pokemon Go

Be careful when playing Pokemon Go

This is not the only Pokémon GO scam. Before the app launched, scammers fooled victims with the promise of getting early beta test access to the game. Then, a fake version of the game appeared in some app stores. As long as the app stays popular, scammers will devise new ways to fool players.

BBB offers the following advice:

  • Be wary of unexpected emails that contain links or attachments. Do not click on links or open files from unfamiliar senders.

  • Check the reply email address. One easy way to spot an email scam is to look at the reply email. The address should be on a company domain, such as “”

  • Don’t believe what you see. Just because an email looks real it doesn’t mean it is. Scammers can fake anything from a company logo to the “sent” address.

  • Is this a normal contact method? Be suspicious if you suddenly start getting email or text messages without ever “opting in” to it.

  • Be cautious of generic emails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in the message. Be careful with emails from companies you never do business with.

More about the newest scam here. 

Jul 12

5 things to be aware of while playing Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO, an online game, is all the rage across the country. It is the most downloaded phone app in the U.S. It uses mapping software to create a virtual reality game. It gets people out and about in their neighborhoods to “catch” the game characters as they pop up on phone screens from various locations.

As with any viral trend, Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York is getting a lot of questions about the app.

A few security concerns came up. First, online reports claimed that the app accessed people’s Google accounts. Recently, a Huffington Post article showed only Google basic information was accessed by the app.

Make sure you remember the 5 things!

Make sure you remember the 5 things!

Another security concern? The threat of malware found in a version of Pokemon GO.

BBB advice: Only download apps from the store that works for your device. While you may think it is easy to download it from an email, chances are that could damage your device or try to steal your information.

Click here for BBB’s 5 things you need to know about Pokemon GO. 

Jul 12

Beware of summer employment scams

Summertime means some people are out looking for a part time job before school starts again, or they are looking to supplement their income with an additional job. Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York wants everyone to be aware of employment scams, especially this time of year.

BBB’s Scam Tracker shows several job scams, mostly “work from home” schemes. One person said they received an offer to be a mystery shopper who would be paid $198 for each survey they completed. This person didn’t fall for the scam; what tipped her off was all of the misspelled words in the email.

employment scams

Don’t let employment scams fool you

Scammers find their victims through email and job sites, whether by posting a “position” or reaching out directly to the person. Common signs of scam job offers are flexible hours or the ability to work from home. The position usually pays well for little work and the name of the company may be made up or similar to a well-known company. What we’ve also found is that the scammers are not even in this country.

Be sure to look at the contact information in the posting. If asked to apply by email, check that the address listed is on the company’s domain (, Also, look at the website of the company. A real website has an “S” in the URL (https) which shows that it is secure. Unsecured websites put not only your computer but also your personal information at risk.

Ask yourself these questions when job searching:

  • Is this company real? – Compare the contact information in the offer to the information listed on the company’s website. Confirm the job opening by getting in touch with the company. You can also check the company’s profile on – it will tell you the type of business and its reputation.

  • Are we moving too fast? – A business will not ask you for any personal information before you are hired. This includes your home address, Social Security number, or bank accounts.

  • Where’s my interview? – Business will rarely make hiring decisions over the phone without a formal interview. An on-the-spot offer could be a sign of trouble.

  • Is this realistic? – If the job requires no experience and offers decent pay for few hours and easy work, that’s a red flag. Common titles in employment scams include secret shopper, caregiver, or customer service representative.

Advice for students: Work with the career center at your school to avoid falling for employment scams. Scams can be reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker.

Jul 08

Watch out for Mega Millions lottery scams

With a huge “Mega Millions” lottery jackpot on the line this weekend, Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York warns people to know that scammers could be around the corner trying to take advantage of the situation to trick people into thinking they are winners.


If free money seems too good to be true…

You can get the winning numbers online or from the TV.  Scammers reach out to potential victims via email, telephone, and snail mail to “inform” them of a smaller prize. Lottery scams were among the Top Ten Scams of 2015 as reported to BBB Scam Tracker.

How the lottery scam works:

Scammers will target people, asking them to pay “taxes” or other fees before they can claim their “winnings.” Once payment is received, there is no prize and the scammers are nowhere to be found.

You have to play the lottery to win the lottery, don't believe emails or calls saying you won

You have to play the lottery to win the lottery, don’t believe emails or calls saying you won!

In another version, a letter comes letting the person know they won a prize. Included is a check to cover the taxes on the winnings. The person is told to deposit that check into their bank account and then send the money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card, which can’t be traced. The lottery check is a fake. It bounces and we all know how the rest goes.

Tips to avoid a lottery scam:

Don’t pay up to claim your prize. In order to receive a prize, don’t pay money or buy products. Common red flags include a request to send money via wire, prepaid debit card, gift card or other unusual forms of payment.

Be wary of emails. You won’t get an email from a state-run lottery or sweepstakes company about a prize.

You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter. You need to buy a ticket or complete an application to participate in a contest or lottery. Be very careful if someone says you are a winner for a contest you never entered.

Verify the details, but not by using the sources from scammers. Don’t use the phone number, email, address, or website the scammer gives you.

Check with BBB. Call or check out our Scam Tracker if you have concerns.

Jun 29

Live tweeting recap from our #cybersecurity event

Cyber security is an important part of any business. This week, Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York, Niagara County Small Business Development Center, Niagara USA Chamber, Senator Rob Ortt in partnership with Congressman Chris Collins hosted an event for local businesses.

Thank you to our presenters: AT&T, Digits, LLC, law enforcement, Lawley and Lincoln Archive.

The facts:
1. 60 percent of businesses that are a victim of a data breach will go out of business after six months.
2. A cyber attack could cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars.
3. Hackers could be in your computers for months before they are detected.
4 Hackers are looking for personally identifiable information, or PII.

If your company experiences a breach, assess the situation:
1. How did they get in?
2. What were they after?
3. What did they take?

For more information on cybersecurity, visit


Jun 23

Tickets in demand for 2016 NHL draft

With the NHL draft in Buffalo this weekend, hockey fans from all over the country are in town, hoping to see their favorite team draft the next NHL superstar. With limited tickets the demand is high, so high in fact those tickets sold out in less than a minute. Many fans are now turning to other sources to be able to attend.

Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York is reminding hockey fans to make sure to verify that the tickets they purchase for draft events are real. Tickets for the first round are being resold on the secondary market for more than five times the original price. Sellers are taking advantage of the demand and exclusivity of this event.


Fans hope to cheer their team’s choice at the 2016 NHL Draft.

BBB of Upstate New York has tips to make sure your tickets are the real thing:

Verify the seats are real. Always ask for a section, row, and seat number to check the location and avoid seats that do not exist.

Pay with a credit card. This way, you have some recourse if the tickets are not as promised. Do not use cash; there is little to no way of getting your money back if the tickets are fake.

Know the difference between a ticket broker and a ticket scalper. A ticket broker is a legitimate and accredited re-seller while a ticket scalper is an unregulated and unlicensed ticket seller.

Don’t give too much personal information. It’s important to never provide sensitive information such as your Social Security number or financial data. Confirm the name and address of the business before you purchase, especially if you are buying from a ticket broker or third-party website.

Report any suspected ticket scams to local law enforcement and to BBB’s Scam Tracker so that others can be warned as well.


Jun 15

Avoid door-to-door contractors this summer

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is how scammers posing as door-to-door contractors operate.

Be wary of contractors at your door!

Be wary of contractors at your door!

Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York’s Scam Tracker had a report from a man who had issues with his driveway, after seeing the contractor at his neighbor’s house. He asked for company for a price to fix his own driveway. The job was completed for $7,000. Weeks later, he said plants began to sprout between cracks in the asphalt. This year, the concrete began to heave and more plants appeared. The phone number on the invoice was disconnected. The paving company was in the news last year by the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office for preying on elderly people in the area.

Door-to-door scams often have this MO: A person shows up at your door, offering to to fix something they “noticed while passing through the neighborhood,” either a roof, a driveway, etc.  If you agree to the work, they will start, and suddenly be out of the stuff they need to finish. They then promise to come back the next day…but never return. The customer is left with an incomplete project. Any savings are lost when a second contractor has to come in finish or re-do the job the right way.

Follow BBB’s tips to avoid getting scammed at your door:

  • Avoid high-pressure sales. A legitimate business will give you time to check licensing and background information. Call your city or town municipality or visit New York State online to confirm the contractor or contractors are in good standing.

  • Do your research. BBB recommends you get three estimates from reputable contractors for your project. BBB Business Reviews will show if the contractor has had complaints and how the complaints were resolved. Accredited Businesses have agreed to resolve any complaints filed and to uphold BBB Standards of Trust.

  • Use the 3-3-3 rule.  BBB’s 3-3-3 rule explains how to break up the payments: pay one third up front, one third at a milestone mark (half-way) and one third at the completion of the project. Never pay up front and don’t pay with cash. Instead, pay by credit card. Banks offer protection for credit card purchases. There is no way to track cash payments.

  • Get a contract. Trustworthy contractors will draw up a contract with a description of materials, labor, start and completion dates, company name, local address and telephone number.

  • You have three days to reconsider. Keep in mind that the three-day cooling off rule applies to most home repair contracts. You may decide to cancel the contract by midnight of the third day, including Saturdays. Make sure the contract has details about how to cancel and send all correspondence by certified mail as proof that you followed the cancellation requirements.

  • If you feel threatened, call the police. Never let a door-to-door salesperson in your home.

  • Report it. BBB’s Scam Tracker allows people to report solicitations and find out more about other scams across the country.

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