AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you’re looking for a new place to rent, beware. Scammers are preying on people here in Austin, and they can be pretty convincing.
“We were so excited. It came with a dog door, a guest house and everything,” said Michelle Deloach, who had been looking for a place to rent in Austin for weeks. “Things in Austin go like that, so we thought, ‘We love this house, let’s jump on it.’”
The home was listed on Zillow and after communicating by email with who she thought was the owner she was ready to move in.
“We sent over the deposit and the dog deposit and first months rent,” said Deloach. “It all added up to be $ 5,200.”
Everything seemed perfect, but when she went to meet the owner at the property to pick up the key, the owner never showed up or responded to her.
“This is the real owner’s name, but clearly he just forged it,” Deloach said, as she pointed out a rental agreement that was set up between her and the scammer.
When asked for comment and an explanation on why something like this could happen, Zillow responded with this statement:
Zillow goes to great lengths to police activity and fully informs our users of the existence of scams and how to protect themselves. Our customer support team monitors activity on the site in a number of different ways and if a rental listing is found to be fraudulent, it is immediately removed from Zillow. Zillow has a “Beware of scams and other internet fraud” page on the site, telling users to look out for red flags like requests for wire transfers and long-distance inquiries, and directing them to our fraud and scams page, which provides valuable information about how to avoid fraudulent listings.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says this is a growing trend and is happening more and more, especially in areas like Austin where many people are moving.
“It is prevalent,” said Jason Meza, the BBB’s regional director. “It should be on the top of every mind for everyone looking for a rental right now.”
Meza says you should always be vigilant, and if something looks too good to be true, it might be a scam.
Most scams involve a request to wire funds. Do not wire funds to anyone you haven’t met personally. Scammers create convincing reasons why they need to deal remotely. Likewise, do not accept wire funds that you did not initiate.
Now down thousands of dollars and with no place to go for the time being, Deloach hopes her story will help others not get scammed.
“What was supposed to be an exciting time has now become a huge nightmare,” she said.
Deloach filed a police report and reached out to the BBB to report the scam.
Author: Nabil Remadna
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin
Not all scientific research can be serious, impactful work. Some of it is just for the sake of knowledge. And it was in the pursuit of knowledge that a cat named Stinky Valium was presented with three potential spots to sit.
His options: a square outline, an illusory “square” made of four Pac-Man-like shapes, and the same Pac-Man shapes that didn’t form a square illusion. The test: Would Stinky Valium prefer to sit inside one of the squares?
He and eight other cats with less interesting names were part of a citizen science study designed to test to what degree cats prefer to sit inside boxes, no matter how illusory. The inspiration for the study came from an online phenomenon: people putting tape down on their floor in the shape of a square and recording their cats sitting inside the squares. See, if the internet knows one thing about cats, it’s that if they fits, they sits. That is to say, cats love to squeeze into boxes—generally speaking, the smaller, the better. The behavioral pattern is borne out of an instinct for tight, enclosed spaces, which are often safe spots for a small feline. A hidey hole is their preference, but a cardboard box will suffice, even if the sides are low, and in lieu of a box they’ll accept a version made of tape or paper.
This new research, published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, shows that they’ll even go for a square that’s not really there: a Kanizsa square illusion. Humans and some other animals, including cats, will impose an imaginary square that exists inside the four Pac-Man-like shapes that form the “corners” of the “square.” This ability isn’t universal—it required a study to prove that cats could see the illusion in the first place, and babies younger than about four months don’t seem to see it.
The cats went for the Kanizsa square just as often as the full square outline, and more than the control (the Pac-Man shapes reversed).
Normally, this kind of experiment would be conducted in a laboratory setting. But the pandemic offered a unique opportunity to have volunteers do the activity in their own homes. Though that makes for a less controlled experiment (which the researchers note will need to be done at some point), this citizen science approach did allow for the cats to behave as normally as possible. Cats, much more so than dogs, dislike unfamiliar settings and tend to behave differently in the lab than they do on their home turf.
But there was one major challenge to going the citizen science route: More than 500 people volunteered for the study, but only 30 completed all of the trials required. And of those, only nine cats actually selected any of the stimuli, whether because there was something more interesting going on or because the squares just weren’t intriguing enough. A lab setting might have mitigated some of those issues.
Research like this might seem silly—and to some degree it is—but it’s also an important part of studying cat cognition. On its own, this study might not contribute a huge amount to our understanding. Over time, though, it will become part of the body of knowledge on cat behavior.
In the case of this victim, the bogus app was for a Hong Kong based trading and investment company called Goldenway Group – with download links for either iOS or Android.
Scammers then guided the victim through the installation process, encouraging them to purchase cryptocurrency and transfer it into their wallet.
When the victim later asked for the virtual currency to be transferred back the scammer made excuses, before blocking the victim’s account.
But this one app was just the tip of the iceberg. Sophos went on to say: “As we investigated the fraudulent Goldenway app, we discovered that the scheme was much more wide-ranging. We found hundreds of fake trading apps being pushed through the same infrastructure, each disguised to look like the official trading apps of different financial organisations.”
Sophos went on to explain that some of the fake apps they investigated were design to have a UI that was just like their legitimate counterparts.
The largest Internet providers in the US funded a campaign that generated “8.5 million fake comments” to the Federal Communications Commission as part of the ISPs’ fight against net neutrality rules during the Trump administration, according to a report issued Thursday by New York state attorney general Letitia James.
Nearly 18 million out of 22 million comments were fabricated, including both pro- and anti-net-neutrality submissions, the report said. One 19-year-old submitted 7.7 million pro-net-neutrality comments under fake, randomly generated names. But the astroturfing effort funded by the broadband industry stood out because it used real people’s names without their consent, with third-party firms hired by the industry faking consent records, the report said.
The New York Attorney General’s Office began its investigation in 2017 and said it faced stonewalling from then FCC chair Ajit Pai, who refused requests for evidence. But after a years-long process of obtaining and analyzing “tens of thousands of internal emails, planning documents, bank records, invoices, and data comprising hundreds of millions of records,” the office said it “found that millions of fake comments were submitted through a secret campaign, funded by the country’s largest broadband companies, to manufacture support for the repeal of existing net neutrality rules using lead generators.”
It was clear before Pai completed the repeal in December 2017 that millions of people—including dead people—were impersonated in net neutrality comments. Even industry-funded research found that 98.5 percent of genuine comments opposed Pai’s deregulatory plan. But Thursday’s report reveals more details about how many comments were fake and how the broadband industry was involved.
“The broadband industry could not, in fact, rely on grassroots support for its campaign because the public overwhelmingly supported robust net neutrality rules,” the report noted. “So the broadband industry tried to manufacture support for repeal by hiring companies to generate comments for a fee.”
The report said the industry campaign was run through Broadband for America (BFA), an umbrella group that includes Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Cox, and CenturyLink. Broadband for America also includes three trade groups, namely CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry; NCTA–The Internet & Television Association; and the Telecommunications Industry Association. Verizon isn’t listed as a Broadband for America member, but it is part of the CTIA.
“BFA hid its role in the campaign by recruiting anti-regulation advocacy groups—unrelated to the broadband industry—to serve as the campaign’s public faces,” the AG report said.
The “primary funders” of Broadband for America’s anti-net-neutrality campaign “included an industry trade group and three companies that are among the biggest players in the United States internet, phone, and cable market, with more than 65 million American subscribers among them and a combined market value of approximately half a trillion dollars,” the report said.
Comcast, Charter, and AT&T are the biggest members of Broadband for America. Comcast has 31.1 million residential customers in the broadband, phone, and TV categories combined. Charter has 29.4 million such customers. AT&T has 14.1 million internet customers and 15.9 million TV customers, but it’s not clear how much overlap there is between those two categories given that many DirecTV users don’t live in AT&T’s wireline territory.
The report mentions Comcast, Charter, and AT&T specifically without naming other providers. The sole mention of those ISPs came in a sentence saying, “Net neutrality refers to the principle that the companies that deliver internet service to your home, business, and mobile phone, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Charter (often referred to as internet service providers, ISPs, or broadband providers), should not discriminate among content on the internet.”
With broadband companies having used third-party vendors to conduct the campaign, the Attorney General’s Office said it found no evidence that ISPs themselves “had direct knowledge” of the fraudulent behavior. The broadband companies spent $ 8.2 million on their anti-net-neutrality campaign, including $ 4.2 million to submit the 8.5 million comments to the FCC and a half-million letters to Congress, the report said.
Author: Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica
This post originally appeared on Business Latest
CLEMENTS, Calif. (AP) — The owner of a Northern California bar was arrested on suspicion of selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to several undercover state agents for $ 20 each.
After receiving a tip, undercover agents with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control went to Old Corner Saloon in the city of Clements several times in April and bought fake laminated vaccination cards, officials said.
They returned to the small-town bar this week and saw others buy the phony cards and arrested the bar’s owner, supervising agent Luke Blehm told Sacramento news station KTXL-TV.
It wasn’t immediately known if the bar owner, Todd Anderson, has an attorney who can speak on his behalf. No one answered the phone at the bar Friday.
“He was in possession of a number of other unfilled-out COVID-19 vaccination cards, a laminating machine, laminate and several other cards that were finished. And it appears that they were waiting to be given to people,” Blehm said.
Blehm said it appears it’s the first such arrest in California.
“That we know of, this is the only case that’s ever been done — even nationwide possibly,” he told the station.
Anderson was charged with three felonies, including identity theft, forging government documents and carrying an unregistered firearm. He also was charged with falsifying medical records, a misdemeanor.
State officials also are investigating an employee of Anderson’s who may be connected to the cards.
Vaccination cards are being used as a pass for people to attend large gatherings. The European Union is considering allowing tourists who can prove they have been vaccinated.
In California, officials have allowed venue operators to offer easier access to those with proof of vaccination. That includes preferential access to large events like concerts and sporting events and allowing venues to create vaccinated-only sections where social distancing requirements are not as strict.
Scam artists work in all kinds of ways to trick people out of their money, including targeting eager holidaymakers. Whether it’s an international holiday or a UK staycation, experts from Metro Bank are urging Britons to be aware of how scams might catch them out.
According to the bank, when UK holidays resumed last year, a number of scams sprung up across the internet.
These include those targeting hopeful holiday homeowners.
“Last year when the Government announced the end of the first lockdown, camper van rental scams soared as holidaymakers looked for independent safe travel in a Covid environment, and scammers capitalised on this by taking substantial deposits for camper vans that did not exist,” explained a report from Metro Bank.
It turns out, some of these holiday scams are most prevalent on social media sites.
“The most common scam is where consumers see a fake caravan/holiday home/camper van/ motorhome listing advertised on social media or any other free ad site.
“When they enquire about available dates and rental prices, the ‘owner’ will ask for deposit payments – payments that they want to be paid quickly and in very specific ways to ensure they bypass any built-in security protections.”
In a bid to help consumers “spot and avoid” these fake holiday listings, Metro Bank has put together some handy tips.
“Scams can be seasonal and we want the public to be more aware of this so they can spot and avoid these scams,” explained Adam Speakman, head of fraud and investigations at Metro Bank.
“There are so many different types of scams circulating from receiving a message about a failed parcel delivery, fake holiday sites, through to large investment scams. The principle to stop all of these is the same, don’t be pressured to act hastily.
“Take five and stop for a moment.
“Maybe even call family or friends to double-check if this seems genuine before taking any action.
“Always trust your gut feel, if there is any doubt – it will usually be a scam.”
Mr Speakman added: “Our key advice for any scam is – if you are being pressured to act quickly, move funds or share passwords you need to question and investigate further in case you are being scammed.”
Though caravan holiday scams have been on the up, holiday scams can occur for any type of vacation – be that at home or abroad.
The experts warn holidaymakers that if something looks “too good to be true” that could well be the case.
Holidaymakers should always book using “reputable online booking companies” and exercise caution including “checking out their reviews.”
If booking with an airline, Metro Bank recommends booking “directly with a reputable airline provider” and even going as far as to check whether or not the operator is a “member of a trade body such as ABTA or ATOL.”
Holidaymakers can stay financially protected by using a “credit card or recognised merchant service such as PayPal” to pay their deposit.
“Criminals may use websites that appear genuine; check for subtle changes/errors in URL, genuine websites will have secure payment channels,” explained the Metro Bank report.
“Check that the locked padlock or unbroken key symbol is showing in your browser and that the website that you are visiting has ‘https’ at the beginning. Although this doesn’t prove that the website is selling genuine tickets, it makes sure the website is secure.
“If you are being encouraged to leave a recognised selling platform to complete the purchase, you may forfeit your buyer protection from that site – don’t do it just to save money on fees.”
Furthermore, when booking hotels it is a good idea to make sure the property exists.
“Try using Google Street View to check out the property and area,” advised the experts.
“Using Google Images will let you see if the photos of the interior have been used elsewhere on the internet for other properties indicating it is a potential scam.”
Whether booking a flight, UK holiday home, or luxury apartment abroad, there is one thing customers should always bear in mind.
The expert concluded: “Be wary of sharing any personal information.
“Never give bank details or personal information such as passwords or PINs, or transfer money quickly – especially if you are being put under pressure to do so.”
Is there a way to tell if your COVID-19 face mask is fake or counterfeit? A Houston doctor shared simple ways to tell if your mask is legit and shot down other tests that have been circulating on the internet.Millions of counterfeit masks have been seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials since the start of the pandemic, and the number has skyrocketed in 2021.
Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with UTHealth, said the N95 mask is certified and tested in the U.S. Meanwhile, the KN95 mask is certified by the Chinese government. Chang said we don’t know how well those masks are being tested and cleared before being sold, making them easy to counterfeit.
Not only are customers paying more money, but they expect better protection so it becomes an issue if the masks turn out counterfeit.
Here are some red flags you can look for:
If manufacturers claim they have an FDA certification, this is likely a counterfeit because the FDA will never certify a mask. They can only “approve” or “clear” a mask
If KN95 manufacturer claims they are certified in the U.S. but don’t appear on the NIOSH website
If the mask loops behind your ears
“Anybody that says they are selling a KN95 mask and it has ear loops and not bands when they go around your head, that’s probably not going to work as a KN95. That really tight fit is really important, so ear loop masks are just never going to give you that fit,” Chang said.
Chang walked through three of the most common tests found online that promise to show if your mask is legitimate in 10 minutes or less. He told ABC13 whether or not they actually work.
Test No. 1
You will need a lighter for this test.
Put your face mask on
Hold and activate a lighter six inches from your mouth
Try to extinguish the flame by blowing on it
“I actually did this test with my daughter for her science project, and it turns out almost any kind of face covering will block you from blowing out a candle or a lighter that’s six inches from your face,” Dr. Chang said.
Test No. 2
You will need Sweet N’ Low for this test.
Put your face mask on
Empty the contents of a pack of Sweet N’ Low on a spoon or flat surface
Try sniffing with the mask on and the mask off, noting any difference
If it’s a certified mask, you will be able to catch the fragrance but only faintly.
“It’s based on a sound principle because when we do tests in the hospital, we put on the mask, we have to make sure it fits really tightly. Then we try to see if we can taste or smell this chemical,” Chang said.
Test No. 3
You will need water for this test.
Hold your face mask by the elastic bands, with the inside of the mask facing up
Fill the mask with water
If it’s a certified mask, it will cup the water with zero leakage.
“I am pretty sure all of those would hold water for 10 seconds, and so again, none of these suggested tests are going to tell you whether these are like KN95 things. Obviously if it fails any one of these tests, that’s clearly not a KN95 mask, but even if it passes all three it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s performing to KN95 standards,” Dr. Chang said.