For Immediate Release - May 15, 2012

Consumer Affairs Fictional Websites Warn of Cyber Crime

Too-Good-to-Be-True Websites Educate Unsuspecting Internet Users

BOSTON - May 15, 2012 -- The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation today announced the creation of several fictional websites that warn internet users of the increasing amount of scams across cyberspace and how to avoid becoming a victim.

The websites - which can be found at http://topmassachusettsdeals.com/ - display offers ranging from free trips to work-at-home deals to foreclosure and debt relief. When web users click to apply for a service or purchase a deal, they are directed to an educational page that warns about similar scams.

"The Internet allows cyber criminals to get into your living room without even being in the country," said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "Every year consumers lose millions and millions of dollars to cyber-crooks in addition to something more important than money - their personal identity."

The sites were developed as a tool to educate consumers about the dangers of careless cyber shopping and to provide consumers with educational information about where to actually find the help they are seeking. The websites are created based on typical scams that are all too common on the internet. These website offers of immediate weight loss, work-at-home schemes and debt relief deliver nothing in return for consumers’ money. Often these scams result in identity theft, credit card theft or other fraud.

"Young people in particular need to remember that there are internet con men who work night and day to figure out how to separate a web surfer from their credit card number," said Anthony. "Only complete financial transactions with businesses that you know are trustworthy."

Hundreds of blogs and websites have posted links to the individual pages to help promote the fake website campaign. The pages, which all have the word "Massachusetts" in their headers, went active at the end of December 2011 and have received nearly 2,000 hits. 38 percent of all hits came from Massachusetts consumers, with many consumers from California and New York visiting the site as well.

The loan modification and work-at-home scam sites were most popular overall. The ModExperts site guarantees a loan modification for all clients, promising lower monthly payments and interest rates. The site boasts the "special relationships with banks that allows us to speed up the approval process."

The Envelope Elf site advertises a "risk-free kit" that can show work-at-home employees how to make $500 within their first 10 hours of work. Consumers just have to purchase the kit for $24.99, which comes with "over 50 leads, for immediate envelope stuffing opportunities." 

The websites include resources to consult if a consumer has become a victim of a scam, as well as legitimate services related to the specific topic.

Each of the sites features the follow tips:

  • Know who you are dealing with. Before providing personal or financial information, check out the company through your local Better Business Bureau to see if it is legitimate or has any complaints filed against it.
  • Get everything in writing. Ensure that you have written and signed documentation of all promises being made by the company.
  • Know what you are signing. Make sure to read and clearly understand everything you sign. Do not sign any documents with blank spaces or errors.
  • Know what you are paying, and what you are paying for. If you are unsure why you are making a payment, or what service that payment is going toward, seek help.
  • Do not give out personal or financial information, especially for services you should be receiving for free.
  • Read and understand a company’s privacy policy before signing up for any offers.

The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, Consumer Connections, and on Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.