BBB Investigation: Virtual Vehicle Vendor Scams - Better Business Bureau

BBB Investigation: Virtual Vehicle Vendor Scams - Better Business Bureau


BBB Investigation: Virtual Vehicle Vendor Scams - Better Business Bureau

Posted: 24 Sep 2020 08:02 AM PDT

PDF of this study

I. Millions of dollars lost to nonexistent cars and other vehicles sold online

Nearly every day, Better Business Bureau (BBB) hears from people across the U.S. and Canada who find a car or other vehicle at an online site, agree to buy it, send thousands of dollars to someone they don't know and then wait. No vehicle ever arrives. The car doesn't exist or was advertised elsewhere months or years ago. Scammers simply post pictures and descriptions of cars used in other ads, and then ask interested buyers to wire money to supposed third-party escrow businesses operated by the scammers. It is nearly impossible to get money back.

Scams involving motorized vehicles have flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there has been a reported surge in overall used car sales. Many buyers ask to inspect the car or to meet the seller in person, but scammers often use COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid meeting, which makes this type of fraud more successful.

Hallmarks of a vehicle escrow scam:

  • The price of the vehicle for sale is almost always far below market value.
  • To justify selling the car quickly at a low price, the bogus seller may claim to be deploying overseas, going through a divorce or suffering the loss of a husband or son who owned the car, which brings painful memories.
  • Sellers never meet buyers in person nor allow the buyer to see the actual vehicle.
  • Bogus sellers claim it is safe for interested buyers to send money. They assert that the transaction is protected by eBay Motors or an independent third party shipping company that will hold the funds in escrow until the buyer receives and approves the vehicle. In reality, eBay's protections only apply to items where the transaction is all on its platform. Crooks regularly use eBay's name, even sending fake invoices with the company's letterhead or sending emails that appear to be from the company.

BBB has been active in identifying, investigating and warning consumers about fake shipping and escrow companies, which claim to be located in many towns across the U.S. and Canada.

Investigations suggest these scams are operated by Romanian organized crime gangs. Criminal authorities in both the U.S. and Europe have arrested dozens of the scammers, responsible for millions of dollars in losses, but this scam continues to operate.

This study explores the scope of this scam, who it affects, the elements of the fraud, the role BBB plays in combating it, and major law enforcement actions to fight it.

II. How common are car buying scams, and who are the victims?

Available data suggest fake online vehicle sale scams may be increasing. It is difficult to determine the precise size and scope of this type of fraud, but the criminal cases to date reflect millions of dollars in losses. Neither the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), nor BBB track this type of fraud as a separate complaint category, though the Canadian Antifraud Centre does.  However, In May 2018, the FBI reported that between May 2014 and December 2017, the IC3 received 26,967 complaints with losses of $57 million.

In Canada, the Canadian Antifraud Centre received 1386 complaints from 2017 to July 2020 with reported losses of nearly $3 million ($2,926,034), reflecting an average loss of $5,124.

While complaints to BBB about this scam may reach an all-time high in 2020, complaints may represent a fraction of the consumers who have encountered this scam. BBB receives thousands of inquiries each year about the bogus shipping and escrow companies from consumers who likely haven't filed complaints. Of the consumers filing Scam Tracker reports with BBB, 41% reported losing money.

 

Consumer Losses Reported to BBB

Year

BBB Scam Tracker reports, Consumer Complaints and Negative Reviews

Losses reported

2018

435    

$897,235

2019

315    

$829,867

2020 through 7/31

264    

$646,744

Projected 2020

452    

$1,108,704

The largest number of reports made to BBB Scam Tracker for this type of scam come from those 55-64 years of age.

Age Category

Count

 Percent of reports

18-24

86

9%

25-34

85

9%

35-44

142

14%

45-54

180

18%

55-64

201

20%

65+

181

18%

No age info provided

121

12%

Total

996

This fraud operates not only in the U.S. and Canada but is also very common in Europe and the United Kingdom. A recent article in the U.K. states that in July of 2020 alone the national fraud reporting service, Action Fraud, received 2094 complaints about this type of fraud, with losses of £2,137,160.

 III. Who are the scammers?

 Though other criminal gangs may be engaged in this fraud, almost all of those prosecuted in the U.S. and Europe are Romanians, though knowledgeable sources at AA419 and petscam.com tell BBB that there are other fraudsters in Cameroon engaged in similar scams.

Why Romania? An article in Wired Magazine examines how cyber fraud developed in that country following the end of communist rule. It seems to have developed early on in the town of Valcea. Soon people began making money by selling goods online that they did not really have. As the scams succeeded, the threat quickly grew with gang members located across Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

Law enforcement has recognized that this is organized crime. Different groups or cells provide specialized roles to make the scams work. Some post fake advertisements while others create fake websites. Some handle telephone calls or other communications with victims. One group may forge fake passports and other legal documents used for opening bank accounts. Still others may recruit money mules to receive the funds from victims. And some launder the money, making it difficult to trace back to the fraudsters.

The U.S. Embassy in Romania posted a warning about fraud emanating from that country, stating:

"Economic crime is a growing problem in Romania. Due to the high level of computer skills in this country cybercrimes [including internet fraud, credit card fraud, auction site fraud, and hacking/extortion schemes] are occurring on an increasing basis. American companies and citizens are very often the victims of this type of crime... It is important that you save any emails or documents that were generated as a result of the fraud. You should also notify the relevant credit card companies forthwith, and make immediate efforts to retrieve your goods or funds if they have not yet been delivered."

Another group that engages in offering nonexistent vehicles online are scammers centered in Cameroon, an African country that shares a border with Nigeria. These scammers are widely involved in selling fictitious puppies and other pets online, the subject of an earlier BBB study. Both petscams.com, which helps victims with that scam, and Artists Against 419 (AA419), a group of volunteers that track the activities of scammers, confirm that the same groups engage in car scams. A website called scam.directory collects examples of such frauds.

IV. How to recognize a car scam

 Several elements come together to create a convincing, elaborate con with different scammer cells playing a variety of roles.

A. Online advertisements

Car scammers lure prospective buyers with ads in high-traffic, online classified ads. These include:

Craigslist is one of the primary places where fake ads are placed. Craigslist is free and relatively easy to use. Those who want to post an ad simply go to the site for their area and open a free account. One simply has to enter a description of the vehicle, the price, upload a few photos and provide contact information. Craigslist is organized by city or region, allowing users to concentrate on a local area. But anyone can create an account, and they don't need to live in the city where the unit is advertised. It offers safety tips for those on its site.

Though not widely known, it is possible to search all of Craigslist. Sites that allow this include searchcraigslist.org. People can do a search for an interesting or unusual term used in the description of a vehicle or even search for the picture of the car. If the same car is advertised in many different locations, you can be sure it is a scam.

Examples of car scam ads can be found on the Craigslist.org website.

Kijiji is a similar online classified marketplace operating in Canada. Kijiji told BBB that bogus car sales are one of the major types of frauds they see, and they constantly work to keep fraud off of its platform. As with Craigslist, those posting items have to have an online account, and Kijiji tries to keep scammers from opening accounts through the use of algorithms and filters. If ads are in a high risk category (like cars) they may delay posting them until they can look at them more closely. Of the 1.3 or 1.4 million new posts they see every week, they delay about 10,000 posts, but find that only 1% (100) of those are scams. In addition, they take down scam ads that they identify, though they recognize that some scam ads will evade their efforts. Kijiji has warnings about car scams. The company strongly encourages the public to let them know about scam ads.

Facebook Marketplace also allows users to search for listings in particular areas. Facebook Marketplace told BBB that they proactively view listings for a wide range of scam behavior before they are listed, and when they get reports of scams, they investigate and take action. In addition, each car listing has a drop down box in the upper right hand corner allowing viewers to report it as a scam. Marketplace explains how to report a problematic listing and also offers tips on how to stay safe using its platform.

There may be dozens of other online places where people advertise cars and other vehicles. Autotrader warns users of car scams, as does CycleTrader.com. In addition, BBB has seen scam ads posted in local free shopping papers such as Pennysaver, which may not have the ability to do as much screening to remove ads from crooked entities. Despite screening efforts by eBay Motors, some scammers have managed to post some ads, tricking victims into moving off the eBay platform to pay and complete the transaction.

No matter what type of vehicle is posted for sale, the ads target buyers with too-good-to-be true prices and sad stories.

An explanation for the urgency to sell the vehicle may be given in the ad or later when the prospective buyer contacts the bogus seller. In reports to BBB, consumers cite three different reasons given by the seller who claims:

  • To be in the military and is set to soon deploy overseas
  • To have been recently divorced and now has a car they do not want
  • The car belonged to a husband or child who recently died and it brings back painful memories.

The seller always has an excuse for why they cannot meet the buyer in person or allow them to inspect the car, such as safety concerns related to the pandemic or having the vehicle in sealed storage with the shipper.

Paul lives in West Chicago, Illinois. In May 2018, he saw a 2016 Toyota Tacoma Pickup truck with a topper on it advertised for $2200 on Facebook Marketplace. He was intrigued, and emailed the "seller" who identified herself as Lacy Kennedy. She said the truck had belonged to her husband, who had died the previous month, and she wanted to get rid of it. She said the truck was being held at a Facebook secure storage site in Nebraska. Paul asked if he could go there and inspect it, but she said that was not possible. She told him that after he paid, it would be put on a flatbed truck and delivered to him in Illinois.

 To pay for the truck, the seller told Paul to go to Walmart, buy a Greendot MoneyPak and email her the numbers on the card. Paul's wife was concerned that this was a scam, so Paul just took a photo of the front of a Visa Gold card at the store and sent that to Lacy, asking when he could expect delivery. She told him that it didn't go through. At this point, Paul and his wife had done some research online and found scams using the exact same story as that provided by the seller, so they realized this was a scam. Paul called the BBB and filed a complaint so that other people would not be ripped off. They recently found the exact same photo of the truck still advertised for sale online at Facebook Marketplace.

B. Not just car or RV scams: it's motorcycles, boats, farm equipment, and ATVs, too

Although the fake ads most frequently offer cars for sale, there are also a large number of recreational vehicles (RVs) being advertised, likely in response to a surge in demand for RVs during the pandemic. BBB complaints also include motorcycles, golf carts, horse trailers, campers, boats, pontoon boats, jet skis, lawn tractors, skid steers, all-terrain vehicles (ATV's), and even food trucks offered for sale by scammers. For the sake of simplicity in this study, the term "car," may refer to other types of vehicles as well.

Consumers often tell BBB that the vehicle was in such good shape and the price was so low that they ignored red flags and acted quickly out of fear that someone else may beat them to the sale.

Ronald found a 1995 Winnebago Rialta advertised in a free weekly shopper newspaper in Branson, Missouri in May, 2018. He called the number in the ad and left a message. Two days later he got a text message saying he had to contact the seller's aunt, who could not talk by phone. Leisha Duggar, the "aunt," sent a link with interior pictures of the Winnebago. She claimed that she got the vehicle in a divorce settlement and had relocated to the Ozarks.

 She told Ronald that Missouri Auto Shippers in Springfield, Missouri was handling the transaction. She sent him an invoice by email to explain how the escrow transaction would work. She said he could not see the RV in person, but the invoice described how Missouri Auto Shippers would hold the money in escrow so Ronald could have seven days to inspect the RV and return it if he wasn't happy. Ronald was surprised that the payment instructions provided a phone number to call, and that the money had to be sent within two hours of getting the instructions.

 Ronald went to his bank to send the money. His banker said the same routing and account numbers were listed and the money was going to California, not Springfield. His banker told him this looked like a scam. When Ronald called for wiring instructions, he pointed out that the wire was not going to Springfield as expected and that this was a scam. The "shipper" hung up on him and Ronald filed a complaint with the BBB.

C. Payment through third parties

Cars and other vehicles offered by scammers tend to cost several thousand dollars, so credit cards usually are not an available alternative to paying. The scammers usually send people an invoice directing them to a supposed third party escrow and shipping service. The invoice usually specifies the payment method. Several years ago, at least one prosecution of this scam noted the widespread use of money transfer companies - Western Union and MoneyGram - to pay, but those methods do not appear to be common today.

Scammers may simply invent escrow and shipping companies. Scammers provide buyers with an invoice that has a link to the web site of a fake company that will supposedly handle these services. Victims believe that these are honest third parties and do not realize that their money is not being handled by a neutral intermediary but is instead going directly to scammers. Escrow.com provides information about how fraudulent escrow sites operate.

Scammers posing as shipping/escrow company employees frequently ask victims to make a bank-to-bank wire transfer. Law enforcement actions detail how scammers recruit "money mules" or "arrows," as some scammers call them, to open accounts using forged passports or stolen identity information in the account applications. As soon as money is wired into one of those accounts, it is promptly withdrawn and generally cannot be recovered.

Some scammers tell victims to buy eBay gift cards, available at many major retailers, but eBay does not recommend their use for vehicle purchases. According to the FBI: "Any time the seller would want you to purchase gift cards to pay for a vehicle, it is a scam – a hundred percent of the time."

Clifton lives and works in San Francisco. In May 2020, he found a 2004 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra for $1200. This was in his price range, so he sent an email to the seller.

She replied, saying:

"My name is Sylvia, I'm emailing you about 2004 Ford Mustang 2dr Conv SVT Cobra with an gas engine, manual transmission and only 60k miles. Never had or need any paint/body work done, garaged keep always, without any mechanical problems, tires and wheels are in great shape as well, electric is working perfectly. The engine on gas, runs very good and the manual transmission shifts perfectly. Has a clean and clear title in my name and there are no liens or loans on it. This car has been used by my husband who died 4 month ago. The price was reduced to $1,200 because I'm in a hurry to find a buyer. I need to sell it before the end of the month, when I will be leaving on military duty with my medical team out of the country for a year and do not want to store it. Hate to sell it but its not worth keeping insurance and paying storage fees for a year.Also, my daughter have another car so there's no use on keeping it. If you are interested reply to email.

Some details of the car:
Vehicle title - Clean
Transmission - Manual
Fuel type - Gasoline

I look forward to hearing from you,
Sgt. Sylvia Schumacher"

After he agreed to buy the car, he received an emailed invoice from support@vehicleprotection-plan.com that claimed to be from eBay and directed him to buy $1200 in eBay gift cards. He bought cards in amounts of $200-$500 each, took a photo of the numbers on the back and sent them by email as directed. They told him to expect the car in five days on a Sunday.

 Clifton then got another email from "eBay" the day before the car was to arrive, saying:

"The payment was authenticated.
Before we contact the seller to start the shipping process you must make the shipping insurance since is the first time you are using our services. All you have to do to have our insurance is to pay $1,000.00 using eBay Gift Card. You will have your money back $1,000.00 (fully refund) at the end of your 5 days of test driving period.

This is a one time payment. From the moment you will do that you will never be asked for this payment again.

Currently, this seller has a $5,000.00 deposit in an eBay managed purchase protection account. Transactions with this seller are covered by purchase protection against fraud and description errors. For your safety, this account was looked today, for 30 days time period. The seller is unable to withdraw any money from it, within this period. 
Should you need a refund for this transaction, the insured amount will be taken from the seller's purchase protection account and sent to you. The refund is sent to your bank account, or by check or money order. The way you are refunded is at your choice. You have 12 days from the above verification date to request a refund. Refund requests are processed within 3 days.

   Locate the nearest eBay Gift Card location Please be very careful to buy eBay Gift Card (as the picture from left) 
and NOT VISA or MASTERCARD / MAESTRO Prepaid cards.

  NOTE: Some stores may have a policy which does not allow you to buy more than one eBay Gift Card per day. Should you encounter this issue, feel free to visit multiple stores in your area to complete the payment !
Once you bought the eBay Gift Card and loaded the amount you need please reply with the photo of the receipt from the store and scratched backside of each eBay Gift Card to confirm your customs taxes payment"

He complied. They then asked him for more money for "customs fees" to get the car out of the State. Clifton realized something was wrong and he did not comply.

 When the car did not arrive, he called the "ebay customer support" number provided on the invoice. He told them that he recognized that this was a scam, threatening to report them for wire fraud, and they hung up on him. The number is now disconnected.

V. BBB's role in fighting car scams

BBB plays an important role in preventing fraud. Those who want to ensure that they are

dealing with an honest business should consult BBB.org to check out these companies in advance. In addition, BBB regularly investigates scam complaints, issues news releases,

and works with news media to warn about scams.

The escrow and shipping "businesses" described in this study mostly do not exist, though at times scammers impersonate real car dealerships or use the name of one that has gone out of business. When BBB learns of a purported escrow/shipping business supposedly in their area, they investigate. If they find the business does not exist, BBB often creates a Business Profile for these bogus businesses so consumers searching the internet can find out what has been reported to BBB about these scam businesses and may avoid becoming victims of them.

In March 2018, dozens of consumers from across the country began contacting the St. Louis BBB about vehicle shippers with websites that listed addresses primarily in nearby Springfield, Missouri. BBB found the addresses were for locations that did not exist or belonged to other businesses. In June 2018, the St. Louis BBB issued a warning to consumers and news media about the scam.

BBB investigators followed the vehicle scam activity by sharing reports from consumers and enlisting AA419.

Consumers described nearly identical stories, no matter which vehicle shipping company was involved. Consumers told BBB they found cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, boats, jet skis, semi-trucks and farm equipment at too-good-to-be-true prices ranging from $3,200 to $9,500, primarily on local Craigslists, Autotrader and local free print publications.

Potential buyers from across the country said they thought they were dealing with a local seller. But when they reached the seller, usually a woman, by phone, text or email, she told the buyer that the vehicle and paperwork were being stored at a shipping location in Springfield, Missouri, where she said she recently moved to be with family. She usually claimed her husband recently died, and she was selling the vehicle because it brought back painful memories. A few times, she said she was being deployed or going through divorce. She identified herself to consumers with at least 22 names, sometimes borrowing the names of actresses such as Michelle Williams, Glenda Jackson, Shirley Booth and Natalie Wood. The same residential address in Springfield was listed on invoices sent to consumers by the scammer.

Interested buyers were sent an invoice containing a link to the shipper's website and were instructed to wire money to the shipper's bank. The bogus shippers told buyers their money would be held safely in escrow while the shipper transported the vehicle to the potential buyer, who would have five days to evaluate the vehicle. If the buyer wasn't satisfied, the vehicle could be returned to the shipper, with all shipping fees paid by the seller. Potential buyers were given the name of a financial representative and asked to complete a bank-to-bank wire transfer.

Some consumers did not learn that the stories and websites were fake until the vehicles didn't show up.

Over 12 months, St. Louis BBB identified 30 bogus websites using the same or similar website templates, photos and descriptions. The newly formed websites were primarily registered through internet domain registrar Namecheap in Panama as well as by Cnobin Information Technology Limited. Since 2018, BBB St. Louis received 6779 inquiries about the bogus shipping companies and 78 complaints or negative reviews.

Around the same time consumers began contacting BBB in St. Louis, BBB in Omaha alerted consumers about reports of vehicle scams which used the same stories and website templates as those in Missouri. In the following months, dozens of similar bogus websites popped up online claiming to be located in areas served by BBBs in Minnesota and North Dakota; Nebraska, South Dakota; The Kansas Plains & SW Iowa; Denver/Boulder; Kansas City; San Jose & LA; Detroit & Eastern Michigan; New York; Central & Western MA and Northeastern CT; Northern Colorado and Wyoming; Greater Iowa, Quad Cities, and Siouxland Region; Northwest - Pacific; Chicago & Northern Illinois; Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT; Central Florida; New Hampshire; and Greater Maryland.

Throughout 2020, BBB noted a resurgence in vehicle scam reports and has issued news warnings in Wisconsin, Western Michigan, upstate New York, New York metro, Minnesota and elsewhere. BBB in SE Florida has tracked at least 39 fraudulent companies with 69 victims and losses of $866,000.

In June 2020, BBB in Omaha warned consumers about three different car scam operations supposedly located in their area. One was not actually located at either of two addresses listed on its website; a second used the name of a real local car dealer that does not sell cars online; and a third did not exist at the listed address and was not licensed to do business.

Recently, some car scammers have illegally used the BBB Accredited Business Seal on their bogus websites, implying that they were BBB Accredited Businesses. Clicking on the forged seal takes a consumer to a fake BBB Business Profile with fabricated information to make the business look good. BBB actively works to prevent this type of fraud by quickly identifying and shutting down such websites.

VI. Efforts by online advertisers and others to curb car fraud

Most of us recognize the risk of sending money to someone we've never met for items we've never seen in person - but of course that is exactly what we do regularly when shopping online. There have to be systems in place to protect buyers for people to feel safe engaging in online transactions. Amazon has protections against fraud, and by using a credit card in everyday transactions you can get a refund if problems arise.

Sites such as eBay recognize that safeguards need to be in place to prevent fraud and to make their platforms viable and trustworthy. Thus, eBay has been actively battling online fraud in Romania for some time, and has even sent employees to that country to assist law enforcement in combating it.

EBay has even more protection available for those buying vehicles at eBay Motors. The company has developed a Vehicle Buyer Protection Plan (VPP) to ensure safe transactions. They report that over 5 million vehicles have been sold safely through their system.

EBay's VPP provides up to $100,000 in coverage for situations where the vehicle is never delivered or there are other significant concerns, such as title problems or undisclosed damage. EBay partners with escrow.com, which holds the money for vehicle transactions and releases it to the seller only when the vehicle has been delivered and approved by the buyer. Many buyers pick up the car in person, but eBay partners with and recommends uShip for shipping cars. In addition, they partner with a service called Wegolook that will have someone examine the vehicle on your behalf, in person, before purchase.

Scammers recognize that people value this type of protection and often take advantage of the good reputation eBay has developed over the years. They often claim that purchases are covered by eBay's VPP even when they are not. To further this, they frequently send an email that impersonates eBay. eBay provides examples of scam invoices and other documents.

In addition, some scammers have even sent victims links to fake eBay sites where they can click "buy it now" to make a purchase. It is important to carefully check the URL for any site  that will redirect the victim to eBay to make sure it is real.

EBay notes that their VPP only applies when the entire transaction takes place on its site. Moreover, they note that any emails they send will appear in the buyer's "My eBay" box at their eBay account. The company has assisted law enforcement agencies investigating car scams, and if victims believe that eBay's name was used in scams they are encouraged to let the company know at car@ebay.com

Scammers may simply invent escrow and shipping companies. Scammers communicating with buyers provide them with an invoice that has a link to the web site of a fake company that will supposedly handle these services. Victims believe that these are honest third parties and do not realize that their money is not being handled by a neutral intermediary but is instead going directly to scammers. Escrow.com provides information about how fraudulent escrow sites operate.

In the U.K., a volunteer group called Buster Jack spends time identifying scammers selling recreational vehicles. They try to identify the bank accounts being used and provide those to law enforcement.

Melvin is retired from the Army and lives in Wichita Falls, Texas. In November 2019, he found a pickup truck on Facebook Marketplace that caught his eye. Advertised for only $1,000, Melvin estimated it could be worth $5,000 or $6,000. He sent an email to the "seller", Melissa Dobson, who said she was a nurse about to deploy overseas the following week. Since there was an Air Force Base nearby, the story sounded plausible to Melvin. When he asked why the price was so cheap, "Melissa" said the car had belonged to her deceased husband so she wanted to get rid of it. She told Melvin to buy five $200 eBay gift cards and she would tell him who to provide those to.

 Melvin went to the local CVS pharmacy and tried to buy the gift cards. The manager of the store refused to sell him the gift cards, telling him it sounded like a scam they had seen before. Melvin went to another retailer, who told him the same thing. He realized that this must be a scam, and reported it to the BBB.  He has since bought a different truck locally.

VII. Criminal law enforcement of car scams

Despite the difficulties of investigating and prosecuting frauds that operate from different countries, there have been significant efforts to battle this scam involving Romanian crime operations in the U.S. and Europe over the last ten years.

In July 2011, the Justice Department announced a major effort against this fraud. Over 100 people were arrested a for selling nonexistent cars, motorcycles and boats online. Victim losses were more than $10 million, much of it sent through Western Union and MoneyGram. Prosecutions occurred in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Eastern District of Missouri, and the Southern District of Florida.

In 2012, federal prosecutors undertook a similar effort, headed up by the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn, New York. Cars, motorcycles and boats were "sold" for prices ranging from $10,000 to $45,000. They were offered on eBay, Autotrader.com and CycleTrader.com. There were at least $3 million in losses. Thirteen people were indicted, including one from the U.K., one from Canada and another from the Czech Republic. Three people were extradited from Romania. Some members of the group designed and produced counterfeit passports that were then used to open the bank accounts which received money wired by victims.

In September 2013, federal authorities in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) announced criminal charges against a Romanian man for his role in selling nonexistent vehicles.

In 2014, police in London arrested two men and did a search of an identity theft factory involving a Romanian car fraud operation. Victims' money was wired to U.K. bank accounts and then transferred out of the country.

In 2016, Scotland Yard in London arrested three men who were not only selling nonexistent cars online but also operating a rental fraud, collecting money for vacation homes that were not actually available. They also operated a business email compromise fraud. Losses were more than £1 million.

In May 2017, Polish Police and Europol announced nine arrests of a gang advertising and taking payments for cars, construction and agricultural machinery but never delivering them. The group reportedly bought small businesses with a good reputation and used those to add credibility to their scheme.

In May 2018, Europol announced 33 arrests of a Romanian crime ring operating from Spain. Europol reports that the major operation was online car fraud, but the group was also engaged in business email compromise fraud and vacation rental fraud. The group was organized in cells across Europe, and scammed victims out of at least €8 million. Police discovered 700 bank accounts in Spain used in this fraud. They also discovered and busted a location that was counterfeiting documents.

Another major prosecution against organized crime gangs, this one employing the RICO statute, was announced in Kentucky in February 2019, and is ongoing. It was led by the Secret Service and the Kentucky State Police. Twenty people were charged, including fifteen Romanians, a Bulgarian, and four Americans. Twelve people were extradited to the U.S.

The group primarily advertised cars, motorcycles, ATVs, a few RVs, trucks, and even snowmobiles, primarily advertising on Craigslist. Common tactics included claiming that the seller was in the military and due to deploy overseas shortly. The scammers even created a fake Facebook page for at least one supposed seller, "Sergeant Judith Lane." Often the ads run by this gang claimed that the sale was handled though eBay and therefore was protected. Some ads were also in Spanish. In addition, at least some victims were sent links to a fake eBay website where they could "buy it now." eBay has assisted in this prosecution.

The group took in multiple millions of dollars. Victim funds were converted to bitcoin, and at least $1.8 million was transferred to Romania and converted to local currency. Fifteen defendants have pleaded guilty, three are fugitives, and two others are scheduled to go to trial in fall 2020. Romanian law enforcement provided key support in the case.    

In August 2020 police in Ireland announced Operation Omena. Police say that they have identified 130 people, all from Valcea, Romania , operating in five cells in Ireland. They were offering caravans (campers), tractors, farm machinery, vintage cars and designer watches across Europe – though not in Ireland. Other victims were in Colombia, South Korea, Lebanon, and the US.

This scam took in €22 million across Europe, and police say the proceeds were used to fund prostitution, invoice redirect fraud and phishing scams. Irish Police and Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan said it was an organized crime group, stating: "They were structured, organized, skilled, IT proficient, had knowledge of banking systems, had organizational skills, language skills and the expertise to make false identification cards." And "We established that the funds from this criminal enterprise were helping to establish other forms of serious organized crime."

VIII. How to avoid car scams

  •  Watch for red flags.
    • The price is significantly below market for the car.
    • You cannot meet the seller or inspect the car in person.
    • Money must be sent to a supposed third party recommended by the seller.
    • Payment is by gift card or bank to bank wire transfer.
  • Do an internet search of the photo of the car, an interesting sentence in the text, the phone number or the email address, to see if there are online complaints tied to those elements.
  • Use Whois to tell how long the website for an escrow or shipping company has been active and compare it to how long it claims to have been in operation elsewhere on the website.
  • Examine emails or links "from" eBay carefully. There is no eBay protection unless the whole transaction takes place on eBay.
  • Never pay for a vehicle through Western Union, MoneyGram, with a gift card or a reloadable card.
  • Check a blue book for the real market value of the vehicle.
  • Get a vehicle history report, such as Carfax or AutoCheck, on the car.

 

Maria lives in South Dakota. Her car had broken down and she needed transportation to doctor appointments. A post popped up on Facebook of a nice-looking GMC pickup truck offered for $800. She emailed the "owner," Diana Blake, who said she lived on the East Coast. She claimed that the truck was in great shape, ran well and had always been kept in a garage. Diana said her husband had died so she had to move in with her parents and needed to sell the truck.

 Diana told Maria that she chose to sell with eBay because it protects people from being scammed. Maria got an invoice from "eBay" saying that if she did not like the truck after delivery, eBay would pay for return shipping. The invoice required that Maria buy four $200 eBay gift cards to complete the purchase. She thought that requesting gift cards was suspicious, but did buy two $200 gift cards.

 Then Maria decided to do some research and quickly realized she was involved in a scam. She called eBay, and they confirmed it was a scam and asked her to file a report at spoof@ebay.com.

 Maria returned the gift cards and is glad she didn't lose her money. She says that anyone asked to buy gift cards as a form of payment should realize it's a scam and should stay away from it.

IX. Resources for victims

It is important for those who have lost money to these scams to report it. Data from complaints is used by law enforcement to look for patterns, identify scammers and take action. Reports to BBB do not display your personal information but are visible to other consumers and may help someone else avoid the scam. If you suspect that an online ad or post may be connected to a scam, report it to the platform so they can improve security for all users. File reports with:

Better Business Bureau - file a complaint with your local BBB if you lost money or report a scam online to BBB Scam Tracker.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - file a complaint online at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-FTC-Help.

FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - file a complaint online at ic3.gov/complaint.

Canadian Anti Fraud Centre - file a report online at antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca or call 1-888-495-8501.

The platform where you saw a suspected bad ad such as:

X. Recommendations

  • BBB recommends that law enforcement efforts to battle this fraud continue or increase. Coordination and training in this fraud throughout the law enforcement community could prove useful.
  • International cooperation between law enforcement agencies should be a priority.
  • BBB can provide key education for the public and data for law enforcement and should maintain or increase those efforts.
  • BBB should consider creating a task force that can share intelligence with both law enforcement and with the major platforms where this scam advertises.
  • The platforms that scammers use should consider ways they can improve efforts to screen out deceptive ads and educate users on how to avoid them.

No corporate sponsors supported this research and all companies are named for informational purposes only.

Best Credit Card Processing Companies of 2020 | Credit Card Processing - U.S. News & World Report

Posted: 14 Feb 2020 12:00 AM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Best Credit Card Processing Companies of 2020 | Credit Card Processing  U.S. News & World Report

A stress-free guide to credit cards: How to use them responsibly - CNBC

Posted: 05 Aug 2020 09:05 AM PDT

There are a lot of perks that come with having a credit card, from the convenience of being able to pay for a purchase when you don't have cash to the chance to earn rewards on every dollar you spend.

Having a credit card can also help you build your credit history, which is important if you want to one day apply for a mortgage or personal loan.

While having a credit card can help you improve your credit score, it can also hurt it. It's essential to know how to use a credit card responsibly, spending within your means and paying off your balance in full and on time every month.

Credit cards can come with high interest rates compared to other financial products like personal loans or student loans. And unlike installment loans, which have predictable monthly payments, you must keep track of how much you owe on your card at any given time.

In this guide, we'll review everything you need to know to use your credit card with confidence, including how to get a credit card and how to use it responsibly.

How to read this guide: 

Follow along from start to finish, or use the below table of contents to find the section(s) you want to learn more about.

How to use a credit card

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1. What is a credit card and how does it work?

A credit card allows you borrow money from a bank under the agreement that you'll repay it by your bill's due date or incur interest charges, known as annual percentage rate, or APR.

These rectangular pieces of plastic or metal can be used to pay for new purchases by swiping, tapping or inserting your card into a card reader at checkout, or entering your credit card number when shopping online.

Some credit cards also come with rewards and promotional offers including introductory 0% financing and welcome bonuses for signing up and meeting certain minimum spend requirements. The Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card, for example, rewards new cardmembers with a $150 cash rewards bonus after you spend $500 in the first three months and offers no interest for the first 15 months on balance transfers and purchases (then 14.49% to 24.99% variable APR).

Pros and cons of credit cards

Pros Cons
You can make a purchase now and pay it off at a later date. If you don't pay your bill in full by the due date, you may incur interest charges and fall into debt.
Credit cards are widely accepted forms of payment. Some merchants may limit what type of credit card networks they accept.
Paying with a credit card is convenient. You're more likely to overspend with credit cards versus cash or debit cards.
You can build a good credit score by paying on time and keeping a low balance. Maxing out your card or missing payments can cause your credit score to drop.
Many credit cards offer rewards, welcome bonuses and statement credit benefits. You may be tempted to overspend in order to earn rewards or perks.
If your credit card is stolen, you have limited liability ($50 max) from fraudulent charges. Credit cards can be skimmed at gas stations, stolen, hacked online or exposed in data breaches.

When you open a credit card, you receive a credit limit that can range from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars. You'll be able to spend up to that limit.

Most financial institutions allow you to track your credit card spending by logging into your online account or mobile app. When you make a purchase with your card, it will show up as pending on your account and post within a few days. Once the transaction is posted to your account, your total balance will increase. 

Every month, you will receive a bill from your card issuer including of all the posted purchases you made during your billing cycle. In order to keep your account in good standing, you'll need to pay at least the minimum payment  by your due date (which is the same date every month).

Most card issuers offer a grace period, which lets you to pay off your balance interest free within a minimum of 21 days from the end of a billing cycle. Any balance remaining after the grace period will incur interest. If you don't pay at least the minimum, you could also face late fees.

We recommend always paying on time and in full to avoid interest and fees. You'll be charged interest on any amount you don't pay after your grace period, and it can cost you hundreds of dollars over time.

Learn more: The best credit cards can earn you over $2,000 in five years. Check out our full breakdown of the best credit card picks for you.

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2. Types of credit cards

There are thousands of credit cards available to consumers, which can make it hard to settle on just one. You might want to have a few credit cards to meet your different spending needs. Cards with 0% APR are helpful when financing a big purchase and rewards cards offer you the opportunity to earn points or cash back on everything you buy. 

While there are lots of cards to choose from, they generally fall into four categories (and sometimes these categories overlap):

  • Rewards cards
  • Secured cards
  • 0% APR cards
  • Business cards

Rewards cards

Rewards cards, which include cash-back credit cards, are one of the most popular types of credit cards because you can earn cash back, points or miles on all your purchases. You'll typically earn at least 1% or 1X back on everything you buy, and the best cards offer three to four times that on a variety of purchases from food delivery and groceries to gas and travel.  The American Express® Gold Card tops our list for best rewards card, earning a competitive 4X points per dollar spent at restaurants worldwide and 4X points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).

American Express® Gold Card

American Express® Gold Card

On American Express's secure site

  • Rewards

    4X Membership Rewards® points when you dine at restaurants worldwide and shop at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X), 3X points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases within the first 3 months from account opening

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    Not applicable

  • Regular APR

    See Pay Over Time APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    See rates and fees

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Secured cards

A secured credit card is a great choice for anyone with a low credit score, whether you're just opening a credit card for the first time or rebuilding your credit history. These cards work like an unsecured card but require you to make a deposit (often around $200) in order to receive a line of credit. With some cards, such as the Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, some cardholders can open a card with only a $49 or $99 deposit.

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Information about the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

  • Rewards

    This card doesn't offer cash back, points or miles

  • Welcome bonus

    No current offer

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    26.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    No credit history

0% APR cards

Some credit cards also offer interest-free financing periods of a year or more for new purchases and balance transfers. The best 0% APR cards offer 15-,18- and 20-month long 0% APR periods. For example, the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card offers 0% for the first 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases, then a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR applies.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Information about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

  • Rewards

  • Welcome bonus

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 20 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    3%, minimum $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Business cards

Business owners and anyone who's self-employed can benefit from opening a business card with rewards geared toward common business expenses, such as shipping and travel, as well as intro 0% APR periods. Plus, many of these cards also allow you to open employee cards, which can help you streamline expenses. If you're looking to earn a competitive cash-back rate on all spending, the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business offers 2% cash back on every purchase. It also comes with Capital One business benefits, which includes account management tools, such as the ability to download purchase records to Quicken®, QuickBooks® and Excel®.

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

Information about the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the cards prior to publication.

  • Rewards

    2% cash back on every purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $500 cash bonus when you spend $4,500 in the first 3 months of your account opening

  • Annual fee

    $95, waived the first year

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    20.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

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3. Questions to ask before you open a credit card

Before you apply for a credit card, you need to determine why you need one. To make the decision easier, answer the following questions:

  • Do you want to build or rebuild credit?
  • Do you want to earn rewards?
  • Are you in debt and paying high interest?
  • Do you have a big purchase coming up?
  • Do you travel abroad?

Do you want to build or rebuild credit?

If you're just beginning your credit journey, or looking to repair poor credit, it can be a little more difficult to find a card that fits your needs that you'll also qualify for. Check out secured cards or cards for building or rebuilding credit. If you have no credit history, a great choice is the Petal® Visa® Credit Card, which doesn't include many common credit card fees.

Do you want to earn rewards?

Are you in debt and paying high interest?

Do you have a big purchase coming up?

Some credit cards charge no interest on new purchases for over a year. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® offers no interest for the first 15 months from account opening (after 14.99% to 23.74% variable APR).

Do you travel abroad?

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4. How to apply for a credit card

Opening a new credit card may seem as simple as applying, but there are a few more factors to consider to ensure you get the best card for your needs. When you're ready to open a card, take the following steps before you submit an application:

  • Check your credit score
  • Compare credit card offers
  • Read the fine print
  • See if you prequalify
  • Submit the application

Check your credit score

Compare credit card offers

When you're ready to shop around for offers, compare several credit cards so you know what's available. You can start by checking out CNBC Select's roundup of the best credit cards, which includes our top cards for a variety of categories, including balance transfers, no annual fee, travel and college students.

We also have side-by-side comparisons of popular credit cards:

Compare the rewards, fees, perks and credit requirements to see which card is best for your needs.

Read the fine print

When you've which credit card you want, make sure you read the fine print before applying. It's important you review the details specific to the card you want to apply for.

Make sure you understand all the terms and conditions before submitting an application. Review the annual fee and interest rates for purchases, balance transfers, cash advances and penalties. Plus, be aware of any fees charged for foreign transactions and late payments.

See if you prequalify

Most major credit card issuers allow you to submit preapproval forms on their websites. These forms require your name, address and the last four digits of your social security number. With this information, the issuer will perform a soft inquiry of your credit history and check if you are a good candidate for the card.

Preapproval, or prequalification, won't have any impact on your credit score. Once you formally apply and the issuer does a hard inquiry, you'll see a small ding on your report (usually within five points). Prequalification is a way to limit those hard inquiries, or hard pulls, so you're only applying for cards you're likely to get approved for.

Even if you've prequalified for a credit card, you're not guaranteed approval when you submit your official application.

Here are some issuers that allow you to check if you prequalify:

When you submit a prequalification form, you may see that you're a candidate for several cards from that issuer. For instance, your results could say you have high approval odds for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and the American Express® Gold Card.

Once you see your options, you can choose which card to apply for based on your own personal spending needs and preferences.

Submit the application

Once you've settled on the best credit card for your needs, you can submit an application. The quickest way to do this is online (whether it's on a laptop or via a mobile device). You also have the option to call, go in-person to a bank or send in a paper application.

The application process is similar between issuers, and you'll typically be required to provide your name, address, date of birth, social security number, annual income and employment status.

After you submit an application, you can receive a decision in as little as 60 seconds, but it may take longer. If you're instantly approved, expect to receive your card within the next two weeks. Some card issuers, such as American Express, may provide an instant card number that you can use for online transactions right away.

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5. Understanding credit card rewards, perks and bonuses

Earning rewards is one of the biggest perks of using a credit card, but it can also be confusing to navigate the different offers. Credit cards typically provide one of three reward structures: cash back, points or miles.

Each type of rewards program works a bit differently and often comes with its own quirks. Card issuers frequently market credit cards with generous welcome bonuses or introductory financing periods, but there are other rewards and perks you may want to take advantage of, especially if you're paying a high annual fee. 

Here are the various kinds of rewards, perks and bonuses:

  • Cash back
  • Rewards points
  • Airline miles
  • Welcome bonus
  • Exclusive dining and entertainment perks
  • Other perks

Cash back

Cash-back cards offer cardholders a percentage of their spending back, and there are essentially three types: 1) flat-rate, 2) bonus categories and 3) rotating categories. 

Flat-rate cash-back cards offer the same amount of cash back on every purchase, which is good for consumers looking for a simple rewards program that requires minimal effort. For example, with the Citi® Double Cash Card, one of our top picks for cash-back credit cards, you earn 2% on eligible purchases (1% when you buy and 1% when you pay your bill). A $100 purchase effectively earns you $2 cash back.

Many cash-back cards offer bonus cash back in certain categories, such as grocery stores, travel, gas stations and entertainment. Sometimes, cash back in the bonus categories is limited to a certain amount of spending each year, but it can also be unlimited.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a bonus category cash-back card. It offers strong rewards rates for spending on groceries and streaming entertainment: You can earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains and buses and 1% cash back on other purchases.

Other cash-back cards offer 5% cash back in select categories that rotate throughout the year (typically changing each quarter). Common categories include restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores. These cards are popular among consumers looking to maximize rewards.

The Chase Freedom®, for example, offers 5% cash back in rotating categories on up to $1,500 in combined purchases after you activate the bonus every quarter. After you reach the limit, it's 1% on all purchases.

Cash-back cards are the most straightforward type of rewards card and don't require a ton of effort to collect and redeem your rewards

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

On American Express's secure site

  • Rewards

    6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on eligible purchases on your new card within the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases, N/A for balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Points

Instead of giving cardholders a percentage of their spending back in cash back, some rewards cards offer one point or more for each dollar spent. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® offers Ultimate Rewards points, whereas the American Express® Gold Card offers Membership Rewards® points.

These cards are very similar to cash-back cards in that you can earn more rewards in certain bonus categories. The Chase Sapphire Reserve®, for example, offers 3X points on dining and travel (immediately after earning your $300 travel credit) and 1X points on all other purchases. 

Points cards give cardholders more redemption options than cash-back cards, but you may have to put in some effort to find the best deals.

For instance, points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards® portal, so 80,000 points would be worth $1,000. However, if you redeem for gift cards, statement credits or other options, the value of a point varies. You have to crunch the numbers when you're ready to redeem to make sure you're optimizing your rewards.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

On Chase's secure site

  • Rewards

    5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022, 2X points on travel and dining worldwide, 1X points on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening — worth up to $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    15.99% to 22.99% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

Airline miles

Another type of reward offered by credit cards is airline miles. These types of cards can be broken down into two categories: co-branded airline cards and travel rewards cards.

Co-branded airline cards, like the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, offer miles as part of the brand's unique membership rewards program. You can use your Delta SkyMiles card anywhere Amex credit cards are accepted, but there are some limitations on how you can cash in your miles: Use your rewards for Delta-related purchases, such as plane tickets or in-flight purchases and upgrades, or put them toward exclusive hotels and experiences curated by Delta Vacations and official travel partners.

Some top-notch travel rewards cards also offer rewards in the form of miles, but they tend to offer a bit more flexibility. For example, miles earned with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card are each worth one cent when redeemed for statement credits to cover nearly every kind of travel purchase, and there's also the option to transfer miles to other airline loyalty programs. You can also redeem your miles for gift cards, Amazon purchases, merchandise and statement credits, but you typically won't get the same 1:1 redemption rate.

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

On American Express's secure site

  • Rewards

    Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases, 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants, and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $500 in purchases on your new card in your first three months

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    15.74% to 24.74% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

  • Foreign transaction fees

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Welcome bonus

Many credit cards offer a welcome bonus giving new cardholders the opportunity to earn extra rewards, such as cash back, points or miles. To earn the bonus, you usually have to reach a minimum spending requirement within the first few months of opening your account. The threshold varies, but it can be anywhere from $500 to $5,000.

Cash-back cards usually have the lowest minimum spend with the best return rates, while travel rewards cards typically offer larger bonuses but have much higher spending limits requirements. Then there are the few cards, like the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, which automatically gives you a welcome bonus of a $70 Amazon.com gift card upon account approval — no spending required.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

Information about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

  • Rewards

    5% cash back at Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market; 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores; 1% back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval

  • Annual fee

    $0 (but Prime membership is required)

  • Intro APR

  • Regular APR

    14.24% to 22.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, $5 minimum

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

Exclusive dining and entertainment perks

Many card issuers and networks also provide access to exclusive dining and entertainment experiences, from festivals and workshops to intimate dinners. To take advantage of these benefits, you simply need to be a cardholder.

Below are just some of the dining experiences available to you depending on what kind of card you have:

  • American Express: There are several different types of food-related perks for Amex cardholders, from exclusive experiences at festivals to special access to reservations with the Global Dining Collection (exclusively for The American Express Platinum Card® and Centurion® members). Cardholders can also benefit from perks such as tickets to see the Eagles and Blake Shelton, with the Amex entertainment access benefit. And as the official card of Ticketmaster, Amex cardholders can access premium seating and presales at many events. Plus, there are special By Invitation Only® events exclusively for The American Express Platinum Card® and Centurion® members. 
  • Capital One: Cardholders can take advantage of premier culinary experiences and events such as the New York City Wine & Food Festival and the iHeartRadio Music Festival. Plus cardholders can book Premium Access reservations with OpenTable. Take advantage of exclusive access to various music events, such as the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball and Taylor Swift's tour. You can benefit from VIP packages, on-site cardholder lounges and more.
  • Citi: With Citi Entertainment, cardholders can enjoy food festivals and dinners, such as the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival and No Kid Hungry Dinners. The Citi Entertainment benefit provides early access and special perks at music, theater, dining and sports events, such as Keith Urban in Las Vegas, Broadway shows and the Basketball Hall of Fame showcase.
  • Chase: Cardholders recently benefited from early ticket access to Food Lab Remixed, which hosts weekly cocktail parties. Sapphire cardholders can enjoy the Private Dining Series, which provides access to private dinners at some of the most buzzed about restaurants across the countryWith Chase Experiences, you can benefit from premier event access to concerts, shows, sports and dining events. Plus enjoy special offers at select venues including food, beverage and merchandise discounts and Chase Lounge access, when available.
  • Mastercard: If you have a Mastercard — regardless of the bank that issued your card — you can take advantage of Priceless culinary experiences. Recently Mastercard has recreated several restaurants from around the world for cardholders to experience in New York. Cards with the Mastercard logo receive access to Priceless, which provides various entertainment events from art and culture experiences, such as a show at Carnegie Hall, to early access to Off-Broadway two-for-one tickets, MLB games and much more.

Learn more: How to take advantage of the exclusive perks on your entertainment rewards card

Other perks

Your credit card probably has other perks depending on the card network it's part of. Both Visa and Mastercard offer tiered benefits that can help you out in a pinch. These perks vary between card issuers and card network, so be sure to check your terms and agreements or call customer service to learn exactly what comes with your card.

Extra credit card perks include (but are not limited to): 

  • Emergency card replacement and emergency cash disbursement: Get assistance for reporting a lost or stolen card, getting a replacement card within one to three business days and cash to be available at a location near you typically within hours of your bank's approval.
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver: If your eligible rental car is damaged or stolen, you may receive coverage. You need to decline the rental company's collision damage waiver to activate this coverage.
  • Zero liability protection: You won't be held responsible for any unauthorized purchases made with your credit card, waiving the $50 maximum liability under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
  • Roadside dispatch: If you have a flat tire, need a jump start or are locked out of your car, Visa will assist you in arranging help from a local service provider at a pre-negotiated rate.
  • Cell phone protection: If you drop your phone or it's stolen, you may get reimbursed for the damage after paying a $50 deductible. (Check out CNBC Select's list of the best credit cards with cell phone protection.)
  • Purchase protections: You may receive reimbursement for purchases that drop in price or added protections like extended warranties or insurance for stolen items.
  • Airport lounge access: Complimentary Priority Pass membership with VIP access at over 850 airport lounges worldwide.
  • Global Entry statement credit: Receive up to a $100 statement credit for the Global Entry application fee cost, typically once every four years, but it varies by issuer.
  • Airline fee credit: Some cards may offer an annual credit to cover airline incidentals, such as checked-luggage fees, in-flight food and more.
  • Baggage delay insurance: If your checked baggage is delayed or misdirected for over four hours, you can be reimbursed for necessities you buy, up to $300.
  • Lost luggage reimbursement: If your luggage is lost or stolen, you may receive reimbursement for your checked luggage or carry-on baggage when you pay for the airline or common carrier ticket with your card.
  • Travel and emergency assistance services: When you're traveling anywhere in the world, you'll have 24/7 access to multilingual representatives who can answer questions that may arise and provide referrals to various services, such as medical referral assistance, emergency transportation service and lost luggage assistance. You're responsible for the cost of any services.
  • Trip delay reimbursement, cancellation and trip interruption insurance:: If your trip is delayed you could receive reimbursement for the costs. Or, if you need to cancel or shorten a trip, this benefit can help reimburse you for the non-refundable cost of an airline, ferry, rail, bus or cruise ship ticket.
  • Concierge services: This complimentary service provides representatives who can help with travel needs, purchasing a gift, booking a reservation and more.

Don't miss: The ins and outs of credit card welcome bonuses—from an expert who made $2,000 per year

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6. Credit card terms you should know

There are dozens of credit card terms that are helpful to know so you can understand fully how your credit card works. Here are 16 definitions to get your started:

  • Annual fee: The fee cardholders are charged every year for holding a credit card. Not all cards come with an annual fee.
  • APRThe interest rate you are charged on your statement balance if it's not paid off before the grace period ends.
  • Balance transfer APR: The interest rate for balance transfers, which may be equal to or greater than the purchase APR.
  • Balance transfer fee: Transferring debt from one card to another may cost you 3% to 5% of the total amount of debt you're transferring.
  • Billing cycle: The length of time between your last statement closing date and the next, typically 28 to 31 days. 
  • Cash advance APRThe interest rate you incur if you take out a cash advance, which is often one of the highest APRs you can be charged
  • Cash advance fee: The fee you're charged for each cash advance, usually 5% of the amount you withdraw.
  • Credit line: The amount of money you can charge on your credit card, which can range from $200 to several thousand dollars.
  • Credit utilization rate: The percentage of your total credit line you're using (also known as your debt-to-credit ratio)
  • Foreign transaction fee: Purchases made outside the U.S. may incur a fee per transaction, usually 3% of the transaction amount
  • Grace period: The period of time between the end of a billing cycle and when your bill is due, a minimum of 21 days
  • Late payment feeWhen you pay your credit card bill late, you may incur a fee up to $40
  • Minimum payment: The smallest amount of money you have to pay each month to keep your account current
  • Penalty APRWhen you pay late, card issuers may penalize you with an interest rate that's higher than your regular APR
  • Purchase APR: The interest rate you incur for new purchases that aren't paid in full every billing cycle
  • Statement balance: The total amount of all the charges you've made with your credit card that have posted by the day your billing cycle ends

Read more: Here's our full list of 25 credit card terms that everyone should know.

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7. How to safely use a credit card

While credit cards are one of the safest forms of payment, it's also easy to fall victim to credit card fraud. There are easy steps you can take to stay vigilant to make sure your card isn't stolen, and as well as what to do if your card is compromised.

How to prevent credit card fraud

The easiest way to protect your credit card is to regularly check your account balance and transactions. Most issuers allow you to turn on notification so you can be alerted by text or email anytime someone swipes your card, makes a purchase online, or spends over a certain amount.

When shopping online, you may be tempted to click on social media ads on Instagram or Facebook, but you should do so sparingly. Ads boasting limited-time offers or large discounts may not always be from a reliable site. Before clicking on any ad — whether it's via your smartphone or laptop — you should verify the source.

Another way to prevent credit card fraud from phishing scams is by using a virtual card number for online shopping. Right now, there are only two card issuers that offer virtual card numbers: Capital One and Citi.

Using Eno®, Capital One's intelligent assistant portal, you can create unique virtual card numbers that are linked to your eligible Capital One credit cards. Likewise, Citi allows select cardmembers to create a different virtual number for every website they shop.

For instance, if you used a virtual number to shop with your Capital One® Venture® card, you'd enter a decoy number that links back to your credit card account. This way, phishers and other fraudsters can't access your real card number. And in case someone does manage to steal your virtual number, you can simply get a new one without having to replace your physical card.

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Information about the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

  • Rewards

    5X miles on hotel and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel℠, 2X miles per dollar on every other purchase

  • Welcome bonus

    100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening or earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

  • Annual fee

  • Intro APR

    N/A for purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    17.24% to 24.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers

  • Balance transfer fee

    3% for promotional APR offers; none for balances transferred at regular APR

  • Foreign transaction fee

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

Terms apply.

What to do if your credit card is stolen

There are five steps you should immediately take if you think your credit card has been stolen:

  1. Contact your credit card issuer
  2. Change your login information
  3. Monitor your credit card statement
  4. Review your credit report and dispute any fraud on it
  5. Protect yourself from future credit card fraud

What is $0 fraud liability

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), you can only be held liable for up to a maximum of $50 in the event of fraudulent charges on your credit card account, as long as you report it within 60 days. However, a number of major issuers, including American Express and Chase, guarantee zero liability with the caveat that you have to act quickly when something's not right.

Reasonable protective measures include:

  1. Contacting your card issuer as soon as you realize your card or device on which your account information has been added has been lost or stolen (or if you haven't received a new renewal card in the mail after more than 10 business days)
  2. Advising your card issuer if you suspect that your account is being misused
  3. Protecting your personal information and security codes from others, including your family and close friends
  4. Practice safe computing (e.g. use encryption, virus scanning software, firewall, anti-spyware software and other similar safeguards)

How credit monitoring services work

Credit monitoring services can provide you with early notice of potential fraud on your credit report, so you can take steps to protect your personal information. While these services can't actually prevent identity theft, they can keep you informed so you can take action if you notice something is wrong. 

Credit monitoring services flag new activity, including:

  • Hard inquiries on your credit report, such as someone applying for credit in your name
  • New accounts opened in your name
  • Balances and payments on your credit products
  • New address or name changes to your credit file
  • Public records, such as bankruptcies
  • Personal information on the dark web, such as your social security number, email address and passwords

When you sign up for credit monitoring, you'll receive alerts and resources to help you identify and protect against possible theft, but these services can't actually guarantee fraud prevention. At best, they keep you instantly informed so you can take action as you notice something is off. 

IdentityForce® tops our list of best credit monitoring services. Both IdentityForce® UltraSecure and UltraSecure+Credit offer the most extensive security features that monitor your information on a variety of sites and services, including the dark web, court records and even social media. You receive alerts for potential fraud on your bank, credit card and investment accounts, as well as the use of your medical ID, social security number and address.

IdentityForce® UltraSecure and UltraSecure+Credit

IdentityForce® UltraSecure and UltraSecure+Credit

On Identity Force's secure site

  • Cost

    2 months free on all annual plans UltraSecure: $8.99/mo, $89.90/yr UltraSecure+Credit: $19.99/mo, $199.90/yr

  • Credit bureaus monitored

    Experian, Equifax and TransUnion

  • Credit scoring model used

    VantageScore

  • Dark web scan

  • Identity insurance

    Yes, up to $1 million

See our methodology, terms apply. To learn more about IdentityForce®, visit their website or call 855-979-1118. 

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8. How to responsibly manage your first credit card

Simply opening a credit card doesn't instantly improve your credit score — you actually have to use it. But until you feel confident in balancing all of your financial obligations, start small by using your credit card conservatively and checking your credit card statement regularly so you can track your spending. 

If you're using your credit card for everyday spending, try to charge no more than 10% to 30% of your credit limit on your card at one time. For instance, if your card has a $500 limit, try not to spend more than $150 each month. This will keep your debt-to-credit ratio low (the second-most factor in determining your credit score) and helps you get in the habit of only spending what you can afford to pay off each month.

Most important: Pay your bills on time. Making consistent, timely payments has the biggest impact on your score. Lenders are more willing to give you credit when they see a long history of on-time payments on your credit report. When you open your first credit card, it's really important to start out practicing good financial habits: spending within your means and paying your bill on time and in full so that you never get dinged with over-the-limit fees or have to pay interest on the balance.

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9. What not to charge on your credit card

When deciding what you should charge on your credit card, consider treating your credit card like you would cash. Make it a habit to check your balance regularly, just as you would a debit card, so you avoid overspending. While it some people like to use their credit cards for everyday purchases, other like to use it more sparingly. However you decide to use it, try to avoid putting these five charges on your credit card:

  • Your monthly rent or mortgage payment
  • A large purchase that will wipe out available credit
  • Taxes
  • Medical bills
  • Small impulse splurges

Your monthly rent or mortgage payment

Even though credit cards are convenient, you shouldn't charge your monthly rent or mortgage payments because the processing fees are typically around 2% to 3%. Even with a good cash-back card, you likely won't earn enough rewards to offset the cost of the processing fees.

A large purchase that will wipe out available credit

It might be tempting to charge a large purchase to your credit card, especially if you're looking to earn a big sign-up bonus. But you should never take on debt that you don't have a clear plan to pay off. A rewards bonus is often a good way to earn a lot of points, but it's not worth it if you're paying a high interest rate on the debt.

When a large purchase lingers of your credit card balance, you'll not only be hit with interest, but you'll also wipe out your available credit limit. Your credit utilization rate is a very important factor in determining your credit score, and if one or more of your cards is maxed out, you'll likely see a dip in your score.

If you do need to make a large purchase you can't afford to pay off right away, consider opening a 0% interest credit card. Make sure you create a plan to pay off the balance within the introductory period, so you're not hit with high interest charges later.

Taxes

Medical bills

Charging unexpected medical debt on a credit card may seem like a quick fix, but it can cost you more if you're unable to pay off the full amount right away.

Many doctor's offices and hospitals will work with you to set up a payment plan, if you can't afford your bill.

It's also important to have an emergency savings account, to help you cover unexpected expenses. Financial experts recommend setting aside money in a high-yield savings account. You only need to save $20 per week to stash away $1,000 in a year

Small impulse splurges

It's not always the big purchases that can set you back, but the seemingly insignificant ones as well. While it can be convenient to charge everyday purchases to your credit card (not to mention a great way to add rewards points), it's really important to make sure you're only buying what you can afford to pay off. 

A $50 dinner might not seem like a big deal, but these kinds of small purchases can add up quick and if you can't afford to pay them off, you'll end up paying more in the long run. For example, a balance of $1,400 would take 25 months, or over two years, to pay it off with a monthly payment of $70. And depending on your APR, you could easily spend over $300 on interest. No doubt there's better ways you could be spending that money.

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10. Bottom line

Using a credit card is very easy, but you need to establish good financial habits as soon as you open your first card. Always strive to spend within your means and pay your balance off each month on time and in full. 

The benefit of having a credit card are plentiful: It offers more fraud protection than debit cards, gives you the opportunity to earn rewards and take advantage of special cardmember perks, and some cards even offer special financing programs so you can pay for big purchases over time. 

And of course, credit cards help you establish a credit score so you can qualify for the best loan and credit products at the best interest rates.

Simply put, credit cards can be both convenient and beneficial when used responsibly. It's important to familiarize yourself with how credit cards work so that you can stay on top of your spending and feel confident in your ability to manage your finances.

Learn more:

Our credit card methodology

To determine which credit cards offer the best value, CNBC Select analyzed 234 of the most popular credit cards available in the U.S. We compared each card on a range of features, including rewards, welcome bonus, introductory and standard APR, balance transfer fee and foreign transaction fees, as well as factors such as required credit and customer reviews when available. We also considered additional perks, the application process and how easy it is for the consumer to redeem points.

CNBC Select teamed up with location intelligence firm Esri. The company's data development team provided the most up-to-date and comprehensive consumer spending data based on the 2019 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read more about their methodology here.

Esri's data team created a sample annual budget of approximately $22,126 in retail spending. The budget includes six main categories: groceries ($5,174), gas ($2,218), dining out ($3,675), travel ($2,244), utilities ($4,862) and general purchases ($3,953). General purchases include items such as housekeeping supplies, clothing, personal care products, prescription drugs and vitamins, and other vehicle expenses.

CNBC Select used this budget to estimate how much the average consumer would save over the course of a year, two years and five years, assuming they would attempt to maximize their rewards potential by earning all welcome bonuses offered and using the card for all applicable purchases. All rewards total estimations are net the annual fee.

While the five-year estimates we've included are derived from a budget similar to the average American's spending, you may earn a higher or lower return depending on your shopping habits.

Our credit monitoring methodology

To determine which credit monitoring services offer the most benefits to consumers, CNBC Select analyzed and compared 12 services that offer a variety of free and paid plans.

When ranking the best free credit monitoring services, we focused on the following features:

  • Number of credit bureaus monitored: Services that monitor credit reports from more than one credit bureau were ranked higher since it's rare for free services to monitor several reports.
  • The credit scoring model used: If users receive updated FICO Scores, the service was ranked higher since lenders use FICO Scores in roughly 90% of lending decisions. We found that the majority of free services use VantageScore.
  • Dark web scanning: If the service checks the dark web for your name, social security number, address and other personal information, it was ranked higher.

When ranking the best paid credit monitoring services, we focused on the following features:

  • Cost: Lower cost services that offered more benefits ranked higher in our reviews.
  • Number of credit bureaus monitored: Services that monitored credit reports from all three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, were ranked higher because they offer more holistic coverage.
  • The credit scoring model used: Services offering FICO Scores were ranked higher since lenders FICO Scores are more widely used in lending decisions compared to VantageScores.
  • Dark web scanning: If your name, social security number, address and other personal information is monitored on the dark web, since it's hard to monitor this on your own.
  • Identity theft insurance: We considered whether the paid services offered identity theft insurance and looked at the amount you're covered up to. We found that the best services offer up to $1 million for eligible expenses associated with resolving and restoring your identity.

Keep in mind that credit monitoring services can only alert you of changes to your credit file, not fix or prevent any errors.

Information about the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card, U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card, Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, Citi Simplicity® Card, Chase Freedom®, and Capital One® cards, has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Petal Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC.

To learn more about IdentityForce®, visit their website or call 855-979-1118.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.

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