Net Neutrality Fake Comments: Find out if You’re Affected

What would you think if you saw your name and home address on a public comment addressed to a government agency – but… you never actually wrote a comment?

That is what has happened on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s website in the online public comment space on net neutrality. Attorney General T.J. Donovan has determined that perhaps hundreds or even thousands of Vermonters may be affected by “fake comments” submitted to the FCC on this vital issue. One such Vermonter, Montpelier resident Irene Racz, was shocked to see a comment submitted to the FCC in her name opposing net neutrality – a position contrary to her actual views.

Now, the Attorney General is raising awareness about fake comments on the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rule change. His efforts follow an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who first alerted the public about tens of thousands of possible fake comments using stolen identities on the site.

Since the public comment period opened last April, Americans have submitted millions of comments—the vast majority in favor of preserving net neutrality. However, the process appears corrupted by an onslaught of fake comments. For example, news reports suggest that almost half a million fake comments have been linked with Russian email addresses.

Attorney General Donovan is calling on Vermonters to see if their names were stolen for false comments – and to report it to our office using a simple web tool if you are affected. Please check the Consumer Assistance Program’s portal to search the FCC database and the reporting tool at: https://www.uvm.edu/consumer/fake-fcc-comments

Any Vermonters who do find fake comments issued under their names should report it to our office and contact the FCC directly to request that phony comments be withdrawn. Additionally, Vermonters who have not submitted comments and wish to do so should enter them before the planned FCC net neutrality vote on December 14.

Attorney General Donovan and 12 other Attorneys General submitted comments to the FCC in July in favor of preserving net neutrality rules for a fair, free and open Internet. The current rules protect consumers by ensuring choice, transparency, and fairness. For example, it bars service providers from establishing “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for consumers depending on partnerships or premiums.

Your voice is essential to this process.

Protecting Vermonters One Blocked Call at a Time

Before we get started, raise your hand if you’ve ever received a scam call. Everyone, right?

CAP is looking to get better solutions in the hands of Vermonters to fight robocalls. CAP is studying various robocall blocking options to protect Vermonters from this scourge.

First, CAP obtained a grant from The State Center to test call-blocking devices for seniors, who are often the targets of scams.  CAP provided 115 call-blocking devices free-of-charge to Vermont seniors.

CAP studied the effectiveness of these blocking devices in protecting seniors, who include some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Call-blocking devices help stop scam calls from coming through your phone line in two ways – many come preloaded with a list of recognized scam numbers that are automatically blocked from being able to call in; the devices also allow consumers to choose to block other phone numbers.

Vermonters who participated in the project reported that the call-blocking devices were useful in blocking scam calls – 72% said the devices were either “effective” or “very effective” in stopping unwanted calls. An overwhelming majority (89%) also said the devices were either “simple” or “very simple” to use. Another key finding from the project is that having a call-blocking device made the participants feel safer in answering their phones and helped to decrease the amount of stress and anxiety that scam calls had caused. You can’t put a price tag on peace of mind.

Second, in cooperation with the telecom carriers, CAP is also preparing a guide to robocall and scam call blocking options that will be released later this month.

Third, CAP continues to collect scam reports from Vermonters. CAP uses scam reports to identify the need for alerts, and to provide education and outreach. Scam reports also help CAP track the number and type of scams affecting Vermonters. Awareness is the best way to protect Vermonters from becoming victims of scams.

CAP also reports the information to the Federal Trade Commission, which has a task force on fighting robocalls. Occasionally, the information can lead to investigation of scams, but law enforcement has few tools to undertake these expensive cases.

Are you interested in call-blocking devices or other ways to stop unwanted calls? The FTC has information available at their web-site.

Our office has also set up a scam alert system to provide consumers with information about new scams and scam trends. If you would like to sign up, visit our web-site or give CAP a call.

Always feel free to contact CAP to report scam calls you are receiving. Our office can be reached at 1.800.649.2424 (toll free VT) or 802.656.3183.

 

Stay Safe Online

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and next Tuesday is National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day. Now is a good time to check-in on your computer use and internet safety. To the average computer user, the tasks required to be secure can be overwhelming. But, StaySafeOnline.org allows you to find all the information you need in one place.

You can search StaySafeOnline.org by area of interest. Learn how to:

With the site’s easy to follow tips and resources, your computer and internet experience can be safer. Having trouble with the above list?  Get started with the below tips:

Passwords – Make sure they are secure.  A combination of numbers, letters, and symbols is best.  Use a unique password for every account.

Antivirus Protection – Don’t use a machine (computer, mobile phone, etc.) that does not have virus protection.

Unsecured Wireless Networks – Use them cautiously.  Tapping into a free hotspot may be tempting when traveling, but depending on who is watching (and you never know who is), you could be putting your information at risk.  Never login to your personal accounts when using free wireless.  If you do, you might be giving all your information to a scammer.

Securing Your Internet – This task is simple.  If you have an online account with your internet provider, login to change the router’s name and the pre-set password.  Having trouble doing it on your own?  Just call the company for help.

Scams – For most, using the internet is virtually free.  So, many scams start online.  The Computer Tech Support scam can start with a pop-up message that claims your computer is at risk for viruses, advising of a phone number to call to rectify the issue.  Email scams often conform to a phishing scam, claiming to be a financial institution that says you need to reset your password.  Other forms of email scams include attachments or links that, when downloaded, infect your computer with viruses. Click here to sign up for our office’s scam alerts.

Failing to take precautions regarding computer and internet safety is like keeping your front door wide open to a neighborhood thief. Don’t do it.  Be smart about your computer use.  Take precautions to combat scammers before they target you.

Do you own a small business and have concerns about data security? Join us at Tech Jam on October 20th for information – details and registration can be found here.