Scam of the day – October 15, 2012 – Justin Bieber lost laptop

A few days ago,  it was reported that Justin Bieber’s laptop was stolen from backstage during a show in Tacoma, Washington.  What we don’t know is if Bieber’s laptop was properly secured with a complex password.  Many people are, unfortunately, quite lax when it comes to protecting their laptops, smartphones and other mobile devices with up to date security software, encryption programs and, the most basic of all protections, a good password.  If Bieber falls into this group, he could lose more than just a computer.  Like many people, Bieber may keep important records on his laptop and use it also for financial transactions which could put Bieber in serious jeopardy if he either did not have a password to protect his computer or used an easy to predict password.

TIPS

Scammers and identity thieves can easily predict the most commonly used passwords among which are 123456, password, iloveyou, and abc123.  They can also easily predict passwords from adjacent keys on your keyboard, such as asdfgh.  If that doesn’t make sense to you, look down at your keyboard.  Additionally it is easy to predict names and words found in the dictionary.  Scammers also have computer programs that can rapidly try many passwords to crack even the more complex passwords.   In order to protect yourself with a password that is unlikely to be able to be predicted or discerned by a scammer or identity thief, you should consider having a password of at least twelve characters, have at least one letter be a capital letter and at least one letter be in lower case.  Also use at least one digit in your password and one symbol.  Remember a key to protection is length, so, for instance a good password would be  Ytefas1st!!!.  This odd arrangement is made up of the word “safety” spelled backwards and starting with a capital letter and then having the rest of the letters in lower case.  Then the password has “1st” as in “first,” but with a digit and ends with three explanation points which makes this easy to remember and hard to break.

Scam of the day – October 14, 2012 – Medicare open enrollment scam

The annual Medicare open enrollment period will be starting tomorrow and continue until December 7th.  The open enrollment period is the only opportunity Medicare recipients have each year during which to change their Medicare D prescription drug plan.  Medicare D prescription drug plans often change their coverage within the year, yet the only time a senior can change his or her plan is during the open enrollment period to make sure that he or she is enrolled in the best plan for him or her.  Plans may change their formulary which is the list of covered drugs.  They also may change other terms of the plan including the amount of any deductible so it is important for Medcicare recipients to review their  plans each year and compare it against other plans to make sure that they have the best plan for them.  Scammers take advantage of the open enrollment period to contact Medicare recipients by email or phone purporting to be from a Medicare prescription drug provider.  The scammers then request personal information such as the senior’s Medicare number which is the same as his or her Social Security number.  Despite recomendations from the GAO and other agencies to no longer use Social Security numbers as Medicare numbers, Medicare continues to use Social Security numbers as the Medicare identification number putting Medicare recipients in greater danger of identity theft.  If a senior provides this number to the scammer, he or she will use that number to turn him or her into a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Everyone should always zealously guard the privacy of their Social Security number and Medicare number.  It is a key to identity theft.  An identity thief armed with a Social Security number and name can easily establish credit in the name of the person from whom the identity thief steals the Social Security number.  Do not give out this information by phone or on the internet to someone who contacts you.  You should also be aware that Medicare rules prohibit real prescription drug providers from contacting anyone by unsolicited emails or telephone calls so if you receive such a communication, you can be sure that it is a scam.  For all the information you need to compare and choose a plan that is right for you, go to www.medicare.gov..

Scam of the day – October 13, 2012 – New smartphone scam threat

The Internet Crime Complaint Center yesterday issued a warning about malware attacking Android operated smart phones.  The two types of malware recently identified were Loozfon and FinFisher.  Loozfon steals information from your smartphone while FinFisher is a type of malware that literally can take over your smartphone and remotely control and operate it whreever you are.   One of the current  Loozfon malware gets installed sureptitiously on your smartphone is when you go to a phony work-at-home website that promises you riches merely for sending out emails.  When you go by a link in an advertisement to the phony work-at-home website, unknowingly you download Loozfon on to your smartphone and the scammer is able to use it to steal your address book as well as your phone number.  Finfisher is similarly downloaded by people clicking on links or text messages posing as system updates.  These are just two of the ways now being used to get you to download the dangerous malware on your smartphone.

TIPS

People need constantly updated security software on their smartphones and other mobile devices as much as they need it on their computers.  Also, make sure that you have and use encryption software to protect the data in your device in case it is hacked.  Be wary of WIFI that can be tainted and used to download malware on your smartphone or other mobile devices if you do not have the proper security software.  Finally make sure that you are both using your smartphone’s or mobile device’s security features to the utmost and gurn off features of your device that you do not need because this will limit your vulnerability to attack from the outside.

 

Scam of the day – October 12, 2012 – Mortgage modification scams

Scammers taking advantage of homeowners having difficulty paying their mortgages through fraudulent schemes that purport to assist homeowners with their mortgage difficulties, but then only steal more money from the desperate homeowners are finding that the federal government is taking strong actions against such scammers.  Earlier this week Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government’s Distressed Homeowner Initiative had filed criminal actions against 530 people during the past year.  These defendants are accused of stealing money from 73,000 distraught homeowners at a cost of a billion dollars.  In addition to these criminal actions, there have also been more than 100 civil actions filed against another 150 defendants accused of scamming 15,000 vicims out of 37 million dollars.

TIPS

The best way to deal with a scam is to avoid being taken in the first place.  For too many people desperate times have resulted in people taking desperate measures.  Be wary of ads for mortgage assistance that you get through an email and don’t pay upfront fees for mortgage assistance.  Always check out the legitimacy of any company with which you may consider working with the Better Business Bureau, your state’s attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission.  You may also find it helpful to Google their name with the word “scam” next to it and see what comes up.  Some mortgage scam rescuers request that you sign your home over to them on a temporary basis until the debts are dealt with.  These are always scams.

Scam of the day – October 11, 2012 – Think Pink Scams

Although National Think Pink day, the national day of breast cancer awareness, will not be coming up until next week, it is not too early to warn people about the scams that will be tied to this day.  Breast cancer is a terrible scourge and many legitimate charities and foundations are soliciting contributions to assist in the fight against breast cancer.  Unfortunately, many of the contacts that you may receive through phone calls, snail mail and email may be from scammers who have no intention of using your contribution for anything other than lining their own pockets.

TIPS

Charitable phone solicitation are allowed by law even if you are on the Do-Not-Call List, but if you do receive a charitable solicitation by phone you have no way of knowing from whom it is coming and whether indeed they are legitimate or fake.  In fact, many legitimate charities hire telemarketers who are paid a portion of what they collect as a commission so if you really want more of your contribution to go to a legitimate organization, send it directly to the organization through its website or through snail mail.  You also may wish to confirm that the charity is a legitimate charity by going to www.charitynavigator.org which is  a free website that will not only tell you if the charity soliciting from you is legitimate, but also how much of its funds go toward its charitable goals and how much goes for fundraising and salaries.  Some “legitimate” charities spend an inordinate amount of money on the salaries of its officers.

Scam of the day- October 9, 2012 – Latest employment scams

Searching for a job online has become the norm for many people seeking employment and there are many legitimate online employment websites such as Careerbuilder.com and Monster.com, however, merely because an ad for a job appears on a legitimate website does not mean that the job is for real.  It may be just a scam seeking either personal information to make you a victim of identity theft, your money or both.  Do not assume because you see an ad for a job on a legitimate employment website that the ad is legitimate.  Although Career builder.com, Monster.com and other online employment agencies do their best to screen their ads, they can’t be even close to perfect.  Some of the things to be on the lookout for are companies that want you to wire fees as part of the job application or those asking for personal information early in the process.  Make sure that the company has a brick and mortar location and is not just an online scam.  Also be wary of ads that appear to be from companies that you know are legitimate because the scammer may be faking that as well.

TIPS

Never spend money to apply for a job.  Legitimate employers do not require them.  Google the address, telephone number and name of the company to see if they match what you have been told.  Don’t send a resume with personal information, such as your Social Security number that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  If the ad appears to be from a company that you know is legitimate, confirm by a telephone call to the real company’s HR department that the ad you are answering is legitmate.  A legitimate company will eventually need your Social Security number, but not early in the process.  Make sure that you have confirmed that the job is legitimate before providing this information.

Scam of the day – October 8, 2012 – Latest pet scams

A scam that is consistently provides big payoffs for scam artists is what is often called the “puppy scam.”  People buy dogs or other pets on line and although they think they are taking proper precautions often end up getting nothing in return for the money that they wire to the scammer who may have a website or other way of marketing their non-existent pets with photographs and false information.  Often they hook you for more and more money as occurs when even after you have paid for the non-existent dog you are hit up for further fees for a special crate to transport the dog along with additional transportation company fees.
TIPS

Anyone can have a website that appears to be legitimate and anyone can even steal the name of a legitimate animal breeder.  Always check into the reputation of the breeder with the better business bureau, your state’s attorney general and even Google the name with the word “scam” to see if even the legitimate breeder’s name that is being used has been stolen for scams previously.  Be wary of anyone who asks you to wire money because that is a telltale sign that a scam is going on because once the money is wired, it is impossible to get it back if you have been scammed.  If you are told that a courier company is being used to transport the animal, check out the company to make sure it is legitimate and find out if they have used the courier previously.  Also, always get a veterinarian report on any animal before you consider buying it.  Finally, you are always going to be better off by buying a pet that you can go see in person prior to buying the pet.

Scam of the day – October 7, 2012 – Hulk Hogan sex tape scams

Celebrity sex tapes are nothing new.  From Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton to Kim Kardashian and others, the public’s thirst for sex tapes sometimes made without and almost always distributed without the knowledge of the celebrity is always great.  The latest of the sex tapes to hit the Internet is a sex tape that apparently was done surreptitiously of former WWE wrestling champion Hulk Hogan who is shown in a thirty minute tape having sex with a woman who has been identified by some as the ex-wife of Hogan’s best friend.  A number of legitimate websites are showing a one minute portion of the tape, but you can probably expect soon that the full thirty minute tape will be appearing on the Internet.  But beware.  Scammers, as they have done with other celebrity nude shots or sex tapes,  most recently with the topless shots of Kate, the Duchess of Windsor will be sending out emails, Facebook messages and tweets that lure you to phony websites that when you click on the link necessary to watch the tape will download dangerous keystroke logging malware on your computer that can steal your information and make you a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Never trust links that come in emails, tweets or Facebook messages.  Even if they come from friends who you trust, you must remember my motto, “trust me you can’t trust anyone.”  Your friends may have had their email account, Twitter account or Facebook account hacked into by an identity thief and the message that you are getting may be from the identity thief, not your friend.  And that message may well contain keystroke logging malware.  In addition, even if your real friends pass on a link, they may be unwittingly passing on a link that they do not realize will cause you to become a victim of identity theft.  The best course of action, if you are intent upon seeing the video is to go only to websites that you know are legitimate.

Scam of the day – October 6, 2012 – FTC freezes accounts of scammers

On July 15, 2012 I warned you about a scam in which you receive a telephone call purportedly from Microsoft, Dell or other major computer companies or security software companies such as McAfee and Norton telling you that they have remotely determined that your computer is seriously infected with computer viruses and that you need to immediately remedy the problem for fees ranging from $49 to $450.  To confirm the problem, they tell you to go to your Windows’ Event Viewer which is a utility that keeps track of program errors and other events on your computer.  Everyone’s Windows’ Event Viewer will show many errors, but almost universally they are of no significance.  However, when directed to this utility and seeing a long list of problems, people can begin to trust the scammer, not knowing that these “problems” are insignificant.  The victim is then directed to a website to download a code or download a software program that permits remote access to the scammer under the guise that the scammer would then remove the offending malware.  Too often when the victim downloaded the software, they also downloaded dangerous keystroke logging programs that allowed the scammer and identity thief full access to all of the information in the victim’s computer that, in turn, let the scammer steal the identity of the victim.

TIPS

This week the Federal Trade Commission filed legal actions against 14 companies and 17 people the FTC said were involved in this scam and a New York Federal Court Judge ordered the assets of these defendants be frozen while the case proceeds.  I will keep you informed as to the progress of the cases.  Meanwhile, the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm, so my advice to you is to be proactive and protect yourself from these scams.  Whenever you receive a telephone call from someone saying they are with a particular company, you can never be sure that they are who they represent themselves to be.  Never give out personal information to someone who calls you on the phone.  If you believe a call is legitimate, call the company back at a number you know is accurate.  It is also important to remember that none of these computer companies or software security companies will ever initiate a call to you so if someone contacts you purporting to be from one of these companies to tell you that your computer is having problems, hang up;  they are scammers.  Always maintain up to date security software and if you have questions, call your computer company or your security software company directly at a telephone number that you know is accurate.