Scam of the day – July 5, 2012 – Home Depot contest scam

Recently Jode Ventura of New Bedford, Massachusetts was lucky enought ot win $150,000 in a lottery conducted by Home Depot, a store where she frequently shopped.  The contest was from their British office and said, “We are pleased to inform you that you are one of the declared winners of a mega lottery conducted in UK.”  Inside the letter was the first payment of her winning, a bank check for $3,980.  The letter also required Ventura to send back  a check for  for $1,995.  Fortunately, for Jode Ventura, she went to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office where to Jode’s surprise, she was told that it was a scam and did not fall for it.  Others have not been so lucky.

TIPS

As I have warned you many times.  It is hard enough to win a lottery you have entered.  It is impossible to win one that you have not entered.  Foreign lottery scams are one of the most common scams today and they all share one thing in common that should be a tip off to you if you receive a notice that you have won a foreign lottery – playing foreign lotteries are illegal under Title 17, Part I, Chapter 95 , Section 1953 of the Federal Law.   Many people who receive these checks think they are being smart by waiting for the check to clear before sending back any money.  Unfortunately, they do not understand the rules of provisional credit under which, their account will be given temporary credit for the check after a few days while it goes through the more lengthy clearing process.  It will appear that it has cleared, but it has not and this will come back to haunt the victim when the check ultimately bounces after a few weeks, but the check that the victim has sent does not bounce.  Finally, taxes are never collected by the operators of legitimate lotteries.  They either deduct the income taxes from your winnings, or more often they leave it to you to pay the income taxes.

Scam of the day – July 4, 2012 – Smartphone app scam

Every day there are new helpful apps for our smartphones and every day there are new corrupted apps that can lead to identity theft or worse.  A new scam now being done involves you downloading a popular app such as a video player, however the app is corrupted with malware that can take over your text messaging and without your being aware of it, start sending text messages to premium addresses that cost you money.  In addition, the malware can also, without your knowing it make calls to expensive pay-per-call numbers.  It is not until you get your first bill after your smartphone has been infected do you learn about the extra charges.

TIPS

Only download apps from legitimate app stores such as Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store.  Anytime you download an app from a source you are not sure of, you are taking a chance.  And even when you download an app from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, you may find yourself victimized because some of the more creative scammers will release a clean app through the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, which will check out the app, but later the scammer will send you the malware in an update to your app.  The best thing you can do in addition to only downloading apps from legitimate companies is to make sure that you have good, effective security software installed on your smartphone.  You do it for your computer and your laptop so, make sure that you do it for your smartphone as well.

Scam of the day – July 3, 2012 – Disaster scams

With the recent damage caused by Tropical Storm Debbie and the Colorado wildfires, you can expect to see scammers following in the wake of these disasters with scams to further victimize the people who have been harmed by these natural disasters.  Some scams will be when the criminals pose as insurance adjusters who need payments before doing their work while other scams will be scammers posing as government agents there to help  you who merely need your personal information such as your Social Security number to make you eligible for assistance programs.  Additional scams will involve phony contractors who will take your money and vanish without doing any work.  Finally, even if you have not been victimized, but merely want to help out the victims through charitable donations, you may end up giving to a phony charity.

TIPS

Don’t trust insurance adjusters until you have confirmed their identity with the insurance company independently.  Neither should you provide personal information to anyone until you have confirmed that they are legitimate.  In regard to FEMA or other federal agencies, a quick call to FEMA can confirm that the person speaking with you is legitimate. Don’t trust IDs.  They can be forged.  As for contractors, confirm independently that they are licensed, bonded and have not had complaints made against them.  All states provide this information.  Finally, in regard to any charity, check it out first on www.charitynavigator.com where you can find out if it is legitimate or not and even how much of your charitable donation will actually go toward charitable purposes and how much will be used for salaries and administrative expenses.

Scam of the day – July 2, 2012 – New text message identity theft threat

The Missouri Attorney General is warning people about phony text messages that people are receiving on their smartphones saying that the person receiving the text has just won a free Walmart or Costco gift card.  However, when people click on the link they receive no prize, but they do download on to their smartphone keystroke logging malware that can enable the identity thief who sent the text  message to steal personal information from their phone that can lead to their becoming a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

By no means is this threat unique to Missouri, this identity theft scheme is being used throughout the country.  Never trust any text message or email message that tells you that you have won a contest that you have not entered and never click on any link unless you are absolutely positive that the link is legitimate.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  If you have any doubts, check with your local attorney general or the real company that is supposedly sponsoring the contest.

Scam of the day – July 1, 2012 – Wyndham Hotel Data Breach

The Federal Trade Commission has just sued Wyndham Worldwide Corporation, the franchiser for Days Inn and Super 8 Motels in regard to data breaches that caused its customers to lose more than 10.6 million dollars in identity theft fraud losses.    According to the FTC, Wyndham misrepresented the security measures that the company took to protect the private data of its customers.  The FTC alleges that Wyndham’s security measures to prevent large scale data breaches are inadequate.  Wyhdam is disputing the charges.

TIP

The lesson here is that it is important to remember that your private information such as credit card numbers and Social Security numbers are only as secure as the weakest place that holds this information.   Before you do business with anyone where you will need to provide personal information that if it fell into the wrong hands could put you in danger of identity theft, confirm that they take adequate measures to protect your data that they hold.

Scam of the day – June 30, 2012 – Phony lawyer website scam

A scam that has become increasingly popular with scammers involves getting the name and basic business information about a legitimate lawyer and then setting up a phony website in the lawyer’s name.  Often the scammers merely steal the business cards for legitimate lawyers to gain the information necessary to establish a legitimate looking website.  Once the website is established, unwitting clients contact the lawyer in response to the website.  They then pay fees for services that are never rendered.  Sometimes they even meet with the scammers impersonating lawyers, but never at the lawyer’s office.  As a courtesy the lawyer comes to your home or meets at some other location.

TIP

When you meet with a lawyer, at least initially, it should be in the lawyer’s office to help confirm that he or she is legitimate.  You also can generally find a photograph of lawyers on line to match against the person you meet.

Scam of the day – June 29, 2012 – FBI scam

The late Johnny Carson used to host a television show entitled Who Do You Trust?”  If there are any English teachers reading this, they know it should have been “Whom Do You Trust,” but why quibble?  I bring up this trip down memory lane because if there is anyone people do trust, it is FBI director Robert Mueller.  Consequently when you receive an email from him endorsing the legitimacy of a particular lottery or notifying you of a possible inheritance, you might be considering trusting the email.  Don’t.  Despite the fact that the emails look quite official with photographs of Director Mueller the FBI seal and other legitimate looking trappings, the emails are always scams.  Sometimes they ask for personal information for various reasons and sometimes they provide links for you to click on.

TIP

The FBI does not endorse lotteries or inform you of inheritances.  The FBI will not be sending you emails asking for personal information.  Any links you click on contained in such email will most likely contain malware that will steal the information from your computer and make you a victim of identity theft.  If you do get such an email, the best thing you can do is to either ignore it or forward it to the real FBI.

Scam of the day – June 28, 2012 – New phony government website scam

As I recently indicated in a recent “scam of the day,” technologically savvy scammers have used their knowledge of the algorithms used by Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines to have the phony websites of the scammers come to the top of the list when you look for a legitimate website.  Recently in North Carolina, Lloyd Scher wanting to renew a driver’s license went online to get the phone number of the Deparment of Motor Vehicles of North Carolina and the search engine took him to a scammers website where he would have been charged for getting free forms.  Fortunately, Scher recognized that it was a scam and did not fall for the scam.

TIP

Whenever you go to a government website, it should end with “gov.”  This particular website ended with “com.”  Don’t provide personal information on line unless you are sure that the website is legitmate and never provide information that you think the website should not need.  Also never provide personal information unless the domain name starts with “https.”  The key is the letter “s” which indicates that  the information you provide is being encrypted.  Trust me.  You can’t trust anyone.  Just because a search engine brings up a website does not mean that it is legitimate.

Scam of the day – June 27, 2012 – Phony charities on Craigslist

Advertisements for phony charities are starting to appear on Craigslist.  A particularly despicable one that was uncovered this week is for a phony charity asking for donations to help pay for the medical costs of a soldier wounded in Afghanistan.  The advertisement features the picture of Sean Fennerty, who was actually killed in Iraq in 2007.  The advertisement asks for donations and for people to share the advertisement on Twitter and Facebook along with a link to a website to make donations.  The family of the fallen soldier, as you can well imagine is quite upset to have their son used in this way by scammers.

TIP

This particular type of scam is quite new, but in many ways the attempt to appeal to our sympathy, generosity and patriotism is nothing new.  There are many phony charities and you should never give to a charity until you have checked it out to make sure that it is legitimate.  Even with “legitimate” charities, you may be interested to learn how much of what they collect actually goes toward their charitable purposes and how much for administrative expenses.   All of this you can learn by going to the free website www.charitynavigator.org.

Scam of the day – June 26, 2012 – Latest Bernie Madoff developments and the lessons to be learned

The New York Attorney General just announced a settlement with Hedge Fund Manager Ezra Merkin, by which Merkin will pay 410 million dollars to victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  Merkin was reportedly managing his clients’ investments by merely turning the money over to Madoff to invest and being paid reportedly approximately 35 million dollars a year for doing nothing more than taking his clients’ money and giving it to Madoff without proper investigation or research.

TIPS

The lessons to be learned by the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme are many including, never invest in anything that you do not completely understand, always investigate anyone who will be dealing with your money, avoid becoming a victim of affinity fraud by excessively trusting someone merely because they belong to the same social, ethnic or religious group as you and as illustrated strongly in the Madoff scandal, never have your investment advisor also be the person who holds your money.  Bernie Madoff was both the investor and the custodian of the assets.  If you work with an investment advisor, always have an independent custodian hold the investments so that you get independent statements that verify your investments.