Scam of the day – March 10, 2012 – Latest Facebook Scam

The answer to the question about why scammers are drawn to Facebook is the same answer to the question posed to a bank robber as to why he robbed banks.  Because that is where the money or in the case of Facebook, the victims and money can be found.  The latest Facebook scam follows a familiar pattern.  You see a posting on your page that attracts your attention, such as the one now circulating that says “OMG I just hate RIHANNA after watching this video.”  The posting may look like it has come from one of your friends, but in fact, your friend’s Facebook account has probably been hijacked.  In this particular scam, you are told to share the link before you can see the video.  This is a tip off that it is a scam and if you do share it, you become part of the problem by sending it to unsuspecting friends.  If you click on the link, two things can happen, you may be led to a survey that you must complete before being able to see the video.  This is because the scammers are using this lure to earn themselves a commission for everyone that takes the survey.  However, the more sinister thing that can happen if you click on the link is that you may unwittingly be downloading a key stroke logging malware program that will steal all of your personal information, such as credit card numbers and passwords from your computer and make you a victim of identity theft.  Either way, after you have clicked on the link, you never see the promised, non-existent video.

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These types of scams can easily be avoided with a little skepticism and some fact checking.  Don’t trust postings even if they appear to come from your friends.  Never click on a link unless you are absolutely sure as to its source and even then, you may have a friend who doesn’t realize they are passing along a scam.  Independently check out online the particular item before you even consider clicking on to it.

Scam of the day – March 9, 2012 – Kony 2012 scams

The power of the internet and social media was never more apparent than this week when a documentary video about atrocities committed by a Ugandan warlord was posted on YouTube and quickly went viral with more than 41 million people watching the video.  This huge number was assisted by Tweets alerting people to the video by celebrities such as Will Smith, J.K. Rowling, P.Diddy and Justin Bieber.  The video done by an American organization known as “Invisible Children” is seeking donations, which the organization says will be used toward education and security programs as well as to support an awareness program.  The appeal to our charitable instincts is enormous and that is enough to alert scammers who are also out there ready to appeal for your dollars claiming they are involved with this program or similar programs.  You may see solicitations from other organizations with similar names or who appear to be collecting for the same cause, but without doing a bit of checking, you never know whether you are giving to a scammer or a real charity that will effectively use your donation.

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Anytime you consider making a charitable donation, you should always first make sure that the charity receiving your donation is a legitimate charity and not a scam.  An easy way to do this is to go to the free website www.charitynavigator.org and check out the charity.  You will receive much information that will let you know whether indeed the charity is legitimate.  However, even if the charity is “legitimate,” it may not be where you wish to donate your money.  You may find that the particular charity spends most of its donations on administrative costs and salaries and that little of its donations actually go toward the charitable purpose for which you made your donation.  You can also find this information on www.charitynavigator.org as well.  By the way, the Invisible Children charity is highly ranked by www.charitynavigator.org.

Scam of the day – March 8, 2012 – Work at home scams

Work at home scams have been part of the arsenal of scammers for many years and with good reason.  They work – at least for the scammer.  Recently there has been an upsurge of work at home scams, many of which appear on line on sites such as Craigslist where you may find such scams listed seeking people to work in merchandising or processing.  The job is said to entail receiving packages or money orders and then repackaging them and sending them to another address, often in a foreign country.  You get paid by way of a certified check which you deposit, keep the amount that represents your fee and wire the remainder back.  The problem is, as I have indicated many times previously, the “certified” check you receive is a phony.  Some people who think they are prudent wait a few days for the check to clear before sending the requested money from their account only to learn when the check ultimately bounces that they only received provisional credit from their bank and once the check is found to be counterfeit, the full amount of the check funds are withdrawn from the account by the bank and you are left having sent your own money to the scammer.

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These type of repackaging jobs are scams.  Don’t get involved.  Anytime you are given a certified check, contact the issuing bank to confirm it is legitimate and don’t consider the money yours until the check has fully cleared.

Scam of the day – March 7, 2012 – Prepaid debit card scams

For many years, the coin of the realm for many scams was wired funds because once funds were wired from your bank or a company such as Western Union, the money was gone, unprotected by consumer laws, difficult to trace and could not be easily recovered.  Many schemes including the infamous Nigerian Letter Scam were based upon people wiring the funds to the scammers.  Now we have a new way for scammers to take your hard earned money – prepaid debit cards.  Proponents of these card argue that they can be used just like a check, but unlike a check, there is no legal protection if you are scammed and paid the scammer using one of these cards.  These cards are prepaid and non-reoloadable cards that consumers buy at a store and use to reload a prepaid debit card.  In the course of the scam, the scammer will ask you to buy one of these prepaid debit cards and then ask for the seria number for verification.  This is all that they need to drain the card.  Sellers of these cards such as the company MoneyPak are aware of the problem and are trying to educate consumers.

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Never pay for anything with a prpaid debit card unless you are absolutely sure of whom you are dealing with and have checked them out to make sure that they are not scammers.

Scam of the day – March 6, 2012 – Walmart gift card scam

This is the most recent variation of a familiar scam in which you receive an email or a text message telling you that you are lucky enough to have just won a $1,000 Walmart gift card.  I have received this very scam just yesterday with many other people receiving these over the past couple of days.  You can expect this and similar gift card scams to proliferate.  In the message, you are instructed to go to a link to enter your winning code number to claim your prize.  Never go to a link that you are not absolutely positively sure is legitimate.  In this particular scam, if you click on the link, you will only succeed in downloading a key stroke logging malware program that will read all of the information on your smart phone or computer that can steal from your computer or smart phone all of your personal information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, your Social Security number and more leading to a serious case of identity theft.

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Walmart does not do these type of promotions, so if you receive a text message purporting to be from Walmart regarding this type of promotion or contest, you can be sure it is a phony.  The old adage is true; if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  If you have any thoughts that the contest or promotion might be legitimate, call the company at a number that you know is correct to find out the truth.

Scam of the day – March 5, 2012 – Spring Break Scams

Scammers exploit every opportunity and the upcoming college Spring Break vacation period is a tremendous opportunity to scam students and their parents.  Similar to the Grandparent scam which I have described in an earlier Scam of the Day, it often involves the parents or grandparents of a student who is away from home on vacation receiving a telephone call from a third party telling them that their child or grandchild has had a medical emergency or has been arrested and needs cash for emergency expenses, bail or a lawyer.  Generally, they advise that the cash be wired, which is always a cause of concern because once money has been wired, it is gone.  It is not like a credit card charge that can be put back on to your credit card if the charge is shown to be fraudulent.  Often the scammers get the names and telephone numbers of the vacationing students and their parents from the students’ cell phones which they may leave unattended on a beach, in a backpack or some other unsecure location.

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Never wire money unless you are absolutely sure about to whom you are wiring the money and it is not a scam.  If a claim about a medical or legal emergency is made, contact the hospital or legal authorities in the area to confirm that the information is accurate.  Make sure that you have the cell phone numbers of anyone with whom your child or grandchild is traveling so you can confirm any calls claiming that an emergency has arisen.  Call the child directly on his or her cell phone to confirm the story.  Students traveling abroad should register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/.  This program can help with communications in an emergency situation.

Scam of the day – March 4, 2012 – Phony Sweepstakes

I recently received an email from the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes telling me that I had won a major prize.  There is only one problem.  Publishers Clearing House does not notify winners by email.  Phony contests and sweepstakes have been a common and lucrative scam for many years and people still fall victim to them.  It is hard enough to win a contest that you enter, however, it certainly is difficult to win a contest you have not even entered.  Scammers use phony contests to gather personal information from you, such as your Social Security number to make you a victim of identity theft.  Other times they require you to send in money for taxes or administrative fees.  This is a tip off that the contest is a phony.  Real contest holders never ask you for tax money to be paid to them.

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Don’t pay anything to anyone who has told you that you have won a sweepstakes and of course, do not give out your personal information to anyone telling you that you have won a contest that you have not entered.  You can contact your local Attorney General or the FTC for information about purported sweepstakes.

Scam of the day – March 3, 2012 – Tax credit scam

It may not be rabbit hunting season as Daffy Duck said in an old cartoon nor is it duck hunting season as Bugs Bunny said in the same cartoon, but it certainly is tax scam season and will be right up until (and past) the tax filing deadline.

The latest scam which the IRS has uncovered involves scammers telling people that they are eligible for tax credits based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit when the victims are clearly not eligible for the credit.  The  real American Opportunity Tax Credit program provides tax credits to parents and students to pay for college expenses.  However, scammers are telling people that they are eligible for the tax credits even though they have not gone to school for many years.

Many low income Americans as well as members of particular churches have been specifically targeted by these scams.

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Always be wary of people or companies offering your religious or fraternal organization tax services in which they promise refunds or credits.  Always check the credentials of anyone who offers to assist you with your income taxes.  You can check with the IRS or your state Attorney General.  As for this particular scam based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a good place to start in evaluating whether the program applies to you is if you are not enrolled or paying for college, you are not eligible.  It is as simple as that.

Scam of the day – March 2, 2012 – Tornado scams

Natural disasters such as the recent tornados in the Midwest bring devastating destruction of property and loss of life, but unfortunately, they also bring scammers looking to take advantage of the situation for their monetary gain.  Victims of the storms should be wary of people claiming to be government officials, representatives of disaster relief organizations or insurance adjusters.  Always confirm their identity and never give personal information, such as your Social Security number to anyone whose identity you have not confirmed.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Also beware of people claiming to be loan brokers who represent that, for a fee, they can guarantee a low interest loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  When it comes to home repairs, check out the reputation of any contractor you are considering with the Better Business Bureau and your state Attorney General.  Also, make sure that they are fully bonded.  Finally, for people who are considering giving to charities to help the victims, make sure that you are giving to a legitimate charity and not a phony one set up by a scammer.

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To check out the legitimacy of a charity or even to see how much of what you contribute actually goes to the charitable purposes of a legitimate charity go to www.charitynavigator.org.

Scam of the day – March 1, 2012 – iPad3 scam

Ahead of Apple’s expected announcement next week of the release of the iPad3, the Internet is full of scams, many of them found on Twitter and Facebook for free iPad3s.  They are all scams.  Generally, these phony offers are used as lures that either take you to the relatively harmless, but still annoying surveys for which the scammer is paid by commission for each person who takes the survey or, in a more serious vein, results in your unwittingly downloading keystroke logging software, sometimes called Trojan Horses, which are able to read all of the information on your computer, including credit card information, bank passwords and other financial data that can result in you becoming a serious victim of identity theft.  Many people trust the offers because they appear on their Facebook page without realizing that it is a relatively simple matter for a Facebook page to be hacked into and an offer can appear to be forwarded to you by a trusted friend when, in fact, it is coming from a scam artist.

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The old adage still holds.  If it appears to good to be true, it generally is.  never click on any link that is not from a source that you are absolutely sure is legitimate.  If you are not sure, but still want to consider going to the link, make sure that you confirm that any link you are clicking on is absolutely legitimate.  Otherwise the risk is too great.  And always keep your firewall and security software up to date.