Scam of the day – August 19, 2013 – New sweepstakes scam

August 19, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Sweepstakes and lottery scams are always among the most prevalent and effective scams used to steal money from unwary victims.  The essence of many of these phony lotteries is the same.  You are notified that you have won a lottery that you never entered, but have to pay various fees and taxes before you can claim your prize.  In some variations of this scam, you are actually sent a counterfeit check for an amount that is more than the amount you are asked to pay.  You are instructed to deposit the check and then wire the fees back to the contest sponsors.  Although it may be hard to imagine people falling for these scams, many people do indeed become victims of these scams.  Recently Joseph Nkunzi and Safia Ahmed were arrested in Washington after being indicted for running a phony lottery scam in which a 78 year old California woman was scammed out of $182,000 after being told on the phone that she had won 8.8 million dollars from the North America Prize Pool.

TIPS

As I always tell you, it is hard enough to win a legitimate lottery; it is impossible to win one that you have not entered.  That should be the first sign that the lottery is a scam.  In addition, legitimate lotteries do not charge you fees in order to claim your prize.  Lottery winnings are, indeed, subject to income taxes, but those taxes are either deducted from the winnings before you receive the rest of your prize or they are the responsibility of the prize winner.  Lottery sponsors never collect tax payments from winners on behalf of the IRS.  Also, as I have described in many “Scams of the day,” you should also be skeptical when you receive, for whatever purpose, a check for more than what you may owe someone who then asks for you to send the overage back to the sender.  This is a red flag that you are dealing with a counterfeit check and a scam.

Scam of the day – August 18, 2013 – Urgent Microsoft security updates – How to prevent identity theft

August 17, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Identity thieves and hackers are constantly working to discover and exploit vulnerabilities in the various computer software that we use in our computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and other portable devices  to make you a victim of online identity theft therefore it is extremely important that as flaws are discovered and patches for these flaws issued that you download the necessary security patches as soon as possible.  Identity thieves and hackers rely on the fact that many people do not keep their security software up to date and exploit this fact.  Recently Microsoft has issued new security patches for discovered vulnerabilities in various Windows programs that millions of people use.  The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security regularly issues alerts regarding software patches you need to install and recently they issued such an alert for Windows software.

TIPS

Here is a link to the Security Advisory issued by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team which, in turn, provides secure links that you can trust that will take you to the necessary Microsoft security downloads.  https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/current-activity/2013/08/15/Microsoft-Releases-Security-Advisory

Scam of the day – August 17, 2013 – Animal Control Officer scam

August 17, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

A  new scam that is making its way around the country starts with a phony Animal Control Officer coming to your home and informing you that there have been complaints against your dog and that they will impound your pet unless a fine is paid immediately.  This particular scam has been very effective in retirement communities in Florida, but is being done elsewhere as well.  The Animal Control Office is a phony even though he or she may have a uniform, a badge or an identification card.  If you pay the scammer money to avoid the impoundment of your dog, all you will succeed in doing is losing your money.

TIPS

No legitimate Animal Control Officer will come to your door unannounced and demand a payment and threaten to take your dog if you do not comply.  If someone comes to your home making that threat, you should call by phone the real Animal Control Officer for your jurisdiction to confirm that this person is a scam artist.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Merely because someone shows you apparent credentials does not mean anything.  Those documents can be counterfeited.

Scam of the day – August 16, 2013 – IRS email scam

August 16, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Today’s Scam of the day, like so many others, comes directly from my own email.  It appears to be legitimate and the email address from which it was sent also appeared to be legitimate.  However, it is a hoax and a total scam.  A common scam used by many identity thieves is to send you an email that appears to come from a legitimate source requiring you to click on a link to verify or update your information.  NEVER do this in response to an email.   It is a simple matter for an identity thief to make an email appear as if it comes from a legitimate source and if you click on the link one of two things will happen and both are bad.  Sometimes through this scam known as phishing, you are taken to another website where you are asked to input personal information that is used to make you a victim of identity theft.  Other times, merely by clicking on the link, you will unwittingly download a keystroke logging malware program that will steal all of the information from your computer and use that information to make you a victim of identity theft

TIPS
The easiest way to know that an email is not from the IRS is to merely be aware that the the IRS does not communicate with taxpayers about such matters through email  so if you get an email from the IRS asking you to either verify or update information, it is a scam.  If you do receive an email requesting information or asking you to click on a link and you have the slightest thought that it might be legitimate, you should contact the entity at a telephone number or website address that you know is legitimate to inquire as to whether or not the email to you was a scam.  Also, it is very important to always keep your Firewall, anti-virus software and anti-malware software up to date with the latest security update.

Scam of the day – August 15, 2013 – State investigations department scam

August 15, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

It is said that fear and greed control the stock market.  They also control scams as many scams and identity theft schemes prey on one or the other of these emotions.  Recently there has been an upsurge of robocalls from the non-existent “state investigations department” in which you are told that you are the subject of an ongoing investigation.  In some versions of his scam, personal information is then solicited from you.  In other versions of the scam, you are told to wire funds or send a prepaid cash card to resolve the problem.  In all versions of this call, it is a scam.

TIPS

There is no “state investigations department” and robocalls are illegal except for robocalls from political candidates and charities so if you get any other robocall, you should just hang up because the person calling you obviously is already breaking the law.  Also, as I constantly remind you, never give out personal information on the phone to anyone even if your caller ID indicates that the caller is legitimate.  You can never be sure that the person calling you is legitimate.  If you think that the call might be legitimate, you should call the person or agency back at a number that you know is legitimate, not the number that the caller provides you.  Also, be particularly wary when a caller requests that money be sent by prepaid cards such as green dot cards or by wiring funds from your bank because it is impossible to get your money back if you pay someone through these methods.  These are favorite methods of scammers and whenever you are asked to pay in this fashion, you should be skeptical.

Scam of the day – August 14, 2013 – Indictments in largest data breach in history

August 14, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Recently the Paul Fishman, the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey announced the indictments of four Russians and a Ukrainian for the biggest data breach in American history.  The five men were charged with hacking into the computer networks of more than a dozen major American corporations including Visa, JC Penney, 7-Eleven, and JetBlue.  They also hacked into Heartland Payments Systems, which is one of the world’s largest credit and debit card processing companies.  Once they hacked into these companies’ computers they were able to steal personal information including names, passwords, credit card numbers and debit card numbers.  The cost of the hacking has run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

TIPS

The interconnectedness of companies and credit card processors for those companies is both a convenience to the public and a threat because once the security of that network is breached at its weakest point, which is often at the point of a credit card transaction, the identity stealing hacker is able to exploit small vulnerabilities in the system to access wider and wider data banks.  Corporate America still has not taken the necessary security steps to protect the privacy of the data that it routinely collects and we all are paying the price for their lack of sufficient action.

Scam of the day – August 13, 2013 – Hackers steal records of University of Delaware

August 13, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Today’s scam of the day is quite similar to others that I have written about because colleges and universities have become prime targets for identity thieves.  Just last year the University of Nebraska was hacked and personal information of hundreds of thousands of people were stolen, making those people probable identity theft victims.  In the University of Delaware hacking which was discovered just recently, personal records including names, addresses and Social Security numbers were stolen for at least 72,000 people.  The university is still trying to ascertain the full extent of the breach.  The University of Delaware is offering to pay for three years of credit monitoring for those people who had their personal information compromised and is sending letters and emails to those affected.  If you think that you may be effected, you can check with the University of Delaware at www.udel.edu/it/response.

TIPS

The continuing hacking of colleges and universities points out one of my basic warnings, which is that you are only as safe as the security at the weakest place that holds your personal information.  As a rule you should limit the places that hold personal information such as your Social Security number which is a key to identity theft to those places that truly need it.  You should also inquire of any company, agency, school or other organization that has personal information about you a to what they do to protect that information.

Scam of the day – August 12, 2013 – Global Processing Inc lottery scam

August 12, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Lottery scams are one of the most effective scams and with good reason.  Who wouldn’t want to win a lottery?  One of the lottery scams presently being reported begins when you receive a letter from a company called Global Processing, Inc. although I should caution you, this same scam is done under other names, as well.  The letter informs you that you have won a large sum of money, such as $250,000 and also comes with a check, sometimes certified for $4,686 to help you pay the required processing fee of $3,250 in one version of the scam presently being circulated.  The check looks good and if you deposit it, your bank may appear to indicate to you that the check has cleared in a few days so you can feel confident sending your own check for the processing fee.  However, banks are required to give only provisional credit after a few days and when the counterfeit check ultimately bounces, the bank removes the money from your account and you are left having sent your own money, usually by wire, to a scammer.

TIPS

It is very hard to win a lottery.  It is impossible to win a lottery that you have not entered.  If it is a foreign lottery, it is illegal for Americans to play foreign lotteries.  As for the crux of the scam, no legitimate lottery requires you to pay processing fees and if they were going to provide money to you to pay for the fee, why wouldn’t they merely deduct that amount from your winnings?  It just doesn’t make sense.  Don’t let greed blind you from common sense.  The payment of a check in an amount more than is due and then asking you to pay the difference is the basis of many variations of this scam.

Scam of the day – August 11, 2013 – Flood relief scams

August 11, 2013 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

The videos of the devastating floods affecting much of the Midwest have touched the heart of many Americans, who, in time of need generously reach out to help their fellow Americans.  But scam artists, the only criminals to whom we refer as artists are also there to take advantage of our best instincts.  They also are there to victimize even more the unfortunate victims of the floods.  Warnings are now being issued by many in law enforcement, such as Missouri’s Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long who warned people to be wary of identity thieves and scam artists using these floods as an opportunity to scam people out of their money.  Two major types of scams often occur following such disasters as we are seeing in the Midwest.  The first is phony charities that spring up eager to take your money, when in fact all that they are doing is stealing your money with none of it going to help the victims of the floods.  The second type of scam is an identity theft scam where scammers turn up posing as government aid workers or insurance adjusters with the promise of help.  They then solicit personal information from the victims, such as Social Security numbers which they then use to victimize the flood victims a second time;  this time as victims of identity theft.

TIPS

Before you ever give money to a charity, make sure that it is a legitimate charity. Often phony charities will have names that are deceptively similar to real charities.  Go to the website www.charitynavigator.org where you can check and see not only if the charity is legitimate, but how much of your contribution actually goes to helping the victims and how much goes toward the charity’s fund raising, salaries and administrative expenses.  There are some “legitimate” charities that keep much too much of your contributions for their own pockets.  Also, when you decide on a charity to which you wish to contribute, make your contribution directly to the charity online, through the mail or by phone at numbers and addresses that you know are accurate so that you can be sure that your money will go to the real charity and not a scammer using the name of a legitimate charity.  By making your payment directly to a charity you also make sure that a larger part of what you contribute will actually go to the charity.  When you pay your money to a professional solicitor hired by the charity, a portion of your contribution goes to the professional fund raiser.

As for anyone asking you for personal information and representing themselves as employees of FEMA, state emergency management agencies, insurance companies or insurance adjusters, you can never be sure that the person with whom you meet actually is legitimate.  Often the scammers will have counterfeit credentials.  The best thing you can do is to never give personal information to such people, but rather get information from them and follow up online or on the phone with someone actually from FEMA or whatever agency or company you need to deal with.  Contact them at addresses or numbers that you have confirmed are accurate.  Do not trust the information given to you by a field worker who may only be posing as a legitimate FEMA employee.  Verify.