Scam of the day – April 1, 2017 – ATM deposit scam

Today’s Scam of the day seems particularly appropriate for April Fool’s Day because it involves a simple scam that takes advantage of trusting people.  The Boston University Police Department is warning members of the BU community about a scam in which the victim is approached at ATMs by scammers who ask the intended victim to deposit checks made payable to the scammer into the victim’s account and then withdraw the amount of the check from the victim’s ATM account minus a small payment for their trouble and give the cash to the scammer.  Scam artists, the only criminals we call artists are quite adept at convincing their victims that they don’t have a bank account and they need the cash for an emergency.  Of course, the check is counterfeit and will bounce after going through the check clearing process which can take days or even weeks. Unfortunately, the money withdrawn from the victim’s account to give the scammer is long gone when the victim finds out that their good deed has led to their becoming a scam victim.

TIPS

Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  A bank would not cash a check for a stranger and neither should you.  Forged checks and counterfeit checks can appear quite legitimate.  The only way to know if a check is genuine is to wait until it has fully cleared and you can’t do that in this situation.

Scam of the day – February 16, 2017 – New twist on mail theft

Identity theft is a high tech, low tech and no tech crime and while we often tend to focus our attention on high tech identity theft tactics such as spear phishing, no tech tactics such as fishing for mail with a plastic bottle covered in glue that is lowered into blue public mailboxes to capture mail being sent with checks is making a comeback.  In the Bronx, New York just in the last year police and postal inspectors have made about 150 arrests according to Donna Harris of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

I have warned you for years about leaving mail with checks or credit card information in your personal mailbox outside of your home with the flag raised to alert your postal carrier that there is mail in your box to be retrieved is a bad idea because it also alerts identity thieves who can easily steal the mail.  Once they have the checks, they can “wash” the name or even the amount of the check and make the check payable to the thief. They also can use the account number of your check to create counterfeit checks to access your checking account.

TIPS

This is an easy crime to avoid.  The best course of action is to pay your bills electronically and avoid the problem altogether.  However, if you cannot do so or prefer to send a paper check by mail, you should use a gel pen that is not easily “washed” to write your checks and you should mail envelopes with checks in them directly from inside the post office.

Scam of the day – December 26, 2014 – Nanny scam

We are now in the midst of the Winter vacation period between the Fall and the Spring semesters at colleges and universities around the country with many college students looking for part-time work as nannies and babysitters.  Many college students use legitimate websites such as care.com to look for nanny and baby sitting job opportunities.  Rebecca Holgreen recently answered a posting on care.com in which a family indicated they were moving from Australia to Chicago and needed the services of a nanny.  Rebecca responded to the advertisement and was sent a check for $1,850 and told to use the money to buy groceries and other items for the family’s home, keep $400 for herself and exchange the rest for Green Dot Money Pack cards.   She was told to email the account numbers for the cards to the family.  You may be able to have guessed how this story ends.  Of course, the check was a counterfeit one although it appeared to have been cleared by the bank before Rebecca made her purchases and sent the rest of the money back to the scammers by turning over to them the account numbers for the Green Dot Money Pack cards purchased with what turned out to be Rebecca’s money from her own checking account.  Despite her best efforts to contact the family, she never was able to make contact with them after the check bounced.

TIPS

This is just another variation on the scam whereby the victim, for whatever purposes receives a check in excess of the amount to paid to the victim and asks the victim to send back the difference.  There are a number of tell tale signs to look for and steps to take to avoid this type of scam.  First, you need to remember that although a check may appear to have been cleared by your bank after a few days, all you are really getting is “provisional credit” and when the counterfeit check eventually bounces, the credit is taken back from your account and you are left having sent your own money to the scammer.  It is also important to note that merely because you are dealing with a legitimate website such as care.com, no website is able to completely guarantee that every posting on it is legitimate.  Sending excess funds back to someone using prepaid money cards is another tell tale sign of a possible scam.  Scammers use these cards because they are all but impossible to trace and once the information from the card has been provided to the scammer, the victim is out of luck.  The prudent thing to do when being paid by a check is to wait until the check has fully cleared before you can feel confident that the funds actually are in your account.  This may take a few weeks.

Scam of the day – August 6, 2014 – Mickey Mouse becomes an identity theft victim

Recently, the Bellevue, Washington police broke up an identity theft ring that was counterfeiting phony credit cards, forged checks, phony identification cards and drivers’ licenses.  In fact, among the phony drivers licenses confiscated by the police was one that must have been done as a test of their counterfeiting equipment because it was a phony driver’s license for Mickey Mouse or as the license read, Mick E. Mouse.  The identity thief obviously knew his Disney history because for the birth date of Mick, it listed November 18, 1928 which was the date of the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willie.”  The license also listed Mick as five feet two inches tall, and 119 pounds.  Being a socially responsible mouse, Mick was also listed as an organ donor on his license.  The picture on the license is unmistakeably that of Mickey Mouse.

TIPS

Although the identity theft of Mickey Mouse is humorous, identity theft is far from humorous when it comes to real people having their identities stolen. In this case, the identity theft ring in Bellevue obtained the information necessary to steal people’s identities in two primary ways.  They stole mail from people’s mailboxes that often had credit card bills and checks in envelopes meant for creditors as well as stealing personal information from documents and materials that people left in their cars.  Breaking into cars to steal wallets, IDs or other personal information that can be used for identity theft purposes is a common tactic of identity thieves. The lesson is to mail your bill payments from the post office if you are not paying your bills on line which is actually the safer choice.  You also should never leave anything in your car, even if it is locked, that could be used by a criminal to steal your identity.

Scam of the day – July 15, 2014 – Mailbox identity theft danger

Identity theft can be high tech, low tech or no tech and although much attention is often focused on computer phishing schemes, malware and other high tech methods of turning you into a victim of identity theft, low tech and no tech methods of identity theft can be equally as effective in stealing your identity.  One low tech method that has been around for a long time, but seems to be making a resurgence is when identity thieves put strong glue like the kind used on mouse trap paper is put on the inside of the swing-down chute in the mailboxes you find scattered throughout your city.  This glue traps mail on the chute rather than letting it go down into the mailbox when the lid is closed making it easy pickings for an identity thief who can be looking for checks you may be mailing to a business or a credit card payment.  Your check can either be altered through a process called “washing” so that the check is made to appear to be payable to the identity thief.   The identity thieves can also take the information from your check and make counterfeit checks in order to access your checking account.   They may also steal the information from your credit card statement to gain access to your credit card.

Another similar type of scam involves the identity thief putting the glue on a small object at the end of a string and lowering the string into the mailbox to go fishing for mail with checks, credit card statements or other information that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Although it seems like you should be able to trust the U.S. mail, you would be prudent to mail payments and letters with financial information directly from the post office rather than use vulnerable mailboxes.  You also should consider making your payments electronically which is even safer.  When you do use checks, you should use a type of pen called a gel pen which you can purchase at any office supply store.  The ink from these pens is almost impossible to wash off of a check by a counterfeiter.  Finally, do not put mail with personal information or checks in your own personal mailbox at your home.  Often people do this and raise the red flag on the mail box to inform the letter carrier  that there is outgoing mail to be picked up from your box.  Unfortunately, it also informs an identity thief cruising your neighborhood that there are “goodies” in your mailbox.

 

Scam of the day – July 29, 2013 – Car wrap scams

We have all seen car wraps which are advertisements for a company wrapped around a car.  For someone looking for some money for very little effort, this may seem like a match made in heaven.  But if you are not careful, it could be a match made in scam hell.  One way scammers exploit legitimate advertising through car wraps is by either putting an ad on the Internet or contacting you through a mass email in which they seek people to have their car’s used for advertising through this technique called shrink wrapping.  Unsuspecting victims respond to the advertisement and are sent a check for actually more than the amount that the victim is owed.  The victim is instructed to deposit the check in his or her bank account and wire the rest back to the company.  This is where the scam comes in.  The check that the scammer sends you is a counterfeit and bogus.  Unfortunately, the money that you wire the scammer comes right out of your bank account and is almost impossible to retrieve.  This scam of sending you a check for more than what you are to be paid is used in many other scam variations.

TIPS

Always be wary if someone asks you to wire money to them as a part of a business transaction.  Scammers do this all the time because it is quick and almost impossible to stop.  In addition, even if you get what appears to be a certified check and wait a few days for the check to clear, you will still be out of luck because it takes weeks for a check to fully clear.  What your bank does is only give you conditional credit after a few days, which means that if the check turns out to be a counterfeit, the credit is removed from your account and if you have, in turn, made checks of your own, counting on the check being legitimate, you are out of luck and money.  A check sent to you by someone with whom you are doing business for whatever purpose that is more than the amount you are owed that comes with a request for you to send the overpayment amount back is a scam.  Don’t fall for it.

Scam of the day – September 12, 2012 – Lawyer scam

Later this Fall, Nigerian Emmanuel Ekhator will be going on trial in the Federal District Court for Pennsylvania on charges that he stole more than 32 million dollars from lawyers using a simple, but effective scam against law firms that should know better.  The way the scam works is that American law firms are contacted by people claiming they need representation collecting a lawsuit settlement check.  The law firms that fall for this scam collect the settlement check in the form of a bank check, deposit the check in their firm’s escrow account, deduct their fee and wire the remainder to the “client.”  Many of these scams have been traced to Nigeria and to Nigerians living in Canada as well as Japan and South Korea.

TIPS

This scam works on the same basis as the mystery shopper scam where the victim receives a counterfeit check, deposits the check into his or her account and then sends some of the money from the check back to the scammer.  The key is that a bank will give provisional credit for the check in the account of the victim after just a few days so it will appear that the check has been cleared, however, the check does not officially clear, or in the case of a counterfeit check not clear for a few weeks after which time the provisional credit is rescinded and the victim is left having wired good money of the victim to the scammer.  The key to avoiding this scam is to contact the bank issuing the check deposited by phone to make sure that the check is legitimate and that there are funds to cover the check in that account.  Further, do not send any funds in such a situation until the check you are given has fully cleared.