Scam of the day – March 11, 2017 – Spring Break grandparent scam

Many colleges around the country are either on Spring Break or about to have their Spring Break.  The words Spring Break  often conjure up images of young college students on beaches rather than thoughts about their grandparents, but for scammers,  Spring Break and grandparents are a match made in heaven or perhaps hell.

Many of you are familiar with the grandparent scam where a grandparent receives a telephone call from someone purporting to be their grandchild who has gotten into some trouble, either a traffic accident, legal trouble or medical  problems in a far away place.  The caller pleads for the grandparent to wire some money immediately to help alleviate the problem.  However the caller also begs the grandparent not to tell mom and dad.  One would think that no one would be gullible enough to fall for this scam, but don’t be so hard on the victims of this scam.  Scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists, have a knowledge of psychology of which Freud would have been envious and are able to use that knowledge to persuade their victims to send money right away.  With so many college students in warmer parts of the country or even on beaches outside of the country during Spring Break, it is a perfect time for scammers to put this scam to work.

TIPS

Sometimes the scammers do not know the name of their victim’s grandchildren, but often they do.  Sometimes they get this information from perusing obituaries which may name grandchildren by name so merely because the correct name is used in the call is no reason to believe the call.  Don’t respond immediately to such a call without calling the real grandchild on his or her cell phone or call the parents and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.  If a medical problem is the ruse used, you can call the real hospital.  If legal problems are the ruse, you can call the real police.  You can also test the caller with a question that could be answered only by the real grandchild, but make sure that it really is a question that  only the real grandchild could answer and not just anyone who might read the real grandchild’ s Facebook page or other social media.  As I always say, “trust me, you can’t trust anyone.”

Never wire money unless you are absolutely sure about to whom you are wiring the money and it is not a scam.  Once you have wired money, it is gone forever.  Also,  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 – December 24, 2016 – New Twist on the grandparent scam

I have been reporting to you about the grandparent scam for more than four years because people continue to fall for this scam losing thousands of dollars to scammers posing as an elderly victim’s grandchild.  The scam starts with a late-night telephone call to an elderly victim from a scam artist, the only criminal, we refer to as artists, posing as their intended victim’s grandchild who has been involved in some sort of emergency and needs the grandparent to send them money right away. The criminals often manage to gather valuable information from obituaries and social media of young people, such as the particular names the grandchild may use to refer to their grandparents to make the calls seem more legitimate.

Now in a new twist on the grandparent scam an Omaha grandmother reported being swindled out of $20,000 dollars when she received a call from someone telling her that he was a police office and she needed to send bail money for her grandson who was under arrest.  She followed the scammers instructions to buy gift cards and provide the card information to the scammer by phone in order to cover her grandson’s phony bail costs.

For years the preferred method that the scammers instructed their victims to use for sending funds was by wiring the money from Western Union or MoneyGram, however, employees of these companies are now being trained to inquire when suspicious amounts are being sent, particularly overseas.  In response, scammers are now telling their victims to buy gift cards such as iTunes Gift cards and give the scammers the numbers by phone so they can access the funds.

TIPS

Never wire money unless you are absolutely sure about to whom you are wiring the money and it is not a scam.  Once you have wired money, it is gone forever.  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 number of your grandchild as well as  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.

As for being asked to send fund by way of gift cards as scammers are increasingly doing in this scam and other scams, this is always a scam so it is easy to spot.  Bail is never paid in gift cards nor does the IRS take gift cards.

Scam of the day – October 5, 2016 – Latest twist on the grandparent scam

I have been reporting to you about the grandparent scam for more than four years because people continue to fall for this scam losing thousands of dollars to scammers posing as an elderly victim’s grandchild.  The scam starts with a late-night telephone call to an elderly victim from a scam artist, the only criminal, we refer to as artists, posing as their intended victim’s grandchild who has been involved in some sort of emergency and needs the grandparent to send them money right away. The criminals often manage to gather valuable information from obituaries and social media of young people, such as the particular names the grandchild may use to refer to their grandparents to make the calls seem more legitimate.

For years the preferred method that the scammers instructed their victims to use for sending funds was by wiring the money from Western Union or MoneyGram, however, employees of these companies are now being trained to inquire when suspicious amounts are being sent, particularly overseas.  In response, scammers are now telling their victims to buy iTunes Gift cards and give the scammers the numbers by phone so they can access the funds.

TIPS

Never wire money unless you are absolutely sure about to whom you are wiring the money and it is not a scam.  Once you have wired money, it is gone forever.  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 number of your grandchild as well as  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.

As for being asked to send fund by way of iTunes Gift cards as scammers are increasingly doing in this scam and other scams, this is always a scam so it is easy to spot.

Scam of the day – May 10, 2016 – Scammers and iTunes gift cards

It was just six days ago that I described to you how scammers posing as IRS agents are calling people, threatening them with serious penalties including jail time if they did not pay the scammers by way of iTunes gift cards.  Although it may seem ridiculous that anyone would fall for this particular scam and think that the IRS would, under any circumstances, accept payment through an iTunes gift card, the truth is that scammers are using iTunes gift cards as the method of payment for a wide range of scams by which you are lured under various pretenses to make a payment.

One reason that iTunes gift cards are favored by scammers is that they are easy to obtain at many stores and all that the scammer needs in order to access the funds deposited into the card is the sixteen digit code on the back of the card which can be given to the scammer over the phone.  Some people tricked into paying scammers through iTunes gift cards confuse iTunes gift cards with Apple Pay although the only connection between the two is that both are Apple products.

TIPS

Scams involving iTunes gift cards are very easy to spot.  Payments for products, services or even to help that needy grandchild in a foreign country who has gotten into some trouble are never legitimately done through iTunes gift cards so anytime that someone requires payment in this fashion for anything, you can be sure it is a scam.

Scam of the day – March 20, 2016 – Emergency email scam

The emergency email scam continues to snare unwary victims despite much discussion of this particular scam in the news.  It starts when you get an email describing a dire emergency that a friend or relative has encountered, generally in a foreign country, that requires the immediate wiring of funds to your friend or relative.  Sometimes the emergency relates to an arrest.  Other times it relates to a medical emergency, but it always is an urgent request for immediate funds to resolve the problem.  This scam is also done by communications on social media, such as Facebook, by text message or the telephone, such as in the infamous grandparent scam.

Often when the scam is done by email, it can appear that the email is really coming from your friend because your friend’s email account may have been hacked and used to send you the plea for help.

Here is a copy of such an email that I recently received.  I have taken out the name of the person who is appearing to send the email.

“Hoping this email reaches you well, I’m sorry for this emergency and for not informing you about my trip to Philippines but I just have to let you know my present predicament. Everything was fine until I was attacked on my way back to the hotel, I wasn’t hurt but I lost my money, bank cards, mobile phone and my bag in the course of this attack. I immediately contacted my bank in order to block my cards and also made a report at the nearest police station. I’ve been to the embassy and they are helping me with my documentation so i can fly out but I’m urgently in need of some money to pay for my hotel bills and my flight ticket home, will definitely REFUND as soon as back home .

Kindly let me know if you would be able to help me out so I can forward you the details required for a wire transfer.

Waiting to hear back from you…”

TIPS

If you receive such a communication, you should immediately be skeptical, particularly if you are being contacted by an email, text message or social media.  If you have any concern that the communication might be legitimate, it is easy to contact the person on their cell phone to confirm that the communication you received was just a scam.  Anytime you are asked to wire money for any purpose, you should be very careful because once money is wired, it is impossible to recover if you find out you have been scammed.

If you are contacted and told by your friend that they do not have access to their cell phone, you should first try to contact them on their cell phone which will definitely prove to you that this is a scam.  Even if you cannot make contact with your real friend or relative through their cell phone, you can always call the police, embassy or hospital where they say they are in order to confirm that this is a scam.

Students and others 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.  Parents who have children traveling overseas, should also consider establishing a special code word to use in the event of the need for emergency communications to prove that the communication is legitimate.

Scam of the day – November 19, 2014 – The twelve scams of Christmas

It seems that the holiday season starts earlier and earlier each year so it certainly is not too early to warn you about some of the many scams that will be threatening your holidays if you are not careful.  As it says, in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” you better watch out.  My list of twelve scams of Christmas isn’t meant to be sung, but it is meant to provide an early warning of the fact that although every season is scam season, the holiday season is a particularly dangerous time of year for scams.  Here is my list of twelve scams of Christmas.  Over the next month I will be explaining them in detail here on Scamicide.

1.  Major data breach at retailers.

2.  Phony online shopping websites purporting to sell the latest toys and gadgets.

3.  Gift card scams.

4.  Delivery service scams.

5.  E greeting card scams.

6.  Phony charities.

7.  Puppy scams in which you are sold non-existent dogs.

8.  Phishing emails that appear to come from major retailers.

9.  Phony holiday vacation deals.

10. Phony holiday apps for your smartphone.

11. Phony holiday contests and lotteries.

12. Grandparent scam – holiday style.

TIPS

Although I will be explaining these scams in detail over the next month, here are a few major tips to keep in mind.

When shopping in a retail store, if you have the Apple iPay, use it.  It may not be perfect, but it is a great improvement over the magnetic stripe credit cards still used by almost all American retailers.   You also might want to consider getting a smart chip card from your credit card provider and using it at the stores such as WalMart which are switching to these safer credit cards well ahead of the October 2015 deadline to change over to the new cards.  Also remember not to use your debit card while retail shopping.  The consumer protection laws relating to debit card use are not as strong as those relating to fraudulent use of credit cards.  It is important to remember that there will be major data breaches at retail stores where we all shop and the hacked companies won’t be quick to discover that they have been hacked so carefully monitor on line your credit card’s usage more often than your monthly statement to be able to learn as quickly as possible if you have been victimized in a data breach.  Also, when shopping at a brick and mortar retail store, keep an eye on your credit card as it is processed by the sales clerk.  There will be more than a few seasonal, rogue employees who will have small electronic devices called skimmers that enable the sales clerk to run your card through this card reading skimmer to steal your credit card information before running the card through the store’s legitimate credit card processing equipment.

Here is a link to a column I wrote for USA Today that describes these holiday scams.  Within the column is another link to an additional column on the same subject.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/11/22/holiday-scams-identity-theft/19340731/

Scam of the day – August 12, 2014 – Grandparent scam criminals arrested

Recently Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane announced that her office had arrested four scammers for running a multistate grandparent scam.  According to Attorney General Kane, these particular scammers had managed to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from senior citizens in eleven states.  The average age of their victims was 79.  The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that the grandparent scam costs elderly Americans 42 million dollars each year.  There are many variations of the scam.  Generally, it starts with a telephone call from someone pretending to be a grandchild of the person receiving the call.  The scammer then implores the grandparent to send money by a wire transfer to the grandchild immediately to help them out in an emergency encountered in a foreign country where the child is temporarily located.   The emergency may be a health emergency or a legal problem, such as an arrest.   They also ask that the grandparent not tell the grandchild’s parents because of embarrassment.

TIP

If you receive such a call, contact the parents or another source of accurate information as to the grandchild’s whereabouts.  You can even call the grandchild’s cell phone.  Always be wary of any request to wire funds because once money is wired, it is almost impossible to get the money back which is why this is the choice of many scammers.  Grandchildren should be wary of the amount of personal information that they make available on social media such as Facebook because scammers gather such information to make them more believable when the pose as the grandchild.  People should also be more careful as to the information that they put in obituaries as to the names and other information about grandchildren that can be used as a source of information by scam artists about surviving grandparents.

Scam of the day – July 27, 2014 – Senate holds hearings on the Grandparent scam

Recently the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on the infamous Grandparent scam, which occurs when a scammer calls an elderly person posing as their grandchild who has been involved in some sort of emergency and needs the grandparent to wire money to them right away.  One 81 year old witness at the hearing spoke about receiving a call late at night from someone purporting to be his grandson who needed bail money after being arrested on a drug charge.  In response to the call, the witness testified how he purchased a  $7,000 prepaid money card and then provided the money card information to the scammer who has never been heard from again.  It was only afterwards that the witness was able to reach his grandson on his cell phone to learn that the entire matter had been a scam.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging has in recent years focused much attention on scams preying upon older Americans, such as the Jamaican lottery scam, income tax scams, Social Security scams and Medicare fraud.

TIPS

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 your grandchild as well as  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 – September 6, 2013 – Church scam

Scammers have no scruples.  That should come as no surprise to any of us so there is no reason to be surprised to learn that scammers take advantage of the generosity and willingness to help of many religious people.  Recently a scam has been reported in Illinois in which local churches received telephone calls from a person identifying himself as “Deputy Robinson.”  Deputy Robinson or another person with him tells the person at the church answering the call that he has been a member of the church and that he is out of town, that his car has broken down and it has been towed, but that he needs money to pay the towing fee.  They ask the church representative to wire the money to him.  In another version of the scam, Deputy Robinson tells the church official that there has been a fatal traffic accident and that a church bulletin from their church was found in the car and that the surviving children are in need of immediate financial assistance.  Again Deputy Robinson asks for money to be wired.  Wiring funds is a payment option that is much prized by scammers because once the funds have been wired, they are impossible to get back.

TIPS

Although we would all want to help someone in an emergency situation, you cannot trust someone calling over the phone unless you have confirmed that they are who they represent themselves to be.  If, as in the grandparent scam, the person calling represents themselves to be a family member, you can independently call that person to confirm where they really are.  If you receive a call purporting to be from someone in law enforcement, you can independently call the law enforcement agency for which they say they work for.  If the scammer tells you about an accident involving a fatality, you can call the local police to confirm that this is a scam.  Never wire money unless you are absolutely positive that the call is legitimate.  This scam may have originated in Illinois, but scams like this spread rapidly around the country and you should be aware of it.

Scam of the day – June 29, 2013 – New development in the grandparent scam

By now, most people are aware of the grandparent scam and how it works.  It starts when an elderly person receives a telephone call, often late at night, that purports to be from the person’s grandchild who has either been arrested, had an accident or is experiencing some other emergency.  The grandchild pleads for the grandparent to wire them money right away through Western Union or a similar service to get them through the emergency.  The problem is that the entire call is a scam.  The caller is a scam artist with a knowledge of psychology that would have made Freud envious.  They choose their victims from public information including obituaries which may indicate the names of grandparents and grandchildren.  Fortunately, as this scam has proliferated, so has public awareness, however, many scammers have evolved the scam so that when they call, they may use the particular term that the grandchild would use for this particular grandparent, such as “Papa Fred.”  How do they know the name that the real grandchild would use for his or her grandparent?  Easy.  The scammers harvest this information from social media such as Facebook where many people may put up a photograph of a family function that designates the pictured people by name.

TIPS

Whenever you are asked to wire money, you should immediately be skeptical.  Wired funds are impossible to retrieve after they have been sent.  Anytime you receive such a call with a plea for help, you should check out the story with the real grandchild or other person purported to be calling (this scam is also used by “friends” in danger).  Chances are the real grandchild or friend will be right where they are supposed to be and not suffering any emergency in a foreign country.