Today’s “scam of the day” is similar to warnings I have provided numerous times in the past. Whenever there is a real or imagined intriguing newsworthy story, particularly about celebrities or natural disasters, people are drawn to the latest videos or photographs. Natural disasters, such as the Tsunami in Japan or celebrity curiosity, such as purported photographs of the late Whitney Houston from the hotel room where her body was found are great fodder for scammers and identity thieves who prey on the curiosity of people. The latest example of this involves photographs of a naked British Prince Harry cavorting in a Las Vegas hotel suite playing “strip billiards” with a number of women. In fact, the incident has been confirmed to be true. Unfortunately, links to these photos that you may receive from “friends”on your Facebook account or through your Twitter account or an email from a “friend” quite often will not take you to these photographs, but instead will, unbeknownst to you, download keystroke logging malware on to your computer or smart phone that can steal all of the information from your computer or smart phone including personal information that can lead to identity theft.
Even if the link appears to be from a “friend,” you should always be skeptical because, as I have indicated elsewhere in this website/blog, it is a relatively easy thing to hack into someone’s Facebook account, Twitter account or email account and send out messages that appear to come from a trusted friend, but instead come from an identity thief. And even if the link that is sent to you really is from one of your real friends, you still may be in jeopardy because he or she may not be aware that he or she may have been hacked into and is passing on to you, without knowing, dangerous keystroke logging malware. If your curiosity demands that you seek out this information, video or photograph, limit your searches to websites that you are absolutely sure are legitimate, such as, in the instance of the pictures of Prince Harry, the website TMZ.
One of the largest thefts of credit card information in history has been recently discovered involving up to ten million MasterCard and Visa credit cards. As with all of your personal information, you are only as safe as the places that have your personal and financial information. In this case, a credit card payment processor, which is a company that processes charges after they have been charged at a retail establishment. This is not the first time that a credit card payment processor has been hacked. In 2008 millions of credit cards were compromised when Heartland Systems was hacked. In the present case, the information apparently was stolen between January 21st and February 25th, but was only recently discovered. People whose credit card numbers were stolen will be receiving notices of the breach of security.
Always review in detail your credit card statement every month to make sure that your credit card was not used for unauthorized charges. If you find any, contact your credit card company immediately to have the fraudulent charges taken off your card and get a new card number.
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.
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.
Although it may seem as if this scam only began in earnest with the invention of email, in fact, the scam itself is just a variation of a scam that is more than four hundred years old when it was called the Spanish Prisoner Con. At that time a letter was sent to the targeted victim purportedly from someone on behalf of a wealthy aristocrat who was imprisoned in Spain under a false name. The identity of the nobleman was not revealed for security reasons, but the victim was asked to help raise money to obtain the release of the aristocrat, who, it was promised, would reward the money-contributing victim with great sums of money and, in some versions of the con, the Spanish prisoner’s beautiful daughter in marriage.
In the more recent incarnations of this scam, you receive an email in which you are promised great sums of money if you assist a Nigerian in his effort to transfer money out of his country. Other variations include the movement of embezzled funds by corrupt officials, a dying gentleman who wants to make charitable gifts or a minor bank official who is trying to move the money of deceased foreigners out of his bank without the government taking it. Similar scams have managed to keep up with the news by having the money to be moved tied to fallen dictators such as Sadaam Hussein or Moamar Khadaffi.
What all of these scams have in common is that soon after agreeing to help, you learn that money is needed to be sent by you for lawyer fees, bribes, insurance and other costs. The reward is always just around the corner and the fees keep mounting.
There are a number of ways to confirm that the email you are receiving is a scam including a careful review of the email address, however, you do not need to even go that far in your considerations. Although you may want to open the email (so long as you do not click on to any links) for sheer entertainment purposes, all of these scenarios are scams. Just ask yourself, why are you being singled out for this email? You are not. The emails are sent out all over the Internet. Don’t be a victim. Do not respond to the email in any fashion. If you do, you will be hounded.
This scam keeps reoccurring around the country and people still are falling victim to it. It starts when you receive an email from a purported hit man who informs you that he has been hired by someone you know to kill you. However, the hit man then tells you that he will refrain from killing you if you pay him a sum of money. In the past the amount has ranged from $80,000 to $150,000. Not only is this a scam, but the FBI has traced many of these emails to Eastern Europe, far from where you may live.
If you get one of these emails contact the FBI and the Internet Crime Complain Center at www.ic3.gov.
Malware is the term for malicious software that you unwittingly download on your computer when you click on links in emails from scammers or fall prey to phishing and download the program from a phony website to which you were lured in the belief that it was a legitimate website.
One of the most common and dangerous types of malware is the keystroke logging program which is often referred to as a Trojan horse. Once this malware is installed on your computer, the scammer is able to access all of the information on your computer and can provide the scammer with access to your bank accounts, credit cards, brokerage accounts or any other information that is contained on your computer.
Never click on links unless you are absolutely sure it is legitimate. Also make sure you have an operating firewall on your computer and your computer security software is up to date.
Phishing occurs when an identity thief lures you through a phony email that purports to be from a bank, another legitimate company or even the IRS or other governmental agency to a phony website that looks like the website of that legitimate company, but actually is just a con to entice you into providing personal financial information. Often phishing scams prey upon our fears by telling us that our accounts have been compromised and that if we do not provide verifying information, our accounts will be closed.
Clicking through to the phony websites also carries the risk of unwittingly downloading malware such as keystroke logging programs that once installed on your computer provide the scammer with all of the information found about you on your computer. This information can be used to make you a victim of identity theft or even to empty your bank accounts if you use your computer for online banking.
Never click on a link to a website unless you are totally sure that it is legitimate. Trust me you can’t trust anyone. Even if you receive an email from someone you trust, it may not be from them at all, but rather from someone who has hijacked their email or even if it is from them, they may have, in turn, fallen prey to a scam artist and may be passing along dangerous malware without even knowing it.
Install antiphishing software on your computer to warn you before going to a website that may be tainted. A good, free antiphishing software can be found at www.toolbar.netcraft.com.