Law enforcement officials throughout the country and throughout the world are reporting bomb threats being sent to millions. The targets of the emails are generally universities, other schools, media outlets, courthouses and private businesses. The targeted victims of the scam are told that unless they pay a ransom payment of $20,000 in Bitcoin by the end of the day in which the threat is received, they will be bombed. Law enforcement agencies throughout the country including the New York City Police Department, the Oklahoma City Police and the Massachusetts State Police have all investigated this threat as have law enforcement agencies in other countries. No bombs have been found and the threats have been deemed not credible.
While this scam is unlikely to target individual Scamicide readers, it has much in common with the grandparent scam, in which grandparents are called on the telephone and tricked into sending money to help a grandchild purportedly in trouble, the phony kidnapping scam and sextortion scams in which the target of the threat is told that the extortionist has compromising web cam photos of the victim of the threat. It is extremely easy to contact massive numbers of people with baseless threats that may seem very real, but a thoughtful, unemotional response can help you recognize these scams.
Bomb threats should always be taken seriously and should be immediately reported to the police, however, bomb threats asking for ransom are generally scams and if the law enforcement agency informs you that these threats are being sent out in vast numbers, you can be confident that it is most likely a scam.
As for the grandparent scam, 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.
In regard to the phony kidnapping scam, always be skeptical if you receive such a call. Never wire money to anyone for anything unless you are totally convinced that what you are doing is legitimate because unlike paying for something with a credit card, once your wired funds have been sent, they are impossible to get back. Talk to the alleged kidnapper as long as possible, thereby giving someone else with you the time to call or text the alleged kidnap victim on his or her smartphone. If the purported kidnapping victim is a young child, call the school to confirm that he or she is safe. You also could ask the kidnapper to describe your relative as well as provide information, such as his or her birth date, which could be found on a driver’s license, however, it is important to remember that much of this kind of information may be available through social media or elsewhere on the Internet. It also can be helpful for the family to have a code word to use to immediately recognize that this is a scam. If the kidnapper can’t provide the code word, it is clear that it is a scam.
Many of these kidnapping scams are originating in Puerto Rico or Mexico so be particularly skeptical if you receive the telephone call from Puerto Rican area codes 787, 939 or 856. Also be wary of calls from Mexico which has many area codes which can be found by clicking on this link. http://dialcode.org/North_America/Mexico/
While the massive reported emails threatening to release compromising videos taken from your computer’s web cam have generally been scams in which the extortionist had no videos it is not difficult to hack into the webcam of a computer from afar. The same types of tricks used to get people to unwittingly download keystroke logging malware that enables the hacker to gather all of the personal information from your computer to be used to make you a victim of identity theft can be used to get you to download the malware that enables the hacker to take control of your webcam. Never click on links in emails or download attachments unless you are absolutely positive they are legitimate. They may be riddled with malware. Also, install and maintain anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer and other electronic devices. For external webcams that are not a built-in component of your computer, a red light will signal that the camera is operating. Be aware of this. It is a good idea to merely disconnect the external webcam when you are not using it or merely take a post-it and cover the webcam’s lens whenever you are not using it. Last year a photograph taken in 2015 was made public showing Pope Francis using his iPad with a sticker over the built in web camera. This simple technique is also used by Mark Zuckerberg, former FBI Director James Comey and me. It is a simple and easy solution. For built in webcams, they too will generally have a blue light to indicate that it is operating, however, again, it is a good idea to merely cover the lens when you are not using it.
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