Scam of the Day

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Scam of the day – October 14, 2019 – Indiana Woman Victim of Criminal Identity Theft

Criminal identity theft occurs when someone steals your identity and then commits crimes using your name and Social Security number.  The problems encountered by someone whose identity has been stolen by a criminal who then commits crimes in the name of the identity theft victim are tremendous.   Victims of criminal identity theft have been arrested for crimes they never committed and often have had difficulty having the crimes, committed by someone who stole their identity, removed from their records.  A faulty criminal record can also affect your ability to get a job or various benefits. Recently Kristen Parr spent four nights and three days in jail in Indiana accused of automobile theft until it was determined that an identity thief had used Parr’s identity to steal a car after taking it for a test drive and never returning it to West Main Auto Sales.  According to Parr, her purse containing her driver’s license and other identification was stolen in February.  In March someone used her license to test drive and steal a car from an automobile dealership in Indianapolis and in July, the identity thief committed the same crime at another automobile dealership in Lawrence, Indiana.

TIPS

If you find that you are a victim of criminal identity theft, you should hire a lawyer and contact the police as well as the District Attorney’s office to straighten out the matter.  File a report indicating that you are the victim of identity theft.  It will be necessary for you to confirm your true identity through photographs and fingerprints. In addition, show law enforcement authorities your driver’s license, passport or any other identification that you might have that contains your photograph.  In the case of the Scamicide reader’s grandson, the identity thief is incarcerated in a state far from her.  In situations like that you should go to your local police and ask them to confirm your identity and send the information to law enforcement in the state or states where the criminal identity thief’s criminal violations occurred.

Get a letter from the District Attorney explaining the situation to have available if you are ever stopped for a traffic violation and your record is checked.  A few states have Identity Theft Passport programs through which anyone whose identity has been stolen by someone who uses it to commit crimes can, upon proving their identity, receive an Identity Theft Passport that protects them and confirms their true identity .  Even if your state does not have an Identity Theft Passport program, get a letter from the law enforcement agency that arrested the person using your name known as a “clearance letter” which indicates that you have not committed the crimes which were done by the identity thief who used your name.  Keep this document with you at all times.

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Scam of the day – October 13, 2019 – New Instagram Feature Fights Phishing

Time and time again, the way in which major online attacks on government agencies, companies and all of us as individuals begin is through a spear phishing email.  Phishing emails are emails that are sent to lure you into providing information or clicking on links in the email that contain malware, such as ransomware or keystroke logging malware that can lead to your becoming a victim of identity theft.  Most phishing emails are easy to recognize as being scams.  However, spear phishing emails are phishing emails that are specifically tailored for us.  They come addressed to us by name and they generally deal with specific subjects in which we are interested or appear to come from companies with which we do business or have accounts.

Recently Instagram installed a new security feature which will enable you to determine if an email you get that purports to be from Instagram is actually from Instagram or is a spear phishing email.  The new feature enables you to compare the email you received with any security emails Instagram has sent in the previous fourteen days.  If the email you received is not shown on the list of emails legitimately sent by Instagram in the last two weeks, you can be confident that the email you received is a spear phishing email and know to ignore it.

TIPS

As a basic defense against phishing and spear phishing, you should never provide personal information in response to an email or text message unless you have absolutely confirmed that the request for the information was legitimate and the information needed to be provided. It may seem paranoid, but remember, even paranoids have enemies.  Also, never click on links or download attachments unless you have independently confirmed that the email or text message containing the link or attachment was legitimate.

In order to access this new Instagram security feature, go to your account an click on the icon that takes you to your profile.  Then click on the menu button and click on the Security tab on your settings.  There you will see a new option pop up that allows you to see “Emails from Instagram”  This will then enable you to see a list of all of the emails that Instagram has sent regarding security.

Finally, use security software that includes phishing screening.  While it is not totally effective, it is very useful.

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Scam of the day – October 12, 2019 – FTC Sending Refunds to Business Coaching Scam

Business coaches, who are people that advise and guide business owners in the operating and growing of their businesses, can be quite helpful, particularly to entrepreneurs.  However, scammers posing as business coaches have been taking advantage of trusting business owners by selling worthless services to their unwary victims. I have reported on this scam numerous times in the past, but it is timely again with the FTC’s settlement of charges against the operators of Coaching Department and Apply Knowledge who scammed millions of dollars from consumers by falsely promising their victims that they could easily earn thousands of dollars each month if they bought the business coaching services offered.  The truth is that the people who bought the business coaching services from Coaching Department and Apply Knowledge lost thousands of dollars.

If you were a victim of this scam, you may be eligible for a refund. For more information about this refund program, click on the FTC Scam Refunds tab in the middle of the first page of www.scamicide.com. There are no fees involved with receiving a refund through this program. Anyone contacting you about this refund program who demands a fee or payment of any kind is a scammer.

TIPS
Before hiring the services of a business coach, you may want to find out what helpful advice you can get for free through government agencies such as the Small Business Administration.   www.sba.gov/starting-managing-business

If you do decide to hire a business coach, you should find out if there are any complaints filed against him or her.  An easy way to do this is to just do a search engine search in which you look up the person’s name with the words “scam” or “complaint” and see what comes up. Also, be wary of paying up front for the services of business coaches before they provide any services.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is to go to the bottom of the initial page of www.scamicide.com and click on the tab that states “Sign up for this blog.”

Scam of the day – October 11, 2019 – Alabama Hospitals Attacked by Ransomware

I have written many times about ransomware because it continues to be a major problem for businesses, governments and individuals alike.  Ransomware is the name for malware that once installed on a computer, often unwittingly through clicking on links in spear phishing emails, encrypts and locks all of the victim’s data.  The cybercriminal who sent the ransomware then threatens to destroy the data unless a bounty is paid.  In 2017 we experienced two massive ransomware attacks against millions of computers around the world.  These were the infamous WannaCry and Peta ransomware attacks. Later, the city government of Atlanta becoming a victim of ransomware when some of its systems were frozen using the infamous SamSam family of malware that has been used successfully against a number of companies and municipalities. In its 2018 Verizon Data Breach Report, Verizon, which gathered data from 65 organizations in 65 countries, found that ransomware, which was only the 22nd most common malware in 2014, is now the number one most common malware used by cybercriminals.  Recently, it was revealed that 23 municipalities in Texas were victimized by simultaneous ransomware attacks by a single hacker.

Now, DCH Health Systems which operates three hospitals in Alabama was hit by a ransomware attack which crippled its information systems at all three hospitals.  DCH had not protected its data and chose to pay the ransom in order to get the key to unlock its data.  This particular ransomware attack has been attributed to a Russian hacking group known as Grim Spider and used a variation of ransomware known as Ryuk.

Like all malware, ransomware must be downloaded on to your computer in order to cause problems.  This is generally done by luring people to click on links or download infected attachments contained in spear phishing emails.

While we are aware of the many ransomware attacks targeting hospitals, government agencies and companies, it is important to remember that ransomware attacks also occur against individuals as well so it is important to take steps to protect yourself from this threat.

TIPS

Because ransomware attacks as well as most other types of malware attacks are spread through phishing emails that lure unsuspecting people into clicking on malware infected links or downloading attachments tainted with malware, you should never click on links in emails  or download attachments unless you have absolutely confirmed that the email is legitimate.  Ransomware attacks are not limited to cities and large institutions.  They are also used to attack individuals and extort money from them.

You also should update all of your electronic devices with the latest security updates and patches as soon as they become available, preferably automatically.  Many past ransomware attacks exploited vulnerabilities for which patches had already been issued.   The No More Ransom Project has a website that provides decryption tools for some of the older versions of ransomware that are still being used.  Here is a link to their website  https://www.nomoreransom.org/en/decryption-tools.html  It is important, however, to remove the ransomware before downloading and using the decryption tools.  This can be done using readily available antivirus software.  It is also important to remember that even if you have the most up to date security software on your computer and phone, it will not protect you from the latest zero day defect malware which is malware that exploits previously undiscovered vulnerabilities.

Another precaution you should follow is to regularly back up all of your data on at least two different platforms, such as in the Cloud and on a portable hard drive.

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Scam of the day – October 10, 2019 – FTC Sues House Flipping Seminar Company

At the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection,  a federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Zurixx, LLC, a company that puts on real estate seminars in which attendees are supposedly told how to make large amounts of money buying houses, quickly updating them and then reselling them at a substantial profit, a technique referred to commonly as “flipping.”  The advertisements for Zurixx feature endorsements by many celebrity house flippers , such as Tarek and Christina El Moussa from HGTV’s “Flip or Flop,”  HIlary Farr from HGTV’s “love it or List it” and Peter Souhleris and Dave Seymour from A & E’s “Flipping Boston.”  However, despite these celebrity endorsements, the FTC allege that Zurixx’s seminars are a scam.  They start with a “free” seminar that really is merely a sales presentation for its three-day workshops that cost $1,997 despite Zuixx’s representations that you would learn everything you needed to know to profitably flip houses from the “free seminar.”  In fact, according to the FTC, even the three day workshops act as a beginner course and people enrolling in the course are lured into paying as much as $41,297 for more detailed products and services.

According to the FTC, Zurixx makes a litany of misrepresentations to lure people into paying for courses and services that do not provide the promised results.  Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said, “From start to finish, these defendants used the promise of easy money and in-depth information to lure consumers down a path that could cost them thousands of dollars and put them in serious debt.  When a company tells consumers they have the secret to get rich with little work, we encourage consumers to take a hard look at what’s really being offered.”

TIPS

Always be wary of seminars that offer get rich quick schemes that indicate that little effort or investment by you is required.  Do your research with the FTC and your state’s attorney general to see if there have been complaints against any company that puts on such seminars.  As for flipping specifically, it is important to remember that the people you see doing this on television shows are experienced contractors and designers who do this full time and have done so for years.  Flipping is not a simple job for part-timers.  Additionally, the celebrity flippers you see on television also often get special prices for labor and materials by suppliers in return for the publicity they receive on the television shows.  You won’t get those breaks.

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Scam of the day – October 9, 2019 – Medicare Open Enrollment Scams

The annual open enrollment period for Medicare will begin on October 15th and continue until December 7th.  This is the only time during the year that people enrolled in Medicare can change their Medicare health plans, Medigap plans and their prescription drug plans.  By now, people already enrolled in Medicare should have received an Annual Notice of Change from their health insurance providers describing any changes to their plans such as the dropping of particular drugs from their prescription drug plan.  If you are satisfied with your plans, you do not need to do anything.

Although the Medicare open enrollment period hasn’t even begun, already scammers are hard at work on a number of different scams.   Scammers and identity thieves view the open enrollment period as senior citizen hunting season as myriads of Medicare scams are common during this time. Among the scams are phone calls or emails purporting to be from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) informing you, as you undoubtedly already know, that Medicare issued new Medicare cards and that in order to continue to receive benefits, you need to obtain a new card which can be done by providing the person contacting you with your old Medicare number which was your Social Security number.   By now all Medicare subscribers have received their new cards, but scammers are continuing to try to lure people into providing personal information under the guise of needing it to issue another new card.  Between April 2018 and December 31, 2019 a Medicare recipient who has a new card has the option to use either his or her old number or the new, more secure Medicare number. Starting in 2020 only the new numbers will be used.

Seniors also may be contacted by someone purporting to be from their insurance company asking them to verify information. Again, this is a common tactic of identity thieves trying to trick their victims into providing information. They also may be contacted by people claiming to have supplemental insurance programs that will save them thousands of dollars. Here too, you cannot be sure that they are legitimate when they contact you by phone, text message, email or even regular mail.

TIPS

Never give personal information to anyone who calls you on the phone because you can never be sure who is actually on the other end of the line.  Through a technique called “spoofing,” a scammer can manipulate your Caller ID and make it appear that the call is from the government or some legitimate company when in fact, it is from an identity thief who is eager to steal your money.  If you want to get information you can trust about what insurance plans are available to you and at what cost, merely go to the “Plan Finder” section of Medicare’s website www.medicare.gov.  If you want to speak with someone on the phone, call Medicare at its 24 hour hotline 1-800-MEDICARE.  Your Medicare options can be quite confusing.  Fortunately, the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) which is a national network of federally funded programs provide free Medicare counseling.  Here is a link to SHIP’s website https://www.shiptacenter.org/

By now, if you are a Medicare subscriber you have  already received your new Medicare card.  Although you can still use your old Medicare card that carries your Social Security number until the end of the year, you should start using your new card now instead of your old, less secure Medicare card.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is to go to the bottom of the initial page of www.scamicide.com and click on the tab that states “Sign up for this blog.”

Scam of the day – October 8, 2019 – Phoenix Police Arrest Telemarketers

I first told you about the Wyze Money scam three years ago when, at the request of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a temporary restraining order was issued by a judge in the Federal District Court for Arizona temporarily shutting down the operation of a telemarketing scam in which three people, utilizing numerous bogus corporations, lured people into investing thousands of dollars in purported  e-commerce websites.  The scammers targeted older people and veterans from whom they stole millions of dollars with promises of huge profits and fraudulent misrepresentations that the investments were “risk free” and totally guaranteed,   The scammers charged by the FTC were Susan Rodriguez, Matthew Rodriguez and William “Matt” Whitley who did business under the names “Titan Income, ” “Wyze Money,” “Prime Cash,” and “Building Money.”  As alleged by the FTC, the entire operation was a scam and the victims received neither profits nor their investments back when they requested refunds.  Ultimately the FTC settled its civil charges against the defendants and received 7 million dollars from the defendants as part of the settlement.  This money was returned to victims of the scam, but it hardly approximated the money that the victims had lost.

Many of the victims of this scam were on the Do Not Call List, which should have been an initial indication to the victims that the “business opportunity” was a scam because calling them to offer a business opportunity was already a violation of the law.

Now Phoenix law enforcement has arrested thirteen people and charged them criminally in regard to this scam.  Because the actions of the FTC against the perpetrators of this scam were civil rather than criminal in nature, it is not a violation of double jeopardy for the defendants to now be charged criminally.

TIPS

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this.  Never invest in anything until you have had a chance to do diligent research into the particular investment.  You should be particularly wary of investment “opportunities” that come your way through unsolicited telemarketers.  Also, the Federal Business Opportunity Rule, which was ignored by  the defendants in this case, requires that before you invest in any business opportunity you are provided with a one-page disclosure that provides important facts about the business.  In addition  if, as in this case, you are told how much money you can make, you are required to be given another document with greater details.  For more information about the Business Opportunity Rule, the disclosures you should receive and claims that may not be made by people soliciting investments you can go to this link from the FTC.   https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0172-bogus-business-opportunities

You also should be wary of investment opportunities that come to you through phone calls, emails or text messages unsolicited by you.

Before investing with anyone, you should investigate the person offering to sell you the investment with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Central Registration Depository.  This will tell you if the broker is licensed and if there have been disciplinary procedures against him or her.  You can also check with your own state’s securities regulation office for similar information.  Many investment advisers will not be required to register with the SEC, but are required to register with your individual state’s securities regulators.   You can find your state’s agency by going to the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association. Many investment advisers will not be required to register with the SEC, but are required to register with your individual state securities regulators.   You can find your state’s agency by going to the website of the North American Securities Administrators Association.   You should also check with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) for information about the particular  investment adviser.

It is also important to remember that you should never  invest in something that you do not completely understand.  This was a mistake that many of Bernie Madoff’s victims made.  You also may want to check out the SEC’s investor education website at www.investor.gov.  Scammers can be very convincing and it may sound like there is a great opportunity for someone to make some money, but you must be careful that the person making money is not the scam artist taking yours. Additionally, investing with someone merely because you share the same heritage, nationality, religion or any other affinity is something you should avoid.

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Scam of the day – October 7, 2019 – 218 Million People Affected by Words With Friends Data Breach

Once again we have an announcement of a major data breach.  This time it is the popular mobile word game  “Words with Friends” which according to a hacker named Gnosticplayers was hacked by him or her, stealing personal information including names, email addresses, login IDs, hashed passwords, phone numbers and Facebook IDs of 218 million players of the game.  While no credit or debit card information was stolen, the type of encryption used to hash or scramble the passwords was not the most sophisticated and would be capable of being busted thereby exposing the users’ passwords.  In addition, the compromised  personal information could easily be used for purposes of spear phishing and identity theft.

Many of us are suffering from what is being called “data breach fatigue” as a result of which we may not tend to take seriously the threat that data breaches present, but it is dangerous to ignore the threats that these data breaches present.  Fortunately there are some things you can and should do to protect yourself from future data breaches that will affect you.

TIPS

If you played Words With Friends you should definitely change your password.   One of the biggest lessons from the myriad of data breaches is to make sure that you use unique passwords for every online account that you have in order to avoid having a sensitive account, such as your online banking account compromised because you use the same password as you do for another relatively meaningless account that had poor security which led to a data breach in which your password was stolen.  This is also a reason for deleting old accounts you don’t use that could expose your passwords and other information.

Creating and remembering strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts is not as difficult as it may appear.  You can start with a strong base password constructed from a phrase, such as IDon’tLikePasswords. Add a few symbols like !!! and then adapt it for each account you have so that you will have a secure and easy to remember password for each of your online accounts.   Thus, your Amazon password could be IDon’tLikePasswords!!!AMA.

If you have not yet frozen your credit with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, you should do so now to protect yourself from possible identity theft. it is free and easy to do.

To get the maximum protection from identity theft, it is important to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here are links to each of them with instructions about how to get a credit freeze:
https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp
https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Also, use dual factor authentication whenever possible so that even if your passwords are compromised, no one can access your account.

Also, with your email address commonly known by many scammers, you can expect to receive more phishing and more dangerous specifically targeted spear phishing emails that attempt to lure you into clicking on links containing malware or try to convince you to provide personal information that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  Never click on links or provide personal information in response to an email or text message unless you are absolutely sure that the email or text message is legitimate.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is to go to the bottom of the initial page of www.scamicide.com and click on the tab that states “Sign up for this blog.”

Scam of the day – October 6, 2019 – Another Pyramid Scheme Settlement

It was just a few days ago that I told you about the Federal Trade Commission’s legal action against Vemma Nutrition Company, which the FTC described in its court complaint as an illegal pyramid scheme that preyed primarily upon college students and other young people.   Four years after the initial court actions against  were filed against Vemma, the FTC is sending checks totaling more than 2.2 million dollars to the victims of the scam.  The money was derived from funds paid by Vemma to the FTC to settle the claims.  Now the FTC is announcing another pyramid scheme settlement.  This time the settlement was with AdvoCare International and its former CEO who under the terms of the settlement are banned from operating further multilevel marketing businesses and were ordered to pay 150 million dollars to the FTC to be refunded to consumers.  As more details regarding the refund become available, I will let you know what you need to do to apply for a refund if you were a victim of this scam.  AdvoCare promoted health and wellness products such as its Spark energy drink, but its profits came from recruiting new distributors rather than selling products which is the hallmark of a pyramid scheme.    AdvoCare routinely misrepresented and lied to people about the operation of the company.  Among their misrepresentations were that the distributorships would routinely provide hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars of profit annually to people who signed up to be distributors.  The truth is that in 2016, 72.3% of distributors earned nothing, 18% earned no more than $250 and 6% of distributors earned between $250 and $1,000 while the distributors paid thousands of dollars in fees to join and maintain their status each year with the company.

Sometimes a legitimate multilevel marketing business may look quite similar to an illegitimate pyramid scheme, which is one of the reasons that so many people fall prey to these scams.  For every legitimate multilevel marketing company, such as Mary Kay and Amway, there are many that are just scams.  In a legitimate multilevel marketing company, investors make money by selling products to the public and by recruiting new salespeople.  In a pyramid scheme the source of profits is based primarily on the recruiting of new members or salespeople.

TIPS

Anyone who is considering investing in what is represented to be a multilevel marketing business should always investigate the company and the terms of investment carefully before investing any money.  In addition, you should also check out the company with the FTC and your state’s attorney general to make sure that the company is legitimate before investing any money.  Here is a link to information from the FTC that you should consider before investing in a multilevel marketing business.  http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0065-multilevel-marketing

For more information about this particular refund program check out the “FTC Scam Refunds” tab in the middle of the first page of www.scamicide.com. You also can find information there about the mailing of the refund checks.  There is no cost or fee to file a claim or get a refund.  Anyone who tells you differently is trying to scam you.

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Scam of the day – October 5, 2019 – Overpayment Scam

The overpayment scam is the basis for many scams including phony mystery shopper scams about which I have written many times.  Another example of the overpayment scam occurred recently when a British Columbia wedding photographer was scammed out of $4,600 through this scam.  The scam began when the photographer was contacted by someone seeking to hire the photographer to take pictures at his daughter’s wedding.  The photographer, Esther Moerman asked for a $700 deposit, but ended up receiving a check in the amount of $5,500.  When Moerman reported to the scammer that the amount sent was incorrect, the scammer told Moerman that it was an accounting error and that the excess funds were supposed to pay for catering.  The scammer then asked Moerman to wire the money to the caterer, which Moerman did.  As you can guess, the scammers check was counterfeit and bounced even though Moerman’s bank initially gave her provisional credit which led her to believe that the check was valid.  Once the check was found to be counterfeit, the provisional credit was removed from Moerman’s account, however, the money she wired to the phony caterer from her account was lost forever.

TIPS
This is just another variation on the scam whereby the victim, for whatever purposes receives a check in excess of the amount owed 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. 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.  Most importantly, never accept a check for more than what is owed you and send the difference back.  It is always a scam.  Asking you to wire money from your account is also something about which you should be skeptical because once money is wired, it is impossible to get it back.

If you are not a subscriber to Scamicide.com and would like to receive daily emails with the Scam of the day, all you need to do is to go to the bottom of the initial page of www.scamicide.com and click on the tab that states “Sign up for this blog.”

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