Scam of the Day

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Scam of the day September 29, 2022 – FTC and California Take Legal Action Against Mortgage Relief Scammers,

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC and the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) have sued a number of companies and their owners doing business under the names Home Matters USA, Academy Home Services, Atlantic Pacific Service Group and Golden Home Services America for operating scam mortgage relief operations that misled consumers and cost them millions. A federal court has issued an injunction temporarily shutting the companies down and freezing their assets while the case continues through the courts.

According to the FTC the defendants targeted homeowners behind in their mortgages through false and deceptive telemarketing calls, text messages and online ads in which they promised to obtain mortgage modifications in three months.  Often the defendants, according to the FTC would claim to be affiliated with the federal government.

TIPS
A telltale sign of a mortgage relief scams is the demand for an upfront fee before services are rendered.  Mortgage scammers also often tell you to stop paying your mortgage and not to communicate with your lender.  This is bad advice when you have a problem with your  mortgage.  Failing to make payments can and not communicating with your lender if you are having a problem paying your mortgage will only make the problem worse.  Finally, don’t trust any company that guarantees that they can get you a mortgage payment reduction and never transfer title to your home to anyone saying they are trying to help you.  That is another sure sign of a scam.

If you do find yourself having difficulty making your mortgage payment, either speak with your lender directly to see if you can get a modification or call a legitimate credit counselor through the Homeownership Preservation Foundation which is a non-profit company that provides free help to modify your mortgage and avoid foreclosure.  You can reach them at 1-888-995-HOPE. You can also get additional information and help if you are behind in your mortgage by going to https://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov

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Scam of the day – September 28, 2022 – Work at Home Job Leads to Money Laundering

Laundering money derived from a scam is an essential element of many scams.  Scammers can be extremely clever at distancing themselves from their scams in order to avoid detection.  The people they enlist either as willing or unknowing participants in the laundering of the proceeds of a scam are called money mules.  Scams in which innocent people are lured into being unknowing money mules are numerous. One of the more common of these involves work at home scams where your job is to receive goods, often electronics that have been shipped to you, inspect them and then reship them to an address provided to you by your new employer.

The problem is that these goods have been purchased with stolen credit cards and you have just become an accomplice to the crime when you ship them to someone else who will then sell them to turn the merchandise into cash.  Other times the scammers will say that your job is to receive funds sent to you by the scammer, deposit the funds in your own bank account and wire the funds to people who the scammers tell you are either clients or suppliers of the scammers phony company.    Finally, money mules are also used is in a variation of the romance scam where you are asked by your romantic partner to wire funds to someone on behalf of the scammer under a variety of pretenses.

Many times the scammers will use the names of legitimate businesses when attempting to lure people into the reshipping scam.  In another variation of the scam, the money mules are told that there job is as a gift wrapper and that they are to receive items, wrap them and ship them to their instructed destination.

TIP
As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Check out work at home scams with the big three – your local attorney general, the Better Business Bureau and the FTC.  And as always, you can Google the name of the particular company offering you the work at home program with the word “scam” next to it and see what turns up.

As for reshipping goods as a work at home job, it is important to remember that there are no such legal jobs for reshippers.  They are always a scam and you should steer clear of them. You also should never use your own bank account to transfer funds for an employer.   Finally, you should always be skeptical of someone with whom you have recently established an online romantic relationship who either asks you for money (the most common scam) or asks you to pass on money to a third party as directed by the scammer.

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Scam of the day – September 27, 2022 – Phony Kidnapping Scam Claims Another Victim

Recently in Providence, Rhode Island a man was scammed out of $2,500 by scammers who called him falsely claiming that they were holding his wife hostage and would kill her unless he paid a ransom.  There was no kidnapping, but he paid the ransom before he was able to get in contact with his wife who assured him that she had not been kidnapped.

I have been warning you about phony kidnapping scams, also known as virtual kidnapping, for nine years and according to the FBI, the scam is increasing in frequency.   Generally, the scam starts with a telephone call informing the person answering the phone that a child or other relative has been kidnapped and if the person receiving the call does not respond by wiring money right away, the relative will be killed.  As with so many scams, we are often our own worst enemy and this scam is no exception.  In many instances, the scammers gather personal information about the intended scam victims from information that the intended victims or members of their families post on social media.   Armed with  personal information gathered from social media, a scammer can describe the supposed kidnapped victim or provide personal information that would make it appear that indeed they actually do have the person in their custody.

Sometimes the phony kidnappers manipulate your Caller ID through  a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is coming from the supposedly kidnapped family member’s cell phone.

In a new development in the scam, as reported by the FBI, scammers search social media posts looking for people travelling internationally and then contact that person’s family claiming he or she has been kidnapped and demand a promptly wired ransom payment.  In many instances the scammers will pose as members of a drug cartel or a corrupt law enforcement officer.  Sometimes they will even include realistic screams in the background of the calls although these screams, according to the FBI, are generally recordings.

TIPS

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 phone.   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.

As I often advise you, be careful about what you post on social media and don’t post your travel plans on social media.  Wait until you return to post any photos..

Finally, even paranoids have enemies. A good protective measure to take to protect yourself from virtual kidnappings is to have a secret password to use in the event of an emergency that can be used to determine if a family member truly is in trouble.

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Scam of the day – September 26, 2022 – Facebook Quizzes Can Lead to Being Scammed

Quizzes on Facebook and other social media are very popular, but they can be exploited by identity thieves. A good example of this was the “10 Concerts, but there is one act that I haven’t seen live.  Which is it?” Facebook quiz.  While this may appear harmless, the information you provide may tell more about you than is safe to make public.  It may provide information about your approximate age and preferences in music which can then be used by a scammer to send you a spear phishing email tailored to appeal to your particular interests that you may trust and click on a link contained in the email that contains either keystroke logging malware that can be used to steal your identity or ransomware.

Quizzes that ask about your favorite place to live or favorite movie characters may seem like simple fun, but may have been posted by an identity thief seeking to gather information the identity thief can use to make you a victim of identity theft.  In addition, providing this type of personal information can help an identity thief determine your passwords or the answers to security questions that would enable the identity thief to change your passwords.  Particularly problematic is when a pop up appears when you start the quiz requiring you to agree to allow a third-party application access to your Facebook profile.  If you agree to this, you are permitting the quiz poster to gain access to your Facebook profile information, your location and much more.  Don’t do it.

Last year, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry issued a warning about social media quizzes and surveys.  According to Landry, “Online surveys and quizzes may seem harmless enough, but the truth is they can expose you to hackers and scammers.  It is difficult to tell which are innocent fun and which are coves for bad actors trying to steal your identity or worse.”

TIPS

We all tend to put too much personal information on social media that can be exploited by scammers and identity thieves to our detriment. My advice is to avoid the problem entirely and not play these online games. However, if you, as many people do, find these quizzes and games to be fun to play, you may want to just adjust your privacy setting to “friends only” so that you limit who gets to see your answers.  While you are at it, you also may want to check out your Facebook profile and remove personal information such as your phone number or home address.

Be particularly aware not to provide information that can answer common security questions, such as your mother’s maiden name, the name of your first pet, your childhood street address, your favorite food or the name of the elementary school you attended.

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Scam of the day – September 25, 2022 – Employment Scams Getting Worse

Searching for a job online has become the norm for many job seekers and there are many legitimate online employment websites such as Indeed.com, Careerbuilder.com and Monster.com, however, merely because an ad for a job appears on a legitimate website does not mean that the job is for real.  It may be just a scam seeking either personal information to make you a victim of identity theft, your money or both.  Although Indeed.com, Career builder.com, Monster.com and other online employment agencies do their best to screen their ads, they can’t come even close to being perfect.

Scammers will often do research on their victims and read their resumes sent in response to a phony ad.  They then contact the victim and offer him or her a job, but tell  the victim that he or she will need to purchase some equipment and pay a fee for training.  A check is sent to the victim to pay for the equipment.  The unwary victim deposits the counterfeit check, gets provisional credit from his or her bank and then following instructions from the scammer, wires the money for the training fee or equipment to the scammer before the check is discovered to be counterfeit which can take weeks.  At this point the funds are taken back by the bank from the victim’s account, but the money wired to the scammer is lost forever.

In another employment scam variation, being reported by the BBB, you get  a text message indicating that a company wants to hire you and send you a contract asking for personal information such as your birthdate. Social Security number and banking information which they tell you is needed in order to send your wages to you by direct deposit.  Unfortunately, the information you provide can lead to your identity being stolen.

TIPS

Never spend money to apply for a job.  Legitimate employers do not require fees.  Google the address, telephone number and name of the company to see if it matches what you have been told.  Don’t send a resume with personal information, such as your Social Security number that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  If an ad appears to be from a company that you know is legitimate, confirm by a telephone call to the real company’s HR department that the ad you are answering is legitimate.  A legitimate company will eventually need your Social Security number, but not early in the process.  Make sure that you have confirmed that the job is legitimate before providing this information.  Additionally, no legitimate employer will ever send you a check for more than what you are owed and ask you to send back the difference.  That is the basis of many scams.

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Scam of the day – September 24, 2022 – Tech Support Scams

Tech support scams in which consumers are tricked by scammers into believing there is a problem with their computers that require the expensive services of the scammers constitute a major problem.  Tech support scams are increasingly common and victimize consumers 60 years or older about five times more than people between the ages of 20 and 59 according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). I have written about these scams many times in the past, but was prompted to write about it again after I received an email from a Scamicide reader who had been targeted by a tech support scam.

The most common tech support scams start with popups on your computer that provide notices of security problems that contain telephone numbers for you to call to fix the problem,  Whenever you get a pop-up, email, or text message that appears to tell you that you have a security problem with your computer, you should never click on any links contained in the message or call the telephone number provided. If your screen freezes,  which is what happened to the Scamicide reader, all you need to do is just turn off your computer and restart it. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing a real security problem you can contact tech support at the real tech companies directly by phone or by email using the phone number and email addresses you find on their respective websites.

If you call the scammers in response to concerns about your security, they often ask for you to enable them to get remote access to your computer to assess the problem.  Providing remote access to anyone to your computer can lead to a myriad of problems including identity theft and the downloading of ransomware.  Neither AOL, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft or any of the other tech companies ever  ask for remote access to your computer to fix problems.

TIPS

Often when your computer is frozen and you receive a pop-up ad purporting to tell you that you have a major security problem and warning you that you should not shut down or restart your computer because, they tell you, it would cause serious damage to your computer, the best thing you can do is shut down your computer and restart it.

If you are truly concerned about a security problem, contact tech support at the real tech companies you use at a phone number or email address that you have confirmed is accurate rather than a number or email address from the pop-up.

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Scam of the day – September 23, 2022 – Hurricane Fiona Charity Scams

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires are common occurrences and the first major hurricane of the season, Hurricane Fiona has already wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic .  Partially due to global warming, last year the United States experienced 22 major natural disasters that cost more than a billion dollars each.   Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and earthquakes bring out the best in people who want to donate to charities to help the victims. Unfortunately natural disasters also bring out the worst in scammers who are quick to take advantage of the generosity of people by contacting them posing as charities, but instead of collecting funds to help the victims of these natural disasters, these scam artists steal the money for themselves under false pretenses.

Charities are not subject to the federal Do Not Call List so even if you are signed up for the federal Do Not Call List, legitimate charities are able to contact you by phone. The problem is that whenever you are get a phone call, you can never be sure as to who is really calling you so you may be contacted either by a fake charity or a scammer posing as a legitimate charity. Using a technique called spoofing, the scammers can manipulate your Caller ID to make it appear that the call is coming from a legitimate charity when it is not. Similarly, when you are solicited for a charitable contribution by email or text message you cannot be sure as to whether the person contacting you is legitimate or not.

TIPS

Never provide credit card information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called or in response to an email or text message. Before you give to any charity, you may wish to check out the charity with http://www.charitynavigator.org where you can learn whether or not the charity itself is a scam. You can also see how much of the money that the legitimate charity collects actually goes toward its charitable purposes and how much it uses for fund raising and administrative costs.  Charitynavigator.org has a list of specific highly-rated charities that they recommend if you wish to assist people harmed by the Hurricane Fiona.  These charities include center for Disaster Philanthropy and Global Giving.   For a full list and descriptions of these charities use this link. https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=9966

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Scam of the day – September 22, 2022 – American Airlines Suffers Data Breach

Data breaches continue to a major problem for all of us.  Regardless of how well you protect the security of your personal information on your own computers and devices, you are only as safe as the places that hold your information with the weakest security.  Earlier this week American Airlines confirmed that it had suffered a data breach in July that compromised personal information of both employees and an undetermined number of customers.  The stolen information included names, dates of birth, mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, driver’s license numbers, passport numbers and even medical information.

It is distressing that although American Airlines became aware of the data breach in July, it did not notify affected people until mid September.

American Airlines is offering affected people two years of identity theft protection services provided by Experian.  Here is a link to a prototype of the letter being sent by American Airlines to its customers and employees describing the data breach and how to apply for the identity theft protection services. https://media.dojmt.gov/wp-content/uploads/Consumer-Notification-Letter-566.pdf?mod=djemCybersecruityPro&tpl=cy

TIPS

Hackers who have your cell phone number or email address may use that information to formulate phishing phone calls referred to as Vishing or spear phishing emails to lure you into clicking on malware infected links or provide personal information. Because whenever you receive an email, phone call or text message you can never be sure who is actually contacting you, you should never click on a link or provide personal information in response to such communications until you have absolutely confirmed that the communication is legitimate.

Your phone number also provide other problems.  When a criminal knows your cell phone number, he or she can leverage that number through commonly available legal databases such as White Pages Premium and learn information such as your current address, past addresses, the names of your family members  and more.  The criminal can also use the number to gain access to your social media accounts and can most significantly use the information gained to answer security questions that would allow the criminal to do a SIM swap whereby your cell phone number would be transferred to a phone of the criminal and thereby defeat dual factor authentication where you get a text message or a code sent to your phone when you go to access your bank account online or any other account that requires significant security.  I wrote a Scam of the day for June 20, 2022 that goes into detail as to how to protect yourself in regard to the privacy of your cell phone number.  Here is a link to that Scam of the day. https://scamicide.com/2022/06/19/scam-of-the-day-june-20-2022-why-you-should-keep-your-cell-phone-number-private/

Anyone affected should freeze their credit at each of the three major credit reporting bureaus.  In fact, freezing your credit reports is the single best thing anyone can do to help protect themselves from identity theft.  I urge everyone to do so whether or not you were affected by this data breach.

Here are links to each of the three major credit reporting bureaus with instructions about how to get a credit freeze:

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Scam of the day – September 21, 2022 – Customer Service Number Scam

In the past I have told you about scammers increasingly setting up phony websites that appear to be for customer service or tech support of many of the companies with which we do business.  Often they either purchase an ad to appear at the top of a search engine search or they manipulate the algorithms used by Google and other search engines to make their phony customer service number appear high on a search.

A variation on this scam occurs also where scammers purchase telephone numbers that are a single digit off of the legitimate phone numbers for many companies’ tech support or customer support in order to take advantage of common consumer misdials. A Scamicide reader recently had an issue with his Sprint account and called his customer support phone number where he was told that he was eligible for a special promotion and a gift card if he just provided some personal information.  It was at this point that the savvy Scamicide reader realized he had mistakenly called the wrong number which was merely a digit off from the correct Sprint customer support number.  He hung up and avoided being scammed.

Others have not been so lucky and have provided personal information that leads to identity theft after misdialing a customer support number.

TIPS

The best place to look for a telephone number for customer support or tech support is right on your bill or the legitimate website of the company.     Even when you do call legitimate tech support or customer service telephone numbers take extra care to make sure that you are dialing correctly and not calling a clever scammer who may have purchased a telephone number that is a digit off of the correct phone number in an attempt to ensnare people who may misdial the number.

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Scam of the day – September 20, 2022 – Police Warning About QR Code Scams

Even if everyone doesn’t use them, we are all pretty much familiar with QR Codes such as the one shown below.  The Quick Response (QR) code is a two dimensional barcode that can be scanned and read by your cellphone.  They have been around since 1994 and like a link that you click on,  they can take you to a website or some other source of information quickly and easily.  Advertisers are fond of QR codes because they are easier for consumers to scan then type in a long URL.  However, no good deed goes unpunished and scammers are always ready to turn anything into a scam so it is not surprising that QR codes have been used by scammers to perpetrate scams.  QR code scams increased dramatically during the pandemic.  Often the scams come in the form of phishing emails that instead of attempting to lure you into clicking on infected links, try to persuade you to scan the QR code which can result in your downloading malware on to your phone, such as ransomware or keystroke logging malware that can lead to your becoming a victim of identity theft.

Recently the Georgetown, Kentucky Police Department issued a warning about QR code scams circulating through emails, direct messages on social media and text messages that attempt to lure you into providing personal information that will lead to your becoming a victim of identity theft or downloading malware.

Bitcoin addresses are also often sent through QR codes which is why they have been turning up in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency scams.

QR Code Conquest Graphics

TIPS

Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Just as I am always telling you not to click on links in emails regardless of how legitimate the communication may appear unless you have absolutely confirmed that the email is legitimate, so should you not scan QR codes unless you have absolutely confirmed that it is legitimate for the same reason.  Downloading malware or being tricked by an apparently legitimate appearing website to provide personal information can lead easily to your becoming a scam victim or identity theft victim.

Fortunately, there are also apps such as the free Kaspersky QR code scanner app that will not only scan the QR code, but also let you know if it is legitimate and prevent downloading of malware from bogus QC codes.  Here is a link to Kaspersky’s QR code scanner.  https://www.kaspersky.com/qr-scanner

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