Scam of the Day

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Scam of the day – July 7, 2022 – Marriott Suffers Another Data Breach

The Marriott hotel chain confirmed that it has suffered yet another data breach, this one at its BWI Airport Marriott Hotel in Maryland with between 300 and 400 guests at the hotel having their credit card information stolen along with personal information of the hotels employees as well.

Marriott has had a bad history with data breaches.  I  reported to you in December of 2018 when Marriott announced that it had suffered a major data breach involving its Starwood guest reservation database. Starwood is a group of hotels bought by Marriott in 2016 and includes such well known hotel chains as the St. Regis, Westin, Sheraton and W Hotels. While the data breach was discovered in early September  of 2018 by Marriott, the data breach had been ongoing since 2014. Some estimates are that the total number of people affected by the data breach is an astounding 500 million. Of those people 327 million had personal information including names, phone numbers, email addresses, and birth dates stolen. Millions more also had credit card information compromised.

A class action was filed on behalf of affected customers and last May a federal judge certified the class so that the case is now proceeding.   I will keep you informed as to the progress of the class action at this time.  You don’t need to do anything to be covered in the class action although you can choose to opt out and sue individually although this rarely, if ever makes sense for individual consumers

TIPS

This is also a good time to remind you that the laws that protect you from liability for fraudulent credit card use are much stronger than the laws that protect you if your debit card is fraudulently used. You should not use your debit card for anything other than an ATM card. Cybercriminals also use the information gathered in data breaches such as this to form the basis of scams that start with spear phishing emails which are emails specifically tailored with information about you and your interests. These spear phishing emails will attempt to lure you into either providing personal information that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft or to click on links containing harmful malware. Everyone should be skeptical of any email asking for personal information or prompting you to click on a link. Never provide such information or click on links until you have confirmed that the email is legitimate.

This also is a good time for you to freeze your credit reports if you have not already done so. Freezing and unfreezing your credit reports is still the best single act you can do to protect yourself from becoming an identity theft victim.

Here are links to each of them with instructions about how to get a credit freeze:
Even after freezing your credit reports, you should still regularly monitor them to look for indications of identity theft. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three major credit reporting bureaus are offering free weekly online credit reports through the end of 2022. The weekly free reports can be ordered online only through the official website: www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

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Scam of the day – July 6, 2022 – Smishing Scams Increasing

Although the name may not be as familiar as “phishing” which is the name for emails that lure you into clicking on malware infected links or providing personal information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft, “smishing” is the name given to text messages that lure you into clicking on links or providing personal information in response to a text message from what appears to be a trusted source, such as a company with which you do business.

Smishing scams have increased in frequency over the last year.  According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 21% of fraud reports dealt with smishing.   Many smishing text messages appearing to come from Amazon, USPS, Federal Express, Cash App, Netflix and others. Like phishing emails, the purpose of a smishing text message is to either lure you into providing personal information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft or to click on a link in the text message that will download dangerous malware.

TIPS

Among the topics of smishing text messages are free prizes, gift cards or coupons, credit card offers, student loan assistance, suspicious activity on an account of yours, or a need to update your payment information with a company with which you do business. Smishing emails that appear to come from your bank are also quite common.

As I always say, “trust me, you can’t trust anyone.”  You can never be truly sure when you receive a text message seeking personal information such as your credit card number whether or not the email is a scam. The risk of clicking on a link or providing the requested information is just too high. Instead, if you think that the text message might be legitimate, you should contact the company at a telephone number that you know is legitimate and find out whether or not the text message was a scam.

For some reason it appears that Verizon users are being targeted most frequently by smishing scams.

As for Netflix, which has been used as a hook in many recent smishing scams, the real Netflix will never ask in an email or text message for any of your personal information so anytime you get an email or text message purportedly from Netflix asking for your credit card number, Social Security number or any other personal information, it is a scam.  Here is a link to Netflix’s security page for information about staying secure in regard to your Netflix account. https://help.netflix.com/en/node/13243

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Scam of the day – July 5, 2022 – Federal Gas Relief Scam

According to AAA the average price for a gallon of gas in the United States today is $4.82 and in many states, the price is even higher.  It therefore comes as no surprise that consumers are desperate to get some relief from these high prices and scammers are there, as you might expect, to add to your woes.  Recognizing the desire for relief from high gas prices, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says scammers are calling, texting and emailing people posing as government representatives of the federal Fuel Relief Program offering assistance.  All you need do, they tell you, is provide some personal and financial information in order to be eligible for the program.

Unfortunately, there is no such program and if you provide your personal or financial information to the scammer, you will end up becoming a victim of identity theft.

Impostor scams have long been among the most lucrative for scammers.  While there are many variations of this scam, the most common variations have involved scammers calling their intended victims on the telephone posing as some governmental agency such as the, FBI, IRS or the Social Security Administration.  The scammer then, under a wide variety of pretenses, demands an immediate payment by gift cards, credit card or wired funds. Being asked to pay by gift cards is a definite indication that the call is a scam since no governmental agency requests or accepts payments by gift cards.   Alternatively, the scammer demands the victim supply the phony governmental agent with personal information such as your Social Security number which will then be used for identity theft purposes.

TIPS

As I have often reminded you, through the simple technique of “spoofing” it is very easy for a scammer to manipulate your Caller ID to make a call coming to you appear legitimate when it is not.  Therefore you can never truly trust your Caller ID.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone. Even though your Caller ID may indicate that the call is coming from a government agency the call is coming from a scammer.

Whenever you receive a phone call, text message or email, you can never be sure who is contacting you so you should never provide personal or financial information in response to such communications unless you have absolutely confirmed that the communication is legitimate.  In this particular case, there is no federal Fuel Relief Program so whoever contacts you claiming to represent the program is a scammer.

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Scam of the day – July 4, 2022 – Publishers Clearing House Scams Increasing

Today’s Scam of the day was prompted by an email I received that appeared to come from Publishers Clearing House informing me that I was on the “final winner selection list” although it didn’t indicate that I am joined on this list by probably half of the country’s population.  Publishers Clearing House, the sponsor of some of the most popular legitimate lotteries in the country no longer limits its contests to one or two a year, but has numerous lotteries each month.

Recently there has been an increase in reports of scammers calling people on the telephone and telling them that they have won one of the Publishers Clearing House lotteries, but that they have to pay fees or taxes before being able to claim their prize.  In addition there are reports of targeted victims receiving phony notifications by regular mail that they have won a Publishers Clearing House lottery, but that again they must pay fees or taxes before being able to receive their prize. The FTC has indicated that last year consumers lost 185 million dollars to sweepstakes and lottery scams.

Last year, a friend and Scamicide reader told me that his parents received a call purportedly from the Publishers Clearing House telling them that they had won 4 million dollars and a Mercedes Benz automobile in the color of their choice.  The scammer, posing as a Publishers Clearing House employee swore them to secrecy and specifically told them not to tell their children or anyone else about their win.  He also told them that they needed to send $1,000 in cash or Walmart Gift Cards by mail to a woman in New Jersey.  Most likely the woman in New Jersey was not even aware of the scam, but either was someone recruited for a work-at-home job in which she would forward mail or was a victim of a romance scam in which the scammer pretending to be romantically involved with her would ask her to send him the envelope with the funds.

It is hard to win any lottery. It is impossible to win one that you have not even entered and yet scam artists have found that it is extremely lucrative to scam people by convincing them that they have won various lotteries. With so many people entered into the Publishers Clearing House lotteries, it is easier for scammers to convince people that they have won.

Most lottery scams involve the victim being told that they need to pay taxes or administrative fees directly to the lottery sponsor; however no legitimate lottery requires you to do so.

As with many effective scams, the pitch of the scammer may seem legitimate. Income taxes are due on lottery winnings, but with legitimate lotteries they are either deducted from the lottery winnings before you receive your prize or you are responsible for paying the taxes directly to the IRS. No legitimate lottery collects taxes on behalf of the IRS from lottery winners.  Other times, the scammer tell the “winners” that in order to collect their prizes, they need to pay administrative fees. Often, the victims are told to send the fees back to the scammer by prepaid gift cards or Green Dot MoneyPak cards. Prepaid cards are a favorite of scammers because they are the equivalent of sending cash. They are impossible to stop or trace. Again, no legitimate lottery requires you to pay administrative fees in order to claim your prize.

TIPS

Fortunately, there is an easy way to know, when you are contacted by Publishers Clearing House by phone, email or text message informing you that you have won one of its major multi-million dollar prizes, whether you have been contacted by the real Publishers Clearing House. Publishers Clearing House only contacts major prize winners in person or by regular mail.  They do not contact winners by phone, email or text message so if you do receive a notification of your winning one of their major multi-million dollar prizes by those means of communication you know it is a scam.

Even if the Caller ID on your phone indicates the call is from Publishers Clearing House, it is very easy for a scammer to use a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is coming from Publishers Clearing House rather than the scammer who is really making the call. Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.

In addition, no winners of the Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes are ever required to make a payment of any kind to claim their prize so if you are told that you have won, but are required to make any kind of payment before you can claim your prize, you can be sure that it is a scam.  As for other lotteries, remember, you can’t win a lottery you haven’t entered and no legitimate lottery asks you to pay them administrative fees or taxes.

Also, as I often tell you, it is always a red flag that you are involved with a scam when you are asked to pay for anything with gift cards.  Gift cards are a favorite method of payment for scammers because they are easy to convert into cash and impossible to trace.

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Scam of the day – July 3, 2022 – Watch Out for Fourth of July Scams

Every season is scam season and every day provides unique opportunity for scam artists, the only criminals that we call artists, to try to scam us out of our hard earned money.  Here are a few scams that you should be aware of that are related to tomorrow’s Fourth of July holiday

Many scammers send out emails or text messages purportedly from the IRS or any of a number of state and federal agencies in which they require you to provide personal information under the guise of some emergency.  They do this because if they can frighten you enough to act during the holiday in some instances you will be unable to confirm with the real entity as to whether the communication is legitimate because all of these entities will be closed on the Fourth of July.  If you provide the requested information, it will be used against you to make you a victim of identity theft.

You also should be wary of Fourth of July e cards that you may receive.  These can be loaded with keystroke logging malware that will steal all of the information from your computer or portable device if you download the malware by clicking on the link.

Finally, be on the lookout for messages that appear on your Facebook page with links to Fourth of July themed videos that arouse your curiosity.  Again, the links contained within these messages may be loaded with keystroke logging malware.

TIPS

The IRS and many other state and federal agencies will not initiate communications with you through email so you can disregard that email from the IRS or other similar entities.  It is important to be skeptical of any email or text message that you receive that requests personal information.  Never provide such information or click on links in such emails unless you are absolutely sure that the request is legitimate and you can’t be sure unless you have confirmed with the person or entity that purportedly sent it that it is indeed legitimate.  If you can’t confirm on the Fourth of July, let it wait until you can.

As for e cards, never click on a link to an e card unless the message specifically indicates from whom it is being sent and only then after you have confirmed with that person that they indeed did send you an e card.

Also remember that messages that you get on Facebook may appear to come from friends, but may actually be coming from scammers who have hacked your real friend’s Facebook account.  In addition, unfortunately, sometimes you actually will get videos sent to you by your real friends who are unwittingly passing on malware infected material.  Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.

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Scam of the day – July 2, 2022 – Child Identity Theft is Worsening

According to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research more than 1.25 million children became victims of identity theft last year and the true number is probably much greater because in many instances child identity theft is not discovered until the child reaches age 18.  Identity thieves steal the identity of a child and then run up large debts using the credit of the child, who generally does not become aware that his or her identity has been stolen until he or she reaches older teen years when the teenager might first apply for a car loan or financial aid for college.

Identity theft of children’s identities is a huge national problem.  According to a study by the Carnegie Mellon CyLab, children are more than 51 times more likely to become a victim of identity theft than adults.  Children are also the most common victims of “synthetic identity theft.”  Many people are not familiar with the term “synthetic Identity theft,” but it poses a significant threat to many people particularly children.

Synthetic identity theft occurs when a criminal takes information from a variety of sources to create a new identity to take out loans, purchase goods and services, or fraudulently obtain credit cards.  Synthetic identity thieves combine real and fake information to form a new fictional person.  They may use your Social Security number and combine it with the name, address and phone number of someone else.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has said that synthetic identity theft is the fastest growing type of identity theft.  Children are the most common victims of synthetic identity theft and it is often many years before the problem is discovered.

In synthetic identity theft criminals then build the credit score of the synthetic identity by having people use the credit cards and make regular payments until the credit score of the new synthetic identity is high enough for the ultimate payoff, which is referred to as the “bust out.”  In the bust out phase, the identity thief uses the new synthetic identity to either make large purchases or take out big loans that are never paid back.  Some synthetic identity thieves will take years to build the synthetic identity theft credit score by making payments on cell phone accounts, car loans and more.

TIPS

Some telltale signs of synthetic identity theft include being contacted about an account that you never opened or a debt that you didn’t incur.  Also, look for aliases listed on your credit report that you do not use.  A dramatic lowering of your credit score coupled with a lack of negative information on your primary credit reports are further indications of synthetic identity theft.  The reason that your primary credit report will not show negative information due to synthetic identity theft is because when a criminal uses your Social Security number, but doesn’t use your name, the negative information caused by their actions does not appear on your regular credit report.  Instead, the information is added to a sub-file of your credit report which will, however, cause your credit score to drop tremendously.

If you do find out that you or your children have become a victim of synthetic identity theft, notify each of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion of the crime and ask them to investigate and remove the false information from your sub-files.

Parents also should, as much as possible, try to limit the places that have their child’s Social Security number and become familiar with the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act which helps you protect the privacy of your child’s school records and enables you to opt out of information sharing by the school with third parties.  You also should freeze the credit reports of your children.  Until 2018 there was no national law that allowed the credit reports of children to be frozen, but in the wake of the major Equifax data breach, Congress passed laws that now permit children’s credit reports to be frozen and unfrozen for free.

Here are the links to information about how to freeze your child’s credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies.

https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/requesting-a-security-freeze-for-a-minor-childs-credit-report/

https://www.equifax.com/personal/education/identity-theft/freezing-your-childs-credit-report-faq/

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Scam of the day – July 1, 2022 – FTC Sues Walmart for its Role in Money Transfer Fraud Schemes

A common theme in many scams, including phony lottery scams and the infamous grandparent scam, is that the scammers will require the victim to wire money rather than use a credit card or a check.  Once money has been wired, it is all but impossible to trace or stop payment.  In response to this problem, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated both Western Union and MoneyGram and settled claims brought against them in 2017 and 2009 respectively.   According to the terms of both settlements, the companies made substantial changes in how they did business in order to reduce the amount of scammers using their services.

Earlier this week, the FTC sued Walmart alleging that for years the company was complicit with scammers who used Walmart money transfer wire services to receive payment for a multitude of scams.  According to the FTC, between 2013 and 2018, Walmart customers lost between 197 million dollars and 1.3 billion dollars to scams by which payments were made to scammers by way of Walmart money transfer services.  For its part, while Walmart did not knowingly participate in the scams, the FTC alleges that they turned a blind eye to such scams, allowing suspicious transfers and having poor policies to prevent such transfers from occurring, all the while collecting millions of dollars in fees for the use of their money transfer services.

TIPS

First in regard to avoiding scams like this in the first place, whenever anyone you are dealing with requests that payment be made by way of a wire transfer, you should immediately be skeptical because of the near impossibility of getting your money back if the deal is a scam or anything goes wrong.  Using a credit card for payment is much safer.

This case against Walmart was only filed this week and it is a long way from being resolved.  However, the FTC is asking the court to order Walmart to refund payments to victims of the various scams that used Walmart’s money transfer services.  In the past, millions of dollars were refunded to victims of similar scams in which Western Union and MoneyGram were involved and it could well be expected that eventually victims of scams in which money was wired through Walmart’s money transfer services will be getting some refunds.  I will, of course, keep you informed as to progress of this case.

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Scam of the day – June 30, 2022 – FTC Refunding Money to Victims of Illegal Debt Collection Scam

Receiving a telephone call from a debt collector is not a pleasant experience.   I have written many times in the past about scammers who use deceptive and abusive collections practices in attempting to collect debts.  These scammers violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by making threatening and verbally abusive phone calls, contacting third parties about debts and threatening legal action.

Recently the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the New York Attorney General settled its claims against Vantage Point, a company that operated an illegal debt collection business.  The FTC is now refunding money to the victims of the scam.

Vantage Point engaged in a variety of illegal tactics including threatening people with arrest and imprisonment (you can’t be imprisoned for failing to pay a debt), lying about threatened legal actions and falsely telling their victims that they were calling from law offices or government agencies.

TIPS

Subject to strict federal laws, legitimate debt collectors are permitted to call debtors, however, the law prohibits them from threatening imprisonment for the failure to pay a debt.  It can be difficult to know when someone calls attempting to collect a debt if indeed they are legitimate or not, so your best course of action if you receive such a call is to not discuss the debt with the person calling, but instead demand that they send you a written “validation notice” by regular mail which describes the debt they allege you owe and includes a listing of your rights under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

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Scam of the day – June 29, 2022 – Bumble Text Message Scam

Bumble is a popular online dating app so it is not surprising that scammers use it as a “hook” for scams.  Anything popular with the public is fodder for scammers.  Recently people have been reporting receiving text messages in which the scammer sends a text message that appears was intended for someone else who the scammer says they met through Bumble.  If the targeted scam victim responds to the text message to inform the sender that the message was sent to the wrong number, the scammer responds with a suggestive photo.

If the targeted victim takes the bait and responds to the photo and the message by continuing the conversation, the scam proceeds to a variety of other scams in which they seek payments or personal information that will be used for identity theft.  In other circumstances, the scammer prompts the targeted victim to send their own suggestive photo or video which then can be used for blackmail.  In other instances, they may lure you into clicking on links in the text messages that will download malware.

TIPS

This is an easy scam to avoid.  Merely don’t respond.   Although the temptation may be there at the start to inform the person texting you that they have sent it to the wrong number, even by doing this seemingly innocuous act, you have indicated to the scammer that the number they texted is an active number that can be targeted with other scams.

A good rule to follow is to never click on links or download attachments in emails or text messages unless you have absolutely confirmed that the communication is legitimate and in this case, there is no way you can confirm that it is legitimate so you should never click on a link in this situation.

Similarly you should never provide personal information to anyone in response to a text message, phone call or email unless you have confirmed it is legitimate and, once again, that is impossible in this situation so don’t provide any information in response to the text.

Finally, make sure that your phone and all of your electronic devices are protected by security software and install the latest security updates as soon as they are available.

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Scam of the day – June 28, 2022 – Ellen DeGeneres Facebook scam

For the last year multiple Facebook accounts have posted posts like the one reproduced below with a photo of comedian Ellen DeGeneres (not Ellen Degeeneress, as the scammers refer to her in the posts) promising to pay $750 to random winners.  The scam’s goal is to get people to either provide personal information that will be used to make them victims of identity theft or to click on links that will download dangerous malware such as ransomware or keystroke logging malware that can lead to identity theft.

Posing as a famous person on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is quite simple to do and has proven to be quite lucrative for many scammers who are able to convince unsuspecting victims to rely on the phony accounts. The subject of the most phony celebrity accounts, according to a study by a company called Social Impostor is Brazilian soccer player Neymar with singer/actress Selena Gomez a close second. Social Impostor is a company which works to protect celebrities from misuse of their names on line.

Setting up a social media account is easy to do for a scammer, requiring merely a name, a photo and an email address, all of which can be done to make it appear that the account is that of the real celebrity when, in truth it is that of the scammer. Sometimes the scammer will add a middle initial or a slight misspelling of the name of the celebrity to avoid detection as may have been the case with this particular Ellen DeGeneres scam. Despite the efforts of the various social media companies to try to stop this practice, it continues in great numbers. Facebook estimates that there are as many as 60 million phony Facebook accounts including hundreds of its founder Mark Zuckerberg. It tries to remove the accounts when it becomes aware of them, but they spring up soon again.

A Facebook scam showed pictures of Ellen DeGeneres and promised $750 or $1,000 Cash App prizes.

TIPS

Facebook has a blue verification badge program that helps people know that a celebrity Facebook page is authentic. The blue check verification badge is used by public figures and media organizations to indicate that Facebook has verified the account as legitimate. Many of the Facebook and other social media scams involve, as this one does, getting something for nothing.

Whenever you see one of these free giveaways appear in social media remember my motto, “B.S.  Be skeptical”  and don’t provide any personal information. Certainly don’t give away any credit card information and don’t click on unverified links. You should never trust a social media account of a celebrity or anyone for that matter that promises to give you something for nothing. No celebrity is giving gifts to total strangers, not even Oprah Winfrey, whose generosity is well known and whose name was used to perpetrate these scams, as well. Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.

Never click on links or provide personal information in response to a social media post unless you have absolutely determined that it is legitimate.

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