Scam of the Day

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Scam of the day – April 9, 2019 – Game of Thrones Malware Threat

Game of Thrones is one of the most popular television shows of all time and fans of the show are eagerly waiting the April 14th release on HBO of the first episode of the final season.  Of course anything popular with many people is also going to be popular with scammers who will, through illegal websites, be offering to provide pirated versions of the show to people unwilling to pay for HBO.  This is not just speculation.  Last year there were 9,986 different malware strains tied to Game of Thrones.  People thinking that they are downloading the video or software they are told they need to view the video end up instead downloading a wide variety of malware including ransomware and keystroke logging malware that can lead to identity theft.  There is a long history of pirated versions of popular movies and television shows being offered on illegal websites, such as Grokster which actually was the subject of a Supreme Court decision.  Some of these websites may even actually provide you with a pirated copy, but they all are illegal and they all carry the risk of providing malware.

TIPS

The best thing you can do to avoid Game of Thrones connected malware or malware connected with other pirated versions of movies and television shows is merely to avoid those websites offering such pirated versions.  They are all illegal.  If you do go to illegal websites offering such pirated versions of Game of Thrones or other movies or television shows, you should first check the size of the file you will be downloading.  While malware can come in small files, an episode of Game of Thrones will not be smaller than several gigabytes.  Also make sure that you are using security software on whatever device you are using to view the video and make sure that your security software is updated with the latest security updates and patches, knowing however that the latest security software will not protect you from the latest zero day defect malware for which there is no known defense.  It usually takes around thirty days for the security software companies to develop defenses to the latest malware strains.  Again, however, the best way to avoid these problems is by doing the right thing and paying for your content.

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Scam of the day – April 8, 2019 – Toyota Suffers Major Data Breach

Many of us are said to have data breach fatigue, which means that due to so many massive data breaches occurring in recent years, such as the Equifax data breach of 2017 in which 145 million people had personal information stolen, we have become numbed and fail to appreciate how serious these data breaches are.  This is a mistake because the personal information stolen in data breaches often can lead to identity theft in various forms including having your bank accounts hacked and stolen.    Toyota has recently announced that personal information on 3 million of its customers was stolen from its sales companies’ computer systems.  Included in the stolen data were names, birth dates and employment information.

TIPS

A good place to start protecting yourself from data breaches is by finding out in which data breaches your personal information has been compromised.  You can do this by going to the website, https://haveibeenpwned.com/

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.

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.

Whenever possible use dual factor authentication for your accounts so that when you attempt to log in, a one-time code will be sent to your cell phone to insert in order to get access to your account.  For convenience sake you can set up dual factor authentication so that it is only required if you are logging in from a different computer or device than you normally use.

Also, with your email address commonly known by many scammers, you can expect to receive more and 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.

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Scam of the day – April 7, 2019 – Georgia Man Convicted of Hacking Apple Accounts of Athletes and Musicians

Kwamaine Jerell Ford pleaded guilty last week in Federal Court in Atlanta to charges related to his hacking into the accounts of hundreds of prominent professional athletes and rappers.  The technique Ford used to hack into the accounts of his victims was simple and effective.  He sent emails to his intended victims that appeared to come from Apple Customer Service in which, posing as an Apple customer service representative, he asked for his victims’ usernames, passwords and answers to security questions under the guise that due to security issues they needed to reset their Apple accounts.  While many people targeted by the emails recognized that this was a scam, hundreds of people to whom Ford sent these phishing emails responded with their information enabling Ford to log into their accounts, reset the passwords, change the contact email address to one he controlled and change the security questions.  Ford was also able to access the credit cards associated with many of the accounts and used their credit cards to fund a lavish lifestyle.  Ford pleaded guilty to one count of computer fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.  He will be sentenced on June 24th.

TIPS

While the targeted victims in this particular case were all famous athletes and musicians, the tactic used by Ford has been successfully been used to victimize members of the general public as well.  Remember, my motto, trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Many times it is easy to recognize phony emails posing as coming from a particular company with which you do business because the email address sending the email has absolutely nothing to do with the company, other times the email address may appear legitimate, however, it is important to remember that you can never be sure who is actually contacting you by phone, text message or email so, as a general rule you should never give out personal information such as passwords in response to any such communication without absolutely confirming that the communication is legitimate.  Anyone who received such an email purporting to be from Apple would have found out if they contacted Apple in response to the email that the email was a scam.

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Scam of the day – April 6, 2019 – Craig Carton Sentenced to 3.5 Years in Prison

Yesterday, popular New York sports talk radio host Craig Carton, half of the popular WFAN morning talk show “Boomer and Carton” was  sentenced to three and a half years in prison  in regard to a scam in which he and two other men, Michael Wright and Joseph Meli  tricked investors into giving them money to be used to purchase large blocks of concert tickets to major concerts of artists such as Adele and Katy Perry that they represented would then be sold on the secondary ticket market for large profits.  However,  the entire scheme was a scam with no tickets being purchased with the money collected used to pay off Carton’s gambling debts and other personal expenses.  As is typical of any Ponzi scheme, earlier investors were paid with funds from later investors.

In addition to the criminal charges, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) also brought civil securities charges based on the same scam against Carton and Joseph Meli.  If Meli’s name sounds familiar it may be because I wrote in January 30, 2017’s Scam of the day about him being sued by the SEC in regard to a similar type of scam involving non-existent tickets to hit Broadway shows such as Hamilton.

TIPS
Ponzi schemes have been an effective fraud tactic for more than a century because they are effective.  It may seem to a potential investor that the scheme is legitimate because he or she can see earlier investors earning profits.  However, those profits are illusory.

Never invest in anything unless you totally understand the investment and have also investigated the people seeking your money.  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 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.

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Scam of the day – April 5, 2019 – Law Enforcement Busts Child Identity Theft Ring

Child identity theft has become a big problem in recent years. According to Javelin Strategy and Research, a million American children became victims of identity theft last year at a cost of 2.6 billion dollars in total losses to the families. Children are prime targets of identity thieves who, if they are able to get identifying information on a child, such as the child’s Social Security number, can open a credit report on behalf of the child and obtain credit in the child’s name.  The identity thief never pays back the money accessed through the child’s credit and the child is burdened with a bad credit report that can have a harmful effect on the child when he or she applies for credit, applies for a job, applies for a scholarship or seeks to rent an apartment.  Often the identity theft is not discovered until years after it first happens which makes it more difficult to remedy.

Following a sixteen month investigation by the Social Security Administration, eight people from the two New York cities of Buffalo and Amherst were charged with identity theft from children as young as eleven years old.  According to police, Darrius Outling of Buffalo stole Social Security numbers of children throughout the country and sold the numbers to others who ran up more than $400,000 in fraudulent purchases, all the while ruining the credit reports  of the children whose Social Security numbers were used.

Since last September,  a new federal law, which I first told you about in the Scam of the day for June 6th,  that allows you to freeze and unfreeze your credit reports for free also permits parents or guardians of children under 16 to set up a credit report for their child and then freeze it at no cost.   Everyone should have their credit reports frozen at each of the three major credit reporting agencies and parents should freeze the credit reports of their children.

For more information about credit freezes check out this article I wrote for the Saturday Evening Post which described credit freezes in detail.

http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2017/08/23/health-and-family/business-and-technology/con-watch-credit-freezes-best-protection-identity-theft.html

TIPS

Here are links to the three major credit reporting bureaus with forms and instructions for freezing your children’s credit reports. Unlike freezing your own credit reports, children’s credit reports must be done through the mail.  Remember it is important to freeze your child’s credit report at all three major credit reporting agencies and although it is difficult to do at Equifax, it is still important to do so.

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

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

https://assets.equifax.com/assets/personal/Minor_Freeze_Request_Form.pdf

Once you have frozen your children’s credit, be sure to keep the PIN and information on how to unfreeze your credit reports in a safe place.

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Scam of the day – April 4, 2019 – Phone Scammer Convicted

Impostor scams where the scammers pose as IRS agents, Social Security employees, law enforcement and many others are a staple of scammers.  They often make these calls from large call centers that can be located anywhere in the world.  Through “spoofing” many scammers manipulate Caller ID to make it appear that the call is actually coming from a legitimate source, which makes the scam more believable, but it is still nothing more than a scam.  Over the years I have warned you about many of these scams.

Recently Mehboob Manurali Charania was convicted in Georgia and sentenced to sixteen months in prison as well as fined $240,000 for his participation in a massive call center phone scam that operated out of India.  Charania was among scammers posing on the phone as IRS employees demanding payments as well as posing as authorities threatening call recipients for allegedly failing to pay ficitious taxes and fees associated with student loans and scams in which they lured their victims into paying fees for non-existent grants.

TIPS

You can never be sure when who is really calling you when you receive a phone call so you should never provide personal information to anyone who calls unless you have confirmed that the call is legitimate and it is necessary for you to provide that information.  Remember my motto, “trust me, you can’t trust anyone.”   Merely because your Caller ID may indicate that the call you are receiving is from the IRS or some other legitimate organization, it is a simple matter for a scammer to “spoof” a phone call so that it appears that the call is coming from a legitimate source, when it is not.   It is also important to remember that the the IRS will never call, email or text you to initiate contact regarding income taxes.

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Scam of the day – April 3, 2019 – Seniors Scams and Identity Theft

Today’s Scam of the day departs from our usual format to provide access to a Webinar I gave through the law firm with which I am affiliated, Margolis & Bloom.  Whether you are a senior or someone who has older family members, you may find this webinar and the information contained therein useful.

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Scam of the day – April 2, 2019 – Political Issue Robocall Scam

While the 2020 presidential election is more than a year away, the intensity of the debate over political issues in this country is extremely high and scammers are taking advantage of that fact by using robocalls to call people posing as prominent politicians, such as President Trump or Speaker Pelosi asking for donations related to hot button political topics such as immigration.    This particular scam can easily seem legitimate. Caller ID can be tricked through a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear to your Caller ID as if the call is coming from a candidate or some political organization and recordings of the candidate can also be incorporated into the call to make the call appear more legitimate.  Furthermore, calls from political candidates and other political calls are exempt from the federal Do-Not-Call List, so it would be legal for someone to get a call from a politician or political group seeking donations.

TIPS

Whenever you receive a telephone call, you can never be sure as to who is really contacting you, so you should never give personal or financial information to anyone over the phone who you have not called.  If you do wish to contribute to a political campaign, the best way to do this is by going to the candidate’s official website and make your contribution.  Even then, make sure that when you are giving your donation online that the website address begins with https instead of just http.  Https indicates that your communication is being encrypted for better security.  If you are being asked to contribute to a political organization rather than a candidate, you should definitely do your research to determine the legitimacy of the organization before making a donation.

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Scam of the day – November 20, 2018 – Publishers Clearing House Scams

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. The Gladwin, Michigan Police Department recently issued a warning to people to be aware of these scammers although the calls are happening everywhere around the country. Unfortunately, even a Scamicide reader was recently victimized by this scam.
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 seems 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.   In addition, no winners of the Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes are ever required to make a payment of any kind to claim their prize.  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.
Even if the Caller ID on your phone indicates the call is actually 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.
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Scam of the day – April 1, 2019 – Summer Rental Scams Already Happening

While it is only the first of April, many people will be renting a vacation home in the days and weeks ahead in order to get a high demand rental at the beach, mountains or some other vacation venue. Reports of these scams are already being reported on Martha’s Vineyard, an extremely popular vacation spot.  There are many excellent websites  such as VRBO and Homeaway that offer wonderful vacation homes.  Many people will also go to Craigslist and other similar sites.  These websites can be easy and efficient ways to locate a great vacation home.   Unfortunately, they are also a great way for scam artists to steal money from unwary people looking for a vacation home.  The scam usually starts with a listing that looks quite legitimate and there is a good reason for that.  The listing is often a real on-line listing that has been copied by the scammer who merely puts in his or her name and contact information.  The price is usually very low which attracts a lot of potential renters.  The potential renters are sometimes told that the owner is out of the country and that there are many people interested in the property so if the tenant wants to be considered for renting it, the tenant has to wire money to the landlord somewhere outside of the country.  As I have warned you many times, wiring money is a scammer’s first choice because it is all but impossible to retrieve once you have found out that you have been scammed.  Too often, unwary potential tenants wire the money and never hear anything further from the scam landlord.  And as for the money, it is gone forever.

TIPS

There are a number of red flags to look for in vacation home rental scams.  First, as always, if the price is too good to be true, it usually is just that – not true.  Also be wary of landlords who are out of the country.  Never send your payment by a wire transfer or a cashier’s check.  Use a credit card, PayPal or any other payment system with which you can retrieve your funds if the transaction is fraudulent.  It is usually best to deal with websites that specialize in vacation homes, but you must remember that they cannot possibly monitor every listing to ensure that it is legitimate.  A great and easy way to determine if the listing is a scam is to check out who really is the owner by going on line to the tax assessor’s office of the city or town where the property is located and look up who the real owner is.  If it doesn’t match the name of the person attempting to rent you the home, you should not go through with the rental.  Also Google the name of the owner with the word “scam” next to his or her name and see if anything comes up to make you concerned.

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