More than a million people were fooled by a scam offering free tickets on Southwest Airlines. The scam originated on a phony Facebook page of “Southwest Air Fans” and was shared by many people. The Facebook post indicated that Southwest was celebrating its 69th anniversary by giving away free tickets to anyone who responded to the email. However, if you did respond to the email you were prompted to answer endless surveys. However, there are no free tickets and if you complete the survey, you turn over information to a scammer who can use it to make you a victim of identity theft.
Peer to Peer Payment Payment Service (P2P) Zelle is used by many people to quickly and conveniently send money electronically from your credit card or bank account. Sending money through Zelle only requires you to enter the recipient’s phone number or email address. Zelle is an app created by the company Early Warning Services (EWS) which is owned by seven of the biggest banks in the United States including Bank of America and Capital One. Hundreds of banks and credit unions offer Zelle as a service. Unfortunately, Zelle has proven to be easily exploited by scammers and unlike scams targeting your credit cards directly, you may not have as much protection under the law to get your money back if you do get scammed. In addition to scammers luring their victims to pay for worthless items through Zelle, scammers are also sending phishing emails and text messages in which they lure their victims into providing their Zelle usernames, passwords and PINs to take over their victims’ bank accounts through their Zelle accounts.
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.
Some scams are just so simple and effective that they remind us why scam artists are indeed the only criminals we refer to as artists. An old scam that is still being used effectively by scammers involves a flyer under your door in your hotel or motel room that purportedly is an advertisement for a local pizza parlor or in the recent case of one family a phony room service menu slid under the door. The flyer gives a telephone number for the pizza parlor which conveniently delivers to your room or, again in this particular case the phone number for the hotel’s room service.
Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacted long overdue rules that will require that gateway providers which are the relatively small group of telecom providers that help transmit calls that originate out of the country VoIP technology into the American telephone network to register with the FCC and adopt protocols to reduce illegal robocalls including protocols to monitor illegal calls and block phone companies that have been identified as transmitting illegal robocalls. A failure to enact and enforce such rules could lead to the FCC banning such companies from accessing the American telephone network.
As we have seen far too often, scammers are quite capable of taking whatever is happening in society and turning it into an opportunity to scam people. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires are taken advantage of by scammers in a variety of ways and now we are seeing scammers taking advantage of the horrific racially motivated murders of ten people in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York to fashion a variety of scams.
The copied email below, which I personally received and many Scamicide readers have told me that they received, appears to come from Norton Life Lock, a company that provides a wide range of digital security services and identity theft protection services. As always, the purpose of a phishing email is to lure you into clicking on links contained within the email or providing personal information, in this case by phone if you call to dispute the phony bill . If you click on links in phishing emails, you end up downloading malware and if you provide the requested information, it ends up being used to make you a victim of identity theft.
I have been warning you about the jury duty scam for ten years, but it continues to snare many unwary victims. This scam has been used effectively for years by scammers to con people out of their money. The scam starts with a telephone call that you receive purportedly from a law enforcement officer informing you that you have failed to appear for jury duty and that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. You are told, however, that you can avoid arrest and greater fines by paying a fine through a credit card, debit card or gift card. Of course, the phone call is a scam. Even if you have missed jury duty, you will never be called by legitimate court officers and shaken down for a payment.
Recently Jeffersonking Anyanwu of Utah was convicted of operating a romance scam that stole 8.4 million dollars from more than 350 people. Anyanwu was sentenced to 63 months in prison. Five other codefendants who worked with Anyanwu in the scam have previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison. Anyanwu and his cohorts used dating apps, social media and even online games to contact their victims. In many instances they posed as an Army General stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Concern about the national shortage of baby formula has many concerned parents turning to whatever sources they can to obtain these essential products. Unfortunately, this has created the perfect storm for unscrupulous scammers to market and sell non-existent baby formula to desperate parents.
Today’s security update corrects 13 significant vulnerabilities in the popular search engine Google Chrome. It is important to remember that while Google will automatically send your computer the updates as soon as they are issued, you need to restart your browser to install the updates. Some people leave their browser open for days at a time so it is important to download and install any Google Chrome security updates as soon as they are available.
Recently, the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released a study in which they warned about a large surge in computer screen sharing scams in which the scammers convince their victims to allow remote access to their computers through programs such as LogMeIn or Team Viewer. Once the scammer gains remote access to their victim’s computer, cell phone or other electronic device they can gain access to online banking and investment accounts of the victim as well as other personal information stored on the device.
As I first reported to you in January of 2017, Western Union, which provides money wiring services around the world settled fraud charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Justice Department and a number of states’ Attorneys General. Under the terms of the settlement which was achieved through a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, Western Union is paying 586 million dollars to reimburse victims of the various scams facilitated by Western Union in conjunction with scammers around the world who used the services of Western Union to illegally launder funds. A Deferred Prosecution Agreement allows Western Union to avoid a criminal conviction if it complies with all of the settlement terms.
Synthetic identity theft 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.
Scammers and identity thieves are continuing to call people posing as a government employee who informs you that there is a problem with your Social Security number or benefits. Often they even threaten arrest or other legal action. In many instances they demand payments by way of gift cards or cryptocurrencies to resolve the problem.
One common Mother’s Day scam involves an email that you get offering Mother’s Day gifts such as flowers, jewelry, shoes or clothing at tremendously discounted prices. All you need to do is to click on a link to order online. The problem is that many of these offers are indeed scams. If you click on the link, one of two things can happen and both are bad. Sometimes the link will take you to an order form where you provide your credit card information, but never get anything in return. Instead your credit card information is used to make you a victim of identity theft. Even worse is the other possibility which is by clicking on the link, you will unwittingly download a keystroke logging malware program that will steal all of the personal information stored on your computer and use that information to make you a victim of identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission sued the Saint James School of Medicine, a for-profit medical school located on the Caribbean island of Anguilla for its deceptive marketing practices by which they lured students with false representations of the pass rates of their students on medical license exams and their residency matching program. When soliciting students through sales calls, presentations and marketing materials, Saint James representatives claimed the pass rate for their students on medical licensing exams was 96.77% when the truth is since 2017 only 35% of their students passed these exams. In regard to their residency matching program, Saint James representatives said their residency matching program was successful 83% of the time when the true figure since 2018 was 63%.
Recently the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued five people who allegedly were operating a call center in Medellin, Colombia that called people in the United States and used high pressure sales tactics and misrepresentations to lure their victims into buying the penny stocks that the scammers utilized in a pump and dump scam that netted them more than 58 million dollars.
Today is World Password Day, which is a day dedicated toward inspiring people to choose better passwords for their various online accounts. Each year the password manager company NordPass does a study of the worst passwords commonly used. These easily discerned passwords make their users particularly vulnerable to identity theft. These passwords become available to identity thieves through data breaches and can be found on the Dark Web, that part of the Internet where criminals buy and sell goods and services.
Today’s Scam of the day is one that has been around since 2018, but is resurfacing, as many scams do. It starts with a phony email purporting to be from PayPal that indicates that PayPal is investigating a payment reversal due to your receiving an unauthorized payment due to a transaction error. You are directed in the email to click on a link to login and access your PayPal Resolution Center. Don’t do it! Clicking on the link will take you to a phony PayPal website that will lure you into providing your password and other personal information that will lead to identity theft.
Clever scam artists, the only criminals we refer to as artists are increasingly setting up phony websites that appear to be for customer service or tech support of many of the companies with which we regularly do business. They also 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. Compounding the problem is the fact that many companies, particularly social media companies, do not provide a customer service telephone number to call and speak to a real person about your problem. They only provide online support.
Scams involving sales of non-existent puppies had already increased dramatically in the last few years, but really took off during the Coronavirus pandemic when many people were looking for the emotional support of a loving dog. People buy dogs or other pets online and, although they think they are taking proper precautions, they often end up getting nothing in return for the money that they wire to the scammer who may have a website or some other way of marketing their non-existent pets with photographs and false information. Often the scammers hook their victims for more and more money, such as when even after the victims has paid for the non-existent dog, the victim is asked for additional payments for a special crate to transport the dog along with additional transportation company fees. Now in an interesting development Google is suing Nche Noel of Cameroon, who Google alleges operated a number of phony puppy websites. You might ask why Google is suing and the answer is that Google policies bar the use of its services for illegal activities and Noel is alleged to have used dozens of Gmail accounts and Google Voice accounts to perpetrate his fraud.
Due to its popularity, scammers and identity thieves often send out phishing emails that appear to come from AOL, such as the one reproduced below that was sent to me by a Scamicide reader. If you click on the link in the email where it reads “Update Mailbox” one of two things can occur and both are bad. Either you will end up providing personal information to an identity thief or you will, merely by clicking on the link, download dangerous malware such as ransomware on to your phone, computer or other device.
Pop-up advertisements that appear on your phone, computer or other device are considered by many people to be merely a nuisance, but they can also, in some circumstances, present a serious threat to your well being. While often the pop-up ads may be legitimate advertisements, they also can lure you into clicking on links and being directed to websites that either convince you to provide personal information that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft or, in a worst case scenario, merely by either clicking on the link or being redirected to another website, you may unwittingly download malware such as ransomware or keystroke logging malware that can steal from your phone or computer sensitive personal information that can be used to access your bank account or make you a victim of identity theft in other ways.
Google has announced that its popular Google Chrome browser had been hacked due to 30 security flaws, seven of which are considered to be high risk. Details of the hack are not being released by Google until it has updated its software.
Scam of the day – April 28, 2022 – Scammers Impersonating FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips are Calling
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 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. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned people to be wary of phone calls that appear to come from Federal Trade Commissioner (FTC) Noah Phillips. In the call, the scammer provides a phony badge number and tells you that there is a warrant for your arrest, but to avoid being arrested you can pay a fine using a gift card, cryptocurrency or wiring money.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sued Turbo Solutions, Inc, which does business under the name Alex Miller Credit Repair for fraudulent representations and violations of federal regulations. Credit repair scams are very common as scammers take advantage of people with debt problems and promise to fix their credit and clear their credit reports of adverse information for up front fees.
Recently the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued David W. Schamens for operating a Ponzi scheme. According to the SEC, Schamens told his victims that he would invest their funds in a pooled investment vehicle that would invest in pre-selected stocks that would then be “auto-traded” by a proprietary algorithm. If that sounds confusing to you, it is also confusing to me and brings back memories of Bernie Madoff blaming his victims when he said that if anyone actually looked into what he said he was doing, they would realize it was impossible.
In 2020 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a warning about the dangers presented by skimmers on gas pumps. I have warned you about the dangers of skimmers for many years. Skimmers are small electronic devices that are easily installed by an identity thief on gas pumps, ATMs and other card reading devices. The skimmer steals all of the information from old style magnetic strip credit card or debit cards which then enables the identity thief to use that information to access the victim’s bank account when the skimmer is used on a debit card. If a credit card is used, the identity thief can use the stolen information to access the victim’s credit card account. Each skimmer can hold information on as many as 2,400 cards.
A variation on an old Facebook scam has recently resurfaced. In the new scam you receive a Facebook Message that merely says “look what I found” and is followed by a link that leads you to a website you are prompted to provide personal information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft. Alternatively, merely clicking on the link in some instance has downloaded destructive malware to your phone, computer or tablet.
Scam of the day – April 22, 2022 – Justice Department Brings Legal Actions Against 21 Coronavirus Scammers
Earlier this week, the Justice Department initiated legal actions against 21 people around the country who were operating a variety of Coronavirus related scams, many of which I have warned you about for the last two years. Some of the scams involved the sale of phony vaccination cards, selling fake test results and luring people into taking unnecessary tests and telehealth visits. One of the biggest accused scammers was a New York cardiologist who billed Medicare and Medicaid for 1.3 million dollars of unnecessary tests and even tests that were not even performed.
Recently the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued Kay Yang of Wisconsin alleging she defrauded Hmong-American investors out of 16.5 million dollars. The Hmong are an ethnic group native to China and Southeast Asia. According to the SEC, Yang, an investment advisor told her victims that she would invest their funds in stocks and foreign currencies, but invested little of the money and instead used most of it to fund her own lavish lifestyle. The FBI also alleges that her investment scam was a Ponzi scheme in which she used money from later investors to pay earlier investors to make the investments appear legitimate.
Scams related to cures for various diseases have always been with us. The claims of medical charlatans are as persuasive to us as they were to the early American colonists. Often these scammers take advantage of people desperate to find help for whatever medical condition they may have and the scammers can be very persuasive. Recently the Federal Trade Commission came to a proposed settlement of its lawsuit against Health Research Laboratories, LLC, Whole Body Supplements LLC and their owner Kramer Duhon. Once approved, the settlement will bar the defendants from advertising or selling their dietary supplements, The Ultimate Heart Formula, BG18 and Black Garlic Botanicals, that they falsely claimed could prevent or treat cardiovascular disease as well as a wide range of other diseases.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently reported that in the first nine months of 2021, consumers lost 148 million dollars to scams in which gift cards were used as the payment method. This amount was more than in all of 2020. Scammers are big fans of gift cards because they are easy to purchase, easy to send to the scammer and impossible to trace to the scammer. It is not even necessary for the scammer to be in possession of the actual gift card to use it. Sending the gift card numbers or taking a picture on your phone and transmitting it to the scammer is sufficient for the scammer to use the gift card to buy things that can then be sold and converted into cash.
Phishing emails, by which scammers and identity thieves attempt to lure you into either clicking on links contained within the email which will download malware or providing personal information that will be used to make you a victim of identity theft, are nothing new. They are a staple of identity thieves and scammers and with good reason because they work. As always, they lure you by making it appear that there is an emergency that requires your immediate attention or else dire consequences will occur. Copied below is a phishing email presently being sent to unsuspecting people that appears to come from PayPal. It contains a PayPal logo, but that is easy to counterfeit. It also contains the email address of the recipient in the salutation, but the grammar is faulty in the first sentence where it appears to tell you that a new credit card was added to your account. Another telltale sign that this is a phishing email is that the email address of the sender was one that has nothing to do with PayPal and was most likely part of a botnet of computers infected by scammers and then used to send out the phishing email in a way that is not readily traceable back to the scammer.
Facebook is very popular with scammers and with good reason. Facebook is used by 2.26 billion people so many scams, including a variety of lottery scams, are tied to Facebook. The truth is that Facebook does not have lotteries of any kind. Here is a copy of an email sent to a Scamicide reader informing her that she had won the non-existent Facebook Online International Lottery Promotion. A couple of indications that this is a scam is that the address from which it was sent had nothing to do with Facebook and was, most likely part of a botnet of zombie computers used by the scammers to send out these emails. In addition, the email uses the salutation of “Dear beneficiary” rather than the name of the person to whom the email is sent. Here is a copy of the email:
Donald Milne III was recently convicted and sentenced to prison for operating a Ponzi scheme involving the sale of unregistered securities of Instaprin Pharmaceuticals, a company owned by him tht purportedly was developing a fast-acting form of powdered aspirin that Milne said could instantly stop heart attacks and strokes. Milne made numerous false representations about his company to lure investors into buying worthless securities.
Now, however, the FBI is warning parents about adult predators, often posing as young girls, contacting teenage boys on a variety of online platforms such as games or social media and then convincing the teenage boys to engage in explicit sexual activity while unbeknownst to the teenaged boy, the predator is recording it. The scammer then reveals to the teenager that the scammer has the recording and threatens to post it online unless a substantial payment is made.
Car wrapping is actually legitimate, which is part of the problem. Scammers exploit legitimate advertising through car wraps by either putting an ad on the Internet or contacting you through a mass email or now text messages in which they seek people to have their cars used for advertising through this technique called shrink wrapping. Unsuspecting victims respond to the advertisement and are sent a check for more than the amount that the victim is to be paid for the service. The victim is instructed to deposit the check in his or her bank account and wire the rest to a company that is supposed to wrap your car. This is where the scam comes in. The check that the scammer sends you is a counterfeit. However, unfortunately, the money that you wire the scammer comes right out of your bank account and is impossible to retrieve.
Recently the Waverly Township, Pennsylvania police department warned people about the danger of leaving wallets, checkbooks and documents with personal information in their cars because identity thieves are breaking into cars specifically looking for such items which they then use to make you a victim of identity theft.
March Madness is behind us and the NCAA’s annual Division One Men’s Basketball Championship was an exciting event with 67 games that attracted attention from not only casual sports fans, but the millions of people who bet more than three billion dollars on the games. March Madness is the biggest sports gambling event in the United States, dwarfing the one billion dollars bet each year on the Super Bowl and with online sports betting allowed in thirty states, it is easier to do than ever. Of course, however, anything attracting that much public interest has also attracted interest from scammers around the world who have set up bogus online betting websites that may appear legitimate, but end up stealing your money and not paying anything to “winners” using their websites.
Scam of the day – April 10, 2022 – FTC Refunding Millions to Victims of Fake Government Website Scam
On Point Global is a company that between January 2017 and December of 2019 operated a scam in which they set up hundreds of deceptive websites that promised quick and easy government services such as renewing a driver’s license or applying for various public benefit programs. The names of the websites were quite misleading with names such as DMV.com and floridadriverslicense.org that led people to believe they were dealing with legitimate entities. The truth is that when consumers paid for assistance in obtaining the promised services, they merely received a PDF containing publicly available information that was readily available elsewhere for free. In other instances, consumers provided personal information purportedly to enable On Point Global to determine if they were eligible for public benefits, but instead all they received were unwanted sales and marketing contacts.
Counterfeit check scams take many different forms, but their most common form is where you are provided a check, under a wide variety of pretenses, for more than you would be paid and asked to wire the difference to the person giving you the check. The check is counterfeit and after you deposit it into your bank account, it will ultimately bounce and be rejected, however, the money you wire from your bank account, believing that the check was legitimate is gone forever with no recourse.
Since the start of the pandemic, a moratorium on federal student loan repayments has been extended seven times, most recently this week with the extension now ending on August 31st. The sudden resumption of payments by 40 million student loan borrowers at that time will surely prompt scammers to contact students and their families with a wide variety of scams related to repayment or forgiveness of student loans. Some scammers will be contacting students posing as the student’s loan servicer. In order to verify that you are being contacted by your real loan servicer, you can go to the Department of Education’s federal student aid website where you can get detailed information on your current student loan servicer including contact information. Here is that link. https://studentaid.gov/
I recently received an Amazon phishing email that is copied below. The email below is typical of many of those presently circulating. The latest Amazon phishing scam appears to be an invoice for an Amazon Prime order, which I, of course, did not order. The phony email contains a telephone number to call if there are issues with your order and that is exactly what the scammer wants you to do, namely call them to dispute the invoice. If you call the number, you will be asked for personal information that will lead to your becoming a victim of identity theft.
In 2018 I first told you that the FTC sued nine corporations and three individuals involved in the selling of business education products online, through direct mail and at live events. They operated under the acronym MOBE which stands for My Online Business Education and promised to provide a “simple 21-step” system that would make their customers wealthy with little effort or skills. While initial registration in the system only cost about $49, victims of the scam were lured into enrolling in higher membership levels at a cost of as much as $29,997.
Peer to Peer Payment Payment Services (P2P) such as Zelle, Venmo, ApplePay, PayPal, Square Cash and PopMoney are popular ways to quickly and conveniently send money electronically from your credit card or bank account. These services are used by 113 million Americans. These services also provide easy ways to be scammed and unlike scams targeting your credit cards directly, you may not have as much protection under the law to get your money back if you do get scammed. Zelle which originated in 2017 is operated by a consortium of banks and appears on your mobile banking app. Sending money through Zelle only requires you to enter the recipient’s phone number or email address. In addition to scammers luring their victims to pay for worthless items through P2P services, scammers have also been sending phishing emails and text messages in which they lure their victims into providing their Zelle usernames, passwords and PINs to take over their victims’ bank accounts through their Zelle accounts.