Updates from January, 2022 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 26, 2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Dangerous scam spoofs your family’s phone number 

    By Greg Collier

    Virtual kidnapping scams have been in the news more often than usual lately. This leads us to believe there has been an increase in these harrowing incidents. Typically, in a virtual kidnapping scam, the scammers will call you and claim to have a loved one of yours hostage. They’ll then tell you they will release their hostage if you pay a ransom. The ransom is usually asked for in untraceable means like cryptocurrency, money transfer, or gift cards. Since the advent of the virtual kidnapping scam, the scammers have gotten more aggressive when approaching their victims on the phone.

    For example, a woman from the San Francisco Bay Area recently received a virtual kidnapping call that appeared to come from her mother’s phone number. The caller said he was with the woman’s mother and would harm her if a ransom wasn’t paid. The caller demanded $500 to paid through the Zelle app. After she made the first payment, the scammer demanded another payment of $400, which she paid. The scammer ended the call and the woman called her mother, who had been fine the entire time.

    This story shows a couple of disturbing things. While it’s relatively easy to spoof a phone number, this scammer specifically targeted the woman by obtaining her mother’s phone number. That means the scammer had to at least stalked the family’s social media accounts. Secondly, the scammer used the Zelle banking app to collect the ransom. With stories like this, it seems like Zelle is quickly becoming the app of choice for scammers. Zelle has been used by scammers in several other scams as well.

    As we always like to remind our readers, kidnappings for ransom, while not unheard of, are actually rare in the United States. However, when someone receives one of these phone calls, the pressure of the situation may not allow them to think rationally. If you receive one of these phone calls, the first thing you should do is try to contact the person they’ve claimed to have kidnapped. Since the scammer will try to keep you on the phone, try using another method of contacting your loved one such as text or email if another phone line is not available. These scammers will often have an accomplice posing as the hostage. If they let you speak with the person, ask them a question that only they would know. You can also set up a specific code word between you and your loved ones to verify their identity. Lastly, even if your loved one is safe, contact your local police and let them know what happened, especially if you paid money to the scammer through Zelle.

    In the past, people who have been scammed through Zelle did not get their money back. However, experts recommend that filing a police report will help when dealing with your bank.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 25, 2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Check washing scam hits Conn. town hard 

    Check washing scam hits Conn. town hard

    By Greg Collier

    Police in West Hartford, Connecticut, have been receiving an inordinate number of complaints from residents who had checks stolen from mailboxes. Thieves will steal mail from both residential and public mailboxes in hopes they’ll find a handwritten check. Once they find a check, the thieves will attempt to remove the ink in a process called check washing. The checks will be bathed in a chemical solution that removes the handwritten ink while leaving the rest of the check intact. This allows them to rewrite the check in any amount. As long as there are sufficient funds in the account, the check can be cashed.

    The West Hartford Police are saying that the thieves use a custom-made tool that allows them to steal mail from most mail collection boxes. They also say that the thieves have been taking outgoing mail from residential mailboxes as well. Banks will reimburse customers if their checks are stolen, but that won’t stop the inconvenience of a payment not reaching its intended recipient.

    The best way to protect yourself against check washing is switching to all electronic payments. However, in some cases, only a check can be used. In those cases, when mailing a check, make sure to drop it off inside the post office during business hours. Leaving it in a mail collection box overnight could leave you vulnerable to mail theft. There are also special pens you can buy that are resistant to check washing. Lastly, as a good rule of thumb, you should never leave outgoing mail containing a check in your home mailbox. More mail is stolen from home mailboxes than USPS mailboxes.

    While this most recent story of check washing comes from Connecticut, check washing is a problem that’s been affecting consumers nationwide.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 24, 2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Grandparent scams the scammers 

    Grandparent scams the scammers

    By Greg Collier

    We don’t often talk about scammers being arrested for a few reasons. One is that more often than not, scammers are based overseas, which makes them difficult to apprehend and prosecute. Another reason is that in numerous instances, it’s best to just hang up on a scammer than to try to confront them. However, there was a story reported over the weekend that was just too good not to share.

    This particular story involves the grandparent scam. Longtime readers will know the grandparent scam is when scammers call an elderly victim pretending to be one of the victim’s grandchildren. Typically, the scammer will say that they’ve been involved in some form of legal trouble and need money for bail or other legal fees. Then the scammer will ask that the fake fees be paid in some convoluted manner that will be hard to trace.

    Recently, scammers tried this on a 73-year-old grandmother from Long Island. The caller claiming to be her grandson said he had been arrested for a DUI and needed $8,000 for bail. The scammers called the wrong grandmother because not only does she not have any driving age grandchildren, but she’s also a former police dispatcher. She is said to have played along with the scammer. The scammer said a courier would be coming to her house to pick up the money. The woman called police and when the ‘courier’ showed up, she handed him an envelope full of paper towels. That’s when police were able to arrest the 28-year-old suspect.

    While it’s always good to see an alleged scammer get their comeuppance, we don’t recommend letting them come to your home like this. This instance was a special circumstance since the woman had procedural knowledge of law enforcement. In most cases, if you know someone is trying to scam you, hang up and then call police to let them know this scam is in the area. Too often, grandparent scammers are now posing as couriers, and you don’t want them coming to your home. Who knows what they could do later if they know where you live and know that you have money.

    And as always, if you receive one of these calls, contact the grandchild that they’re claiming is in legal trouble. You’ll probably find that they’re in no trouble at all.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 21, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, NCMEC, ,   

    Human Trafficking Scam threatens victims 

    Human Trafficking Scam threatens victims

    By Greg Collier

    Human trafficking is something that affects all communities around the country, regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Many more people have become aware of the human trafficking problem over the past few years. So, it should come as no surprise that scammers are using the scourge of trafficking in their scams.

    Police in Wichita, Kansas, have been reporting about a new phone scam that uses human trafficking to try to extort money out of local residents. The scammers are calling their victims and claiming that the victims are being investigated by the National Exploited and Missing Children’s Unit for child trafficking crimes. The scam victims are then asked for $5000, or they’ll be arrested and taken to court.

    There are many layers to this scam about how someone can tell it’s a scam. The first is that there is no such organization as the National Exploited and Missing Children’s Unit. However, there is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As much great work as the NCMEC does when it comes to missing children, they are not an arm of any law enforcement agency. They do assist law enforcement in their investigations by passing on tips that they receive, but they do not arrest people.

    Secondly, if someone is being investigated for a major crime let alone one that involved children, no law enforcement agency is going to announce that to the person being investigated, especially over the phone.

    Lastly, no law enforcement agency will demand money over the phone and threaten arrest if it’s not paid. If someone does need to pay some kind of legal fine, they’ll be notified through the mail. Even then, it doesn’t hurt to call the courthouse who issued the fine to make sure the fine is on the up and up.

    If you receive one of these phone calls threatening you with arrest, hang up and contact your local police department.

    If you’d like to learn more about how human trafficking really happens in America, please read our previous posts discussing the matter.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 20, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , tax return   

    Tax season scams you should look out for 

    Tax season scams you should look out for

    By Greg Collier

    This coming Monday, January 24th, the Internal Revenue Service will begin accepting tax returns for 2021. The deadline to have your return submitted to the IRS is April 18th this year. And with tax season starting, there are a number of tax return related scams that you should be aware of.

    The most devastating scam that affects taxpayers is when an identity theft files a return in your name. Unfortunately, the only way to find out if you’ve been a victim of this scam is receiving a letter from the IRS informing you that a duplicate return has been filed. The best way to protect yourself against this scam is to file your taxes as early as possible. If you’ve had your information leaked in a previous data breach, this is the best option for you to avoid having to straighten things out with the IRS. However, if you do become a victim of this scam, contact the IRS right away. The longer you wait, the more difficult it could be to get your tax return.

    Another area where tax season scammers thrive is the tax preparation industry. If you intend to have a professional file your taxes, research that professional or company first. The Better Business Bureau suggests avoiding tax preparers that only set up shop until the tax deadline. If you end up being audited by the IRS, will that tax preparer be there to assist you? Also, be wary of tax preparers who tie their fee to your tax refund. Fees are supposed to be based on how difficult it is to complete your tax return, not your refund.

    Tax season is also when scammers will attempt IRS impersonation scams. The scammers will call their victims, posing as the IRS and demanding payment for any number of reasons. The one thing all these impersonators have in common is that they will try to pressure you into making a payment over the phone. The IRS does not call taxpayers about tax issues. If the IRS has a concern that they need you to resolve, they will always contact you through the regular mail.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 19, 2022 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Pittsburgh, , ,   

    Kidnapping scam uses your social media against you 

    By Greg Collier

    The Pittsburgh Field Office of the FBI has issued a warning about the virtual kidnapping scam. This scam entails scammers calling people and telling them that they’ve kidnapped a loved one. The scammers may put someone on the phone crying and screaming to make it seem like they actually have taken your loved one hostage. A ransom demand is then made where the scammers will ask for payment through money transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. They ask for these types of payments because they’re mostly untraceable. It’s typically not until after the victim sends the scammers money when they find out their loved one was never in any harm.

    The FBI is now reporting an uptick in this scam in the Pittsburgh area. Recently, 450 people have reported receiving these scam calls. However, the scammers are using a new ploy to try to trick their victims. Scammers are now calling the relatives of people who travel to somewhere near the Mexican border. The perpetrators are combing through social media looking for anyone who has recently shared that they’re planning a trip either to or near Mexico. Then the scammers are calling the relatives of the traveler from Mexico and claiming that they’ve kidnapped the victim’s relative.

    The best way to protect yourself and your family from this scam is to not announce your vacation plans ahead of time on social media. Your first instinct may be to share your vacation pictures as they happen, but this could open you up to a number of scams and dangers, including this one. If you receive a call from Mexico and the caller says they’ve kidnapped a relative of yours, the FBI advises getting as much information you can, including the phone number they called from. It’s then recommended you hang up the call and contact the supposed kidnap victim to make sure they’re ok. Then call your local police or the FBI to file a report.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 18, 2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Masks subject to price gouging and counterfeiting again 

    Masks subject to price gouging and counterfeiting again

    By Greg Collier

    With the new variants that COVID-19 seems to keep producing, many states have reinstituted mask mandates. According to the FDA and the Mayo Clinic, masks can not only help you from catching COVID-19, but helps prevent the transmission of COVID-19 as well. Along with preventative handwashing and getting vaccinated, masks are an essential part of trying to curb the tide of COVID-19 infections. But with the rise of demand for masks, scammers and bad actors are looking to prey on those who want to have a part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

    According to the Better Business Bureau, 60% of KN95 masks sold in America are counterfeits. KN95 masks are one step below the N95 surgical masks that are used by medical professionals, but are still effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Many of these counterfeit masks are sold on websites that may not be the most reputable. A good way to tell if the retailer is questionable is the quality of pictures they use. If pictures of the masks are blurry or of a low resolution, there’s a good chance that the masks will be fakes, if you even receive the masks at all.

    Other retailer may decide to raise the prices of masks to an astronomical amount due to the demand. This is known as price-gouging and may be illegal in the retailer’s state if the retailer is in the US.

    When buying from an unknown retailer, it’s always good advice to do a web search of the retailer’s name along with the words ‘complaint’ or ‘scam’. Legitimate masks should also have the manufacturer’s name, logo, and model number printed on the mask.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 17, 2022 Permalink | Reply
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    New scam targets online sellers 

    By Greg Collier

    If you sell something online, there are a number of scams that you have to look out for. One of the most common ones is the fake check scam. In this scam, scammers will feign interest in whatever you’re selling before sending you a check for more than the price you were asking. They’ll claim a mistake was made and will ask you to deposit the check and send them the overage amount. It’s typically not until the seller sends back the overage that they find out the check was fake. At this point, the seller becomes responsible for the entire amount of the check, plus any service fees to their bank. Meanwhile, scammers make off with the amount that the seller sent them.

    According to a report out of New England, scammers are using a new ploy to try to get online sellers to deposit the scammers’ phony checks. Some scammers are said to be targeting people who are selling high-end items of larger sizes. For example, a couple from Maine were trying to sell living room furniture on Craigslist. The scammers said they would need to hire movers to pick up the furniture. The sellers were sent a cashier’s check and were told to hire the movers themselves using the overage from the check. The movers the scammers told them to use were said to also be in on the scam. That likely means that the movers don’t even exist and are just a part of the scam. Thankfully, the couple did not fall for the scam.

    Anytime you’re dealing with an online marketplace, there are a few good rules to follow to avoid being scammed. You should really only deal with people who are local. Scammers will often give excuses as to why they can’t meet in person, such as being from out of state. Only accept cash, as most other forms of payment can be manipulated in such a way that a seller may receive no payment at all. Lastly, whenever it’s feasible, make the transaction at your local police department. Again, while it’s not a guarantee you won’t get scammed, meeting at a police department will go a long way in discouraging not only scammers but other bad actors as well. Many police departments now have designated areas for making such an exchange.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 14, 2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Grandchildren are huge security risks 

    By Greg Collier

    The grandparent scam is one of the worst scams that continues to plague seniors in our country. For those who may be unfamiliar with the grandparent scam, it’s when a scammer calls an elderly victim posing as one of the victim’s grandchildren. Typically, the scammer will say that they’re in some kind of legal trouble and need money for bail or some other legal fee. They’ll then instruct the victim not to tell anyone else in the family because they’re embarrassed, but what they’re really doing is making sure the victim’s family is unaware of the scam. This scam has cost seniors thousands of dollars at a time and has put the victim’s safety at risk.

    Grandparent scammers often possess very detailed information about the person they’re claiming to be. According to the Better Business Bureau, this is because younger generations tend to overshare information on social media. This leads the scammers to all sorts of information about the victim’s family. The reason this is important is that it circumvents one of the ways usually used to detect this scam. Security experts typically advise seniors to ask the caller a question that only the grandchild would know. Now, that answer may actually be floating around on social media.

    However, there are still ways to help you or someone in your family from becoming a victim of this scam. The best way is for your family you to set up a secret phrase or word with each other to use in case of any actual emergency. But, if you ever receive a call like this, it’s not going to hurt anyone to hang up and try to contact your family to make sure the grandchild is actually ok. Nobody arrested ever got extra jail time because a grandparent wanted to verify their story.

    Again, we ask that if you have an older family member who may not be up on the latest technology, please share this blog post with them or show them any one of the many articles about this scam.

  • Geebo 9:00 am on January 13, 2022 Permalink | Reply
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    Is your cell phone provider giving you a gift? 

    By Greg Collier

    Cell phone carriers are always fighting to get more customers. Even though just about everyone has a cell phone these days, major and minor carriers are continually looking for ways to either steal customers from their competitors and retain the customers they already have. They usually do this by offering on your cell phone plan or better phones than their competition. Some carriers even often gifts in the form of pre-paid debit cards as a loyalty reward. As usual, scammers know this and are now trying to take advantage of these programs by posing as cell phone providers.

    Within the past few months, customers of AT&T have been reporting receiving text messages that claim to be from the phone industry leader. The text message says something to the effect of ATT FREE msg: December bill is paid. Thanks, here’s a little gift for you. The text message then contains a link scammers are hoping you click on.

    If you do click on it, you’re taken to a website that has the AT&T logo as a header. You’ll then be asked to click on a button to see what your supposed free gift is. The button then takes you to a survey which requests scores of personal data. Not only could that data be used for identity theft, but could also be sold to other scammers to perpetuate other scams where text messages are involved.

    The best way to avoid this scam is to check the web address the message wants you to click on. Unless it’s from att.com, it’s almost assuredly a scam. Plus, it’s always good practice not to click on any links in text messages from people you don’t know personally. If you think the text message may legitimately be from your phone carrier, call them at the customer service number on your bill or their website.

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