Category Archives: General Scams

Facebook IQ Tests: Yes, they’re a rip-off

I did a couple presentations to some eighth graders this past Monday on the topic of common email scams like lottery and mystery shopper schemes, as well as having their parents check their credit reports to make sure nothing shows up.

I was surprised at how many of them had already encountered these emails, and I hope my message got through.

Another topic came up, however, during the Q&A portion of the presentations: those IQ tests that always show up on Facebook.

This isn’t the “Which Variety of Traditional German Sausage Are You?” tests. (Knackwurst, by the way, in case you’re wondering.) I’m talking about the IQ tests that appear as banner ads, with a few of your friends’ photos and the “score” they allegedly received, challenging you to beat them.

My quick advice is: don’t even click on those links. End of story.

The longer answer is this: if you click the link, it will take you to a website (not affiliated with Facebook) that asks you for your cell phone number, allegedly to give you your score. What it’s actually doing (if you read the fine print) is signing you up for a “service” with a monthly fee of $29.99. Then you take an idiotic IQ test, which is not even a little bit official, and wait until the charges show up.

I guess it’s not technically a scam, since you’re told (in very tiny text) that it will charge you, and I guess you’re signing up for something (though I’m not sure what). However, it’s sort of a dirty trick, if you ask me. These ads are aimed at teenagers, most of whom aren’t going to read the fine print.

This was the only real disconnect I had during the presentations. Some of the kids apparently believed that their parents wouldn’t mind paying an extra $360 per year for their kids’ cell phones. “It’s only a dollar a day,” one protested. Tough crowd. “Is this thing on?”

Yeah, it’s only a dollar a day. For a one-time IQ test that is in no way official and is not administered by a professional. I tried to emphasize that just because it’s on Facebook doesn’t mean you should trust it, and that these tests are essentially idiotic, but in the end had to admit to them, “Hey; it doesn’t matter to me if you want to get ripped off to take an idiotic test. If you think your parents will be thrilled to pay an extra $30 per month in this economy just so you can get your fake IQ score, then have at it.”

I think that might have woke them up a little. There was a short “I’m still processing what you just said, and realizing that you’re probably right” silence. I took that as a good sign.

All in all, a successful presentation, I think.

Fraudulent advertisements: anybody can do it!

Here is a list of things that literally anyone can do:

  1. Run an advertisement in the classified section of the newspaper
  2. Start a website
  3. Send an email message
  4. Tape a poster or sign to a telephone pole

This is an important fact to remember when you’re considering whether or not to call a phone number or give your name and other personal information out over the Internet.

I was reminded of this when I heard that the U.S. Postal Service jobs scam I wrote about just the other day had showed up in one of the newspapers here in Northwest Indiana. An employee here at REGIONAL called the number, just to see if it was the same rip-off I posted about. She told me, “The first thing out of her mouth was, ‘It’s $129.95. Will that be credit or debit?'”

There is no vetting process in the classifieds. Newspapers do not check out alleged businesses before running their ads. I could call them up right now and, as long as I paid for it, run an ad that said, “Build your own flying saucer out of household materials! Capable of inter-planetary travel. Seats 4 adults. Plans only $99.95” and they would run it (just like they would also run one that said, “Be a secret shopper! $483/day!”). They just don’t have the resources to verify the claims of every advertiser.

The Internet is the same way, only worse. Anybody can create a website, and make it look very slick and professional. There is absolutely no physical barrier to lying on a website, or setting up a fake business that just steals money or personal information.

Heck, I could say this site is “as seen on MSNBC,” even though it hasn’t been. Yet.

Actually, when you link to a CNN.com article, as I’ve done a few times, a link to your article shows up at the bottom of their page in the “From the Blogs” section. So I could say the Fraud Prevention Unit is “as seen on CNN,” right?

Right?

Okay, fine. I’ll have to wait for my Larry King interview. Or maybe an hour-long special! Or…

Department of Veterans Affairs warns of scam targeting veterans

Well, this is just gross.

According to a warning released by the VA, scam artists have been targeting veterans over the telephone. They claim to be VA workers, telling victims that the VA has new procedures regarding prescriptions, and that they need the veterans’ credit card information.

Of course, the VA will never call veterals asking for credit card numbers or any other personal information.

It just illustrates the Number One Rule of Fraud Prevention:

Never give any personal information to an unsolicited caller, no matter who they claim to be.

If you have friends, family or neighbors who are veterans (especially elderly veterans), make sure they know about this scam, and that they know not to give out personal information.

The source for this post is “Scam targets veterans’ credit card info, VA warns,” published at CNN.com on 9/18/09.

Watch Out For Census Scams

What do economic stimulus packages, Cash For Clunkers, tax refunds, and the U.S. Census all have in common?

Besides the obvious fact that they’re all related to da gubbermint, they’re also things that people have turned (or could turn) into scams.

The 2010 Census is already in its early stages, and workers are already going door-to-door to verify addresses. However, you know as well as I do that there are also going to be some con artists out there, trying to get personal information for fraudulent use.

Ask any Census worker to show you his or her identification and badge before you answer questions. They will not ask for your Social Security number, credit card or bank account information, or donations. Anyone attempting to get this information from you is attempting to commit fraud. Politely refuse to answer their questions, close and lock your door, then contact police immediately. A Census worker will also never ask to enter your home.

Also, Census workers will only contact you by telephone, in person or by U.S. Mail (meaning envelopes-with-paper-in-them). They will not use email in any circumstance. Immediately delete any emails that claim to be from the U.S. Census.

Why don’t they use email, and why will they never do so?

Well, it’s because of people like me. I have six email addresses that I can think of offhand. There are probably another five or six that I don’t even remember. One of them is just so I can use Google Reader, and another is a leftover from an old blog, but my work email and two out of my three home emails are pretty active. Within a single household, there might be twenty email addresses, including young children. Can you imagine the mess that would ensue if they tried to use email to conduct a Census? There would be panic on a heretofore unseen level when the results came out that the population had rocketed up to 2 billion people over the last ten years.

The core information in this post was taken from “Be cautious about giving info to census workers.

Worst. Scam. Attempt. Ever.

Here’s an attempt at an email scam that nobody should ever fall for. Seriously, it’s like they weren’t even trying:

From: “Mr. R. Jan” <[removed]@gmail.com>
Sent 9/6/2009 3:21:48 PM
To: [removed]
Subject: ATTENTION NEEDED

My name is Mr. Jan and I am contacting you from Liberia for
a mutual business relationship and investment.
I have some funds realized through contract brokerage and I
need your cooperation to invest the funds.
The first stage requires transferring the funds to your
account for subsequent investment.
I therefore want you to work with me as a partner.  On
receipt of your response, I will send you full details of
the transaction and more information about myself.  I
am waiting for your prompt response.
Jan

I’m not even going to bother picking this thing apart. Yes, it’s a total scam. Yes, you should just delete it. No, it’s not a real investment opportunity.

Indiana Attorney General sets up new fraud alert system

The Indiana AG’s office has a new system for fraud alerts via email. You should sign up for this. I just did it myself.

All you have to do is visit the Indiana AG website and click the red “Consumer Alerts” button to begin. You can just enter your email address, or set it up with a password.

We’ve got a long weekend ahead of us. I’ll be back on Tuesday. In the meantime, stay vigilant out there.

Score one for us: federal robocall ban takes effect September 1st

They were already supposed to be illegal in Indiana, but telemarketing robocalls are banned on the federal level starting Tuesday.

Basically, a robocall involves an automatic phone dialer and an automated message. You’d get a robotic-sounding voice (hence the name) telling you, for example, that the warranty on your car was about to run out, and to press “1” to extend it. The implication was that the call came from the automaker itself, only it didn’t. Quite a few people have been suckered out of a few thousand dollars each because of these things.

There are some exceptions to this new rule, of course. You should still sign up for the national Do Not Call Registry, as well.

Hit these links

Let’s take a break from the Identity Theft Myths series today, and instead look at some other topics from other places on the web.

“Is Facebook becoming Phishingbook?” explores a social media scam that seems to be growing lately. Summary: if you’re Facebook friend tells you they’ve been mugged in London and need you to wire money, don’t.

Excellent advice from Craigslist. There is a lot of fraud happening through this popular site. Summary: only buy/sell locally, and never wire money. Ever.

“10 Ways to Avoid Sneaky Work-at-home Scams” is exactly what it sounds like. Summary: the economy is weak and these scams are only going to become more common.

“Beware of Cash For Clunkers Scams.” I’ve covered this here before, but the Eastern Michigan BBB has some more information on the topic. Summary: CARS works by taking your heap, junker or jalopy (or “hoopty,” in the parlance of our times) to a dealer and trading it. There is no pre-registration or anything.

We’ll return to the Identity Theft Myths next Monday. Until then, have fun.

Scamming the scammers: a really, really bad idea

One of the cool things about running this site is that I get to see the search terms people have used to find their way here. “WA Surveys” has been a surprisingly common search that has led visitors to the FPU, and “mystery shopper scam” has brought in some traffic. I hope I’ve provided some value to those folks.

However, you also get some weird ones.

The other day, the search term that led someone to the Fraud Prevention Unit was “i want to scam the mystery shopper scam.”

This was a little disturbing to me.

I know what some people are thinking; “Well, they’re crooks, so it’s alright to try to rip them off, right?” And I can understand the impulse—vigilante justice, give them a taste of their own medicine, free money in a down economy, etc.

But it’s a really bad idea to even try. For one thing, the crooks perpetrating the scam aren’t going to feel your wrath at all. They just printed up a bunch of fake checks and sent them out to thousands of people. They’re usually not linked to any real accounts at all, and they’re certainly not linked to accounts owned by the criminals themselves.

But wait, there’s more!

At the point you knowingly present a fraudulent instrument (such as a cashier’s check) to a bank or credit union, you are committing fraud on a financial institution. That is a federal offense, and it carries a prison term if you’re found guilty.

This is serious, serious business.

Besides, a lot of these scams are run by organized crime operations. At some level, there are probably some violent people involved. These are not people you want to go messing around with.

Okay, there’s not a huge chance they’ll find out about your little attempted counter-scheme, but why risk it? You’re already not going to get to keep the money, and you might end up in a federal prison. Do you really need goons coming after you, on top of everything else?

Cash for Clunkers Scam: I just can’t stand it.

What does it take for criminals to put up a scam website these days, four minutes?

Honestly, if I just embedded an audio file of myself sighing heavily, and made that the entire post, I think you’d get my meaning. But I’ll go into a little more detail than that.

It’s ridiculous. Last fall they took advantage of the government’s “Stimulus Package,” because a lot of people only heard the word “stimulus” and instantly thought “that means I get another check!” Which it didn’t, by the way—shame on Washington for repurposing the same language. So the crooks started sending emails, making phone calls and setting up websites, asking for personal information to receive your “stimulus check.” And it worked.

Well, now they’re doing it with the “Cash for Clunkers” program we’ve been hearing about. That’s the program that gives you a certain trade-in on your old gas-hog car if you buy a new one with better fuel economy.

Already, there are fake websites telling you that you have to “pre-register” for your Cash for Clunkers rebate. These sites ask for your personal information.

You don’t have to pre-register for anything, and just like with your annual credit report, there is only one site to visit for Cash for Clunkers information: cars.gov.

If you’re getting your information from any other website, it is not official. If you are entering personal information, you are about to become a victim of identity theft.

There is a good, in-depth article on this latest scam here.