What If I Don’t Have Caller ID?

I’m guilty of assuming everyone has caller ID these days. While the feature may be baked right into mobile phones, caller ID service for landline phones is still a feature you usually have to pay extra for. And some people don’t want to.

So how should these holdouts handle telephone scams?

My advice is: get on the list and be quick on the draw. First, add your number to the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Once it takes effect, it will weed out all the legitimate, non-scam phone calls. Anyone who calls with an offer or sales pitch after that is obviously ignoring federal regulations and can be assumed to be attempting to commit fraud. If you’ve answered the phone, hang up as soon as you realize what’s happening.

Second, the vast majority of scammers use automated robocalls, where they ring multiple phones at once and then connect with whomever answers first. That setup takes a moment to function, and causes recognizable audio artifacts. If you’ve answered the phone and don’t get a response within a second or so, you can assume it is a robocall and hang up. If you answer and the first thing you hear is electronic noises (little clicks, bloops, beeps, etc.) or silence, it’s safe to assume you’re dealing with a robocall and hang up.

If you’ve hung up on a legitimate caller, they’ll call back.

Failing the quick-draw hang-up technique, if you find yourself talking to an unexpected caller, the old rules still apply: if they’re trying to make you afraid, it’s probably a scam; if the offer sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam; never wire money to a stranger; the IRS doesn’t call to demand payment over the phone; you didn’t win the lottery; your grandchild isn’t in jail or a hospital overseas; your computer doesn’t have a virus; never press “1” for any reason.

You’re under no obligation to be polite to someone who is trying to trick you out of your money over the phone. You’re allowed to just hang up without explanation.

Online Dating Scams Can Be So Much Worse Than You Thought (OR: Incredibly Bad Romance)

The classic Online Dating Scam involves a con artist meeting a victim online, pretending to initiate a long-distance relationship, and then asking the victim to wire money.

It’s a widespread form of fraud, and despite increased awareness, it continues to thrive because we’re all convinced it only happens to other people. We’re too smart, right?

Right. There’s a reason you never hear anybody say, “Yeah, you know, I’m just really naïve and easy to manipulate.” Here’s a little trade secret known to scammers around the world: literally everyone has some area in which he or she is vulnerable. There is no such thing as a 100% scam-proof human.

But there may be an even more compelling reason to avoid the romance scam: the possibility of criminal prosecution. In this case reported by BBC News, a woman was not only tricked into wiring her own money to her online “partner” over the course of several years, but also convinced to move money between different bank accounts on behalf of the con artist, making her an accessory to money laundering.

For which she was prosecuted and convicted.

Yeah, let that one sink in for a second. The irony is, she was probably helping him launder money he was getting from other romance scam victims.

Now, I’m no legal expert, and this case did occur in the U.K., not the U.S. I’m not sure how different the laws are here, but I’m betting that there is a point at which they also no longer care that you were a victim because it should have dawned on you that you were laundering money.

So if you’re out there on the internet looking for companionship, or if you know someone who is, be aware of the risks. When someone you’ve never met is asking you to send money, or to transfer funds between different financial institutions, do not do it. Under any circumstances, okay?

Email Hoax Update: Bill Gates is Still Not Giving Away Free Money in 2017

I recently began tracking stats for this website again after a long stretch of not doing so. I hadn’t really been posting new articles very often, and when the program that I was using to track page views and the number of site visitors stopped functioning for whatever reason, I didn’t bother looking for a replacement.

This year, however, I started posting more regularly, and decided it was time to find a new stats plugin so I could at least see if I was putting out something of value. I got it all set up in early March, and recently I noticed that an article I wrote in 2009 about a certain email hoax was suddenly getting about ten times the usual daily traffic for the entire site. That could only mean one thing: it’s baaaaack.

This email chain letter hoax is a bona fide antique, dating back to at least 1999: forward this email and Bill Gates from Microsoft will give you something like $241 for each person you forward it to. It was supposed to have something to do with AOL and Intel, neither of which are affiliated with Microsoft.

Since this hoax is making the rounds again, I felt it was time to revisit the topic: Bill Gates is not giving away huge amounts of money to random people just for forwarding emails. For one thing, Microsoft doesn’t track every email sent. For another, would you? You do know how people get rich, right? Trade secret: it doesn’t involve giving millions in free money away to random strangers in return for nothing.

(I also wanted to write an update because the old article is simply brimming with corny attempts at humor. Not that I’m suddenly above that sort of thing. I’ve probably actually only gotten worse in eight years.)

Anyway, the full, error-ridden text of this ancient email hoax is here:

THIS TOOK TWO PAGES OF THE TUESDAY USA TODAY – IT IS FOR REAL

Subject: PLEEEEEEASE READ!!!! it was on the news!

To all of my friends, I do not usually forward messages, But this is from my good friend Pearlas Sandborn and she really is an attorney.

If she says that this will work – It will work. After all, What have you got to lose? SORRY EVERYBODY.. JUST HAD TO TAKE THE CHANCE!!! I’m an attorney, And I know the law. This thing is for real. Rest assured AOL and Intel will follow through with their promises for fear of facing a multimillion-dollar class action suit similar to the one filed by PepsiCo against General Electric not too long ago.

Dear Friends; Please do not take this for a junk letter. Bill Gates sharing his fortune. If you ignore this, You will repent later. Microsoft and AOL are now the largest Internet companies and in an effort to make sure that Internet Explorer remains the most widely used program, Microsoft and AOL are running an e-mail beta test.

When you forward this e-mail to friends, Microsoft can and will track it ( If you are a Microsoft Windows user) For a two weeks time period.

For every person that you forward this e-mail to, Microsoft will pay you $245.00 For every person that you sent it to that forwards it on, Microsoft will pay you $243.00 and for every third person that receives it, You will be paid $241.00. Within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a check.

 thought this was a scam myself, But two weeks after receiving this e-mail and forwarding it on. Microsoft contacted me for my address and withindays, I receive a check for $24,800.00. You need to respond before the beta testing is over. If anyone can affoard this, Bill gates is the man.

It’s all marketing expense to him. Please forward this to as many people as possible. You are bound to get at least $10,000.00. We’re not going to help them out with their e-mail beta test without getting a little something for our time. My brother’s girlfriend got in on this a few months ago. When i went to visit him for the Baylor/UT game. She showed me her check. It was for the sum of $4,324.44 and was stamped “Paid in full”

Like i said before, I know the law, and this is for real.

Intel and AOL are now discussing a merger which would make them the largest Internet company and in an effort make sure that AOL remains the most widely used program, Intel and AOL are running an e-mail beta test.

When you forward this e-mail to friends, Intel can and will track it (if you are a Microsoft Windows user) for a two week time period.

Yep. It was a hoax in 1999, just like it was a hoax in 2009, and just like it’s still a hoax in 2017 and will be forever. If you get it, don’t believe a word of it. Don’t forward it “just in case” or because “it doesn’t hurt to try.” Delete it, and let whoever forwarded it to you know that it is a hoax.

Don’t let ‘em coax
You with a hoax, blokes
Make one keystroke:
Hit ‘delete,’ folks.

How to Report a Dinar Scam to the FBI

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to an Iraqi dinar (or Vietnamese dong, Indonesian rupiah, or any other foreign currency) “revaluation” investment scam, the FBI has set up a website to report the seller of these worthless currencies.

Currency revaluation schemes have been around for a long time, and have never once paid off for anyone except the people charging a commission for the sale. Iraqi dinar scams have been going strong since 2003, and the currency has yet to do anything except lose value.

There’s an article at Forbes.com that goes into further detail on this type of scam.

The IRS Is Using Private Debt Collectors Who Will Make Calls, but This Actually Changes Nothing

Sometimes fraud prevention can be boiled down to nice, simple rules that don’t leave much room for subtlety. Never wire money to a stranger. Just keeping that one rule in mind will keep you out of a lot of trouble, even if you forget the details of the scams that utilize the technique.

The IRS will never call you was another one of those hard rules, but as of 2017, it’s become a little more complicated. However, for the most part, nothing has really changed when it comes to fraud prevention.

Basically, the IRS will be contracting with four collection agencies, who will only be contacting certain taxpayers who have been delinquent for a significant period of time, whom the IRS has been unable to locate, and who meet certain other criteria. Furthermore, the collectors will not be demanding payments. Instead, they will be directing taxpayers toward electronic options for paying the IRS directly.

This means that some people will be getting calls from collection agencies on behalf of the IRS. The rest of the fraud prevention rules still apply: if they threaten you with incarceration or demand immediate payment, it’s a scam. If they’re talking about wiring money or loading up gift cards, it’s a scam.

Since con artists are nothing if not adaptable, I’ll add this point: if they do anything other than tell you about how you can pay the IRS directly on your own, it’s a scam. I’m sure someone is already gearing up to make calls claiming to be a collection agency, then telling victims they can pay over the phone with a credit card, with a wire transfer or with prepaid gift cards, or by visiting a fraudulent website. The collection agencies the IRS is using will not be asking for nor accepting payments from delinquent taxpayers. At all.

The actual website where you can pay your taxes, overdue or otherwise, is IRS.gov/Pay. And that’s pretty much the only thing the collection agencies contracted by the IRS are going to be allowed to tell you. Any mention of a different website to pay your taxes? Scam.

I recommend reading the full article below for more detailed information.

Don’t Fall for the Inevitable Western Union Settlement Scams (OR: Distant Early Warning)

In January of this year, Western Union reached a $586 million settlement with the FTC to refund some of the money people lost to scams between January 2004 and January 2017, and to create a functional fraud prevention program.

Consumers who can prove they were a victim of a scam that involved wiring money through Western Union between those dates, and who can back up their claims with documentation, may be able to get some money back. Not all of it, but some, which is better than none. The refunds will be handled through the Department of Justice, once they have the money from Western Union. It may take a year or so to verify and pay out claims after that.

So here’s your preemptive scam warning: don’t fall for the inevitable scams based on this settlement. At some point, somebody is going to start attempting to trick people into sending money in advance to claim their share of the settlement.

There will be a claims process through the DOJ. There will not be any prepayments made on your part, you will not be able to “speed up the process” by sending money, and the DOJ or FTC won’t ask you to purchase any gift cards (the preferred method of fraudulent payment these days, now that Western Union has taken enough of a hit to actually start paying attention to the problem). Nobody will contact you out of the blue by phone, email, or any other channel (I predict well-organized scammers who kept their victims’ contact information going after the people they already tricked once). You will submit a claim through the DOJ, wait a long time, and hope for the best.

In the meantime, if you were a victim of a scam that involved Western Union, keep any documentation you have from the incident. How much you can get back will depend on how much you lost and how many people file a claim, but getting something back is better than the nothing you were left with before.

Sources:

Scam Calls from Local Phone Numbers (OR: Let It Be, Let It Be)

A few years ago I wrote about lottery scams originating from Jamaica, and I basically said, “Don’t even answer a call from the 876 area code.”

Which is still decent advice, although area codes could begin to have less and less geographical meaning as time goes on because we’re running out of numbers; new phone lines will be assigned whatever ten-digit string is available at the moment, and the old idea of “area code” = “whence the call originates” will begin to blur. At least until we decide, “Okay, now all the phone numbers have 13 digits.” That’ll be fun.

That said, not answering calls from unknown numbers? Still a good rule of thumb. If it’s legitimate and important, they’ll leave a message.

But what if the call almost looks familiar? For example: your phone number is 219-555-1234, and a call shows up from 219-555-5678? Even with all that stuff about area codes and running out of phone numbers, the same area code AND prefix is bound to be someone local, right?

Not in the age of caller ID spoofing.

A favorite new tactic among scammers is to pick an area code, a prefix, and a random set of four numbers for the caller ID, then robocall everyone within that area code and prefix. The call looks local, and potential victims will be more likely to pick up, thinking someone they know is calling.

Treat it like any other unknown caller and consider not answering it. Once again, if it’s legitimate and important, they’ll leave a message.

I remember when screening calls was sort of…frowned upon. Like you were arrogant, paranoid or trying to weasel out of paying your debts. But call screening is just good personal business these days. Screen away!

Now, eventually this is going to happen: the spoofed caller ID is going to appear to come from a number you do recognize. There is a non-zero chance it will happen someday, and in this case, you’ll probably pick up. End the call without explanation as soon as you realize it’s a scam call. (If you can’t tell the difference, get new friends.)

There is a second step to dealing with the same area code/same prefix scam calls: after you’ve ignored the ringing phone and found that they either left no message or a prerecorded pitch on your voicemail, do NOT call the number back to ask about the call or to accuse someone of running a scam.

Think about it: caller ID spoofing means the call did NOT come from the number that shows up on your phone. That means the actual owner of that number did NOT call you. You’re going to end up reaching a victim whose phone number was chosen at random by criminals, and if you start in on them you’re just causing stress to another person who doesn’t deserve it.

Don’t do that. It’s not nice. You avoided a scam by screening your calls. That’s enough of a victory. Let it be.

Police Impersonation Scam (OR: You Can’t Post Bail with Gift Cards)

Here’s a scenario based on a recent article I read:

  1. The telephone rings. The caller ID displays a 204 area code. You answer it.
  2. The caller introduces himself as Officer Scott Davidson from the Brooke Police Department.
  3. The caller claims that a relative has been arrested and needs $2,000 to post bail.
  4. The caller instructs you to purchase gift cards and relay the numbers to him over the phone.

At what point would you begin to think, “Something’s weird about this?”

If you’ve memorized every area code in the world for some reason, or happen to have some weirdly specific purpose for recognizing the 204 area code (it’s in Canada), that might have been enough. But that’s probably not most people.

If you’ve heard of the Grandparent Scam, you might recognize the pattern: an alleged police officer calling to request money to bail out a relative.

The point at which the call really goes off the reality rails, however, is when the caller tells you to buy gift cards and relay the numbers. Remember this (repeat it out loud, write it on all your telephones in Sharpie marker, whatever you need to do): you can’t post bail with gift cards.

Also: police don’t call demanding payment over the phone.

Also also: never trust a stranger asking you to buy gift cards and relay the numbers, or wire money.

Source: Police: Phone scam involves officer impersonator

The ‘Can You Hear Me?’ Scam (Or Maybe Not)

I’ve seen a few recent warnings about something many are referring to as the “Can You Hear Me?” Scam. Basically, someone will call, ask if you can hear them, wait for you to say “yes,” then hang up. Later, they make unauthorized charges to your credit card, and use the recording of you saying “yes” in court to “prove” you agreed to the charges.

Now, any reminder to NOT talk to strangers who call you on the phone or to engage with robocalls in any way is a good reminder, but if you’re like me, you might find a few holes in this specific warning.

For example, unless you have the weirdest credit card in the world and its number is “YES” for some reason, simply saying the word doesn’t automatically give the caller your card information. Despite the existence of Peanut Butter M&M’s, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and the first Doc Watson album, magic isn’t actually real, and nobody can pull your credit card number out of your wallet simply by getting you to say “yes” one time. The scammer would have to already have this information before calling you.

Then, if they’ve already got your card information, why would they bother calling to trick you into appearing to agree to charges? In a vast majority of the cases I’ve seen, scammers aren’t interested in making their schemes complicated. They’re not going to use a recording of you saying “yes” in court because they’re never going to end up in court. If they have your card information, they’re just going to use it. They don’t need to track down a phone number associated with the card in order to get a “yes” they’re never going to need.

So this leaves us with…what, exactly? Is this a real scam? There do not appear to be any documented cases of “said yes/card was charged/disputed the charge/recording ‘proved’ I authorized the charge/no recourse.” But the calls appear to be actually happening, and you have to wonder: what are they up to?

It doesn’t matter. If you get a call and someone just says, “Can you hear me?” hang up. No matter what their intent, it’s not something you want to get involved in.

Even better, stop answering the phone every time it rings. Almost every phone scammer needs you to pick up the phone. If you don’t, you’ve already ruined their scheme. If you recognize a number, go ahead and pick it up, but let everyone else leave a message.

This may be just one of those stories that gets passed around on a better safe than sorry basis, but I like accuracy, and the story being shared by various online sources doesn’t add up. If you do get a call like this, just hang up. But consider letting all unfamiliar calls go to voicemail. It’s the safest method.

Sources:

  1. The Consumerist: If A Telemarketer Or Robocall Asks “Can You Hear Me?” Just Hang Up; It’s A Scam
  2. Snopes: ‘Can You Hear Me?’ Scam Warning

Counterfeit Check Scam Targets College Students (or: Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before)

College students have been targeted by an employment scam that’s going to start sounding familiar as soon as I begin to describe it.

Ads are placed on job websites for administrative positions, or emails are sent directly to students “recruiting” them for the jobs. You know…college…recruiters…there companies who need your talents so badly, they’re hiring these people called recruiters to find you before you find them. That’s the dream, right?

Anyway, students who respond to the ads are sent a cashier’s check…can you guess what’s coming yet? The victim is instructed to cash the check, then wire the funds to someone, presumably to pay for equipment or software.

Now let’s see if you can guess what happens next:

  1. The student receives equipment and software and begins a rewarding career that pays well;
  2. The student gets struck by lightning three times in one week;
  3. The student finds out the check was counterfeit, and since he already wired the money to someone else, is now out several thousand dollars.

The answer is C, but B is actually more likely than A.

Scams usually involve tricking a victim into willingly handing something over, be it money or personal information. Scammers try to invoke emotional responses in order to make potential victims bypass their logic. This is why scammers try to create urgency or incite fear, prey on those who are desperate, or (in this case) prey on a group of people, college students, who know they’re in a competitive scene where the supply is greater than the demand.

Scams like this are easy to avoid, simply by applying a single principle: never cash a check and then wire the funds to someone else. It’s one of those rules that works in dozens of scenarios.

Source: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2017/170118.aspx

Stay vigilant.