Tag Archives: Fraud

Watch out for fake utility workers

It seems like as good a time as any to once again remind everyone to beware of burglars posing as utility company workers.

The usual setup starts with a knock on the door. The person standing on your doorstep claims to work for the electric or gas company, telephone company, or some other utility. They tell you they are in your neighborhood working on some or other problem, or performing routine maintenance, and ask to be shown to your circuit breaker (or whatever piece of hardware makes sense). Often they’ll even look like a real utility company employee, with a clipboard, nametag and possibly even a uniform.

While you’re showing them to the circuit breaker-or-whatever, an accomplice you didn’t see slips into your house looking for valuables or money.

It doesn’t really matter which type of company they claim to represent, the important thing to remember is that if a utility provider is going to need access to the inside of your house (which they almost never will), they will contact you ahead of time. They will not show up unannounced.

If someone is at your door and you were not contacted in advance, ask to see a badge or official identification, which they should gladly provide. Then politely ask them to wait while you close your door, lock it, lock any other doors, and call the utility company to ask if they’ve sent people to your house. Whatever you do, don’t let them in or call them out on being a crook. This type of scam differs from most in that it involves actual, physical proximity to the perpetrators, which can put you in danger of bodily harm.

Utility worker scams often target senior citizens, so make sure your friends, family and neighbors are aware of this type of crime, what to watch for and how to respond.

“Capital One Fraud Case” texts are fake

Someone I know showed me a text message they had received the other day. The full text message was as follows:

URGENT: Capital One Fraud Case 240: Did you chrg $12.50 on 03/05 at 7-ELEVEN 29261 on card 5451? Yes, rply 000. No, rply 001. Std carrier chrges apply

My usual knee-jerk response is that it was fraudulent, probably an attempt to sign victims up for monthly charges on their mobile phone bills, but I wasn’t 100% sure because my acquaintance does, in fact, have a Capital One credit card. Furthermore, she doesn’t actively use her card, so any charges that did suddenly come through would likely be flagged as suspicious. And, just to make things more complicated, some people online (we did a search on the phrase “Capital One Fraud Case”) claim that these ARE legitimate text messages.

But here is where we find out that this text message is fraudulent:

  1. The last four digits of her card number are not 5451.
  2. I told her to log in to her account online and check the “Messages and Alerts.” There were none.
  3. I asked if she had ever added her mobile phone number to her account. She had not (the field was blank).
  4. There were no charges for $12.50 from anywhere.
  5. I called Capital One’s customer service and asked; if there were suspicious charges, they send emails or call, and there WOULD be an alert when you log in to your account online. “If you haven’t given us your cell number, we certainly wouldn’t be able to text you.”

So I’m calling this definitive: THESE TEXT MESSAGES ARE A SCAM. Most likely they’re trying to sign you up for a non-service that just charges your phone bill every month (that “Std carrier chrgs apply” portion of the message).

Now, the Capital One service rep made it sound like they might use text messages to contact their customers (I neglected to ask the question outright), but the evidence against this particular one is pretty overwhelming.

If you get a text message like this, no matter whom it appears to come from, DO NOT REPLY TO IT. You have to find out if it’s real before you act, with 100% certainty. Log in to your credit card account online and check whatever message/alert system they have in place, as well as recent charges. Look at the card number referenced in the text…does it match?

If you don’t use their online system, sign up for it, using an email you only use for bills and a very long password made of random letters, numbers and special characters.

Or, call their customer service line directly (use what’s on the card, on your bill, or look it up at the company’s website) and ask about charges on your card, as well as fraud alerts or any other relevant information.

Beware of unsolicited offers

The phone rings. A caller identifies himself as representing a well-known and trusted local business. He’s calling to offer you a discount on their services.

“Hey, great, I need those services anyway,” you think, and agree to the offer and arrange for the work to take place.

And another scam is set in motion.

It’s been happening here in Northwest Indiana. A heating/cooling contractor from Illinois (with an F rating at the Better Business Bureau, maybe not-quite-incidentally) has  apparently been calling homeowners and claiming to be a well-known local business (with an A+ rating, also maybe not-quite-incidentally), with an offer for discounted duct cleaning. Workers show up, perform a shoddy duct-cleaning, then ask for more than the agreed-upon price.

So my fraud prevention tip today is this: be wary of unsolicited offers from local businesses. If you get a call, make sure to double-check with the actual business before you agree to anything. Use an official, published number from the real company’s website or trusted online source (or the phone book, if you didn’t just carry it directly from your front porch to the recycling bin) instead of the number that shows up on caller ID or the number given by the caller. If there’s a discrepancy, it could be a different (and unscrupulous) business posing as the real one.

Overpayment scams affect businesses, too

I thought I was onto some clever application of the “duck test” for the title of this post, about how “if it looks like a scam and quacks like a scam,” but I really couldn’t make it sound anything other than monstrously insane, so I dropped it and went with the title you see above.

Anyway, the old repayment scam has been explained a thousand times here, there and everywhere. You’re selling something on Craigslist (for example), and a buyer contacts you, usually from out of state. They send their payment, but instead of $200, it’s a cashier’s check for $3,200. “Cash it and use the extra for shipping, then wire the rest back to me,” they say when you contact them.

What happens next is fairly predictable: you cash the check, send the item, wire the excess money (thousands of dollars) to someone, then find out a week later that it was a counterfeit check and that you’re on the hook for the loss caused to your financial institution.

But did you know that scammers also target businesses with the same tactic?

And if you’re a business owner, you might fall for it because what might strike you as suspicious during a private sale might seem less so in a business context. I’ve heard of several cases where retail businesses, attorneys and rental property owners have been victimized by this scam.

However, the principle applies in every context, whether in a person-to-person or a business transaction: if someone sends you a cashier’s check and tells you to cash it and wire money back to them, you’re almost always dealing with a con artist.

Credit Card Scam Alert: Ignore that offer from AmTrade International Bank

There is a new scam showing up in mailboxes.

It takes the form of an offer for a “secure” credit card, and it targets people with low credit scores or other financial issues.

A “secure” credit card is a credit card where the cardholder puts up some of their own money as collateral against the credit line. It allows lenders to extend credit to higher-risk consumers at a lower annual percentage rate, and can actually be a good tool for rebuilding credit (timely payment of debts makes up a large portion of your credit score). We actually offer a secured credit card here at REGIONAL. They’re a legitimate financial tool.

Except for when they’re used as the basis for a scam.

This one comes from AmTrade International Bank, with an implied connection to Credit One Bank, N.A. (there is none). Victims select a card with either a $1,500 or $3,600 credit limit, and then send in $500 or $900 (respectively) as “collateral” for the credit lines.

And the credit cards never arrive. At its core, this is the simplest form of scam: take money, disappear.

This exact same scam showed up earlier in the year, from Freedom 1st National Bank, which also implied a link to Credit One. In both cases, victims instantly found themselves robbed of either $500 or $900.

If you get offers for pre-approved credit cards in the mail, it is vital to verify all claims before making a purchase decision and sending personal information and money.

In fact, I’ll just put it out there now: don’t respond to unsolicited pre-approved offers for “secure” credit cards, at all.

Also, never just send money to an unknown entity, for any reason.

This scam is going to keep popping up, with different fake banks running it each time, and law enforcement is going be playing whack-a-mole for quite some time. In the meantime, it’s on each of us to look out for ourselves.

Read more:

 

File Under “Things That Were Just a Matter of Time.” New scams using Affordable Care Act to harvest personal information.

Okay, so if you live in these United States, you may have heard of a controversial little thing called the Affordable Care Act.

Yeah, okay, before you head to the bottom of the page to sound off, I’ve already turned comments off for this post. I’m not here to express my opinion of the legislation, and I’m not fielding others’, either. Our opinions are irrelevant for the moment. Besides, certain post topics generate TONS of bot-generated spam comments, and I have a hunch this might be one of them (you should’ve seen how many came in when I wrote about Açaí berry scams a few years ago…it was seriously ridiculous).

Here’s all we need to know, and it’s pretty easy to agree upon: The Affordable Care Act is a Thing That Exists. (That’s only a matter of opinion if you’re into really fabric-of-universe-level philosophical discussions.)

And, as a Thing That Exists, it was only a matter of time before someone started up a scam based upon it.

Lo and behold, the FTC is reporting exactly that. Scammers are calling potential victims to “verify” information. For example, “So I see here that your routing number is __________, is that correct? Okay, good, so now we just need your account number…”

Here’s the deal with the Affordable Care Act: if you’re one of the people who is going to need to use the exchanges to obtain insurance, you’re going to be the one contacting them. According to the FTC report, “If someone who claims to be from the government calls and asks for your personal information, hang up. It’s a scam. The government and legitimate organizations you do business with already have the information they need and will not ask you for it.”

That sums it up pretty nicely, both in this specific instance and as a general rule.

Don’t try to get something for nothing

Sometimes you walk a fine line when you’re writing about how-to-not-get-swindled. On one hand, a victim is a victim, and it’s not nice to place blame on them. On the other, there are scams that prey upon some all-too-human tendencies  (which we all have within us, make no mistake about it) to be a little avaricious.

When it comes to this category of scams, here’s the rule: don’t try to get something for nothing.

Think about all the fake iPad scams you’ve heard about. A guy approaches you at a gas station and offers to sell you a brand new iPad for a super-low price. You find out later that the box contains a mirror or some other non-iPad object.

It’s no fun to get conned, but ask yourself: is there anything about a guy selling iPads at a gas station that doesn’t scream “This is not legit!” when you really think about it? Apple doesn’t sell its products from cars at filling stations.This is either a scam or an attempt to unload stolen goods. You’re almost better off with the mirror.

What about the Pigeon Drop scheme? Forget the whole “Let’s have this person hold your good-faith money while we do this-or-that to divvy up this satchel of cash we found” angle…how many movies do you have to watch to know that “satchel full of money” equals “drug dealers/hit men/bank heists/things you don’t want to get within ten miles of”? Honest people who find big stashes of currency contact law enforcement, because there’s no way that cash is not evidence of some major crime. It couldn’t be more obvious if it was in a big white sack with a huge dollar sign printed on it.

The rule applies to all manner of scams and rip-offs. $437 sounds a bit steep for an hour of work, doesn’t it? Then don’t fall for the secret shopper scams. Brand-name prescription drugs for a tenth of the cost? Sounds too good to be true! That’s because it is.

We’re all looking out for ourselves on some level. If I see a ten-dollar bill bouncing merrily down the sidewalk on a windy day, I’ll pick it up. But I’ll also check around me to make sure nobody was chasing it, or standing there with that distraught look that can only mean one thing: their tenner just blew away. (For the record: this never happens to me…I’m much more likely to be the one with the distraught face.)

However, moving forward, remember this: if someone approaches you offering something for nothing (or next to it), take warning. You’re either about to be scammed or become an accomplice.

Lottery scam originates from 876 area code (Jamaica)

It’s an old scam with a slight twist: lottery scammers based in Jamaica are using threats of physical violence to get victims to wire money.

Usually if you ignore a scam, that’s the end of it. Apparently this group takes it really personally, though; if a potential victim refuses to bite, they make threats. At that point, I suppose the whole “you won the lottery” angle is abandoned and it just becomes pure extortion.

Sometimes I make really general statements, and I’m going to do it again here: unless you personally know someone who lives in Jamaica or own/work for a company that does business in the country, don’t even answer phone calls from the 876 area code. There are exactly zero good reasons you should be getting out-of-the-blue phone calls from random people in Jamaica. The St. Louis BBB has some additional information about this scam.

Car Wrap Advertising Scam

There are times when a scam is completely new, but those instances are exceedingly rare. For the most part, “new” scams use tried-and-true methods to lure victims, and it usually doesn’t take long for a “new” scheme to enter familiar territory.

One “new” con is the Car Wrap Advertising Scam. It starts with an emailed offer to earn $400+ per week just to drive your own car with graphics from an energy drink or other company plastered all over it. It’s a novel offer, and it appears many of the emails are well-written and devoid of the broken English, weird tabbing/spacing and initial “Greetings!” salutation.

However, there are already three warning signs, and that’s without even looking at an actual example:

  1. The offer arrives via email
  2. They’re offering a lot of money for zero work
  3. Energy drink companies are, above all else, extremely image-conscious; they’re not going to send random people offers to wrap their cars if there’s any chance their logo might end up on some sketchy old pickup with rust holes a house cat could climb through.

So that last one’s a bit trickier, but still: at this point your inner “Scam Radar” should at least be registering that something isn’t quite right.

What happens if you respond to the message?

They send you a cashier’s check for a few thousand dollars. They tell you it’s your first payment in advance, and that the excess is for the graphic designer who will be applying the graphics to your car.

Can you guess what the victim’s next instructions are? (Hint: at this point, your inner Scam Radar should be on the brink of blowing up, because you’ve heard of this one before.)

If you said, “Wire the excess money to a stranger,” you win a shiny new silver dollar.*

It’s the secret shopper scam all over again: cash this check, wire it to us, find out a week later the check was fraudulent and you’re out several thousand dollars.

So today’s lesson is: beware of old scams wrapped in new, hip, edgy energy drink graphics.

*You don’t actually win a shiny new silver dollar.