Tag Archives: Fraud

Scam Alert: Microsoft Awards 2009

Here’s one that seems to mostly circulate around Europe, but I’m sure some folks here stateside have ended up with this message in their inbox, too:

Microsoft Lottery Promotion
Unit 7, Metro Trading Centre,
Second Way, Wembley, Middlesex,
HA9 0YU – United Kingdom

DATE: 14th of March 2009

Microsoft Lottery! E-mail is pleased to announce you as one of the 10
lucky winners in the ongoing Microsoft E-mail Promotions.

Microsoft Lottery! is a free service that does not require you to register
or be a Microsoft registered user before winning.

This award program is conducted anually to promote the use of the
Internet.You have been awarded ONE MILLION GREAT BRITAIN POUNDS.

To file for your claim, do contact our accredited corresponding claims
agent as below for category “A” winners immediately with your Name and
Phone Number for the speedy release of your fund;

AGENT: Gabriel Phillip
EMAIL: g.phil.@live.com
Tel: +44 703 5963368

Warning!!! Winners that do not respond to this notice within seven days of
receiving this E-mail will authomatically be disqalified.

FOR VERIFICATION, PLEASE REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE WITHOUT MODIFYING THE SUBJECT.

There is no need to include any additional information in your reply.

Regards

Notification Department
Microsoft On-line Email Draws

Let me make this perfectly clear: This is a scam. Éste es fraude. C’est une escroquerie. Dieses ist ein Betrug. Ciò è un raggiro. This is a scam, innit, guv’ner?

(By the way, I used Babelfish for those translations. English is the only language I speak reliably well. If I’ve said something bizarre in your native tongue, please correct me.)

More specifically, this just is a variation on the old advance fee fraud. If you respond, you’ll be instructed to wire money or send a cashier’s check to someone. Then you’ll never hear from them again. Just like with a lottery scam.

As it turns out, Microsoft does give away awards every year. However, they give them to people like Peer Bork from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, not randomly to people like you and me (to be somewhat blunt about it). Unless you happen to be a research scientist of some renown, in which case you might be in the running for 2010.

But even then, they’re not going to notify you by email and say “Winners that do not respond to this notice within seven days of receiving this E-mail will authomatically be disqalified.” For one thing, Microsoft knows how to spell “automatically” and “disqualified.”

For another, they give their awards to people who are doing notable work and advancing knowledge. It’s not a random giveaway.

Telephone scam targets grandparents

There’s another antique scam currently experiencing a renaissance: the telephone “Grandparent Scam.”

This one is really simple: thieves will call elderly people, posing as a grandchild and asking for money because of a car accident, arrest or other emergency. Alternately, they may claim to be a police officer or lawyer and tell the victim their grandchild has been hurt, arrested or in need of legal counsel. In either case, the victim is instructed to wire money to the thieves.

It’s a simple scam because it’s so easy to find out the names and ages of family members online. In fact, a single obituary might provide everything a crook needs to victimize family members of the deceased. However, an experienced “social engineer” might be able to pull it off cold, with very little information to start with.

Thieves using this technique are working under a set of assumptions:

  1. Grandparents will be less judgmental if a young person is in trouble with the law, which is why the “grandchild” is calling them instead of a parent
  2. Grandparents will be quick to panic if they think a grandchild is injured
  3. Elderly people can’t hear well, which means the thief doesn’t have to work very hard to disguise his or her voice
  4. Older people are less informed and less tech-savvy
  5. Elderly people may be ill or on medication, which can affect their judgment

Of course, in any individual case, none of these might be true, some of these might be true, or all of these might be true. Crooks use stereotypes as a way to select potential victims, knowing that one group (grandparents) will have a statistically higher rate of return than another (parents or siblings).

If you are a grandparent, be extremely wary of anyone calling who claims to be a grandchild in trouble. Ask questions that only the real grandchild would know. Hang up the phone and call him or her directly, or the parents. If the caller claims to have been arrested in Tijuana, but his parents say he’s in the living room in Des Moines, you’ve pretty much got your answer right there.

Don’t wire money to someone who calls just because they asked you to. Don’t panic. Take a breath or two, and figure out how you can verify beyond reasonable doubt who that caller is. Ask questions (the crook will likely hang up immediately). Call the parents. Call the grandchild. Do whatever it takes to verify the identity of the caller.

In all honesty, if someone is calling and asking you to wire money, I’d put 90% odds on it being a scam right away.

Child Identity Theft: Why you need to check your child’s credit report today

Children are an attractive target for identity theft. Why?

Several reasons:

  1. Clean credit history
  2. Clean criminal history
  3. Clean employment history
  4. It may be many years before the theft is discovered

That last one can be especially damaging. If a child’s identity is stolen at age 10, it may be another eight years or more before he applies for a credit card, tries to open a checking account or attempts to obtain an auto loan. By then, his credit (or criminal/medical/employment) history can be incredibly difficult to repair, since the crime took place so long ago.

That’s why you’re going to check your kids’ credit reports today, isn’t it? Go to AnnualCreditReport.com like you would to get your own credit reports.

Basically, you’re making sure your child doesn’t have a credit report. If he or she does, you need to take a closer look.

There’s an article from the MSN Money site called “Stolen innocence: Child identity theft” that’s worth reading, despite its Lifetime movie-esque title. I’m not sure when the article was originally written (it refers to Hillary Clinton as “Former New York Sen[ator],” so I’m guess it’s not super-recent), but it’s mostly good information.

However, the article features a section in which some people are debating whether child identity theft is actually a significant problem, which strikes me as a little strange (especially considering the sources in question). Growing problem or not, isn’t it worth your while to at least check?

I mean, I don’t advocate living in fear on any level. But since you’re checking your own credit reports anyway (you are, aren’t you?), you might as well make sure your kids’ reports are clean while you’re at it.

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.

Online Scams Vol. 3: Work at home scams are everywhere

Crooks these days. They’re nothing if not adaptable.

Have you seen the number of work-at-home “jobs” being offered on the Internet these days? They know what’s up. A lot of people are losing their jobs and are looking for something new. And it’s a great American tradition—recession (or depression) takes your job, start your own business!

However, the fact is that most people don’t have the right kind of entrepreneurial “spark” needed to start a successful business venture. It takes a certain kind of grit, a deep belief in yourself and your “product,” the ability to hold your head high when faced with failure (and to learn from that failure and move on, instead of taking it personally and wallowing in it), and the kind of positive attitude that, frankly, tends to get obliterated when you’re worrying about how you’re going to pay the mortgage next week.

Let’s face it: starting your own business is way, way tougher than working for someone else. How many times have you seen someone start their own little store because they were “tired of working 40 hours a week,” and you check out their new digs and they’ve got no clear vision for their business, they’re trying to be everything to everyone, and they’re only open five or six hours per day because they’re trying to make owning a business easier than working for someone else? How long did they last?

And I think most of us, deep down, know that. “I’d love to work for myself, but yeesh! 18 hour days, seven days a week?” It’s okay to admit that you’re not a natural born entrepreneur (can you become one? Of course. You can become anything you intend). But most of us know—it is a path of great resistance.

Send in the Work-at-Home-Scam Clowns.

They sound great, don’t they? Stay at home, do some menial task that takes ten minutes, and let “the power of the Internet” (or something) do the rest. You’ll have so many Porsches by this time next year, you won’t know what to do with them all!

Of course I’m going to tell you they’re all completely full of baloney. Nobody is going to pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for nothing.

“Oh, but they’re not paying you,” you’ll say. “You’re starting your own business!”

Well, at best you’re going to pay them a large amount of money for a “startup kit,” fees, or other such bull. You’re not going to assemble kits at home, you’re not going to enter any data, and you’re not going to get paid to stuff envelopes. You’re going to get ripped off.

Fraud.org (run by the National Consumers League) has a great article called “Tips for Avoiding Work-at-Home Scams.” I would recommend you take a few minutes to read the entire article, but the following is a summary of their tips:

  • Know who you’re dealing with
  • Don’t believe that you can make big profits easily
  • Be cautious about emails offering work-at-home opportunities (real companies do not recruit in this way. Ever)
  • Get all the details before you pay
  • Find out if there is really a market for your work
  • Get references for other people who are doing the work
  • Be aware of legal requirements (medical billing requires a license, for example)
  • Know the refund policy
  • Be wary of offers to send you an “advance” on your “pay”
  • Do your own research about work-at-home opportunities

I would amend that fourth tip slightly: just don’t ever pay someone else to work for them.

About.com also has a nice article on this topic: “Work at Home Scams.” I’d suggest you read this as well.

Finally, never, ever trust the phrase, “Other work at home sites are scams, but I found one that isn’t!” There are tons of fake blogs out there. I even found one by searching for “work at home scams.” It had a whole article, possibly culled from a trusted news source, about avoiding these traps. It claimed to be an article from a newspaper in Cleveland. As you read, you suddenly find you’ve been eased into a sales pitch about how “this one isn’t a scam!”

Do they need to make it any more obvious?

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.

Credit Repair Scams

They’re out there.

They’re waiting for you.

They say they want to help you. They say they can fix your less-than-perfect credit history.

What they really want is to rip you off.

Big time.

First off, it is important to know that there are legitimate agencies that can help you get your financial situation back on track. I’ll talk about some of those later.

However, there are also a lot of agencies looking to help themselves to your cash. Here are a few things to remember:

  1. You should never pay an upfront fee for any type of credit counseling service. This is a major warning sign that they are up to no good.
  2. They must (by law) provide you with a copy of your rights as a consumer. This tells you what you may and may not do in regards to your credit history. If they do not provide this information, it is another warning sign.
  3. If your credit history has accurate negative information, it’s there to stay for seven years (ten for bankruptcy). There is no legal way to have it removed. Are they offering to delete records of a credit card you actually defaulted on? Warning sign.
  4. If there are mistakes on your report, know that you can correct them yourself for free. If an agency is trying to keep you from contacting a credit bureau yourself, that’s…you guessed it: a warning sign.
  5. It is illegal to try to create a new Social Security number or Employer Identification number for the purpose of creating a clean credit file. It doesn’t work, and it can get you into far worse trouble (we’re talking about the kind of trouble that could involve handcuffs and mugshots).
  6. Check out any credit reporting agency with the Better Business Bureau before you even consider using their services.
  7. The minute they use the term “piggybacking,” walk away. It doesn’t work. Warning sign.
  8. There are advertisements everywhere for credit repair services—email messages, on the radio, even on television. I’m just going to throw this out there: ignore them all. Maybe some of them are legit, but many are not. Do your own research and make your own decision. A flashy commercial that makes big promises is a definite (say it with me) warning sign.
  9. Legitimate credit counseling agencies are non-profit organizations. Every single one of them.

So…now that you know how to avoid a scam, where can you go for legitimate credit couseling?

REGIONAL Federal Credit Union works with Consumer Credit Counseling Services of Northwest Indiana (http://www.cccsnwi.org/), a non-profit agency. REGIONAL partners with CCCSNWI because they’re trustworthy, and they do exactly what a credit counseling service should do.

You can also find information about legitimate services nationwide from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (http://www.nfcc.org/). They don’t work with scammers.

As always, before you use any credit counseling service, check them out with the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org). If they’re not BBB accredited, and if they don’t have a pretty spotless record, look elsewhere.

Personally, I’d never use an agency that had anything less than an “A+” rating.

Well, don’t be PARANOID, per se.

All this talk about fraud and identity theft can paint a pretty grim picture of the world.

This is not the intent of the Fraud Prevention Unit.

The point of this information is to help you know what to look for when it comes to this type of crime. You have to be watchful, but to become cynical and paranoid is taking things too far.

We each have an individual view of the world, a lens through which we view ourselves, other people, society and life in general. We each have a set of values and beliefs that influences how we perceive every single piece of data we encounter.

This is a good thing. It’s what makes us all different, and that keeps life interesting. But this flipside is that, whether we realize it or not, we also seek confirmation of those same values and beliefs. We seek out those things that reinforce our view of reality, and reject those that would contradict it.

If you convince yourself that “everyone but me is dishonest and is trying to steal everyone else’s identity and money,” you will end up only seeing those things which confirm this view of the world.

Without realizing it, you may even set yourself up to become a victim, since you expect it to happen all the time anyway. For example, if you always expect to be ripped off, you may actually decide to take your car to a less-than-trustworthy mechanic, without realizing why you even made this decision (your subconscious desire to prove that the world is an ugly, terrible place with nothing but bad people in it).

The fact is, most people are honest. Even in a crummy economy, if you drop your wallet, most people will try to return it to you. There are so many people doing good things to help out others every single day, all around the world. Let yourself see it. Sure, you’re getting phishing emails a couple times a week, but those are coming from a very small number of criminals. Be alert, but don’t let yourself become cynical. Life is just no fun that way.

By the way, you didn’t win the lottery

Here’s a good rule of thumb when deciding how to respond to a potentially fraudulent email message, letter, telephone call or other type of communication: if a stranger walked up to you on the street and said the exact same thing, would you believe them?

For example, you’re walking down the street when a random guy in a shabby gray suit approaches you. He says, “Greetings, I am a foreign dignitary currently in exile and would like to ask for your assistance in transferring my fortune into the United States, totaling 250 million USD. If you help, I will let you keep 25% of that amount. I will need your checking account number to complete this process.”

You’d tell the clown to get lost.

Or perhaps he says, “Congratulations! You have been selected in the Canadian lottery as the top prizewinner! In order to claim your prize of 2.5 million USD, please give me a cashier’s check for $2,945.23 to cover taxes and other fees.”

Unless you’re very gullible, your reaction would be the same.

I know that the economy isn’t good at the moment. You might be facing layoffs, reduction in pay, or worse. Your employer might be going out of business completely. You get an email that promises instant riches and it seems like all your prayers have been answered.

These thieves know that. That’s why they’re in the fraud business to begin with. They’re counting on your sleepless nights of worrying about where you’re going to get the money to make it. And they’re only going to make your situation worse.

You have to keep your guard up. Imagine that offer coming from a stranger on the street, and you will instantly see through it.