Lottery scam originates from 876 area code (Jamaica)

March 15, 2013

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.


When a stranger calls…don’t go loading up a Green Dot card, then giving them the number and PIN

February 22, 2013

In what appears to be a new twist on an old scam (aren’t they all, though?), some people have reported a new round of lottery scam phone calls.

In this variation, the would-be victim is told they’ve won a major award, then instructed to purchase a Green Dot (or other brand) card, load it with a specific amount of money, then call the scammer back with the card number and PIN.

What would happen next, of course, is that the scammer would use this information to unload the card and leave the victim without a million dollars or a Mercedes.

It’s easy to see through once you take a step back: the out-of-nowhere call informs you of your fabulous prizes, the bizarre instructions to claim said prizes. The fact that, once you give someone a Green Dot card number and PIN, whatever money is in the account is as good as theirs.

You know what would be awesome? If they ever catch one of these scammers, instead of sending them to jail, forcing them to actually deliver the prizes they promised. “What? Six months in jail? Pfft. Oh, no. You told 106 people they’d won a Mercedes and a million dollars. Now cough ‘em up…


Retired couple gives away $11 million lottery win, but not to you

November 4, 2011

This message was waiting in my inbox this morning. It may actually be one of the best examples of social engineering I’ve yet come across:

Dear sir/madam
 
This is a personal email directed to you. I and my wife won a Jackpot Lottery of $11.3 million in July and have voluntarily decided to donate the sum of $500,000.00 USD to you as part of our own charity project to improve the lot of 10 lucky individuals all over the world. If you have received this email then you are one of the lucky recipients and all you have to do is get back with us so that we can send your details to the payout bank. Please you have to help me in prayer for my wife, You can verify this by visiting the web pages below.*(allen.violet.large01@filipinos.ca)*
 
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40009180/ns/us_news-giving/t/retired-couple-gives-away-million-lottery-win/
 
Note: YOU HAVE TO CONTACT MY PRIVATE EMAIL *( allen.violet.large01@filipinos.ca )* FOR MORE INFO
 
Goodluck,
Allen and Violet Large
Email: allen.violet.large01@filipinos.ca

Here’s what was so brilliant about it: you know how these scam email messages always contain disguised links (e.g., the link says “chase.com” but really takes you to some spyware-infested website with a .ru domain)?

The website shown in the message wasn’t disguised at all. Furthermore, it really takes you to an MSNBC article. Further furthermore, there really was an elderly couple from Nova Scotia named Allen and Violet Large, who really won $11 million playing the lottery, and who really did give it all away. I didn’t remove the link from the message quoted above—it’s safe to go ahead and click on it (it’s actually kind of a neat story).

So how do I know it’s not real, and is in fact just another Nigerian 419-style scam?

First off, it arrived via email. To me, it’s already suspicious. Secondly, it’s an email that’s telling me I’m going to get a large amount of cash for doing nothing. At this point, I’m already one thousand percent sure it’s fraudulent.

But let’s really make a case against it, shall we? Read the first paragraph of the MSNBC article (emphasis mine):

An elderly couple who won around $11 million from a lottery ticket in Canada have given the money away to good causes and family, according to media reports.

Have given. Not “are giving.” It’s a done deal, dude; if you’re not a good cause or related to the Larges, and if you haven’t already received money from them, you’re not getting any ’cause there ain’t no more.

Finally, the senders made a rookie mistake: the “from” line didn’t say Allen Large or Violet Large, nor did it contain the “filipinos.ca” email address; instead the message appeared to come from a completely different name with a scasd.us email address (it’s that of a real person, so I won’t give any more details than that).

I don’t know where this scam is coming from, so I can’t say if it’s just a plain old Nigerian 419-style scam or a Nigerian Nigerian 419 scam, but I noticed the signature at the end uses the word “Goodluck” instead of “good luck,” and it only stood out to me because I know that the President of Nigeria is actually named Goodluck Jonathan.

Then again, that could just be a typo; since we already know it’s a scam, we’re really just sort of nitpicking at this point.


Who Initiated Contact?

May 2, 2011

When it comes to recognizing and avoiding scams, one question that can be helpful is, “Who initiated this contact?” In many situations, the answer can be the difference between a legitimate transaction and fraud.

Scammers are proactive if nothing else—they usually don’t set up shop then wait around for people find them. There is often a “sales” element to a scam, in which the con artist has to actively approach a victim in order to offer the bait.

In other words, if the other party initiated contact, your chances of falling for a scam are increased. Let’s look at a few scenarios.

Scenario #1: Home Repairs

Think about what usually happens when your home needs repairs. You, the resident, usually start out by noticing that something needs to be fixed. You assess what needs to be done, and then make a decision as to whether you’re going to perform the repairs yourself. If you choose the DIY route, you go out and purchase materials and tools, but if the work is beyond your abilities, you’ll call a contractor, roofer, plumber or other service provider.

Now look at a home repair scam: it starts with a knock on your front door. When you answer, a stranger informs you that your gutters need cleaning, your driveway needs to be repaved, or that your siding needs fixed. You weren’t even aware there was a problem. From here, the scam takes one of a variety of paths: they may start with a minor repair for a reasonable-sounding price, then start adding on tasks (never completed) until you’re stuck with a bill for thousands of dollars. In other versions, they’ll talk you into a major repair job, collect a large down payment for the service, and then never show up to perform the work.

Notice who initiated contact in both of these examples: in the first, you called a contractor. Of course, there are shady contractors, but in general you’re going to get the service you paid for. In the second, they contacted you, and it turned out to be a scam.

Scenario #2: Lottery Scams

Here’s how a legal, legitimate lottery works: you visit the nearest convenience store, grocery store or gas station, where you purchase a lottery ticket. You wait for the little TV segment with the big tumblers full of ping-pong balls, and check your numbers against the ones drawn on television. Then you throw the ticket away, because you probably didn’t win a dime.

During a lottery scam, however, you are suddenly informed via email that you have won some lottery in the U.K., Canada, Australia or South Africa that you didn’t purchase a ticket for. If you respond to this message, you will be told that you have to pay taxes and fees before you can claim the prize. You wire a few thousand dollars overseas and never hear from them again. You’ll always lose in this situation.

Once again, the question of who initiates contact is a strong indicator of the legitimacy of an offer.

Scenario #3: Employment Scams

When you’re looking for a genuine job offer, you research local employers who are hiring, update your resume, write cover letters and send these out. If they’re interested in hiring you, they call you in for an interview (or several), and they make a decision based on your qualifications.

Employment scams work the other way around: you just check your email one day, and there’s an offer for a high-paying, work-at-home style job waiting for you, from some company you’ve never heard of. If you jump on this out-of-the-blue job offer, you’ll eventually be asked to cash a fraudulent check and wire the funds out of the country, leaving you with a loss of thousands.

“Who initiated contact?” isn’t always a foolproof method, and it doesn’t apply to every situation, but it’s a good idea to keep the question in the back of your mind. You might be glad you did one day.


A fictional story about a guy who did everything wrong one day

October 7, 2010

Hi there.

My name is Johnny, and I had a busy day today.

I woke up around eight because I had a new job as a secret shopper. I got an email a couple weeks ago, and they hired me on the spot when I responded. Yesterday, an envelope arrived with a check and my first assignment.

I headed to my bank around nine. At first, the teller didn’t want to cash the check because I only had six bucks in my account, but I whined and got in her face and demanded to talk to the manager until she relented. “That’s a cashier’s check,” I told her in no uncertain terms. “Those are the same as cash.”

I left the bank with $2,700 in my pocket and headed to the nearest Western Union location. The guy there kept asking me questions about the money I was wiring, so I finally told him it was for a relative in Canada, just like the secret shopping company told me to do. It was a little annoying the way he wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m going to put that in my report for sure.

By the time I was done, it was only ten o’clock. I had made $150 for less than an hour of work! I could get used to this lifestyle. I decided to head home.

The phone was ringing when I came in the door. I ran to answer, and this guy from the county courthouse was telling me I was going to be arrested for not appearing for jury duty.

“But I never got a letter that said anything about jury duty,” I said.

“That doesn’t matter,” he replied. “The fact is that you didn’t show, and an officer will be stopping by later today to make the arrest.”

“But…isn’t there some way I could just do jury duty another time? I didn’t miss on purpose.”

“Let me see what I can do, sir,” the man said. After a minute on hold, he told me I could just pay a fine and the whole thing would be taken care of. I gave him my name, date of birth, Social Security number and some credit card information to pay the fine. I was relieved when I hung up the phone. Crisis averted.

The mail had arrived, but it was nothing but a pile of credit card offers. I threw these in the trash unopened. Nobody’s going to rip me off.

I sat down on the sofa to unwind with some TV. It was mostly talk shows at that time of morning, but there was a news broadcast between commercials that caught my eye. It gave some phone number you could call to get your debts eliminated. I have a lot of debt, so I wrote down the number. It seemed like a strange place for a news alert, during the commercials, but whatever. There was a ticker on the screen and some footage of the President, so it must be some kind government program, right?

I went to the computer to write up my report for the secret shopping job. I hate my computer. It came with this virus protection software, but the only thing it’s done for the past two years is tell me my subscription is expired. It’s annoying. Plus, when I opened my web browser (Internet Explorer 6) and tried to visit a website, this window popped up offering a free virus scan. I clicked “OK” and it found like ten infections. The software that came with my computer doesn’t even work!

After the scan, there was a window that wouldn’t go away, so I just closed the browser and checked my email. There, a miracle happened. It turns out I was entered in the lottery up in Canada, and I won! $2,500,000, all for me. I called the claims agent right away. It turns out there are some taxes and fees I have to pay first, but that’s okay—they’re going to mail me a check. I think I may retire from secret shopping. After all, with two-and-a-half million, I’m going to be pretty much set for life.

I’m not going to tell anyone about it, though. I don’t want everybody asking me for money.

My name is Johnny, and I made at least ten mistakes today, if not more. Can you spot them all?


How to Avoid Lottery Scams

August 27, 2010

Below is the text of my column for The Chronicle that appeared in the August 25, 2010 edition.

Q: I got a letter that said I won the lottery in the United Kingdom. It included a cashier’s check to cover taxes and fees. Is this for real?

A: Not even a little bit. Sorry.

What you have is a Lottery Scam letter. These have been circulating for years, and thousands of people have lost incredible amounts of money.

It usually works like this: you receive a letter than informs you that you have won a foreign lottery in which “no tickets were sold.” The lottery is most often based in the United Kingdom, but South Africa, Australia and other countries have been used as well.

The letter further states that, to claim your prize money, you have to pay some sort of taxes or fees up front. The cashier’s check included is supposed to cover this amount. You are instructed to cash the check at your bank or credit union, then take the cash to Western Union and wire it back to the sender.

A few days later, your financial institution informs you that the check was counterfeit, and that you’re now on the hook for the amount you cashed it for – usually in the $3,000-$4,000 range. The problem is that you have already wired this money out of the country. Once you make a wire transfer, you cannot get that money back.

Some people are under the impression that the financial institution that appears on the check will cover the loss, but that is not how it works. They did not issue the check – they had nothing to do with it at all. If someone made fake checks with your name on it, would you feel responsible to cover them?

Others believe their own financial institution will cover the loss, but once again, that is just not the way it works. From their perspective, all that happened was that you came in, you presented a monetary instrument, you received cash in exchange for it, and that check turned out to be counterfeit. They have no way to verify where it came from – you could have printed it yourself. They handed the cash to you. You are the one who has to pay it back.

The above is sort of the “classic” version of a Lottery Scam. Like most fraudulent activity, this scam has been adapted to new technologies. While some people still receive Lottery Scam postal mail that includes a counterfeit check, e-mail has become the main channel for this crime.

It starts the same way – you get an email that informs you that you have won the lottery in a foreign country. Since they cannot send you a check through e-mail, crooks will attempt to convince you to call a “claims agent” for further instructions, or to e-mail personal details back to the sender.

Next, they either mail you a counterfeit check with the same instructions as before – cash it and wire it back – or they will simply attempt to get you to wire money directly to them, skipping the check altogether. This second scenario often turns out much worse; while the counterfeit check usually nets the crook around $3,000 one time from each victim, if they can string you along and get you to keep wiring more cash, they can bilk you out of much more. There are people who have lost tens of thousands of dollars to this scam – victims’ entire life savings wiped out before they realize they have been had.

Like so many forms of fraud, this scam can be avoided by just remembering a few simple facts. First, you have to play the lottery to win the lottery. They do not just draw random names or e-mail addresses out of a giant hat.

Second, any time someone sends you a check and tells you to cash it and wire the money back to them, you are looking at a scam. There is no scenario in which this is a legitimate request.

Finally, if a stranger is offering you large amounts of money for free, do not trust them. What seems like the answer to your prayers could turn out to be the start of a financial nightmare.


Ridiculous Spam Friday the 13th

August 13, 2010

How’s that for timing? The thirteenth installment of Ridiculous Spam Friday falls on an actual Friday the 13th. I love it when a plan comes together.

Let’s get to the garbage…

From: Dick Glock <[removed]@amadorcoe.k12.ca.us>
Date: Sunday, August 01, 2010 11:30 AM
To: info@lotto.co.uk
Subject: Final Notification!!!?

Dear e-MAIL Winner,
Your email address won £850,000.00 GBP in this month NATIONAL LOTTERY E-mail online drew.
To file for your claim, contact our agent Mr.Albert Nelson.  with
the details below(Full Names, Contact Address, Country, Age, Sex, Occupation &
Telephone numbers) to this Email: uknldepartment2010@discuz.org  Phone Number: Tel:+44 7024027755

MODE OF PAYMENT !!!

Option (1)  Via Courier Delivery

Option (2)  Via Bank Wire Transfer

Note: This is an automatic message do not click on your reply button send all details to the below  Email:  uknldepartment2010@discuz.org  

Yours Sincerely,
Dick Glock

I removed the email address under “From” because it is apparently the legitimate address of an administrator for a school district out in California. Where do spammers get the legit addresses from?

At any rate, since it’s just another lottery scam message, you don’t even have to wonder why a school admin would be telling you about a lottery, since you already know it’s a scam. The incredulous punctuation in the subject line (“!!!?”) is cute, though.

From: Zoosk Request Notification <noreply@dipfishesnet.com>
Date: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 12:09 PM
To: [correct address]
Subject: Facebook Notification – Zoosk dating app

-Someone is searching for you on a Facebook application called Zoosk-     
      
Press here to see who wants to make a connection with you:     

http://dipfishesnet.com/c/ejAvaGhF7140LFFvOEtFKA.html?0      

—–      
             
To not receive this message again please visit this page:     
http://dipfishesnet.com/c/ejAvaGhF7140LFFvOEtFKA.html?1     
      
or write to:     
      
Zoosk Inc. 475 Sansome Street., 10th Floor,     
San Francisco, CA 94111     
To remove yourself from this list,
click here http://dipfishesnet.com/u/ejAvaGhF7140LFFvOEtFKA.html
or write to us at:
PO Box 85073
Richmond, VA 23285-5073

And how, pray tell, would an application on Facebook (I thought Zoosk was its own site) be trying to find me at my work email address? That’s not the one I use there.

This one serves as a good reminder: never click the “unsubscribe” link in a spam message. All you’re doing is confirming that your address is good. I wonder what happens if you write to the P.O. Box, though. I’d imagine putting your email address, full name and home address into the hands of these people could be even worse. Ten bucks says that P.O. Box is just a drop site that is set up to forward everything to Russia.

From: [removed]
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 10:29 AM
To: [removed]
Subject: Hello!

Hello!
How are you recently?
I bought a laptop from a website:   http://www.laosm.info/ Last week, i  have got the product, its quality is very good and the price is  competitive. They also sell phones, TV, psp, motor and so on, by the  way, they import products from Korea and sell new and original  products, they have good reputation and have many good feedbacks. If  you need these products, look at this website will be a clever choice.
I am sure you will get many surprise and benefits.
Greetings!Hello!

Hello! This one came from a person I work with, although from their personal email address. Somehow it was used to forward this message to every one of her contacts. Greetings! She’s perfectly capable of using coherent English, so I could tell right away something was fishy.

I’m sure you’d get all kinds of “surprise” if you tried to follow that link and actually purchase electronics, and there’d be absolutely nowhere to give them any negative “feedbacks.” Hello! Greetings!


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