Tag Archives: Scams

Holiday Fraud Prevention Tips: Well, I’m officially published now.

This is an article I wrote that appeared in the most recent issue of Panorama Magazine here in Northwest Indiana. It’s almost exactly like the Video Dispatch I did on the same topic a couple weeks ago. Actually, I think I made the video the same day I wrote the article. Yes, this means I’ll be referring to myself as a “published writer” now.

Here’s the text, for those of you who would rather read something than watch a video:

Holiday shopping season is fast approaching, and it’s about to get nuts out there. Here are a few tips to keep yourself and your money safe.

Use Your Elbows

Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” With camera phone technology, it’s easier than ever for someone to sidle up to a store counter and take a photo of your credit card. Make sure nobody is standing suspiciously close before you whip out the plastic.

Use Your Head

Never write your PIN on your ATM or debit card, and never carry your Social Security card around with you. Both are bad news if you lose your wallet. Additionally, never let anyone write your Social Security Number on a check. Most stores have wised up, but you might encounter some that haven’t.

I’m Not Saying You Can Only Shop at the Mall, But…

Where to buy plasma TVs and other electronics:

  1. From an electronics store
  2. From a department store
  3. Online

Where not to buy plasma TVs and other electronics:

  1. From some guy in a parking lot at night.

If you go this route, the best thing you can hope for is to end up with an empty, weighted box. At worst, you could get arrested for receiving stolen property. Jail tends to dampen one’s holiday cheer.

Shop Online. Seriously

It’s more secure than ever. In fact, it’s probably safer than shopping at the store. Plus, you won’t have to deal with a mall full of desperate maniacs.

United Way of Central Indiana sweepstakes scam.

File this one under, “Well, that was an odd choice.”

Apparently, people are receiving letters (which claim to be) from the United Way of Central Indiana that inform them they’ve won some sort of sweepstakes, but they have to pay taxes on the prize before they can claim it.

The letters include a check for $3,200, which recipients are (you will not be surprised by this) instructed to cash, then wire the funds to an account.

It’s the same old Lottery Scam, with a new twist: how stupid was it for these clowns to use the United Way?

Here’s the deal: The United Way is a non-profit charitable organization. As such, they are in the business of raising money to support local causes that vary by location, depending on the specific need. Also as such, they’re probably eternally strapped for cash. One of the things you’ll never hear a representative from a charity say is, “Oh, things are great! Money is just pouring in. In fact, we’ve really got too much of it right now!” Seriously—have you ever heard anyone say this?

Therefore, one of the things eternally cash-strapped charitable organizations don’t do is give away thousands of dollars to random people.

See, that’s the opposite of raising money. If they give ten thousand dollars to some random jerk, that’s just ten thousand dollars more they have to raise to replace it. Most likely one dollar at a time at fast food drive-through windows and supermarket check-out lanes.

The thing is, most people know that charities don’t operate in this way, so it’s sort of a weird choice for whoever is running this scam.

However, I also know there are some people who will get this check and wonder if it’s for real. I hope your search has led you here and I’ve helped you make an informed decision to not cash this check.

By the way, it appears that there are some people out there who have a problem with the United Way itself. Comments about how you personally don’t like the organization will be deleted with extreme prejudice. This is not the forum for it. I’m talking about a scam that uses the United Way of Central Indiana’s name and logo, not the politics or the structure of the real thing. Got me?

Walmart Gift Card Scam: This one is for real.

Last week, I wrote about false reports of the Walmart Cash Back Scam, and how these hysterical emails are nothing to worry about.

A lot of people have been getting these messages, apparently—that article has brought in a lot of traffic to this site. I hope that means people are relaxing a little, rather than being nasty to Walmart cashiers because they let an email hoax frighten them.

However, I just heard about a new one that involves Walmart and is real—thieves are calling victims with news that they’ve won a $200 gift card from Walmart if they only pay $1 for shipping. The victim reveals their credit card information, and you know what happens next.

(In case you don’t: the card never arrives because it’s a scam. The crooks weren’t from Walmart at all. They just take the victim’s credit card information and use it to make purchases or get cash advances).

If somebody tells you you’ve won something, never pay in advance. Walmart doesn’t just give gift cards away, anyway.

The full story is over at The Money Coach’s Blog. It goes into a little more detail.

Mystery Shopper Scam: Kiboshed!

Last Friday afternoon, one of our Member Service Representatives here at REGIONAL helped a member avoid becoming a victim of a mystery shopper scam.

The member let us keep the check, and I spent quite a while examining it.

It was a very good counterfeit. The kind of thing that might slip right by if you weren’t paying attention (or even if you were). In this case, the member’s story tipped her off—he was going to wire almost the entire amount after he cashed it.

For one thing, the check was on genuine cashier’s check stock. It had all the security features, including watermarks and “fingerprint security” (where you hold your thumb over a symbol and it reacts to your body heat and disappears). So the presence of security features doesn’t prove anything anymore.

The check was from a company called Malteurop (more on that later), with an address in Milwaukee, WI. It was drawn on US Bank in Havre, MT. The routing number was a valid US Bank number, but for Minneapolis, MN. It just didn’t add up. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if those different cities are a reliable sign of fraud or not, but it did seem a little suspicious. A Milwaukee firm using a Montana bank with a Minnesota routing number?

Furthermore, Malteurop is a real company—one that supplies malt to beer companies all over the world. It would make no sense for this company to be checking out the customer service at Western Union.

At any rate, examining the check was interesting, but as I said before, the teller knew it was counterfeit just by talking to the member. I suppose that’s good advice for all financial institutions: have your frontline staff engage your members or customers in conversation. The information you gain could help save someone from fraud or identity theft.

I haven’t acquired the ability to read the fractional routing numbers on checks, to see if they agree with the routing number at the bottom, but I’ll be working on that skill soon.

I’d like to be like Frank Abagnale (remember Catch Me If You Can?), where you can hand me a stack of drafts and I can flip through them one time and say, “This one’s fake!” Only I’d like to get there without, you know, having committed check fraud or done time in prison for it.

Takeaways:

  1. Security features and a valid routing number on a check don’t mean a thing
  2. I can’t help but feel proud when one of our tellers makes a catch like this. Nice!

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.

Fraud Alert: The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) warns of new fraudulent email

United States Attorney General Eric Holder’s name is being used in a new fraudulent email currently making the rounds. Below is an excerpt from the IC3 Intelligence Note:

The current spam alleges that the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were informed the e-mail recipient is allegedly involved in money laundering and terrorist-related activities. To avoid legal prosecution, the recipient must obtain a certificate from the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman at a cost of $370. The spam provides the name of the EFCC Chairman and an e-mail address from which the recipient can obtain the required certificate.

The full text of the Note further explains that the government does not use email to contact people in this way. I would also add that the FBI and the DHS are not going to let people suspected of terrorism or money laundering buy their way out of trouble for $370.

Is “Winning in the Cash Flow Business” a scam?

I saw a classic infomercial the other day. They seem to run it mostly during daytime television and late at night. Advertising costs less at those times, and I think they assume that anyone watching TV during the day or night is jobless and desperate.

Oddly, I am neither, but there I was. It was my lunch break.

Anyway, this program was hawking something called “Winning in the Cash Flow Business” by Russ Dalbey.

Man, you should have seen the luxury these paid actors were standing in front of. They had paid actors standing in front of huge mansions, Italian sports cars and swimming pools at luxury resorts, and every single one was reciting memorized lines about how easy it was to earn over $100,000 per month.

At this point, you might be detecting a little sarcasm in the tone of this article. In fact, I don’t believe a single word of this advertisement.

First and foremost, if it was that easy to make over a million dollars a year, don’t you think a lot more people would be doing it?

Here’s how the system is supposed to work, according to what I saw on the infomercial and gathered from some Internet research: you (allegedly) make money by brokering “cash flow notes” through Dalbey’s America’s Note Network. Cash flow notes are used for things like lotteries and legal settlements that are paid out in small amounts over the course of several years. What you’re essentially doing is buying someone’s regular payouts for one (smaller) lump sum, and then selling the promissory note to someone else. According to the infomercial, it’s as easy as “Find ‘Em, List ‘Em, Sell ‘Em.”

Now, here’s what actually happens, according to my research: you pay an upfront fee for materials that are supposed to teach you how to get started in this business, which opens you up to nearly instant, aggressive telemarketing calls from the Dalbey Education Institute. When you have trouble getting started due to limitations by state and local laws, or just the difficulty in finding people with cash flow notes in the first place (how do you find out who has these things?), you purchase more materials and coaching sessions and other assorted garbage. By the time you’re a good $800 in the hole (or more), you start to realize that you’ve bought into a scheme that doesn’t really work.

So, is it really a scam, in the usual sense of the word?

On a legal level, I’d have to say no. If you were already a talented salesperson, and if you had a way to get around the obstacles that would keep most of us from finding out who has the cash flow notes in the first place, and if you got really incredibly lucky, there is a tiny, tiny possibility that you might see a profit. They weasel around those million-to-one odds with a variation on the old “results not typical” disclaimer that’s served the weight loss industry so well.

On a practical level, I’d have to say yes. It just feels like a scam, and for a vast majority of people, it ends up functioning the exact same way: you lose money, you get nothing to show for it.

For me, I’m ignoring this infomercial. I strongly suggest you do the same. Even if you are a talented salesperson with a knack for making things happen, you’re better off focusing your strengths elsewhere. This is just too big of a long shot.

Now, I personally believe in abundance, even in a bad economy. There is an awful lot of money out there, and most of us have something that we could leverage into a piece of that pie. I also believe that it’s possible to do what you love while earning an abundant income and not having a traditional job. However, you have to work with the tools you have as an individual, and use them to deliver something of value to others. In other words, you’ve got to create your own system.

You also have to have a passion for whatever it is you’re doing, and more than the average level of courage. You can’t just buy into some prefabricated system and hope to get lucky. You create your own luck when you leverage your talents and passions into income.

In the meantime, steer clear of this mess.

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.

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.