The “Slow Computer” Scam

September 28, 2011

Does your computer seem to be running slower lately?

You’re not alone. Over time, computers tend to get bogged down. For example, you install a piece of software to accomplish some task you only perform every now and then, but the program requires that a component of itself be running in the background at all times. Or you upgrade your antivirus software—the new version does a better job of filtering out malicious software, but it also needs more system resources to do its job.

Perception also plays a role—the “new” wears off a computer pretty quickly, and what seemed like blinding speed a year ago now feels like you’re trudging through treacle every time you want to fire up a web browser, even if the machine is running just fine.

The net result is that a lot of people think, “Hey, this thing isn’t running as fast as it used to—something must be wrong!” Enter the Slow Computer Scam. It generally targets seniors, but anyone with a computer could fall for it.

It begins with a phone call from a stranger who claims to work for Microsoft. The caller tells the victim that the company has received notification that their computer has been running slowly or is infected with spyware, viruses or other problems.

At this point, if the victim agrees, the call will go one of two directions. In the first variant, the victim is instructed to go to their computer, then fed step-by-step directions by the caller that are supposed to fix the problem. What is actually happening is the victim is handing over control of their computer to a criminal, allowing them to search for files containing personal information, install spyware designed to harvest any data the victim enters, or link the computer to a botnet used to transmit data for organized criminals.

In the second version, the victim will be told that the caller can fix the problem, but only for a fee. They will be instructed to use Western Union to wire a few hundred dollars as payment.

There is a recent double-dip version in which the scammers call the same victim again a few weeks later. This time, they inform the victim that they are from Dell (or whoever manufactured the victims computer), the earlier call from Microsoft was a scam, and that their computer was infected with malware by the scammer. They offer to fix the computer for a fee of several hundred dollars, again to be wired via Western Union.

This may be one of the easiest scams to recognize. If your telephone rings, and someone is on the line telling you that there’s something wrong with your computer, that’s your cue to hang up.

Microsoft does not have a giant control room that keeps tabs on the performance of every computer in the world. Nobody is sitting at a monitor going, “Whoa. Some guy out in Indiana has a slow computer. Perkins! Get on this!”

The same goes for Dell and other computer hardware manufacturers—they don’t have a giant database of who owns their computers or how they’re running. If there’s a problem with your hardware or software, or if your machine is infected with malware, it’s basically on you to figure it out and fix it.

There is also no scenario in which Microsoft, Dell, or any other tech company is ever going to require payment via Western Union. Keep your antivirus software up-to-date, and when a stranger calls to tell you there’s a problem with your computer, hang up.


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?


The grandchild-in-trouble scam claims another victim

August 25, 2010
Western Union

Image by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

According to a story in today’s edition of the NWI Times, a local senior citizen lost $3,200 to an overseas scammer.

This time, the victim got a call from someone that claimed to be his grandson. The caller said he had been arrested in Madrid, Spain, and needed the victim to wire $3,200 to bail him out.

After the victim wired money the first time, he got another call saying the transfer hadn’t gone through. He was asked to return to Western Union and wire another $3,200. It was at this point that the Western Union agent noticed that the first transfer had been successful, and the scam was uncovered.

This type of scam seems to be showing up more lately, which is to be expected in a world economy that’s seen better days. And let’s face it—it’s an easy scam to pull off, and the chances of being caught are low, so it’s an attractive crime to a lot of people.

You have to make sure your older relatives are aware of this scam. It doesn’t take much work to find out the names of grandchildren these days. Plus, an experienced crook doesn’t even need to know the grandchild’s name in advance; they’ll get the victim to say it at some point.

Tell them, “If you ever get a call from one of us saying they’re in trouble in some foreign country, and they’re asking you to wire money, please call us at home before you do anything, because it’s probably a scammer.”

Grandparents are more likely to have trouble hearing than others (at least for now, until earbud headphones have their way), an especially on the telephone, so it’s easier to trick them into thinking a caller is their grandchild. This goes double if the child in question was seven the last time they saw Meemaw. Have your kids called their grandparents lately? Maybe it’s time.

Of course, that’s not just a fraud prevention tip.


Ridiculous Spam Friday VII: The New Blood.

April 16, 2010

Yes, I’m repurposing titles from the Friday the 13th film franchise for these, in case you were wondering.

First contestant:

From: Laboratorio de Genetica Molecular <geneticamolecular@hc.ufu.br>
Date: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 6:06 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Subject: Matter That Needs Your Attention!!!

Good day,

This is a personal email directed to you for your consideration alone, I request that it remain and be treated as such only. Please bear with me for now and do not ask my name. I am a banker with HSBC here in Malaysia

I have an interesting business proposal for you that will be of immense benefit to both of us. Although this may be hard for you to believe, we stand to gain 7.2 million USD between us in a matter of days. Please grant me the benefit of doubt and hear me out. I need you to signify your interest by replying to this email..

Most importantly, I will need you to promise to keep whatever you learn from me between us even if you decide not to go along with me. I will make more details available to you on receipt of a positive response from you.

When I first saw “Laboratorio de Genetica Molecular” I thought it said “Banco del Mutuo Soccorso” and thought, “Cool! I got an email from the best Italian progressive rock band ever (with the possible exception of Goblin)!”

Then I read it again.

Notice the request for secrecy in the last paragraph. That’s a classic ploy; “don’t tell anyone about this, because they might tell you it’s a scam.”

But what I’m really in love with is the line, “Please, bear with me for now and do not ask my name.” What are you, the Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Nothing says “trust me” like “I’m not telling you my name.”

By the way, if this guy is from Malaysia, why is his email address from Brazil (.br)? File this one under “advance fee fraud.”

Second contestant:

From: Apple AppStore <up-to-date@store.apple.com>
Date: Friday, April 09, 2010 4:45 PM
To: [correct address]
Subject: 883.19284 Apple App-Store Confirm Order

Apple Store
Call 1-800-MY-APPLE

—————————————————–
ID:65-582602
Order Status

You can also contact Apple Store Customer Service or visit online for more information.
—————————————————–

Visit the Apple Online Store to purchase Apple hardware, software, and third-party accessories.
Copyright 2010 Apple Inc. All rights reserved.

I don’t think it’s actually called the “AppStore,” is it?

The words “Order Status” linked to http://dcgames.com.br/bucknell.html. I’m pretty sure a real email from Apple would like to—oh, I don’t know…maybe APPLE? Once again, that “.br” domain name comes into play. The plot thickens. I’m not 100% sure what the “payload” of this spam is, but I’m guessing it’s a malware site.

Final contestant:

From: WESTER UNION <westernmoney1@w.cn>
Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 6:45 AM
To: none
Subject: CUSTOMER

Dear Western Union Customer,

You have been awarded with the sum of $50,000 USD by our office, as one of our customers who use Western Union in their daily business transaction.

This award has been selected through the internet, where your e-mail address indicated and notified. Please provide MR.stephen pagerwith the following listed below so that your fund will be remited to you

through Western Union.

1. Name:______
2. Address________
3. Country:_______
4. Phone Number____
5. Occupation:________
6. Sex:_________________
7. Age___________________

Mr.STEPHEN PAGER
Tel: +234 8021-468-331
E-mail:westernmoney1@w.cn

As soon as these details are received and verified, your fund will be transferred to you. Thank you, for using western union.

Le sigh. Really?

What I absolutely love about this message is the lines after “Name” and the other information. Like you’re going to print this out and fill in the blanks in pen and then…well, I’m not sure. Phone it in? Email a piece of paper?

Let’s get this straight: Western Union does not just give money to random people, whether they use the service regularly or not. I have never used Western Union at all, nor have I used “WESTER UNION,” whatever that is.

Also, I’m pretty sure Western Union isn’t based in China (.cn), and I bet you can’t guess what country that phone number is from.

It’s Nigeria.

That makes this message the setup for a Nigerian 419 scam.


Ridiculous Spam Friday Lives.

April 2, 2010

I’ve got two examples of spammy fun today. The first is a short and sweet attempt to get you to open an infected file.

From: western union <danielnkasiobi4life@gmail.com>
To: undisclosed-recipients 
Date: Thursday, March 25, 2010 2:52:05 AM 
Subject: Thank you for using Western Union!!! OPEN YOUR ATTACHMENT.

Attachment: Thank you for using Western Union!.doc

Thank you for using Western Union!!!
OPEN YOUR ATTACHMENT.

Yeah, you know what? No.

It’s funny how often money wiring services like Western Union seem to come up in scams, even when the setup doesn’t involve the victim wiring money at all. I’m sure the malware in this message would allow an outside party to access and control your computer.

I think you’re supposed to get this message and think, “Whoa, it’s gonna give me an access code to get somebody else’s wire transfer!” and then open the attachment in hopes of committing what amounts to theft. One thing about dishonest people—they always assume everyone else is as dishonest as they are.

This next one is sort of long.

From: Nokia Lottery Promotion <prmmanager@live.com>
To:
Date: Thursday, March 25, 2010 4:08:09 AM 
Subject: Winning Notification.

NOKIA COMMUNICATIONS
1O4TH STAMFORD BRIDGE,
LONDON,
SW1V 3DW UNITED KINGDOM.

Congratulations!!!

We are pleased to inform you of the result of the first
online promotion conducted by Nokia Communications, your
email address was among the 30 Lucky winners who won
£1,000.000.00 (One Million Great British Pounds) each on
the NOKIA CONNECTING PEOPLE PROMOTION 2010.

Your e-mail address emerged as independent candidate with
the following Qualification Information attached:

(1) Your Lucky Number:7-17-21-26-37-42
(2) Batch: SL/06- GmbH/3434
(3) Reference Number: SL/06-GmbH/4009.

The online draws was conducted by a random selection of
email addresses from an exclusive
list of 250,000,000 E-mail addresses of individuals and
mobile phone users picked by an advanced automated random
computer search from the internet. However, no tickets were
sold but all email addresses were assigned to different
ticket numbers for representation and privacy.

The selection process was carried out through random
selection in our computerized email selection machine
(TOPAZ) from a database of over 250,000,000 email addresses
drawn from all the continents of the world.

This Lottery is approved by the British Gaming Board and
also Licensed by the The International Association of Gaming
Regulators (IAGR). This lottery is the 1st of its kind and
we intend to sensitize the public.

In order to claim your £1,000,000.00 (One Million Great
Britain Pound Sterling) prize winning, which has been
deposited in a designated bank with our offshore payment
center, However, You will have to contact the promotion
manager in charge of claims with your (Lucky Number,Batch
Number,Refference Number) for verification and then you will
be directed on how you can claim your winning funds:

Promotion Manager
Gary Morgan
For; Nokia Email Lottery
phone: +44 704 577 7980
Email: prmmanager@live.com

You are to keep all Nokia lottery information away from the
general public especially your Verification Number and Batch
Number. (This is important as a case of double claims will
not be entertained)

NOTICE: Verification claims with error or any misinformation
as regards filling for claims payment will be dishonored and
disqualified as abuse to our Policy Terms and Services. This
is in accordance with section 13(1) (n) of the National
Gambling Act as adopted in 1993 and amended on 3rd July 1996
by the constitutional assembly. Be thus informed.

*Staff of Nokia Communications Worldwide are not to partake
in this Lottery.Accept my hearty congratulations once again!

Yours faithfully,
Mrs. Gracey Anderson.
(Online Coordinator)
For: Nokia Online Lottery Promotion.

Copyright 1994-2010 The NOKIA National Lottery Inc.All
rights reserved.Terms of Service – Guideline.

Note that you are not to reply to this E-mail, please
contact your promotion manager directly to start the
processing of your claims.

Promotion Manager
Gary Morgan
Email: prmmanager@live.com

Alain S. BAGRE
Géomètre Expert Foncier
Urbaniste
01 BP 2693 Ouagadougou 01
Burkina Faso
Tél: Bureau 226 50368565
     Mobile 226 70200744

Pretty run-of-the mill lottery scam message. Nokia doesn’t hold lotteries, and they certainly don’t just give away large sums of money to random people. Who actually thinks businesses operate in this manner?

There are some pretty entertaining sentences in here, though, such as, “This lottery is the 1st of its kind and we intend to sensitize the public.” Sensitize? You’re going to make the public sensitive to the existence of the Nokia Lottery?

What an odd choice of diction. I thought they spoke English in England.

However, “you are to keep all Nokia lottery information away from the
general public” is a key sentence. In other words, don’t tell anybody about this message, because they might know it’s a lottery scam and keep you from sending us thousands of dollars.

I think part of the reason that lottery scams proliferate is that people just don’t understand how real lotteries function. When you buy a genuine $1 lottery ticket for a chance to win $100 million, your state government is actually making money on that deal. You may have only spent one dollar, but rest assured they sold more than enough tickets to cover the cost of the payout and make a large profit. That’s why states hold lotteries in the first place. They’re not just giving away money out of generosity.

One other point: companies don’t have lotteries. They might have a contest or a sweepstakes, but you never see them use the word “lottery.” Microsoft, Nokia and any other company you’ve seen in these scams are not government entities. They are private companies, and private companies don’t sell lottery tickets.


The Dangers of Online Job Searching: Money Laundering and Reshipping Schemes

January 29, 2010

I almost don’t even know where to begin because this topic is so large, and actually sort of frightening.

The quick version is that you have to be extremely careful with online job listings, even when they appear on a site like CareerBuilder or Monster, and even if you contact them first. You don’t want to inadvertently end up helping criminals launder money or goods.

I’ve written quite a few posts on avoiding Mystery Shopper scams over the past seven months, but there are other types of employment fraud that may not even steal your money, but can lead you into being the only traceable link in a money laundering chain.

Money laundering is a felony, in case you were wondering.

There are thousands of fake companies with fake websites, offering attractive sounding part-time work-at-home jobs. Often these jobs involve transferring payments between clients, or receiving shipments of goods and forwarding them to their final destination. What’s really happening is that you’re being used as a “mule.” The process works like this:

  1. After you’ve been hired, you give the company your bank account information and wait.
  2. A large deposit, usually a little under $10,000 will be wired into your account.
  3. You are instructed to withdraw these funds, minus your “fee,” and use Western Union or Moneygram to wire it to different places, usually in chunks of slightly less than $3,000.
  4. You get arrested and interrogated for your involvement in international money laundering.
  5. You might not ultimately end up in jail, but since you gave this “company” your personal information, you become a victim of identity theft later on.

The “reshipping” version of this scheme works this way:

  1. After you’ve been hired, you wait for a shipment to arrive.
  2. A shipment of electronics arrives with instructions to send it to a “client.”
  3. You do exactly that.
  4. You get arrested and interrogated for your involvement in international fraud, because those electronics were purchased with stolen credit card information.
  5. You might not ultimately end up in jail, but since you gave this “company” your personal information, you become a victim of identity theft later on.

So, you might not be the one being robbed of money in this case, but you’re definitely helping organized criminals (usually based in Eastern Europe) steal money and conceal the source of their funds.

Whence is the money being stolen? Usually, from businesses or public entities such as the Delray Beach Public Library whose networks have been compromised with malware (the link takes you to a fascinating rundown of a real-life example of this scheme).

So, how do you separate the legitimate job listings from the money laundering and reshipping schemes? It’s not super-easy, to tell you the truth. These criminals are very skilled at creating fake websites and credentials, and they use channels like CareerBuilder and Monster to hook potential mules. There are some things to keep in mind, though.

  1. Ignore any job offer in which you were contacted out of the blue. You’ve heard this one from me before.
  2. If you’ve got a resume up on a job search site, be extremely careful of any company that contacts you first. Take a few extra minutes to check out their website and carefully read the offer. If it has anything to do with “part-time work-at-home,” there’s about a 98% chance that it’s not something you should pursue.
  3. Don’t assume that having a website means a company is legitimate.
  4. Watch for poor English in the job listing or on the website. One dead giveaway is placing a definite article before a city (“We are based in the London”), which I hear is typical of Russian speakers who aren’t quite fluent in English. However, they also cut and paste from real websites, too—absence of this type of evidence is not an automatic green light for you.
  5. Just be extremely cynical about any company that claims to be in the shipping business.
  6. Also be extremely wary of jobs with titles like “Financial Agent,” Financial Manager,” or anything involving “processing payments.” Companies either process their own payments, or hire other companies (not individuals) to do it for them.
  7. Ask yourself this: why would an international corporation trust some random person out of the general public to receive payments or goods and forward them to their destination? What legitimate reason could they have for needing a middleman?
  8. Apply for jobs only with companies you’ve either heard of, or with companies with a verifiable web presence beyond just their own websites.
  9. Look up the company address on Google Maps, and look at the Street View. Compare it to the photo of the company’s headquarters on their website.
  10. Run a virus and spyware check after you’ve visited any website that ended up looking fishy. Just to check.

It’s hard to even come up with these guidelines, because some of these job listings are so similar to real ones. However, I think the first place I would start when checking out a company is to head over to bobbear.co.uk.

Bobbear is an excellent site (despite its funky “straight outta 1995″ appearance), with a running list of over a thousand active and inactive websites from fake companies. Under the section titled “Active Frauds,” you can view screenshots of these fake websites and a rundown of all the warning signs that they are fraudulent. I wouldn’t click any links under “Undocumented, Verified Fraud Sites” though, because these lead to the actual sites (and you never know what kind of malware might be lurking).

As you can see, there are hundreds of active sites. Check out nine or ten on bobbear, though, and you’ll start to see patterns that will help you stay vigilant when you’re looking for a new career.


Mystery Shopper scams escalating.

January 28, 2010

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), mystery shopper scams are seeing an increase in frequency.

Continued high unemployment rates are likely the root of this upswing—the longer people are out of work, the more likely they are to want to believe in a job opportunity, no matter how strongly all signs are pointing to “scam.”

Worse, it appears the scammers have become a little more patient: they’re not going in for the kill until they’ve earned your trust by sending you on what appears to be a legitimate secret shopper mission.

The victim in this case doesn’t get a cashier’s check right off the bat. First they are sent to a retail location (unspecified in the IC3 press release, but I’d bet you a dollar it’s usually Wal-Mart) with instructions to spend a certain amount of money and take notes on various aspects of their shopping experience. The victim does as told, and reports back to the “employer.”

For the second assignment, the victim is mailed a cashier’s check, which is to be (you guessed it) cashed and wired back to the scammers from the same retail location, with some kept by the victim as payment. The usual result follows: the victim cashes the check, wires most of it back, and finds out a few days later that it was counterfeit and they now owe their financial institution around $2,600.

No, the victim’s bank or credit union isn’t going to cover the fake check. Why should they? It’s not their fault the victim presented a phony check.

No, the bank or credit union from whom the fake check is drawn isn’t going to cover it, either. Why should they? They didn’t create the check. It was never drawn off a legitimate account in the first place. If someone made a fake box of checks with your name and account number on them, would you feel like you had to cover those checks? Of course not. Financial institutions feel the same way.

No, the person who ends up having to cover the check is the victim. If they’re lucky, they bank at a financial institution that puts a hold on cashier’s checks. If they’re even luckier, the teller asked them about the check and recognized it as a scam, and the check was never even deposited to begin with.

But if they’re unlucky, or if they manipulated the teller into releasing the funds right away, they’ll always end up wishing there had been a hold placed or an alert teller to dissuade them.

The problem with not having a source of income is that you generally can’t afford to lose $2,600. Most people can’t afford it when they are employed. Falling for one of these schemes will only make things worse. If you get letters or email offering jobs out of the blue, don’t trust those messages. Being almost broke is still better than being a couple thousand in the hole.


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