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.

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

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…

Make 2013 the year you take action against scams that target seniors

I know, you already made your New Year resolutions several weeks ago.

But I also know that you’re probably already using the treadmill as a clothes rack again, too, so it’s time to make some more.

This year, I am challenging you to take action against scams and identity theft that target older people.

Every year, seniors lose millions to scams that target them because crooks make certain assumptions:

  1. They’re wealthy
  2. They’re gullible
  3. They live alone
  4. They won’t tell anyone

And all too often, seniors who are victims of scams don’t tell their families, out of fear or shame. Too often, they do live without regular contact from their loved ones. That’s why it’s important to join in the fight against fraud.

Maybe it’s your parents or grandparents, aunts or uncles. Maybe it’s just a neighbor. Whoever you know, whoever you care about, talk to them. Tell them about the scams that target seniors—utility scams, the grandchild-in-jeopardy scam, the 419 scams, the phony investments (Iraqi Dinars), the fake sweepstakes calls, the work-at-home cons. You can find out more about these on this very site, and all over the Internet.

Visit more often this year. Have dinner together. Talk to them about life in general. Did they mention phone calls or letters that sound suspicious? You don’t have to pry or cajole—you don’t need to know every detail of their bank account, or try to convince them to add you as an authorized signer in most cases. But you need to talk more, be together more.

It’s important for other reasons, too, you know.

Can we all do that this year?

Alert for businesses: beware of fake BBB complaint emails

I received an email recently that highlights the importance of business owners and employees being aware of various types of fraud activity:

From: Better Business Bureau <[redacted]@newyork.bbb.org>
Subject: Case #28475466
Owner/Manager

The Better Business Bureau has received the above-referenced complaint from one of your customers regarding their dealings with you. The details of the consumer’s concern are included on the reverse. Please review this matter and advise us of your position.

As a neutral third party, the Better Business Bureau can help to resolve the matter. Often complaints are a result of misunderstandings a company wants to know about and correct.

In the interest of time and good customer relations, please provide the BBB with written verification of your position in this matter by January 17, 2013. Your prompt response will allow BBB to be of service to you and your customer in reaching a mutually agreeable resolution. Please inform us if you have contacted your customer directly and already resolved this matter.

The Better Business Bureau develops and maintains Reliability Reports on companies across the United States and Canada . This information is available to the public and is frequently used by potential customers. Your cooperation in responding to this complaint becomes a permanent part of your file with the Better Business Bureau. Failure to promptly give attention to this matter may be reflected in the report we give to consumers about your company.

We encourage you to print this complaint (attached file), answer the questions and respond to us.

We look forward to your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

BBB Serving Metropolitan New York, Long Island and the Mid-Hudson Region

There was a 102KB file attached to the message named “Complaint Case  #28475466.zip”. Except for the fact that it appeared to come from a Better Business Bureau office a thousand miles away, it looked pretty legitimate.

However, looks can be very deceiving.

According to a report from Cisco, the attachment is an executable file that contains malicious code. They don’t specify what that malware is, but given the nature of the message I would guess it’s designed to log keystrokes or use some other method to steal online banking credentials from businesses. Once they’ve got account numbers and passwords, they wire thousands of dollars out of payroll, expense and other accounts, then use their network of (unwitting and witting) money mules to launder the ill-gotten funds.

So here’s the lesson today: if you receive a message like the one above, do not under any circumstances open the attached file. If you think there might be a legitimate complaint from the Better Business Bureau, contact them directly. It’s a general rule, but in this case it applied more specifically to business owners and their employees.

IC3 Scam Alerts

The latest batch of scam alerts from the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) came out yesterday, and there are some interesting things going on out there.

I won’t past the entire text here, but the “Triangle Credit Card Fraud” was a new one to me. It works this way:

The first party is the fraudster who acts as a seller on a popular auction or marketplace site. The fraudster “sells” a product to the second party, the buyer that knows nothing about the scam. The buyer pays the seller for the product or service. The seller then needs to deliver the product or service to the buyer and does so by placing an order with the manufacturer of the product or service to the buyer and does so by placing an order with the manufacturer of the product or service, the third party. That order will contain the buyer’s information for shipping and stolen credit card information for billing. When the company receives the order, the billing and shipping information is all legitimate, thus it looks like an order being placed as a gift, so the company delivers the product or service.

That’s a big ball of text that takes a minute to decipher (and it seems to repeat itself at least once, but the underlying message is clear: you have to be really, really cautious when buying things from online auction sites.

The alerts also point out a new take on the old work-at-home scheme. This time, crooks are telling victims they submitted a resume online and using the names of well-known financial institutions and agencies (instead of the usual out-of-the-blue offer for mystery shopper work), then sending victims a fraudulent cashier’s check to purchase software or other supplies. Naturally, the victim then wires back the overage and ends up losing money. This time they’re finding victims because a vast number of people have been submitting resumes online, and I can tell you from experience: unless you’re a record-keeping ninja, it can get hard to keep track of what jobs you’ve applied for.

Things the FTC doesn’t do: hold sweepstakes and give away cash prizes

Scammers are really getting meta- these days; it seems people have received phone calls, allegedly from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), informing them that they have won a large cash prize in a sweepstakes.

Among other duties, the FTC normally tries to protect consumers from scams. I guess the victims are supposed to think, “Well, surely if this call’s from the FTC, it’s legitimate.” Never mind the years of warnings that all begin with, “No matter who a caller claims to be…”

Naturally, the victim is told they have to pay taxes and fees up front by wiring between $1,000 and $10,000 to someone. So it’s a standard-issue sweepstakes scheme.

Folks, you can argue about whether different government agencies waste money or not until you’re blue in the face, but I can assure you of a couple things:

  1. The FTC isn’t running a sweepstakes and does not give away cash prizes.
  2. The FTC has never given away cash prizes (unless “giving away cash prizes” actually means “nailing rogue debt collection agencies to the wall” in some obscure regional dialect, which it doesn’t).
  3. The FTC is never going to run a sweepstakes. Or give away (say it with me) cash prizes.
  4. Whenever you do hear about a government agency giving a person or organization money for something, those aren’t sweepstakes prizes, and it’s not a random selection process. Those are grants, and the recipients had to apply for them. It’s a vastly different thing.

Also, you’d do well to remember this little nugget: it doesn’t matter if a caller claims to be from the FTC, the FBI, the ATF, Microsoft, Canada, or your Aunt Tilly, if they’re saying you won a sweepstakes you never entered and asking you to pay money up front before receiving the prize, they’re running a scam.

I haven’t run into an exception to that rule yet.