ID theft, Hotmail phishing and confidence tricks among 9 latest scams
Nobody follows the news more closely than scammers. Special events, reports of tragedies and other incidents fire up the criminal mind. It seems that for every news story there's a matching scam -- a plausible opportunity to rip-off the public.
In this week's round-up of the scam headlines, we show how three news items are being exploited to try to con people either out of money or their confidential information.
We also have the lowdown on two bare-faced cons where the criminals just ask victims to leave their money for collection outside their homes. Plus, we've news of a big phishing attack masquerading as a Hotmail security alert and a con-trick that offers you a driver's license that can never be suspended.
1. In the news scam #1: Election fever sparks trawl for IDs
The scam: As the presidential election nears, scammers spot an opportunity to steal personal information by passing themselves off as officials from the local elections board.
They phone or email victims claiming they're checking on their eligibility to vote. Guess what? They want your Social Security number or even your credit card details (go figure!) as proof of your identity.
The solution: Issuing a warning on this scam, the Federal Trade Commission says: "Organizations conducting legitimate voter registration drives either contact you in person or give you a voter registration form that you fill out yourself.
"They will never ask you to provide your financial information."
Check out other Scambusters identity theft articles here.
2. In the news scam #2: Boring trick bugs victims
The scam: In parts of Wisconsin, tree infestation by a bug called an Emerald Ash Borer is widely reported in the local media. It sparks a spate of front-door visits by con artists offering to protect or cure trees.
The solution: Use an insecticide. That's what some of the scammers do, only they charge a fortune for it. Others just take the money and run. When there's a pest outbreak, do your homework -- check it out online or contact your state Department of Agriculture.
3. In the news scam #3: Apple MobileMe switch prompts attack
The scam: Rarely the target for scams, hundreds of users of Apple's .Mac (dot-Mac) and MobileMe online services fall for a phishing scam that tricks them into disclosing credit card details and other personal financial information.
The cunning tricksters time their con to coincide with announcement of an Apple project to transfer members from .Mac to MobileMe. Victims receive a well-worded message that seems to come from Apple asking them to re-enter the information because of a billing problem.
The solution: This message was apparently so convincing, even including many legitimate links, that some very experienced users fell for it. By applying the simple technique of never clicking a link but instead keying in the correct website address, they would not have fallen for this phishing scam.
4. Bad grammar points to Hotmail phishing spam
The scam: On the face of it, it's just a regular phishing scam, but a recent spam email alarms Internet security watchers because it masquerades as coming from Microsoft's Hotmail, one of the world's biggest email providers, which also has a reputation for closing unused accounts.
That means people are more likely to take seriously an email that says "Hotmail Warning!!! Verify Your Account to Avoid it Closed." But that bit of bad grammar at the end is the giveaway.
Anyone who is fooled clicks through to what looks like a Hotmail site, requesting name, password, date of birth and country -- supposedly for security purposes.
The solution: Well, apart from never clicking on links like this, Microsoft does not send out this sort of email and does not request birth dates for Hotmail membership.
Learn how to protect yourself from phishing scams here.
5. Women's gifting con builds a pyramid
The scam: Police in central Alberta warn of a pyramid scheme called Women Gifting Women or Circle of Friends, which participants are goaded into joining in the belief the scheme provides gifts and other help for women in need.
Members join via people they know, who have also been innocently duped, making the scam more convincing. They hand over between $1,000 and $5,000 dollars with promised returns of $8,000 to $40,000.
RCMP says at least 525 women throughout the province fell for the trick, which provides little or no return except for the person or people at the top.
The solution: Whichever way you looks at it, handing over money on the promise of a great return -- 8-fold in this case -- is clearly too good to be true. Just because a friend tells you about it doesn't make it any more likely.
We wrote about pyramid scams, or Ponzi investing schemes as they are sometimes called, here.
6. Money out front scam #1: Leave it in your mailbox
The scam: Senior citizens in Chicago's Lawn District receive phone calls from "bank officials" saying they're conducting some kind of security operation.
As part of the "investigation", victims must withdraw a sum of money from the bank and leave it in their mailboxes. The tricksters then warn victims not to look outside their window because this supposedly would compromise the bank agent's identity!
The solution: This trick takes advantage of older people's tendency to be more trusting or to become confused with calls such as this. Banks never do this sort of thing and anyone who receives such a call should contact the police. Warn older people you know.
7. Money out front scam #2: Put it on the doorstep
The scam: Duxbury, MA, residents receive phone calls supposedly from the local fire department asking them to support a fund-raising drive. The caller asks them to leave a check on the doorstep for later collection.
The solution: Oh yeah, just leave a check on the doorstep! Sometimes you've got to sneer at the sheer nerve of criminals who apparently have no imagination. You wouldn't leave money on your doorstep would you? If you want to support firefighters, buy a stamp and send them a check in the mail.
Read more about charity scams and other donation tricks here.
8. Airline attachment is no ticket to ride
The scam: In several parts of Australia, people receive an email with what purports to be an airline flight ticket attached. The message seems to come from a genuine airline and says the individual's ticket and receipt is attached, adding that their credit card has been charged A$500.
In alarm, victims click on the attachment, which installs malicious software on their computers. This harvests confidential information, which is then mailed to the scammer.
The solution: Don't allow yourself to be panicked into clicking a link. Take a deep breath and think. Then phone the airline. They can query their records by customer name and tell you if such a ticket is genuine.
9. Who wants to drive forever?
The scam: How about a driver's license that can never be suspended or revoked? Con merchants are selling such "untouchable" International Driver's Licenses for $100, claiming validation through a United Nations Convention rule.
The reality: You can buy an International Driver's Permit for $15 through AAA or the National Automobile Club (and only these two organizations). They allow you to drive in 100 foreign countries and are valid for one year. But it's not a license -- just a translation of your US license -- so you need the real thing first.
Legitimate UN-sanctioned permits do exist but they're not valid in an individual's country of residence. Take our word for it, the traffic cop will not be impressed.
As most of this week's headlines show, if it's in the news it's ammo for a scam. But if it's ammo for a scam, we try to cover it in Scamlines. So stay tuned!