A new version of the hitman scam targets parents
The hitman scam is certainly one -- if not the -- scariest scam out there. This week, a new version has surfaced that installs malware on victims' computers. And in this week's roundup of the scam headlines we have news of six other con tricks to be on the lookout for.
1. Swap your child for a virus
The scam: We've reported several times in the past on bogus hitman emails that threaten to kidnap or kill a loved one if you don't pay a ransom.
A variation pops up in Naperville, Illinois, when scammers tell victims they already have your child and will be emailing you soon with ransom instructions.
Want proof they've got your kid? Just click on the attachment which purports to be a photo of him or her in the kidnappers' hideaway.
In fact, you just installed a Trojan on your PC which will be used to steal personal information and send it back to the crooks.
The solution: This is a spammed message, so it goes to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether or not they have a child. But for anyone who does have a child who is currently somewhere else, this email would be pretty scary.
So, it's easy to understand why someone would click on the attachment. However, good, up-to-date security software should spot and block the malware. Check on your child, then tell the police.
2. Card thieves' gas station trick foiled
The scam: In Ferndale, Michigan, scammers use aluminum foil to cover and "blind" a gas station satellite dish normally used for online verification of credit cards.
This forces the gas station's cashier to use hand-swipers and manually complete forms for credit cards. And of course, they can't check the cards' status, which is handy because the scammers happen to have a stolen one.
However, the cashier spots the trick on a security monitor, alerts the police and one of the tricksters is caught, holding onto his ladder.
The solution: Any organization that uses satellite for card verification is vulnerable to this scam. If your card link goes down, check the communications dish before switching to manual card handling.
3. Browser alert: Don't be outfoxed by Firefox cons
The alert: We've been recommending the open-source (publicly available free) browser Firefox for quite awhile.
You might think everyone knows that this program is free. Well, not everyone, it seems. A number of Russian and Chinese websites pop up, offering the newly-released latest version of Firefox for sale and they seem to be doing brisk business.
In some cases, they "generously" offer the software for free if you buy their 24/7 support package. Worse, a few install malware when users think they're downloading Firefox.
The solution: You only need visit one place for the authentic Firefox and that's the home of its providers, Mozilla.com. You'll get the latest version - and it's free!
Also, check out these Scambusters articles about software scams.
4. 50% discount deal adds up to 100% loss
The scam: In Edinburgh, Scotland, a kind-hearted businessman with an eye for a bargain responds to an ad that offers 50% discount shopping vouchers, with all the proceeds going to a cancer charity.
He meets the supposed charity worker, hands over a check for about $550. She says he'll get his vouchers when the check clears. It does but he doesn't. The contact details the woman gave him turn out to be bogus.
The solution: First, the offer was probably too good to be true. Second, the victim should have checked out the collector's credentials. He'd have discovered the charity didn't exist.
As we always advise: if you want to help a worthy cause and you're not 110% sure of the collector, check out the charity independently and send your money directly to them.
You can find more on charity scams here.
5. Fraudsters hijack Senator's mailbox
The scam: Friends of well-known California State Senator Pat Wiggins are alarmed when they get an email from her saying she's stuck in England and has lost her wallet. Can they please wire $2,500 dollars to pay hotel bills and buy an air ticket, which she'll repay when she gets home?
In reality, hackers have broken into her email account and changed the password so she can't get access herself. This enables the crooks to reply to incoming emails and emphasize the urgent need for cash.
The solution: This is a variation on the so-called grandparents scam, which you can read about here.
Always independently check on the whereabouts of a supposed friend or relative asking for money. And check the wording of the email to see if it matches the style of the person you know (apparently a real giveaway in this case).
If you're in the Senator's position and can't get access to your email account, tell the service provider immediately.
6. The next Olympics hurdle - phony Vancouver and London tickets
The scam: After the disastrous Olympic tickets scam in Beijing this year, the con artists are already planning a repeat when the Games move to London in 2012.
Scores of phony websites offering tickets were set up for the Chinese Games, and fans lost millions of dollars.
Now an American lawyer representing some of the victims (who was himself conned) says the gang behind the scam is setting up the same swindle both for the London Olympics and, before that, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Several illegal sites have already been closed down but the gang has at least 250 registered Internet domain names, some of them sounding pretty convincing.
The solution: Vancouver tickets go on sale next month. London tickets are not yet on sale but the authorized seller is expected to be Ticketmaster. In both cases, buy only from the official ticket sellers, confirmable on the respective websites.
7. Tragedy call fools sympathetic residents
The scam: A woman, claiming to live nearby, asks residents of Fremont, Ohio, if she can use their phone to call a utility company that's threatening to cut off her supply.
During the supposed call, she pleads with the company not to cut her off, reeling off a tale of woe about the recent death of her husband and a child who is seriously ill.
This is all for the benefit of the real victim, the resident, who frequently will offer some cash to help her out. The scammer collects about $40 or $50 per house.
The solution: Tragedy tales are one of the scammers' favorite tools. Sad to say but you should never give money to someone you don't know purely on the basis of a sob story. Chances are it's untrue.
Nothing is what it seems in the world of scams. At the heart of each one is a lie. Even if it slows things down, it pays to be cautious and skeptical. And as our Olympic Games report shows, the scammers are always looking forward for their next opportunity. Here at Scambusters, we aim to keep you one step ahead!