Deceased's names used for ID theft, new rental scams and the sky-high cost of spam
Maybe it's because we're almost at Halloween that our weekly search through the scam headlines turned up a couple of interesting stories about people who've passed over to the other side.
But there's more scary stuff from the living too. We report on two recent home rental scams, including a couple of incidents where owners return from vacation to find renters have moved in!
We also have news of an attack on 10,000 users of a social networking service, a new trick for bilking car renters -- and a $236m judgment against spammers.
1. Making a living from the dead
The scam: Kansas Attorney General Steve Six reports an outbreak of fraudulent credit and store card accounts opened in the names of deceased people. The scam is widespread, with instances across the state.
He warns relatives of anyone who recently died to be on the lookout for unexpected bills or card statements bearing the deceased's name.
The solution: We showed how the names of dead people are used for identity cloning in this article.
When someone dies, make sure all known banks and card companies where they held accounts are notified. Ask credit bureaus to put a "deceased alert" against the individual's credit record. And if you do receive a bill, tell the police what happened.
2. Roll-call of the recently deceased will counter ID theft
The news: Using the names of the dead to make a living is no joke. It's distressing as well as potentially costly for the families affected. In Britain, the Government plans to circulate a weekly official list of people who have recently died.
The list -- about 12,000 names a week -- will be securely encrypted and sent to credit-checking firms, as part of a crackdown on fraud and ID theft which costs the Government alone an estimated $3.5 billion a year.
You can find more on identity theft protection here.
3. Rental scam #1: Armed thieves go on tour
The scam: It's one of the easiest and oldest tricks in the book. In Brooklyn, NY, a man answers numerous newspaper ads for rental apartments. At each one, he and an accomplice pull a gun on the owner or person showing the apartment, tie them up and rob them.
The solution: If you're showing a home (rather than, say, holding an open house where there's a stream of visitors) take details of any phone callers and call them back. Now you have their number. When you show the property, try to have someone else with you. If there's a lot at stake, consider temporarily installing a security web camera to record your visitors.
4. Rental scam #2: While you were away, we rented your house
The scam: Imagine this: You've been away on vacation and arrive back home exhausted, only to find someone else living in your home. Or imagine it from the renter's viewpoint: You think you've found the perfect rental place and are surprised one night when someone lets themselves in with a key, announces it's their home and orders you out.
Sounds far-fetched, but it's true. Twice in upstate New York, scammers posing as realtors rented out vacationers' homes after breaking in and finding duplicate keys. They also pull the more common trick of renting out empty, foreclosed houses. Two men have now been arrested.
The solution: If you're going on vacation, take your spare keys with you or entrust them to a friend or relative, and be careful who you tell (but do tell your neighbors). If you're renting via a realtor, check their brokerage license, ask to sign papers in their office and pay by check made out to the brokerage firm.
5. LinkedIn link to spear-phishing
The scam: A spear-phishing (targeted phishing) attack hits the mailboxes of 10,000 users of the online business networking community LinkedIn.
Pretending to be from LinkedIn itself, the message has an attachment supposedly containing a list of business contacts.
The message claims the victim has requested this list, even spoofing an "original" email from them at the bottom. It asks the victim to check the list "so we can close the support ticket" and is signed "[name delete], Technical Support Department."
Opening the attachment installs spyware on the victim's PC, which then harvests user names, passwords and other personal details.
The solution: The giveaway in this case was that the malicious emails were not sent through the LinkedIn network but were sent externally to individual members' email addresses rather than their LinkedIn inbox. If it were genuine, the message should have been duplicated within the LinkedIn system.
No matter how authentic a message appears, don't click on a link or attachment if you weren't expecting it. LinkedIn also publishes privacy guidance in its FAQ pages. Be sure to check out this week's Scambusters article on social networking scams. And, see this article for tips on using MySpace and other sites.
6. Pay-up, you broke our car
The scam: Seems there's no limit to the ingenuity of scammers who target travelers and holiday-makers. We've covered many of travels scams before, but here's a new one reported by one of the world's leading travel experts, Christopher Elliott.
Elliott, who is National Geographic Magazine's reader advocate, tells how a reader returning a rental car, watches the lot attendant flood the carburetor, presumably by repeatedly stepping on the gas pedal.
He implies she fueled the car with regular gasoline instead of diesel and says she will not be allowed to board a shuttle bus or leave the lot until she hands over 1,000 Euros to pay for repairs. She eventually escapes by paying a deposit, which is later refunded.
The solution: Well, this victim did the right thing, watching what happened, refusing to pay and eventually escalating the issue by asking to involve the manager. He agreed to accept only a deposit and presumably arranged the refund when he learned what the attendant was up to.
Plus a tip from Elliott: Keep all your fuel receipts.
And one from us: Rent from a reputable hire firm.
For another insight on car rental scams, check out this article.
7. The cost of spamming: How about $236m?
The news: If you want proof of the damage spamming causes, consider the ruling of an Iowa federal judge. He just levied a charge of $236m against an Arizona pair who were sending out 500 million spam messages a day. That's the equivalent of sending an email to every person in the world in just a couple of weeks.
The volume brought one Internet service provider to its knees. The company sued the culprits and the judge awarded them $10 per bulk email from the spammers, for a total of $236m. Whether the victim will ever be able to collect is uncertain (and probably unlikely). But the victim made his point -- his spam volume has dropped to "only" 15 million a day!
Are you troubled by spam? Read this Scambusters articles on how to stop or reduce spam.
Several of this week's stories -- the court action against spammers, the British death-roll plan and the car renter who refused to pay -- show an encouraging determination to beat the scammers. We certainly need more of that. However, always remember that safety comes first.