Scamlines 34: $2 Billion Lost in Get-Rich-Quick Fraud

Mideast investment scam exposed, spyware warnings and the cash prize that winners refused

In desperate times, people do desperate things. And that makes them sitting ducks for fraudsters, as this week’s top story from the scam headlines shows. Investors are duped into losing up to $2 billion in schemes promising huge returns.

We also show how scammers use the names of official organizations and legitimate firms to fool people into downloading malware or part with confidential information.

Plus, we’ve news of a bogus flight-booking email, a scam that hits fast food company Wendy’s and the strange story of the winners who turn down their prizes.

1. Thousands lose $2 billion total in Mideast investment scam

The scam: In the Mideast Kingdom of Jordan, tens of thousands of amateur investors fall for a get-rich-quick con promising huge returns.

Bogus companies, claiming to be specialists in gold, oil and foreign currency speculation, say investors will earn returns of between 10% and 25% every month.

A newly introduced law regulating these types of companies flushes out the fraudsters, who previously only needed simple merchant trade licenses. One files for bankruptcy, investors panic and unsuccessfully try to get their money back and the whole thing collapses.

People lose their life savings and riot in the streets. Many of the so-called investment firms shut their doors and owners either disappear or are thrown in jail.

The solution: This is fraud on an unprecedented scale in a country that is mainly impoverished. Unfortunately, the less people can afford it, the more they are lured into schemes that promise astronomical, quick returns. Ninety-nine percent of such promises are either dreams or lies. Don’t fall for them.

Learn more about investing safely and avoiding scams by improving your financial literacy here. If you are a senior, read this interesting article.

2. “Official” scam #1: Fake BBB message leads to phishing site

The scam: “Register your new software and update your contact information,” says a message to companies, that appears to come from the business watchdog, the Better Business Bureau.

It looks like the real thing and a similar invitation appears in a couple of blogs. In both cases, there’s a link that takes you to a bogus site. Again, this looks like the BBB and victims are asked to enter information that is clearly part of a phishing attempt.

The solution: If you get one of these emails, forward it to phishing AT council.bbb.org. They will send it to the US Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force. Don’t click on links inside an email unless you’re 100% sure who it’s from.

Check out this article on avoiding phishing.

3. “Official” scam #2: FDIC spoof claims you have scam funds

The scam: You get an email purporting to come from the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) — the people who cover your savings if your bank goes bust.

The subject heading says something like “Funds wired into your account are stolen” and claims that some of your savings appear to have come from identity theft scams. The message then asks you to scrutinize your bank statements, which they have helpfully attached.

Gotcha!

The attachment is not your bank statement after all. It’s a Trojan that unlocks your computer for hackers, installs spyware and steals your passwords and other personal information.

The solution: The FDIC has no access to your bank account or your statement and your own bank should never provide them to anyone but you. It’s the old story about not believing someone is who they say they are and not clicking attachments.

We have 14 tips for using email safely in this article.

4. Anti-spyware link leads to … spyware!

The scam: Staying with the spyware theme, do you use an anti-spyware program called Spybot S&D (Search & Destroy)? If so, beware an email that appears to come from the producers of this software offering an upgrade to “Spybot 2009” or “Spybot Protection 2009.”

The email, which may also arrive in your inbox as spam even if you don’t have the original software, provides a download link which is hosted in Panama. Various reports say that the program is either a rip-off the original (it does carry the official Spybot logo) or that it contains malware.

The solution: Most programs, including Spybot automatically check for updates and/or have an item in their Help menu that allows you to do this manually. If you get an email offering updates for any software, don’t click the link but go to the producer’s official home page by keying in the URL.

Visit our anti-spyware resource center for more useful info.

5. It’s a boarding pass — to your computer

The scam: In various parts of the US, people receive an email purportedly from Continental Airlines, thanking them for using the company’s online ticket service. An attachment supposedly contains the invoice and flight boarding passes.

Worried that there’s surely been a mistake or maybe an identity theft, victims click on the attachment and in so doing activate a program that downloads spyware on to their computers.

The solution: We’ve reported on this type of crime previously but it’s becoming more widespread now. The concern recipients feel is understandable but they must resist the temptation to click on attachments even when they seem to have come from a trustworthy source.

The sensible thing is to phone the airline. But a quicker and simpler option with this type of trick is to Google the name of the supposed sender, in this case “Continental,” along with subject matter — “tickets” — and the word “scam.” That will nearly always confirm the fraud.

Bravehearts may also consider saving the attachment to a temporary folder (without opening it) and then running a virus scan on it (usually via a right-clicked context menu).

Pick up more useful tips about attachments and anti-virus programs here.

6. No such thing as an (almost) free lunch

The scam: In Pitt County, NC, fast food lovers are overjoyed to get an email promising them 25c hamburgers at their local Wendy’s joint. Or how about a cheeseburger for 30c, a soda for a dime and fries for 15c?

It’s all part of Wendy’s 60th anniversary celebrations says the message, which later starts to pop up in other parts of the country and, before long it has spread across the US.

Trouble is, Wendy’s is only 39 and there’s no such sale.

The solution: No one knows who started this but the huge number of disappointed diners is testament to the power of email. However, anyone who checked the Wendy’s website would have discovered there was no such offer.

Want to know about the top 10 Internet hoaxes? See this article.

7. You’ve won a prize, honest!

The no-scam: Looks like people are starting to become so security-conscious that even when they win a genuine prize, they just don’t believe it.

In Britain, telephone directory enquiry services operator 118118 runs a promotion, selecting random callers, calling them back and awarding a prize of £118 (about $180).

But about a third of all winners turn down the prize, believing it to be some sort of scam.

“It was the strangest thing, ” says a spokesperson. “We were calling people to give them money and they were refusing. In these credit-crunched time, we couldn’t even give money away.

“It appears that people’s wariness has been caused by experiences, spam and too-good-to-be true offers with strings attached. ”

The solution: They shouldn’t have been so surprised. It strikes us an extraordinarily naive way to promote business, though the firm did later decide to post winners’ names on its websites. It’s also planning to run the promotion again. Remarkable.

Phishing and bogus links or attachments are common themes in most of this week’s stories. They emphasize all the different tricks scammers will use to try to catch you out. And, although the reluctance of prizewinning Brits to collect their cash may have disappointed the promoter, we’re encouraged to see evidence of such wariness in these times.