“Slider” Theft, Unsafe PINs and Advance Fee Scams

Artists targeted in new twist on advance fee scam: Internet Scambusters #573

Advance fee scammers — crooks who send out dud checks and then ask for money to be wired back to them — have found a new group of potential victims.

They prey on the anxiety of artists and craft enthusiasts to sell their work and leave them with a damaged ego and bank balance.

We have the details in this week’s Snippets issue, along with new warnings about gas station thefts and unsafe ATM personal identification numbers (PINs).

Let’s get started…

“Slider” Theft, Unsafe PINs and Advance Fee Scams

You’d think we would have exhausted all the variations of the advance fee scam by now. But you’d be wrong.

As we’ve reported many times, this trick involves sending a victim a check as upfront payment for a product or service, with a request that part of the sum should be returned or passed on to a supposed third party who is somehow involved in the deal.

The victim banks the check, wires the sum requested, then learns the check is a dud, and they are out by however much they sent on to the other person, who is, of course the scammer.

In their search for new ruses, the crooks have hit on another idea, targeting artists and hobbyists who offer their work for sale online, especially on social networks.

They may also try the same trick with artists and others who publicly exhibit their work and price it for sale.

Either way, the scammer makes contact by phone or email, expressing interest in the work and offering to buy it, usually as a supposed gift for a special occasion, like a wedding or anniversary.

They turn on the flattery, saying how the piece fits precisely with their taste or the recipient’s tastes.

In some cases, they claim to have consulted an art expert for an opinion, which turned out to be highly favorable.

All this flattery is intended to make victims drop their guard and feel they’ve established a sort of friendship with the buyer, who then sends them the phony check.

Then the crooks use a variety of explanations for the “overpayment,” for example claiming they made a mistake and need a partial refund. Or they may say it’s a fee for a shipper or appraisal expert.

Whatever the explanation, they always, of course, want the sum to be sent electronically, and untraceably, as quickly as possible (that is, before the bank notifies the victim that the check is worthless).

Action: Beware of flatterers! But one simple and familiar rule will defeat this: Don’t wire money to people you don’t know, no matter how plausible they seem.

Beware of Sliders

“Sliders” is the name for a new type of theft at the gas station.

While you’re pumping gas (unless you’re in Oregon or New Jersey where drivers aren’t permitted to pump!), another vehicle slides up alongside yours.

The driver yanks your passenger door open or puts his hand through an open window and grabs whatever valuable you left within reach — usually a purse, wallet or phone.

You might not even see the incident, which takes only seconds, if your back is turned. And the crooks usually ensure their license plates and their own appearance are suitably disguised.

In a more sophisticated trick increasingly seen in parking lots, thieves use a jamming device to block a lock signal from a remote key used by the driver after parking.

Once the owner is out of sight, the crooks simply open the unlocked car door and help themselves to whatever they want.

Action: At the gas station, keep valuables out of sight and reach. Make sure any doors next to empty seats are locked and windows closed.

Even if there’s a passenger in the car, that won’t stop the sliders if they see something worth grabbing on the passenger’s lap or an empty seat.

And if you use a remote device to lock your car, do it while you’re beside the vehicle and check that it’s locked by simply tugging the handle.

What’s Your Number?

PINs (Personal Identification Numbers) add a valuable layer of security to all manner of transactions — most often with the use of debit cards and cash cards at ATMs and store registers.

Most have four numbers which means 10,000 possible combinations (from 0000 to 9,999), which should be more than enough to defeat a crook who’s stolen your card or card number and only has a limited number of guesses at the PIN before he or she is stopped.

That’s the theory. Of course, scammers have all sorts of tricks for finding out what your actual PIN is, using hidden cameras, card readers and just their eyesight to monitor the number you key in.

But even without these, they also have another weapon: the fact that certain numbers are more popular than others.

A recent report by security specialists Data Genetics recently identified the 10 most common, and therefore the most vulnerable PINs — in order of popularity: 1234, 1111, 0000, 1212, 7777, 1004, 2000, 4444, 2222, and 6969.

The company also published a list of the least popular numbers, but since they’ve now made it public, we won’t bother to give them to you because we imagine crooks have now added them to their list of numbers to try first!

Action: If you use one of the top 10 numbers we’ve listed, change your PIN as soon as possible.

If you don’t know how to do this, ask your bank or the card issuer.

Instead, select a number that doesn’t have a sequence or repeated digits.

It may be harder to remember but it’s also more likely a crook won’t guess it.

As with the threat of slider thieves and advance fee crooks, applying a bit of caution and commonsense now could save you a lot of money in the long run.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.