A simple way to avoid phony airport security program websites : Internet Scambusters #985
We have a batch of new scams including fake airport security sites in this week's Snippets issue.
We'll also tell you about a phony child tax credit scheme, an investment scam targeting users of dating apps, and more.
But it's not all bad news. Learn about how cartoon character Garfield has been recruited to help kids learn more about online security.
Let's get started…
Fake Websites Trick Travelers Into Airport Security Pass Scam
Fake airport security websites are tricking travelers into revealing personal details for identity theft or stealing money by demanding fee payments.
With the holiday season fast approaching and more people choosing to return to air travel, the sites are cashing in on passengers' efforts to clear security as quickly as possible.
The scammers pretend to be from or approved by the TSA (Travel Security Administration) or US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). They claim to provide membership of the official TSA PreCheck or CBP's Global Entry screening programs.
Because the TSA and CBP really do ask for important personal information like passport numbers, and because membership of the programs often requires a fee, victims are easily fooled by the con trick.
The basic aim of the programs, which are available at more than 200 airports, is to confirm a traveler's trustworthiness in advance so they can get through security screening as swiftly as possible. And who wouldn't want that?
You can apply online, although applicants must then attend an enrollment center for fingerprinting and other checks. Then they are issued with a Known Traveler Number (KTN).
PreCheck costs $85 per person (for five years) and Global Entry $100, but many organizations, including some airlines' frequent flyer programs and credit cards, meet the fee, so it can effectively be free.
The fraudulent websites, which sometimes include official-looking logos, sometimes charge the correct amount and provide realistic-looking application forms, though they may add other non-existent processing fees. Some also ask for additional personal information that isn't required in the genuine application form.
As with many other online scams, the fake sites often appear at or near the top of search results as paid ads. Some of them actually may submit an application and charge a big fee for supposedly handling the paperwork, but most don't.
Avoiding the scam is simple -- go straight to either tsa.gov or cbp.gov and start from there.
Note, the use of 'gov' in the address is critical. Don't apply via a site that doesn't use this, unless it's from an organization with whom you already have a relationship. Even then, it's important to be sure you're on the correct site. And don't click on ads for these services that you may see on social media.
If you're paying, use a credit card. These will usually provide refund protection if you're scammed.
Child Tax Credit Scam
Another official program that's currently being targeted by scammers is the Child Tax Credit Advance Payments program for 2021.
This time, the crooks contact potential victims via phone, email, and texts. They're after information they can use for identity theft, usually claiming to be from the IRS.
Advance credits started rolling out in July, with a second credit to be paid when tax returns for the current year are submitted.
Any message or ad that claims to be part of the program is a fake -- quite simply because the payments are made automatically.
You don't need to apply, although if you think you're entitled but haven't received a payment, you can contact the IRS.
Free Trial Trick
If you've ever signed up for a free trial of a product or service, you've probably encountered a clause that says you'll be billed for future items unless you unsubscribe.
So, you may not be suspicious when you get a vague call reminding you to unsubscribe -- usually without specifically mentioning what it is you signed up for. That's because the caller doesn't know!
The caller tells you to speak to a call center where, he claims, you'll be walked through the opting out process. Instead, though, scammers will try to gain access to your computer to install malware.
Never respond to an unsolicited call like this. It's highly unlikely that a genuine provider would chase you to unsubscribe! But, if they do, don't provide access to your computer or provide any confidential information, notably about your credit card.
Garfield to the Rescue
Let's end this main issue on a brighter note.
Everyone knows Garfield, the cartoon and comic-strip cat. Which is why he's been called in to help with the education of youngsters about online security risks.
The nonprofit Center for Cyber Safety and Education (CCSE) has employed the mischievous animal in a series of Internet safety programs. They include virtual classrooms, teacher kits, and a range of other products.
They're not free. But the CCSE is a non-profit organization and the money goes toward extending their online security mission. Go to cybersafetykits.org for more information.
Latest Scam Alerts
- Digital phone company Visible (owned by Verizon) says a recent cyber-attack resulted in some customer accounts being accessed. In some cases, phones were illegally purchased. Contact Visible if you see an unknown, unusual or unauthorized charge on your account.
- Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, and Facebook dating app users have been duped out of more than a million dollars by a new scam. The crooks posted fake profiles and then asked people who responded to continue their contact via an outside messaging app. There they were encouraged to download a supposed investment app that actually gave the scammers control of their computers and mobile devices. Just don't go off-site when you're dating online.
- Don't pay to sign up for a US Government program offering "free" Internet equipment and services. There is a genuine Emergency Broadband Benefit Program that provides discounts for these. Equipment and services aren't free, but you don't have to pay to sign up. That's a scam. To apply, go to fcc.gov and search for broadband benefits there.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.