“Stolen” Ruse Behind Blocked Phones

Snippets issue focuses on blocked phones, Best Buy support scam and buried treasure con trick: Internet Scambusters #816

You bought it online for a bargain price but months later you’re stuck with a blocked phone.

The reason: the seller claimed an insurance payout, saying the phone had been stolen, as we explain in this week’s Snippets issue.

We also have details of a new tech support scam and a couple of tricks targeting Chinese communities across the United States.

Let’s get started…

“Stolen” Ruse Behind Blocked Phones

Cell phone scammers have hit on a new trick that’s costing victims hundreds of dollars and leaves them with a blocked phone they may never be able to use.

The trick starts with an online ad for a low-priced phone, usually an iPhone or another premium device.

Often the ad will also invite “best offers” and victims sometimes find the seller will accept even crazy, low-ball bids.

That should be a serious red flag for buyers but apparently the warning is missed and victims send their money believing they got a fantastic bargain.

That is, until a few weeks or months later when the phone stops working.

When the owners contact the service provider, they’re told the phone was reported stolen and cannot be re-activated.

What’s going on? According to recent posts on forums for AT&T phone users, the scammers usually actually own the phone and, after selling it, claim for it on an insurance policy.

The crooks generally take steps to disguise their true identity. They end up with victims’ money and the insurance cash.

Don’t let this happen to you. Beware of buying phones through online ads unless you’ve checked out the reputation of the owner and the status of the phone’s IMEI or ESN numbers.

You don’t have to know what these numbers mean. Just ask the seller to give you them and then go online to check them out via one of the free services, such as http://www.checkesnfree.com/

(Note: You’ll have to turn off your ad blocker because these sites make their money from advertising.)

But if you are already a victim, the best you can do is tell the police. However, even if they trace it back to the original owner, this person likely will say he or she was not the one who sold it — they’ll say it was stolen and sold by someone else.

Fake Geek Squad Techs

For our second Snippets item this week, we turn to the well-known “tech support scam,” in which victims receive a phone call pretending to come from Microsoft.

Posing as technicians, the scammers claim your PC has been infected by a virus and that they can fix it if you allow them remote access to your computer.

Remote access means you let them log onto your PC from wherever they are — they tell you how to do this — and then they proceed either to steal information from your computer or link it into a botnet, which is a network of compromised computers used for sending out viruses and spam.

Last year, we saw the scammers also pretending to be from PC maker Dell. And now, they are posing as technicians from Geek Squad, operated by retailer Best Buy.

There have also been a few reports of the scammers pretending to be from Apple.

The Geek Squad scam is a little different.

Of course, it relies on the victim being a subscriber, but the scammers just phone people at random until they get a hit. Then they claim the victim is due for a refund on their Geek Squad subscription.

The end game is the same though: The phony geek says he needs access to your device to confirm the refund.

It’s simple to avoid this trick. Microsoft, Dell, Apple, the Geek Squad and anyone else who claims to be from tech support know nothing about what’s going on in your computer, so they can’t possibly tell whether it has a virus or not.

So, if you get one of these calls, just hang up.

Buried Treasure Scam

Finally, we have a couple of scams that target Oriental communities by exploiting language and cultural differences that allow them to seem convincing.

In the first one, labelled the Buried Treasure Scam, scammers tell their targets they found a container of “gold nuggets” buried on a construction site, along with a note in Chinese, which the scammer says he can’t read, asking his victim to translate it.

The letter simply makes the find look more genuine. It usually tells a story about where the gold came from, adding that the finder can keep half and the other half should be sent to someone else but with no forwarding information.

The crook then offers half the “gold” to the victim for a low price. But, of course, it’s not gold.

This scam is similar to ones in which targets are offered jewelry or supposed precious stones by someone who claims to have just found them.

You’ll avoid this trick if you never buy items from people you don’t know without taking them to an expert for valuation. Plus, of course, if the stuff is genuine, buying it could lead you into trouble. Finders are not keepers!

Chinese communities, or even people with Oriental-sounding names, are also being targeted by crooks claiming to be from the U.S. Chinese embassy or a local consulate.

The scammers say there’s a package they must collect from the consulate. But first, they must wire the consulate a payment for the item.

Of course, there is no such package and any money wired will go straight to the crook and be untraceable.

As we always warn, you should never wire money to someone you don’t know and whose identity you can’t confirm. It’s as simple as that.

Alert of the Week

Are you worried because you bought medications from a dubious online pharmacy and now have a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demanding payment of a penalty?

Worry not. We don’t condone buying drugs unlawfully online but the FDA says it doesn’t send out such warning letters to consumers. It sends them to the pharmacies. So, you can safely ignore it.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!