Find out how to switch off calendar spammers and the senior scammers: Internet Scambusters #288
Two new Snippets for you this week.
The first focuses on a novel way spammers have discovered to grab your attention -- by listing themselves in your calendar!
Second, we look at a little known sector of the senior population nicknamed "notch babies" that scammers target, claiming they want to help their victims get Social Security compensation.
Before we get started, why don't you take a look at this week's issue of Scamlines -- What's New in Scams?.
Time to get going...
Spammers take over personal calendars
Running your personal schedule with the help of online or personal computer-based calendars can help you manage your increasingly busy life.
But, watch out! Spammers have discovered how to worm their way into your calendar.
With PC-based programs like Microsoft Outlook and online services such as Google or Yahoo Calendar, they exploit a feature that allows one user to send a meeting invitation to another.
And Mac users are not immune either -- we'll explain how Mac users can protect themselves as well.
The trick works differently in each program. In Outlook, you usually get a meeting invitation attached to an email. Deleting the email is no good -- the invitation is inserted into your calendar anyway.
That's because, by default, some versions of the program block off time on your calendar as soon as you get a meeting request.
Declining the invitation spells trouble too. It confirms your email address to the spamming robots and you will then be inundated with emails from just about every spammer under the sun -- since spammers trade email addresses between themselves.
The only course of action is to use settings inside the programs that will ignore appointments emailed by others unless you respond to them.
In Outlook, go to 'toolsoptionscalendar options'; under 'advanced options' select 'resource scheduling', and uncheck the box that says "Automatically accept meeting requests and process cancellations."
An event can also be added automatically to your Google Calendar. It will appear as an entry for a particular day, with a question mark beside it. If you click on the entry, you get the full spam message.
This usually turns out to be a phishing message or a money request of the 'my husband died and left a fortune' variety.
Again, your Google Calendar settings allow you to turn off the "Automatically add invitations to my calendar" option.
Yahoo Calendar is probably the most vulnerable but also the easiest to fix. According to some reports, spammers can post directly to your calendar but to stop this you simply go to settings and allow only "trusted friends" to view and add events in your calendar.
This calendar scam also can work on Macs. To prevent it in the iCal program, select Preferences, click on the Advanced tab at the top, and then uncheck the "Automatically retrieve invitations from Mail" box.
Note that all of these threats potentially affect any device that can run or show your calendar, including PCs, Macs, phones and PDAs.
"Notch babies": Is Social Security campaign a scam?
Are you a "notch baby"? Probably not. That's the term for someone born in the US between 1917 and 1926.
But perhaps you know notch babies (your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents) and, because they fall into an age group that's vulnerable to scams, maybe you can look out for them.
First, let's explain about that notch.
Changes to the Social Security system in the 1970s introduced cost of living adjustments to benefits. However, the formula was flawed and boosted benefits by more than inflation. With red faces all around, Congress ordered a rethink on the formula. So, the Social Security Administration phased in a new system over five years from 1977.
As a result, new recipients born between 1917 and 1926 got less than people who already benefited from the original, flawed formula. Some of those new recipients claimed they lost out. A graph of benefits over that period looks like a 'v' -- or a notch -- on a chart, hence the notch babies.
Every so often, the issue flares up in Congress and this lends credibility to people and organizations who claim to be campaigning for notch babies. Most of them are scammers, falsely seeking funds for their "campaigns."
Others say they're compiling a register of notch babies, warning their victims that if they're not on the register they won't get compensation when it's finally agreed by Congress.
In reality, they're just phishing for personal details as part of an identity theft scam.
Documents headed "Notch Victim Verification Form" have also been sent to some people, requesting a cash donation for a campaign to win $5,000 compensation for each notch baby. To gain trust, the accompanying letter usually uses the name of a congressman or woman who often fights for the rights of seniors.
Sometimes, the organizations are legitimate but, even then, may really be a front -- the operators use most of the contributions to pay themselves high salaries. Only a fraction goes towards making the case for notch baby compensation -- usually in a half-hearted, low-cost petition.
In reality, there's probably little or no chance of any compensation. Congress reviewed the situation in 1994 and decided notch babies had been treated fairly. In fact, they've had a better deal than those born later, especially baby boomers, will most likely get.
A spokesman for one of the Congressmen whose name is being falsely used by the supposed campaigners, said: "It sounds basically like a scam to tap into the pocketbook of seniors who can't afford it."
If you, or someone you know, are asked to contribute to a campaign, you can check the authenticity of fund-raising organizations at the American Institute of Philanthropy Charity Guide.
This week's Snippets again underlines just how sneaky the scammers and spammers can be. So it's good also to know how easy it is to switch them off!
That's a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!