Cash for Keys Squatters Hold Homes for Ransom

Snippets issue highlights cash for keys, ID theft and new fake jewelry scams: Internet Scambusters #752

Imagine preparing to move into a new home, only to find someone already living there and refusing to move out until you give them cash for keys.

That’s what’s happening to buyers who purchase homes out of foreclosure, but in this week’s Snippets issue we’ll explain how to minimize the risk of becoming a victim.

We also have news of latest ID theft scams and a warning about stopping to help a seemingly stranded motorist.

Let’s get started…

Cash for Keys Squatters Hold Homes for Ransom

You might think you know all there is to know about ransom scams but there’s another on the block — cash for keys.

It turns out that it’s not just we humans and our computers that are being held ransom by crooks. Now entire houses are, as we’ll explain in this week’s Snippets issue.

In this latest trick, home buyers who purchase supposedly vacant homes, turn up to find someone already living there.

In the past, this usually indicated that the home had been rented out to unsuspecting people by someone who didn’t own it and who subsequently disappeared with the rent.

Often, this was the result of a scam ad in the online classified site, Craigslist.

But in this other version, the “tenants” who greet the new owner at the front door aren’t so innocent.

They’re squatters, have changed all the locks, and say they won’t move out until someone pays them for the keys. The money, they say, is to cover their relocation costs.

The problem is that, in some states at least, these unwelcome residents are protected by laws governing tenants’ rights and they can’t be forced to leave if they’ve had utilities reconnected — considered a test of residency.

The scam has actually been around for a few years but seems to be on the rise because of the increased number of foreclosed properties owned by banks and the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) being sold.

In fact, some of these “professional squatters” have actually directly targeted these organizations, again demanding payment to move out.

According to one newspaper report, the squatters actually look for homes owned or managed by organizations that are known to pay.

Action: This is something to be aware of if you’re buying a vacant home. Check that it’s clear before you bid.

If you don’t live close by, it’s important to have someone check on the home daily, while you’re waiting for the deal to close. That way, if squatters do move in, you’ll know in time to stop utilities from being connected.

Beyond that, if you become a victim, you need to take legal advice — not something we can provide at Scambusters.

eBay IDs for Sale

For our second Snippet this week, we switch to the murky world of the dark web and identity theft.

Specifically, eBay identities. A recent court case revealed that eBay account details, including sign-ons and passwords, are being offered for sale.

Crooks then use these compromised accounts to scam other eBay members. This can leave the real account owner facing claims for compensation.

People at both ends of this scam are at risk.

Action: From the account owners’ point of view, it underlines the importance of regularly checking your eBay account, even if you are not a frequent user, to check it’s still accessible and not being used by anyone else.

It also adds emphasis to the practice of regularly changing your password and using different passwords for each online account.

For the buyer, there’s the risk of paying for something you never receive. In this case, it’s important to check if the purchase is covered by eBay’s or PayPal’s protection service before you bid.

If you pay by credit card, you likely will also be protected through the card operator.

Google Docs Trick

Another new source of stolen identities is a clever trick that uses the credibility of Google Docs, the online document creation tool, to convince victims it’s genuine.

Victims receive an email from someone they know — in fact, it’s an account that’s been compromised and the scammer is mailing out to everyone in the account’s address book.

The message asks the recipient to check out a document or PDF on the Google service.

On the face of it, it seems safe since the victim doesn’t have to download anything.

But the link takes victims to a phony Google page that looks like the real thing, where they’re asked to sign on. Bingo, the crooks have the victim’s Google sign-on details.

The victim’s address book is also now compromised and the whole process starts over.

Harvested Google IDs are then sold to underworld dealers.

Action: Set up two-factor identification on your Google account. If you’re not sure how do this, see our earlier issue — How to Easily Enhance Your Password Security — or search for more info online.

With this security in place, you’ll know there’s something wrong if you’re not asked for your verification code.

Fake Jewelry from a Stranded Motorist

Selling fake jewelry is an old trick, but here’s a new twist.

You’re driving along a highway when the owner of a car that looks obviously out of action flags you down.

He/she spins a tale of woe and says they’re waiting for a breakdown truck but they’re worried because they have no money to pay.

Then the owner seemingly hits on the idea of selling you a small item of jewelry, a ring say, at a knockdown price, to get enough cash to pay the rescue service.

Two things might happen then. Either an accomplice will be rifling through your car while you’re distracted. Or the jewelry will turn out to be fake and you’ll never see the scammer again.

Action: If you decide to stop for a stranded motorist, always park your car in front of the other vehicle, so you can keep an eye on it at all times.

And, of course, it goes (almost) without saying that you should never buy jewelry from someone you meet and don’t know. 99% of the time it’s a fake. The other 1% of the time it’s stolen.

Say you’re sorry but you can’t help. Then get back in your car and skedaddle!

Alert of the Week

We’ve warned before about the risks of connecting an unidentified USB stick into your PC.

Now, a Hong Kong company has launched a USB that destroys everything on a hard drive.

It’s perfectly legitimate because it’s supposedly sold for “testing” purposes.

But, to us, it simply underscores the reasons for not connecting a found USB stick or letting someone insert theirs into your PC.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!