What you can do about cell phone spam, IRS, Disney and trash scams: Internet Scambusters #468
Cell phone spam surfaces again in this week's packed Snippets issue, as we explain what the cell phone companies themselves can do to help you.
We also sound warnings about phony Disney tickets and passes, and bogus trash collectors.
Plus we have the lowdown on two email dangers: one of the most common IRS scams currently doing the rounds and the use of contact photographs in email programs.
And now for the main feature...
More Simple Steps to Block Cell Phone Spam
We've written a few times about cell phone spam but judging from our electronic mailbag it's still a curse for many subscribers, so we thought we'd head up this week's Snippets issue with a couple of useful shortcuts that should help you put a stop to this curse.
We also sound warnings about a Disney tickets fraud, the use of contact photos in your email address book, illegal trash dumping and the latest IRS scam.
Stop Cell Phone Spam
Although cell phone spam accounts for only about 1% of SMS texts, that still means hundreds of thousands of unwanted and illegal messages arrive on our cell phones every year.
But sometimes these messages can simply be blocked by one simple step -- switching off reception of messages that originate on the Internet (which is where the majority of cell phone spam comes from).
Rather than going into the details, read this blog article by author and New York Times Internet expert David Pogue who explains the approaches used by the main cell phone service providers: How to Block Cellphone Spam.
As you'll note, the blog was written a couple of years ago but the information still seems to be correct (we checked it in October 2011).
Still, it's possible some of the information could become out of date, in which case, simply contact your service provider and ask them how to do it, or do an online search with the name of your service provider followed by the words "block Internet text messages."
For more about blocking cell phone spam, check out our earlier report, Mobile World Sparks Cell Phone Spam Onslaught.
You can also find detailed information both about different types of cell phone spam, actions you can take, and filing complaints against spammers, from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in their Guide: Spam: Unwanted Text Messages and Email.
Disney Tickets Scam
The arrest of a woman in California earlier this year highlights the risk of buying event and attraction tickets from unknown people online.
In this particular incident, the woman was alleged to have been selling forged Disneyland passes on Craigslist, but there are multiple other reports of Disney tickets scams.
But they're easy to spot. As one Disney discount site reports: "Web sites that seem to be offering super low prices on Disney tickets are almost guaranteed to be scams. There are legitimate, authorized Disney ticket brokers, but they don't have a lot of profit margin once they pay Disney. There is no way a ticket dealer can offer new, authentic Disney tickets at extremely low prices without losing money."
The site is called mousesavers.com. We don't know the operators so we can't vouch for it, but there does seem to be some excellent information on how to spot Disney scams, as well as warnings about buying partly used passes. See Advice, Tips and Tricks for Walt Disney World Tickets and Passes.
The Cash for Trash Scam
And since we mentioned Craigslist, another scam that uses the online classified ads site recently surfaced involving the collection and dumping of trash.
In this trick, advertisers offer to remove trash for a fee of $50 or $60.
They do turn up to collect it, but they merely ditch it on a roadside or public land pretty much as soon as they get away from your house.
Apart from the illegality of their actions, if there's any information with the trash that identifies you as the owner, you could end up in trouble. Even worse, that information could be used for identity theft.
If you have trash to dispose of, speak to your local or county disposal authority or use the phone book.
If you decide to use a private contractor, first check out their credentials and business license.
Contact Photos Give a False Sense of Security
A number of email programs allow you to store photos of your contacts, so that when you get an email from them, you also see their faces.
It adds an extra bit of familiarity doesn't it?
However, that could be a problem. When you see the photo, you're more likely to lower your guard and assume the email is genuine.
What if the supposed sender's email account has been hijacked or is being spoofed by a tech-savvy crook?
You'd still see the photo and it probably would never occur to you the message might not be genuine.
So, either remove this feature from your email program or, at the very least, be aware that the photos you see with an email don't prove anything.
Read more about this risk, recently highlighted by the Internet Patrol, in the article Why Contact Pictures in Your Email Address Book Can Be Dangerous.
Bogus IRS Message
Finally, even though we're some time away from tax season, it seems the scammers already have it in their sights.
A member of the Scambusters team recently received an email notification supposedly from the Department of Treasury claiming their tax return couldn't be processed.
It had a spoofed email address suggesting it had come from "irs.gov," and included the following wording (including a couple of mistakes):
Our records indicate that the person identified as the primary taxpayer or spouse on the tax return did not provided all the required documents shown on the tax form. Our records are based on information received from the Social Security Administration.
Based on this information, the tax account for the individual has been locked
What you need to do
Print out the attached notification and list of missing documents, fill it in, add the documents and send the following information to the address shown in the attached notification.
Note the giveaway spelling and grammar errors. But the real sting is in the supposed "attached notification." Clicking on it installs malware onto the victim's PC.
The important point to note is that the IRS absolutely does not communicate in this way about an individual's tax accounts.
That's a wrap for this week. Remember, though, that whether you're trying to stop cell phone spam, thwart IRS scams or you're suspicious about any of the other issues we've covered, caution and commonsense are the keywords that help keep you safe.
That's all we have for today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!