Snippets issue features latest check cashing con trick, plus auto-related scams: Internet Scambusters #641
Crooks have hit on the use of smartphones to help them with their check cashing and advance fee scams.
We'll tell you how the trick works in this week's Snippets issue, along with news about parking lot tire slashers and a terrifying bogus kidnap scam.
Plus, we have news for phone users who may be entitled to a refund from one of the biggest pay-as-you-go operators.
Now, here we go...
Check Cashing, Tire Slashing and Extortion Scams
It was only a matter of time before scammers realized they could exploit the latest technology for bogus check cashing.
It's the latest version of a crime in which someone asks to use your bank account to process a check, claiming they don't have an account of their own.
They offer to pay for the "favor" and ask for your account details so they can deposit the check.
Armed with that and a smartphone, they can then commit their crime without going near the bank.
They simply use the bank's own smartphone app to scan in dud checks for instant deposit in victims' accounts, and then rapidly withdraw money, leaving victims to pick up the bill when the checks don't clear.
Sometimes the resulting overdraft debt can run into thousands of dollars.
It's amazing that people will so easily and willingly hand over confidential bank details to a stranger -- but the lure of a couple of hundred dollars payment is sometimes enough to do the trick.
In other cases, according to the National Consumers League, the scammer may pose as someone you might trust, such as a work colleague, employer or even a lender, saying they want to deposit money into your account.
This turns into a variation of the advance fee scam.
"In order to receive payment for a job or funds for a new loan, the victim is told to provide his or her bank account information," says NCL.
"Once this information is provided, the scammer says he will deposit a check to the account via mobile check deposit or other means. The victim is then instructed to withdraw funds and send cash back to the scammer (or an accomplice) via wire transfer or prepaid card."
Incidence of this crime has climbed significantly during the past winter and fall.
Action: Avoiding it is simple -- don't give account details to someone you don't know.
And NEVER give anyone your PIN.
As NCL says: "If someone is asking for sensitive information, like debit card numbers, PINs, or bank account numbers, it's almost certainly a scam."
Beware of Tire Slashers
Another new variation on an established scam is the appearance of a parking lot crook who happens to be passing just as you discover you have a flat tire.
Of course, he's the guy who slashed the tire while you were shopping or otherwise away from your vehicle.
But he has the solution. You're in a hurry, right? But he can fix it quickly by changing your tire or even performing an instant puncture repair.
It'll cost you $40 or $50, plus, of course, the price of a replacement tire if the original has been badly damaged.
Action: There may not be a lot you can do to prevent this crime, although parking your vehicle in a busy, public location will reduce the risk.
If you discover a flat in a parking lot and someone offers to change the wheel for a fee, you should immediately be suspicious.
Check the tire and, if it's slashed, consider calling the police or summoning other help.
Even if you do feel you have to pay to get the job done, perhaps because you'd feel unsafe doing anything else, take careful note of the wheel-changer so you can report a description to police later.
Accident Claim Fronts Extortion Bid
A much more gruesome, brutal even, auto-based scam comes in the form of a terrifying extortion demand recently reported from Florida.
As a subscriber to Scambusters, you've heard of imposter scams in which a crook claims to be a friend or relative in trouble and in need of money.
Or they claim to be an attorney or police officer with your acquaintance in custody and, again, demanding cash.
But in the latest version, the caller tells the victim that their relative -- who he usually names -- has been seriously injured in a crash.
The crook pretends he's an off-duty paramedic who was first at the scene. He claims to have taken the injured person to his own apartment and will only care for him and take him to the hospital in return for a large sum of money, usually several thousands of dollars that have to be wired.
Action: This is a highly unlikely scenario, but the crooks give it a bit of credibility by knowing the name of the supposed driver and the relative they're going to call.
In other words, it takes a bit of planning and it's calculated to strike fear into the heart of victims, confronting them with the dilemma of paying up or risking their loved one's life.
If you get a call like this, first of all check on the real whereabouts of the individual concerned, then call the police. There's no other realistic course of action as it's almost certainly a scam.
Alert of the Week
Are you or have you been a customer of pay-as-you-go phone firm Tracfone's associated companies, such as Straight Talk, Net 10 or Simple Mobile?
If so, you may be entitled to a partial refund after Tracfone agreed to pay $40 million to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to settle allegations that it misled customers about "unlimited data" on some phone plans.
For more information, check out Straight Talk, Net10, Simple Mobile, and Telcel America Refunds.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.