Bogus debt collection agencies, online dating chat robots, and an "Energy Department refund": Internet ScamBusters #263
Before we tell you about today's three Snippets, we wanted to draw your attention to Snippet #2, because it is part of a whole new class of scams that we think will grow exponentially over the next year.
Although this scam will most likely not hit countries other than Russia until February, be sure you check it out -- even if you never visit online dating sites. That's because although this scam is starting via online dating, it will soon move to other venues.
Today's Snippets are:
- Beware Fake Debt Collection Agencies
- A New Type of Scam: Online Dating Bots Flirt Via Chat
- New Scam Notifies People of "Energy Department Refund"
And now for today's Snippets...
Beware Fake Debt Collection Agencies
Aside from vampires, werewolves and zombies, debt collectors are among the scariest creatures ever conjured by the human mind. Just kidding -- sort of.
We say "sort of" because some scammers are using people's fear of being labeled "deadbeats" to extort money from honest, creditworthy consumers.
Posing as a collection agency representative, the con artist will contact a victim by mail, email or telephone, claiming the person owes a specific dollar amount to a particular company.
To convince victims to wire money to pay the "delinquent accounts," scammers will threaten to report "overdue bills" to credit bureaus, take some form of legal action or even drain money from victims' bank accounts without their consent.
Ironically, real "deadbeats" probably wouldn't fall for this scam, since they have no intention of repaying their creditors. But upright citizens may doubt themselves, thinking they've forgotten to pay a bill.
And, because the sums involved tend to be fairly small, some people may be tempted to just pay the "bill" and "get it over with."
Do NOT "pay off" these scammers!
Instead, contact the actual creditor to learn if someone opened an account in your name. This is important because you could be a victim of identity theft -- and not know it.
If there is no delinquent account, contact local police to file an incident report. If possible, record the phone number of the scammer using your caller ID, and then notify your bank.
And don't just assume the caller is a scammer. You may have been a victim of identity theft or mistaken identity. Order a free copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus and check your history.
You can find out how to get a copy of your free credit report in our Can You Really Get a Free Credit Report -- Without Getting Scammed? article.
Assume nothing -- even if the scammer has lots of information about you, including your Social Security number, address, etc. Then take action to preserve your good credit and your hard-earned money!
You can get more tips on contacting creditors and credit bureaus in our What to Do if Your Credit Card or Wallet is Stolen article.
A New Type of Scam: Online Dating Bots Flirt Via Chat
A new class of bots (software robots) have found their way onto online dating forums, and we predict this is just the beginning of a new class of scams that will probably grow very fast.
These programs mimic online flirting with the goal of getting victims to provide personal information.
The first of these programs is called CyberLover. Unfortunately, CyberLover is good enough at automating its chat so that victims have a hard time recognizing that it's an automated robot rather than a real person.
Further, CyberLover can establish up to 10 "relationships" in 30 minutes. That means that scammers can use this software to automate the scamming process: rather than having to spend time themselves, they can unleash this software to find hundreds or thousands of victims at a time.
CyberLover can be used for financial and identity theft, as well as leading to "personal" websites that deliver malware.
Currently, CyberLover is targeted at Russian dating sites. However, it won't be long until we see similar bots in other countries (probably next month).
Action: Always use common sense. Don't provide financial or other personal information. And be on the alert that you may be flirting with a robot. 😉
New Scam Notifies People of "Energy Department Refund"
These days, many people are trying to reduce their electric and heating bills -- whether to cut down on their "carbon footprint," save money, or both.
Knowing this, phishing scammers are sending emails to consumers, purportedly from the Department of Energy (DOE), claiming that recipients are entitled to a refund from the DOE of $408.58, reports consumeraffairs.com.
"The DOE believes that the purpose of the scam is to infect victims' computers with malware that will allow hackers to steal sensitive information, such as user names and passwords.
"The subject line of the email says 'User Notification' and informs the recipient that an analysis of their bills shows they are due a refund." To receive the refund -- of course -- the person must click on a link in the message, which then infects the computer.
Here's one simple tip to avoid this scam: Be aware that the DOE does NOT "collect revenues from, or issue refunds to, the general public via email."
In other words, all of these emails are part of the phishing scam, and should be immediately deleted!
You can learn the "basics" about phishing scams in our Phishing Scams: How You Can Protect Yourself article.
That's it for this year, but we'll be back next week with another issue. Happy New Year -- we'll see you then!