Scammers exploit FAA drone registration program: Internet Scambusters #691
The introduction of a drone registration program for miniature "quadcopter" flying devices is being exploited by scammers and dubious registration support services.
But the growing popularity of drones has also led to a number of others scams, as we report in this week's issue.
We also have an alert about a long established but easy to pull-off scam that could happen right on your doorstep.
Now, here we go...
Bogus Drone Registration Sites Target Hobbyists and Commercial Users
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) calls them small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) but most of us know them as "drones."
Meanwhile, scammers and other opportunists know them as a chance to make money.
Drones (as in miniature "quadcopter" flying machines, not military aircraft) are becoming increasingly popular both among hobbyists and professionals -- such as photographers, real estate agents, and perhaps soon, delivery operators.
But you can't have machines flying around here, there and everywhere, which is why the FAA has stepped in to impose a measure of control.
Back in December, the government agency introduced a registration program, probably as a prelude to more controls as the machines proliferate.
But before that even happened, websites popped up offering to help users register, for a fat fee of course -- not illegal but questionable.
That's somewhat ironic now, since registering was initially free for the first month and now costs only $5 per drone.
Not only that, but the process is remarkably simple, both online and on paper. It takes less than 5 minutes, according to the FAA, although quadcopters used for commercial purposes have to be registered via a paper application form, at least for now.
Furthermore, drones weighing less than 0.55lbs (250 grams) do not have to be registered at all.
The legal deadline for registering drones that were in use before the new rules came in was February 19 but, of course, the program continues as more and more individuals and organizations begin using the devices.
The FAA issued a statement warning users they almost certainly don't need paid help with registering their craft.
As soon as that happened and the program was introduced, scammers switched tracks, setting up bogus registration sites instead.
"These sites are scamming model pilots to register in an attempt to steal personal and credit card information," the respected Academy of Model Aeronautics warned its members recently.
Some of them are charging $25 for worthless, fake registration, with many of the sites looking credible or appearing to belong to the FAA.
As often happens with scam sites, they may show up at or near the top in a search on the term "drone registration."
The fact is that there is only one place to register a drone -- and that's the FAA official site. No one else can issue registration certificates.
You can also find a useful list of questions and answers at their UAS Registration Q&A page.
Even if you're not an sUAS user, you should be on the alert for other drone-related scams.
For instance, you may be seeing all manner of fake reports online about mind-boggling devices based on the drone concept.
A recent version shows what appears to be a mosquito-like drone that supposedly has been developed by the U.S. military for spying and other secret activities.
The photo is real but it shows only a concept rather than an actual operating device.
For the moment, this and other examples are being passed around, often accompanied by supposed eyewitness reports, just for fun or for scaremongering.
Just beware of these and avoid clicking any links associated with them.
More worryingly, reports are beginning to emerge of dubious money-raising campaigns for drones on certain crowdfunding sites.
The captivating drone technology lures potential investors into projects that never materialize or that subsequently appear to run into financial difficulties.
One recent UK-based project was shut down after having raised several millions of dollars, although no evidence has been produced to support multiple allegations that it was a scam.
Whatever the truth, it appears investors have lost most if not all of their money.
We covered crowdfunding campaigns and scam dangers in an earlier issue: Internet Funding Projects Lead to New Investment Scam.
The key point here is that if you take part in a crowdfunded project, there is usually no guarantee it will come to fruition or that you will receive the return the developers offer.
This lack of protection is usually covered and explained either in the project description or the site operator's terms and conditions. Nonetheless, most crowdfunding projects, especially on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com, are legitimate.
Another alleged scam has popped up on eBay, where a seller was reported to be offering expensive drones, complete with built-in cameras, for $15.
According to a forum discussion on the project, several hundreds of these supposed drones were sold in just a couple of days.
As one participant commented: "This isn't even believable enough for the 'too good to be true' bucket."
There's no doubt that as technology advances, drones are going to become increasingly useful -- as well as potentially entertaining or dangerous, depending on your viewpoint.
But as popularity increases, as with most products, so does the risk of scams, from bogus sales to phony drone registration sites. Beware!
Alert of the Week
It's an oldie and it's a cheap trick, but it still works -- offering to paint house numbers on the curb outside your home.
These scammers, who are active in several parts of the U.S. right now, usually charge between $10 and $20 for the job, but they simply take your money and then clear off!
Don't pay upfront. Wait until the job is done to your satisfaction. If the "painter" doesn't like that, just shut the door and keep your money!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!
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