Crooks refresh old gift cards and phone scams: Internet Scambusters #550
Just when you thought you were wise to gift card scams, crooks come up with a new way of ripping you off.
They've also revised a sneaky call-forwarding trick as well as devising how to use number puzzles to get malware onto your PC.
All the details and more in this week's issue of Scambusters.
Let's get started...
Gift Cards, Sudoku Puzzles, Phone and Voicemail Scams
Gift cards for just about every store name you can think of have become a commonplace sight in most supermarkets and grocery stores. They're convenient but also a lure for scammers.
We've reported on some of their tricks before but we came across a sneaky variation when we were researching for this week's Snippets issue.
In addition, we've got the lowdown on how crooks are using the fascination with the popular numbers game Sudoku and a humble spreadsheet to install malware on PCs.
And even when they're behind bars, criminals just can't resist the chance of ripping off those on the outside.
Gift Card Trick
The trouble with gift cards is that they can be easy to tamper with if a crook gets his hands on them.
We're previously explained how scammers used to be able to just copy the barcode numbers off these cards and then use them once they'd been activated.
A new trick that recently surfaced in California involves a crook buying one card and putting just a small amount on it.
They duplicate the card's barcode onto tiny pieces of paper that they then slip inside other cards still for sale in the store, so all cards effectively have the same number on them.
When someone buys and loads money onto those cards, that money is instantly available on the scammer's card.
Action: Gift cards should have a tamperproof seal on the packaging, which the cashier should remove to reveal the barcode.
Don't buy cards that don't have this protection or on which the seal has already been removed, unless the cards have been stored under lock and key.
Check out our earlier issue, New Gift Card Scams: 8 Tips to Protect Yourself.
Nasty Number Puzzler
Another crooked way of playing with numbers involves the well-known spreadsheet program Excel and the popular numbers puzzle known as Sudoku.
You probably know what a spreadsheet is, but just in case... it's a program that basically consists of one or more pages into which you can enter, store and manipulate numbers.
They're used for all manner of activities from bookkeeping to scientific calculations, and they work by having underlying formulas and sub-programs or commands, known as macros, that perform automated calculations.
Users can write their own macros to perform specific tasks, which is where the scammers come in.
They offer a macro, usually in an email or on a website, which they say can generate Sudoku puzzles. But what it really generates is trouble -- in the form of malware it loads onto your computer.
Action: If you use Excel, by default it will not run macros and will ask you to disable security settings if you want to run one.
The simplest advice is, unless you know what you're doing, don't allow macros to run on your PC. Go out and buy a book of puzzles!
Another old scam that's popped up in a new guise is sweeping the country: bogus collect calls, notably from jail inmates.
The trick has been around on landlines for years but recently made the transition to smartphones.
Victims are contacted using a random dialer, with an automated message that takes many forms but ends up by asking you to press the 1 key on your phone to accept a collect call.
If you do, the crook then uses that connection to make long distance calls that end up on your phone bill.
Action: Very few people even make legitimate collect calls these days. Don't accept automated calls like this and don't press the 1.
If there's someone who genuinely needs to call you collect, there are still (believe it or not) phone operators who can handle the transaction manually.
If you repeatedly get the calls, use caller ID and get your phone service provider to block the number.
Staying on the subject of communication, the era of video has led to a fake "video voicemail" message that's currently doing the rounds.
The email, which seems to come from a variety of sources, has been known to even appear as an internal communication inside businesses.
In all cases, the message has an attachment that is supposed to be either a video or audio file, but it's really just a virus.
In another variation, the email purports to come from your phone service provider and asks you to sign in to your online account with them to pick it up.
This is a phishing trick, hoping to snag the account sign-on details.
Action: First, a phone company wouldn't send you an email with a video voicemail, they'd send you a text message, so you can rule that one out straightaway.
As for a video message, it's true that people can send these as email attachments.
If you think it might be genuine, that it comes from someone you know, download the message to your desktop and scan it with your security software before opening it.
If you don't know the person it's from, delete it. At best it'll be spam, at worst a piece of malware.
New versions of old tricks and brand new ones like the Sudoku scam show how crooks keep pace with change and new fads. Something new always has a better chance of fooling even the skeptics.
The important point is that just because suspicious activity is not identical to what we've previously been on the lookout for, a previous gift card scam for example, doesn't make it safe this time around.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!