Snippets issue spotlights latest grandparent and other imposter scams: Internet Scambusters #781
Just when you thought you knew everything there is to know about the well-known grandparent scam, crooks have come up with a clever new variation.
We'll give you the lowdown in this week's Snippets issue, along with details of a trick targeting fast food restaurant employees and people hoping to gain compensation for smoking-related sickness.
And if you're a new mom, or know one, watch out for a fake $500 gift voucher scheme that we outline in our Alert of the Week.
Now, here we go...
Cunning Scammers Use Voiceprint in Latest Grandparent Trick
Does that distressed phone caller sound exactly like your relative or someone else you know?
You know all about the so-called grandparent scam, in which a crook targets folks, usually older seniors, pretending to be their grandson and asking for money.
But, this time, the caller really does sound like your grandson or other relative. So, you're tempted to cast aside your skepticism and wire the urgently needed money (usually supposedly to post bail or pay for treatment).
But all may not be as it seems.
The grandparent scam is one of the biggest and most enduring con tricks. In fact, it targets much more than older people.
Crooks invent all sorts of reasons to convince their victims that they're a relative in trouble -- for example, pretending they're stranded in another part of the country or overseas after being robbed.
But most people are wise to this trick. Except that now the scammers have found a way of mimicking the voice of the person who's supposed to be in distress.
First, they obtain a recording of the person's voice -- often easily available in online audio postings -- and then use modern technology to read the voiceprint from the recording.
Then they make their call, feeding their own voice through a computer so it comes out "the other end" sounding like the distressed person.
Often, these scammers have done lots of other research so they know quite a bit about the person they're faking. They can answer questions to put their victims even further off the scent of a scam.
In a recently reported incident in southeast Texas, crooks used voiceprints and background information to demand $15,000 to pay attorney fees for a woman's "grandson" after police supposedly found drugs stashed in his car.
The scammer also told her that she couldn't discuss the issue with anyone else because of a secrecy ruling imposed by a judge.
The caller knew enough about the "grandson's" background to be able to talk convincingly about his job.
The victim was in the process of arranging the cash transfer when another relative found out and intervened. They checked and discovered the grandson was at school as normal.
It was a close call.
The lesson here is to be wise to the level of tech skills crooks now use to convince victims and to never send money to a person supposedly in distress without checking on their real whereabouts with other family members.
Fast Food Joints Targeted
Another impersonation or impostor scam that's been doing the rounds this year targets employees at fast food restaurants to try to trick them, or their boss, into handing over the day's takings.
There've been several recent incidents in which a scammer pretends to be from the head office of whichever restaurant chain they're targeting. He says they're working with the FBI investigating an employee who's suspected of fraud.
Several different ruses are used to convince employees and their boss to empty the registers, and even the restaurant safe, and follow a different banking procedure to the normal one.
This may involve depositing the money into a different bank account. In one case, a store manager was asked to buy Green Dot debit cards and then give the numbers to the supposed "head office" person.
The victims are told they can't check these instructions with higher-ups precisely because one of them is under investigation.
If you're a fast food employee or if you know someone who is, beware of these tricksters. They often call at night when there are few people in the restaurant, claiming the transfer must be done immediately to catch out the supposed suspect.
No Free Tobacco Money
Our third Snippet this week relies on an old favorite -- the human weakness for believing there's free money available from some sort of compensation program.
In this case, the lure is a legal settlement announced 20 years ago under which four big tobacco companies agreed to pay regular large sums of money to most U.S. states to offset costs associated with treating sick smokers.
Internet users are being targeted via online ads that mislead them into believing they're entitled to some of this money.
In some cases, the advertisers request bank details supposedly to receive payments, while in other cases, consumers are invited to subscribe for a monthly newsletter that supposedly will help them get the cash.
None of this is true. There is no provision for individuals to receive money from this settlement, although some states did create a bond issue linked to it, and bonds can be purchased like any other investment -- with all the risks that entails.
The bonds element is believed to be the subject of the monthly newsletter, which is sold for an annual subscription of $100, that consumer agencies say is difficult to cancel.
Don't fall for this one. Ignore the ads. If you believe you or your family are entitled to any kind of compensation because of smoking-related diseases, speak to an attorney.
Alert of the Week
New moms are being targeted in a phishing trick while they're still in the hospital.
They receive a call in their hospital rooms from a scammer posing as a baby products rep. He offers them a $500 gift certificate in exchange for personal information about themselves.
If you have a new mom in your family, alert them to these tricksters. If they hand over their information, they'll get nothing but a painful lesson in identity theft.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.
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