Snippets issue highlights loan default scams and real estate con tricks: Internet Scambusters #676
You might be the most reliable person in the world when it comes to making repayment on money you've borrowed but if you get a loan default notice and arrest warrant you're still likely to be worried.
However, you're really on the receiving end of a scam from a phony government department called the Bureau of Defaulters.
We'll explain more in this week's Snippets issue, along with news about other loan-related con tricks, a new variation on the familiar grandparent scam, plus a warning about a bogus Twitter security account.
Let's get started...
Bogus Loan Default Agency Threatens Jail
If you borrow money for any purpose, there's hardly anything scarier than receiving an arrest warrant claiming you defaulted on the loan.
That's the kind of fear factor that crooks often count on in trying to convince victims into clicking a link or attachment that will install malware onto their PCs.
In its latest guise, scammers kick this trick up a notch by claiming their communication is from a government department called the Bureau of Defaulters -- which actually doesn't exist.
They send emails to victims warning that not only are they behind with payments on a loan -- which they usually don't specify -- but they've also failed to respond to previous attempts to contact them.
Hence the phony arrest warrant attached to the message, plus a further warning that the victim's Social Security number is being "held," whatever that means.
Since most of us have some type of loan -- mortgages, car loans, credit card balances or other kinds of debt -- it's not surprising that many victims fall for this threat.
Just to add to the pressure, the email warns victims they have just 24 hours to respond to the message -- or else.
But downloading the supposed arrest warrant is really just another sly way to get you to install the scammers' malware, which is set up to steal passwords and other confidential information from host PCs.
If you get an email like this, trash it, secure in the knowledge that there's no Bureau of Defaulters and that government agencies don't send out threatening emails like this. In fact, they don't use emails at all to initiate contact.
Vets in Their Sights
A second dubious loan-related practice specifically targets military veterans.
On at least five occasions recently, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) has sent out enforcement notices to companies that seem to be spamming vets with mortgage offers.
In the latest incident, the CFPB reports that a company sent out ads to veterans and other eligible borrowers bearing the logo of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), thereby misleading recipients into thinking the offer was endorsed by the VA.
The ads apparently also misrepresented the terms and costs of the mortgages being offered.
Other important terms were either omitted or hidden in the small print, while mailing envelopes were, in the words of the CFPB, "plastered with warnings about 'fines or imprisonment' under U.S. law."
If you're a vet or VA-eligible, note that the VA does not send out solicitations for its loan programs and it doesn't endorse any particular lender.
If you have any questions about VA home loans or receive any solicitations, visit the agency's website or call 1-877-827-3702.
Realtors Tricked into Giving Away Client Details
Staying on the property theme, watch out for a new scam attack that builds on a trick we reported recently in which homebuyers are conned into sending money to a phony escrow or title service.
We previously reported how buyers receive an email seemingly from their Realtor asking them to wire money to this "escrow" or title service ahead of closing a deal.
But how do the scammers get hold of agents' client details in the first place?
They hack the Realtors' computers by posing as other agents with potential buyers for a property they have listed.
The scammers email agents with this enticing prospect and a link that, once again, downloads malware onto their PCs, from where it steals their client information.
So, if you're a Realtor, beware of this trick -- don't click links promising to deliver a buyer (and keep your security software up to date).
And if you're a buyer, phone your agent to confirm any request you receive asking you to wire money to anyone.
New Twist in Grandparent Scam
Now, we have news of an alarming new twist in the well-known imposter or grandparent scam.
It goes beyond the conventional format in which the victim receives a call from a supposed relative in trouble, asking for money to be wired to them.
In this new version, the phony relative says he will send a friend around to the victim's home to collect the cash.
Then the scammer actually turns up on the victim's doorstep, posing as the friend and demands the money or even insists he takes them to the bank to collect the cash.
This trick not only gets the money into the hands of the crooks much faster but also avoids the need to wire the cash, a ruse the money transfer firms are increasingly alerting victims about when they try to make the payment.
Although we have no evidence of it yet, it's also possible that a scammer could turn up on your doorstep without even making a prior phone call and ask for the money to help a relative.
Either way, it's imperative to shut the door on these crooks without handing over a cent.
When you think of it, these stories just don't ring true. But if you worry they might be, then phone the real person or someone who knows them and find out for real whether they're in trouble.
Alert of the Week
Security software firm Malwarebytes is itself being targeted by scammers who set up a Twitter account partly using its name.
The scammers then tweet messages to followers warning about viruses and providing a supposed support phone number.
It's a variation on the well-known tech support scam. Once a victim calls the number, they're asked to grant a phony specialist access to their PC so the crooks can steal information.
The genuine firm's Twitter name is "@malwarebytes" -- don't respond to anything else -- and it doesn't publish tech support phone numbers on Twitter.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.