Latest military scam uses fake escrow set-up to fool car buyers: Internet Scambusters #656
Convincing but bogus credentials lie behind two new military scams relating to phony online car sales, which we report on in this week's Snippets issue.
We also sound a warning about scammers posing as TV service companies trying to get hold of the security code on the back of your credit card.
And our Alert of the Week has an important message about how crooks are trying to exploit a big safety recall affecting millions of car owners.
Let's get started...
Military Scams, Bogus TV Box Replacements, and Dubious Cancer Tests
Military scams that target our incredible servicemen and women are surely among the most despicable -- and there are plenty of them, as we've previously reported in The 7 Most Common Veteran Scams.
But the military cause is also used as a cover for scams aimed at the public, notably with crooks posing as lonely-heart vets on dating sites.
Pretending to be a member of the armed services is a simple and clever way of building up victims' trust.
Most recently, we've seen several cases of bogus soldiers posting online ads for cars.
Pretending to be on active military service provides an ideal excuse for claiming that payment is urgently needed, persuading victims to wire cash for cars that simply don't exist.
For instance, a scam that pretends to be part of a military program called Military Smart is costing victims hundreds or even thousands of dollars through bogus car sales.
The auto is offered at a bargain price and the seller asks for payment in advance.
The crooks claim Military Smart will act as a third party, effectively an escrow, holding the funds until the buyer receives the vehicle. But it's all a sham.
The victim wires the money to the supposed escrow service but it goes straight into the pocket of the scammers and that's the last the buyer hears of it.
In another variation, the scammers carefully research the activities of a particular military unit they claim to be attached to so that their story of an imminent posting seems to stand up if it's checked out online.
This particular ruse even fooled a serving National Guardsman recently into buying $4,500 worth of Amazon gift cards at a grocery store to pay for what seemed like a fantastic bargain.
The crooks also used the "Amazon" name to send an invoice to their victim, adding another layer of credibility to their con trick -- which they totally fell for.
Of course, the invoice, and the car, were phony, but the victims didn't find out until it was too late.
The scam highlights three key points we often stress here at Scambusters:
- First, "bargains" are often nothing of the sort. The better the deal, the more suspect it is.
- Second, wiring money or buying gift or debit cards is an unsafe way of making a purchase from someone you don't know because payment is untraceable.
- And third, a reputable sounding name or plausible background information can't be trusted unless you know for sure it's genuine.
Taken together, these three red flags should be enough to warn you off entering into this kind of deal.
Here's another clever trick that relies on victims believing that a contact is genuine.
This time, the crooks already have your name and credit card number -- often bought for a few cents on the black market.
But they need to get that security code off the back of the card, so they call you claiming to be from your TV service provider.
In the cases we've come across, the scammers claim to be from the Dish satellite TV company -- but they're not.
They say there's a problem with your receiver or set-top box and that it needs to be replaced.
They may even ask you to perform a phony test that supposedly shows that it's faulty -- and then they offer to replace it for a fairly modest sum.
When you agree, they say they already have your credit card number on record and read off the last four digits.
This makes the whole thing seem genuine, so when they ask for the security code off the back it may not seem unreasonable. But don't do it.
Instead, hang up and call your TV service provider. You'll almost certainly find it's a scam because TV companies don't operate this way.
Of course, not all deceptions are as easy to identify as this and some of them may not directly fit the definition of a scam.
A prime example are ads and promotions that are, shall we say, economical with the truth or make claims that are difficult to stand up.
For instance, a recent study by a Boston cancer research institute warned that websites offering genetic cancer tests often downplay the limitations of these tests and tend to exaggerate the benefits.
The tests are usually directed at people who either already suffer from the disease or may be more genetically at risk of contracting it.
Out of 55 such sites studied by the research team, the vast majority offered some tests for which there was no evidence of their having any value.
The problem is that claims made on these websites are currently not regulated by either the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission -- though this may change in the near future.
In the meanwhile, and even if regulations are eventually introduced, cancer is far too serious an illness to put in the hands of an Internet service without first consulting a qualified health professional -- your primary care physician or oncologist.
Alert of the Week
You might have seen reports recently about millions of cars being recalled because of concerns about safety of Takata air bags.
This has prompted scammers to pose as auto dealer engineers visiting homes supposedly to replace the parts -- and charging up to $1,500 for the work, which they may or may not do.
Don't fall for this. For details on how to check if your vehicle is involved, see this article: Takata Air Bag Recall Update 2015: Is Your Car Affected? How To Check VIN, Model, Year For BMW, Dodge, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Nissan And More.
Then, if you are affected, contact your dealer.
Replacement is free, though there could be come ancillary charges. See this article from Consumer Reports: Everything you need to know about the Takata airbag recall.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.