Crooks using obituaries to plan burglaries: Internet Scambusters #571
Why would crooks be scanning newspaper obituaries?
We'll give you three reasons in this week's Snippets issue, along with details of two more scams -- fake customer satisfaction surveys and a bogus account hacking text alert.
But why that text alert is sent out in the first place is mystifying even the experts, as we'll explain.
Now, here we go...
Latest Scam Weapons: Obituaries, Surveys and Text Alerts
Crooks often seem to strike at the worst of possible times and that's certainly the case when they use newspaper obituaries to target victims.
They have at least three ways of relieving bereaved families and their friends of their money and possessions.
First, thieves use the announcements to discover details of funeral arrangements and then burglarize victims and grieving relatives while their homes are empty during the ceremony.
These aren't just isolated incidents either. Incidents have been reported from across the country and, in one recent outbreak, 10 homes were burglarized in the Seattle area while occupants attended funerals.
Action: Don't include your full name or address in obituary announcements and ask a neighbor to keep watch on your home while you're away.
Next, those same obituaries may be used by scammers to collect cash from bereaved spouses.
Crooks simply phone the victim's home, claiming to be from an organization to which the deceased owed money.
Usually at these times, bereaved relatives haven't had time to sort through the financial affairs of the deceased and will often agree to pay, usually by credit card, though in one case, they were asked to supply a signed blank check.
Credit card details, of course, can also be used for identity theft.
Action: Don't make any payments during this distressing time. If anything seems to be urgent, ask for a copy of the supposed bill and then ask a trusted friend to check it out for you.
A similar sort of trick is used in the third obituary scam, only this time the crooks obtain lists of mourners and contact them, supposedly on behalf of the bereaved person, requesting a financial donation, sometimes to a charity.
We reported on this in an earlier Scambusters issue, 8 Cunning New Nigerian Scams Aim to Convince You They're Real.
Action: Don't make payments in response to an incoming solicitation. Make any donations directly to the individual or their nominated charitable cause.
Fake Customer Satisfaction Survey
A favorite foot-in-the-door trick of telesales callers, legit or not, is to claim they're conducting a survey -- which usually happens to be about the very thing they're trying to sell.
However, another variation has cropped up recently in which scammers claim to be conducting a customer satisfaction survey on behalf of someone you've done business with, usually a bank or credit card company.
The invitation comes in an email or text message rather than a phone call and holds out the lure of a free gift for answering a few quick questions.
The survey apparently starts out innocently enough and then -- guess what? -- it requests your bank account or card number so it can be linked to the survey.
In other words, this is nothing more than a phishing scam and you may have already given away other information in the supposed survey that helps the scammer build a better picture of you for a more effective ID theft.
Action: Many organizations do conduct customer satisfaction surveys by email.
The fact that they often use other specialist firms to do the survey makes it more difficult to sniff out a scam.
If you're inclined to take part, first be confident that you have actually done business with the organization concerned and, second, do your best to check out the survey organization online before completing any questions.
Also, be cautious about clicking on links to the survey. Before you click, hover your mouse pointer over the link to reveal the address it will really take you to.
No matter what, though, don't part with any confidential information like account numbers.
Phony Google Hacking Warning
Another common phishing trick comes in the form of a message that claims there's a problem with your bank or payment card account, or your PayPal account, and that it's been suspended until you take action which, again, involves giving the crooks your account details.
But a weird variation, the motives of which are unclear, has swept the country this year, with victims receiving text messages saying their Google account has been hacked.
According to anti-virus company ThreatTrack, the message says recipients should reply and be prepared to take a call from Google, and then to enter a verification code, usually the number 44.
People who have followed through on this report say they then get a message telling them they can now set up a voicemail account. Weird!
"What exactly is taking place here?" asks ThreatTrack. "Is it a long-winded way to sign people up to premium rate SMS services? A phish gone horribly wrong? The worst promotion for a new voicemail service ever? Nobody seems to be entirely sure.
"Whatever the scam is, the best course of action is to ignore these peculiar messages and block / report the numbers the messages are arriving from..."
Plus, of course, Google is unlikely to use a text service like that to notify you that your account has been hacked.
For more information on how to check if your Google account has been compromised, check the ThreatTrack report: "Your Google Account has been Hacked" Phone Spam.
Whatever is going on, it only goes to show that sometimes even the experts can't always explain the way the criminal mind works.
But at least we know why they might be faking customer satisfaction surveys or poring over obituaries. Keep your guard up.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!