Unethical real estate selling tactic makes homes look like a bargain: Internet Scambusters #517
It may be perfectly legal but a tactic known as "pinballing" could be considered an unethical form of real estate selling if an agent purposely manipulates one asking price to make another look like a steal.
We explain why in this week's Snippets issue, in which we also highlight a new ransomware trick, a phony scam compensation email and a warning about unsafe hotel wi-fi networks.
Plus, one of our Scambusters writers 'fesses up to how he fell for a simple con trick!
Now, here we go...
Latest Real Estate Selling, Ransomware and Wi-Fi Network Tricks
During the financial turbulence of the past few years, we've seen a fair number of real estate selling tricks.
And we're still seeing them now that the market seems to be slowly picking up.
Although some real estate agents may throw up their hands in horror at the suggestion that one of their tactics might be labeled a scam, there's no doubt that it is, at the very least, misleading.
The trick is known in the business as "pinballing," based on the well-known arcade game in which a steel ball bounces off game targets.
In the case of a home for sale, it works by setting the price of one nearby property artificially high so that another similar one looks like a bargain.
Naturally, this can only happen if the seller of the first property agrees to ask an inflated price but, in truth, there's no shortage of people who mentally over-value their homes!
Sometimes, they don't even need any cajoling from the agent -- they insist on a high asking price!
Obviously, too, this isn't illegal. But, at best, it's unethical, and it's something to be aware of if you're in the market to buy a home.
New Ransomware Trick
There's no doubting, however, that the latest version of computer malware known as "ransomware" is a scam.
This happens when a hijacked computer freezes and you get an on-screen message asking for a payment for software to unlock it.
For a fuller explanation, see our earlier report, Special Issue on Ransomware.
In the new variation, reported by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), crooks try to intimidate victims by claiming their PCs have been frozen because they broke the law.
Commonly, it accuses them of visiting an illegal website, warns that the FBI has been investigating, and imposes a "fine" that has to be paid with a prepaid money card.
Whether they have visited such a site or not, victims are often scared into paying up.
If this happens to you, don't pay. Instead, file a complaint with the IC3.
But you'll have to find a computer expert to remove the malware and get you back in business.
Another trick we've seen before has resurfaced in the guise of a message offering you, as a fraud victim, a compensation payment.
This scam has many variations -- often pretending to come from a government agency -- and sometimes aimed at people who have in fact genuinely been scammed.
That's because the crooks behind the new message are the same ones who carried out the original scam.
Whatever the explanation, this latest message offers a huge sum of money -- in the case of one member of the Scambusters team it was over $2.8 million.
Victims are then asked to pay a supposed UPS shipping fee of around $80 or $90.
In this case, the message purports to come from "High Speed Delivery Service" but whatever the source, you should ignore it if you get one.
If you think you are entitled to any kind of refund for a past scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission.
Hotel Networks Warning
There are all sort of techniques crooks use to access your computer, and one that's becoming more common is via unprotected public networks, particularly in hotels.
These days, many hotels promote free wi-fi service, and there's no doubt it's a great convenience to be able to access the Internet and email from your room.
According to the FBI though, hackers have been using these networks to access travelers' PCs and fake a Microsoft warning that their security needs to be updated.
Users who click on the pop-up warning actually download a virus used to seize control of the machines and steal confidential information.
For now, this crime seems mainly to be in hotels outside the US but there's little doubt it will spread all over.
What should you do?
The FBI recommends your PC have automatic updates switched on so legitimate updates happen without your intervention.
If the pop-up appears, don't click on it. Visit Microsoft's website and check your security there.
Microsoft also offers an online scanner to check if your PC is infected.
Scambuster Scammed and Spammed!
Finally, proof, if it were needed, that no matter how security-conscious and cautious we may think we are, even a member of the Scambusters team can fall for a con trick.
In this case, Scambuster Keith was almost hooked by breaking one of our rules and clicking on a link in an email message he thought had come from the social networking site, LinkedIn.
Because he'd been actively involved in a topic discussion on the site, he wasn't surprised to receive an email, complete with LinkedIn logo, saying there were four messages waiting for him.
Instead of using his browser bar to key in the website address and check his mail there, he clicked the link.
Instead of taking him to LinkedIn, the link opened the web page of a phony Canadian pharmacy.
"I stupidly broke our own rule and got spammed," he said. "When I looked more closely at the message I noticed that even my security software had flagged it as potential spam."
Fortunately, no harm done.
But from real estate selling tricks to pharmacy spam, experience proves there are always lessons to be learned!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!