Scammers use probate court ruse to get into your home: Internet Scambusters #727
It's a cunning trick: Scammers pretend to be from your county probate court and need to discuss your will so they can get into your home.
Bogus delivery service notifications are also aimed at helping burglars into your property, as we explain in this week's Snippets issue.
We also have a warning about a possible alert from your Internet service provider that can lead to a phony fine.
Now, here we go...
Snippets: Probate Court Scam, Bogus Delivery Alerts and Fake Piracy Fines
So, you've been thinking for a while about the need to make a will but somehow you never get around to it -- then a man who says he's from your local county probate court calls you and offers to help you do it, for free.
It's just the nudge you needed to get this thing done. Only the caller is not a probate court official at all but a con artist with a couple of tricks on his mind.
First, he offers to come around to your house. After that, his motive could be one of several.
He might just want to get inside your home and check it out either for an immediate theft or to return to burglarize it later.
In fact, he may fool his victims into actually disclosing details of their most valuable possessions under the pretense that they need to be itemized in the will.
Alternatively, this scam artist may be hunting for your personal details, which, of course, he'll say he must have if he's to draw up a legal document.
If you tell the caller you already have a will, he may still use the excuse that he needs to verify certain information as a ruse to get personal information.
Even worse, if you don't have a will, he may be planning to help write one so that he somehow benefits from it (though he's unlikely to insert his real name if he's a crook!).
A variation of this scam happens when a crook claims to be from the court and wants to discuss some aspect of the will of a recently deceased relative. (They pick up news of deaths from newspaper obituary columns.)
Again, they may have multiple motives in trying to somehow profit from the deceased's estate.
Action: Probate court officials don't draw up wills and don't visit your home to check out the details of either contents or confidential information.
Nor do they usually contact relatives of a deceased person. The action is usually the other way around, where family normally contacts the court to discuss administration of the will.
So, if you get this type of call, hang up. If you're at all concerned that the call may have been legitimate, look up the number of your county probate court and give them a call.
If the court does have need to contact you for any reason, and this would be very rare -- for example in the case of a guardianship or conservatorship action for someone who was incapacitated -- they will almost certainly write first.
Are You Going Out?
Another way crooks check out a home they want to burglarize is by posing as a representative from a delivery service like FedEx or UPS.
They may say they have an item to deliver that requires a signature or needs to be accepted by an adult (a case of wine, for example) and want to know when you will be home.
Action: Delivery services don't operate this way. They usually send an email or recorded message saying when they have scheduled one of these deliveries and give you the option to contact them to make other arrangements.
On the rare occasion they do make a pre-delivery call, make sure you verify they are who they say they are.
For instance, ask them what the article is or who the sender is. If they don't know who sent it or they suggest a name that's not associated with anything you've ordered, be very suspicious.
For absolute security, ask them for a delivery or tracking number. Then look up the phone number of your local delivery depot and check it with them before making any arrangements.
Piracy Downloading Scam
Finally, a warning about a rather convoluted scam that involves Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as the cable or phone companies that actually connect you to the Internet.
Some of them have been tricked into sending out notices on behalf of supposed copyright owners about illegal downloading of pirated files like movies and music.
ISPs do sometimes send out these notices to subscribers as a matter of course when they're notified of an illegal download.
But the bogus notices they've received and passed on to subscribers contain a link that recipients have to click.
It connects them with a site where they're supposed to pay a "fine," usually around $150. Plus, of course, they'll be handing over their credit card details in the process.
Action: Don't download illegal files and then you'll know for sure any notice you receive is a scam.
But if you think you may have inadvertently infringed on downloading rules, copyright holders do not and cannot impose fines in this way.
The only actions they can initiate are to warn you or to get your ISP to disconnect you from the Internet, or file a civil complaint for some form of legal action. They can't fine you directly themselves.
Scam of the Week
We've been alerted to a sudden surge in "car wrapping" scams in recent months.
It's a long-standing trick we've warned about before: Yo-Yo Car Scam Delivers Threats and Bills.
You get a big-money offer if you'll agree to have your car painted with some sort of product advertising. Then you receive a check, with a request that you wire part of the money to the supposed painter.
You wire the money, then the check bounces and you're out by however much you wired to the painter, who is really the scammer.
Don't fall for it.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!