Crooks switch focus to high income earners: Internet Scambusters #979
People from all types of backgrounds can be sucked into terrifying scams - including professionals like medics, teachers, and businesspeople.
In one case, a healthcare expert has lost her entire life savings to a sneaky trick threatening to take away her professional license.
In this week's issue, we'll explain how the scam works, why it's so convincing, and what you can do to avoid it.
Let's get started…
Professionals Targeted in Scary New License Suspension Scam
Scammers have put together an elaborate scheme to target professionals -- people in the medical, teaching, counseling, and business sectors who need a license to practice.
The trick showed up recently in Michigan, but it's spreading to other parts of the US because it's so successful. In one reported case, a physical therapist lost her entire life savings.
The crooks use a three-pronged attack, first pretending to be an investigator from the licensing authority for their particular profession, then a higher-level chief investigator, and finally the FBI. In other cases, the crooks claim to belong to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
They often bombard their targets with a series of phone calls and text messages, sometimes all joining in on a telephone conference call.
It's fearsome stuff. They warn that the victim's license is at risk of being suspended. The warning is followed by what seems to be an official notification that arrives by special delivery.
A faked letter looks as though it comes from the state licensing department, telling the recipient that their bank account has been linked to a money-laundering operation -- the proceeds of an international drug smuggling gang -- and that several other accounts have been opened in their name.
To make it more convincing, the letter usually includes key information about the victim, including their license number.
Then, they are offered the choice of either going to jail to await trial or to pay for and sign a Department of Justice Treasury bond.
As with so many scams, targets are told they must wire money, supposedly to pay for the bond, and then apply to have their license reinstated. They're also told not to discuss the situation with anybody.
As Scambusters readers will know, both of those instructions are clear signs of a scam. Wired money is usually untraceable, and the request for secrecy is intended to stop better informed people from spotting the scam.
This is what happened in the Michigan case. The victim didn't even initially tell her husband but, when she did, he called the police. By then, her money was gone forever.
This type of scam has been used before against individuals but its appearance in the professional sector marks a big switch in the crooks' tactics. It's part of a broader move towards targeting high earners and wealthy people.
In fact, a study in the UK recently showed that people living in higher-income homes are now at the highest risk of becoming fraud victims. A report in the Financial Times in June notes "the real reason the rich are being targeted is because technology makes sophisticated scamming much easier. We have moved on from emails from obscure princes."
Fraud specialist Tamlyn Edmonds told the publication: "As our lives move ever more online, wealthy people are becoming more visible and accessible to fraudsters."
Licenses are also the focus of a much simpler scam targeting professionals across the nation. The crooks simply phone their victims and demand a fee to activate their license.
Most recently, in California, scammers have been taking aim at contractors and acupuncturists, claiming to be officials of their respective licensing board.
If you're a professional, here are five key actions you can take to avoid being scammed:
- First, if you receive this type of threat, immediately contact your state licensing board to check if the warning was genuine. Here's a state-by-state list of licensing bodies (PDF).
- Don't take the use of personal information, including your license details, as evidence of authenticity. Scammers have no problem getting hold of this sort of data.
- And, as we mention above and as we frequently warn, never wire money to someone you don't know or who hasn't proved they are genuine.
- Do not respond to anyone who threatens jail if you don't pay up immediately. Neither the police nor licensing bureaus behave in this way.
- The crooks may also ask for confidential information, including Social Security numbers. Don't give any such detail to someone you don't know.
Most importantly, don't let fear drive you into behaving impulsively and irrationally. Scammers know that professionals can only legally do their job if they have a license and that the fear of suspension can spark a panic. Stay calm.
Alert of the Week
We recently highlighted the danger of being tricked into installing malware in place of a supposed version of the forthcoming Windows 11 operating system (OS).
The genuine upgrade starts rolling out on October 5, but there are strict requirements for the computers on which it's installed.
But now tech pundits are claiming that the new OS can be installed on many other machines that don't meet these requirements.
Be warned that if you do this, the software will not receive future security and other updates, which will leave you open to all manner of hackers and scammers.
You can stay with Windows 10 until at least 2025, when Microsoft says it will stop supporting it.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!