Snippets issue highlights fake recall notices, bogus conference invitations and digital wallet thefts: Internet Scambusters #842
Ever had a car recall notice and, if so, did you just take your vehicle in to be checked without giving it a second thought?
Maybe it was all entirely legit, but if the dealer then tried to talk you into spending money on more repairs or a new auto, it could be a scam, as we explain in this week's Snippets issue.
We'll also alert you to conference invitations that are not all they seem as well as requests to borrow your cell phone in a bid to access and steal your digital cash.
And now for the main feature...
Recall Notice Scam Tricks Car Owners into Visiting Dealers
If you've ever owned a new or newer car, chances are you might have received a vehicle recall notice at some stage.
In fact, more than 30 million autos are recalled in the United States every year. So, if you're notified of a recall, you probably think nothing of it and just take your car into the dealership to get it fixed.
You probably never stop to wonder if the notice is genuine, especially since, in most cases, repairs and replacements are done free of charge.
But it turns out that some of those notices are fakes. The dealers who send them out are just looking for a way of getting you into their showroom or car lot either to try to sell you a new vehicle or get you to pay for additional maintenance work.
This happened last year when a number of dealers were alleged to have sent out 21,000 recall notices to car owners, most of whom had vehicles that were actually not on the recall list.
The senders didn't specify what the supposed fault was. Instead, they urged recipients to get in touch and arrange to bring their auto in for inspection.
There have also been several other similar instances in earlier years. In some cases notices have been just sent out at random. People who responded to them were at risk not only of facing a hard-sell but also being told their cars needed other repairs they would have to pay for.
Of course, it is important to have your car regularly checked and maintained.
And in some cases the fake recallers might have found genuine issues that needed to be repaired. But that's not the way to go about legitimate business activities.
But if you receive a recall notice, it's actually quite easy to check if it's genuine. All you have to do is visit the recall section of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and key in your vehicle identification number (VIN).
You can also sign up on the NHTSA site to be notified of future recalls.
Another, but totally different, notification that conceals a scam comes in the form of an invitation to attend an important conference related to the recipient's hobby, job or academic background.
Scammers specifically target the scientific community, spamming them with invitations to events that either don't exist or are not what they purport to be.
The aim is simply to relieve victims of "registration fees" and other costs, even including accommodation.
More recently, the crooks have been casting their nets a little wider by identifying individuals' jobs or hobby interests via social media and then mailing off fake conference or trade fair invitations. They also trawl lists of previous conference attendees and spam them too.
In some cases, as we've previously reported, victims are actually invited to speak at these non-existent events but told they must pay in advance for their accommodation.
The way to avoid this scam is straightforward. Simply check out the event online. In particular, establish if the event has been held previously and contact the named venue to confirm if they have a booking.
Also, speak to others involved in the same field to see if they've received an invitation or know anything about the event.
Digital Wallet Theft
Finally, do you use the "digital wallet" service Venmo? If so, beware of a sneaky scam that has recently been reported in several parts of the US.
The trick starts when someone asks if they can borrow your cell phone supposedly to make a desperate and urgent phone call.
If that happens to you, you may think nothing of it and hand over your phone, especially if you're taken in by the requester's story.
But if they're crooked and you have Venmo on your phone, watch out! In next to no time, the scammer can open your Venmo app and transfer money from your account.
Don't let that happen to you. You should have additional password protection on all your phone apps that deal with financial transactions.
And you should make sure all financial apps are closed before handing over your phone to someone you don't know.
If their need is genuine, they won't mind waiting the few seconds it takes to close down all open apps.
For more about Venmo scams, see this report, Venmo Scams - Tips for Selling and Buying, on the financial website The Balance.
Alert of the Week
If you're an iPhone user, ignore automated calls that purport to be from Apple, warning your account might have been compromised.
What makes it seem genuine is that the caller ID spoofs the correct number for Apple Support.
But the phone and computer maker doesn't operate this way and you can safely ignore this type of call, which is just aimed at stealing confidential information, like your app store sign-on.
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!