How a satellite navigation system and video technology can work against you, plus a new "pay up, or else" scam threat: Internet Scambusters #392
Technology, in the shape of a satellite navigation system and a hidden camera, is the culprit in this week's Snippets issue.
We explain how personal information stored on a GPS device can fall into the wrong hands, and how tiny but powerful cameras can be used to spy on you.
We also have the lowdown on a new twist to an old scam -- the use of scare tactics to frighten people into paying for debts they don't even owe.
Now, here we go...
Why You Need to Erase Personal Info From a Satellite Navigation System Before You Sell
A reader's letter to syndicated newspaper column "Dear Abby" highlights a little-known issue and sounds an alert about personal information stored on a vehicle satellite navigation system.
The reader explained that she'd bought a used auto already fitted with a navigation system, or GPS as they're sometimes called, and discovered personal information about the previous owner on the device.
The satellite navigation system provided not only the prior owner's name and address but also details about friends and the location of his bank.
Navigation satellite system owners frequently key in this kind of information as a time-saver, so the GPS can work out the best route for each journey without the owner having to re-enter the information every time.
The reader's concern, of course, was that other car sellers might make the same mistake -- forgetting about this information which could then fall into the wrong hands.
Abby confirmed, after speaking to car dealers, that it's the responsibility of the owner, not the dealer, to erase personal information when a car changes hands.
In the online debate that followed, one writer pointed out that a refurbished navigation system bought at an Internet auction also contained personal information about the previous owner.
Of course, it's not clear that the information in the case that sparked this debate could have been of any use to a crook, but in these days of ID theft and vulnerability it makes sense to wipe out any personal information on a satellite navigation system before it's sold.
Actually it raises another important point, this time a non-tech security issue: When you sell your car, it's not only the navigation system you should check for personal information.
What about the trunk, the door pockets and the back of the seats? Receipts, bank statements, letters and all sorts of other information can easily be left behind or forgotten in a car. Just check they're not still there when you sell it!
Payday Loan Debt Collector Scam
A new twist to a well-known scam surfaced recently in the form of bogus debt collectors.
We've written in the past about how scam artists pose as utility company reps, threatening to cut off services if a supposedly past-due bill isn't paid.
The crook demands an instant payment by credit card, panicking some victims to pay up even though they know they're not behind with their bills.
In the latest version, the scammer pretends to be a debt collector working on behalf of a "payday loan" company.
In Ohio, where the scam surfaced, state Attorney General Richard Cordray said in a press briefing posted on his website: "The ploy is dangerous because scammers aim to catch consumers off-guard by calling out of the blue and demanding repayment.
"Even if the consumer has not borrowed money, the natural instinct for some will be to respond to this ambush by paying a debt that they do not owe. In this situation it is absolutely imperative that consumers ask for a letter stating the debt owed and then verify the source."
In this incident, the scammer apparently claimed to be working for a company called "US Cash."
Cordray noted that under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors must provide written details of the alleged debt, so the first line of defense if you receive such a call is to ask for that. If the caller refuses, it's either a scam or they're breaking the law.
The Federal Trade Commission provides guidance of the Act as a downloadable document.
Watch Out For The Watchers
Who's watching you? More importantly, do you even know if they are? We ask this question after seeing a tiny, secret video camera hidden in a pen top, offered recently by a major online retailer for little more than $20.
Claiming to be the world's smallest video recorder, it is nevertheless a powerful camera and sound recorder encased in an ordinary looking pen that someone could pop into their shirt or place on a desk.
Later, it can be plugged into a computer for downloading and playing the recording.
It's perfectly legal to sell these small video recorders, of course; although recording someone without their knowledge is morally questionable at best and it may even be illegal in certain states which require all parties to consent to recordings or videotaping.
Our purpose in mentioning it though is merely to emphasize that when you speak or do anything in what you believe is a private situation, you can never be sure of that privacy.
It makes sense to guard your words and actions. The spoils of eavesdropping can easily be turned against you.
There's no doubt that technology, which features in two of our three Snippets this week, has made valuable improvements to our lives.
But there are two sides to every coin.
Knowing about that other side, whether it's a hidden camera or a satellite navigation system, can help keep you out of the clutches of those who know how to abuse that technology.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!