Think before you act, to avoid Toyota recall scam
Scammers have found a clever way of ripping off auto owners in the recent Toyota recall.
By simply changing one digit in the official helpline number, they lure victims into paying premium rate charges and even risking identity theft.
Also in this week's Snippets issue: a warning for social network site users who insist on letting the world know they're not at home.
On to today's main topic...
Toyota Recall Scam Uses Bogus Helpline Number
A scam based on the Toyota recall of autos for gas pedal and floor mat problems heads up this week's Snippets issue. It shows just how quickly crooks latch on to a news event as a way of conning the public.
They used a simple but sneaky trick -- sending out spaham (intentionally misspelled) emails, some of which land in the inboxes of Toyota owners.
The messages simply invite recipients to call a 1-800 number for more details about the Toyota recall models and what action they need to take.
The number is virtually identical to a real helpline set up for owners on the Toyota recall list -- just one digit is changed.
So far, no problem, you might think, since 1-800 calls are free. But what happens next has already cost some victims around $6 a minute.
They're connected either to a recorded message or a real person, asking them to hold. Then they're told all lines to service reps dealing with the Toyota recalls are busy but that they can get through by calling another number.
The message does state that there's a $5.96 per minute premium rate for the new call but it is said so quickly, it would be easy to miss it. But that's enough to keep the scam strictly within the law!
However, some victims reported that when they got through on the premium line, they were asked for personal information including Social Security numbers, which, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Toyota recall.
It was potentially a prelude to identity theft.
If you want to know if and how you might be affected by the Toyota pedal recall or any other recall issues, you can call the official helpline, which is 1-800-331-4331, or speak to your Toyota dealer.
This Toyota recall scam sounds like another more general warning for us all too: Any phone number with a 1-900 prefix is a premium rate service that you're going to pay heavily for.
This is not something anyone who's supposed to be putting things right for you is ever likely to ask you to do!
Some regular-looking numbers -- those beginning with 809 (which is used in the Caribbean) -- may also levy a premium rate. You can read more about the 809 scam in this Scambusters issue, 809 Area Code Scam.
"RobMe" Site Sounds Alarm on Posting Your Whereabouts
Imagine placing a classified ad in your local newspaper announcing when you're going to be away from home.
That'd be crazy wouldn't it -- a potential invitation to get your home burgled?
Yet, every day, social network users do just that -- announcing their whereabouts, and effectively telling the world they're not at home.
In fact, one social networking site even runs an online game in which participants have to send a message saying where they are.
In doing so, players can earn "points," win keys to unlock the solution to puzzles or even earn an honorary title, like "Mayor" of the place they happen to be visiting.
These messages are also repeated on Twitter, the social networking site where users post brief statements -- "tweets" -- saying what they're doing right now.
But let's think about it for a moment. You send a message that says you're at your local coffee shop. That means, maybe your house is empty.
If a thief happens to know where you live (or takes the trouble to find out, which is really easy these days) and reads your message, you might just as well have placed that classified ad.
This has prompted one group to launch a website called PleaseRobMe, which automatically picks messages from game participants announcing where they are.
"Our intention is not, and never has been, to have people burgled," the site says in a footnote, while a banner at the top of the page declares: "Listing all those empty homes out there."
On the day we checked, the list contained the following messages from identified individuals:
- "Left home and checked in 3 minutes ago: I'm at (name of car dealer)."
- "Having lunch at (name of restaurant)."
- "I'm at (name of famous toy store)."
- "Yep, you can find me in the computer section at (name of bookstore)."
- "Watching (name) play rugby at (name of sports field)."
But this isn't just about participants in this particular game. Lots of "twitterers" frequently announce when they're going out, whom they're visiting and even when they're going on vacation!
Further, people make announcements like "I just got a 42-inch flat panel TV" on one site, and later, on a different site: "I'm at this coffee shop." It's easy for thieves to connect the dots.
Our simple advice: If you choose to subscribe to these types of services, you should be aware of the amount and type of information you're giving out that can be used against you.
Incidentally, the PleaseRobMe site attracted so much publicity that the operators subsequently decided to dispose of the site.
They issued the following statement: "We want to offer this website to a professional foundation, agency or company that focuses on raising awareness, helping people understand and provide answers to online privacy related issues."
There's no doubt the site achieved its purpose in raising awareness. Whether, in the process, it did more harm than good, or whether any of those absentees learned a lesson the hard way we can't say.
There are two things that help scammers succeed: When they are cunning and when we are impulsive -- acting without carefully thinking through what we're about to do.
Both of this week's Snippet items -- the Toyota recall and the venue information giveaway -- are prime examples of why we must always think before acting.
Time to close -- we're off to take a walk. See you next week.