Identity Theft

The Sneakiest Scams of 2014

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While there is no shortage of scams, some deserve special recognition for being especially sneaky.This year — just in time for National Consumer Protection Week — we’d like to spotlight scams that really stood out for the heights of trickery that identity thieves scale to con their victims.

“We reviewed more than a dozen popular scams — all deserving contenders for their deceitfulness — but these four scams truly show how low fraudsters are willing to go to steal consumers’ money and identities,” said Victor Searcy, director of fraud operations at IDentity Theft 911.

Here are the top four scams to watch out for — and how you can take steps to protect yourself.

1. Computer Scam: Fake Funeral Notices

Malware campaigns aimed at hijacking sensitive computer files and online financial accounts take many forms, but one ruse currently making the rounds is especially despicable. Cybercrooks are now emailing fake funeral notifications.

Stealing the names and logos of legitimate funeral homes, they send authentic-looking notices that appear to be an e-vite to a funeral or remembrance service for an unnamed friend or acquaintance. The danger is in an attached link, which claims to provide details about the “upcoming celebration of your friend’s life service.”

Don’t take the bait. “Instead of sending you to the funeral home’s website,” warns the Federal Trade Commission, “the link downloads malware to your computer.” The FTC says that foreign-based scammers are behind this new ruse, which began to flood email in boxes in late January, already prompting some spoofed funeral homes to post warnings that these conning condolences are not from them. These scam notices often have a subject line of “funeral notification” or “passing of your friend,” and body text such as: “You are cordially invited to express your sympathy in memory of your friend at a celebration of life service…” There’s an upcoming date for the service but what’s missing? The name of the supposed dearly departed.

2. Telephone Scam: The 1-Ring Phone Call

Capitalizing on the past success of callback scams that promise you won a prize or free vacation, or that a courier service has a package for you that can’t be delivered, scammers have a new way to trick you into calling a seemingly innocent phone number to rack up expensive charge on your bill.

Using auto-dialers to randomly call landlines and cellphones, they let the called number ring just once before the call is disconnected. Hoping the recipients’ curiosity get the best of them, those who call back the Caller ID displayed number are then connected to an adult entertainment service, chat line or other premium service that charges an international calling fee of about $20, with per-minute fees of $9 or higher.  The gotcha is because the displayed “callback” numbers have seemingly all-American area codes, but are, in fact, for countries in the Caribbean—and these foreign-based numbers can charge whatever they want. Most frequently used area codes include 268, 284, 473, 664, 649, 767, 809, 829, 849 and 876.

3. In-Person Scam: Sticky ATM Keypads

Skimming” devices placed over or behind the card slot of ATM machines and gas pumps (the latest target) were bad enough. Sold online for as little as $100, they secretly record information encoded in the magnetic strip of debit cards and with miniature spy cameras placed nearby, could also capture PIN numbers used to make cash withdrawals. Then, with PINs, crooks make duplicate cards to score fast cash from multiple machines – or without PINs, make fraudulent online purchases with debit card details.

But lazy identity thieves found an easier and cheaper way to stick it to you – literally. They just apply adhesive to certain keypad buttons – such as “enter,” “cancel,” and “clear” – to prevent consumers from completing their cash withdrawals after they’ve already inserted their card and typed PIN codes. As frustrated customers leave the machine to report the problem (aluminum foil is sometimes used to prevent cards from being returned), lie-in-wait crooks use a screwdriver to quickly release the keys to complete the transaction – and get cash.

4. Lightning Strikes Twice Category: Refund and Recovery Scams

It takes a special kind of evil to prey on consumers who already have been victimized. But that’s the M.O. in schemes that target scam victims with promises to recover their lost money.

For years, victims of Nigerian Letter scams, timeshare-selling schemes and phony foreign lotteries have been contacted by the same fraudsters or others who purchase Sucker Lists. The bad guys invent phony “recovery services” that promise to restore victims’ money — but only after an upfront payment is made. The latest spin: After persuading consumers to pay for fraudulent fixes on their computers, scammers call back with promises to issue refunds. The scammers pretend to be from Microsoft, computer companies or security software providers who remotely noticed a virus. The catch: The scammers say they’ll issue refunds only if victims provide a bank or credit card account for a supposed direct-deposit reimbursement that never arrives.

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Image: iStock

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