Tech Tips – New Versions of Old Scams

The Situation: So, that unicycle you are selling on craigslist is up for bid. You’re only asking a mere $100 (it’s a fancy unicycle) and are surprised when an internet stranger emails you and tells you they’ll send you a $1000 check, if you can mail them the difference.  After all, they just had all of their belongings wiped out in a fire, and this small insurance check they are sending you is all they have; can you cash it for them and send them the rest back?  They even offered to let you keep an extra $100 for your trouble!  You are so entranced by their offer that you don’t even ask why the very recent victim of a housefire wants to buy a unicycle right off.

If your alarm bells haven’t already been set off, and you cash the check at your bank while sending your new friend the $800 difference, be ready for a surprise; not a good one.  While you will probably get to keep your unicycle (your friend will give you multiple excuses as to why he or she can’t come pick it up, with the truth being that they probably live in a tiny country you’ve never heard of), the check will eventually be returned by your bank as counterfeit.  Since the check was cashed on your account, you’ll be on the hook for the full $1000.

Ouch. Various versions of this scam exist.  One of the worst I’ve seen is when these criminals pose as former military members.  In some cases, they will even assume the identity of our service members in an effort to make their claims more legitimate.

So what are some of the more common scams we see these days?  Take a look below:

(1) Apple/Microsoft Tech Calls YOU:  Okay, if you’ve ever experienced Microsoft’s or Apple’s tech support lines, you know they’ll never call you out of the blue and say your computer is riddled with errors.  It is your job to call them, wait in a 45-minute call queue, get disconnected, call back, wait another 45 minutes and finally get to a level one tech who will tell you to restart you computer (which is actually good advice).

Minor sarcasm aside, if someone calls you claiming to be from any technical support service and that your computer needs to be fixed, don’t respond.  Unless you initiate a call back from a real support company, the person is probably trying to scam you.  There are even tricks this person could do (if you gave them access) to make you think your computer was truly having issues.  I can almost guarantee that if you give this person access, you will be having issues after they are done.

(2) The Facebook: If you think everything you post on Facebook is truly private, think again.  A good rule of thumb is to never post something online if you don’t want others to see it.  Scammers will use publicly available profile and other information to create dossiers on people you know that they can use against you.  For instance, a longtime Facebook friend is in trouble and needs a few dollars to get them out of a jam? Sure, you’re a good person, and what’s $100 to you?  It couldn’t be some scammer, since they know so many details about their (own) life, right?  Maybe it’s a $1000, but the person has really been able to tug at your heartstrings, and you have that much in savings.  It’s scary how much information the willing individual can collect on you or your friends. It is a very effective form of social engineering using a measure of truth to convince you.

(3) Respect All Authority: So someone called and said they were form the IRS, police department, or FBI?  Maybe.  What did they ask you for?  Anyone who is requesting personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone is someone to be suspicious of if you didn’t initiate the call to the business or organization.  This information can include your address, social security number, credit card information, bank account numbers, and more.  Donations by cash or check?  When in doubt, don’t give it out.  My new slogan.

What should you do if you think you’ve become a victim? Freeze your credit (Google: freeze my credit), and then setup a fraud alert service (Google: fraud alert services) if you haven’t already done so.  Credit cards, and even a number of debit cards, offer protection against fraud, though direct drafts from your bank account can be harder to recover.

So how do you stay safe?  These days you have to hold your cards a little closer to your chest.  With so many means of effortless communication, you need to be a little more suspicious with your electronic communications.  While scams have always existed, long gone are the days of the snake oil salesman selling cure-all potions from the back of a covered wagon.  The snake-oil salesman is still there, but these days, he is probably just trying to sell you a pair of no-name speakers from the back of a windowless van.

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