Online Banking: Navigating a Vulnerable Environment

Online banking has surged in popularity the last few years, due mainly to the allure of easy online bill payments. According to a consumer survey conducted by Fiserv Inc., in 2008 over 2 million homes adopted online banking. This brought the total number of households banking from home to just under 70 million, or four out of every five with internet access.

While financial institutions continue to assure their customers of the safety of online banking, none can guarantee an account won’t fall victim to fraud. Cutting-edge technologies offer convenience, but also attract a cutting-edge class of criminals.

Early last year hundreds of HSBC online bank customers suddenly discovered their checking accounts had been drained of $2,000 each. According to an account on consumerist.com, one customer was told by the HSBC Fraud investigator that the department was so overwhelmed they weren’t even sure how to handle it. When pressed with how many other customers had suffered the same fate, the investigator replied, “We don’t even know.” The size of the fraud was so severe, the bank was ill-equipped to tackle, much less identify, the problem and it took up to 10 days before the affected customers had the stolen funds credited back to their accounts.

Though anecdotal, the above story is just a recent example of a problem that has plagued the banking and credit card industries from the time online services were first introduced. Fortunately, there are certain measures which can be taken to protect both your money and identity while banking electronically. Many of these tools also apply to using your credit card online. Most fall under common sense, but in this age of quick-and-easy access, it doesn’t hurt to go over the sometimes overlooked basics.

1.Bank with the Big Boys – There are many online banks, mostly chartered overseas, that are not FDIC insured. Bank with these companies at your own risk. When choosing an online bank, the safest bet is to go with one of the larger financial institutions with a recognizable name. The large banks are moving towards more online and customer-direct banking in an effort to lower costs and improve their bottom line. They often provide the best in online security, but if it fails you want the safety-net of FDIC insurance.

2.Don’t fall for Phishing – Phishing is the online security firm for a malevolent entity attempting to acquire your user name, passwords, credit cards or any other personal data by masquerading as a trusted entity. This can be undertaken by various means but most commonly comes in the form of an email claiming to be from your financial institution. You’ve probably encountered these before and hopefully sent them straight to junk mail. The emails often look convincing with legitimate logos, but will ask you to connect via a provided link to a fake site where you will be asked to enter your username and password for verification purposes. Once you’ve entered this information, the criminals can attempt to access your account. These emails are normally pretty easy to recognize. They won’t address you correctly or by name at all, and often they contain grammatical errors. Legitimate emails from your bank will typically address you by your proper name and will never ask a customer to divulge their pin number, account numbers, or passwords. If you aren’t sure about an email you have received, call your bank and ask.

3.Phishing from the other side – Unfortunately, this attempt to appropriate your personal information and access your account can strike when you least expect it, after you have logged into your online banking site. Though rare, tech-savvy criminals have the ability to hack into a bank’s online system and re-direct the customer to a fake page where they are asked to once again enter their user name and password. If during an online banking session you are rerouted in such a manner, the wisest course of action is to terminate the session without entering any further information and then re-accesses your account through the bank’s home page. It would also be prudent to let your institution know such an attempt was made via their site. Better yet, ensure your bank is using the standard “secure socket layer” (SSL) protocol on pages that require secure information. Most banks use this technology on a few pages, but not on every page. (SSL-secured pages start https as opposed to http.)

4.User names and passwords – If you are going to be banking online, always choose unique user names and passwords. Avoid using your email address as a long in name and never use important dates, such as birthdays or anniversaries, for a password. If a criminal is trying to access your account these are often the first guesses that he will attempt to use. Always try to include both alpha and numerical characters in your login information, as use of both generates user names and passwords that are inherently tougher to crack.

5.Bank from home – If you are going to be banking online, try to avoid public domain computers. This includes both work computers and those you would use at an internet café, public library or any retail business. You have limited control over the safety measures taken at these locations and are putting your personal information at risk every time you share it here. If you are banking online and have no choice but to use a public access computer, be sure the username and password are not saved on the computer if prompted to do so. Once your session ends click on the Tools option of the browser and clear all saved forms, passwords, cookies, and history. For the two most used web browsers this feature is located under Tools/Internet options (MS Explorer) or Tools/Clear Private Data (Mozilla Firefox).

6.Stay protected – It is vital to keep your home computer protected with up-to-date anti-virus software and firewall protection. This is particularly true when you are banking from home online. There malicious software, or malware, that can unknowingly be downloaded on your computer while the user surfs the internet. These harmful programs can attack your computer in a variety of ways, but the most dangerous are capable of stealing your personal information by logging the keystrokes used when entering user names and passwords. This information is then transmitted back to the programs creator. This is why it is so important to keep your computer protected and update that protection regularly.

7.Keep alert – If you have an online bank account or use your credit cards for online purchases, check your balances regularly. If you notice any suspicious activity, notify the bank immediately. The longer it takes to report fraudulent activity the more difficult it will be to have those stolen funds restored.

Online banking can be a convenient and easy way to manage your personal accounts, but it will never be 100% safe. Still, there are ways online banking customers can increase the odds in their favor by using common sense and taking preemptive steps to protect themselves. Most importantly, communicate with your bank. Know their security measures and check the safety recommendations they make. If you ever have any questions or concerns about the security of your account, call the bank and get the answers you need. Its your right as a customer, so don’t hesitate to use it.

Helpful links:

FDIC: Safe Internet Banking
http://www.fdic.gov/BANK/INDIVIDUAL/ONLINE/SAFE.html

Online Banking Safety – LoveToKnow Online
http://online.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Online_Banking_Safety

Reverse Mortgage Twists and Turns

Watch out for the “quicksand”, it can suck you in.

If you’re 62 years or older, a legitimate reverse mortgage allows homeowners to convert their home equity into cash. Instead of making a payment each month to your mortgage bank, the bank pays you monthly. You can also elect to receive a lump sum or line of credit. Looks simple, but the “quicksand” of fraud and scams are deceptively alluring.

Speculators are buying houses on the cheap, doing minor cosmetic decorating and then reselling these dwellings to unsuspecting senior citizens at excessive prices. The deal is based on the senior citizen taking out a reverse mortgage sponsored by the scam artist, generally with exorbitant upfront fees. When the reverse mortgage is in place the scam artist usually takes all the money for the payment of the inflated property, leaving the sucker senior citizen holding the bag and probably still owing more money as a result of the terms of the scam transaction.

Also, these scam artists will use inflated appraisals and then promise this “mirage bargain” home with no-money-down, and as part of the swindle, arrange for the sucker to secure a scam reverse mortgage loaded with excessive fees for the service. Thus, the scammer diverts most and often all the proceeds from your reverse mortgage for themselves.

These crooks recruit and con naïve seniors; so do not be tempted by these “sweet-talking” swindlers. Here are a few guidelines to follow regarding any supposed reverse mortgages:

1. Don’t respond to any flashy advertisements and unsolicited promotions.

2. Stay away from anyone claiming you can own a home with zero cash down.

3. Never sign anything you don’t fully understand. Try and have a competent lawyer or accountant review all proposed contracts.

4. Seek out a legitimate reverse mortgage advisor.

5. The scammers target senior citizens through churches, investment seminars, radio, television, and mail/email advertisements.

6. A legitimate reverse mortgage never causes you to give up title to your home.

7. Watch out for upfront fees—never agree to pay them; as this demand is a tip-off that you are being set up for a swindle.

8. Watch out for any reverse mortgages that do not escrow sufficient money to pay required real estate taxes, insurance, etc. This could result in foreclosure.

Again and again senior citizens are being swindled by these “too good to be true” propositions. If you are truly interested in a reverse mortgage for your home that you have lived in for a long time—study the various plans offered by some of the well-known Banks such as Chase, Well Fargo and Bank of America. At least you will familiarize yourself with what programs are currently available. Never get sucked into a “No Money Down” scam promising to get you into a home for free. Run away from any of these sham offers. Be careful, and remember: “IF IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE–IT IS”! — ALWAYS!

Online Dating? Cut the Line!

Sure, Internet Dating seems great, quick and efficient, but there is a dark murky side —scam artists.

Scamraiders has recently received enquiries from people who have experienced problems and scams involving online dating services. No matter if you are seeking love in a bottle, or a quick tryst, there are scam artists who use the internet to entice and swindle you through your heart and then to your cash. Many of these swindlers will have the brazen audacity to require your money first just to get started. Many will ask for personal information after making you feel comfortable that they are truly interested in you. These supposed lovers/romance queries are cleverly interspersed with questions about your financial data; so they can size you up. Some of these online dating scoundrels will use your confidential data (that you unwittingly provide) to steal your identity.

There are a number of online services who, after their scammers lure you in, will further enticed you by sending phony photos of handsome men and gorgeous women. Once you pick one that you are attracted to, the real scam begins. You will begin to exchange romantic possibilities. Then soon you will bypass the service and communicate directly via email. The scammer will gain more of your trust. Once the con-artist has “roped you in” and established the fantasy of a genuine relationship, they will begin asking you for money. Either they will ask for airfare so that you can meet and “embrace”, or the scammer will tug at your heart claiming a medical emergency where immediate cash is needed; or they will come up with a bunch of other clever angles to disenfranchise you from your hard-earned cash. These charlatans will even con you to go the airport where you wait for your fantasy “lover” who of course never shows-up —your money gone, heart broken, and disillusioned.

Sadly, most people who get hauled into these online relationships, out of desperation and loneliness, will fork-over untold sums in the hopes of arriving at “Shangrila”, along with the fantasy online lover.

Be alert. DO NOT ever respond to unsolicited email “love letters”. This is yet just another scam. If you answer, the scammer will know you are vulnerable and a “mark”. There is no love to be found out there via strangers from emails. Finding love is more difficult than making money; you really have to work at it, and you will not find it on the internet.

Now that said, Scamraiders is carefully analyzing “on line dating services”. Regretfully most of them are not what they claim to be. The supposed legit sites insist that their users provide VERIFIED profiles. Thereafter, these Sites appear to attempt to match you with others that you can hopefully, fairly, try and develop a meaningful relationship. This is their claim, but who knows? There are even scam claims and negative comments out there about these well-known internet service providers as well. Really, the true answer is—get up and get out—- try your best to meet people “face to face”—at social functions, Church or Temple functions, or through reliable friends. Remember always: IF IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE—–IT IS!!!

Good Samaritan Scams

Many of us feel inspired to keep with the spirit of the holidays and as a result are more likely to open our hearts and our wallets in the interest of helping our fellow man. This is fertile territory for scam artists. And while they aren’t interested in their victim’s giving hearts, the wily con artist will certainly look to exploit this sense of compassion as a means to open up that which truly concerns them – the victim’s wallet.

There are many types of Good Samaritan Scams out there. Some employ elaborate schemes executed by several con artists in perfect orchestration, while more commonly individuals or smaller groups will distract or confuse and then grab what they can from you. Either way, the bottom line is their goal is taking what is rightfully yours and their method is to play on your altruistic instincts.

Here are a few examples that you should remember the next time you are approached by a stranger asking for assistance.

CHARITY CASES
These come in different sizes, from large organizations to the guy on the street corner holding his hand out and his sign up. Here are two examples of how scammers hide in their midst.

BIG TIME CON – One of the largest was busted just a few years ago. California scammer John Franklin Harrell, with the help of a cult-like following of 20 acolytes, bilked hundreds of Americans from all across the country into giving him more than $30 million. Many actually forked over their life savings to this man who claimed to have access to a secret trust fund worth over 1.6 Trillion created by the descendants of Mormon Church founder John Smith. He and his cronies claimed the funds would be released once an insurance company was created to convert the fund into insurance policies. Investors were promised 100% yearly returns on their investments for up to 99 years.

This wasn’t just a case of victim’s getting scammed because they were greedy. The biggest hook in Harrell’s scheme was a promise that significant amounts of the profits, millions on a yearly basis, were to be earmarked for humanitarian projects. The “investors” were pitched this con based on their charitable interests. Religious types were sold on bible theme parks, Christian radio stations and faith-based scholarships. Philanthropists were told stories of “social development centers” to be opened across the country helping everyone from single mothers to the homeless and jobless. The sick were pledged money to be spent on miraculous cures for autism, Parkinson’s disease and cancer. These people trusted John Franklin Harrell and his phony ties to a major religious organization, and many lost their life savings because of this mistake.

SMALL TIME CONS – On the other end of the spectrum from John Franklin Harrell and his fellow con artists are the individuals who are out on the street asking for charity every day.

While many who panhandle are legitimately homeless, some have simply found a way to make decent money from the small contributions of passersby. Michael S. Scott of the director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing stated in his online article “Panhandling” that some of these beggars can rake in “about $300 a day on the high end. Women, especially those who have children with them, and panhandlers who appear to be disabled tend to receive more money. For this reason, some panhandlers pretend to be disabled and/or war veterans. Others use pets as a means of evoking sympathy from passersby. Panhandlers’ regular donors can account for up to half their receipts.”

A recent news story tells of a couple from Ashland, Oregon, who have christened themselves “affluent beggars.” These two estimate they can make up to $40,000 a year from panhandling. They claim to have taken home $800 on their best day. Although they present themselves as homeless and destitute, they rent an apartment in a nice area of town and own a car among other prized possessions.

A regular panhandler in the Rockefeller Center area of New York City can be spotted on daily basis writhing on the ground unable to speak, a pleading hand extended, and her body wrapped in garbage bags instead of actual clothing. Normally, tourists surround the woman, giving her money, food, shirts bought from local street vendors and other clothes from stores in the area. Although she acts as if she can’t speak to those who show her concern, she has been known to use a telephone for normal conversations at the end of the day when her begging is finished. Come back the next morning and she won’t be wearing any of the numerous clothes given her, but is once again in her garbage bags playing on folks’ sympathies.

By no means do these con artists make up the majority of those who panhandle, but if you truly want to help the homeless and the destitute invest in a local shelter or give to trusted organizations that will make sure the right people get the care they need.

MONEY SCHEMES
Victims are often approached by those who have money problems. In this instance, the problem isn’t that they don’t have money; they will assure you that they do. Rather the problem is that they need your help to access it. Here are two very different examples of these cons.

COMPLEX – The victim was walking in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Aventura, Florida when approached by a man claiming to be an undocumented worker from Honduras who needed help finding a law office to get some important papers.

A second man who had “overheard” then walked up and, claiming to be a Christian, offered his help since he knew of a law office nearby. The victim had some time and decided to help the men decide if the law office was legitimate and rode with them in the car. Once in the car, the man from Honduras explained his problem: he had won the lottery but could not claim his prize because he did not have legal residency papers.

The second man then put in a cell phone call to the “lottery commission”. The victim claims he could hear the conversation on both ends and that the person over the phone said the funds could be released with a simple $20,000 deposit of good-faith money.

The victim, assuming he would be paid back quickly, offered $7,000. The second man claimed he could cover the remainder and went into his bank, returning with an envelope supposedly holding $13,000. The victim then withdrew his $7,000, after which the second man suggested they get stamps and mailing materials. The victim went into the post office alone to procure the materials, but when he came back out the two men were long gone. He checked his envelope to discover the envelope he held had been switched with one stuffed with cut-up newspapers by two sharp con artists.

SIMPLE – An elderly customer walking up to her ATM when approached by a desperate gentleman. He claimed to have been robbed, and then opened up an envelope to show her several thousand dollars claiming it was the only money he had left in the world. He didn’t feel safe holding the cash, it was a Friday evening and he would have to wait to open a new account, so he wondered if she could deposit the money for him. He would give her $100 for her trouble.

The woman agreed. He stood next to her as she keyed in her PIN, then put the envelope in the machine. She didn’t feel comfortable withdrawing cash with the stranger next to her so she finished the transaction. As her ATM card came out, he grabbed it and ran off. He had her PIN number and her card, she reported it stolen, but not before he was able to withdraw some $1,200 from her account. Later, when the ATM machine was opened up the woman learned he had switched envelopes while she was entering her PIN and had actually deposited worthless strips of paper cut to money size.

DISTRACT AND GRAB
At the bottom of the Good Samaritan Scam list is a simple con that is often run in pairs and totally plays on the victim looking to lend a hand to his fellow man. Here are a couple of examples:

HELPING HAND – In Cordova, Tennessee a group has been scamming folks at gas stations without being caught yet. An older woman in her 50s, Asian, will approach those pumping their own gas, especially if they are already distracted by talking on a cell phone, and thrust her credit card in the victim’s face claiming she can’t figure out to work the machine. She will continue to harass the victim until they accompany her to her car on the other side of the station.

Once the victim is helping the woman pump her gas, one or more accomplices will then break into the victim’s unwatched car and take whatever valuables they can manage. Always lock your car when you are out of it pumping gas, and don’t talk on your cell phone at the gas station.

EMERGENCY – Even worse are those who play on potential heroes out there by manufacturing an emergency as a distraction. A 48 year old grandfather with a heart condition was walking with his wife and dog one morning when a woman rushed out of the bushes claiming a swan had attacked her baby. She pointed to a nearby lake where a man saw a fully-clothed baby with shoes on floating face down in the water. Springing into action, the gentleman took off his jacket and jumped into the murky waters.

When he grabbed the child’s leg he realized it was actually a doll. Turning back to the shore he spotted the woman and her male accomplice stealing from his coat. By the time he back to shore, they were long gone with his bank and credit cards and over $100 cash.

We shouldn’t be discouraged from helping out those in need, but we should always keep our guard up and listen to our instincts. Sometimes being a Good Samaritan is a quick way to be scammed by a con artist.

Lotto Scams

If you receive an email, telephone call, letter or fax telling you that you won the Canadian, Nigerian, Irish, French, or Welsh, etc. lottery—delete, hang-up the phone, rip-up the paper, throw out the supposed windfall! Listen up—First you can’t win a lottery that you didn’t buy a ticket for. So when that enticing announcement, or nice well-trained voice on the other end of the phone tells you that to claim your prize you must first wire a few thousand bucks to the lottery “sponsor”— don’t fall for it! Here are some other important facts to remember so that you won’t get ripped-off:

1. No stranger is your friend; and there ain’t no free lunches!

2. In a legitimate lottery, you never have to pay BEFORE you receive the winnings.
Lotteries that are legitimate request that you pay taxes after you receive your money.

3. If you truly win a lottery, first you surely hold a ticket evidencing that you have
entered into the lottery contest. If you win, your lottery number will be posted or
announced, and you must present your winning ticket in order to claim your prize.
Legitimate lotteries usually DO NOT send emails, or letters, or phone you. They will
post or publish the winning ticket numbers on their website or in the newspaper and
the winners are provided with a legitimate email or phone number, or where to appear
with the winning ticket.

4. NEVER EVER give out any personal information to anyone without knowing who you
are giving it to.

5. Beware of anything lottery, coming from outside the USA — they are usually all “hot
spots” for scams.

6. If it’s too good to be true—it is.

You can be sure of this—once you turn your cash over to a scammer, it’s gone forever. Lottery scammers come up with new spins to the same old schemes — to get the money from us suckers. Some of the newer swindles are as follows —

a) BOGUS STATE LOTTERIES

Residents of Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have recently been receiving emails, phone calls and letters stating that they have won Powerball or other State games. The “winners” are directed to pay up-front fees in order to claim their prize. Don’t do it! Legit State Lotteries never require any up-front money. State lottery winners must notify the State with their winning ticket in hand. You won’t be contacted by the State, you must contact them once you find your entry is posted as the winner on the respective State website or published in the newspaper.

b) UNCLE SAM SHAMS

Another scam— emails supposedly sent by the F.B.I., I.R.S., F.T.C., etc., implying that these Agencies are acting as middlemen awarding the Lottery winnings. These Agencies never act in this manner. Moreover, these scammers also are circulating a virus that can steal your computer’s personal data. So, if you receive one of these bogus messages, these thieves are ready to put their hands in your pocket—DO NOT open it! You will have just avoided a serious scam-rip off!

c) SLICK TALKING CON SCAMS

Some crooks prefer operating through personal contact. If you are approached on the street or in a shop by a stranger claiming to hold a winning State Lottery ticket that they cannot redeem themselves– such as, the ticket holder is not in the U.S. legally— say “NO THANK YOU”! In this con the scammer offers to sell you their jackpot ticket for a few thousand dollars—or split the winnings after you (the patsy) put up your cash as a “good faith” deposit. Then you are told that in exchange for your up-front-money the scammer will give you the ticket so you can redeem it and either keep the winnings or split the sums with this “generous kind person”. You will be left “holding the bag” with a worthless ticket. Or once you gather your “good-faith cash” from your bank, you may be conned into leaving your money with the scammer (in a taxi or car), and asked to go to a coffee shop to buy some donuts and coffee for you and the con artist before heading to the location to claim your jackpot. When you return, coffee in hand, the scammer is long gone on their way, with your cash. Remember what your mother always told you, —–“NEVER SPEAK TO STRANGERS”!

Although this is not a lottery scam, it’s similar and Scamraiders wants to alert you:
One of the most common scams that still hooks unsuspecting naïve people is the plea to help another person who has a problem with cashing a check. NEVER cash a check for a stranger or give them your money for their check! Usually the check is counterfeit and you will be stuck.

If you really want to play a lottery, BUY THE TICKET YOURSELF FROM A STATE-RUN LOTTERY— AND HOPE FOR THE BEST!

Jury Duty Scam – ID Theives Prey on Trusting Americans

Most of us have received a jury summons in the past, and whether you consider it a hassle or a civic duty, almost everyone reports. But what if someone told you that you failed to report and there was a warrant out for your arrest? That’s the twist on a scam that many trusting Americans have been falling for for years.

The scammer calls and claims that, because you have failed to show up for jury duty, your freedom is now in jeopardy. Of course, the victim will truthfully claim that they never received a summons — and then the swindler pounces. For “verification” purposes, they’ll need your social secutiry number, driver’s license number, date of birth — the boldest scam artists will sometimes even ask for a credit card number.

The cardinal rule to avoid this tricky scam is — never give out personal info on a call you did not initiate. This holds true for court officers, government officials, banking or credit card companies, among others.

Also remember: a court officer will rarely, if ever, call you in relation to jury service. The courts almost always follow up via postal mail, especially if you have missed jury service. Jurors will occasionally receive a call after sending in a completed questionaire — but this doesn’t happen very often.

Better Business Bureau:
http://www.fortwayne.bbb.org/article/jury-duty-scam-hittiing-consum…

FBI:
http://www.fbi.gov/page2/june06/jury_scams060206.htm

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Thanksgiving Scams

The holidays are almost upon us. Next week, many will be sitting down with their families to enjoy turkey, football and celebrate all that they are thankful for in their lives. Sadly, some of these folks will be less thankful after the holiday weekend having been victimized by scam artists who chose not to take the weekend off.

When folks are in the holiday spirit, they often let their guard down; here are a couple of ways con artists will be looking to take advantage of this holiday good cheer:

BOGUS COLLECTION SCAMS – Be wary of those individuals who approach folks individually to collect donations for the less fortunate. Often times, these can be con artists making an easy buck off your sympathy.

In fact, police in Northern Indiana recently released an alert for residents to be on the lookout for two men pulling this exact type of scam. They are dressed as police officers. Going door-to-door, the uniformed men claim to be troopers from the Indiana State Police who are collecting funds to feed needy children on this upcoming Thanksgiving Day.

The police advise residents who are approached either on the street or visited at home by those soliciting similar funds to ask for contact information and then thoroughly research the organization before making any donations.

Excellent advice for everyone, as this isn’t a problem localized in Northern Indiana. Remember, any legitimate organization’s representatives should happily agree to cooperate with requests for identification or questions about the organization for which they claim to be collecting.

FAKE THANKSGIVING ECARDS – As with all things online related, the last few years have seen in explosion in online greeting cards being swapped between friends, family members and business associates. Like most emerging trends, this is prime territory for a con artist to exploit. This Thanksgiving will be no different.

Most electronic greeting cards will arrive via an email informing you that you have a card waiting at such-and-such a site. A link will be provided for you, and once you click on the link you will be sent to the waiting card. But if you click, beware. You might be getting much more than a seasonal greeting.

You might be sent to what appears to be a genuine Thanksgiving Day card, with Tom Turkey doing his funny dance, but the laughter won’t last long. The ecard scams con folks by placing a malicious link in the email. When clicked, it sends the users browser to an exploitive server. After guaranteeing the potential victim doesn’t have the proper patches in the browsing software, the scammers forcibly load a rootkit and a keystroke logger. Then the victim is sent to the legitimate-appearing greeting card.

A rootkit is software which obscures the fact that your computer has been compromised. Keystroke software is exactly what it sounds like, a way the scammer’s can record every keystroke you make and then divine from the information every user name, password, credit card number, bank account number, social security number or any personal information you enter. If you type it, they now have access to it.

On the user’s end, nothing appears out of the ordinary. They got an email asking them to check out a Thanksgiving card, they clicked on the link, noticed it didn’t actually come from anyone they know and then closed it without realizing their identity and financial information was at risk.

Many of these initial emails will be vague, almost coy. A “business associate”, or “family member”, or “close friend” has sent you a Thanksgiving card and you can access it by clicking on the provided link. Never click through on emails from unidentified sources.

Even if it comes from a known person, be wary. Your friend or relative might have been the victim of a virus. They opened the card, had the malware unknowingly loaded, then the virus re-sent the bait to everyone in their address book. It would be wise to go directly to the publishing site the card is supposed to have come from and access it there. Otherwise, contact the sender and make sure they sent the card out. If they were the victim of a self-sustaining virus, they might not even realize the fake cards have been sent in their name.

PHONY TELEPHONE BANKING SCAM – With most banks closed on the Thursday that is Thanksgiving Day, some enterprising scam artists will take that opportunity to dupe overstuffed turkey-day revelers in their tryptophan-induced haze.

The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) recently warned banking customers in the region of Northern Wisconsin to be on the lookout for a telephone scam targeting Thanksgiving Day of this year. A similar con was conducted on Thanksgiving Day of 2007 in Manitowoc County. Authorities warn that it could happen anywhere.

In the Manitowoc incident, customers received calls on Thanksgiving Day informing them that their bank account was frozen and gave a toll-free number for the person to call to have the account reinstated once they had verified their information. The calls were well-timed, occurring on a day that the banks were guaranteed to be closed and also the day before the busiest retail shopping day of the year. The scam artists spoke to some 20,000 potential victims on Thanksgiving Day in 2007, indicating a large scam operation. Of those 20,000, many reported the calls immediately to the police, while still some fell for the con.

When asked to verify personal information such as bank account numbers, credit or debit card numbers, PIN numbers, or Social Security numbers, consumers should never do so immediately. Do not respond. Why would the bank need this information? Call the number on your bank statement and inquire directly.

As Erik Skrum, WBA’s communications director, elaborated in a post on the Fox Valley Savings Bank Web site, “No bank or legitimate business will request a customer to verify personal information such as PINs, bank account numbers or Social Security numbers over the phone. Unless you initiate the contact, you should never give this information out.”

When this type of request is made, whether via phone or email, WBA suggests the consumer name of the person making the request, the institution they represent, and any available contact information. The consumer is then advised to contact the institution provided, but using contact information gleaned from bank statements or similar direct means. The institution can then verify if the request is legitimate.

Make this Thanksgiving Day truly one to be thankful for by keeping your wits if faced with any of the sketchy situation as described above.

Next week, we will look into another Thanksgiving Holiday tradition, Black Friday, the official beginning of the holiday shopping season. We will look into many of the questionable tools and tricks used by retailers to separate customers from their money and offer advice on how to avoid getting scammed.

Publishers Clearing House Scams

Would you like to win a million dollars? Of course you would! Just about everyone has hoped that by some miracle they would be chosen by Publishers Clearing House as a grand prize winner. Very few will ever be so lucky, but you may be unlucky enough to be scammed by someone posing as Publishers Clearing House. This scam has recently received attention in the news, and more and more people are reporting incidents of fraudulant calls and emails claiming they are “big winners”.

Here is how to know if you’re a victim: [Read more…]

Five Medicare Prescription Scams to Watch Out For

The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit has created yet another opportunity for con artists. Consumer protection officials around the country say they regularly receive complaints from seniors and other consumers who say they were contacted by fake companies claiming that they were “authorized” or “funded” by Medicare to make telephone or door-to-door contact with beneficiaries. Protect yourself by learning the following five scams to watch out for.


1. Membership Required
» This benefit is voluntary and supplements your other Medicare benefits. To participate, you will not be required to pay a membership or join anything.
2. Off-Hours Calling
» Those marketing Medicare drug plans must obey telemarketing laws. This means they can’t call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.; when you’re phone number is registered on the “do not call” registry; or after you’ve requested not to be contacted again.
3. Phone & Spam Trolling
» The Social Security Administration doesn’t initiate contact by phone or email, much less request your bank account, credit card or life insurance policy numbers.
4. Door-To-Door Sales
» It’s illegal for companies or organizations marketing Medicare drug plans to come to your door uninvited or to send you unsolicited emails. Companies and organizations can call to promote their drug plans, but it’s illegal for them to sign people up during those calls.
5. Surprise! No Prize
» It’s illegal to require anyone to join a drug plan in order to receive a prize or gift.