Looking out for and protecting against scams

By this point in time, most people know that when someone e-mails or calls you on behalf of a Nigerian prince, he or she is either playing a bad practical joke, or it’s a scammer trying to get their hands on your hard-earned money.

Unfortunately, some people are still falling for those things, as well as for hundreds of other scams floating around. Some play to our need for more money while others take a different tactic and try to scare us out of it; some sound completely ridiculous, and others can look very legitimate. No matter how careful you are, there’s a chance you could fall victim as well. Here is the rundown on a few of the bigger scams that the FBI is currently battling, and what you can do to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.

The FBI’s most recently updated scam involves Reveton, a malware program that infects users’ computers when they go to a drive-by download website. What this type of malware (called ransomware) does is freeze the computer and display a message indicating that the user has violated U.S. federal law and that their IP address was identified as being used to view child pornography or other illegal content. The user is instructed to pay a $100 fee to the U.S. Department of Justice to unlock the computer. Whether the user falls for the scam or not, the malware continues to run in the background on the computer and can be used to  participate in online credit card and/or banking fraud.

The FBI suggests that you contact your banking institutions and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) if you think you’ve fallen victim to this scam. To prevent yourself from accidentally downloading the malware, don’t click on unfamiliar or unknown pop-up ads; the malware is often downloaded with no indication or approval from the user when they do so.

Another malware scam involves laptops and hotel internet connections. When travelers go abroad and try to connect to the Internet in their hotel rooms, some will receive a pop-up indicating that a well-known program requires an update. Users, recognizing the program, initiate the update download, and malware is introduced into the system. The FBI website doesn’t indicate what this malware does, but given that some malware has the ability to aid in bank fraud, identity theft and compromise computer security in general, it almost doesn’t matter.

To avoid this “scam,” the FBI suggests that those who plan to travel abroad should update their computer and programs immediately before going and, if an update is required while they are still abroad, they only do so from the program’s official website. Those who think they may have already been targeted this way are urged to immediately report the incident to their local FBI office, in addition to filing a complaint with IC3.

The last scam on the list is the telephone collection scam regarding delinquent payday loans. This scam is very intricate and continues to evolve; the scammer calls the victim to inform them that they are delinquent on a payday advance loan and that their funder is choosing to file a lawsuit against them. In some variations, the scammer poses as a representative of a law firm who has been asked to call and read the legal charges against you. After doing so, they will offer the victim a chance to settle the matter outside of court for a the sum of the alleged loan plus the incurred late fees.

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When questioned the scammer will either deflect victims’ inquiries or grow verbally abusive toward them. They will not provide specific information on the alleged loan, but will attempt to scare the victim into ignoring that. They often possess the victim’s full name, primary e-mail address, the name of their banking institution and even their social security number, and use that information to sound authentic. They have been known to call the victim’s home, cell phone and place of employment to try to intimidate them into paying the money, and in some cases have even gone so far as to pose as a process server and appear at the victim’s home or place of employment to try to get the funds.

The FBI recommends that individuals who believe they have been victimized in this scam file a police report with the local authorities, contact their banking institutions and credit card companies, contact the three major credit bureaus and have them place an alert on their file and file a complaint through IC3. Another good idea in this case would be for the victim to inform his or her employer of the incident so that they aren’t blindsided if the scammer tries to call and threaten them as well. To prevent this sort of attack, people should be careful about what personal information they provide online, and if they do go looking for a payday loan, that they stick to a well-known and reputable company; don’t just give away personal information in a desperate search for emergency funds. Also, be sure to regularly check your computer for viruses and malware that could compromise its security.

Sources:

FBI – New Scams and Warnings: http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams

Internet Crime Complaint Center: http://www.ic3.gov/