Not Your Father’s Online Scam
By now, everyone is familiar with the Nigerian scam. You receive an e-mail for an offer you cannot refuse. The sender alleges he or she is trustee of a large sum of unclaimed money. If you will agree to take the money into the United States, you will receive half the money (typically millions) for your trouble. After sending $200 for paperwork, $500 for bribes, $2000 for customs and $10,000 for lawyers you get the impression things are not quite as they seem. With so many pigeons now wise to the “419 grift,” online scammers are constantly devising increasingly clever ways to part money from fools.
One of the hallmarks of a great scam is selecting a highly motivated victim. Online scammers use dating Web sites to target the lovelorn. Posting attractive pictures and telling sad stories of unforeseen financial difficulties, scammers bilk online daters out of money, gifts, credit card numbers and bank information. While from a distance these scams seem easy to spot, once the scammers masterfully weave an emotional connection, logical analysis flies out the window. Anytime you receive an online request for money, gifts or financial information, there is a high likelihood there is a scammer on the other end.
Praying on the desperately unemployed, scammers post fake job opportunities, sometimes using the names of legitimate companies. The job opportunity is often a payroll clerk. The scam involves sending the victim a large check. The scammer requests the victim cash the check and send out smaller to checks to “employees” of the business. The scammers large check is fake, but the victims little checks are real. By the time the victim discovers the big check is fake, the “employees” have already disappeared with the victim’s money.
Doctors and lawyers are increasingly the target of scammers. Posing as information technology professionals or potential clients, international criminals extract sensitive personal information, garner financial information and install viruses on the victims’ computers. The scams may be as simple as posing as someone in the victim’s IT department and calling the receptionist to confirm his or her password works with the “new” system, or as complex as creating a fake multinational organization, complete with a pricey Web site and myriad references. Be wary of “spear phishing” scams buried within unsolicited emails. Never open attachments in an email from someone you do not know. Even if you do know the sender, scammers often “spoof” the name of the sender.
In the wake of any large disaster, scammers lie in wait for compassionate people willing to give. Criminals build elaborate Web sites emulating recognized charities. Through a barrage of spam emails, the scammers direct people to donate to the victims of the latest crisis. Beware of any unsolicited request for a charitable donation. When in doubt, donate to an established charity. You can even check the charity out online to determine what percentage of your donation actually gets to the people in need.
Social Media Scams
People trust social media. Your friends are much less likely to intentionally hurt you than people you do not know. Scammers know this, and have increasingly using social media as a platform for their latest scams. Scammers use social media to launch phishing scams and malware attacks. Social media users who fail to protect their accounts, may find their computer damaged and their personal information stolen.
Impersonating governmental agencies to obtain your financial information is a successful scam simply because it is so brazen. What kind of a criminal would impersonate the IRS, the FBI or Homeland Security? Receiving an e-mail from one of these organizations often leaves the victim more worried about what they might have done, than whether the email contains malicious software. If you suspect the e-mail is not legitimate, do not reply, do not click on any links and do not call any phone numbers in the e-mail or open any attachments. Contact the government agent directly to confirm that the email is legitimate.
If you receive a pop-up advertisement for anti-virus software be wary. Such pop-up ads often appear to be scanning your hard drive in an attempt to get you to click on the ad. Clicking on the ad however, can install harmful software, extract sensitive information or send the scammer a log of your keystrokes, which includes all of your usernames and passwords. The FBI has reported over $150 million in losses attributable to this scam alone.
What to Do
If you suspect you have been scammed, or have received a solicitation you believe may be a scam, contact your information technology department immediately, providing all of the details you have. You may also file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Most importantly, be on the lookout for new scams. The most effective scam will always be the one that is new to you.