Great News on the Scam Front

Those who have been following this blog for a while know that I follow the scams in an effort to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening on the darker side of the Internet so that you know what to look for and how to protect yourself. We’ve had some great news today in the fight against the scam artists. May 19, 2008, saw 38 people in 5 countries indicted for a Romanian-based phishing scam that was part of a global crime ring.

"International organized crime poses a serious threat not only to the United States and Romania , but to all nations," Deputy Attorney General Mark R. Filip said in a statement from Bucharest , where he announced the charges. "Criminals who exploit the power and convenience of the Internet do not recognize national borders; therefore our efforts to prevent their attacks cannot end at our borders either."

33 people—many of them from Romania —in Los Angeles faced 65 counts on charges ranging from racketeering to bank fraud and identity theft. In Connecticut , 7 Romanians (including 2 from the LA group) had their January indictments unsealed. They are charged with spamming consumers and directing them to fake websites made up to look like legitimate bank and financial services sites including Citibank, Wells Fargo and Paypal.

The phishing scam tried to steal names, Social Security numbers, credit card information and other personal data from thousands of unsuspecting consumers and financial institutions. One aim of the scheme was to encode magnetic cards here in the US with information necessary to clean out victims’ bank accounts at ATMs.

Gone Phishing

Phishing scams work by getting the victim to give the scammer personal information, such as credit card numbers, through fraudulent means. The most common method is to send an e-mail that has links to a false website. Once the victim follows the link, they are either prompted to enter information or the site secretly installs spyware on their system (this can also happen with the original scam e-mail when it has an attachment) that takes and then sends sensitive data to the scammers without the victim ever being aware of it.

This was sent to me recently. Looks pretty official, right? You see the logo and the copyright notice, the spare, direct language. This has to be legitimate, right? Look a little harder: If it really came from the bank, the word “because” would have been spelled correctly and we would not have members that “no longer have access to their online access.” However, these were not the factors that led me to think that someone was trying to scam me. Neither was the fact that no bank would legitimately send an e-mail of this sort. No, what made me think that someone was not being on the up-and-up with me was the minor fact that I don’t have a Citibank account.

419 Scams and 809 Scams
419 scams, also known as Nigerian Scams, are sophisticated phishing scams that involve the scammer trying to induce you to provide sensitive banking information by telling you that they want to move a large amount of money into your account and then have you wire a smaller amount back to them as a finder’s fee or something similar. For more information on these, visit Nigeria or Bust: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch .

809 Scams are new and very dangerous—to your phone bill! The 809 area code is located in The Bahamas. The nature of the scam is to leave a message on your voice mail asking you to return the call and giving you an 809 number to call back. With new area codes springing up every day, most people won’t think twice about it. As with 900 and 976 numbers, 809 numbers come with per-minute charges. So you call, you listen to a long message, realize that you wasted your time and hang up. It is only when the bill comes, frequently for well over $2000, that you realize that something is desperately wrong. The bill will be correct, your long distance carrier will tell you they are just providing billing for a foreign phone company and that foreign company will tell you they have done nothing wrong. After all, you made the call.

The fact is that these scams, when you think about them, are ridiculous and yet every year many people fall for them. Learn how not to be a victim. The best protection against these kinds of scams is to pay attention to what comes through your e-mail and ask yourself if your bank, investment broker, the IRS, whoever, really solicits information this way. If you are really unsure, call the institution in question, describe the e-mail you received and ask if it could have come from them. You will find that in just about 100% of the cases, the answer will be a resounding “No.” As for the 809 scams, again, common sense is your friend. If you don’t recognize the area code, do a little investigation and see where it comes from. Do you have friends or family in that area? Do you have business there? If the answers are “No,” then don’t dial the number. If it’s legitimate, they will call you back.

For more information on dealing with phishing threats, visit www.phishing-fraud.com .