Archives for November 2010

Fake FDIC Phone and Email Scams

Fake FDIC Phone and Email Scams

The name of the FDIC continues to be used by scammers to try to get your money or commit identity theft. In the past few months, the FDIC has been receiving increasing reports of fraudulent phone scam attempts by people claiming to be from the FDIC. These calls are, in fact, a vishing scam. (A form of social engineering that takes place over the phone, often through a VoIP connection) According to the FDIC in their September 2010 Consumer Alert:

To date, the callers have alleged that the call recipient is delinquent in payment of a loan that was applied for over the Internet or made through a payday lender. The loan may or may not actually exist. The caller attempts to authenticate the claim by providing sensitive personal information, such as name, Social Security number, and date of birth, supposedly taken from the loan application. The recipient is then strongly urged to make a payment over the phone to “avoid a lawsuit and possible arrest.” In some instances, the caller is said to sound aggressive and threatening.

Source: FDIC

If you get a phone call, email, fax, carrier pigeon, or anything from the FDIC claiming something akin to the aforementioned, it’s a scam, plain and simple. These scam artists aren’t dumb. They’ll craft an email, a phone script, or even a website to look as legitimate as possible in order to fool you, but it’s not from the FDIC. In fact, the FDIC specifically states that:

The FDIC generally does not initiate unsolicited telephone calls to consumers and is not involved with the collection of debts on behalf of operating lenders and financial institutions.

Source: FDIC

In short, if it’s a phone call, hang up. If it’s an email, don’t click on anything and delete the email. Then go through your bank and credit card statements to make sure you aren’t already facing an identity thief who is trying to gather more data on you. If you find out that you’ve been swindled already, contact your financial institutions immediately.

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Reporting Online Fraud and Cybercrime

Reporting Online Fraud and Cybercrime

If you or someone you know is becomes the victim of online fraud or any other type of cybercrime (or even just an attempt at it), you need to contact the authorities as soon as possible. Keeping it to yourself can lead to repeated attacks, as well as continued spread of Internet fraud, crime, and even increased distribution of viruses and spyware through crime networks that try to set up shop on your computer.

Depending on what level of fraud and/or cybercrime you’re dealing with, you may have to notify multiple agencies. But regardless of how many places you have to contact, doing so will be the first step to stopping the crooks in their tracks. Please use the list below as a starting point to report any incident:

  • An Important First Step:

    If the fraud you’re reporting reporting is, or becomes, aggressive or threatening in any manner, contact your local authorities. The police in your community should be made aware of any potential threats to you, your family, your home, etc.

  • Get Into The System:

    Head to, the “Internet Crime Complaint Center”. This site is a partnership between several government agencies, including the FBI. The IC3 has an online complaint submission form that you can use to report online fraud and other Internet-related scams.

  • If It’s International…:

    If you feel you’re the victim of an international scam operation, contact, a coalition of about 2 dozen countries who want to help stop cross-border cybercrime. You may also want to contact a US Secret Service field office to let them know, too.

  • Contact Credit Reporting Companies:

    If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, contact any one of the big 3 credit reporting companies. They’ll get your information disseminated to all three. Their contact info is as follows:

Don’t just be a victim of online fraud and cybercrime. Contact the appropriate authorities and government agencies and stop Internet-related crime before it stops you.

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Avoiding Nigerian Scam Emails

Avoiding Nigerian Scam Emails

“There’s a sucker born every minute.”

– P.T. Barnum (Attributed)

What is the Nigerian Email Scam?

I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of the Nigerian email scams that are still being emailed out to millions of people every year and claiming new victims. These scams continue to bilk innocent people out of their money and more, even though the basic scam itself has been around for hundreds of years.

These emails are a typical example of how fraud and various scams are easily disseminated among a large group of people. The Internet is a great distribution method for crooks who want to attempt this scam since emails are cheap and getting millions of email addresses to send their letters to is relatively easy.

What Are the Basics of This Scam?

The Nigerian scam emails are a variation on the old “Spanish Prisoner” con and they’re sometimes referred to as “Advanced Fee Fraud” or a “419 scam” (based on the article in the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud). No matter what name is used, the modern variant of these scams go roughly like this:

  • A Wealthy Foreign Patron

    A rich person from another country, or possibly a representative for said person, contacts you, generally via email (though fax and snail mail aren’t unheard of). Regardless of who contacts you, it’s actually a con artist and not a rich person or their rep.

    • NOTE Although are normally referred to as “Nigerian scam emails”, these emails can technically come from any foreign country.
  • A Large Sum of Money (Trapped)

    The rich person/con artist claims they’re trying to invest their money, or maybe just trying to get it out of the country (often due to political upheaval or pressure), but needs an external bank account to transfer it all to safely. That’s where you come into the equation.

  • The Deal

    In exchange for transferring a large sum of money and “helping” the con artist, you are guaranteed a percentage of the transaction. This is normally a large enough percentage that it’d be like winning the Lottery.

  • A Problem Arises

    If you should be so… unfortunate… as to accept the offer, you’ll no doubt be contacted and told that there is some kind of problem: Some official needs to be bribed, perhaps a transfer fee is needed, new or underestimated attorney fees, or something along those lines. The con will ask you to front a certain amount of money to take care of the problem and will assure you that you’ll either be compensated at the end of the transaction or that the amount you’re getting in exchange for the deal once it all goes down will overshadow the “small” amount of money you’re asked to put up.

    This is the part where they try to part you from your money.

  • Goodbye Money

    After you’ve fronted the money for the problems that arise, you’ll very likely be told of more problems that require additional money to be transferred until you’re either tapped out of money or the con artists decide to move on. Either way, you end up the loser in this con game.

Who Are Typical Victims of This Scam?

Unfortunately confidence scam victims come from all walks of life. Rich, poor, old, young… who you are and where you come from doesn’t matter to a Nigerian email scam artist. Out of the millions of emails they’ll send, they only need a handful of marks (e.g. victims) to make their email scam a success; the FBI estimates that millions of dollars are lost every year to these Nigerian/419 scams. They’ll take whomever they can get.

How Can I Protect Myself?

The first rule of Don’t Get Scammed Club is… use common sense. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Secondly, always be wary of any email, IM, or other communication from a stranger that involves money or personally identifiable information. If you think that you, or someone else you know, is currently being targeted by a Nigerian scam email proposition here in the US, contact the FBI or the Secret Service.

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Are Popup Ads Dangerous?

Are Popup Ads Dangerous?

Excuse me, but your pop-up is on my screen.

Ah, yes… the ubiquitous pop-up ad. Annoying? Yes. Misunderstood? Possibly. Dangerous? Well, that remains to be seen. But what exactly is a pop-up ad? Is it anything at all that “pops” up on your screen a pop-up ad? Wikipedia says:

Pop-up ads (or pop-ups are a form of online advertising on the World Wide Web intended to attract web traffic or capture email addresses.

If we go by Wikipedia’s definition (and for the purposes of this blog post, we are), then we can break it down to say that anything that opens up a “form of online advertising on the World Wide Web” is a pop-up ad. Notice the emphasis on “online” — in this blog post we’re not including pop-ups that are generated from software. (Usually in the form of a Windows dialog box) That’s a good topic for another post at another time.

What’s dangerous and what’s annoying?

In reality, a true online ad is no more dangerous than a TV ad. Sure, it may be an annoyance, but you’re not going to get anything you don’t ask for unless you click on the ad. The trouble is that a malicious pop-up can be confused with a legitimate pop-up ad. That’s the rub. Whether those pop-ups come from software, a website, or from a magical dimension (ha-ha-ha), bad stuff is bad stuff, and that bad stuff is often masked to look like a legitimate pop-up. Why? Because the folks who are trying to get their badness out there are preying on our trust. Make the pop-up look like it came from a trusted source and more people will click.

Because of that, you and I have to be careful when surfing the Web and we’re confronted with a pop-up. Even if it’s something we’re interested in, we run the risk of being redirected somewhere we didn’t think we’d be sent to. And even if we’re not interested, sometimes even closing the pop-up can be a challenge. How many times have you tried to close a browser window with a pop-up ad only to be confronted with another pop-up? Even worse are the pop-up confirmation boxes that ask us if we’re sure, and then confuse us by saying clicking one button will do this and the other will do that, and neither explanation seems clear as to what clicking on either will actually do. It’s enough to drive you crazy!

Closing the pop-up debate.

If you’re surfing the Internet and keeping to well known sites like Google, Bing, and other big-name blogs/sites/etc. then the likelihood of you getting propositioned by a malicious pop-up are small. But no matter if you stay on the big sites or walk the wild side, you can keep yourself safe by downloading and installing a pop-up blocker, antivirus and anti-spyware software that specifically looks to remove any malicious software you may accidentally get infected with. Doing so will help keep you safe, whether or not you’re being exposed to legitimate ads or dangerous pop-ups.

Image courtesy of / CC BY-ND 2.0

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