Archive for the ‘Specific Alerts’ Category

It’s Cyber-Monday, the biggest on-line shopping day of the year, and that means it’s time for Cyber-Monday scams. And there are a lot of them this year. Online shopping can be safe but you have to be careful where and how you shop. It’s not really that much different from safe shopping at a physical store or over the phone. Be suspicious.

  • When shopping online, type the merchant’s URL in by hand instead of following any “convenient” link in an email or instant message. Those links can be spoofed in a phishing attack which looks like legitimate advertising.
  • Look for the prefix https in the address line. This indicates that you are on an encrypted connection to the merchant’s website. You can also look for the little yellow padlock icon in the bottom right of the browser. Be careful, however. Sophisticated hackers can spoof these signs
  • Read the site’s privacy policy carefully and use common sense about the offer. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you don’t trust the company to protect your personal information, shop somewhere else.
  • Make sure your own protections (anti-virus, firewall, patches) are up-to-date and running.
  • Use a credit card, not a debit card. If your credit card is stolen or the number misused, federal law limits your liability to $50 (as long as you comply with the notification requirements). If a debit card number is compromised, you could lose the entire amount in the account to which the debit card is linked.
  • Check your statement carefully for charges you don’t recognize. Report any anomalies to your bank and report a lost or stolen card immediately.
  • Consider keeping a separate credit card with a low credit limit just for internet purchases.

And in the theme of Cyber-Monday scams, here’s one that isn’t.

There are allegations online that a Facebook-based promotion being run by Westfield, the Australian mall company. They are letting Australian customers sign up for a lottery for a $10,000 gift card in exchange for all kinds of semi-confidential information (basically the same information you’d give up for a discount card, though) and the inclusion of a Facebook app to your account. Many people have accused the Facebook app of being virus-infected and/or the sign-up of being a phish. It actually checks out, though. Despite the skepticism (which I consider entirely appropriate and healthy in our current online environment), the mall’s promotion has been confirmed. has a good writeup describing their confirmation of the promotion.

Whether you shop with the Westfield mall is up to you. Take a few minutes to research any such offer and company before you sign up, though. Being suspicious of an offer that seems too good to be true is an excellent habit to build.

Much like the hurricane scams that we’ve talked about before, scammers are already exploiting the new stimulus package with fraudulent sites and offers. Scammers have registered domains like and and have some very sophisticated-looking offers (and some that are pretty transparent). Many come through email but some have been inserted into otherwise legitimate-looking online advertising.

A few of these scams appear to be targeted at tricking you into giving up your personal information but most seem to be asking for a prepaid “filing fee” or other hidden (and often recurring) charges. CIOonline wrote an in-depth analysis of one such scam. It’s fascinating reading.

The FTC is trying to chase down some of the worst offenders but these sites pop up faster than they can be taken down. As always, be very cautious about what you read on the internet. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I trust everyone had a good holiday break and hope you have a good new year. With the way 2008 ended, many people are making plans for the future. Unfortunately, some of those planners include phishers and social engineers. And as I’m sure you’ve seen, they are getting more and more creative and professional in their scams. The days when you could delete a message just because it was poorly written are long gone. Today’s scams are targeted, well-written and spell-checked.

In particular, we are already an increase in phishing messages that reference the recipient’s holiday credit care spending pattern. The messages will claim to be requests for confirmation, reports of transactions and even a few of the traditional “your account has been frozen” scams. During the holiday season, many people have more transactions and shop with more different merchants; the scammers are attempting to exploit any confusion over those transactions in order to trick you into disclosing your account information, passwords, etc. If last year is any indication, expect that phishing campaign to accelerate during this week and last until the middle of next month or so.

We are also seeing a number of scams related to the economy. The number of work-at-home scam messages is up dramatically. As you may remember from prior tips, these scams promise easy money either for helping transfer funds or to conduct “quality control checks” on merchandise. In the first case, you become part of a money laundering operation, in the second, a fence. Either way, you’re like to get a visit from some federal law enforcement agency. If it were that easy to make money, they wouldn’t need to be sending out random emails about it.

Interestingly, the old “Nigerian fraud” is back in large numbers. These are fairly transparent messages alleging that someone needs your help to get money out of a foreign country (usually in Sub-Saharan Africa) and offering you a percentage if you will allow the person to transfer the money through your bank account. Foreign lottery scams are also back in significant numbers. I believe that by now most people know that these messages are scams but in times of financial difficulty, sometimes hope trumps common sense.

If an email asks for your personal information or if it contains an offer that looks too good to be true, trust your intuition and delete the message. To learn more about how to identify common scams, check out some of the links in the archived Tips on phishing. Have a safe New Year.

The Ohio Department of Insurance has confirmed an on-going scam targeting insurance policyholders. According to the ODI, the scam is currently targeted primarily at auto policies. In this scam, the caller alleges that “there was a problem with your insurance payment” and asks for confidential information such as bank account numbers, birthdates, SSNs, etc. The call often includes a threat that “your coverage will lapse” if the customer does not comply.

You can read the full ODI press release at

Insurance companies do sometimes ask for confidential information such as SSNs and birthdates in the normal course of business. However, it would be highly unusual for the insurance carrier to contact the customer directly or to do so other than in writing. If you receive a call that strikes you as suspicious, hang up and call the number printed on your last policy statement. If the call was legitimate, the customer service representative will be able to look up your account and confirm it.

Be very cautious about handing out your personal information to anyone you do not know well. Ohio customers who have already received one of these fraudulent calls, are asked to report it to the ODI at 1-800-686-1527.

Lastly, if you believe that you may have given up your confidential information to a fraudulent caller, you should check your credit report and consider putting a fraud alert on your account. For more on how to check your credit report, you can follow this link to the archive of tips on this topic.

We wrote several years ago about Hurricane Katrina scams – people trying to exploit our sympathy for the victims of the tragedy by setting up fraudulent websites and fake charities. The FBI and FTC have recently announced a number of similar scams related to Hurricane Gustav. More than 300 Gustav-related internet addresses were registered in the hours immediately before and after Gustav hit the Gulf Coast. Many of them include keywords such as "help", "victims", "survivors" and "aid". There might be a few legitimate sites mixed in among these but the vast majority are scams. They are sites set up to con good people out of their contributions – or perhaps just trying to bait you into visiting their virus-laden website. Either way, if you’re going to give to the victims of a disaster like Hurricane Gustav, you need to do your homework before sending in that check.

  • Never respond directly to an email request for money. If you think the request might be legitimate, ask for written information about the charity including their official name, physical address and telephone number.
  • Contact the charity directly and be sure that they know about the solicitation and have authorized the use of their name. (You’d be amazed how many people claim to be collecting for the Red Cross but just pocket the cash – or pass on some miniscule percentage of the contribution.)
  • Be especially cautious about suspiciously similar names. Many of these scam sites will attempt to mimic the legitimate charities.
  • If you don’t remember making a pledge, you probably didn’t. Don’t let yourself be pressured into sending anyone money.
  • Avoid cash donations. Don’t give out your credit card number either. Checks are best because they leave a paper trail – better for the FBI if it’s a scam and better for you if it’s legit so you can claim the tax deduction with the IRS.
  • If you’ve already made a donation to a "charity" that you now believe was fraudulent, contact your local FBI office so they can investigate it.

For more, go the the FTC’s Consumer Protection website.