Snippets issue highlights latest debit card and malware scams: Internet Scambusters #649
Two new scams involving prepaid debit cards head up our Snippets issue this week.
In one trick, crooks manipulate search engine listings so their phony sites end up at the top, and in the other, they're sending out cards to unsuspecting victims so the victim adds cash, which the scammers then drain.
We also have news of a bogus property tax discount and the latest tactic for getting victims to download malware onto their PCs.
Sneaky New Debit Card and Phishing Tricks
Prepaid debit cards are one of the money scammers' favorite tools.
They love to get victims to load up cards as supposed payment for a service and then to hand over the card numbers to them.
But now crooks have come up with a new trick that exploits a feature of Internet search engines.
When we do a web search using Google, Bing, Safari, or one of the other search services, we tend to refer to only the top few items or certainly just the first page of listings.
So if scammers can get their bogus sites onto that list, they have a chance of fooling users into believing their service is genuine -- especially if they use a legitimate-sounding name.
So, supposing you have a prepaid card and run into a problem, or want to get a cash refund.
You do a search on a term like, for instance, "debit card problem" or the name of the card issuer, and get a list of links to customer support services that can supposedly help you.
You may see names you recognize and that seem to be connected with the card issuer so you won't be surprised when you phone them and they ask for your card number.
But if the person on the other end of the line is a crook, you know what will happen next, don't you? They'll use that information to steal the money you have stored on the card.
It only takes them a few seconds and they'll put callers on hold while they supposedly check the problem -- but they're actually draining the card account.
Action: Many debit card issuers put contact phone numbers on the back of the card. Use that for queries.
Otherwise, be very cautious when searching online. Don't assume that a link that shows high up in a search is necessarily legit. Make sure you're contacting the genuine card company.
So, for instance, if you have a question about a Green Dot card - the most common prepaid card - the correct website address to visit is simply www.greendot.com.
You should also use this site address if you have a question about Green Dot's discontinued MoneyPak cards.
And, of course, don't give your card number to anyone or enter it on a web page until you're 100% sure of who you're dealing with.
Bogus Green Dot Promo
A second, newly-discovered Green Dot card scam is remarkably simple and clever.
Victims receive what seems to be a letter from the well-known and totally legitimate company, together with one or two cards.
The letter claims the cards are being distributed as a promotion and that all the recipient needs to do is activate them and load them up with cash.
As an incentive, the letter may even suggest a bonus will be added to any money the recipient loads on the cards.
The cards are genuine but they don't come directly from Green Dot; they come from scammers who already know the card number and its PIN.
So if you add money to the card, the scammers just drain it off, double-quick.
Sherriff Janis Mangum of Jackson County Police in Georgia, who recently received a couple of cards, said: "My understanding is if you get those cards -- they look like credit cards -- and if I had put money on the cards, then (those who) filed those cards in my name would have access to the money."
This is just the latest in a whole raft of tricks scammers use involving Green Dot cards.
We wrote about them in a couple of earlier issues:
The company is making major changes to try to reduce fraudulent use, but the advice for avoiding this trick is simple.
According to Mangum, Green Dot doesn't send out cards in a promotion like this.
So if you receive one of these letters, shred it.
Home Equity Tax Scam
Another sneaky new way scammers may try to get their hands on your money is by offering a bogus property tax discount for people with an outstanding home equity loan.
It's a phishing trick in which the crooks try to obtain victims' bank account and loan account numbers, which can then be used to obtain additional credit.
The initial scam comes as a letter that appears to be from a city or county property appraiser's office, offering a 5% property tax refund.
To try to convince recipients of its authenticity, the letter may name the bank that provided the credit line and even the date the account was opened, but it doesn't have the crucial account number.
This suggests the crooks already have access to some information, probably through hacking activity, but they haven't got all the information they need to complete their crime.
So, they ask potential victims to fax copies of their latest account statement and a voided check.
Armed with these details, the crooks can then use the line of credit to make their own purchases or transfer cash.
Action: We don't know of any local government appraisal office that offers such discounts and, if they did, they certainly wouldn't ask for account details or voided checks.
So it's almost certainly going to be a scam. But if you want to double check it, find the number of your County Property Appraiser's office in the phone book and call them.
Alert of the Week
Watch out for a spam email saying you must turn up at a local court on an imminent date to answer unspecified charges.
The subject heading may include the recipient's name followed by the words "Notice to Appear in Court."
The message tells recipients they have to prepare and bring documents to court and that the case may be heard by the judge if you don't turn up.
There's a supposed "Court Notice" attached to the email, which will likely download malware onto your PC if you click it.
If you receive one of these notices and are at all concerned about it, contact your local district or county court.
Whatever you do, don't click the attachment.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.