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Matthew Hedger
08/08/2014 10:50 AM

A new round of scams is worming its way around the area — with con artists using technology in an attempt to convince you by phone and emails that they are official and legitimate.

One Jackson resident, who said she wanted to help get the word out to other residents after she was targeted, asked that her name not be used to avoid further problems from scammers. She told the Amador Ledger Dispatch this week that an attempt to con her came via her cellular phone — with the Amador County Sheriff’s Office number showing on the caller I.D.

“Right there,” she said, pointing to the screen of her iPhone, “It said Sheriff’s Office, so I answered it, and a guy says he’s calling to let me know I owed money for two tickets and they needed to be paid right away or I could be arrested.”

The woman said the man sounded very official while explaining what he said was a dire situation.

“He said the tickets had made it to the court, and a judge would definitely issue an arrest warrant if I didn’t give him my credit card number, date of birth, address and telephone number, so they could, A, charge the card for the $500 he said was the cost of the tickets, and B, so they could verify I was the person who had received the citations.”

The woman said she became suspicious of the call when the man couldn’t verify the ticket number, or when it had been issued, or even the offense it had been issued for.

“He said they were for two traffic violations, but didn’t specify what I had supposedly done,” she said. “I don’t have any tickets I am aware of, unless they were parking tickets, and they wouldn’t be for $500, would they?”

So she told the man she would not give up her credit card information, but would instead drive to the Sheriff’s Office and present them with a check instead.

“And he hung up,” she said.

A quick check of the Internet reveals applications for both iPhone and Android phones designed to mask the actual number of incoming calls and replace them with calls from the president, or Charlie Sheen, or anybody else. The apps are touted as designed to be used to make modern prank or joke phone calls, but the scammers have clearly found another use for them.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the ACSO confirmed two versions of scams reported to them and warned residents to be wary.

“The first involves citizens being contacted by persons representing themselves as Amador County Sheriff’s Deputies, stating that they have ‘Failures To Appear,’ and that they must pay a fine using a credit card, debit card or other electronic funding source,” it reads. “The suspect uses a spoofed telephone number associated with the ACSO. To date, three incidents have been reported, but only one of the three provided account access information to the suspect. Two incidents occurred in the City of Ione and one occurred in the City of Sutter Creek. The ACSO does not request or collect fines from citizens. If you have been the victim of this scam or received a similar call, please report it to the law enforcement agency within the jurisdiction where you received the call.

“The second involves a citizen receiving a notice that they are being given a $100 gift card to Walmart or Target. The card has a “personal identification number” on it and an “800” number to call. The citizen calls the number and is told to receive the card there is a $7.48 “processing fee” and the citizen is requested to provide credit card information to process the fee, which will result in the gift card being authorized. To date, we have only had one reported incident and that citizen did not fall prey to the scam.”

Another variation of a scam that has been making the rounds involves people who still haven’t gotten the message about upping the privacy level on their social media accounts.

A Mokelumne Hill woman, who also asked that her name not be used, said she received a call from a woman who told her that her granddaughter was in trouble with the law in Canada and needed to be bailed out of jail.

“What was weird was, my granddaughter was actually in Canada,” she said. “So, I was on my way to get money to wire it to her when I thought, ‘Maybe I should ask someone about this.’” The woman said she asked a relative who was more knowledgable about computers and he told her it was almost certainly a scam.

“So I called her cell number and she said, ‘No, Grandma, I’m fine.’ so when the woman called back, we told her the bank required us to get more information in order to complete the wire transfer and she just hung up.”

When they reviewed the granddaughter’s Facebook account, the now-savvy grandmother saw multiple postings and “check-ins” online that she now thinks were used by the con artists in an attempt to bilk her out of a thousand dollars.

“She had posted the name of the town she was in, and the restaurant she was eating,” she explained. “And the woman knew the town. I called my granddaughter back and told her to knock it off. I had no idea stuff like this was occurring.”

As it turned out, she also had a Facebook account open to the public, and after discovering the granddaughter’s page and posts listing the grandmother’s name, the scammers likely visited her page as well, where her phone number was listed.

“I took all my personal information out,” said the grandmother. “I almost fell for it.”

Another current scam is being blamed for clogging up email inboxes in our area, and involves an official-looking document touted as coming from the courthouse.

An Amador Ledger Dispatch reporter has been receiving dozens of them a week, six on Aug. 5 alone. From the sender customer service 378@thenationstoplawyers.com, the email reads: “Notice to Appear, The copy of the court notice is attached to this letter. Please, read it thoroughly. Note: If you do not attend the hearing the judge may hear the case in your absence. Truly Yours, Clerk to the Court, Patricia Mason.” Underneath the wording, a “zip” copy of an official looking document is attached.

Computer expert Bill Lavallie said, if the file is opened, “It will likely unloose gosh knows what malware onto your computer, so don’t even think about opening it.”

The multiple notices vary only in the address of the sender and the name of the supposed clerk of the court.

Jury summons from the Amador Superior Court arrive regularly for area residents and are delivered by the U.S. Post Office as mail, but they do not send out notices via email for anything.

A new variation on this type of “phishing,” as the scams are referred to, also showed up this week purporting to originate with the “E-Z Pass Customer Service Center” at team@recordsvilla.com.

“Dear customer, You have not paid for driving on a toll road. This invoice is sent repeatedly, please service your debt in the shortest possible time. the invoice can be downloaded here.”

The poor grammar notwithstanding, the email is a scam.

Another popular email currently being received in this newspaper office several times a week involves a supposed problem with our payroll.

From runpayroll@ADP.ca, the notice informs us that the ADP payroll invoice is attached for review. “Thank you for choosing ADP payroll,” it reads, in part.

“We literally get thousands of emails a week,” said ALD Publisher Jack Mitchell, “and although most are legitimate, it only takes one mistake on one computer by one person here to unleash the malware into our server system. It’s happened before. I have a very sharp staff, though.”

Some of the emails that might contain malware, or viruses, appear harmless, and try to snare people who might seek to benefit from a “secret” government program, or a better way to refinance your mortgage, “if you have less than perfect credit,” reads one version. “Verify your HARP eligibility and save on your mortgage,” touts another example.

Lavallie, who says he has a work calendar filled with computer users who have inadvertently fallen victim to viruses, said the result of clicking on these is almost always the same.

“Even though the F.B.I. recently reported they had shut down the worst one, Cryptolocker, last month, there are still a lot of scammers out there phishing for your information,” he said. “So, if it seems too good to be true, it is. If you really want information about something, go to your web browser and use Google to find an official site. Don’t ever reply to an unsolicited email unless you can positively identify the source. Maybe some are legitimate, but why take a chance?”

Laughable now, to most long-time computer users, variations of another scam continue to show up in email boxes, with offers from wealthy, long-lost relatives in distant countries, or deposed government, or banking, officials, who say they will gladly share the wealth if you will only provide them with your banking information so they can get the money out of wherever it is being held.

“Kind regard from Chris “Swift” Clinton,” reads one received this week. “ I’m a former operator with the financial intervention department of the U.S treasury and an assistant at the control base of the European Bank dollar control department to the treasury and the federal reserve system of the United State.

“This is a benefiting proposal for you and me: regarding an outstanding FUND intercepted from a corrupt bank in Europe. The fund amount has been pended in the reserve intercepted escrow in a corresponding bank designated for security of such fund sequel to the tax evasion allegation made against the funder and the receiving bank.”

If the grammar and misspellings aren’t an immediate clue that the message is a scam, the bottom line, asking that the transaction be kept secret, is definitely a giveaway.

“Precisely, I came about your contact information through the result from my cyber findings. Contact me in confidence. In addition to my advise, I request this communication to be a top confidential in order to achieve the aim. Any violation to my instruction will leads to interruption of the funding process and another investor will be allocated to the fund. I hope you will consider this as a prosperous dealing and contact me soonest.”

If you have been been victimized by any one of these scams, or a variation of sorts, you are urged to call your local sheriff.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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