July 4th Fireworks From Unsolicited Emails And Telephone Calls

July 3, 2012

Online fraud can blow up in your hands like dangerous fireworks

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Crime Complaint Center (also known as IC3 ) regularly issues warnings about new online scams.  In 2012, IC3 has posted the following alerts:

Reveton Ransomware

A new Citadel malware platform used to deliver the Revetonransomware lures the victim to a drive-by download website, at which time the ransomware is installed on the user's computer. Upon installation of the malware, the targeted computer freezes, a screen display warns  the user they have violated United States federal law, and a notices states that the user's IP address was identified by the Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section as visiting child pornography and other illegal content.

In furtherance of the scam, victims are instructed that in order to unlock their computer, they must  pay a $100 fine to the U.S. Department of Justice using prepaid money card services. In addition to the ransomware, the Citadel malware continues to operate on the compromised computer and can be used to commit online banking and credit card fraud.

Travelers' Laptops

Overseas traveler setting up a hotel room Internet connection have been targeted by a pop-up window offering a routine update to a legitimate software product for which updates are frequently available. If the update is installed, it loads malicious software on the laptop. The FBI recommends that you confirm the author or digital certificate of any prompted update.  Preferably, travelers should perform software updates on laptops immediately before traveling, and, if necessary while overseas, only download software updates directly from the software vendor's website

Law Firm Counterfeit Check Scheme

U.S. law firms and lawyers are receiving emails purporting from foreign parties seeking legal representation in collecting a debt from U.S.-based third parties. Upon receipt of an executed retainer agreement and a check payable to the law firm, the firms are instructed to deposit the check, take out retainer fees, and wire the remaining funds to banks in China, Korea, Ireland, or Canada. The checks are counterfeit and the wired-out funds are quickly converted.  The FBI warns of a variation of this theme involving emails from a purported U.S-based lawyer seeking debt-collection assistance for a client in another state's jurisdiction.  In some cases, the name of the referring attorney and the debtor company are bona fide but their use is unauthorized.

Payday Loans

A multi-year scam that persists is the payday loan fraud in which callers pose as representatives of the FBI, "Federal Legislative Department," various law firms, or other legitimate-sounding agencies and claim to be collecting debts for companies such as United Cash Advance, U.S. Cash Advance, U.S. Cash Net, or other Internet check-cashing services. The callers have been known to engage in particularly dogged efforts through nearly incessant calls to a victim's home, cellphone, and employment.  Response to requests for information of documentation are often met with threats and abuse.

Outstanding Warrants

In a variation of the payday scam, the FBI cites calls about supposed outstanding warrants for a victim's arrest.  The caller claims that the basis of the warrants is non-payment of the underlying loan and/or hacking. If it's the latter, the caller tells the victim that he or she is wanted for hacking into a business' computer system to steal customer information. The caller will then demand payment via debit/credit card; in other cases, the caller further instructs victims to obtain a prepaid card to cover the payment. In some cases, imposters pretending to be a process server have appeared at a victims home or job with a phony court summons - and volunteering that the victim could avoid a court appearance upon provision of a debit card number for payment of the loan.

Timeshare Scam

The FBI reports that timeshare owners have received telephone calls or e-mails from criminals posing as sales representatives for a timeshare resale company - the caller promises a quick 60-90 day sale of the property to a supposed hot-to-trot buyer. Timeshare owners who fall for this pitch are told that they must pay an upfront fee (from a few hundred to thousands of dollars). After payment is made, the scamster typically fails to return calls or the phone number/website is no longer working. To add insult to injury, the FBI warns that some defrauded timeshare owners are then contacted by a bogus timeshare fraud recovery company  promising to recover the lost funds in exchange for another upfront fee - in some cases, the callers from the recovery company are conspirators with the resale company.