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Old Scams for New Media - And I Fell For One

by Mike Rothschild

July 22, 2013

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Donate The lure of separating people from their money is as old as money itself. Go back to caveman times and it’s a safe bet one caveman was trying to sell another caveman some worthless magic animal meat with the promise that it would make his club harder. Since then, man has gotten a lot better at ripping off his fellow man, finding more and more complex ways to disguise fakery as reality, and thievery as opportunity. The mechanics of the scams change, but the goal is always the same: money for nothing. Here are some of the most popular new scams and new twists on old scams currently floating around. I’ve even fallen for one myself. Which one? Read on and find out.

The “Who’s Looking at Your Facebook Profile” scam " It’s natural to be curious about who’s checking out your Facebook profile and seeing all of the cool things you’re doing. Scammers know this, and instantly flooded Facebook with ads shilling software that could show you all the people who’ve viewed your photos, timeline and posts. Absolutely every one of these ads is a scam. Take it from the horse’s mouth: Facebook says in no uncertain terms that there is no way to track profile views. Downloading this software will infect your computer with a virus, and guarantee you have a very bad day.

Also, any link or app that promises to change the look of your Facebook page is a scam. There are a few legitimate apps that let you see who has unfriended you (or unfollowed you on Twitter) in case you absolutely need to know that. But even most of those offers are bogus and should be approached with caution. As is the next new-ish scam:

“You Did Something Awful” Tweets " You get a frantic direct message from someone who follows you on Twitter. It reads something like “Hey this person is threatening to expose something really serious and bad about you” and then there’s a link that’s been shortened, so you don’t know where it goes. You panic. Oh crap! What did I do?? Did those pictures get out? How drunk was I???

Rest easy, because you didn’t do anything. You got a DM from someone who was hacked. If you click on the link, it will lead you to a site called “Twitller” that looks exactly like Twitter. And when you enter your user name and password to see the “something really serious” it hijacks your account to send out more DM’s, along with ads for worthless diet products and other malicious links. Just delete the DM and let your Twitter contact know they’ve been hacked.

“I’ve Been Robbed! Send Lawyers, Guns and Money! But Mostly Money!” " Scams where people ask you to wire them money because they’ve been robbed in some far-flung country are older than dirt. The Facebook version of the scam works in essentially the same way. You get a private message from one of your Facebook friends claiming they were on vacation in some distant country, and were robbed. Now you’re the only one who can help them " by wiring a bunch of money to them through Western Union or Moneygram.

Of course, your Facebook friend wasn’t in that country, and wasn’t robbed. But if you wire money to the account they gave you, you are. Just like the Twitter scam, your friend was hacked and you should let them know. And if you’re really, really not sure if your friend needs help, just ask them. Because if they WERE in a foreign country and robbed, chances are they didn’t take to Facebook to ask for help.

As a blanket rule, any time anyone asks you to send them money, or offers to send you money in exchange for a little personal information, no matter who it is, no matter what the reason, no matter how small the amount, you’re being scammed. Run away.

The Phoner Toner scam " You’re sitting at your desk at work, doing whatever it is you do. You get a call from an office supply company. They tell you that you’ve got a new rep working on your account and that they’ve lowered the price on supplies for your printer. They just need your copier’s serial number and they’ll send your next batch of toner.

You’re busy and don’t have time for this crap, so you give them your serial number and go on to the next thing. A few weeks later, you get the supplies you “ordered” and it’s substandard, off-brand junk. But whatever. Toner is toner. Then, a few weeks after THAT, you get the bill. And it’s huge, way out of proportion to the tiny amount of supplies you were sent. But chances are the person who pays the bill and the person who authorized the purchase aren’t the same, so the bill unthinkingly gets paid, and your company just got scammed.

The Phoner Toner scam has been around for decades. It sells different products, targets different businesses and goes in and out of fashion. It's back with a vengeance now, as companies are flooded with temps, new graduates and part-time workers unfamiliar with who provides their company's office supplies. But it’s easy to fall for. So easy that I actually fell for it in a job I once had. We had a new printer, and I didn’t realize that our supplies were part of our monthly lease payment. So when the office supply “company” called to say they'd slashed prices and it was time to order, I didn’t think twice about letting them send a new shipment. A few weeks later, one toner cartridge arrived. I’d actually forgotten about the whole thing until then " but I remembered when the bill came a week later. It was over $600, plus a $75 shipping charge.

We knew the bill wasn’t right, so I looked up the company, and sure enough, it had an F rating from the Better Business Bureau. And I’d fallen for one of the oldest scams in the book. Fortunately, this story can have a happy ending, because you’re under no obligation to pay for merchandise you didn’t order and shouldn’t send them one penny. Don’t bother trying to send the toner back or contact the company, because anything they tell you or try to do will be part of the scam " and probably make the situation worse. Just toss the bill in the garbage and use the toner they try to con you into buying. I felt foolish for letting my skeptical guard down, but no harm was done.

The Crazy Video!!! Scam " A friend of yours posts a link to a video on their Facebook wall. It promises to show you something OUTRAGEOUS, like Osama Bin Laden’s corpse, a celebrity sex tape, something really hilariously funny, a catfight or something guaranteed to get your attention.

You like viral videos, right? So you check it out, fill out a quick survey indicating you’re old enough to watch the video (on account of how OUTRAGEOUS it is) and you’ve just given your personal information to a scammer, sent the link out to all of your Facebook friends, probably infected your computer with data-harvesting malware and put money in the pocket of scammers.

The scam is called “clickjacking” or “likejacking” when it happens on Facebook. Many of these efforts are designed simply to generate likes on Facebook or views on YouTube " which create revenue for the scammer. Or the surveys generate data for scammers and expose potential fish for other scams. But clickjacking is serious. Anytime anyone has access to your personal information or computer, theft isn't far behind.

The Mystery Shopping Scam " What’s better than shopping? Getting paid to shop! And some people are actually lucky enough to have this job " getting hired by either a company or third party to pretend to be a shopper and evaluate the products and services offered by that company.

While these jobs do exist, they’re far between and hard to get. What’s easy to get, however, is a fake mystery shopping gig. Anyone can get one of those. Just answer an ad online, fill out a legit-looking form with your information, and, of course, send money. You know, to get started, pay for training materials or reserve your spot in the company. And once that money is sent, it’s gone and you have no secret shopping job. Because there never was one.

The secret shopper scam is decades old, and has recently started getting rolled in with the Western Union scam. When you sign up for the gig, you’re sent an information packet with your first “assignment,” which is to test out a bank and/or wire service. Part of the packet includes a large check, which you’re told to cash or use to purchase a wire transfer. You send the amount of the check, minus a few hundred bucks for your troubles, to an account they give you. Seems easy, right? Of course, the original check was worthless, and once it bounces a few days later, you’re on the hook for the money you had the bank send.

As always, approach any ad for any sort of job that seems too good to be true with extreme caution. And never, never, ever, ever send anyone money for the privilege of working for them.

This is just a sampler platter of the giant buffet of scams and frauds out there, some online and some done the old-fashioned way, though cold-calling and pounding the pavement. But no matter the scam, there's an easy way to not be taken in: watch what you click on, never send or accept money from anyone you don’t know, and always keep your skeptical radar on.

by Mike Rothschild

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