Scammers barking up wrong tree – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

In the past two weeks I’ve been the recipient of four emails to my work email address promoting different sorts of scams. The problem with the scams is that they are very effective. If I didn’t work at the National Consumers League and if we didn’t have a Fraud Center, I could see how people might fall for some of these – or at least commit the cardinal sin of opening up emails that give the scammer the chance to get their precious personal information.

I’m struck by how these scammers cast such a wide net. Reaching someone at the National Consumers League means reaching an organization with a lot of expertise on scams and how to recognize them. However, given the thousands (if not millions) of email sent out in these scams, if only 1/100 of 1 percent of those they reach actually respond with a Social Security Number or bank account number, then the scammers have succeeded.

The first appeal asked me to “confirm your flight 782-2128 to San Diego.”  I am not planning a trip to San Diego, so right away the light bulb went off – SCAM! Phishing! They want me to open up the email and provide personal information. Instead of following their instructions, I forwarded the email to our fraud expert, James Perry, and he confirmed they were indeed trying to get sensitive information from me.

The second email came with the subject line “Wire Transfer Confirmation,” suggesting that I had transferred funds through Western Union and that additional information was needed. Again, they were looking for me to provide information they could use down the road to scam me.

The third email actually came from the email address of a work acquaintance named Maria. According to the email, Maria said she had been robbed in Spain and was requesting that we send her money via wire transfer (graciously noting that she would “refund immediately upon my return”). Two days later, the real Maria sent an email saying her email account had been hacked and she hadn’t been on vacation in Spain after all! Big surprise. I hardly knew her and she wasn’t a close friend so I knew she would not have written to me for a loan, but I bet some of her close friends were concerned. One or more of them may have even sent money.

The fourth email included attached “invoices.” I received the first one and a “reminder” two days later claiming that monies that were supposedly owed. Our trusty fraud expert, James Perry, says these are very common and that many companies will pay so-called invoices that come in without checking whether the money is owed. One common such invoice scam is for Yellow Pages. James advised me not to open the email since that would just give the scammers more information. It’s too bad, since I was interested in finding out what they were allegedly “invoicing” us for.

NCL works very closely with law enforcement to try and prevent these scams but we also do a great deal of outreach through our Fraud Center to warn consumers not to fall for these swindles. This past few weeks confirmed for me that these scams are extremely difficult to prevent. If they can contact the head of the NCL so shamelessly, they will go after anyone. Please, consumers, be aware and don’t be fooled. Below are some “red flags” that helped me recognize these four emails as scams and advice on how to handle them:

  1. If you’re contacted about an invoice, plane ticket or lottery or other event you didn’t seek out – don’t open the email. Delete it immediately.
  2. If a friend contacts you and says they’ve been robbed and need money – call the friend on your own at a phone number you have on file (NOT the number listed in the email) to verify the story and remain skeptical of any claims of robbery or jail and a request for money to be wired.
  3. If you open emails such as these, don’t click on any links or attachments since they may contain malware. At the very least, by opening the emails, you’ll let the scammers know that they have a “live one.” It’s better to simply delete these emails immediately.
  4. If you do get scammed by one of these crooks, don’t be ashamed. It happens to all sorts of people from every walk of life. Report the fraud to NCL’s Fraud Center, the Federal Trade Commission, or your state attorney general’s office.