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TELEPHONE SCAMS

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DON'T BE SCAMMED BY A PHONE CALL

Telephone scams have been around since Alexander Graham Bell invented this device. There are so many scams perpetrated on gullible people who get ripped off by merely picking up the phone when it rings and believing the utter crap that somebody tells them. Here are a few of these scams, but you should treat all calls with the greatest suspicion, even from friends who want to rope you into some multi-level marketing scheme that relies on them recruiting gullible suckers. And those suckers are not targets at all. They are chickens ripe for the plucking and I call them targets, because that is exactly what they are.

FAKE REMOTE COMPUTER FIX SCAM

Many Australians have been targeted by fraudsters, based mostly in overseas call centres, claiming to be Microsoft or other computer company technicians cold-calling potential targets and stating that their computers have been affected by viruses. They use high-pressure tactics, warning that stored information will be lost if the computer is not repaired immediately.

Most of these scammers are reasonably computer-literate and spew out all sorts of technical jargon to convince their targets that they really are legitimate. Some of them even offer Australian phone numbers for the targets to ring and verify this, but in literally all cases, those numbers are bogus or they are VoIP services on Australian numbers, but linking to overseas telephones.

This is how it works. In some cases, potential targets are asked to provide credit card payments and call a telephone number that diverts overseas. In other cases, they are directed to a website which gives the scammers remote access to their computer and their personal information. The scammers will also use various tricks to convince the targets that their computers are infected, such as getting them to open up the Event Viewer on the computer, which invariably shows events with error icons. Although these error messages are quite normal on all computers, the scammers will tell the targets that these indicate that multiple viruses are present on their computers.

In reality, there may be nothing wrong with those computers, but if the targets are computer illiterate and fall for the scam, they will believe that there are major problems on their computer and that paying the fee is the best way to get them fixed. Often the scammers will also push the targets to buy a computer maintenance subscription that is never honoured. Why would a scammer honour a deal?

But even worse, if a target allows a scammer to gain access to his computer, especially with administrator privileges, the scammer can then do literally anything, such as loading a keylogger that will record and transmit all keystrokes to the scammer, giving him usernames, passwords and credit card details to bank accounts and commerce websites. The scammer can then do everything that the target can do, including cleaning out the target's bank accounts and shopping using those credit card details, including that secret security number on the back.

Getting administrator privileges will allow the scammer to examine and download any files on the target's computer, including child pornography, sensitive financial and personal information that the scammer can use to blackmail the target. In fact, the scammer can completely hijack the target's computer, locking it up so the target cannot get access to anything until he literally pays a ransom to the scammer to unlock his own property.

Of course there is only one defence against this scam and that is to never ever give anybody, especially a stranger on the phone, access to your computer in any way, no matter what they say. It's that simple. If somebody claiming to be a technician rings up and states that you have viruses, simply tell them to get lost. Don't ever divulge credit card details or any other personal information. Then download that excellent free virus checker called Malwarebytes, install it and run it. This terrific software will quickly eradicate any viruses on your computer and make a report of your computer's safety and status.

I do not endorse many things, but Malwarebytes has to be the best free anti-malware and anti-virus software that I have ever used. You can buy a fairly inexpensive subscription and have Malwarebytes running on your computer all the time and protecting it alongside Windows Security without impinging performance, or you can just download it and use it manually. I run Malwarebytes every few days and if anything suspicious is found, Malwarebytes gets rid of it instantly.

FAKE INSURANCE CLAIM SCAM

This is how it works. Cold calls are made to members of the public by people pretending to be from a crash investigation company acting on behalf of an insurance company or investigation bureau. In most cases, the scammer will ask you whether you or anybody in your household have been involved in an accident of any sort. If you say that this is correct, the scammer will ask for personal details such as name, date of birth, car registration, driver's licence and bank details, supposedly for referral to an injury claims or compensation service promising the call recipient financial gain.

The fact that most of these scammers use autodialling machines means that they have no idea who receives their calls and they rely on conning the details that they need out of the person who answers their calls. Then the scammer will state that they can arrange for large compensation settlement for the target of the accident and then will demand some sort of fee for doing this.

Of course the scammer cannot do a thing to arrange compensation, so as soon as the fee is paid, the scammer will vanish. Or else the scammer may on-sell the information to an ambulance-chasing law firm - and there are plenty of those - who will try and get real compensation for the target for a massive percentage of the awarded sum.

There is a very easy way to deal with such scammers. Firstly, never give personal details to cold-callers. Never answer the phone with your name or number, but just say "Hello" or similar. Your friends will know who they are calling. People who ring you legitimately will be happy to identify themselves and state their business and will never mind you phoning them back on their listed phone numbers.

But unless cold-calling scammers have somehow obtained your details from social media and other places, they will not know who you are, so then you can challenge them to prove that they know you. This is how I handle such a cold-calling fake accident phone scammer.

Some of these cold-calling scammers are very slick and persuasive, but the bottom line is that if they cannot verify your name and you have not told them what your name is, then they are obviously fraudsters. It is most important to severely restrict the amount of information that you place on social media. Scammers love Facebook, Instagram and Linked-In because there is a rich harvest of personal information available in those social media portals.

It is truly amazing how so many people spill their guts on Facebook - names of family and relatives, phone numbers, even addresses. Then they describe everything that happens to them during the course of the day. They tell the world where they are, where they are going, what they are eating, whom they are meeting, whether they have had an accident or other occurrence.

These personal details allow scammers to build detailed profiles of their intended targets and when they have enough information, they can phone these stupid fools and literally sound like they have known them forever. That makes the targets far more gullible and ready to be cleaned out by the scammers. In fact, Facebook is one of the premier hunting grounds for such scammers, both for phone and also Internet scams. So be aware of this and if you must use Facebook, post the very bare minimum of personal information on it and remember that scammers are reading it and could be developing a profile on you.

MISSED PHONE CALL SCAM

There have been countless scams over the decades involving telephone services, but the rapid advent of the mobile phone has ushered in some very inventive methods by which unscrupulous people have taken advantage of this technology to scam money from unsuspecting targets. One such method is not particularly dangerous in itself, but it demonstrates how a little social engineering can make people succumb to paying money for nothing, or in fact be lured into paying large sums for calls to expensive premium services numbers.

This is called the Wangiri Scam, after the Japanese word for "one ring and cut", as it originated in that country. This is how it works. The scammer calls a mobile phone number and lets the phone ring once and then immediately hangs up. The target sees a missed call message on his mobile phone screen, even though he may not have even heard it ring. He sees the phone number of the caller because the scam relies on the Caller ID being switched on the scammer's phone.

In typical human nature, the target will call the number out of courtesy or maybe thinking that somebody has called him with an urgent message. When he rings the number, he will hear music or an advertisement. The idea is to keep the target on the phone as long as possible, because the number he dialled connected him to a premium number that costs him some dollars for every minute he stays connected.

From this, the target will receive a rather large telephone bill. Unfortunately, there is no redress for the target with his telephone service provider because he actually initiated the call to the number in the missed message. The most galling part is that the target is tricked into paying for a telephone call to listen to elevator music or a useless advertisement.

It does not cost the perpetrators one single cent to run a massive nationwide telephone advertising campaign, simply because they use pre-programmed automatic random diallers to call mobile numbers and hang up after one ring, before the targets answer. With the prevalence of telephone plans offering unlimited national calls to fixed and mobile phones, scammers can just autodial thousands of numbers at absolutely no cost.

So what happens is that the missed call registers on the recipient's mobile phone, complete with the return phone number, because the scammers ensure that their Caller ID number sending is activated. This is the whole basis of the scam. Because people are socially programmed to think that missed calls should be called back in case there is an emergency, they ring and find themselves listening to dodgy advertisements at premium overseas numbers at their expense.

This is what social engineering is all about, using people's human nature and gullibility to force or trick them into doing something that they would normally not do. It is very prevalent in Internet scams, for instance where targets receive emails purporting to be from their bank, telling them that they have to click on a link (that actually takes them to a fake bank website) and provide confidential information, such as their usernames and passwords that eventuate in their bank accounts being rapidly cleaned out by the scammers. Read about various scams in other pages on this website and learn how to avoid being fleeced by crooks.

Don't be suckered by the mobile phone scam. If legitimate contacts call and do not reach you immediately, they will soon ring back or leave a message on your voicemail if it is important. Most smartphones will display a caller's name if that caller is in the phone's contact list, but if an unknown or unrecognised number is displayed, the best thing is to do nothing. If it really is legitimate or important, the caller will phone back. If it's trivial, a wrong number or a scam, hopefully you won't hear from them again.

SMS TEXT SCAMS

There are many SMS companies that promote competitions, quizzes, games, match-making and ring-tones. They advertise in magazines and on television, usually late at night and use high-energy advertisements, distracting visuals and hard-to-read fine print disclaimers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) receives about 4000 complaints a year about telecommunications services, making it the most-complained-about industry. In the 2006-07 financial year, the ACCC had 13 major investigations into consumer protection issues in the telecommunications industry underway. In 2007-08 that number had grown to 22.

One Telstra customer said that she was puzzled when billed for $60 of text messages. When she rang Telstra, she was told the messages had been sent by a company called Sol Mobile and that she should contact it. She was told by a Sol employee that a cheque would be sent immediately to reimburse her, however a Telstra employee told her that Telstra would refund the money itself.

The safest course of action is to not subscribe to any SMS services, simply because none of them are beneficial or really useful. For instance, many of those companies that ask you to send an SMS to get a ringtone actually enrol you to receive many ringtones, all at a high cost. But if you want ringtones, there are thousands available free on the Internet and these days, most MP3 or other audio tracks can be used as ringtones.

Of course if people are stupid enough to subscribe to idiocies like SMS horoscopes sent to them every day for a cost, then they deserve to lose their money. Many SMS moneymaking schemes do not deliver what they promise, so the best thing to do is to never subscribe to them and if you receive unsolicited SMS advertisements, please note that these are illegal. You should note the sender's number and immediately lodge a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).