Phone scammers using new tactics

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It’s hard to imagine a world without caller ID. But it really wasn’t but a couple of decades ago that most people had no idea who might be on the other end of the call when their phones rang. Since so many calls even then turned out to be from telemarketers or scammers, many people just relied on their answering machines if they wanted to screen their calls.

Having been invented almost as soon as the telephone itself, the answering machine helped record business calls for many decades before finally becoming affordable enough for everyday consumers in the 1980s. When they finally had access to answering machines, people began to “screen” their calls, introducing the notion of being able to put off answering a phone call (or ignore it completely). So when the first Caller ID units were introduced in the 1980s, they became instantly popular. For the first time, you could actually see who was calling while the call was in progress — and decide whether to answer.

Of course, telemarketers and scammers found ways to get their calls through, with some unscrupulous companies even beginning to “spoof” phone numbers to fool the Caller ID by hiding the real number from which the call originated. Since then, phone scammers and potential victims have been engaged in a sort of virtual arms race, with each side aided by technology designed to defeat the other’s strategies.

Recently, Inc. magazine ran a story by Joseph Steinberg alerting consumers to three ways phone scammers can steal your money. The first involves a scammer calling your phone using an autodialer (a machine programmed to call thousands of numbers), then hanging up before anybody can answer. They do this repeatedly, in a bid to pique your curiosity so you’ll call the number. A second variant involves the scammer calling your number, waiting for an answer, then introducing the sound of crying or screaming. At this point, the scammer hangs up, hoping you’ll call back to see if you can help.

And in the third tactic, the criminal texts you with an alarming message that someone is in danger of being hurt or killed, with a request that you call back. By placing a call to one of these numbers, you can incur huge charges on your phone bill, and they often aren’t included on phone plans.

These scams are known as “473,” “Ring-and-Run” or “One Ring” scams, and the scammers only want to get you to call specific numbers so they can bill you for huge charges. The number 473 is the area code for some island nations, but a lot of other numbers and countries are used as well. (Criminals, noted Steinberg, adjusted their tactics after consumers learned to avoid making calls to numbers starting with 809.)

This latest advice comes on the heels of what’s become known as the “yes” call scam, in which a criminal gets someone on the phone and asks you a seemingly innocuous question such as “Can you hear me?” only to find that the crook has recorded your “yes” answer and used it as evidence you ordered a product you never agreed to order.

To help you avoid these scams, Steinberg has this advice: “If you miss a call, whomever called can send you a text message (or leave a voicemail),” he advises. “If they did neither, and you don’t know who called, don’t worry about it. Also, remember that it’s unlikely that someone you do not know who is in distress at a location with which you are not familiar would dial a random number in another country and ask you to help them — they would call the police.”

To see Steinberg’s excellent article (including a list of area codes of concern), visit

Robocallers disguise true purpose

From Robocallers disguise true purpose,

Federal and state law enforcement agencies recently announced they had closed the investigation into an illegal telemarketing operation that allegedly placed billions of “robocalls” promising consumers a free cruise to the Bahamas in exchange for taking a phone survey. After the survey was over, the recipients got a sales pitch for cruises and various vacation packages instead of their promised free cruise.

This case has been brewing for several years. In 2011 and 2012, a company called Caribbean Cruise Lines and its partners made phones ring across the continent, raking in millions of dollars. During the scheme, a reported 12 million to 15 million robocalls a day were made, often under the guise that the calls were being used to conduct political research. This is just the latest in a string of investigations and settlements that began in 2015, but the recent announcement (the fifth and final consent judgment) closes the books on this far-reaching operation.

The latest action prohibits owner Fred Accuardi and his companies from assisting or participating in operations that violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule and other applicable laws. In previous judgments, fines of $1.35 million had been levied, but all but $2,500 of those fines were suspended after the defendants said they couldn’t pay.

Mississippi’s Public Service Commission and attorney general’s office were among the 10 state regulators (along with federal authorities) recognized for their role in shutting down the operation. “I commend the FTC, my fellow attorneys general and the Mississippi Public Service Commission for their hard work and dedication in the fight to protect consumers from this type of illegal business practices,” noted Attorney General Jim Hood last week.

The original complaint charged Accuardi and his companies with “assisting and facilitating the illegal calls by providing robocallers with hundreds of telephone numbers, making it possible for them to choose and change the names that would appear on consumers’ caller ID devices, funding a part of the robocalling campaigns, and hiding the robocallers’ identities from authorities,” the FTC noted in a news release.

While you’re unlikely to be getting more robocalls from this particular operation, most phone users get these calls every day. The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for enforcing a number of rules and regulations of the growing robocalling industry. Here are a few points of the law regarding robocalling, courtesy of the FCC:

  • Most calls made without your consent are illegal. A company may call your landline or cellphone only if you have previously given your consent to call them. You can give permission on paper, by filling out an online form, or by pressing buttons on your phone in response to specific requests. According to the FCC, “telemarketers are no longer able to make telemarketing robocalls to your landline home telephone based solely on an ‘established business relationship’ that you may have established when purchasing something from a business or contacting the business to ask questions.”
  • There are exceptions. Certain robocalls are permissible, such as those made to announce school closings, airline flight cancellations and for a number of other reasons. Robocalls made to landlines (not cellphones) are permissible if they are for “market research or polling,” as well as calls made on behalf of nonprofit groups. In such cases, the caller is required to tell you at the beginning of the message who’s calling and list a contact number for you to call for further information.
  • You can opt out. The FCC requires telemarketers to give you the opportunity to opt out of receiving future calls immediately during a prerecorded telemarketing call through an automated menu. “The opt-out mechanism must be announced at the outset of the message and must be available throughout the duration of the call,” notes the FCC. You should also place your numbers on the National Do-Not-Call Registry ( You can register for Mississippi’s Do-Not-Call registry at or by calling 1-86NOCALLMS (1-866-622-5567).
  • File a complaint. You can report robocalls to the FCC by visiting by phone at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); or by mail to: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th St., S.W., Washington, DC 20554.

Beware of invitations appealing to ego



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Everyone likes to be told they’re unique, special and deserving of recognition. Marketers have long known that appealing to the ego can help break down barriers and make sales much easier.

When I was in college, I got a letter from an organization informing me my name had been selected for inclusion on a list of outstanding young people, to be published in a high-quality publication. Accompanying the glowing letter was a flyer with information on how I could order a copy of the book and a nice granite paperweight. There was no charge to be on the list, I was assured, although these items would be a lasting reminder of the great honor I’d received.

Since I was young and impressionable, I paid the exorbitant fee for the book and paperweight, which arrived a few weeks later in the mail. But when I told people about it, several of my friends said they’d gotten the same letter, with only the name changed. It turned out that a whole lot of people around me had been similarly “honored” with inclusion in the list, and it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t the adulation I’d thought it was. (I still have that paperweight, keeping it as a reminder to look before I leap.)

The marketplace is replete with organizations that purport to be honoring someone but are really just a way to get people to pay big bucks for a recognition that might or might not be valuable. Of course, there are a great many legitimate recognition programs out there, recognizing a vast array of achievements, leadership qualities and service. But many people are getting solicitations that turn out to be not all they claim and are really just clever sales pitches.

Examples are many, but here’s one. In the past few months, women around the country have gotten emails from an organization called the International Women’s Leadership Association, which praised their accomplishments, said their qualifications had been reviewed and congratulated them for being selected for induction into an exclusive women’s networking group. To join, all you had to do was pay $99 for a six-month membership or $989 for a “lifetime” membership, both of which included a “personal file” on the organization’s website, a feature on its social media platform (and “related endorsements”), as well as attendance at various networking events, webinars and tele-seminars.

But the solicitations caught the eye of New York’s attorney general, who says the organization actually had sent out millions of solicitations and hadn’t done the vetting it had claimed.

In a news release, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the IWLA had agreed to pay $200,000 to settle charges of making false representations, along with agreeing to change its marketing practices. Schneiderman’s release noted that more than 100,000 women responded to this solicitation in the last three years, out of more than 7 million “invitations” sent, and “did not actually consider the person’s contribution to ‘family, career, and community’ or any other qualifications.”

“Mass email solicitations cannot be used as a proxy for deceptive marketing practices,” Schneiderman said. “Honesty and transparency are the hallmarks of consumer protection, and those same principles must be upheld online.”

If you get this or a similar solicitation, it’s important to remember that most legitimate recognitions and invitations are going to come from an organization or individual you know. There are a great many local and national networking organizations, so it’s advisable to thoroughly check out any organization in which you’re interested in joining. Friends and colleagues are often the best source of knowledge about networking opportunities and don’t overlook local and regional chambers of commerce and business social networking sites.

Most importantly, be aware of solicitations that appeal to your ego. Have a trusted friend, family member or colleague to review the solicitation objectively. When our self-esteem is involved, most of us are just not good at discerning when we’re being led down the primrose path.

AG Jim Hood, IRS warn about W-2 scam


From AG Jim Hood, IRS warn about W-2 scam,

PDF: tax-scam

Like clockwork, scammers are attempting to get at Mississippians’ tax refunds again. Each year, more and more people find themselves victimized by a variety of scams designed to steal their identities for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns.

Many taxpayers have tried to file their taxes online, only to find out someone had already filed in their name, grabbing their refunds. While not a new phenomenon, the amount of tax-related cybercrime has increased this year in both numbers and sophistication.

Recently, Attorney General Jim Hood warned that Mississippi residents could be targeted by scammers trying to collect data from W-2 forms, in a new twist on a couple of old scams. Hood cited reports from the Internal Revenue Service warning business owners to be careful in providing information about employees.

The scheme works like this: A scammer sends an email to an employee in Human Resources at the business, carefully crafted to look as if it comes from the CEO or another known corporate executive. The message asks for copies of W-2 forms of all employees, and sometimes is followed by a second email requesting money be wired to a specific bank account.

Hood urged Mississippi residents to be suspicious of any such unsolicited emails and to always verify by phone that the request is legitimate.

“We have received calls and reports to our office this week from entities whose employees have fallen for this type of scam,” Hood said. “Employees who would have W-2 information, such as accounting or human resources personnel, are particularly susceptible to this scam. All types of organizations are possible targets, including schools, health care organizations, nonprofits and private businesses.”

Hood noted the scam, which first appeared a year ago, is circulating earlier in the tax season. Some businesses which got the emails last year are being targeted again.

“This is one of the most dangerous email phishing scams we’ve seen in a long time,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen noted in a news release. “It can result in the large-scale theft of sensitive data that criminals can use to commit various crimes, including filing fraudulent tax returns. We need everyone’s help to turn the tide against this scheme.”

If businesses get such an email, forward it to and place “W2 Scam” in the subject line, and file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), operated by the FBI. In addition, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418.

Employees whose W-2s have been stolen should visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft resources at,or the IRS’ site at, to learn how to report the theft and get advice on what to do next. They should also file IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if the employee’s own tax return rejects because of a duplicate Social Security number or if instructed to do so by the IRS.

And, the IRS notes, just because someone isn’t required to file a return or isn’t expecting a refund doesn’t mean they can’t be a victim. In all cases, the best way to avoid becoming a victim of tax refund fraud is to file taxes as soon as possible, before scammers can file and steal your identity and refund.


MS gets cut of payout from wire service scam

ftc-stop-payday-loan-scamSource: Mississippi takes cut of payout,


For years, wire-service scammers have been successful by convincing well-meaning people to wire money to people they’ve never met. It may take the form of a “lottery” you’ve won, a loan for which you have to pre-pay fees, “mystery shopper” scams or dozens of other variations.

But consumers who wire money quickly find they’re left holding the bag for thousands of dollars. Many of these scams use established wire-service companies like Western Union or MoneyGram. Although it’s important to note these companies are just providing the means to transfer the money, advocates have for years argued they’re not doing enough to stop fraudsters from using their services.

Soon, though, Western Union will be sending money to 48 states, the District of Columbia and federal enforcement agencies, and it is being forced to bolster its efforts to stop fraud and inform consumers about the danger of sending money to wire scams.

Mississippi will get $53,180 for its part in the settlement, Attorney General Jim Hood announced last week, and Mississippians may also get part of a $586 million payment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which Western Unionagreed to pay to reimburse consumers who were victims of wire-service fraud. The news release didn’t state how much money individual Mississippians would be getting from the larger settlement.

 “Criminals continue to craft all kinds of schemes to try to convince consumers to wire them money,” Hood said. “Among these common scams are those where consumers have been told they’ve won money or prizes but first must wire money to pay required taxes or fees before they receive their winnings.”

In addition to the financial payout, Western Union has agreed to major changes in its anti-fraud program, including:

  • Anti-fraud warnings on forms that consumers use to wire money.
  • Monitoring, mandatory training and checking up on Western Union agents, to help them recognize and stop fraudulent wire-service transfers.
  • Heightened anti-fraud procedures, to respond to increased fraud complaints.
  • “Prompt and appropriate” disciplinary action against Western Union agents who fail to follow required protocols to stop fraudulent transfers.

“These criminals try to exploit our instinct to protect our family members through scams saying a loved one is in immediate danger and needs money right away,” Hood said in his news release. “Most importantly, consumers who receive solicitations from someone they’ve never met in person should be cautious about wiring money.”

For some tips on spotting, avoiding and reporting wire-service fraud, visit For more information about this settlement, visit

Scam targets black churchgoers

Source: Scam targets black churchgoers,

Federal regulators are warning us about a scam that has begun popping up around the nation, soliciting African-American churchgoers for participation in an alleged government program that promises to handle payment of bills. But victims have found that not only does the program fail to pay those bills, but it also could be stealing one’s identity and damaging credit.

In a blog post last week, Federal Trade Commission attorney Sana Chriss, who represents the agency’s Southeast region, warned consumers that many victims have fallen for the program, which they believed because they heard about it in church.

“We’ve heard that this scam is happening in some African-American church communities: People approach churchgoers with this so-called deal,” Chriss noted. “And, because it comes up in church, the scam might seem like it could be legit. But take it from me — and the FTC: There is no federal program that pays your monthly bills in exchange for payment of any kind.”

It works like this: At church, or at a church-related event, word spreads there is a program, sponsored by the federal government, that will take away your worries about paying your bills on time. For an up-front fee, the program will collect information about your billers, account numbers and amounts owed (car payments, utility payments, loans, etc.), along with your bank account information, so they can draft payments out of your account.

It sounds pretty good, and many victims have even noticed the payments being scheduled. The only problem is the scammers cancel the payments, and the money never reaches the auto loan company, credit card company or utility. And, because they never got your payment, you start racking up late fees and finance charges, so next month, your problems escalate.

“You think your bill is paid,” Chriss notes, “but you’re stuck with not only the original bill, but also a late fee because your payment wasn’t actually processed. And now the scammers have your bank or credit information. Doesn’t sound like much of a deal at all.”

Of course, there are some programs to help elderly folks, or people with disabilities, who might need some help handling monthly expenses because of financial hardships. You can find out about some of these programs at But, Chriss notes, you won’t have to pay up-front. And, if you’re having a difficult time handling your finances, there are lots of resources out there, such as credit counseling services, which can help you develop a realistic and workable budget.

Over the years, various scams have been aimed at well-meaning churchgoers. For example, back in October, a Virginia pastor and his wife were indicted on charges they solicited money from their congregation for what they said was a program to provide micro-loans for people in developing countries. Instead, they allegedly took the money and invested it in risky loans, and used it to finance a $1.8 million home.

And churchgoers of all races have been solicited for a variety of questionable schemes, including “gifting” clubs, pyramids, government grant programs, questionable tax deductions and Ponzi schemes. Often, these scams are presented to appeal to your sense of charity, but are really just a way to line someone’s pockets.

If you’re approached by somebody with a claim that seems too good to be true, please check it out. And if you’ve been victimized by this scam or a similar one, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office at 1-800-281-4418 to get your complaint on the record.

Phishing scams targeting PayPal and Amazon users, Hood says

Source: When hackers phish, cut bait,

PDF: when-hackers-fish-cut-bait

The 18th-century British writer and lexicographer Samuel Johnson famously described fishing as “a stick with a hook at one end and a fool at the other.” Whether you’d agree with that particular snarky assessment, you’d have to admit it’s pretty clever. Personally, I love to fish, although the fish apparently laugh when they see me coming because my fishing skills are not much of a threat. But regardless of whether I catch anything, the trip is nearly always time well spent.

The ancient concept of putting out bait and waiting for a bite has been adopted very successfully in the digital world. Back in 1996, according to Computerworld writer Russell Kay, hackers began noticing that a lot of scammers were posting emails with links that appeared to be legitimate but took the user to nefarious sites designed to dupe them into divulging passwords and other critical information. Because the term “phone phreaking” had been adopted years earlier to describe technology used to hack telephone systems, hackers similarly began using the “ph” to replace the “f” in fishing.

In the two decades since, scammers have gotten a lot more sophisticated at luring unwary consumers with links that appear to be from well-known merchants and companies. And it’s hitting near home. Last week, Attorney General Jim Hood warned Mississippians that users of PayPal, Amazon and others are at risk from phishing scams.

“These online services and businesses make it easy for consumers to shop and pay for items online, but there are people out there who want to use this convenience as a way to steal your money, or even worse, your identity,” Hood said in a news release.

Hood reported that computer users were getting emails warning them their PayPal accounts had been compromised and limited for security reasons. They were encouraged to click a link (unsecured) to a spoof site where they were asked to enter their PayPal username and password. Once they provided the information (of course), the scammers could “log in to the consumer’s legitimate PayPal account to spend any remaining funds, bill credit cards or steal personal information.”

One red flag that was apparently missed by many was that the PayPal was misspelled on the spoof site (spelling ability is apparently not part of these guys’ job descriptions).

Hood went on to describe a scam appearing to be from online giant that takes various forms, including emails that ask for information to confirm bogus Amazon orders, requests to update usernames and passwords, links to sites that will install malware and others.

Hood recommends consumers who have PayPal or Amazon accounts and receive similar emails not click on any links or submit any usernames, passwords or personal information via email. Instead, go to the companies’ actual websites and use the sites’ secure login to verify any account activity. “Although these scams have been around for quite some time, they continue to try to lure victims,” Hood said. “I encourage consumers to protect themselves from fraud and identity theft on the internet through education and awareness.”

Hood added these suggestions:

  • Don’t respond to any unsolicited e-mails.
  • Do not click on any attachments associated with such emails, as they may contain viruses or malware.
  • Don’t reply to emails or pop-up messages that ask for personal or financial information.
  • If you’re concerned about your account, contact the organization in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new internet browser session and type in the company’s correct web address. In any case, don’t cut and paste the link in the message.

More tips can be found in the news release at

If you suspect you’ve fallen victim to such a scam, call Hood’s Consumer Protection Division Hotline at  1-800-281-4418.

Some timeshares not worth time, money


via Some timeshares not worth time, money,

PDF: timeshares

The timeshare industry is booming. In July, the American Resort Development Association reported that the industry had reached $8.6 billion in sales in 2015, capping six straight years of growth. The association reported that the number of timeshare units had grown to over 200,000 nationwide, with occupancy rates at nearly 80 percent.

Many Americans look to timeshares to help provide a place to get away for a few days in a great destination without the hassles of having to book a hotel reservation or maintain a vacation home year-round. The system works well for many people, but many timeshare owners have found a hidden downside to timeshare ownership when they decide to sell their property; selling a timeshare for a decent price can be difficult.

And, in some cases, owners can be targeted by scammers. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission charged the operators of a timeshare reselling scheme with bilking at least $15 million from owners by imposing hefty up-front fees based on false promises that they would sell or rent the properties.

A Florida company called Pro Timeshare Resales and its owners are accused of calling timeshare owners and claiming they had a buyer or renter ready, or that they could quickly sell the property. The company allegedly collected as much as $2,500 in advance to handle the transaction, and in some cases strung the owners along with additional false claims and requests for nonexistent “closing costs” or other fees. When dissatisfied customers asked for refunds, the FTC noted, the requests were “denied or ignored.”

The agency also charged the owners of the company with violating the Do Not Call Registry and the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and requested a federal court halt the operation and freeze the company’s assets.

If you find yourself interested in getting rid of your timeshare, most experts advise you to tread carefully to avoid scams and rip-offs. Here is some of the FTC’s advice on the subject:

  •  Don’t agree to anything on the phone or online until you’ve had a chance to check out the reseller. Contact the attorney general’s office and consumer protection agencies in the state where the reseller is located.
  • Ask the salesperson for all information in writing. If they balk at this reasonable request, it could be a red flag.
  • Ask if the reseller’s agents are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, verify it with the state Real Estate Commission. Deal only with licensed real estate brokers and agents, and ask for references from satisfied clients.
  • Ask how the reseller will advertise and promote the timeshare unit. Will you get progress reports? How often?
  • Ask about fees and timing. Most reputable companies will take their fees after the sale. If you must pay a fee in advance, ask about refunds. Get refund policies and promises in writing.
  • Don’t assume you’ll recoup your purchase price for your timeshare, especially if you’ve owned it for less than five years and the location is less than well-known.

The American Resort Development Association is also a good resource for timeshare owners and has a lot of advice and tips for timeshare buying and selling at, along with a list of recent known scams to avoid at

Scammers hold computers hostage


via Scammers hold computers hostage

Recently, my mother-in-law told me about a lady in her Sunday School class who had been victimized by a scammer. The lady’s caller ID said the call came from Microsoft, and the caller claimed he could help her computer run faster. Because the call appeared legitimate, she went along with it and allowed him to access the machine remotely. She didn’t realize until it was too late that the caller had installed software on the victim’s computer that locked it, and then he threatened to destroy all the information on the machine unless she paid a fee.

“Tech support” scams are not new; for years, scammers have been trolling for victims by cold-calling, then convincing them their computer needed to be fixed, and demanding to be paid. It’s a lucrative business; the tech site quotes Microsoft estimates that scammers took in $1.5 billion in 2015 using the technique.

But in the past few months, tech-support scammers have started emulating the tactics of “ransomware” scammers, calling targets and claiming their computer has been infected by viruses. By using remote access (granted voluntarily by the unwitting user) to install malicious software on the machine, the scammer takes control of the machine and promises to release it if a fee is paid. This escalation gives unprecedented levels of control, and for victims, it can prove a costly intrusion — at risk is sensitive personal information, as well as photos, videos and other information stored on the machines.

In October, Malwarebites published a white paper titled, “The Anatomy of Tech Support Scams: How Tech Support Criminals Continue to Exploit Consumers and Businesses Without Getting Caught.” The paper noted that the target is still the elderly (who are often considered less tech-savvy), but the scammers’ nets are widening.

“Not surprisingly, most tech-support scams heavily target a demographic that is not tech savvy — the elderly,” the authors noted. “…However, with the emergence of tech-support scam lockers this year, anyone is now a potential victim. This new tactic no longer just employs social engineering, and criminals are no longer solely targeting less tech savvy individuals.”

What’s also changing, the white paper noted, is where these scams originate. While most tech-support scams came from India, Florida is becoming a hotbed of tech-support scam activity. The paper goes on to detail some tactics used by tech-support scammers, as well as potential ways to address the problem. If you’re interested in the topic, it’s worth a read.

There are ways to prevent yourself from being a victim of this pernicious scam. The Federal Trade Commission has shut down a number of such operations in the past couple of years, but criminals continue to seek victims. Here are a few of the FTC’s pointers for recognizing and preventing a scam:

  • Don’t give up control. If someone calls claiming your computer has been infected with a virus, hang up immediately. They may fool your caller ID into thinking it’s a local call, but these numbers can be “spoofed” to fool you.
  • Don’t fall for online ads. Here’s a new word to many of us: malvertising. This is advertising on the web, through email or search engine results, that promises to rid your computer of virus and malware. By clicking on links, you can highlight yourself as a potential victim. If you need tech support for your computer or a web service you use, the FTC advises that you look for the company’s phone number in your printed software documentation or confirmation emails, then call it.
  • Protect your personal information. Never provide your credit card number, bank account numbers or passwords to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
  • Don’t give in to pressure tactics. If a caller pressures you to buy a computer security product or says there is a subscription fee associated with the call, it’s a huge red flag.

More on this topic is available at

Credit card skimmers targeting Mississippi

via Credit card skimmers targeting Mississippi

PDF: the_clarion-ledger_state_20161010_a003_1

ATM skimmers have been around for decades. Security experts have long warned us about these devices, which use technology attached to an Automated Teller Machine or a Point-of-Sale terminal to steal information from consumers as they enter data.

The technology has usually been crude — one tactic has been to stick a device to the outside of an ATM located in a casino or convenience store, with crooks often putting an “Out of order” sign on nearby ATMs to direct victims to use a single machine. Thieves would collect data for a few days, then move the device somewhere else and start all over again. Often, cameras would be mounted nearby, recording the keystrokes when consumers entered their Personal Identification Numbers.

But the technological arms race between crooks and security-minded companies has yielded new technologies, and with it more brazen activities to get your money. One piece of technology uses a device installed inside the machine, making it undetectable unless the machine is opened. The tech website wrote last month about how these devices are starting to proliferate in the U.S. Skimming activities reap billions each year for thieves, U.S. Secret Service notes.

RELATED: Moak: Millennials are card smart

And for us here in the Magnolia State, it has hit home with a vengeance recently.Several skimming devices have been found inside ATMs and gas pumps at metro-area gas stations, putting law enforcement on alert. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood issued a news release last week to warn Mississippians about the danger.

“These devices may go undetected for weeks, all the while gathering sensitive account information from unsuspecting consumers,” Hood said. “Consumers need to call their financial institutions immediately if they see any unauthorized activity on their accounts, and watch closely for signs of tampering when using gas pumps or ATMs. In the meantime, our office will continue working with other law enforcement agencies in Mississippi to shut down this type of crime.”

Although ATM operators and financial institutions are taking action to protect the ATMs from tampering, Hood suggested some actions you and I can take to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Use pumps closer to the entrance to the service station or convenience store. Skimmers generally target pumps that are most isolated from security.
  • Avoid paying at the pump. Go into the store and pay the attendant directly.
  • If you’re using a debit card, select the “Credit” option, rather than the “Debit” option. This will avoid the possibility of thieves getting your Personal Identification Number.
  • Check with your gas station management as to how they’re checking for devices.

The online security website also recommends that you cover your hand if entering your PIN, to avoid your PIN being recorded by a nearby camera. Always use a wall-mounted bank ATM, rather than a stand-alone device, and never use an ATM located in a secluded spot, especially at night.

And as always, keep a close eye on your bank account balances and activities. The sooner you identify and report suspicious activity, the better.