Philadelphia, November 23, 2011: “Black Friday” marks the beginning of the hectic holiday shopping season, and District Attorney Seth Williams along with Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross want to remind everyone that it’s a busy time of year for criminals as well as holiday shoppers.
“There is always somebody looking to separate you from your money,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “The best course of action is prevention. Many thieves choose their victims because the thieves see an opportunity. If you take away the opportunity, chances are you won’t become a victim. The last thing that anyone needs during these tough economic times is to lose their hard earned money because of a criminal.”
With several stores now opening on Thanksgiving night there are new concerns about the physical safety of shoppers, as well as retail employees. Crowd related injuries during holiday sales events have increased over the past few years. Last year several people were trampled in Buffalo, NYduring a “Black Friday” sale at a Target store, and in 2008 a Walmart employee died during the opening of a “Black Friday” sale in Long Island, NY. As a result of the increase in pre-“Black Friday” events OSHA has issued a new set of safety guidelines for retailers which can be found on OSHA’s website: www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/Crowd_Control.
There are several new scams this year that the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department are monitoring:
Twelve Internet Scams of the Holidays
- Mobile Malware: In October 2011, a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey found that 52.6 percent of U.S. consumers who own a smartphone said they will be using their device for holiday-shopping related activities—whether it’s to research products, redeem coupons, or purchase holiday gifts. Malware targeted at mobile devices is on the rise, and Android smartphones are most at risk. According to leading software safety company there was a 76 percent increase in malware targeted at Android devices in the second quarter of 2011, making it the most targeted smartphone platform. New malware has recently been found that targets QR codes, a digital barcode that consumers might scan with their smartphone to find good deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, or just to learn about products they want to buy.
- Malicious Mobile Applications -These are mobile apps designed to steal information from smartphones, or send out expensive text messages without a user’s consent. Dangerous apps are usually offered for free, and masquerade as fun applications, such as games. For example, last year, 4.6 million Android smartphone users downloaded a suspicious wallpaper app that collected and transmitted user data to a site inChina.
- Phony Facebook Promotions and Contests – Who doesn’t want to win some free prizes or get a great deal around the holidays? Unfortunately, cyberscammers know that these are attractive lures and they have sprinkled Facebook with phony promotions and contests aimed at gathering personal information. A recent scam advertised two free airline tickets, but required participants to fill out multiple surveys requesting personal information.
- Scareware, or Fake Antivirus software – Scareware is the fake antivirus software that tricks someone into believing that their computer is at risk—or already infected—so they agree to download and pay for phony software. This is one of the most common and dangerous Internet threats today, with an estimated one million victims falling for this scam each day. In October 2010, McAfee reported that scareware represented 23% of all dangerous Internet links, and it has been resurgent in recent months.
- Holiday Screensavers—Bringing holiday cheer to your home or work PC sounds like a fun idea to get into the holiday spirit, but be careful. A recent search for a Santa screensaver that promises to let you “fly with Santa in 3D” is malicious. Holiday-themed ringtones and e-cards have been known to be malicious too.
- Mac Malware – Until recently, Mac users felt pretty insulated from online security threats, since most were targeted at PCs. But with the growing popularity of Apple products, for both business and personal use, cyber criminals have designed a new wave of malware directed squarely at Mac users. As of late 2010, there were 5,000 pieces of malware targeting Macs, and this number continues to increase by 10 percent every month.
- Holiday Phishing/Smishing Scams – Phishing is the act of tricking consumers into revealing information or performing actions they wouldn’t normally do online using phony email or social media posts. Cyberscammers know that most people are busy around the holidays so they tailor their emails and social messages with holiday themes in the hopes of tricking recipients into revealing personal information. A common holiday phishing scam is a phony notice from UPS, saying you have a package and need to fill out an attached form to get it delivered. The form may ask for personal or financial details that will go straight into the hands of the cyberscammer. Banking phishing scams continue to be popular and the holiday season means consumers will be spending more money—and checking bank balances more often. From July to September of this year, there were approximately 2,700 phishing URLs issued worldwide per day. Smishing –SMS phishing—also remains a concern. Scammers send their fake messages via a text alert to a phone, notifying an unsuspecting consumer that his bank account has been compromised. The cybercriminals then direct the consumer to call a phone number to get it re-activated—and collects the user’s personal information including Social Security number, address, and account details.
- Online Coupon Scams – An estimated 63 percent of shoppers search for online coupons or deals when they purchase something on the Internet, and recent NRF data (October 19, 2011) shows that consumers are also using their smartphones (17.3 percent) and tablets (21.5 percent) to redeem those coupons. But watch out, because the scammers know that by offering an irresistible online coupon, they can get people to hand over some of their personal information. One popular scam is to lure consumers with the hope of winning a “free” iPad. Consumers click on a “phishing” site, which can result in email spam and possibly dealing with identify theft. Consumers are offered an online coupon code and once they agree, are asked to provide personal information, including credit-card details, passwords and other financial data.
- Mystery Shopper Scams – Mystery shoppers are people who are hired to shop in a store and report back on the customer service. Sadly, scammers are now using this fun job to try to lure people into revealing personal and financial information. There have been reports of scammers sending text messages to victims, offering to pay them $50 an hour to be a mystery shopper, and instructing them to call a number if they are interested. Once the victim calls, they are asked for their personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers.
- Hotel “Wrong Transaction” Malware Emails – Many people travel over the holidays, so it is no surprise that scammers have designed travel-related scams in the hopes of getting us to click on dangerous emails. In one recent example, a scammer sent out emails that appeared to be from a hotel, claiming that a “wrong transaction” had been discovered on the recipient’s credit card. It then asked them to fill out an attached refund form. Once opened, the attachment downloads malware onto their machine.
- “It” Gift Scams – Every year there are hot holiday gifts, such as toys and gadgets, that sell out early in the season. When a gift is hot, not only do sellers mark up the price, but scammers will also start advertising these gifts on rogue websites and social networks, even if they don’t have them. So, consumers could wind up paying for an item and giving away credit card details only to receive nothing in return. Once the scammers have the personal financial details, there is little recourse.
- “I’m away from home” Scammers – Posting information about a vacation on social networking sites could actually be dangerous. If someone is connected with people they don’t know on Facebook or other social networking sites, they could see their post and decide that it may be a good time to rob them. Furthermore, a quick online search can easily turn up their home address.
How to Protect Yourself
You can protect yourselves from cybercrime by following some of these quick tips:
- Only download mobile apps from official app stores, such as iTunes and the Android Market, and read user reviews before downloading them.
- Be extra vigilant when reviewing and responding to emails.
- Watch out for too-good-to-be-true offers on social networks (like free airline tickets). Never agree to reveal your personal information just to participate in a promotion.
- Don’t accept requests on social networks from people you don’t know in real life. Wait to post pictures and comments about your vacation until you’ve already returned home.
Also always keep a close watch on your bank account, especially for unauthorized transactions—no mater how big or small.
- Small and Frequent Charges
What it is: Scammers will “test” victims, making small charges on their credit card to see if they are caught. If they go undetected, the scammer will later make larger and larger charges.
What to do: Review your bank statement monthly, and call the company if you don’t recognize any charges.
What it is: Scammers will capture keypad and card information when consumers input their PIN number at ATMs, gas stations, restaurants, etc. They can then use this to extract money from victims’ accounts.
What to do: Always select the “credit” option at retailers, gas stations, and restaurants, even if you are using a debit card. By selecting “credit,” you do not have to input your PIN and you are less liable for fraud. With ATMs, try to use those at your bank whenever possible.
“Nobody is safe from thieves whether it is in stores, on the street or over the internet,” said Mr. Williams. “If your identity is stolen, you could spend 18 months to three years in credit purgatory. Prevention is critical.”
There are also several standard scams during the holiday season that you always need to look out for.
If you are expecting a delivery from family or friends, it’s important to be aware of scams involving the collection of delivery fees. Do not give out your banking or credit card information to any company that claims they have a delivery for you and need that information.
Lots of legitimate traders sell products and services door-to-door over the holiday season. Unfortunately scammers also approach their victims this way trying to sell poor quality products that don’t do what is promised. If someone comes to your door, ask to see their identification. You do not have to let them in. Do not agree to offers or deals right away: tell the person that you are not interested or that you want to get some advice before making a decision. Conduct a web search on the trader to see if there are other consumers who have commented on the quality of their product or service.
Online dating scams have become very prevalent over the past few years. If you are looking for that special someone online be cautious. Scammers post fake profiles on legitimate online dating websites and will give various excuses to ask you to send them money via international wire transfer. Be wary of anyone who you have not personally met who asks you to send them money, gifts or your banking and credit card details. Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network and dating sites.
Weight loss Scams
Many of us make resolutions to lose weight during the New Year, which is why it’s important to watch out for scammers offering ‘miracle’ weight loss pills and potions. These scams may promise weight loss for little or no effort or may involve unusual or restrictive diets, ‘revolutionary’ exercise or fat-busting devices, or products such as pills, patches, or creams. Also watch out for ‘free trials’ that may sign you up to unexpected payments.
Going Out of Business Sales
Many companies are going out of business or are in bankruptcy protection. Be sure to check on the company’s policies. Many purchases are final sales, no returns or exchanges. Also check to see if they are honoring coupons and/or previously-purchased gift cards and for how long.
Check for expiration dates and progressive fees. If gift cards have an expiration date or fees attached, it is not from a reputable retailer.
Name a Star
Very romantic and very popular, companies say they will send you a certificate denoting the name and location of ‘your star’ and promising to enter it into a star registry. However, only the International Astronomical Union names stars, and they are not for sale. The International Astronomical Union is not going to enter ‘your star’ into the official IAU catalog.
Reputable charities DO NOT solicit online.
Mortgage Aid Scams
Scammers ask people to send them money directly, which may even result in victims losing their homes.
Nigerian Bank Scam
These scams promise money if the victim will process a check, which of course is fraudulent, through the victim’s account.
Lost Pet Scam
Scammers find lost pet ads in the paper, contact the grieving pet owner and say that the pet was taken toMexico. Owners call a bogus long-distance phone number to the tune of hundreds in phone calls, which goes straight to the scammer. The pet, of course, is never found.
On the ground:
Since thieves work on the ground as well as on the internet, here are strategies to avoid becoming a victim of crime:
- Guard the chain of custody of your credit card. If you give your credit card to a clerk or restaurant server who then takes it in the back and swipes it on a ‘wedge,’ the information on the magnetic stripe from your credit card can be duplicated.
- Do not put your purse in a shopping cart.
- Keep your wallet in an inside pocket, and strap your purse around you and tuck it under your arm. Beware of people bumping into you or distracting your attention by engaging you in conversation. This is an old scam to divert your attention in order to steal your wallet or purse.
- Place your packages in the trunk so they cannot be seen. Always park in a well-lighted area.
- Do not park next to a van. Criminals can pull you into a van as you go to your car, and nobody will see it happen.
- Always accompany young children to the restroom. Tell your children in advance to look for a source of help within the store or mall, such as a uniformed police officer or a salesperson with a nametag.
On the Phone:
“Crimes of persuasion” are the schemes, scams, and frauds that con artists use to steal your savings. Watch out for sob stories, sweepstakes, lotteries, and wacky investments, secured credit card offers, credit repair offers and even fortune tellers. While some telemarketers are legitimate, do not give out social security numbers or credit card numbers to unknown people on the telephone.
- Accessing your credit report by posing as an employer, loan officer or landlord.
- Stealing mail from mailboxes to obtain credit card statements, bank statements or other personal information.
- Taking trash bags from the street with old credit card and bank statements.
- “Dumpster Diving” into trash bins to retrieve financial statements.
- Motto: Shred, shred, shred, and be sure to use a cross-cut shredder. Vertical strips can easily be pieced together, and vertical shredders should be avoided.
- Dishonest employees with access to your personnel records.
- Misdirected mail or email with personal information.
Most Valuable Documents for Thieves:
- Social Security Card—The ‘magic’ number. Do not carry your social security card with you, and do not give out the number. If you are asked for the number, ask the person what would happen if you didn’t give it out. In many cases, it’s not necessary.
- Drivers license, Birth certificates and passports
- Credit Cards