Don't Fall For It, Mom. It's a Scam!

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Moms will go to any lengths to ensure their family's well-being. Unfortunately, scammers know that too. So under the guise of helping, they'll go to equally great lengths to part moms from their cash. This Mother's Day -- and every day -- be on the lookout for these common scams that often target mothers and other caregivers.

Make Big Bucks Working at Home!

When money is tight, working at home while still caring for the family may seem like a great way to bring in a few extra bucks. While there are some legitimate work-at-home jobs, the ones that promise easy money for very little work are almost always scams. Be wary of any of the following:
  • You're asked to come up with an "up-front fee" (how about $32,450?!) to get started. Even if you need to acquire certain equipment to do the job, a legitimate work-at-home opportunity will let you buy it from an independent source. If the equipment is really so specialized that the only source is the company, then it shouldn't make you buy it as a condition of employment.
  • It's a requirement that you hand over your bank account details. Direct deposit can be a great convenience, but a legitimate company will either be willing to cut you a paper check or pay you through a trusted intermediary.
  • The job involves transferring money into and out of your account or depositing and sending out checks. In this era of free online bill payments, any legitimate company will have a cheaper way of moving its money around than cutting you a "commission" to forward it on.
Help! I'm Stranded in a Foreign Country!

Moms typically get the call when something goes wrong. That's why scammers look pull at the heartstrings and loosen the pursestrings.

Here's how it works: The scammer contacts a parent or grandparent via email, telephone, text, or social networking site and purports to be a relative stranded overseas or at the hospital and in need of fast cash. The scammer may even put a "policeman" on the phone to add a legitimate air to the situation. Just remember:
  • Hospitals are required to give emergency care regardless of a person's ability to pay. Even if an uninsured person was hospitalized, the hospital will let that person walk out upon completion of care with either a payment plan or financial aid paperwork. If there's a real medical problem, the payment can certainly be worked out later.
  • If someone is legitimately overseas and can actually contact you, that means he or she has a passport and some method of payment. The state department has a process for replacing a lost or stolen passport. Lost or stolen credit cards can be replaced around the world, and major issuers have emergency contact numbers for fast response and assistance. And also, American Express Travelers Cheques can also be refunded if lost or stolen and emergency cash provided if needed.
Let Us Help You Get Out of Debt

Moms regularly manage the day-to-day household budget and spending. If money gets tight and the credit card balances get out of control, it might be tempting to turn to a credit card settlement company for help. Unfortunately, there are a lot of shady folks operating them, and the worst among them will charge you an arm and a leg to do what you could do by yourself.

Watch out for the following bad behaviors:
  • It's generally illegal for a debt settlement company to require you to pay an up-front fee to negotiate with your lenders on your behalf.
  • If a settlement company makes you pay your money to them to have them pass it on to the credit card company, the "cure" may wind up worse than the disease. That could be a telltale sign that they are using a harmful strategy -- not paying your bills until the credit card company is willing to be more flexible in order to get something back. The problem is, it's your credit, not the settlement company's, that gets destroyed by those missing payments. Plus, you may end up owing taxes on the canceled debt.
Instead, before you let Mom get into deeper trouble by paying someone to make her credit even worse, instruct her to try the following:
  • Call the lender and ask for a lower interest rate. They'll more likely be flexible with customers who have a good payment history than with those who have missed several payments. They'd rather get their money back in full at a lower interest rate than wind up settling for only a portion later.
  • If Mom has already missed several payments, she's got just about the same negotiating leverage (and dinged-up credit) as if she had used a "slow-pay" settlement company. Make a phone call to the credit card company and work out a settlement payment plan directly with them on your own. It might work out better than using the settlement company, and certainly helps avoid the middleman settlement fees.
It's tough being a mom and juggling family and money. It's even tougher if you get tripped up in a financial scam that sets you back, especially when you only wanted to help. By watching out for the telltale signs and knowing how things really work, you can protect yourself and your family from getting burned.

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Don't Fall For It, Mom. It's a Scam!

When criminals hack a Facebook account, they typically use one of several available "brute force" tools, says Grayson Milbourne, Webroot's manager of threat research for North America. These tools cycle through a common password dictionary, and try commonly used names and dates, targeting hundreds of thousands of different email IDs. Once hacked, an account can be used as a platform to deliver spam, or -- more commonly -- sold. Clandestine hacker forums are crawling with ads offering Facebook account IDs and passwords in exchange for money. In the cyber world, information is a valuable thing.

Commandeering occurs when a criminal logs on to someone else's account using an illegally obtained ID and password. Once online, they have the victim's entire friend list at their disposal and a trusted cyber-identity. The impostor can then run a variety of confidence schemes, such as the popular "London scam," in which the "friend" claims to be stranded overseas and in need of money to make it home. The London scam has a far higher success rate on Facebook -- and specifically on commandeered accounts -- because there is a baseline of trust between users and those on their friends lists.

Profile cloning is the act of using unprotected images and information to create a Facebook account with the same name and details of an existing user. The cloner then sends friend requests to all of the victim's contacts, who will likely accept them, as they appear to be from someone they know. Those accepted friend requests give the con artist access to his new "friends'"  personal information, which can be used to clone other profiles or to commit fraud.

As Grayson Milbourne puts it, "Exploiting a person's account and posturing as that person is just another clever mechanism to use to extract information." Perhaps what's scariest about this kind of crime is its simplicity. Hacking acumen is unnecessary to clone a profile; the criminal simply needs a Facebook account.

Cross-platform profile cloning is when a cyber criminal obtains information and images from Facebook and uses them to create false profiles on another social-networking site, or vice versa.

Because the profile is often cloned to a social networking platform that the victim doesn't use, this kind of fraud may also take longer to notice and remedy.

Phishing on Facebook usually involves a hacker posing as a familiar individual or respectable organization, and asking for a user's personal data, usually via a wall post or direct message.

Often, users will be directed to click on a link. Once they do so, their computer may be infected with malware, or they may be directed to a website that offers a compelling reason to divulge sensitive information.

A classic example would be a site that congratulates its victims for having won $1,000 and prompts them to fill out a form to collect their prize -- a form that requests credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers, which can then be used by the fraudsters.

Also becoming increasing common, warns Milbourne: "spearphishing," a practice that uses the same basic idea but targets users through their individual interests.

In this common con, the scammers direct users via some sort of clickable enticement to a convincing, but spurious, Facebook log-in page. When the victims enter their usernames and passwords, they are collected in a database, to be used by the original scammer or resold to other criminals.

Once scammers have a user's login information, they can take advantage of the identity through apps like Facebook Marketplace. Posing as a reputable user lets the scammer capitalize on the trust that his victim has earned to sell fake goods and services, or promote brands they have been paid to advertise.

In affinity fraud, con artists assume the identities of people in order to exploit the trust of those close to them to steal money or information. Facebook facilitates this type of fraud because people on the social network often end up having a number of "friends" they actually do not know personally and yet implicitly trust.

Criminals can infiltrate a person's group of friends and then offer someone deals or investments that are part of a con. They can also assume an identity by hacking into a person's account and asking their friends to wire them money, or give them sensitive information like a Social Security or credit card number.

Few sites provide an easier source of basic personal information than Facebook. While it is possible to keep all personal information on Facebook private, users frequently reveal their email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and other pieces of private data. As security experts and hackers know, this kind of information often finds its way into passwords or answers to "secret" security questions. While the majority of unprotected information is mined for targeted advertising, it can be a used for more pernicious ends such as profile cloning and, ultimately, identity theft.

Most mass email advertisements are legal, if annoying. However, the growth of social networking has allowed for a new kind of spam called clickjacking. Clickjacking uses an advertisement for a viral video or article as an inducement to click on a link. Once clicked, the link sends the user to a page that tricks them into taking actions that they don't realize they are doing, such as sending an advertisement to all their friends' walls, buying an item via a concealed page, or revealing personal data.  This has become such an issue for Facebook that earlier this year, the company  teamed up with the U.S. Attorney General to try to combat the problem.

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