Category: Hazards (Page 1 of 6)

The Microsoft 365 Renewal Scam

This is yet another phishing scam, based on a renewal or subscription you never agreed to:

This email is 100% fiction and fake. There is no purchase or charge. This didn’t come from Microsoft. If you get this message:

  • Do NOT call the number.
  • Do NOT reply to it.
  • Mark it as Spam or Phishing, and delete it.

How to tell it’s a phishing scam? Well, not all are easy to spot, but this one is. Notice that:

  • It was sent from a Gmail address!
  • There are spelling and punctuation errors throughout the message.
  • Even the Microsoft Logo is a bit off.

While this scam message seems laughable, keep in mind that these cybercriminals actually have good reasons for crafting low-quality emails. Bad spelling and other mistakes help narrow down the number of people who will respond and fall for these ploys.

But the next bogus emails could be harder to spot. If you ever have any doubt about your Microsoft 365 subscriptions, just head on over to Office.com . Sign in and go to My Account -> Service & Subscriptions. That’s where you can review everything you’ve bought from Microsoft, as well as prices and renewal dates.

The RV Giveaway Scam

No, you are not going to win a free RV! But when you see posts about this on social media, they are so tempting. Companies with names like Camping & RV World boast about “unclaimed RVs” that they have to give away for free, and the included photos show some beautiful vehicles. But this is one of those too-good-to-be-true situations. You will not win anything. And there is a lot of harm afoot, even if you click Like on the post.

Scam!

How To Spot the Scam?

This gets harder every year, as the scammers study Facebook and other platforms for ingenious ways to conceal their identities. But here are some clues:

  • When you visit a Business Page on Facebook, scroll down to find the Page Transparency section. Click “See All” to get the most details. This will tell you useful info, like the date that the Page was created, and possibly the country of origin. Scam pages often show a very recent date, while known trusted pages have older dates.
  • Regard the About section: Scam pages often have no info here, while legitimate pages will reveal a proper phone number, physical address and website. Do not trust any “tinyurl”, “bit.ly” or “google.sites” addresses!
  • Search on Facebook for the company in question. Take Camping World, for example, they show hundreds of thousands of Likes. Notice that the scammer’s page probably only has a handful of Likes.
Only 32 people? And most of them are other scammers…

The Hazards of This Scam

The first part of the scam is in the first interaction you have with it. If you click Like or Share the scam, Facebook will promote the scammy post to your friends & family, or to everyone else in your group. It will help it spread like wildfire, or a chain letter. And your endorsement will make the scam look more believable to everyone else!

Next, many of these scams steer you towards marketing websites that promise free money via CashApp. This nonsense will waste your time with survey after survey and form after form. You’ll never get the promised cash, but they will hoover up your information. And sell it to every spammer and telemarketer known to man. If you think you get a lot of spam and junk calls now, just you wait. Participating in these surveys will elevate your spam to nightmare levels!

Finally, these RV Giveaways will “select” you as a winner, and push you into Private Messaging or other non-public communication. And the scammer will prepare to deliver your winnings… but first, they want a delivery fee to be paid. Or some insurance. Maybe a “customs surcharge.” Whatever it is, they’ll make it seem like a trifle, compared with the value of the big thing you’ve just won. But if you pay that fee (through CashApp or wire xfer or gift cards), then you will never hear from them again, and you will not see any RV appear in your driveway.

What To Do

When you encounter this scam on social media,

  • Do NOT click Like. Do NOT comment on it.
  • Report it to Facebook or other social media, as a scam.
  • If posted in a Group, also report it to the admin(s), and ask them to take it down.

Refund & Recovery Scams

Recovery scams are carried out by the worst of the worst. These guys prey on people who have already been scammed. Their claim is that they’ll help you recover what was stolen from you. But they’re just going to steal more money out of your pockets.

Scammers maintain lists of their potential and actual victims. And they will sell their most lucrative “sucker lists” to other scam companies. These companies are all too eager to phone up recent scam victims. They’ll pose as recovery agents, and tell stories of how skilled they are at chasing down the original scammers.

But their skills don’t exist. Even if they have a slick-looking website (broker complaint alert dot com, for example) and impressive company name, don’t believe in them! Recovery scammers are just looking to charge you more money, and then they’ll disappear, leaving you poorer and more disappointed than ever.

TL;DR: After any scam, don’t trust anyone except your bank, the police and the government, with regards to any reversal or recovery of funds. If they tell you that you’ve lost that money, please accept that news and move on.

Don’t Post That Privacy Notice to Facebook

For ten years now, people have been posting the following notice on Facebook:

Please don’t do that. Don’t post this or Share this if you see it. It is a hoax and it is misinformation. It accomplishes nothing.

I understand if you have privacy concerns over Facebook’s treatment of your information. Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t have a great track record of protecting and respecting our user data. But this kind of post does not protect you or change how Facebook treats you.

Please read up about this on Snopes or other websites. When you first signed up for a free Facebook account, you agreed to a lengthy contract. You agreed to so many many things, including:

Specifically, when you share, post, or upload content that is covered by intellectual property rights on or in connection with our Products, you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, and worldwide license to host, use, distribute, modify, run, copy, publicly perform or display, translate, and create derivative works of your content (consistent with your privacy and application settings). This means, for example, that if you share a photo on Facebook, you give us permission to store, copy, and share it with others (again, consistent with your settings) such as service providers that support our service or other Meta Products you use. This license will end when your content is deleted from our systems.

Facebook Terms of Service

If you really want control over what Facebook does with your data, your options are few and simple enough:

  • Don’t post it in the first place.
  • Delete your info, posts or pictures from Facebook.
  • Delete your whole Facebook account!

I understand that those may not be the most helpful options, and for that, I can only apologize and sympathize. Remember: If you’re using something for free, you are probably not the customer, you are the product!

The National Baby Formula Shortage

Some info pertaining to the shortage of baby formula in the USA:

Scams abound! If you find an online vendor for baby formula that seems too good to be true, it may be. When possible, buy your formula from respected, large companies and not sketchy eBay auctions or brand-new websites.

Misinformation about buying from Amazon’s Canada website is circulating, and I want to debunk that before you try it. For the most part, you cannot buy baby formula from Amazon.ca, unless it is from one of their 3rd-party sellers. And those may be risky to use.

Another important resource right now is the Free Formula Exchange. If you have formula that you don’t need, please donate it through this website! And if you need formula, you can sign up and possibly connect with someone nearby who has unneeded baby formula.

And you should touch base with your pediatrician for other trusted resources that can help you get through this tough time.

The Blackmail Scam

The Blackmail Scam is also known as the Webcam Scam and the Sextortion Scam. If you get this thing in your inbox or spam folder, just ignore it or delete it. Here are the details:

The blackmail consists of someone claiming they took control of your webcam without you knowing, and they’ve captured video of you doing something embarrassing. If you pay up, they promise not to send the video to anyone else. Please know that they did not access your camera or capture any video, the email is 100% fiction.

To some, their email is very convincing and worrisome. They do use a lot of jargon, and to the layperson it can make the scammer come across as capable and in control. But they aren’t. They’re just spammers, and they sent this message to millions of people at one go. You may dismiss this message with extreme prejudice.

Once in a while, this scam resurfaces, and the cybercriminal includes “your password.” And the email will truly include a password familiar to you, from some website you’ve used in the past! If this happens to you, you should still not believe in the message. The scammers have simply obtained some data leak from a website you once logged into, and they’ve included your password for verisimilitude. After you delete the email, think about that password, and make sure to change it on any website where you may have used it.

Zelle and Its Use in Scams

If you’ve been paying attention, you might be familiar with how gift cards are used in scams. Money loaded onto gift cards is hard to trace and even harder to get back after a cybercriminal has obtained the card info. So, now that you know that gift cards are a red flag for scams, please also consider Zelle requests as similar red flags.

What Is Zelle?

Zelle is a payment network and service that is free for all to use. It works with virtually any US bank account, allowing you to instantly send money to someone else. If your bank offers Zelle services, then you can use it to send money to a friend or family, simply by using their phone number or email address. It’s fast and easy!

The Devil’s in the Details

Zelle is intended for lightning-fast money-transmission, but because the dollars move so fast, it is side-stepping a lot of the security checks present in other financial transactions. Once you Zelle some cash to someone, it is gone from your account, in mere minutes! This is great if you’re paying back your friend for lunch, or sending a cash gift to mom for Mother’s Day. It’s really lousy if it happens while a scammer has you in his/her thrall.

This is why scammers try to convince their victims to use Zelle. If their story is good enough to trick you into Zelling them some money, it’s instantly theirs. And if you initiated the transaction, there is little chance of you getting it back.

Zelle May Be Getting Safer

Zelle was created by all the big banks we know in this country. So it has been a bit surprising that they wouldn’t help much, after crime occurs over their Zelle network. Consumer advocates state that Zelle has no fraud protections in place for its transactions. But in some rare cases, some banks are starting to replace funds lost in Zelle-based schemes. And some other banks are starting to limit how much money they allow to pass through Zelle, or putting a small wait-time on when new Zelle accounts can be used.

Treat It Like Cash

Still, the burden of responsibility lay on you. Zelle is similar to Venmo and Cash App, in that it seeks to be a cash-replacement. That means you should think of it and treat it as you would a fistful of dollars.

You can dispute a credit card transaction. You can put a stop-payment on a check. But you can’t get those dollar bills back after you’ve handed them off. Be aware, and only use Zelle with known, trusted people!

If someone is calling you and pressuring you to satisfy a bill or make a payment with Zelle, reframe the situation in your mind: This character is essentially asking me for cash right now. Is this how a legitimate company is supposed to act? The answer is usually NO, and you should shut that scam down!

The Geek Squad Scam

A lot of you are receiving this in your inboxes right now, so let’s go over the classic Geek Squad Scam.

The Scam Email

Here are some examples of what may arrive in your inbox:

These are all fakes. Best Buy and Geek Squad did not send these messages. There aren’t any charges, either — it’s all make-believe. The cybercriminals who created these have stolen and repurposed the logos and looks of Geek Squad invoices. Some of these are close-to-perfect replicas, with one exception: the phone number. The phone number is never legitimate, and will only connect you to crooks.

How It Begins

It all starts if someone calls the bogus phone number on the Geek Fraud email. That number doesn’t belong to Best Buy, it connects you to a scammer in another country. But the fake agent is all too ready to pretend to be with Geek Squad. S/he will quickly apologize for the billing mistake. Then s/he will offer to process an immediate refund. But they usually don’t want your credit card or account numbers. They want to access your computer directly.

Inside Your Head, Inside Your Computer

The fast-talking crook will ask you to go to your computer and type in some things. A website will open. Software will download. If you follow their commands, you’ll be allowing the bad guy into your PC. Pretty soon, you’ll see your cursor moving around on your screen, even though you aren’t moving the mouse.

Then the fake agent will tell you to go to your banking website. They’ll reassure you that it’s just so you can see the refund as it arrives in your account! But that’s yet another lie to get them closer to your money. And once they have access to your computer while it’s logged into your banking accounts? They may:

  1. Quickly initiate multiple transfers of money. It will happen fast, like a shell game, and the last transfer will show $500, newly arrived in your checking account! But you didn’t quite see that they moved that money into there from your savings account, and you also missed the $2000 outbound transfer to their account.
  2. Open up a Zelle transaction to move money between your account and theirs. Zelle is a cash-transfer function for use with friends and family only, and its use cannot be reversed. The scammer will “accidentally” move the money the wrong way, into their account, and those hundreds of dollars are instantly gone.
  3. Transfer the wrong amount of money to your account. “Oh no, you were supposed to get $300, but I accidentally sent you $3000.” Then they will convince you to send them $2700 as a new transfer. And then 3 days later, you will learn that the $3000 was reversed when the bank found it to be fraudulent.

Dos and Don’ts

When you get these fake Geek Squad emails, just delete them. Don’t write back to the sender, don’t call the number.

If you have a Geek Squad membership and are doubtful about any message you’ve received, you can call Geek Squad at their correct number: 1-800-GEEK SQUAD (1-800-433-5778). You can also print the questionable email and carry it into the Best Buy store at your leisure.

If you were taken by this scam, call your bank ASAP. Explain what happened, and they will help you in securing your accounts, or possibly creating you new ones. They will also advise on if there’s any chance of getting your money back (but often, that chance is slim).

Bogus Windows 11 Upgrades

There are right ways and wrong ways to get your free Windows 11 upgrade. Of course, the cybercriminals are waiting to guide you into the wrong ways.

Lately, fake upgrade websites are showing up in web searches when people go looking for a way to install Windows 11. And these frauds look very similar to legitimate Microsoft websites. If it doesn’t explicitly show “microsoft.com” at the beginning of the URL, it’s a trap!

The safest way to get the free Windows 11 upgrade is to wait for your computer to offer it to you. Eligible Windows 10 computers will eventually show a pop-up about it. If you click the message, you’ll see the following, which is trustworthy to use:

legitimate Windows upgrade notice

If you think your computer is taking too long to offer this to you, you can check manually from within Windows 10. Click the Start button, go to Settings, then to Update & Security. You may see a similar option there to Download and Install Windows 11. Or you may see some options to check your system for Windows 11 compatibility. Again, all of these options are safe to try and use.

It’s when people go searching for a download website that things get dicey. Even the best search engines can be gamed by the scammers, to show bogus offers and malware-laden downloads. If you need it, here is the real Microsoft website for downloading the various editions of Windows. That site is legitimate and contains no viruses.

If your computer is very old and ineligible to receive Windows 11, don’t go looking for a workaround. It’s just not worth it. Better to wait until you someday buy a new computer — all new computers now come with Windows 11.

Snake Oil Software for your PC

There are myriad apps out there for your computer with names like Advanced System WinFantalizer ProBit Deep Cleaner IOCare Mechanic Utilities TuneUp Plus. They claim to do everything your system needs to run fast like a bunny. Problem is, they’re all rubbish. Don’t pay them any mind and certainly don’t spend any money on them. They are placeboware.

These snake oil products talk a good game. They claim they will speed up your performance and deep clean your OS and optimize your memory allocation and defraggle your drives. But take a breath and let the jargon fade away. They’re just trying to inspire you with buzzwords.

You’re Already In Good Hands

The Windows operating system already knows how to clean junk files automatically. It’s a feature called Storage Sense, and once turned on, you can trust in Microsoft to clear your temp files and other junk periodically, all on its own.

Microsoft already defragments your drives for you, too. You can check, you can open up the Optimize Drives panel anytime, and Windows will tell you the last date of defragmentation. Nothing for you to do here, either!

Thinking that your registry needs a good cleaning? Think again, Microsoft recommends against any such thing. And I can confirm, I have seen a lot of borked computers in my time, where the last thing the user had tried was a registry cleaner. You are always best off in leaving the Windows Registry alone!

But what about driver updates? Again, Microsoft’s got you: Windows Updates will cover most driver updates silently and automatically. If your computer needs drivers above and beyond that, then you want to rely on the manufacturer of your computer, not some 3rd-party app, to help with those. Dell, HP and the other big companies generally offer you driver updates through a program on your computer, or on their website. But you shouldn’t need to pursue this unless you’re looking to solve an active problem on your computer.

But My Computer Is So Slow!

And that is part of my work, figuring out why things are bogging down and preventing people from getting their work done. But there is no silver bullet or cure-all software out there. Every computer situation I deal with is different from the next. Some involve a quick fix, others require some serious detective work.

And guess what: If you install one of those Super-Pro-Max-Rainbow-Optimizer apps, your system is likely to become even slower. System performance is often a measure of Computer Horsepower vs. Active Software Burden. If you add another constantly-running program to your PC, that just adds to the load it’s carrying.

Here are some better ideas & tools for you, that are far safer to explore than installing these wacky, over-promising snake oil software:

  • Remove malware and disable bloatware/shovelware with ADWCleaner. It’s a one-time scan tool that will not conflict with your current antivirus.
  • Check your hard drive health! A failing hard drive will not announce itself, but can cause oddball errors and slowdown as it declines. I use CrystalDiskInfo to spot-check hard drive health, but your drive’s manufacturer may also offer a free download for this.
  • Consider a different antivirus solution. Many big-name antivirus suites put an immense load on the system. I have sped up many an older computer simply by trashing the TotalProtection360Antivirus Suite and installing a plain-vanilla, free antivirus.
  • Sometimes cloud backup software puts a drain on your internet or system speed. If you’re running OneDrive/Google Drive/Dropbox/Carbonite or similar, right-click on them in the taskbar and turn them off. Check your computer’s performance again, and reboot the system to allow those apps to restart.
  • Reboot all of your internet equipment, and use speed test websites to judge if your internet connection is the bottleneck.
  • Check to see that there are no pending Windows Updates. If there are, Download and install them and reboot and check again, until you see that there are no more updates waiting to come down to your computer.
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