Category: Scams (Page 1 of 5)

Brushing Scams

Here’s a scam that you should know about, but not because it’s particularly dangerous. It’s just weird. But once you know the details about brushing scams, they won’t creep you out, and you can quickly move on from them.

Surpriseā€½

When an unexpected item arrives at your doorstep, it may be part of a brushing scam. The item may be lightweight or small or just plain curious: people have reported receiving packets of seeds, hand warmers, “dragon eggs“, and even Bluetooth speakers. The packaging often shows an international return address, but no further clues about the point of sale. No bill is included, no company name or URL can be spotted.

Nothing “killer” about this, just an artsy rock…

In general, the items are harmless. There have been no reports of hazardous items being shipped with this scheme. Whatever you receive, you do not have to pay for it, and you are under no obligations regarding what you do with it. Keep it. Donate it. Trash it.

Why Send Me Junk?

This scam is harmless to you specifically, because it isn’t targeting you. Certainly, someone used your mailing address in this scheme. But don’t take it personally. Your address was probably chosen at random, from any number of online public information sources.

The scam’s target is an e-commerce website. It could be Amazon, Wal*Mart, AliExpress or others. They are gaming the reviews in order to sell more merchandise. Their process is:

  • Create a new account and buy an item.
  • Have the item shipped to a random address in the USA.
  • Once the item is shipped, the new account is considered legitimate, and can leave a review. So the account holder leaves a 5-Star review on the item and for the seller.

If they repeat this over and over for a particular item/seller, that item will soon show a lot of trustworthy, 5-Star reviews, even though it may be a new listing or a shady, fly-by-night vendor. This can help encourage a lot of future sales.

Whatever it takes to sell more jewelry.

Final Takeaways

Most brushing scams give you no info to act on. But if you spot a clue on the parcel and you manage to determine what site it was purchased through, you could follow-up with that company. Don’t call any number listed on the package, but you may, for example, go to Amazon.com or Walmart.com and contact their support about the item. If they care to listen to you, you may ask that they:

  • File a fraud report for the item you received.
  • Find and remove any reviews associated with your name or address.

Brushing scams are actually incredibly effective at what they do. Amazon and similar stores are constantly battling fake reviews. But brushing reviews is where the bad guys have the upper hand. Brushed reviews are almost impossible to suss out, even with sophisticated software tools. So at the end of the day, I have to advise you: Don’t give 100% of your trust to online reviews. Sure, read them over, but take them with a grain of salt.

Fake Hard Drives for Sale

A couple of years ago, I blogged about Fake Flash Drives, and now I have to write a refresh article: You also need to watch out for Fake Hard Drives and Fake Solid State Drives. Please make sure you don’t buy these things!

Good & Bad Examples

First, some examples of legitimate, reliable storage drives:

These items are all fine choices for your data storage. Please note that they are recognizable, big-brand names within the $50-100 price range.

Now for some fakes for your consideration (PLEASE DO NOT BUY THE FOLLOWING PRODUCTS!):

If you regard those items, you should notice some clues that something’s not right. First, there’s no noticeable brand name, or if there is, it’s a name you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else on the web. There’s a big price disparity, too; charging a few dollars per Terabyte of storage is too good to be true.

16TB storage drives do exist, for the rare few of you that need one. If you buy a legitimate 16TB hard drive, expect to pay around $300 at the time of this writing.

Details & Dangers of Fake Drives

The dangers of this scam go beyond losing some money. Your files are at risk if you fall into this trap. These fraudulent devices are mis-manufactured to offer 16TB of storage to your computer. And your computer will believe it when you attach the drive! But there isn’t really that much storage in there. It’s more like a couple of 64GB microSD cards glued to a reader board in these sham drives.

So what happens is that you can try to put data on the device. And it will work, up to a point, but then catastrophe will strike. As your computer pipes data into an area that it thinks is huge but is really much smaller, your data will fall into oblivion. Like lemmings walking off a cliff. And this won’t be apparent until later, when you try to open or retrieve those files. Then you will meet with errors and irrevocable data loss.

Dos & Don’ts

The Too-Long;-Didn’t-Read advice I can finish up with is:

  • Do pay attention to brand names, and buy something from a recognizable manufacturer.
  • Don’t jump on amazing prices/deals. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t believe the posted reviews! Amazon and other websites are commonly gamed by the scammers, and a sham product can have thousands of 5-star reviews below it.
  • Do be judgmental about where you buy (online). Costco, Staples & Best Buy vet their vendors more than Wal*Mart, Amazon and eBay. Avoid those free-for-all marketplaces where anyone can hawk their wares.
  • Do feel free to report scam products to the website’s support team, but don’t spend a lot of your time or emotion on it. I did that 2 years ago with the flash drive debacle, and it became obvious that these big companies don’t care about or can’t fix the problem from their side.

The Text-Based EBT Scam

For anyone involved in SNAP or receiving EBT funds, please be aware of the following scam:

This is a text message that did NOT come from the government or any legitimate entity. It is the beginning of a scheme to steal your EBT funds.

If you receive this text, do NOT call the number. Do NOT respond to the text. Simply ignore, delete or block this message.

If someone calls the number in the text, a scammer will answer and pretend to be with the government. They will try to learn the caller’s EBT account info and PIN. Once they have those numbers, the crook will drain the funds from the person’s EBT account.

The legitimate people in charge of SNAP and EBT will never text you. If you need to contact them, find their official phone number on this list and call them. And if you have fallen victim to this scam, please call your state’s EBT Client ASAP to see if anything can be done.

The Hybrid Paypal Scam

I’ve seen plenty of Paypal-related scams, but this one is the slickest I’ve encountered to date. Pay attention and don’t be fooled if this shows up on your doorstep:

The Scam Arrives

You’ll see this scam arrive either in your inbox as an email, or in your Paypal account as a transaction under Activity.

Email example
from the real Paypal website!

Are you a believer yet? I wouldn’t blame you, because this is not your typical fake-email. This is an authentic Paypal email, and it takes you to the true Paypal website to view a real Paypal invoice! Nothing has been spoofed or faked here. The Paypal invoice can even be downloaded as a PDF from their website. The only lie is what’s shown in the Seller’s Notes field.

What is truly afoot here is that someone’s Paypal account has been stolen and is being used to send payment requests. Paypal calls them “invoices”, and that terminology only serves to make the scam look even more important.

The Two-Fold Danger

You’re at risk from two different directions with this scam. Make sure you don’t get taken by either of these:

  1. The cybercriminal is trying to trick you into paying the bill with a quick click.
  2. The crook wants you to object to the bill and call the phone number listed in the Seller Notes.

For anyone moving too quickly and not thinking enough, #1 quickly puts $500 in the thieves’ pocket. The money will be transferred into gift cards or other untraceable ratholes, and the victim will have a hard time clawing that money back.

#2 leads to a typical remote support scam. If you call the number, you’ll talk to a scammer who will seek to remotely access your computer, steal your money and possibly bork your PC.

In short: do NOT pay this bill, and do NOT call the listed phone number.

What To Do With This Hybrid Scam

First, be very careful as you deal with this. Make sure to avoid any “Pay Invoice” button. It’s safe to view the invoice and other screens in your Paypal account, but you must not accidentally pay the scammer.

Next, much like with an accidental payment scam, you can simply ignore the invoice. Nothing bad will happen if you simply do nothing with this Paypal item. It will sit there inert, until some day when Paypal catches up and removes it.

Alternatively, you can cancel the invoice. Sign into your account at Paypal.com, click on Activity, and select the scam invoice. Right below the blue Pay button, you may safely click on “Cancel Invoice”.

Click Cancel, do not Pay!

Lastly, you may reach out to Paypal support, if you want them to know about the scam attempt. Once you’re logged in at Paypal.com, scroll to the bottom of the site and look for the Contact link. Click it and make use of the Call Us or Message Us options to reach out to them.

Data Breach Phishing Email

Here is yet another example of a phishing email to beware:

Not actually from Google or anyone trustworthy…

The sender address and bad grammar should give it away. But it still looks pretty convincing, and is closely modeled off of other real Google email messages.

Do NOT call the number. Do NOT reply to the email. Do NOT click the links.

If you receive this, mark this message as Spam, and then Delete it.


I’ll admit, though, I called the number. From an anonymous line. I added a comical 30 years to my voice and fumbled through a call with a scammer.

He pretended to be with Google, and researched my email address (which I made up on the spot). And he insisted to me that I was being hacked and calling my ISP wouldn’t do any good. He tried to convince me that my IP address was compromised, and because IP addresses were unchangeable and assigned for a lifetime, I had to do the needful and let him fix the issue.

Using my regular voice, I called him on his nonsense and he said some bad words and I moved on. Sigh. It’s just another Monday.

Accidental Payment Scams

You should know about the Accidental Payment Scam that can occur through instant money-sending apps, like Venmo, Cash App and Zelle.

What the Scam Looks Like

It starts with an unexpected payment from an unknown person. Your Venmo may pop up and say any number of off-the-wall things:

  • $600 sent for vintage wedding dress
  • $300 recv’d for Adult Svcs Rendered
  • $250 for Imagine Dragons tickets @ Jiffy Lube Live

And then you’ll see some follow-up email or text:

Don’t Do It!

This is a variation of the Overpayment Scam. They’re counting on your moral code to convince you to help them out. And it would be so easy to send that money over to the poor stranger… but hold your horses, because this was no mistake:

What To Do

  • Nothing. The best course of action here is to do nothing. Don’t send this stranger any money. Don’t reply to their messages. You don’t know them, you don’t owe them anything. Not even common courtesy. If you sit still long enough (few days?), the accidental payment will be reversed or removed.
  • You are also welcome to contact Venmo or your bank (for Zelle concerns). Cash App has some info and contact methods on this site. They may be interested to know about the accidental payment, and they may instruct you on other methods for dealing with it that won’t put your money at risk.

If You Were Tricked

When a person falls for this scam, they believe the messages and send money back to the person in their DMs. They get a big Thank-You in return and some warm Good Samaritan feelings. But those only last a few days and then the nasty surprise comes.

The original “accidental payment” transaction gets flagged as fraudulent, and is reversed. (It was likely made off of a stolen credit card.) That amount is removed from the victim’s account. It is as if it never happened.

The follow-up transaction, where the victim sent money to the stranger, is upheld. That is seen as a wholly separate transaction, initiated by the victim. The bank will maintain that it is completely legitimate. They usually do not reverse those transactions, and that money is gone, gone, gone.

If you were tricked in this way, I am very sorry for your loss. You should still notify Venmo/CashApp/your bank of the fraud, so that they can track the details, and maybe one day make all of this a safer process.

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.

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.

Follow-up:

Some recovery scammers advertise. They post and comment on social media, trying to lure in people who need help regaining access to a lost Facebook account or Paypal login.

please do not contact this scammer!

But it’s all the same scam. Don’t fall for it. They’ll just ask for gift cards, steal your money and run. If you truly need help recovering a locked or stolen account, go to that site’s support section and see what official recovery methods they offer. For example:

Facebook Recovery

Google Recovery

Paypal Customer Service

Here’s What This Scam Might Look Like

Using a throwaway number and email account, I chatted with this scammer. Don’t try this at home! You don’t want these guys to get any of your contact info.

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.

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