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Scammers use new tricks

With more people becoming wary of Internet bank fraud, scammers are finding new ways to rip off residents -- including one case in which a man sent off a $6,000 watch and got nothing in return.

The new mode of stealing -- including several incidents in Alton recently -- is via phony escrow sites with several variations.

"They are not falling for Nigerian-type scams" said Pfc. Mike Bazzell, information technology officer with the Alton Police Department, forcing thieves to hunt victims through other trickery.

The Nigerian scam, with variations from other foreign countries, is an online version of the old pigeon drop.

Even those without computers can fall victim to an even-newer ploy to obtain information to steal identities by telephone -- the "jury duty" scam. The trick is just getting started locally; Bazzell said he knows of two people who reported the calls.

In that scheme, the scammer calls and claims to work for local courts. He says the person failed to report for jury duty and that a warrant has been issued for his or her arrest.

"The victims will often rightly claim they never received the jury duty notification," Bazzell said. "The scammer then asks the victim for confidential information for ‘verification’ purposes. Specifically, the scammer asks for the victim’s Social Security number, birth date and sometimes even credit card numbers and other private information -- exactly what the scammer needs to commit identity theft."

Bazzell said it is easy to see why this scam works.

"The victim is clearly caught off guard and is understandably upset at the prospect of a warrant being issued for his or her arrest," he said. "So, the victim is much less likely to be vigilant about protecting their confidential information. In reality, court workers will never call you to ask for Social Security numbers and other private information. Most courts follow up via ‘snail’ mail and, rarely, if ever, call prospective jurors."

Bazzell will hold a free seminar at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at Hayner Public Library, 325 Belle St. in Alton, on how to prevent getting taken by scams; how to avoid being a victim of identity theft; how to protect children from online predators; and free software available to protect oneself.

Registration is required by calling (800) 613-3163.

Bazzell is a member of the FBI’s Metro East Computer Crime Analysis Task Force and is director of Regional Computer Crime Enforcement Group.

Here are some of the latest scams.

- In the so-called escrow services scam, two people in Alton recently lost $6,000 and $1,000, respectively, in nonpayment for goods they thought they sold online. One was the watch that the Alton man said was worth $6,000. He sent the watch off and never received payment.

In that scenario, the scammer says he wants to buy the item but is wary of sending that much money to a stranger and suggests using an escrow service similar to PayPal. The seller agrees to the plan; the buyer says he will send payment to the escrow service and that it will contact him soon.

The seller receives an e-mail from a bogus escrow service saying it received the money and that it is safe to ship the big-ticket item. It says that once the buyer receives the goods, the escrow service will release the money. The seller sends off the package, usually jewelry or electronics, and never hears from the buyer or the service and never gets the money.

- An Alton victim recently lost $2,000 in the "AOL (America Online) fraud." In that scheme, a pop-up message comes up, allegedly from "AOL Support." It says someone attempted to gain access to the user’s AOL account and that AOL needs verification that the computer user is legitimate by providing his or her credit card number or bank personal identification number.

Not wanting someone else to use his or her account, the account holder types in the financial information and within seconds is a victim of the scam. The scammer quickly begins using that information to make credit card purchases or transfer money before the victim realizes what happened.

"What they did was send all their information to a scamming suspect," who cleared out a savings account, he said.

- Altonians lost $3,000 recently in the eBay/PayPal scheme. The computer user receives an e-mail purportedly from the "eBay fraud department" stating that someone logged into his or her account from a foreign country. Of course, the "fraud department" needs personal information from the victim-to-be in order to "clear up any fraudulent activity."

Wanting to protect himself or herself from whoever supposedly got into the account, the user provides information about credit cards, bank accounts and automated teller machines. The e-mail that the victim sends is forwarded to another, non-eBay account, and the scammer uses the information to buy things and transfer money.

- The final two scams, PayPal and BidPay fraud, are similar, with sellers of merchandise online being victims. Altonians shipped several items recently without obtaining payment for them, Bazzell said.

In the PayPal rip-off, the victim receives a PayPal payment for an item advertised for sale online. The payment is usually more than the asking price, with the buyer insisting in return that the item be sent immediately, with overnight service.

"The victim ships the item and next day finds out that fraudulent funds were used from a stolen account," Bazzell said. "The PayPal funds are reversed, the victim is out the item sent and receives no money."

In the BidPay scam, the potential victim also gets an e-mail from someone wanting to buy an item he or she is selling online on eBay, CraigsList or some other site. The buyer insists he pays through BidPay, a legitimate company, and the seller-victim agrees.

The seller gets an e-mail from BidPay saying a Western Union money order has been sent to him or her and that it is safe to ship the package, which the victim does. A "red flag" is that the e-mail usually has spelling or grammatical errors, and the "reply to" address is not an "" address.

"This is a fake e-mail created by the buyer to make the seller believe that payment is on the way," Bazzell said. Of course, the seller never receives the promised money order.

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