Friday, May 27, 2011

The high-tech battle against scammers ~ By Phil Elmore

Obviously, the illegitimate "collection agency" in question is a boiler-room operation whose goal is to frighten people into paying bills they do not owe. Armed with a little customer information (information they surely acquired illegally, either through hacking and identity theft or by some other means), they are, essentially, bluffing. They tell a customer that he or she owes the money and that customer, fearful of being "sent to collections" and having a corresponding credit blot, sends the money to make the problem go away.

As savvy consumers in a technologically connected age, we cannot afford to be complacent. We also cannot afford to give in to fear, to intimidation tactics and to brazen lies. If you are told you owe money, especially for a long overdue debt, take the time to research the problem. Only armed with information can you fight scam artists and thieves.

Before battle is joined, you must understand what you do not know. It is not enough to know that you don't understand.

I personally know people that have been victims of scams. In fact, while I was still working on this post today, I found out that a friend was the victim of his debit/credit card being used by an unauthorized person just last night, for over $1,000!! I am sure that all us know somebody that has been been burned by some type of scam, fraud, or cyber-theft, and hopefully one of those people isn't the person you see in the mirror. The reason that I chose this column to write about today is because I hope to help prevent any of my readers - and whoever they share this with (hint, hint) - from becoming victims!

Phil Elmore's column deals with a fraud scenario where the scammers were using a collection notice and lying about a debt that is owed. Because the potential victim used his technological resources that Phil mentions here, he was able to avoid getting scammed out of over $900.00. But, in the age of technology with the world wide web, email, and smart phones, there are so many ways that the criminals can scam people out of their hard earned money.

In the case of Phil's friend, the scam he focuses on involves a criminal ring, that should they be apprehended, will face some serious federal charges, including both mail (the bogus collection notice) and wire (the phone conversations) fraud. In the case of my friend, it was bank fraud, and the technologies used to "swipe" his credit card information probably (my theory, only) involved what is called a "point-of-sale skimmer,"

Of course, we've all heard a lot about identity theft lately, especially because of those various commercials on the radio and TV advertising various identity theft security providers. And then, there are all those horrible cases of internet scams, "phishing" being just one kind.

There is no realistic way that I could list all of the possible ways that cyber-crime can happen. I even attempted to try to follow and report on the subject in a forum topic I set up back in 2003, and it was an overwhelming task. I called it, "On a Mission - The Forum." Here is the description for that topic:

This is where the Cyber-Community can discuss network abuse, or what johnny2k calls "Global Cyber-Terrorism". Are hackers, spammers, and internet scammers committing acts of economic terrorism? Are the people working from home, that utilize the internet for their livelihood, victims of the assault on a vital component of our national and global infrastructure?
You will obviously observe that I saw the seriousness of cyber-crime a long time ago. But my "mission" didn't end when the forum activity dwindled down to nothing toward the end of 2007 (but it still gets many views despite the lack of recent posts!). Thankfully, I am here to tell you that there is an enormous amount of online information that you can use to help prevent you from being a cyber-crime victim. I have a page on my website where I list the links to many great resources to helping you learn about "cyber-terrorism."  (Please note: I haven't had a chance to update the page for awhile, so there will be several "dead links" there. However, the page will be included, and updated, in the planned renovation of

Now, here's the point of what both Phil and I have told you. Phil emphasizes your need to not be intimidated into complacency. Your first mission is to take notice when something doesn't seem right. And what do you do when you do discover a potential threat to your financial well being? That is where my emphasis is, to help you know where to begin educating yourself enough to avoid the problem in the first place. 

One of my techie heroes has always been Kim Komando, who says in a promo spot for her radio show, "Just remember, the Nigerians... they contacted ME first. The money's mine." And it is my hope that YOUR money will stay YOURS, and not go to a scammer somewhere in Africa.... or, worse, to a terrorist somewhere in the world.  I'm just sayin'...

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The high-tech battle against scammers

By Phil Elmore

May 26, 2011 ~ 1:00 am Eastern

© 2011

We monitor our credit scores more closely than ever before. We are also more directly and immediately connected to those scores. This is a function of technology, of interconnectivity and usability of data. An update to your credit score is only a click away. We are all keenly aware of this, and thus the mere threat of a negative mark on our credit records is enough to scare us into paying bills we don't owe. What this amounts to is technological theft, not through direct hacking and transfers of funds, but through intimidation based on lies. A friend of mine experienced this recently and, using only his smartphone, fought back.

My friend has dentures. He received a set of these that were paid for, in part, by Allcare Dental and Dentures. Some time later, the company abruptly closed its doors. Patients who were scheduled for treatment – patients who, in some cases, had prepaid for products and services – were not notified in any way. They were simply cut off and, to my knowledge, no provision was made to refund their money, except through the usual lengthy and cumbersome legal procedures that occur when a company collapses financially. My friend found out about the cancellation of his insurance while reading the paper. A dental blog summed up the problem thusly:
The company's bare-bones alternate website says their doors are permanently closed. They said that they did not give patients any notice because both their computer network and phone system were abruptly shut down by the network provider.
Allcare shut down so abruptly that it seems inadequate provision was made for Allcare's patients, the transfer of those patients' health-care records, and continuity of patient and corporate financial records. Employees of the company were left with no recourse but to apologize in online discussion forums for what took place; they were left powerless.

Last week, my friend received a notice from a collections company, apparently misrepresenting itself as an arm of a major banking and credit card company. He was told he owed more than $900 for a bad debt relative to Allcare. When he investigated, he was told that his insurance claim was denied and therefore he owed the portion of the bill that his Allcare dental insurance was supposed to have paid.

My friend was certain he had paid the bill and that he had received no such notice from Allcare while the company was still a going concern. He spent the morning on the telephone, tracking down anyone he could find who could give him some insight into the issue. He also did a lot of Internet searching and, before he was done, he was filing a complaint with the state attorney general's office. Using his smartphone, the Internet and common sense, he was able to detect both warning flags of a scam and catch the scammers in their own lies.


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