Energy Audit, Lawsuit and Phishing Tricksters Just Want Your Money

Energy audit ruse aims to get into your home to sell or steal: Internet Scambusters #541

Attracted by the potential to save money, victims are falling for phone energy audit offers that are really disguised attempts to sell you overpriced products or even steal from you.

We have the details of what to look out for in this week’s Snippets issue, along with the lowdown on a bogus class action lawsuit, which, again, you have to pay for.

And we’ve identified a couple of the latest phishing tricks disguised as communications from government departments.

Let’s get started…

Energy Audit, Lawsuit and Phishing Tricksters Just Want Your Money

The high cost of powering our homes with gas and electricity has sparked an energy audit scam in which crooks use the lure of cutting victims’ bills as a way of getting inside their homes.

That’s the first new con trick in this week’s Snippets issue — a roundup of the latest happenings in the world of scamming. We also have details of a bogus class action suit and some new types of phishing emails.

Energy Audit Scam

This is a simple trick that’s sweeping the country, though the end game isn’t always the same.

A door-step solicitor, postal flyer, or telesales caller offers a free or very low-cost home inspection to identify ways of cutting your energy bills.

Sometimes, the tricksters claim to be from a utility company or energy audit specialist firm; often they offer “guarantees” of savings and even cash rewards.

Once inside victims’ homes they have a great excuse for touring every room, opening up the possibility of theft.

But, most often, these tricksters are just sales people. In recent instances, they use high-pressure techniques to sell “solar blankets” for attics — at $4,000 a pop — or other types of insulation.

If the victim pays, the work may or may not be done but it’s always over-priced, under-par on quality, and usually done by an unlicensed contractor.

Action: A home energy audit is a legitimate way of seeing if you can cut your power bills.

Many state energy departments or power companies offer this service free — but they usually don’t cold-call. You have to call them.

You can often do an audit yourself, using tips from your utility company.

A legitimate, qualified energy auditor will usually charge for the service, which is fine if it’s genuine.

Beware of any type of unsolicited offer, check the credentials, including business and contractor license, with anyone you’re thinking of doing business with.

This includes those who claim to be specialists and actually do charge a fee. Be skeptical of anyone who promises they can save you money.

And if someone offers to reward you for allowing them to do the audit, then it’s almost certainly a scam!

Finally, if you do find yourself with one of these rogues inside your house, ask them to leave. If they won’t, call the police.

Bogus Class Action Lawsuit

We read a lot these days about class action suits, in which a group of disgruntled customers band together to sue an organization over alleged faults, errors or wrongdoings.

Scammers have spotted a way to turn this to their advantage by pretending they’re organizing a lawsuit and inviting you to join in the action — for a fee.

The latest version comes as a mailer inviting recipients to join a class action against a mortgage lender for unspecified problems dating back to the real estate and foreclosure drama of the past few years.

Victims are asked to pay more than $5,000 upfront for research and legal costs.

It turns out there’s no such lawsuit and anyone who pays to “join” will likely never hear from the organizers again. If they do, they’re told the action has been abandoned.

Action: In most states, it’s illegal for lawsuit organizers to charge upfront fees.

Don’t pay in advance for this sort of action. If the lawsuit seems legit, check it out with your state Attorney General’s office.

New Phishing Scams

To stay one step ahead of their victims and law enforcement, scammers must constantly devise new ways of phishing — fooling victims into giving up personal details about themselves.

One of their favorite tricks is to mimic legitimate organizations, and among their latest tactics is a really cheeky trick — posing as the very organization that tracks their crime, IC3, or the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The scam comes in the form of an email, purporting to be from IC3, reporting a true story about the arrest of credit card forgers.

It tells recipients they’re entitled to get a refund and asks them to email their bank account details.

In addition to giving up their confidential info, victims may also be asked to pay a fee for the handling of the refund.

Action: Any request for your bank account or other confidential information is a red flag.

This particular scam uses the IC3 logo and has the subject line: “We have mandated your payment.”

A logo on a message proves nothing, and legitimate government agencies or banks never ask for your account details by email.

It also uses poor English, and refers to the office of a bank in South Africa, implying that’s where the money will come from. More red flags.

One more “official” phishing scam to be on the lookout for: What appears to be an emailed receipt for a payment you’re supposed to have recently made to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

You don’t have to live in Florida to get one of these. One of the Scambusters team who lives in another state got one and there’ve even been reported in some African countries.

The message includes a bogus confirmation number and a supposed tracking number — plus the inevitable link for you to click if you have any questions.

Although the link shows the real FDHSMV address, clicking it actually takes you to a hijacked server in Germany where, again, you’ll be asked to provide personal information.

Action: Again, don’t trust a logo or other supposed identifier for an organization. They mean nothing.

And don’t click links inside an email like this. If you have reason to believe a message from any organization is legit, look them up and contact them by phone directly.

That’s a wrap for this week’s issue.

Remember always to be on the alert for attempts to steal your personal information and supposed organizations that offer to give you or save you money — whether it’s a lawsuit, an energy audit or anything else — where you have to pay them first.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.