Watch Out for These Kidnap, Killer and Facebook Scams

Scammers use online audio tracks to mimic kidnap victims: Internet Scambusters #743

Suppose someone told you they’d kidnapped your child and then you could clearly hear their voice in the background.

You could be to blame for giving these crooks the evidence they need to make their fake crime seem authentic, as we explain in this week’s Snippets issue.

We also have the lowdown on the latest version of the assassin scam and a warning about a new Facebook con trick that uses the site’s “tagging” feature.

Before we begin, you may want to spend a moment looking at this week’s most popular articles from our other sites:

How to Dispute Credit Report Errors: Credit report errors are a common result of identity theft and here’s how to dispute them.

Taking Herbal Supplements? Let Your Dentist Know: Sometimes herbal supplements have unexpected side effects that can cause serious trouble when your dentist is working on your teeth so here’s what you need to know.

Paleo Diet Review and High Fructose Corn Syrup: Here’s my take on the hugely popular Paleo (“Caveman”) diet along with what WebMD has to say about it.

Debunking Certain Myths About Precious Metals, Part I: A lot of precious metal myths center around lost mines and the metals themselves; here are three to start off with.

Now, here we go…

Watch Out for these Kidnap, Killer and Facebook Scams

The early part of this year has seen a huge surge in fake kidnapping and assassin scams.

Scores of victims are suffering needless distress in the belief that either a family member is being held for a ransom or that someone has been hired to kill them.

Both of these cruel tricks have been around for several years and we’ve reported on them before. But it’s a lucrative scam for the crooks, as at least some victims continue to pay up.

It’s easy to understand why people don’t want to risk the possibility that a kidnap claim might be genuine. And crooks know just how to make their call seem more convincing.

In one recent fake kidnap, a North Carolina mom told how crooks are using sound tracks of kids’ voices that they’ve “snagged” from social media networks like Facebook.

Many proud parents frequently post videos of their children on these sites. It’s easy for crooks to strip out the audio element and edit them to make them seem like the person is in distress.

It’s something worth bearing in mind if you’re a parent and upload these sorts of videos. It signposts a much broader issue about the dangers of posting information about your kids online.

For more guidance on how to deal with kidnap calls, see our earlier issue, FBI Alert as Virtual Kidnap Scams Rise.

An assassination threat is far less plausible. In the recent version, the extortion demand usually comes via a text message in which the scammer claims he was hired a couple of days previously to kill the recipient.

He then offers to drop the contract in return for a payment of around a thousand dollars.

This time, to make his case seem more convincing, the scammer may appear to know quite a bit about the person he’s targeting but this is just information he’s picked up from the Internet.

The risk of seeming genuine could be higher if that online information contains subject matter that might make the victim a potential target for hate crime.

After a recent incident, South Bend, Indiana, police captain Robert Hammer said these bogus assassins are “just looking for that small percentage of people who will react to their requirements.”

His advice was never to send money but to report the incident to the local police department.

Money Wire Test Scam

Another longstanding con trick with a new twist is the advance payment scam, in which victims receive a dud check followed by a request to wire back part of the cash.

In the latest version, victims are told they’ve been selected to test the reliability of money-wiring services.

This is a neat trick because, of course, if you send money to someone you don’t know via one of these services, it’s almost impossible to trace where it ended up.

Victims subsequently receive a check that they cash at their bank, before using some of that money to send the electronic payment.

A short while later, the check turns out to be a fake and the victim has to repay the cash they withdrew from their bank.

In yet another twist, police have recently reported that some of the checks are actually genuine — usually stolen — and the victim can end up in double trouble, sometimes suspected of being implicated in the theft.

The best policy is to never respond to these requests.

The fact is that firms don’t work this way.

They never, but never, select people at random and then send them checks with a follow-up request to test something and wire cash. It’s 100 percent a scam.

Facebook Tagging Trick

Let’s get back to Facebook for our final Snippet this week.

If you are one of the 1.6 billion people who use that site, you may, from time to time, have been “tagged” in someone else’s post.

Tagging happens when another user inserts your name into an item they’re posting.

When that happens, Facebook notifies the person that they’ve been tagged.

Natural curiosity encourages most people to click on the notification to find out more about why they were tagged.

In a scam targeting users of Google’s Chrome browser, the tagging notification appears to relate to a video, often using a photo of the victim as its icon, which makes them even more curious to see the video.

But a click on the video icon takes victims to a fake Facebook page where they’re told they now must install a special video viewer to see it.

Instead, clicking on the installation button adds an extra program — or extension as it’s called — to Chrome, which can read the victim’s browser history and access other data from sites they’ve visited, including financial information.

Google subsequently removed the latest scam extension from its store but a web security site has warned there may be similar extensions about.

The simplest way to avoid this and similar scams is never to download special viewers that you’re told you need in order to watch one particular video that, in turn, you know nothing about.

It’s a sure sign of a scam.

Alert of the Week

On the subject of scams and money-wiring services, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has announced that one wirer, Western Union, is to forfeit a total of $586 million for “willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud.”

The Commission says that between 2004 and 2016 more than 146,000 complaints about bogus online purchases, worth $187 million, were filed with Western Union, while lottery fraud accounted for another 75,000 complaints.

Some of the forfeited money may be returned to victims. The FTC advises people who believe they were affected and may be entitled to compensation should visit the Department of Justice victim website.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!