New Red Light, Tax, PayPal and ID Theft Scams

Snippets issue highlights latest tricks crooks use to steal your money and your identity: Internet Scambusters #790

We have a Snippets issue for you this week, highlighting the latest twists on old scams plus a brand-new trick that could be hitting our shores anytime soon.

You’ll be surprised at the cunning tricks that crooks use to convince victims they’re for real — but by following our advice, you won’t get caught out.

We also have information for HP laptop owners whose machines may have been compromised by a built-in keylogger.

Let’s get started…


New Red Light, Tax, PayPal and ID Theft Scams


Did your teen driver just run a red light? Possibly, but a much greater likelihood is that they’re the latest target of scammers.

Crooks have used phony traffic citations for a long time, sending out fake tickets or simply demanding money from victims over the phone, under the pretense of being from law enforcement.

Now they’ve realized that teen drivers are a whole lot more vulnerable to this type of scam and, best of all, are unlikely to tell their parents about their supposed violation.

And the crooks talk tough, threatening their victims with jail.

It’s fairly easy for them to track down young drivers via social media or just by making random calls.

Once they score a hit, they say something like, “Your car went through a red light camera. We tried to contact you. And, as a new driver, you are going to go to jail or your license will be taken away unless you pay a $250 fine.”

The fine, of course, must be paid via an untraceable prepaid debit card.

If you have a teen driver in your family, tell them about this scam (while emphasizing they should never run a red light!). The police never issue citations by phone, nor do they demand payment via debit cards.

Also, warn them against posting their cell phone or car details online. Otherwise, these fake police officers can quickly put together a fairly convincing call.

Tax Scam Twist

Another new twist to an old scam revolves around demands for payment of overdue taxes.

The challenge for scammers these days is to make their nonsense claims sound more convincing.

In this case, according to a recent report from the IRS, the scammers tell victims by phone that they’ve previously sent two letters, warning of the underpayment, by certified mail. They claim the letters have been returned as undeliverable.

Next, ho-hum, they want to be paid immediately via those good ol’ debit cards or they’ll send you to jail.

Tax scams now run throughout the year, but they’re particularly common at this time.

So, it’s a good time to remind you that although the IRS does sometimes communicate by certified mail, they don’t phone, and they don’t demand payment by debit card.

Nor do they threaten to have you arrested if you don’t pay up. Just hang up.

Invisible PayPal

Next, have you heard about the invisible PayPal payment service?

Probably only if you’ve been on the receiving end of a scam that uses this crazy explanation for why the payment a fake buyer sent you hasn’t shown up yet on your PayPal account.

This scam is increasingly being used by crooked buyers on the online classified ad service Craigslist.

The trick usually works something like this: A “buyer” responds to your listing on Craigslist and asks to meet you to collect the item.

They say they will use PayPal and ask for your PayPal registered email. Then they send you an email that looks like it came from the online payment service, saying the money has arrived.

If you check your account, it doesn’t show, but the crook, when you meet him, will explain that it’s what he calls an invisible transfer — a supposedly little-known PayPal feature that delays reporting new incoming payments.

If you haven’t checked your account, the scammers may go one step further, claiming they overpaid you and asking you to refund the difference.

As implausible as this all sounds, people have been falling for these tricks, ending up seriously out of pocket.

There’s no such thing as an invisible PayPal transaction and any payment someone sends you should show up, fully visible, in your account within minutes or even seconds.

So, if the money isn’t there, don’t part with whatever you’re selling. And, of course, never refund money for a supposed overpayment unless, and until, the initial payment has cleared your bank account.

Even then, in the rare case that an overpayment is genuine, don’t issue a refund via an untraceable money wiring service.

Clever Card ID Theft

Finally, news of a new payment card scam that’s flourishing in Europe and could be on the way to North America anytime soon.

In this new and frightening trick, victims receive an official-looking letter that seems to come from their bank.

It’s accompanied by a small device, the size of a cigarette pack, which the recipient is told is a new reader that they can use to make car payments from home.

It’s clever because some European banks actually do use these devices. But in the fake version, the machine simply sends all the victim’s card details to the crooks as soon as it’s inserted.

Beware! So far, banks only send out these devices if they’re requested, so if you ever receive one without asking, don’t use it.

In one case in the UK, the crooks actually phoned a victim, claiming to be from her bank.

When she said she didn’t want the reader, they asked her just to insert her card and key in a supposed cancellation code. She did, and they used the data they received to drain her bank account.

Alert of the Week

If you own an HP laptop, you may have read recently about a hidden key-logging program that can allegedly enable a hacker to steal information from your machine.

It was discovered by a security researcher inside some code used to drive touchpads on many laptop models, and appears not to have been activated.

There’s no suggestion of any malicious intent. HP has issued both an explanation and a description of how to remove it.

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