Common Scams 01 - 10

01 Learning How to Recognize Spoof Scams

As of recent, many business’s and governmental offices are now front-loading their automated phone response systems to include references to how they communicate to the public and give reference to any known spoofing activity and what to do if you have been contacted by anyone spoofing their business identity.  Unfortunately, if you are someone who almost never needs support from a product seller, product manufacturer or subscription service of any kind, you may not be aware of this trend.


Today’s accessibility to technology and applications means it’s very easy for scammers to spoof legitimate websites and business communications.  In this article we will explain how and why scammers spoof business communications and a business’s identity, as well as what you can do to prevent being duped by these types of scams. 

Spoof scams are employed to get you to take specific actions all at the same time.  These actions all follow the flow of legitimate communication you would have with the legitimate business.  You will be asked to provide various forms of information depending on the path of the spoof.  Typically, you’re asked for first and last name, account information that can include any credit card you have on file as part of your account for easily paying bills or purchasing items from the legitimate company being spoofed.  These spoof scams can be delivered to victims by both email and phone call.  The end game is to get you to pay fake fees or buy fake products and services, and to steal your identity, all in one failed swoop.  The result can be financially devastating as well as start the victim down a very long, and arduous path of recovering one’s identity.

Spoofing is usually associated with the identity of a well-known business.  The scammer behind this kind of spoofing is relying on the probability of a victim being a customer of this company.  In some cases a scammer will create a fake website, a fake billing statement or even a fake welcome or congratulatory message from a company thanking you for creating a new account and making a purchase of a product or service being legitimately offered by the real business being spoofed.  The creation of the website is employed as a means to provide “proof” of “legitimacy” to build trust with a potential victim.  Well-backed scam-spoofing operations will also buy up blocks of phone numbers they then use as part of a call center operation; capable of creating potential victims on a global scale.

Local and National level government offices are also a favorite spoof of these kinds of scams.  In this case, the scammer is hoping to create panic in potential victims.  This scam is based on the idea that most people have no idea how these offices function when it comes to communicating with the public as well as how policies and laws are enforced as they relate to legitimate infractions.

The preferred form of fee payment is usually a specific gift card, or money wiring service such as MoneyGram or Western Union.  Some of these scammers will also demand payment through a pay service such as PayPal.  The individual(s) behind the scam prefer these forms of payment instruments because the funds associated with them are available immediately.

If you think you may have been scammed or have found a scammer that's trying to use or has used Western Union, call their fraud line: 800-448-1492

You can avoid these scams in two very simple ways.  One way is by not accepting phone calls you are not expecting from business numbers you do not recognize.  In the case of spoofing the most important thing to remember is that legitimate businesses do not just randomly call or email you.   If a business is legitimately reaching out to customers, it’s in response to a recent request of information by a customer.  In regards to email communications, the same method of communication from a business is the same as phone based communication.  If you are receiving spoofed email, mark it as spam and delete it without opening it and without clicking any links inside the email.   These links are normally redirects designed to rob you of your identity and money in a myriad of scams.  If you are unsure if an email is spoofing a legitimate business look closely at the email address of the sender.   Legitimate email addresses are not long, obfuscated email addresses and always contain the domain of the business.  Determining if a website you frequent often is legitimate or not, the best rule of thumb is to look at it a closely.  If it looks different and it’s not due for an update be very cautious.   Look at the URL address closely as well.  If the domain does not look correct to you, call the company and speak to a legitimate staff member to conduct your interactions.

Check out Work at Home Scams to learn how to better recognize many work-at-home scams and variants recycled on many scams.  Throughout your entire interaction with this scammer, you have most likely exposed yourself to yet future manipulations, which could end up absolutely affecting you on many levels.  Best advice and practice if you have been scammed in a similar way is to report the scam to proper authorities.  Check out Scammed for guidance on reporting scams and tips you can use to protect your identity; scammed or not.

02 Learn How to Recognize Utility Disconnect Scams

The following scenario explains one of several scams used to trick you out of your money that is based on the scammer assumption you may be using any form of an automatic bill payment or someone other than yourself is in charge of paying monthly household bills.  This type of scam is delivered to victims by way of email, in the hopes of creating panic in the recipient; who is then left trying to stave of the inconvenience of having one's utilities disconnected and hopefully convinced to make bill resolution in the form of gift cards.


So you pay your bills every month diligently.  All of a sudden you are receiving email notifications threatening to disconnect your utilities.  The usual and logical thought process makes one think one may have fell behind somehow.  This is a possibility if you are signed up to for any kind of billing auto pay program associated with your utility provider or someone other than yourself is in charge of handing monthly bill payments.

The email provides to you a contact number to resolve your issue.  Naturally, you call the number and the phone is answered by someone representing a company; with the ability to disconnect your utility services.  You are asked some seemingly innocuous questions to verify your physical address, name etc.  You are immediately told your account is in arrears.  In order to be placed in good standing you must now pay past due amounts plus any number of late fee charges as well additional fees to stop the disconnect.  The disconnect departmental agent states he or she isn’t able to provide a specific reason as to why your account is in arrears because the utility company that uses their services doesn’t provide customer account information and will encourage you to contact your utility provider.  However the agent will also stress that the longer you take to pay the balance the more likely the service technician is to disconnect your utility services before receiving that explanation.

Now the representative informs you in order to bring your account into good standing you must pay this balance immediately.  The representative informs you that the only acceptable payment method is the use of gift cards.  The reasoning explained is that any other form of payment takes a week to process.  The disconnect date falls well before the processing time of any other payment method.  The choice of gift cards as a payment form makes money available immediately and therefore will allow you to pay the balance immediately to stop the technician from disconnecting your services.  You are also told to purchase a specified number of cards with specified amounts with recommended places to purchase the gift cards.

With the payment method and reason behind choosing it explained, you are given a script to explain the amounts to a clerk should you be asked why you are purchasing so many cards with specified amounts.  That script stresses you are not allowed to tell the clerks anything off-script, otherwise they will not sell the cards to you.  The representative insists on staying on the phone with you as you make the purchase of the cards.  If you start pushing for specific information related to the authority of the company to disconnect your services or how they are partnered with your local utility, the representative will gladly explain their relationship.  Much of the explanation won’t make sense but the agent on the phone will do his or her best to gain your trust.  Once the cards are purchased you are instructed to scratch off the security mask on each one and state the redemption codes.  Once this is done your utility bill is zeroed out and now in good standing.

Whew! Crisis averted, right?  This experience left you a bit confused.  So why are you receiving more email notices and phone calls a few days or weeks later indicating your utilities are going to be disconnected due to non-payment of your bill again??  When you read the emails more closely you notice the company names are different with nearly identical verbage provided in the email notices all threatening to disconnect your services for non-payment of account billing.  Now you’re realizing you have been scammed.  Why did the scammer want the payment in the form of a gift card?  Gift cards are a form of untraceable payment.  Scammers have the ability to convert the gift card amount to bit-coin and then convert that to cash.

You can avoid these types of scams by remembering these specific tips:  No legitimate company will demand you use one specific payment method to balance an account.  Gift cards are not payment instruments used for bill resolution for the purposes of liability between parties and because any legitimate transaction has to be documented in the form of a legally acceptable balance receipt based on a payment method that can be refunded if necessary.  This means you pay in a form recognizable in any legal court if you need to seek legal restitution.

This scam is just one of many presentations of both the "gift card for bill resolution" and spoofed business scams.  Throughout your entire interaction with this scammer, you have most likely exposed yourself to yet future manipulations which could end up absolutely affecting you on many levels.  Best advice and practice if you have been tricked into paying account balance fees in a similar way is to report the scam to proper authorities.  Check out Scammed for guidance on reporting scams and tips you can use to protect your identty; scammed or not.

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