Scams on the rise
ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/TIMES NEWS Browsing the Pa. Attorney General's website (www.attorneygeneral.gov), West Penn Police Chief Brian Johnson stresses that residents should research and report any scams to the Attorney General or their local police department.
Police are noticing an increase in the number and types of new scams in our area.
"In the past few days alone, we've received multiple reports from area residents receiving phone calls or Internet correspondence offering false security installations, gas and electric services, free vacations and even headstones," said West Penn Police Chief Brian Johnson.
"Unfortunately scammers are becoming smarter and more sophisticated in the methods they use to commit their crimes," said Johnson. "People need to be more cautious when confronted with these new crimes."
Some phone scam tips he provided include: Not giving your name or any other information via the phone, unless you made the call directly; researching the caller ID number online before answering; placing yourself on the Do Not Call List; and simply hanging up if you are asked by the caller to give your name or any other personal information. He also stated that scammers are using a new type of technology called "spoofing" that reads out a fake or misleading phone number on the caller ID.
"Don't always trust what you see on your caller ID," said Johnson.
To be added to the Do Not Call List, go to https://www.donotcall.gov or call (888) 382-1222 from the phone you wish to register. Your registration will not expire. Telephone numbers placed on the National Do Not Call Registry will remain on it permanently due to the Do-Not-Call Improvement Act of 2007, which became law in February 2008.
Each year, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection receives more than 50,000 complaints from consumers ranging from phone and Internet scams, shoddy home remodeling work and violations of Pennsylvania's Do Not Call law.
"Sadly, if you pay the right amount of money, you can find anything about anybody," said Johnson, referring to how easy it is for scammers to gather information. "The scammers only need a little information about yourself to get what they want."
He added Internet crimes, such as "phishing" and "pharming" are also on the rise. In order to surf the Web safely, a user must be Internet savvy so that they can spot potential scams and avoid falling victim to them. As Internet users have become more sophisticated, so have the scams.
Many consumers are now familiar with the Internet scam term known as phishing. This is a spam (or unsoliticed) message that contains a link to what appears to be a legitimate business, such as your bank, but it's actually a fake website. The email often states that you must update your account information through a bogus link to a scammer's website and so the user, unknowingly, gives out personal information to the fake website.
The latest evolution in Internet scamming is termed "pharming." Through the use of a virus or similar technique, your browser (I.E. Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera, Safari) is hijacked without your knowledge. You type a legitimate website into the address bar of a browser and the virus redirects you to a fake site. Although you entered the website address in the browser yourself and the website appears identical to the site you are accustomed to doing business with, you have actually been redirected to a different site. You enter in your identifying information, such as bank passwords and credit card numbers, and unknowingly submit it to someone who is out to steal your identity.
In this scheme, since you typed in the URL (website address) yourself and the website has the same appearance as it usually does, it is unlikely that you will know you were redirected to a fake website.
Pointing out the importance of preventing these types of Internet scams, Johnson encourages residents to never click on any bank or credit card link received from an email; don't log in to any account unless the web address starts with https:// (the 's' stands for secure); limit the amount of information you share via social sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, dating websites and so on); and don't click on any links, rather type the link in directly.
To verify that you are accessing a secure site, look for the padlock icon in the browser. You also should make sure the web address in your browser starts with HTTPS, not just HTTP. Double click on the padlock icon to see who owns the security certificate. A fake one either won't have a certificate or it will be owned by an entity that appears to be unrelated.
Legitimate banking and business sites will never contact you by email and ask you to update your account or password information with the threat of closing the account if you fail to do so. Running up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software regularly on your computer and exercising caution over which programs you decide to run will also limit the chances of being a victim.
Johnson added that the upcoming tax season will result in even more incidents of scams.
"Don't respond to anyone calling or via email claiming to be from the IRS, unless you called them directly and expected the communication," stressed Johnson.
"There are many ways to research anyone who contacts you via phone or email," he added. "Simply typing in the phone number, name or other parts of the message through Google.com or other popular search engines or directories will come back with information from others who have received similar communications."
Some other Internet research tools available include online white pages (www.Spokeo.com), National Consumer League's Fraud Center (www.Fraud.org) and Better Business Bureau (www.BBB.org).
In addition to learning about new phone and Internet scams, people can file a scam or fraud report with the Pa. Attorney General via the website (www.attorneygeneral.gov). If you don't have the Internet, simply call the Attorney General at (800) 441-2555 or your local police department.