Top Scams and Fraud of 2014

For more information on the top scams and fraud of 2014, select the summary link below:

1. “It’s Not Your Day in Court”


        According to the Federal Trade Commission, e-mails are being circulated to consumers with the title "notice to appear" which claim to announce a scheduled hearing for that person to appear in court. These e-mails are totally fake. There are no court hearings really scheduled as announced in the e-mails and all information stated in them are false. The e-mails will contain the words:  "Hereby you are notified that you have been scheduled to appear for your hearing that will take place in the court of Tallahassee in April 02, 2014 at 09:00 am. Signed, the Clerk to the Court." They will also contain links or attachments for the consumer to click on the to see the actual court notice.

Once the links or attachments are clicked on, malware will be downloaded on the consumer's computer. Anyone who receives an e-mail like this should delete it immediately. If someone does open this e-mail that person should not click on any links or attachments. The malware circulated in these e-mails can cause computers to crash and can be used by criminals to steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud. The FTC recommends the first thing consumers should do in the event that they do click on the links or attachments in a "notice to appear" e-mail is stop shopping, banking, and doing other online activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information. Next, the consumers should update the security software on that computer and delete anything a virus scan identifies as a problem.

2. “Pending Consumer Complaint” E-mails:

        According to the Federal Trade Commission, e-mails are being circulated to consumers with the title "Pending consumer complaint" which appear to come from the FTC. The e-mails warn consumers that a complaint has been filed against them with the FTC. It then instructs consumers to click on a link or an attachment for more information about the complaint or to contact the FTC. The e-mails will contain an FTC seal, references to the “Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA)” and a “formal investigation.” These references appear to look like real FTC links. Therefore, the e-mails will look very official to consumers. However, they are totally fake. There is no real complaint filed against the consumer and there are no links to the FTC. These e-mails are a scam used to install malware on consumers' computers. According to the FTC, anyone who receives a "Pending consumer complaint" e-mail should not open it. If the e-mail is opened, do not click on any of the links or attachments. If the links or attachments are clicked on, Malware will be installed on the computer which can cause a computer to crash, can be used to monitor and control one's online activity, steal personal information, send spam and commit fraud. Any consumer who receives one of these e-mails can forward it to The e-mail should then be deleted.

3. Fake IRS Collectors Are Calling

        Persons posing as Internal Revenue Service officials are contacting people and claiming that those people owe taxes to the IRS. The callers are demanding prepaid debit cards, wire transfers, or credit card  numbers for payment. If the person called does not comply, the caller will then threaten to arrest or deport that person or take away that person's drivers license or business. Consumers should know that unlike the IRS who contacts people about unpaid taxes by mail, these scammers often call people on the phone. The scammers also use common names and fake IRS badge numbers. They may also know the last four digits of your Social Security number. However, the IRS does not ask for the payment methods that these consumers ask for. The scammers rig caller ID information so it appears as if the IRS is really calling, but as mentioned earlier, the IRS does not contact people about unpaid taxes by phone. They may also send fake emails that look like legitimate IRS correspondence or even make second calls claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles with rigged caller ID information. Any person receiving calls like this claiming to be IRS officials collecting unpaid taxes should not provide any account or personal information over the phone. Hang up the phone on any such phone call.

4. Fake Funeral Notice Can Be Deadly -- For Your Computer

        According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are sending bogus emails under the guise of a funeral announcement for lost loved ones. The emails are circulated with the subject line "funeral notification." The messages appear to be from legitimate funeral homes and offer condolences. They then invite people to click on a link for more information about the upcoming "celebration of your friend’s life service." However, instead of sending people to a funeral home's website, the link sends them to a foreign domain where the scammers download malware to the computers. Once malware is installed on a computer criminals use it to steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud.

Anyone who receives an email about a friend or loved one’s passing should delete it. Be sure not to click on the link in the email. Consumers can also contact the funeral home the email is claiming to be from or family of the alleged deceased person directly to verify the information.

5. Phantom Debts and Fake Collection Notices

Criminals are impersonating law firms, judges, and court officials in a scam to solicit money from consumers. Consumers may receive letters, with seal signed by a judge, that says they owe lots of money for unpaid payday loans. These letters may even include correct names, addresses, or social security numbers for the consumers. The criminals are impersonating officials to send scary letters and make threatening phone calls to try to convince people to send money to them. According to the FTC, these letters and phone calls are likely to be a scam. Therefore, consumers should not immediately send money, no matter how convincing a letter or threatening phone call may seem. Instead, consumers should should do some research before sending any money. Look up the real number for the government agency, office, law firm, judges, and employees for confirmation of the alleged unpaid payday loans. Consumers should also be suspicious of anyone who asks for money to be wired or loaded on a rechargeable money card, no matter who that person says they are.

6. “Back, Back, Back It Up”

Scammers are sending emails to consumers which look like courtesy messages from legitimate shipping companies. These emails are spreading new ransomware called Cryptolocker, which encrypts anything saved on a computer's hard drive or any shared folders. Once the files are encrypted they cannot be opened without an encryption key which can only be obtained from the criminals behind Cryptolocker. These criminals demand payment through anonymous payment types and will promise to give consumers the key if they pay money in a specified time. Additionally, there is no guarantee that once a consumers pay this ransom to the Cryptolocker criminal that they will receive the encryption key. Unfortunately, once the consumers' files are encrypted there's no way to recover them but to get the encryption key. According to the FTC, one thing consumers should do to protect themselves from this scam is to backup their files often.

7. Fake Feds Get People To Pay

        Imposters are contacting people and scaring them into sending money. These imposters may claim that they’re with a government agency or the sheriff’s office and threaten people that they'll be sued or arrested if they don’t pay a supposed debt. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched a case against a group of third-party debt collectors, Federal Check Processing (FCP) and its related companies, for using allegedly deceptive and abusive business practices. The FTC claims that FCP and its companies would accuse people of check fraud or other criminal behavior and threaten lawsuits, prison, and bank account seizure if people don’t pay their supposed debts. The FCP and its companies would emphasize words like "federal" and "U.S." in their company name or even claim they were federal or state officers. They also allegedly fail to give people information they're entitled to or to investigate the legitimacy of debts. Anyone who receives a call like this should know that Federal government agencies don't ask people to send money for unpaid loans. One can also contact the agency the caller is pretending to represent to get the real story.

8. Miami Herald: “Lottery Scam with Fraudulent Acorn Stairlifts Checks, Targets the Elderly”

        Letters are being sent to consumers which claim that the consumers have one a large cash prize from the Consumer's and Merchandise Reward Program of New York City. The letters are accompanied by fraudulent checks in the name of Acorn Stairlifts, Inc.,--the world-leader in stairlifts. These fraudulent checks are claimed to be for the purpose of covering lottery fees and taxes. The letters instruct their victims to deposit or cash the checks then to mail or electronically transmit the amount of money issued in the checks to an address in New York City. Some consumers may also receive telephone solicitations from persons claiming to represent the Consumer's and Merchandise Reward Program. Consumers should note that Acorn Stairlifts, Inc. has no connection with the Free Lottery Consumer's and Merchandise Reward Program. Persons who receive these fraudulent letters, soliciting phone calls, or have any information about the scam should contact their local FBI office for referral to the White Collar Crime squad. Anyone who has been victimized by this scam may also contact Acorn Stairlifts, Inc.

9. Gmail Phishing Scam

        In this phishing scam, emails are being circulated with the subject "Documents," which direct people to a webpage that looks like a Google Drive sign-in page. Anyone who receives an email like this should not enter their information. People are led to think that the documents they'll be viewing are on Google Docs and that they need to sign in to see them. But, it's all a scam. Instead of a true sign-in page, criminals create a fake portal that asks people for private information, including Gmail addresses and passwords. Any person who puts their email address and password in the fake login will have their credentials stolen, but they may not even know they’ve been scammed because the login directs users to a real document on Google Docs. With access to your Gmail account, scammers can make purchases on Google Play, use your Google+ account, access your Google Drive documents and more. The best protection against this scam is not to click on any unknown links nor open emails from unknown senders.

10. Phishing Scam Targeting Netflix May Trick You With Phony Customer Service Reps

        There's a new scam targeting Netflix subscribers. Users targeted by this scam will see a phony webpage modeled after the Netflix login page. When these users enter their Netflix account information, the scam site will claim that the user's Netflix account has been suspended due to "unusual activity." The site will then provide a fake customer service number for users to call for assistance. Once users call that number, persons posing to be representatives will recommend the download of "Netflix support software." This alleged supportive software is actually remote login software that gives scammers complete access to users' computers. The scammers may also ask for copies of photo IDs or credit cards. Consumers who subscribe  to Netflix should look up the real Netflix customer service number and see that it doesn't match the scammers' number to avoid being victims to this scam. Consumers should also avoid letting anyone remotely control their computer, refrain from sending pictures of their ID or credit cards over the Internet, and double check URLs in the address bar of their browsers.

11. “Random Text? Wait, wait, don’t click that!”

        According to the Federal Trade Commission, anyone who receives a link in a text message on his or her phone that says "you’ve won a terrific prize" or a "gift card" should not click on the link. It also advises not to reply to the text message either because it’s probably a scam. A group of marketers were part of a scheme that sent millions of unsolicited spam text messages to consumers promoting free merchandise. People who clicked the links in the messages didn’t receive the promised prizes. Instead, they were actually taken to websites that asked them to give personal information and sign up for multiple offers, often involving purchases or paid subscriptions. Although the FTc has settled a claim with the this particular group of marketers, consumers should still know that they should delete any unwanted text messages asking for entry of a special code or for them to provide personal information. They should also refrain from clicking on any links in these text messages.

12. Security Warning Scam Alert

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, individuals claiming to be employees of the Department of the Treasury are contacting people and claiming that those people have been awarded money from the Treasury. These phony U.S. Treasury employees then tell people that the funds they have been awarded can be retrieved by wiring funds to a Western Union account. This is a scam. These calls are not generated by the U.S. Treasury. Other scams are also being circulated via email, such as notification of delinquent federal debts, which claim to be from the U.S. Treasury. Recipients of any of these fraudulent notifications from the U.S. Treasury should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the messages. They should also note that the Treasury does not communicate via email to persons regarding any issues requiring the disclosure of PIN numbers, passwords, or similar confidential information.

13. Office of the Clerk of the Mississippi Court of Appeals E-mail Scam Alert

        E-mails claiming to come from the Office of the Clerk of the Mississippi Court of Appeals are being circulated as part of a new scam. These e-mails state that their recipients' complaints have been received by the court. The e-mails then ask its recipients to open a link or attachment to the e-mail. In reality, these e-mails have not been sent by the Court of Appeals or any entity associated with the Mississippi Judiciary. They are fake. Any person who receives these e-mails and are not involved in litigation before the Mississippi Court of Appeals should not open any links or attachments in these emails. If these links or attachments are opened malicious software may be installed on the user's computer.