Beware of the scammer and their ever-evolving scams
How often do you come across the terms Scams! Scammer! Scammed! An innocent bystander, someone we know, a local business. No one is spared from the clutches of the prying hands of a scammer. Why do they do this? What motivates them?
Scammers are sometimes a single person or a shadow organization comprising of multiple scammers whose primary purpose is to fraudulently acquire money from innocent folks. Every scam has its own traits. One more ingenious and unique than the others. If there’s one thing commendable about these people is their creativity and knowledgeability in devising new forms of scams. The pandemic made it a lot easier for these criminals to take 2020 and 2021. Let me update you all with the latest trends in scams that have defrauded people, anywhere between $50 to $500,000.
How the scammer starts
The first step, the scammers take, is to identify the venue in which they want to scam people. The common venues for these scammers are
- Social media platforms
- Dating sites and apps
- Messaging apps
- Pretending to be
- A government tax body
- A marketing agency
- A major e-commerce retailer
Based on the venue they choose, the next step is to identify or gather information about potential victims they want to scam. They start by assessing the right candidates for their scams. These scammers do not just try and scam any and everyone. They extensively study their victims to narrow down whom to pick and scam. Beginners are not too smart. In a rush to make quick cash, they leave a huge trail of breadcrumbs which make it a lot easier to trace them back but seasoned scammers have all their tracks very well covered and they always aim for the higher price tags.
The source of user data is pretty much every little sign-up you do, the innocent ad you tried to close while playing a movie online, few organizations that make a little extra on the side by selling out your name, email, and phone number, a keylogger that was installed in the background when you visited sites that are not secure (The browser would have warned you and yet you chose “Proceed Anyway”). The list can go on but one way or another user data is acquired and vetted to see who is a potential victim.
Once the potential victims are identified, the next step is to the method of luring the victim.
How the scammer baits the victim
This process is more or less like choosing the correct lure for the type of fish to catch, like:
- Social media platforms:
Scammers send out requests to add them or direct message the victims. This approach involves
- Soliciting explicit content.
- Responding to ads and convincing the victims to ship the item than collecting it in person.
- Dating sites and apps:
Scammer’s favorite playground. They add/match the victims and they are always sure enough to only go for verified profiles. In light of recent worldly issues, scammers pretend to offer discrete services in exchange for money.
The pretentious scammer is the heir of a rich, dead warlord/general. In need of a partner who can move this money overseas. In return, the victim gets half of the total sum, no strings attached.
- Messaging apps:
Not to name-call any apps but some of them are pretty loose in terms of securing user details that they become breeding grounds for illicit activities. All it takes is one link to swab your device off of any sensitive information in a matter of seconds.
- Pretending to be
- A government tax body:
The scammers call up with an automated voice recording that says there has been fraudulent activity on your tax file and an arrest warrant has been issued. Please press 1 to continue and get this sorted!”.
- A marketing agency:
Most common, widely practiced, low success rate approach where the scammer tries to bait the victim to sign up to a so-called government solar rebate program.
- A major e-commerce retailer:
Fake email from fake Amazon, that an order was placed and their account has been charged.
- A government tax body:
How the scammer performs the scam
Let’s take the e-commerce retailer approach. An email lands in the victim’s inbox. it looks very authentic and it will say it is from Amazon. The email contains details of an order placed on Amazon for, say a couple of hundred dollars, and their bank account has been charged for the same. If this was not a purchase performed by the victim, a number is present to be called for a refund.
The potential victims are people who are in retirement with some amount left as part of their savings. They end up calling the number and mention about this email they received. The scammer starts by asking the victim to check their amazon account for recent orders. The victim confirms that they don’t see that order. The scammer convinces the user that they see the order in their system and they gain the victim’s faith by telling the victim they have malware on their system and they want to help the victim to prevent further damage.
They initiate the next step by telling the victim to install a particular software that can help the scammer diagnose the problem but originally, this piece of software is to gain/share remote computer access. The innocent victim downloads and installs the software and shares the access credentials with the scammer. This is the point of no return when the scammer assumes control of the victim’s computer.
When the victim is in the scammer’s control
The scammer asks the victim to log in to their bank account to check if the account is charged. While the victim logs in, the scammer attempts to save the login credentials by letting the browser save the username and password. The scammer and the victim see that there was no charge. The scammer lets the victim know that he will run a few scans for safety during which the screen will be blank. Technically, the scammer blacks out the victim’s screen via the software and logs into the victim’s bank account using the saved information.
The scammer now opens the developer console from the browser which allows anyone to see the HTML code for a web page. He starts to replicate lines of code that will make a new line of entry appear on the web page which resembles a debit transaction. The scammer removes the screen blackout and assures the user the scan is a success, no issues found. The scammers ask the user to log in and check the account again. Before the user can press the login button, the scammer brings up the tampered page and shows the amount has been deducted.
The victim, in pursuit of getting a refund, asks for a refund option. The scammer informs the victim standard turnaround times are late due to the current pandemic and they have an express option. The victim falls for it. The scammer will now open a command prompt window with a simple program that asks the victim to enter their legal information and refund amount. While entering the refund amount, say $200, the scammer types extra zeros before the user presses the enter key. the program shows a dummy message that the refund for, say $20,000 has been successful.
The money exchange
After the technical drama, the scammer puts up an act that he is going to lose his job and needs that money back into the company account, thereby convincing that these aged folks who become compassionate and ask how to do it. To prove the refund was successful, the scammer repeats the code hack again to show a credit line item on the account. Flustered with anxiety, the victim asks how to send the money back.
This is the final stage of the scam. The scammer asks the victim to withdraw the difference amount in cash, buy a bible or any religious book, place each currency note between pages, wipe the bible with vinegar to throw off the sniffer dogs who can sniff out the money in parcels. The scammer gives an address to which this needs to be shipped in priority. These addresses belong to AirBnBs. Once the parcel is shipped, the scammer demands the tracking details. When the details are verified, victims are let off the hook.
The scammer sends a money mule who waits ahead of time, at the Airbnb, to collect the parcel. The mule takes possession of the parcel. The parcel then heads to a distributor who launders the money into cryptocurrency. Now, the money is officially untraceable and will never see the daylight. The money moves into the ledger of the organization which controls these scams.
Many suck networks exist to this very moment and some innocent person is falling victim to such scams. Please be aware and be careful before opening any links in your email. not sure? Just don’t open it until verified.
In the next episode, I will share more information on other types of scams that are looming around.
Until then, Stay Home, Stay Safe.
– Naresh KM