Beware the ID thieves’ new scam

The Texas Attorney General’s Office today issued a warning about a new scam through which thieves are not only scamming money from their marks but stealing their identities as well.Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 4.37.57 PM

The OAG has opened a criminal investigation into the identity theft ring that rattles its victims by claiming to be either a governmental or debt collection agency and threatening the victims with arrest if they don’t pay up.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. This is not a specifically LGBT thing. But LGBT people are targeted by scammers like this, just like anybody else.  So pay attention.)

According to the OAG press released, “dozens of Texas residents” in recent months have reported getting phone calls from someone claiming to be collecting overdue payments — often overdue child support payments — on behalf of the Texas OAG. The scammers tell the victims they owe funds to the OAG and warn that an arrest warrant has been issued because of the past-due payments.

Naturally, the victims become alarmed at the prospect of pending arrest, and once that happens, the thieves move to the next step: asking the victim to “confirm” their Social Security number and other vital personal information.

Once the victim offers up the personal information, the thieves say the victim can fix the problem by “paying the debt” through a bank draft: The scammers instruct their victims to go to a nearby convenience story, buy a pre-paid debit card, load it with cash and then call the number they are given to relay the number on the back of the card.

Once the scammers have the number off the back of the prepaid debit card, they can drain off the cash the victim has loaded onto it AND they already have the personal data they need to steal the victim’s identity.

Over the past couple of years, while working at the Cleburne Times-Review, I heard numerous reports from folks who were targeted in a scams that used the pre-paid debit card model. In many of those, however, the scammers tended to target older individuals, often calling up and claiming to be a grandchild, telling Grammy or Grampy they had been arrested in Mexico because of something someone else did. They would beg the grandparents, “Don’t tell anybody, like my parents or sibling, because I am embarrassed for them to find out.”

As the OAH noted, the “we’ve issued a warrant for your arrest” ploy is especially effective because it encourages victims to act quickly out of fear, without stopping to question the flimsy premise (just like a grandparent would jump to help a stranded grandchild). Remember, OAG officials said, “The OAG typically only pursues arrest warrants against individuals who are wanted for contempt of court because of their failure to make regular child support payments.”

The lesson here, really, is DON’T GIVE YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION OUT TO SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW — not over the phone, not in an email, not ever.

The OAG offered this advice:

• Stop to verify the request. Do that by directly contacting the governmental agency allegedly seeking to collect the funds through a telephone number you find on your own, not by calling the phone number the called has provided.

• Take proactive steps to prevent ID theft. If you believe you have been a victim of this scam — or any scam — file a consumer complaint with the OAH online at TexasAttorneyGeneral.gov. If you believe you are at risk for identity theft because you have been targeted by scammers, visit TexasFightsIDTheft.gov to get a copy of the OAG’s Identity Theft Kit AND file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commision.

• Pay attention to the red flags. Pre-paid debit cards are the scammers payment form of choice because they are more convenient than a wire transfer and just as untraceable.

You can go to the FBI website for information on other common fraud schemes and more information on identity theft.

And above all else people, USE SOME COMMON SENSE, dammit! I mean, your mother probably didn’t got to Madrid without telling you, so that email from her claiming someone stole her wallet while she was there probably isn’t authentic. And as much as you want it to be true, you don’t have some long-lost relative in Nigeria who just died and left you millions, if you will just send their “lawyer” $1,500 to send the millions to you.

—  Tammye Nash

Federal Court Rules Vitaminwater A Scam

A federal court has ruled that Vitaminwater is nothing but a sugared drink and that its marketing is deceptive. The product is owned by Coca-Cola.

A federal judge ruled this week that Vitaminwater will not, as its labels promise, keep you “healthy as a horse.” Nor will it bring about a “healthy state of physical or mental being”. Instead, Vitaminwater is really just a sugary snack food; non-carbonated fruit coke disguised as a sports drink. Because it’s composed mostly of sugar and not vitamin-laden water, judge John Gleeson held that Vitaminwater’s absurd marketing claims were likely to mislead consumers. Coke tried to explain away claims like “vitamins + water = all you need” as “only puffery.” The judge disagreed.

The ruling clears the way for a class-action lawsuit brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright