The offer is just the latest variation of a con trick where victims are tempted into what seems like a great financial deal that they end up paying dearly for.
There are at least two versions of this scam currently doing the rounds.
In the first one, victims learn they’re supposedly entitled to benefit from a government program that pays all their monthly bills.
To avoid a skeptical response, scammers often operate via church communities, passing around flyers or passing out invitations.
The church aspect encourages people to believe it must be the real deal. Plus, the documentation looks real, explaining how monthly bills will, in the future, be paid electronically and automatically.
But, of course, it’s fake — and the clear signal of that is when would-be applicants are told they must first pay an upfront “processing fee.”
The worst aspect of this scam, like so many others, is that it targets people who are least able to afford it – low-income families.
To compound the problems, victims are left thinking their bills are being paid and end up owing non-payment or late-payment fees when the crooks fail to deliver.
Plus, in many cases, the scammers now have their victims’ bank or credit card details, which can be used for identity theft.
Help with Medical Bills
In the second variation, which has cropped up in U.S. East Coast states, victims receive a phoned offer of help with paying or reorganizing their medical bills.
The call is made in the name of a local hospital and seems to be random, targeting everyone in the locality whether they’ve had hospital treatment or not.
And when the crooks hit “lucky,” they request confidential banking information, supposedly to set up some sort of payment plan. But sadly, this is just another phishing trick.
Ignore these upfront-fee bill pay schemes.
Pay by eBay
Meanwhile, phony Craigslist sellers are trying out a new approach to convince victims they’re genuine by requesting payment for their non-existent products in the form of eBay gift certificates.
Posing as honest-to-goodness but wary sellers, the scammer tells his victims he wants to work through eBay’s payment system, to protect both parties.
The crook then sends what seems to be an eBay notification to the buyer, in reality a fake, but with a link to eBay where they buy their cards and send details to the phony seller.
You probably can guess the rest. The cards are untraceable and the buyer is left without their purchase and without their money, sometimes running into thousands of dollars.
Tech Support Twist
Yet another new trick that sets out to refresh an established scam relates to the well-known and extremely active tech support con trick.
As you’ll likely recall, the crooks try to take control of a victim’s PC by posing as technicians from Microsoft or another computer company.
They claim the victim’s PC is virus-infected or otherwise troubled and offer to put it right if the victim gives them remote access to the machine. Then they install malware which might steal information, freeze the computer for a ransom or take it into a “botnet” of compromised PCs that send out spam.
Many consumers are now wising up to the trick so the scammers try to panic them into letting them take control, warning that they have detected offensive images on the victim’s PC.
They offer to clean the supposedly infected computer for a fee, via access to the machine.
Anyone claiming to be a technician in these circumstance is just a scam artist. Hang up!
Identity theft is the main goal of a nasty new trick that targets anxious parents trying to improve their kids’ SAT performance.
Victims receive a call saying their child has been selected for an SAT improvement program they signed up for at school.
The supposed program consists of loaner DVDs that can be kept free of charge for 30 days, but have to be paid for if they’re not returned within that time frame.
The catch is that the parent must provide a credit card number in case they don’t send them back.
Of course, there’s no program and there are no DVDs but the crooks now have the victim’s card details, which they proceed to plunder.
The message here is not to provide card details to an organization you haven’t thoroughly checked out.
There may be legitimate SAT support programs out there so just be sure you know who you’re dealing with.
Obituary ID Theft
Another nasty way of stealing credit card details comes from scammers who pore through obituary notices and then contact the partner or other family member of the deceased person.
They pose as reps from a credit card company, using the name of one of the two main card issuers — Visa or MasterCard — in the near certainty that the deceased had a card using one of these names.
The “rep” claims they’ve been contacted by the Social Security Administration about the card holder’s recent passing and that they now need to update their account.
The crooks may already have some information about the deceased, including even some card details, but they want to know more, such as the security code from the back of the card.
Once they have all they need, they quickly start to make purchases on the account.
It’s certainly possible that a bereaved person might receive a genuine call like this, though the SSA doesn’t contact families in the way suggested.
As with all calls supposedly from your credit card company, you should provide no information.
Ask for the caller’s name by all means but don’t use any phone number they give you. Instead, call the customer service number off the back of the card and check things out from there. CWP