AG’s Office: Scammers getting more advanced

Published 9:13 am Thursday, January 8, 2015

Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are getting more advanced, using hundreds of new and old ways to rip off people and corporations.

There is more information available to hackers than ever before, said Doug Tyrone, a consumer protection investigator with the Attorney General’s Office. Cyberattacks and hacking dominated business news in 2014, including data breaches at Target, Home Depot, Sony, and on a more local level, River Region Medical Center.

“Not only are they getting birthdates and social security numbers, they’re getting emails and medical records. We’re seeing something crazy. It’s just out of control,” Tyrone told Vicksburg Kiwanis during their lunch meeting Tuesday.

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It’s tough for consumers to keep themselves safe from such attacks on corporations that have stored their personal information, but people can help secure themselves by limiting what they post online.

“I can’t tell you enough. Keep enough personal information off Facebook, this that and the other, that you don’t want out there because it’s out there forever,” Tyrone said.

One recent popular scam involves finding a person’s relatives via Facebook and calling them out of the blue, saying that the person has been arrested and needs bail money. The scammers request money be sent immediately, Tyrone said.

“They’re say, what I need you to do is call this number so I can bond out, and don’t tell my parents. They’ll end up sending thousands of dollars,” Tyrone said.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security has also been the recent target of scammers.

“They’re getting on their website and filing unemployment for people. … That is huge right now. We get thousands of hits filing for unemployment,” Tyrone said.

Human resource directors for companies usually catch the plot, Tyrone said, but people who are self employed should check with the Department of Employment Security if they think a false unemployment claim might have been filed in their name.

Traditional Internet lottery scams still persist, Tyrone said. In those scams, victims receive an unsolicited email calming that they have won a foreign lottery, often in Jamaica or Nigeria. To claim the prize, scammers claim a cash deposit or bank account number is needed. In 2014, U.S. and Jamaican officials arrested more than 40 people in a lottery scam targeting elderly Americans.

Many scam victims are elderly and fall for the con repeatedly.

“I’ve had one who sent over a million dollars. I’ve seen them do reverse mortgages on their house or title loans on their car,” Tyrone said. “We had one victim whose house burned down, and what did the scammer do? He called the sheriff’s office worried about him. That’s how bad it gets.”

Re-shipping scams are also gaining popularity, Tyrone said.

In those cons, criminals operating primarily from Eastern European countries and Africa have been conducting widespread, international schemes involving bogus job offers, fraudulent credit card orders, and the reshipping of illegally obtained products, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

The scam begins when criminals buy high-dollar merchandise — such as computers, cameras, and other electronics — via the Internet using stolen credit cards. They have the merchandise shipped to addresses in the United States of paid reshippers, who might be unaware they are laundering stolen goods.

The reshippers repackage the merchandise and mail it to locations in Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, and Germany.

“All the items are going overseas and end up for sale,” Tyrone said.