Sunday, October 26, 2014

Scammer Posing As FBI Agent

On October 14th, I received the following message that went straight to my Spam box:



Federal Bureau of Investigation
Field Intelligence Groups 
J. Edgar Hoover Building
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, D.C.
Attention: Beneficiary,
We sincerely apologized for sending you this sensitive information via e-mail instead of a certified mail, post-mail, phone or face to face conversation, it's due to the urgency and importance of the security information of our citizenry, i am Special Agent Erick Bolt from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs). We intercepted two consignment boxes at JFK Airport, New York. The boxes were scanned and they contained large sum of money ($4.1 million) and also some backup documents which bears your name as the Beneficiary/Receiver of the money. Investigation was carried out on the diplomat that accompanied the boxes into the United States and he said that he was to deliver the fund to your residence as overdue payment owed to you by the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the security company in United Kingdom.
After cross-checking all legal documents in the boxes, we found out that your consignment was lacking an important document and we can't release the boxes to the diplomat until the document is found, we have no other option than to confiscate your consignment.
According to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in Title 26 also contain reporting requirement on a Form 8300, Report of Cash Payment Over $10,000 Received in a Trade or Business, money laundering activity may violate 18 USC §1956, 18 USC 1957, 18 USC 1960, and provision of Title 31, and 26 USC 6050I of the United States Code (USC), this section will discuss only those money laundering and currency violation under the jurisdiction of IRS, your consignment lacks proof of ownership certificate from the joint team of IRS and IRC, therefore you need to reply back immediately for direction on how to procure this certificate to enable us relieved the charge of evading the law on you, which is a punishable offense in the United States.
You are required to reply back within 72hours or you will be prosecuted in a court of law for money laundering, also you are instructed to desist from further contact with any bank(s) or person(s) in Nigeria or the United Kingdom or any part of the world regarding your payment because your consignment has been confiscated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation here in the United States.
Yours In Service,
Special Agent Erick Bolt
Regional Deputy Director
Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs)

While the English in the message is of better quality than typical scammers (Yes, it is a scam) the language isn't entirely as good as one might expect from a college-educated FBI agent that you would expect. I could go into detail, but I don't want to provide any information to any scammer or potential scammer on how to improve their game.

So, I'll stick with easier stuff which provides no help to scammers, but may set any other recipients' minds at ease who might actually be worried that the FBI is coming to get them.

While the email address looks authentic, it is not a valid email address, so any replies sent to it will be bounced-back. The actual Reply address attached to this email is and no FBI agent would use a separate email address to conduct official business. According to official FBI policy. all official correspondence must be conducted using an FBI-approved email address. The Bureau is still hurting from past agents who have decided to do their own thing at the expense of the US Government.

Another reason to not take this email and its accompanying threats seriously is that the FBI would never contact you by email regarding an official investigation. They would normally come to you in person. A couple of agents would come to your home or workplace, show their IDs and ask you some questions. If the matter was important enough, they would take you to their office and question you there. They would never rely on email to contact you.

Furthermore, notice how "Agent Bolt" provided no phone number for me to call him. So, this whole exchange would have been conducted via email? No, the FBI doesn't work that way. If this email had come from the FBI, I would have been given a phone and/or FAX number.

So, there's no consignment waiting for me anywhere and no FBI agent who's coming to get me. I'm not the first person to receive this email and I don't think I'll be the last.

Duane Browning

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fighting Identity Theft

Years ago, I realized that I had a problem.

Like most people, I had store receipts, bank statements, etc that had important, personal information about myself that could do me real harm if they ever got into the hands of someone who wanted to steal my identity. Rather than take my chances or try to destroy them by tearing them up or even burning them, I bought a paper shredder. Going through that mountain of papers that I no longer needed, but couldn't allow to get into the wrong hands, took awhile.

At the end of that first Big Shred, I felt an enormous peace of mind. In addition to the important stuff, I also shredded newspapers and junk mail, in order to better frustrate all but the most hardworking identity thief. Anything paper went into the shredder. So far, my efforts seem to have paid-off.

With many pieces of mail I receive (e.g. utility bills, bank statements) I also receive envelopes in which to mail replies or payments. I save these to put store receipts in, to better mix them up in the Pile of shredded paper.

I've gone through three paper shredders over the years. I typically buy the type made for offices, which are made for shredding large amounts of paper into hard-to-reassemble fragments. A somewhat costly initial investment (between $50 to $60) that has given me years of nearly guaranteed assurance that there's no one out there taking out a credit card in my name due to some slip-up on my part.

I've even learned how to keep my shredder blades clean in order to prolong the life of my shredder. After unplugging the device, I open it up to reveal the blades and manually pick out the stuck pieces. I save empty cereal boxes and - after reattaching the top portion of the shredder and plugging it back in - run them through the shredder to get out any remaining fragments stuck in the blades. I do this a few times until the blades look clean.

People might ask me what the odds really are that someone would try to steal my identity. My answer would be that my odds are no better or worse than anyone else's and if past victims of identity theft had taken the steps that I have, they might not have been victimized in the first place.

So, if you're willing to invest the time, effort and money:
1) go buy yourself a good, office-quality paper shredder. The best kind are the ones that cut the paper into tiny, diamond shaped pieces;
2) collect all papers you have that contain information you don't want to get into the wrong hands (e.g. store receipts, credit card statements, credit card applications, bank statements, etc) that you really don't need to hang onto;
3) collect a certain amount of extra unimportant papers (e.g. junk mail, newspapers, election year mailings) to shred and mix in with the important stuff;
4) gather a good number of envelopes that came with the mail. You'll put the store receipts in these. Put in as many as can fit that will still allow the shredder to cut properly. You can simply close the envelope with scotch tape, so you don't get that disgusting taste in your mouth;
5) start shredding. If you don't have a lot to start with, you don't need to worry so much. Just get it done. But, if you're like me and had a lot to start, just take your time. Take a break once in awhile, to allow the machine to cool off. Empty the bin if it gets full. I usually prefer to use a 30 gallon trash bag to put it all in. Shred important stuff and unimportant stuff at the same time to allow the papers to mix in the bin;
6) once you're done, you can throw in a few more things to discourage anyone from going through your pile, such as water, old milk or used cooking oil to help the ink on the paper run or dissolve the fragments better. Toss in some household trash, if you like.

You may be wondering if this is all worth it. Would a potential identity thief go through all this trouble? Enduring the smell of your rotting garbage, trying to reassemble your shredded papers, etc?

Well, the really hardcore type would either do it themselves or have some lackey do it. If you're a home owner, an elderly person with good credit, a business owner, an 18 to 24 year old that puts too much information about themselves on the Internet or anyone else that an identity thief think they'll be able to get some good credit cards by impersonating, then: Yes, they would.

After the initial shred, hold onto those return envelopes you get in the mail, if you're not going to use them, and keep them to put store receipts in that you don't need to keep. At the end of the day or once a week, put the receipts into one of these envelopes and shred them. Shred any pieces of mail you get that you don't need for later. Don't let the paper pile-up and you won't again have a big pile to shred later or be tempted to simply throw them away.

I'll grant that this is a very basic, even amateurish approach. Computer hackers can steal your passwords simply hacking into your computer, your smartphone, credit card company or bank databases. But, these things are outside your control and we're forced to rely on computer professionals to try to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

But, the papers you have are under your control and you can take this step to try to put some of your own effort into protecting yourself.

Duane Browning

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spam Caller

I received a phone call from 213-784-2616 late yesterday afternoon. I answered and said "hello" repeatedly, but the other party didn't reply and simply disconnected.

Doing a simple Google search informed me that this number is associated with spam and other harassing calls.

The caller seems to be calling people in Hawaii these days. He reportedly sometimes asks for a woman by name and the names vary.

Even calling Directory Assistance gave me no more information than I already possessed.

It appears to be a landline, registered in Los Angeles, CA and is either a cellphone or unlisted.

Since my new iPhone (I switched from an Android) has a Block Caller feature, I availed myself of it.

Hopefully, I won't be bothered by this asshole again.

Duane Browning