Tragic phishing scam victims who didn't even own a computer

This old couple in Northern Ireland are the most heartbreaking victims of a phishing scam. And they didn't even own a computer.

A month or so ago, I wrote about One-Eyed Jack, the retired guy who takes on the tractor scammers, the evil folk who grab someone's eBay account so they can try to sell a piece of expensive machinery that doesn't exist. Read The retiree waging war on the eBay tractor scammers.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Now he tells me he has found the most tragic victims ever of this scam – an elderly couple who do not even possess a computer and do not know the difference betweeen eBay and the Bay of Bengal.

The story attracted loads of comments – sadly for the auction site, there were none they could use as positive affirmation of their multi-billion pound business. It quite rightly raised questions about the quality of items posted and the lack of sufficient consumer protection on this and similar sites.

Any big ticket item will do
But it's not just tractors and it's not just eBay. The same grab your money and disappear racket is popping up for mechanical diggers (the smaller size housebuilders use), tarmac layers, cars, and top of the range audio equipment.

They'll list anything that's got a big ticket price, in fact. The racket is also popping up on second-hand sales sites such as Autotrader where the fraudsters pretend to sell expensive vehicles at bargain prices. Yes, there are people daft enough to pay in advance for a tractor or tarmac layer or car without seeing the item first.

I don't know much about tarmac layers but I would never pay for a car until I had seen it – you know that old saying about kicking the tyres.

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Tragic phishing scam victims who didn't even own a computer
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Phishing scam victims that didn't even own a computer
But there are more victims than just those who lose their cash. People whose eBay accounts are hi-jacked for this purpose also suffer. They are usually those who respond to one of those "phishing" emails which ask for details of your eBay account details including passwords, pretending these need to be to reset after "suspicious" actions.

It's bizarre that fraudsters use our security fears to increase our insecurity.

The saddest, most tragic victims of phishing are a couple from Northern Ireland who have never even owned a computer. Jack, who spends hours doing what eBay security could - and should - do discovered a piece of building site lifting equipment, a sort of mini-crane. The pricing indication was low, but still in the thousands of pounds.

It had only been up for a minute or so. He bid for it and his bid was accepted. Well, who wants an unneeded small crane hanging around? Once the bid is accepted, details of the seller become obvious, including enough to find a phone number. Of course, the fraudsters don't expect anyone to call – they just want the cash first so they can disappear.

In this case, he found the number led to Northern Ireland. He called, asking for the person who was apparently the seller.

He says: "The seller was a man. The phone was answered by an elderly sounding woman. When I asked for the seller, there was a long silence followed by a voice shaking with emotion which said that her son, whose eBay account was used, had died a month ago. He had committed suicide following a long history of depression.

"Both his mother and his father were obviously shaken by my call and equally obviously I did not know I was intruding into their so recent grief. Eventually, the father said that neither he nor his wife owned a computer or knew anything about them."

Tracking down the scammers
Jack believes the fraudsters have become more alert and know someone is on their trail. They are shutting down dodgy bids in a minute or less once he rumbles them – he used to have an hour or so.
And – here's a hint for security – he believes that he has tracked down a substantial part of this particular scam to a "factory" in West Africa where they are carrying out this racket on an industrial scale. Scam merchants can sometimes get careless. He traced one back to an old, legitimate, website in Ghana which had been hi-jacked. It's not positive proof, but a start.

There really does need to be a start on stopping this scam. Jack says the criminals have recently upgraded their activity. It used to be five or six a day with weekends off, keeping UK office hours (Ghana is on UK time minus one hour at the moment).

Now the action has increased to 30 or more a day, without any weekend break. So whether you are offered a crane or a car online, be very careful before you part with your cash. They may sound like great bargains, but if they don't exist, then they will be the most expensive purchase you will ever make.

If you are worried, go to One Eyed Jack's Facebook page. And this should also be a destination for the security staff of online sales sites. It would be great to see positive action rather than PR platitudes – if only to prevent further agony to the likes of that elderly Northern Irish couple.

Beware the small print
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Tragic phishing scam victims who didn't even own a computer

It is reasonable to assume that if you take out a mobile phone contract at £30 a month for 24 months that's exactly what you'll pay unless you exceed the tariff. Yet mobile phone providers have come under fire for a snag buried in the small print – a clause to allow mid-contract price rises.

Prices are rising by a median of 81p a month and 70% of consumers are completely unaware off this sneaky move, according to Tesco Mobile, so be sure to check any new contracts before you sign the dotted line.

Financial service providers always refer to 'typical APR' in advertising to attract customers with favourable rates of interest.

Yet the typical APR on loans and credit cards is only available for those applicants who have a squeaky clean credit record, everyone else could end up with a much higher rate. For example, under EU rules, credit card providers only have to provide the typical APR advertised to 51% of applicants.

So always consider this when applying for accounts and products, and if approved – look out the actual APR that you will be charged.

The highest paying savings accounts on the market tend to come with a string of strict terms, which if you fall foul of, result in a drop in interest. Common requirements include paying in a set sum each month and not making withdrawals during a set period.

Make sure to fully understand these terms before opening a savings account and if you choose an account with a six or 12 month bonus, remember that this will plummet when the bonus period ends.

Cashback credit cards that pay you a small percentage each time you spend on the card are full of loopholes in the small print. All have a maximum spend, but many have a minimum spend too.

For example, the Sainsbury's Cashback Low Rate card advertises that it offers users 5% cashback for the first three months. However the 5% cashback is capped at £50 a month. A further 5% cashback is subject to you spending £500 a month on the card (£250 of that at Sainsbury's).

Attempt to repay your mortgage early and you may be greeted with a hefty fee in the form of an early repayment charge. These penalties vary from lender to lender and even deal to deal, but are typically be around 10% of the outstanding balance.

Details of any early repayment charges should be clearly outlined in your mortgage contract but it is worth double-checking with your lender before you try to make a payment.

Insurance is an incredibly complex area of personal finance and different forms of cover are riddled with different hitches that make it crucial to read the small print. Failure to do so could lead you to pay for a product you would be never be able to claim upon, or unknowingly do something that invalidates your claim.

Always buy the right level of cover for your needs and pay close attention to any exclusions in the policy wording. For example, many travel insurance policies for winter sports won't pay out for treatment of injuries incurred while under the influence of alcohol.

Think a credit card can't do any damage at home in your drawer? Think again. Some credit and store cards charge a dormancy fee if you don't use them regularly.

For example, all Santander-issued store cards, including Topshop and Laura Ashley cards among others, charge a fee of £10 if you remain in debit for three consecutive months.

Exceed the monthly usage allowance in your broadband deal and you could be hit with a huge fee. Common with the cheapest broadband deals on the market, penalty charges for going over your contracted limit can push your bills up even higher than if you paid for a deal with unlimited usage.

According to Talk Talk, some households are being forced to pay an additional £40 per month for exceeding their usage allowance. BT for example, charges £5 per every 5GB extra used.

Familiarise yourself with the download limit in your package and the penalties for exceeding it, decide whether you are better off with an unlimited deal.


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