Friday, July 24, 2020

AT&T Scam Artists

Having a prepaid cell plan has one advantage - it is a little harder to be hacked.

I have been getting text messages and phone calls from "AT&T" claiming that my account was "suspended".   These messages look fairly legit, and it is easy to be taken in.   The text messages are, of course, just phishing.  They are broadcast out to every phone number and they hope that you are an AT&T user.  If you are on Verizon, it is easy to tell it is a fraud.

The phone calls are well done.  Apparently they recorded actual music on hold from AT&T's help line, including pitches for AT&T services and "You are caller number 2" and so on.  It sounds real.   Eventually, you get an "operator" and he asks you for your account number and password - so he can log into your account and then alter your mailing address, order a new iPhone and have it shipped to him.

And of course, they use the actual AT&T tech support phone number on the caller ID.

Fortunately, I am using AT&T prepaid, which used to be called gophone, and you can turn "off" the setting on your account to allow purchases through your account (select "account settings" and turn "purchase blocker" to "on").

I answered one of these calls, and may have fallen for the scam - but the purchase blocker prevented the scammer from buying anything.  To be on the safe side, I changed my password and PIN.   Sadly, the legitimate AT&T reps require you provide your account number (phone number) and four-digit PIN when calling, so it is hard to tell if the call is legit from AT&T or not.

That first call was months ago.  Since then, I have gotten several text messages saying my account was "suspended" - which arrive days after I get legit messages from AT&T saying my account was renewed and payment processed.   The phone calls are more intermittent - and you can assume any phone call these days is fraudulent.

If you get these text messages or phone calls, and are still worried about whether your account was "suspended" (why would it be?) then log onto the AT&T website and check online there, or call the AT&T help number (611) rather than answer a call purportedly from them.

It never ceases to amaze me how these scam artists find new venues for their scams - it never ends, does it?

On another note, I decided to close my PayPal account.  I got another one of these "Money Requests" from "Account Services" (this time from a different account name) once again asking for $6.75 to pay fees for "my account" which will be "limited" unless I pay.   This has been going on for months, at the very least, and PayPal doesn't seem to want to do anything about it.

That is a creepy feature of PayPal - anyone can send anyone a "request for money" and the first time you get one, it comes across as a little pushy.  If you accidentally hit the "pay" button, you have paid a scammer - an easy thing to do with a click of a mouse, when the buttons are so close together.   They are counting on a lot of people not realizing this is a fraudulent charge, as it is so small and seems reasonable ("Gee, I guess I forgot to pay that bill for Pandora or something!").

The problem is, PayPal is linked (or was linked) to my bank account and credit card accounts - and that is a very trusting thing for me to allow them to do.  It is like these sites that want all your passwords, so you can calculate your net worth.  Kind of convenient, but do you want to hand over all your passwords to one company and hope they aren't hacked?   Not very secure!

So when PayPal takes a lackadaisical attitude toward security, even if it is "only" some $6.75 scheme, it tells me a lot about PayPal's security in general.  The fact that it took heroic efforts - hours, actually - to contact their customer service department (multiple times) and get them to understand the problem (the service reps are overseas) and even then, their only "solution" was to say, "well, just press "cancel" when you get these bogus requests for money!"   No effort to track down the problem or realize there is a problem or that their platform is a platform for fraud.   And likely this is because they make a few pennies on each of these fraudulent transactions.

PayPal has been problematic since its inception, it really hasn't got better with time.  There are easier ways to pay, including just using a credit card, today.   I can live without PayPal, easily.

That should worry PayPal.

UPDATE:  I reopened my PayPal Account (same e-mail address) as people wanted to send me money. OK, fine.  But I have not linked it to any bank account or credit card account.  Instead, I will use this account only for online purchases or to send money to other folks.  Until PayPal gets this "Account Services" $6.75 thing under control, I can't trust them to link to my bank accounts.