Frugal Living 

Is YMax magicJack a Scam?

MagicJackIn a recent issue of the Retirement Millionaire, a retirement newsletter I’ve been checking out, they mentioned some frugal VOIP option I hadn’t heard of before. MagicJack is a USB based device that lets you make phone calls using your PC’s internet connection for $19.95 a year, or $1.66 a month. I currently use Skype as my VOIP service, in part because of weekly hour-long chats for the Personal Finance Hour, but that costs twice as much for unlimited US calling – $2.95 a month ($35.40, plus international fees because Skype is based outside the US).

I’m always looking for a good deal 🙂 so I thought I’d take a closer look.

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New Bank Trojan Virus Steals Money

Trojan HorseFinjan, an internet security firm, has discovered a new Trojan horse virus that steals money from your account. Your typical phishing or virus will steal your login credentials and send it to a thief, who either sells it or empties your account. This new virus, called URLZone, will steal your credentials but also steal money from your account, all the while displaying a fake balance when you login. How much it steals depends on your much is available, it only steals enough not to trigger a bank’s fraud detection systems.

At the moment, URLZone can only infect Windows systems using Firefox, Internet Explorer 6, 7 & 8, or Opera web browsers. Computers are infected when you open an e-mail, click on a website distributing malware, or visit an infected website using one of those browsers. When you visit a targeted bank, and it’s thus far been limited to German banks, the trojan transfers money without you even knowing.

This is the first Trojan Finjan has come across that hijacks a victim’s browser session, steals the money while the victim is doing online banking, and then covers its tracks by modifying information displayed to the victim, all in real time, Ben-Itzhak [chief technology officer at Finjan] said.

This is scary.

Banking Trojan steals money from under your nose [CNet News]

(Photo: hendricksphotos)


Beware Charity Fraud

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sent me some information about some popular charity frauds going around lately.

I personally never respond to a solicitation. It could’ve come in the mail, through a phone call, or an email; I ignore them all. It’s not because I’m a heartless person and it’s not because I don’t trust the solicitation, it’s that I prefer to go directly to the charity. I don’t want to write a personal check and put it in the mail. I don’t want to give any sensitive information across the phone and I certainly don’t trust email, with all the scams and phishing attempts surrounding those. I know the charities we like to support and we generally go directly to their websites to donate.

However, given the tumble the stock market had over the last year, a lot of charities are turning to solicitations to get more donations because their trusts and endowments are hurting. This has opened up an opportunity for scammers and thieves, so the FTC has offered up some good information to help you combat that.

If you recently received a phone call from a “charity” and are considering donating money, I recommend you read the FTC’s Charity Fraud website for tips on how you can protect yourself and the people you’re helping. When you give money to a scammer, it only empowers them to keep on ripping people off. As more people get burned, they start avoiding charities and charities that support the people the scammer said he or she was collecting for. In the end, it’s the people you intended to help that get hurt the most.

I also wanted to spotlight two particularly poignant scams going on right now and how to protect them. The first involves scammers pretending to collect donations to support the troops, as in vets, active duty, or their families. The second is the result of an enforcement sweep of scammers that pretended to collect donations for police, firefighters, and veterans.

It’s great to help those who are in need, but not if the money is going into the pocket of a scammer.

 Personal Finance 

Long Confidence Tricks & Scams

TNT Leverage Show CastI’ve been watching a new TNT series called Leverage, a modern day Robin Hood-type story where a group of former criminals, led by an honest but troubled former insurance investigator; steal from criminals and give to the ordinary citizens that have been themselves wronged. It’s a fun little diversionary show and it’s introduced me to the names of several confidence tricks, or “cons.”

In the world of confidence tricks, there are short cons and long cons. Short cons are meant to take all the cash and valuables on your person. Long cons are more elaborate ruses designed to take more than what you have on you, they’re designed to take you for everything you have. In this article, we’ll just talk about the long cons because, well, they’re more interesting to talk about!

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Beware Stimulus Check Scams

Stimulus Checks!I went to a conference of internet marketers a few weeks ago and spent some time learning from some of the best and the brightest in the industry. One of the things I came away with was the prevalence of “stimulus check” related scams that were floating around the web. I don’t think any of the people attending were involved in pushing these offers because the general consensus was that if you were involved, it was only a matter of time before the FTC dropped the hammer and penalized you heavily for your involvement.

Well, surprise surprise, the FTC released a consumer alert warning consumers about stimulus scams:
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 Personal Finance 

Cash4Gold: How NOT To Sell Gold

Gold BarsDid you see the Cash4Gold commercial starring Ed McMahon and MC Hammer? Did anyone else get the funny feeling like you were watching an infomercial at 2AM and not Super Bowl commercial?

I hadn’t heard much about Cash4Gold until the commercial but I never liked the idea of pawning gold for cash. Maybe it’s because I’ve always seen those “We Buy Gold!” signs in rougher areas (Atlantic City is a mixture of gentlemen’s clubs, casinos, and “We Buy Gold!” stores) or maybe because the only piece of gold I own is my wedding ring, and I’d have to be in a pretty rough spot to pawn it. I have no similar feelings towards pawn shops though, just ones that exist solely to trade in gold.

Anyway, I started to do a little more digging about Cash4Gold, I even requested a refiner’s kit to learn more, and found a lot of reasons to avoid them.

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 Personal Finance 

International Star Registry Is A Ripoff

Stars in the SkyOne radio advertisement I heard over and over again during the holidays was for International Star Registry, a company that offers the ability to “name a star after someone” for a low fee of $54.00. In addition to having the star’s new name “registered at the US Copyright office,” you get a certificate. For $54, all you get is a certificate, some star charts, and a map of your star circled in red. Pay a little more and you get a nicer frame. You can also get various charms and bracelets with your star’s official name and your name too.

It’s cute but the name isn’t official… check the fine print at the bottom of the page: “International Star Registry star naming is not recognized by the scientific community. Your stars name is reserved in International Star Registry records only.” It might be worth $54 to be able to name a star a particular name, so that every time someone mentioned it in the news you’d get a little shout out (“Look, John Smith is going supernova!”), but to have it only written down in some company’s book? C’mon.

$54 (plus shipping and handling) would be so much better spent on something else. Heck, despite my aversion to gift cards, I’d prefer a gift card to anywhere over a star named after me! 🙂

I must have heard this commercial two or three dozen times the week or two before Christmas and these guys have been in business forever, makes me wonder…

(in all fairness to people who did buy this and happen to read this, you do get a nice frame and it is a cool idea, but you aren’t getting a star officially named after you!)

(Photo derived from vorty)


Madoff’s $50 Billion Ponzi Scheme

Bernard MadoffIf you haven’t read the news lately, you should because one of the biggest scams of all time was uncovered in what could see the term Ponzi scheme renamed the Madoff scheme. Bernard L. Madoff was once the head of the Nasdaq (yes, the head of the Nasdaq) and started his own investment firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. Over the course of decades, Madoff took investor’s money, lived the high life, and soon lost it all when investors started pulling out their money when the market went south this year. In classic Ponzi scheme fashion, once the money starts leaving, the scheme is discovered.

Some of the individual ensnared include J. Ezra Merkin, chaiman of GMAC; Fred Wilpon, principal owner of the New York Mets (miss the playoffs badly two years in a row and discover your money’s been lost due to fraud? That’s a rough run…); and Norman Braman, former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. In total, it’s an estimated $50 billion in losses and some people don’t even know they’ve lost money because various funds invested with Madoff. For example, Merkin founded several hedge funds and one, Ascot Partners, had all of its $1.8 billion invested with Madoff.

Until his recent foray into Ponzi, Madoff was a well-respected member of the investment community. He was credited as being a pioneer in market-making, which is the act of being the middle man between buyers and sellers of stocks. It was that work that led him to become the chairman of the Nasdaq, bringing in a tremendous amount of business. However in the 1990s, he used that success to launch the asset management firm that, sometime in 2005, would turn into the largest Ponzi scheme ever.

Despite his gains, a growing number of investors began asking Madoff for their money back. In the first week of December, according to the SEC suit, Madoff told a senior executive that there had been requests from clients for $7 billion in redemptions. On Wednesday, Madoff met with his two sons to tell them the advisory business was a fraud — “a giant Ponzi scheme,” he reportedly told them — and was nearly bankrupt. The sons reportedly contacted their lawyer, who then alerted federal authorities to the fraud. Before being caught, Madoff was working on a scheme to dole out his funds’ remaining $300 million to the firm’s employees and his family members.

It’s an absolutely stunning story. How are you supposed to protect against that?

(Photo: AP)

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