Customers of the Internet service provider Datasync on the Coast recently received the following e-mail message:
“According to our records, the credit card payment for your Internet access account is two weeks late. The credit card we have on file presently does not allow us to automatically bill your account. If you believe that this message has been sent to you in error, or wish to update your billing information, please visit our Customer Care page at http://www.bdhelp.net/
“Datasync is proud to be the South’s premiere Internet Service Provider and we value your business. Sincerely, David Celes, Customer Care Department, Datasync Billing.”
The message was a scam quickly caught by Datasync, which responded with a message telling customers the message was a hoax.
“You may have received a message earlier this evening from someone claiming to be “David Celes” in “Datasync Customer Care” instructing you to visit http://www.bdhelp.net/ to update your credit card information,” wrote Ray Rocker, Datasync system administrator. “I’m afraid this was a very clever hoax designed to steal passwords and credit card information. The site www.bdhelp.net has nothing whatsoever to do with Datasync, and was constructed using graphics from our Web site to make it appear legitimate.
“If you did happen to visit the site and entered information, please immediately contact your credit card company to advise them of the stolen card information, then change your password here: (name of Web site for changing password given) Never, ever, would a valid request for credit card information direct you to a page outside of datasync.com. Most of you don’t even use credit cards with us.
“Rest assured that our legal staff will pursue the perpetrator with a vengeance. If you did fall victim to this scam, please let us know so we may advise of any progress to this end. No credit card information or passwords have been obtained by the perpetrator UNLESS you submitted the form at bdhelp.net.”
Because Datasync responded so quickly, the scam message and Datasync’s reply were downloaded at the same time for most people. Probably few customers were taken as a result. But it illustrates to what lengths telecom scam artists will go to.
“Anyone with a $1,500 computer can design a Web page,” said Harold Palmer, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi. “Unfortunately, there is no Internet cop. No one has declared police duty over the Internet. There is no agency to safeguard the Internet. The big thing we say is, ‘Don’t believe it just because you see it on the Internet.’ It doesn’t mean it is real.”
Palmer said the scam message at Datasync is similar to another scam where people receive telephone calls saying a company is collecting for MasterCard. The person says that the credit card bill is past due. People are asked to verify their card number number and, after talking for a while, people receiving the phone calls are asked for a Social Security number. After giving the Social Security number, the scam artist says, “Wait a minute. We have the wrong person.”
Then they hang up. The person who received the call may just be relieved they have worked out a potential billing problem instead of realizing they have just given away personal credit information that will be used in a fraudulent way.
“The consumer has unknowingly given them every piece of information they were trying to get,” Palmer said.
To avoid telecom fraud, Palmer recommends that you treat anything you see on the Internet as an unsolicited phone call. Look for a privacy seal to guard exchange of sensitive information such as credit card numbers. It pays to be very cautious when dealing with businesses that aren’t based in your area because if anything goes wrong with the transaction, it may be impossible to get a refund.
Palmer also recommends looking out for what they call “pressure words” such as immediate, urgent, final deadline, or anything that gives an indication of a threat or harassment. Vague questions and vague answers should also raise warning flags.
Internet fraud may be more difficult to detect than more conventional telephone marketing scams because tracking down the owner of a Web page can be very difficult.
“A Web page can be generated out of a basement,” Palmer said. “By the time you trace it back, the person may be relocated on another server all together. They can close down a Web page a whole lot faster than they can shut down a business.”
People shouldn’t be afraid to do business on the phone and the Internet, but precautions are recommended to make sure you are dealing with a reputable company. The rules are the same on the Internet as on the phone. Don’t do business with people you are not familiar with.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.