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Better Business Bureau: Webcam predators

Feb. 2, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 1, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.


By Alan Bligh

Let's start with a rather scary note from "TODAY News."

Could predators be spying on you and your kids through your computer's webcam? Authorities say criminals are now able to hack in and watch your every move - without you ever knowing it. We all set ourselves up: We use our computer then we get distracted with something and just walk away. You forget the computer is still on.

Now the criminals can access your webcam remotely, watching your most intimate moments from the kitchen to the privacy of your own bedroom. The worst part is, you'd never even know. One criminal who was caught was spying on more than 200 women through their webcams, even blackmailing some of them. How can you protect yourself?

No. 1: Leave your laptop closed when you're not using it. You can also put a piece of tape across the webcam lens. Secondly, don't open any emails from people you don't know. That includes clicking on those Facebook postings that say things like "Watch this incredible video!" Unless you trust the person posting, don't do it. Those random links are how the hackers gain access.

We all would like to hear from Publishers Clearing House that we won lots of money. The schemers know this, and we are advising the public to be cautious of letters that appear to be from Publishers Clearing House that state that the recipient has won a grand prize drawing of $2 million or more.

The fake letters "follow on the heels of a legitimate Publishers Clearing House award announcements." Officials said the letters are not only showing up in mailboxes, but people report receiving phone calls. The letters claim recipients have won and instruct recipients to contact a claim agent for further instructions on how to claim their prize winnings immediately.

Publishers Clearing House officials state that if you receive a similar letter, email or phone call from Publishers Clearing House, look up Publishers' phone number yourself (from a trusted source like BBB) and give them a call. Note that some versions of the scheme involve the sending of counterfeit checks that the victim is to cash and return to the schemer for taxes, etc.

It's that time again. Tax season is here. BBB is warning consumers to beware of a growing crime known as tax preparer fraud. According to the Internal Revenue Service, tax preparer fraud occurs when a preparer "alters return information without their clients' knowledge or consent in an attempt to obtain improperly inflated refunds or to divert refunds for their personal benefit."

The taxpayer is usually unaware of the preparer's actions but is left liable for the discrepancies. For examples: Internet solicitations that direct taxpayers to toll-free numbers and then solicit Social Security numbers. Homemade flyers and brochures implying credits or refunds are available without proof of eligibility. Offers of free money with no documentation required. Check out prospective tax preparers at bbb.org.

A reminder that needs to be shared with all of those people who just love social networking. Scammers are tapping into the personal data available through Facebook to pose as your friends in fraudulent emails. How the scam works: You receive an email that appears to be sent by a friend or family member. The message addresses you by name, but the content is strange. Usually, it's just a link to a website. If you click on it, you could end up downloading malware.

The scammers are exploiting the fact that you're more likely to click on a link if it was sent by a friend. You need to review your Facebook security settings. Don't accept Facebook friend requests from unknown people. Consider enabling login notifications, so you will know when someone uses a new device to access your account. Also, beware of public Wi-Fi.

Alan Bligh is the executive director of the Better Business Bureau in Corpus Christi. Contact him by email at abligh@corpuschristi.bbb.org.

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