Fraud Alert: Don't Fall for the Bureau of Defaulters Scam

Thieves at work

When you're stressed because you're behind on your bills, the last thing you need is a scammer scaring you into thinking you're about to be arrested for your unpaid debt. What can make this kind of fraud difficult to spot is that many bill collectors threaten arrest or jail when trying to get you to pay up. So it can be hard to differentiate between illegal debt collection tactics and this outright fraud. In today's consumer alert, we'll tell you what to watch for and what to do if someone tries this tactic on you.

How the scam works

Like so many scams, this one starts with a shady email. The notice claims to be from the Bureau of Defaulters Agency – FTC. What's so galling about this scam is it uses the Federal Trade Commission in its header to try and legitimize it. First, the FTC doesn't go after consumers. Second, they certainly don't send emails threatening consumers. The notice says that you've ignored “bureau” efforts to contact you, and now the government has put your social security number on hold. It goes on to say that you're facing fraud prosecution and you have just 24 hours to pay up or you'll face additional fines and penalties when you're found guilty.

How the scam harms you

This fraud can take advantage of you in a couple of different ways. First, it can try and get you to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand to get your social security number “unblocked” although no such thing exist. They'll do the typical tactics of asking you to go purchase a Money Pak or other cash card so that the can run off with your dough, and you're none the wiser. That's pretty bad. The other way this scam can play out is through malware. The email may contain a link or attachment that, if clicked, embeds software on your computer that can steal logins, credit card information and other credentials. Information like this allows the criminal to steal your money or identity.

What to do if you receive a notice like this

If you get an email from the “Bureau of Defaulters” you should forward it to then immediately delete it. Don't panic, don't worry for a second that you'll be arrested for debt or that your social security number is on some sort of government blacklist. It's not. If you already paid up to a scam email like this, your money is gone, but you should still report it. In North Carolina, contact the North Carolina Department of Justice and file a complaint with the FTC as well. Evidence from consumers helps law enforcement compile information to (hopefully) track and shut down scammers that prey on consumers.

If you already clicked on a link or attachment from an email like this, you should assume malware is on your computer. Here's what to do next to protect yourself:

1. Stop using your laptop immediately particularly if you use it to log into your bank, credit card accounts or for online shopping.

2. Download the latest update to your security software then run the program to see if it identifies the malicious software. Delete any questionable programs.

3. If you're not comfortable dealing with malware yourself, take your computer to a professional to get it thoroughly debugged.

4. Monitor your accounts to make sure there's no unauthorized activity and, if you see any, notify your credit card issuer or bank.

5. Change all your passwords - but not until your computer is thoroughly cleaned of any suspicious software that may be tracking your keystrokes.

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