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Massive utility scams now being delivered through online ads


Happy Friday!

With utility scams, crooks pretend to be your water or power company so they can threaten and extort as much money from you as possible. This scam has been going on for years and in the past, they would target you with an unexpected phone call, text message and in some cases a visit to your door. However, criminals have learned that they make way more money when they trick the victim into calling them. Enter online ads.


The Takeaway


It's called Malvertising. Here's how it works - you search for how to pay your utility bill. The scammers have created fake ads that pop up when certain keywords are searched for and if you're using your smartphone. This is an important tip because the ads are tailored to impersonate local utility companies based on the smartphone's geolocation.


Now I usually don't put a lot of pictures into these weekly emails but these are worth looking at. They'll help you identify these fake ads when they pop up on your smartphone.

utility scam phone screenshot
utility scam

In most cases, tapping on the ad will not open a new website, but instead prompt you to dial a phone number. This is exactly what the crooks want as most people don't know that ads approved by Google could be fraud.


So far the security researchers at MalwareBytes found 28 advertisers with over 300 ads, most of them registered by individuals from Pakistan. So just know, if they fool you into giving them money, you're probably not getting it back.


Key: avoid clicking on any ad from search as the malicious ads largely outnumber the legitimate ones. You can tell it’s an ad as they are labelled “Sponsored” or “Ad”.




1) Watch out for a sense of urgency. Scammers will often threaten to cut your power immediately. This and similar scare tactics are meant to pressure you into making hasty decisions. Take the time to look things up or speak to a friend or family member before you do anything.


2) Never disclose personal details over the phone without being absolutely certain you are talking to the right person. When in doubt, hang up the phone and call Hawaiian Electric at (808) 548-7311 or the Board of Water supply at (808) 748-5000. Do not trust any phone number that appears in an online ad.


3) Beware of requests for money transfers or prepaid cards. This is a big red flag that you're speaking with a criminal. Again, take your time to think it over, even if just for a few hours. Scammers tend to be so impatient they will make all sorts of claims to get you to act right now and that's a dead giveaway.


4) Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve been scammed and wired money. They can sometimes reverse some of those fraudulent charges.


Our kupuna are especially vulnerable to these types of scams, but anyone can fall for them, especially when busy or distracted!


Stay safe out there.




PS. If you think this email might be of value to a friend or colleague, feel free to forward it along.


PPS. I get lots of eye rolls on these Friday funnies. Do you have a good one to share? If so, reply and send it on over!


New Friday Funnies


What do you call a computer super hero?


A screen saver.



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