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Red Cross Scam Targets Military Families

Low-life scam artists have sunk to new depths by posing as American Red Cross workers in an effort to steal personal information from military families with loved ones in Iraq.

The caller, who sounds like a young American, calls a military spouse and identifies herself as a Red Cross representative, according to an alert posted by the Red Cross. The caller says the spouse's husband, who is not identified by name, was hurt while on duty in Iraq and taken to a hospital in Germany.

"The caller stated they couldn't start treatment until paperwork was accomplished, and that in order to start the paperwork they needed the spouse to verify her husband's Social Security number and date of birth. In this case, the spouse was quick to catch on and she did not provide any information to the caller," according to the alert.

The group emphasized that it does not typically contact military members or their families directly, and that any news of casualties nearly always comes through a commander or first sergeant. This type of phone-based "phishing" has been around for many years. But the advice for protecting yourself remains the same: never give out personal or financial details in a phone call that you did not initiate.

More from the Federal Trade Commission and the American Red Cross.

By Brian Krebs  |  June 22, 2007; 4:34 PM ET
Categories:  Fraud , Latest Warnings  
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How do these people sleep at night? Sub-humans just like the the terrorists we are currently fighting! Disgusting!

They are the complete opposite of what our soldiers and their families represent!

Hope they can track em down and serve justice!

Posted by: TJ | June 22, 2007 6:33 PM | Report abuse

And which data spill gave these (probably SPIT) "phishers" their targets? Or did these targetted potential victims participate in a previous "survey"?

Brian, you said "the advice for protecting yourself remains the same: never give out personal or financial details in a phone call that you did not initiate." Let's add to that a bit...

• Never give out family information on an incoming call, until after you KNOW who you are speaking with (and it is a person you know).

• Don't even give your name on your voicemail announcement or answering machine.

• Read your Caller-ID, but don't trust it to provide useful (or even true) information. There are several websites for checking on suspicious calls. These allow you to enter the phone number which appears in the Caller-ID, and at least look up other people's experiences with that proported number. Search on the phrase "who called" .

• Treat SMS (text-message) and voice "spam" the same way you should treat e-mail "spam". NEVER reply to it. NEVER "opt out" of anything you didn't "opt into". And certainly don't "buy into" anything being offered. And what might be offered includes a broad variety of things -- charity requests, offers of goods, services, special programs, requests for political contributions. Whatever you can imagine, and many things you might not imagine has been or soon is likely to be used to put you at ease, and get your responses -- ultimately to get your PII.

• Complain to your telephone provider when people hit you with repeated nuisance calls or text messages, unless they already provide you a blocking service (that does not depend on you knowing the number you want to block -- they know where the nuisance calls and text message spam came from, even if you don't). Many of these fake (and some real) surveys are based on sequential computer dialing of any possible number, perhaps most.

• Resist continued use of Social Security number for what it was not initially intended for: Universal ID person number. Are computers today so tiny and incapable that legitimate identitification of you for various purposes must use a same number? ..even where some kind of cross matching is needed? What if the DHS data spill of TSA employees, or Ohio spill of state employees had only included employee id numbers with no meaning outside those organizations, but any needed (e.g. for Social Security payroll processing) were in closely held and highly protected cross-match indices? When asked for your Social Security number, your first response needs to be "Why?" And second response "Who gave you any authority to request or store that? When are you going to pay me under that number?" If you do decide to surrender it, get how it will be used in writing.

• If you are old enough to remember "Love Canal" or the "Exxon Valdeez" environmental dumping/spill, begin to realize that the impact on your life of the repeated data spills can be greater than those were for most people, who only read about the incidents and were incensed. Yet those caught headlines for long periods, with discussion of their environmental impact. Today, the mishandling of your PII (personally identifying information) is being treated as if it were "to be expected, from time to time" with the same tolerance-bred-of-ignorance that has caused whole industries to flourish over computers infected by viruses and spyware, instead of repair of bad design being demanded. Build this mental picture: When you surrender your PII, you are pre-donating blood against future need. If that e-blood is mishandled, it is the same as that entity both using a dirty needle and pouring out what you have pre-donated. Where your PII is used by someone else, and your medical provider uses your SSN as a patient ID, you may find that as an almost literal picture. But, if you have to prove ability to pay, while you are dealing with other important matters of life and the results of "identity theft", you may also find it an almost literal picture, even though your health care provider and insurer might neither abuse the SSN.

Has anybody considered that Social Security Number and Military ID number should never have been merged in the late 1960s? Ask your neighbor WW-II or Korea veteran what his Military ID number was. Betcha he can spit it out faster than his SSN, not having used it, actively, for well over half a century! "Has anybody considered" was rhetorical. Testimony before congressional committees has highlighted this (and some other multiuses) as a problem. The real question is when that knowledge will be acted upon.

It is very good that this scam is caught early. Let's hope it's early enough!

Posted by: Thoroughly Disgusted | June 23, 2007 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Who cares? No that it matters much if they got a billlion, but how much money did these people get? A few dollars? They worked it in that they went and solicited donations. Perhaps, these people needed the money more than the bureaucratic overpaid folks at the Red Cross. Seriously, you all need more important things to worry about. Here's a tip, in all of human history, there are dark corners. I recognized the desire and pathetic need to feel superiority with an obvious villian (MADD, SADD, whiners about sex offenders all are similar), but understand your limited intellectual capacity.

Posted by: Eric Sims Jr. | June 23, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Eric Sims, perhaps you missed the heart of the scam. Spouses are contacted and told that their soldier (sailor, etc) has been hurt while on duty. From this explanation there is no solicitation there is FRAUD.

The Red Cross is often used as a point of contact when state-bound family members need to contact their deployed loved ones. Although military families should know that the Red Cross will not contact you under these circumstances, many are probably on edge waiting for any word. And who wants to inhibit treatment of someone on their way to a hospital ? In a situation like this these scammers are playing on the shock and panic of a dreaded scenario.

Thank you for publishing this, I have passed it on my husband's unit's KVN. I would hate to have someone fall for it unawares.

Posted by: Lani | June 25, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

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