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Most scams are reruns of schemes that have worked before

Scammers usually add a new wrinkle when they reprise an older con

Text message scam concept
Photo (c) B4LLS - Getty Images
The text message that arrived on the ConsumerAffairs CEO’s phone was short and to the point: “(NETFLIX) To: Zac: The may payment subscription has been declined, account is on hold.” It was followed by a link.

Recognizing it as an old scam, Zac alerted Daniel McConnell, ConsumerAffairs’ head of cybersecurity, who analyzed it and found nothing unusual or special about it. He decided it wasn’t aimed at the company, as a growing number of phishing scams are these days.

“I am not even sure if it was special in terms of trying to get ConsumerAffairs info,” McConnell said. “It may have just been a run-of-the-mill phishing attempt.”

The same message was likely sent out to countless other people, with each one customized to include the target’s name. Unfortunately, those who clicked on the link may have downloaded malware to their device or were tricked into providing credit card or login information that compromised their personal accounts.

If it worked before…

The Netflix account suspension scam is not new. We last reported on it in 2019 when consumers began reacting to emails that warned them they were about to lose access to their favorite streaming shows.

Like swallows returning to Capistrano, scammers can't resist a scheme that has worked before. That's according to Kristofor Healey, CEO of Black Bear Security Consultants and a retired special agent at the Department of Homeland Security.

“Think of scammers as fishermen,” Healey told ConsumerAffairs. “They will always go back to a spot where they have had success in the past. When a scam gets a lot of attention in the press or there are major arrests associated with a particular scam, the scammers may put it on the shelf for a while until the heat moves on to something else. But if it was successful, they will always come back to it.”

“We see old scams being used in new markets as the bad actors evolve,” said Ari Jacoby, CEO of Deduce, a provider of anti-fraud solutions.

Some scams, old or revamped, are fairly easy to spot. Misspelled words and incorrect grammar are often dead giveaways. In the text sent by the scammer to ConsumerAffairs’ CEO, the word “May” is not capitalized as it should be. The words “payment” and “subscription” are also reversed.

It’s a numbers game

Netflix isn’t the only large company that has been used as scam bait. Healey said Amazon and Bank of America are other favorites of scammers.

“Big companies like Amazon, Comcast, Netflix, and others are used as bait because it’s a numbers game,” Healey said. “In the same way scammers impersonate the IRS or SSA, they will impersonate large businesses that have massive customer bases and diverse clientele.  They want to cast as wide a net as possible, and impersonating companies with major market share increases the percentage of victims that they can convert.”

The old Netflix scam does, however, have a new wrinkle. Several years ago, scammers almost exclusively used emails to target their victims. Increasingly, the attacks today come by way of a text.

“Many businesses have begun asking their clients to opt into text messages when they make an online purchase,” Healey said. “As text messages become more common ways for businesses to interact with customers, scammers are following suit.”

Consumers who receive a text that claims their Netflix account has been “put on hold” should never click on any link in the message. Instead, they should log into their Netflix account on a secure device and click on “Account.” If there is a billing problem, it will be noted there.

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