This is just a heads-up. When I first saw this subject heading (Pedophile Alert in your area”) in my Yahoo email, I was initially baffled. It looked like spam, but Yahoo is usually good at blocking spam. It also had a legitimate-looking sender. The sender field read, “Sexual Predator Protection – Kids Live Safe”. There is, in fact, an organization called, “Kids Live Safe”. But a pedophile alert in my area? Well, that was unlikely, unless my lone neighbor suddenly developed a new, criminal lifestyle.
The body of the letter was the following image:
It appears to be the kind of warning that is sent to members of the Kids Live Safe site. Although the Better Business Bureau approves of Kids Live Safe, I’m not impressed by the idea of paying $30 a month to get information that is freely available in most states or at the federal level (National Sex Offender Registry). Well, maybe some people don’t have the time to check this out on their own. Business ethics aside, this does not justify the spammers using the site as their lure.
What gave this scam away was the title above the picture. It read, “Pedophile_Alert_in_ your_ area”. Those little space markers between the words was a sure giveaway that this was done by the scammers to evade a server’s spam filters. I then viewed the full header (right click in the “From” field). I traced back some of the information here and it indicated the email was originally sent from Russia. That could either be true or not.
Through the links embedded in the image, I was able to find the website that they sent victims to and, then, I traced who, supposedly, owned this site. Again, this information may or may not be true. Interestingly, however, a phone number listed was connected with a group of crooked collection agents in New York who extorted money from people, even if the people didn’t owe anyone any money. These agents worked for a man named John Chebat who paid the $175,000 fine imposed by the New York State Attorney General rather than go to trial.
Another collection agent living in the same area, Frank Davis, was convicted on the same day in 2012. Davis was first fined $20,000 for having agents who misrepresented themselves as a law firm they named, The Lombardo Davis Goldman Firm, LLC. They pretended to be attorneys to intimidate the people they tried to extort money from. As part of the settlement, Davis had to promise he would not do this again. Unfortunately, when he was reinvestigated, it was found he was doing this again and was, thus, barred from the state consumer debt collection business. The address given for the site administrator was also in the Buffalo NY area and is the office of a somewhat shady property manager. This all may mean nothing; however, it’s odd that whoever registered the site would pull this information out of thin air. In any event, I’m putting it here for any investigators who may want to pursue this scam further.
Although I spotted the email as a scam fairly easily, I might not have done so had I children in a suburban neighborhood in the US. My parental concern may have overridden my caution. These are the people the email preys on; cautious, caring parents. If they made the mistake of clicking on the ad, they would be sent to a page that downloaded malware onto their computer. The malware would then seek out personal information such as email addresses, passwords, social security numbers, and credit card information. This information would, then, be sold on the deep web or converted into credit cards in the victim’s name. And don’t accidently click on the unsubscribe link. That will lead you to a clone of the Kids Live Safe unsubscribe page, which will only lead you into trouble.
But how would they know that the people who got the scam email were parents? Well, they may just try to get lucky, send out thousands of emails and hope that some of those receiving them were parents. But this must not have been a mass-mailing attempt or Yahoo would have caught it. It seems to have been targeted in some way. They may have gotten information from online marketers who map browsing habits. This is the same way Amazon knows how to put advertisements of things you have looked at on pages you visit. Maybe victims had visited sites about parenting, for example. However, this would not explain my case. What worries me is that the day before I got this email, I had posted pictures of my 12-year-old son and me on my Facebook page. I had only made these photos visible to select family members, but there is no telling how secure their Facebook sites were, or what they may have done with the pictures. It’s a little creepy to think about someone using this strategy, though. In any event, if you have received such an email and you may have done something similar or you have publicly available pictures of your children on Facebook, you may need to be a little more cautious. Securing your Facebook page is also important because, disturbingly, actual pedophiles have a long history of using Facebook to gain access to photos of children.
Since these scammers have recently updated their website, expect to see more of these emails making the rounds in the future. Hopefully, this post will thwart at least a few of their attempts to make money on concerned parents.