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Submission + - Online Security at IRS phone scam finally may be fizzling out (

amandabin writes: We all should be thankful on this Thanksgiving Day that one of the worst scams to hit the Lehigh Valley, and the nation, finally is on its way to being cooked.

Complaints about the IRS phone scam have dropped significantly in the past month or so. After three years, international detective work and technological advances finally have carved deeply into these turkeys' business.

The scheme isn't completely stuffed away yet, so remain vigilant. But it's certainly not as prevalent as it was.

The relentless calls started in fall 2013. Con artists pose as IRS and U.S. Treasury agents and threaten people with a lawsuit, arrest or grand jury investigation unless they immediately pay supposed tax debts.

The debts aren't real but the callers bully people into paying over the phone, usually with prepaid debit cards and iTunes cards. More than 9,600 people, including some locally, have lost a combined $50 million. A California man lost $136,000 when he was exploited repeatedly over 20 days, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office.

I heard from hundreds of people who got the calls. Some were scared. Others were confused about whether the calls were legitimate. Many knew they were fraudulent and wanted to know how to stop them or where to report the scoundrels.

Nearly 2 million complaints about the scam have been reported to the Inspector General for Tax Administration. It's also the top scam complaint to the Better Business Bureau.

But it's been a month or more since I've heard any complaints. Reports to the inspector general and the BBB are way down.

That's because some of the people accused of making the calls have been locked up. Early last month, authorities in India raided a call center and charged 70 people with fraud. On Oct. 27, U.S. authorities announced that 56 others had been indicted; some of them in the states, along with five call centers in India.

"We are encouraged that our investigation, which resulted in the announced law enforcement action in late October, has had a significant impact on this criminal activity," inspector general's spokeswoman Karen Kraushaar told me.

At the peak of the scam, more than 30,000 calls were reported to the inspector general in a single week. That was down to about 1,000 in one recent week.

People still are being ripped off, though, and the inspector general recently learned of 40 people who lost money, Kraushaar said.

"It is extremely important that people remain vigilant and remember to hang up on callers who claim to be IRS or Treasury employees and make threatening calls demanding immediate payment," she said.

In about the past month, the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker website has received 91 reports of tax fraud, compared to 489 the previous month. While those figures include all types of tax scams, the vast majority are IRS scam calls.

"We are pleased with the drop and are looking forward to the day when we aren't getting any IRS tax scams reported," said Kelsey Owen, communications and public affairs director for the Better Business Bureau office that covers eastern Pennsylvania.

There are variations of these scam calls. Sometimes the callers are men. Sometimes they are women. Some calls are live while others at least start as robocalls. Callers often instruct victims not to tell anyone about what's going on and to remain on their cellphone while they are buying the prepaid cards to pay their supposed debt. The callers try to sound official, sometimes offering badge numbers and case numbers. But their foreign accents often give them away.

In addition to the arrests, technology also played a role in reducing the number of calls getting through.

As I reported in a recent column, a new technique being developed by phone and technology companies to block illegal robocalls stopped a substantial number of these scam calls during a test.

While this is all good news, I fear the fraud could catch a second wind. Schemes as profitable as this often morph into new ones. The Better Business Bureau also warned of that.

"We know from past experience that scammers are opportunists," Emma Fletcher, manager of the BBB's Scam Tracker, said in a news release last month. "Hopefully this crew won't be stealing from anyone again for a long while. But we will be keeping an eye on incoming scam reports so we can alert consumers what the 'next big thing' in scams turns out to be."

The IRS phone scam already was evolving prior to the raid in India. John Miller of Bethlehem Township told me he got several calls in late September from the "Office of Taxation" that followed the same script.

"I guess they gathered that everybody has figured out the IRS game so now they're trying a different name," Miller told me.

If you get an IRS scam call, you can report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (800-366-4484, or the BBB Scam Tracker (

Protect yourself against scams by reading my previous Watchdog columns at If you are targeted with a new scam, let me know and I'll warn others.

The Watchdog is published Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me at, 610-841-2364 or The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101. I'm on Twitter @mcwatchdog and Facebook at Morning Call Watchdog.

Submission + - NASA develops electroactive material for rapid wound healing (

hypnosec writes: US space agency NASA has developed a new electroactive material that when applied on wounds can speed up the healing process as well as keep infections at bay. NASA says that its new material that can be given the shape of a bandage has ample of applications including on battlefields for the wounded military personnel, patients who have undergone surgery, patients who may have suffered from serious wounds and injured astronauts in space. The bandage made out of the electroactive material [PDF] has to be applied on an exterior wound. Using low level electrical stimulation generated within the material itself, the bandage promotes as well as speeds up the wound healing process and protects it from infection.

Submission + - Big step for quantum teleportation won't bring us Star Trek. Here's why (

sciencehabit writes: Two teams have set new distance records for quantum teleportation: using the weirdness of quantum mechanics to instantly transfer the condition or “state” of one quantum particle to another one in a different location. One group used the trick to send the state of a quantum particle of light, or photon, 6.2 kilometers across Calgary, Canada, using an optical fiber, while the other teleported the states of photons over 14.7 kilometers across Shanghai, China.
Both advances could eventually lead to an unhackable quantum internet, but what else is quantum teleportation good for? And will we ever be able to use it to zip painlessly to work on a frigid January morning? Science Magazine explores.

Submission + - "Noise" Takes Bank Offline For Ten Hours (

judgecorp writes: ING Bank's Romanian data center was taken down by what has been described as a "loud noise". A million customers were effected as the bank's online operations failed for ten hours. In fact, during a test of the bank's fire suppression system, a sudden release of inert gas created a shockwave, and the vibration damaged the hard drives in the data center's storage systems. This sounds exotic, but it's a well-known data center problem, so the question is — why was the fire suppression badly designed, and why was it tested at lunch time on a business day?

Submission + - OurMine claims credit for attack on Pokemon Go servers (

quallschemdry writes: Having trouble logging in to Pokemon Go this weekend? You're not alone. A hacking team called OurMine has spent the past several hours hitting Pokemon Go's login servers with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, leaving some players frustrated and unable to log in to the game. The group said it would not stop the attack until representatives from Pokemon Go contacted them. Read More

Submission + - Hacker Compromises Fosshub to Distribute MBR-Hijacking Malware (

An anonymous reader writes: A hacker who goes by the Cult of Peggle handle on Twitter has compromised Fosshub and embedded malware inside the files hosted on the website and offered for download.

In an interview for Softpedia, the hacker revealed that he breached the website thanks to a "a network service with no authentication was exposed to the internet. We were able to grab data from this network service to obtain source code and passwords that led us further into the infrastructure of FOSSHub and eventually gain control of their production machines, backup and mirror locations, and FTP credentials for the caching service they use, as well as the Google Apps-hosted email."

"We initially replaced the Audacity and Classic Shell installers with executables made to look like the originals through the developer interface for uploading files," Cult of Peggle told Softpedia in an email. "After word got out and the admins reverted the changes, we replaced all installer executables on their servers with the MBR-overwriting code directly."

This is the same hacker that had taken over the NFL's Twitter account and announced the death of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Affected users can check out this video for instructions on how to remove the malware from their machines.

Submission + - Google Street map of 1800s/1900s New York City (

schwit1 writes: New York City has a long and sprawling history, but looking at the city today, it’s hard to tell what it looked like in the past. Luckily, an enterprising coder has solved that problem by creating a Google Street View map for New York City for the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Developer Dan Vanderkam collaborated with the New York Public Library to plot all the old photos from the Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s collection on an interactive map.

The project, called OldNYC, lets you browse 19th-century New York as easily as you would click around on Google Maps. The collection contains over 80,000 original photographs.

Submission + - LinkNYC weirdly has two privacy policies--here's why (

An anonymous reader writes: LinkNYC has been replacing all of New York’s public payphones with advertising emblazoned wifi kiosks. Residents and visitors curious about what those kiosks will do with data their routers, cameras and Bluetooth beacons collect about them might look on its website for some kind of privacy policy. There is one there, but it’s not that one. Columbia professor Benjamin Read got a big laugh at this weekend’s HOPE XI conference in Manhattan when he pointed out that the privacy policy on LinkNYC’s website only applies to the website itself, not to the actual network of kiosks.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds. In LinkNYC’s defense, the page in question points out the difference between the two policies up top, but given the cursory way most people read online, it wouldn’t be surprising if many users initially missed it (I did). Meanwhile, it’s encouraging that Read and his co-panelist, New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Mariko Hirose, actually did read those two privacy policies and that a room full of people showed up to hear what they found.

Submission + - Microsoft to disable policies in Windows 10 Pro with Anniversary Update (

BobSwi writes: More changes in the Windows Anniversary update, due August 2nd, are being discovered. After yesterday's news about Cortana not able to be turned off in the Windows Anniversary update, certain registry entries and group policies have been found to be updated with a note stating that they only apply to Enterprise and Education editions. Win 10 Pro users will no longer be able to turn off policies such as the Microsoft Consumer Experience, Show Windows Tips, Do not display the lock screen, and Disable all apps from the Windows Store.

Submission + - Tucows Cuts the Crap from its Download Site 1 writes: Tucows began as a software downloads site nearly 25 years ago and has since evolved beyond that early core business and into domain names, mobile phone service (Ting) and symmetrical gigabit fiber Internet in select towns and cities in the US (Ting Internet). Now Tucows has announced that as a gesture of goodwill, Tucows has banned deceptive ads, hidden download buttons, pop-ups, flypaper, toolbars and other such Internet nastiness from the the nearly 40,000 software titles it hosts for users on it's download sites. “On the Tucows downloads site today, you’ll find no flashing ads. No toolbars. No pop-ups,” says CEO Elliot Noss. “You might see a few plugs for other Tucows services, but nothing too egregious and certainly not anything that’s pretending to be a download button.” With Tucows’ success in domain names, mobile phone service (Ting) and fiber Internet (Ting Internet), Tucows' revenue from downloads has become less relevant when looking at the balance sheet. “We don’t lightly walk away from opportunities or revenue,” says Noss. “In the end, though, we’d rather have the Tucows name associated with good; with a belief in the power of the Internet to affect positive change. An ad-heavy site that packages browser toolbars along with every download isn’t something we want people to think of when they hear ‘Tucows,’."

Submission + - Could This Bill Kneecap The FCC's Ability To Protect Net Neutrality?

blottsie writes: The No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Act is a deceptively complicated and far-reaching bill—one critics say could fundamentally change the legal landscape of the open Internet.

“What the Republicans here are trying to do, without so much as saying so,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president of the open-Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, “is prevent the FCC from going after zero-rating, or other forms of below-the-line fees [that] involve data caps.”

In this deep-dive look at the legislation, the Daily Dot explains how a three-page bill could neuter the commission's ability to protect net neutrality.

Submission + - Hybra's Kickstarter Backers File Complaints, Allege Fraud—And Wait (

An anonymous reader writes: The Sound Band saga continues. Michigan-based Hybra Advance Technology raised more than $500K on Kickstarter in 2013 for bluetooth headphones that transmit sound via the surface listeners' skin. The Sound Band's backers are up in arms and filing complaints with the FTC for what they say is a fraudulent project from a creator who ignores pleas for refunds and information. Creator Joe Thiel says the three-year delay is typical hardware startup stuff: supplier problems, design bugs, etc. But his inability to keep backers in the loop fuels their ire. Kickstarter maintains it's not liable, as it merely facilitated a transaction between backers and Hybra. Now Hybra is positioning itself as consultant that can help startups get products to market quickly, making backers' heads explode.

Submission + - German police arrests Razorsoft developer (

ahaubold writes: A software developer from Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany has been arrested on tuesday. Police officals hold him responsible for developing the software suite Razorsoft, which has been capable of disguising malware, thus providing infrastructure for criminals and their activities.

Google-translated news article:

Submission + - California's $15-an-hour minimum wage may spur automation (

dcblogs writes: For many California business groups, the state's decision to gradually raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2022 is a terrible thing. Higher wages, says the California Restaurant Association, will force businesses to face "undesirable" options, including cutting staff, raising prices and adopting automation. But for its technology industry, it may be a plus. A higher minimum wage will "signal to tech companies and entrepreneurs" to look at the restaurant industry, said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a research group focused on the restaurant industry. The automation takeover of low wage work is already going on. John Graham, a professor of finance at Duke University, said Amazon is growing and continuing to build warehouses. But "each new warehouse adds fewer employees because each new warehouse is more automated."

Submission + - Snake Venom Shapes as Antidote for Alzheimer's (

Zothecula writes: A viper's venom would usually be something to steer clear of if you're at all concerned about your health, but new research suggests it may in fact boost the wellbeing of those with Alzheimer's disease. Australian scientists have discovered a molecule in this predator's poison that slows the onset of Alzheimer's, working to break down plaques in the brain that lead to dementia and typify the condition.

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