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A new voicemail phishing scam uses the threat of non-existent fines for visiting WikiLeaks to prise money out of panicked marks.

Prospective marks are robo-dialled by an automated system that states their computer and IP address "had been noted as having visited the Wikileaks site, and that there were grave consequences for this, including a $250,000 or $25,000 fine, perhaps imprisonment".

Potentially panicked victims are given a number to phone to discuss payment options, if they're daft enough to be taken in by the ruse.

The scam, which involves the use of spoofed phone numbers, takes advantages of VoIP systems to minimise the cost of calls to crooks, who are probably using stolen access to corporate PBX systems in the first place.

A woman who received the scam voicemail phishing (vishing) call reported the incident to the Central and Eastern Kentucky Better Business Bureau, which issued an alert warning of the ruse and quoting sensible general advise on avoiding phone-based frauds in general, from US consumer watchdog the FTC.

Robert Schroeder, northwest regional director of the Federal Trade Commission, said: “Consumers who get phone calls from strangers need to keep their guard up, especially when the caller makes threats based on bogus accusations – that the consumer has failed to pay an old debt, or has committed some kind of crime, and has to pay up immediately.

"Insist on a written statement of what you owe. Don’t pay it if it’s fake. Don’t provide your bank account, credit card, or social security number. And report the threat to the FTC and your state attorney general - and, if it’s a threat of personal harm, call the police.”

Threats over supposedly illicit activity online have previously been used in scams targeting file-sharers or porn surfers, and seek to panic marks into paying up in order to avoid supposedly dire consequences. Much the same approach has now been applied to target surfers visiting Wikileaks - which is, of course, perfectly legal, and without consequences for ordinary US citizens.

However, as the BBB advisory explains, if you are military personnel, this type of call could seem very real or hold more significance: the US Pentagon openly banned military personnel from visiting Wikileaks for security reasons.

Wikileaks created a huge media frenzy towards the end of 2010 with its release of leaked US diplomatic cables. The appearance of scams based on this incident illustrate that any sufficiently big news event these days is likely to become the theme of cons. ®

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