We recently told you about a rash of low-value fraudulent charges attributed to a mysterious company called “WEBLEARN” popping up on credit and debit card statements. Since then, we’ve heard from hundreds of people who’ve been hit with these charges and while we still don’t know where the scammers got the purloined card numbers, the identity of the scammers is now less of a mystery.
Sorting through the mountain of e-mails we received from affected consumers, it’s hard to find any trends. The purchases are appearing on both debit and credit cards; some people have actually had multiple card accounts compromised. While the larger banks are the most frequently represented in the reports from readers, that’s to be expected just because of their large numbers of customers, and we’ve heard from readers whose accounts were held by small local banks and credit unions. And as reported originally, the dollar amounts vary, from as low as $8 to highs of around $15.
None of the banks we spoke to were willing to go on the record about the scheme, but several sources at large national banks confirmed to Consumerist that their fraud departments are aware of the fraudulent transactions and are proactively making efforts to prevent the charges from coming through while they continue to investigate.
One source tells Consumerist that the scammers were able to trick legitimate card-processing companies into believing these purchases were on the up-and-up, and that the banks and credit card issuers are now trying to head off the transactions at the processor level. Of course, some are still coming through, as we continue to receive new reports from readers who are seeing new WEBLEARN charges show up on their accounts.
While we and others have had no luck getting through to the phone numbers listed on the WEBLEARN transaction information, some readers say they were actually successful in getting a “customer service” person on the line.
One reader, who was told by the rep that she had apparently been signed up for some sort of monthly online subscription, asked the rep what her company does.
“She said the company helps collect monies for bigger companies for online services,” writes the reader, who says the woman she spoke to promised to cancel her subscription and have her money refunded within a few days. “The whole thing was very shady and I hope I will see the money but I’m not holding my breath.”
Even if you get through to the company and they promise to refund the money, you need to contact your bank and/or credit card company. Don’t rely on scam artists, or even those companies working for scam artists, to give you your money back. Your bank or card issuer can and most likely will issue you a near-immediate credit for the transaction while it investigates. Also, it’s important that victims of the scam alert their banks and card providers so that these companies are aware of the full scope of the crime.
SO WHO IS DOING THIS?
A source at a major national bank tells Consumerist that there is a “strong investigative link” tying the perpetrators of the WEBLEARN scheme to the operators of the so-called $9.84 scam that was exposed earlier this year.
Back in January, cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs pulled back the curtains on that scam, which similarly dinged a large number of bank accounts with small-dollar transactions in the hopes of going unnoticed, tracing back the fraudulent purchases to a group of affiliated websites that were pushing bogus $9.84 transactions through a Malta-based card-processing company.
A VP for that processing company told Krebs that it had severed ties with the scammers, but judging from what we’ve heard from bank sources, it looks like the criminals have just moved on to duping new processors into allowing these fake purchases to go through.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Since we don’t know the source of the stolen card numbers — multiple victims have insisted they were not a part of any of the more notable retail hacks, and some insisted that they had not used compromised cards in months — we can’t say something like “If you were part of XYZ data breach, you should proactively get a new debit/credit card number before you’re hit with fraudulent charges.”
But what we can say is…
1. Be vigilant about checking your debit and credit card statements
Yes, it’s annoying and time-consuming (and depending on how little you have in your bank account and/or how much you owe to a credit card company, it might be depressing), but checking your statements a couple of times a week is the best way to catch these things before it’s too late. The longer these transactions go unnoticed, the harder it is for investigators to do their job, and the harder it is to make your case that it’s fraud.
2. Be mindful of all transactions, not just WEBLEARN
When looking at your statements, don’t just look at the company names for obvious scams. Look at the names and the dollar amounts and make sure each transaction on your card makes sense to you. The $9.84 scam used multiple names but the same amount, while the WEBLEARN scam is using different dollar amounts but the same company name. Previous scams have used company names that look a lot like businesses you might spend money at in order to fly under the radar.
3. Call your bank or credit card company immediately
We made this point above, but it’s worth repeating. Even if you get through to someone who promises to refund your money, you need to contact your bank and/or credit card issuer so they can investigate. Likewise, if you’re unsure of a transaction on one of your cards, the bank can usually provide more information that will help you determine whether or not some strange-looking purchase is legitimate or not. After all, something that looks like it’s coming from a company you’ve never heard of might be a legit purchase in the unfamiliar name of a holding company or franchisee.