RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As people prepare to return to air travel this holiday season, TSA imposters are out there trying to steal your money and personal information under the guise of offering you TSA PreCheck.
Experts say those running the scam are highly sophisticated in the way they have faked the legitimate TSA website.
Trying to avoid those long TSA check-in lines can be accomplished if you are approved for TSA’s PreCheck. It’s a legitimate service that costs $85 for five years, but you must go to the TSA and apply for it.
In recent weeks, unsolicited emails have been flooding inboxes nationwide, claiming to be from the TSA.
“They are being sent out to people and they haven’t actually asked for the info from the TSA,” said former FBI agent Crane Hassold, who is the director of Threat Intelligence at Abnormal Security.
The email contains a link that directs you to a sophisticated-looking fake TSA website that’s several notches above the usual one-page scams.
“It’s a full-blown website with 10-15 pages that all have content,” said Hassold. “It looks legit.”
The only well to tell it’s not from the TSA is to look at the URL which doesn’t have the real .gov address. Instead, it’s a .com address.
The fakers ask for a $140 “application fee” and request pages of private information.
“When you look at the information collected, date of birth, social security number, passport information, address–all of that stuff can be used for other purposes as well,” said Hassold.
Criminals operating the TSA scam can sell that information on the dark web or use it themselves to create false identities that can be used illegally.
Hassold said security experts have tracked the fake TSA website to a group of criminals from Bulgaria.
He said it’s very difficult for the federal government to crack down on that scam even though it impersonates a federal agency.
“From a law enforcement perspective, the biggest problem with a scam like this is the amount of money lost by a single victim,” said Hassold. “In a single instance, it (the amount stolen) doesn’t rise to the level of a prosecutor being able to take law enforcement action against them.”
He warns people to scrutinize unsolicited emails carefully and not to trust links included in those emails.
When in doubt about the veracity of an email, use your browser to go to the actual website yourself and see what it has to say.
In this case, the TSA website says there’s only one way to enroll in TSA PreCheck. You must go to its website and apply there.
The Department Of Homeland Security also has a link that allows you to apply for TSA PreCheck.
The TSA also warns consumers who are applying for TSA PreCheck for the first time that they cannot pay online. They can only pay in person at a TSA enrollment center
The TSA says if you are victimized by a fake website, it will not reimburse you for the money you’ve lost–that’s their policy.