Viruses Detected. Clear all spam messages. Call this number to learn about virus protection.
FedEx Notification: Your package was picked up by a courier. Call this number to prevent additional charges.
Apple is giving away 50 FREE Apple iPad this morning…
Your iCloud account has been hacked. Go to this website…
There is a problem with your Social Security account. It may have been compromised…
All of these messages came in via a text message or through a landline. All are fake—scams! But they seem so reasonable, you may think. That’s why these scammers are successful; the message seems plausible. Often, they threaten legal action which can be a bit unnerving. The scammers are trying to get the call receiver to reveal personal information that can be sold or used in identity theft.
Take these some simple steps to protect yourself from a phone or texting scam:
- Remind yourself that no government agency (IRS, Social Security, etc.) communicates through phone calls, texts, or emails. They send letters through snail mail.
- Check for grammatical mistakes. Notice in the text above about free iPads that the singular form, not plural of iPads is used.
- Go online and check for specific scams. For example, type in FedEx scam. Immediately, several sites appear in a Google search.
- Set up your own Social Security account where you can monitor any activity. Here’s the link: https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/
- Delete these messages without opening them!
Scamming is a big business and very profitable for the perpetrators. They are successful because they are highly skilled in the art of persuasion or even intimidation. Here are some of the current scams:
- Online shopping
- Fake charities and other money-related scams
Romance scams abound. They often use reputable online dating sites and are very wily as they build trust with a target. The scammer will declare him/herself interested in the same hobbies or activities. They are sympathetic and charming. Preying on a target’s desire for companionship and loneliness, they create a sense of closeness. Then they might mention in passing some financial difficulties they are experiencing in hope the target will offer to send them money. Often, they will press for money directly, citing a family emergency or a desire to meet the target. Any mention of money is an immediate red flag, and participants should withdraw from the online connection. Unfortunately, many folks have become so invested in this online relationship they suspend common sense and send money.
Online dating sites, law enforcement, and other experts in scamming suggest the following steps to protect yourself from this type of scam:
- Do not share personal or financial information with people you have not met.
- Keep all conversations on the dating site. Do not be persuaded to move to personal emails or texting apps.
- Create an email account that you use only for online dating. Gmail and Yahoo Mail are both free. You can have multiple accounts.
- Be wary of a match who seems to have a lot of similar interests. Get a good friend to peruse the conversations for any signals of untrustworthiness.
- Remember, wiring money through Western Union, Money Gram, or using a money card like Green Dot is like handing someone cash. It’s gone. If it goes overseas, there is no chance you can ever retrieve it.
- Don’t fall for a story that the person is a US citizen working overseas and can’t access his or her banking account. Refer them to the nearest US embassy or consulate.
- Believe it or not, even when caught, scammers will continue to maintain their love for the target. Sometimes it works.
Even if you are not involved in online dating, it’s important to understand this type of scam. You may have family members or friends who are particularly vulnerable because they are lonely. They need you to be the voice of reason.
Another profitable scam is online shopping. If you are a Facebook user, every day flashy posts probably appear in your newsfeed selling a product that reflects your interests. Remember, social media sites make their money by selling data about their users’ online behaviors to merchandisers. That’s why if you click on a cute video about puppies, you begin to see posts selling products for dogs.
Before you buy something online from a company you have never heard of, do some research. Go to their website and check it out. But that one step is not enough because scam companies can easily put up a sophisticated site for very little money. Check for reviews! Simply search the name of the company plus the word “reviews,” and information will appear. You should be able to discern whether or not the company is reputable. You can also check them out at the Better Business Bureau.
These days all sorts of appeals for money are made online. After every disaster, sites pop up telling people how they can be of help. Many folks are generous when others are in need, and money often rolls in. Unfortunately, contributions sometimes do not find their way to an agency helping in a disaster area or to a research facility working on a deadly disease.
Once again, do your research before typing in your credit card number. Google the charity, search for reviews, and see if you can discover how much of your contribution goes directly to the relief effort or research facility. Some online appeals take a large proportion of the donations for administrative costs.
For example, a recent Annual Report for the United Way reported that 5 percent of funds raised went to organizational costs, and everything else directly to the agencies. That’s a smaller than usual amount of money earmarked for administration by most charities, and therefore helpful information for a donor.
You can check how charities meet the standards for giving at the Better Business Bureau, plus there is a website called Charity Navigator that will give you pertinent information.
Similar to charity scams, there are numerous other types of scams that want to relieve you of your hard-earned money. Often, they are in the guise of retirement advice, investments with big returns, debt relief, and lottery winnings. Red flags indicating that a site is a scam include requests for bank account numbers and money paid upfront. Reputable companies do not make such requests.
So…once again, you must be a skeptic and a researcher. Check with your local consumer protection agency, look for reviews of the company online, and call your state attorney’s office to see if there are any existing complaints.
Phishing expeditions—these scams demonstrate a high level of tech skills. Phishing is the process of sending fraudulent emails from recognized companies in search of passwords and credit card numbers.
Let me share a personal story that still embarrasses me ten years later. I opened my Yahoo mail message alerting me to a security problem. Everything about the email looked legitimate—the graphics, the information they had, and so on. The message requested my password so they could fix the security problem. I used every bit of tech skill I possessed to check out the veracity of the email and could find no problem. Yet even as I typed my password into the reply, the little voice in the back of my head was saying, “Don’t do this!” I ignored it and clicked on send. Not five minutes later I started receiving emails asking me if I was really in London, sick, and in need of money. My Facebook account was hacked; to this day Facebook still doesn’t trust my account. It was a prime example of a phishing expedition.
Never, never give anyone a password, credit card number, or bank account number through an email message, even if it looks legitimate.
There is a current phishing scam related to Amazon as I write this article. Call the company, do an internet search with the company name plus “phishing scam,” or ignore the email. Change your email password immediately and any other account you think might be corrupted.
Grandparent scams are especially insidious because the scammer knows that 99 percent of grandparents will try to help a grandchild in need. These scams use social media to get information about the grandchild—current location, interests, friends, activities, and so on. The grandparent receives a phone call from their grandchild asking for money. They may say there’s been an accident, or they have to pay a fine, and sometimes there is a person on the line to verify the claim—a lawyer, police officers, etc. A good friend recently received such a call, and there was no way to verify what was happening. The young man on the line sounded like her grandson. This savvy grandmother went right to the police, who explained just how sophisticated these scammers are. They hire actors to play the roles, use social media to create a plausible scenario, and then play to the natural concern of the grandparent. Fortunately, this grannie was not scammed, but many are. If on the receiving end of such a call, start asking questions that can’t be answered by social media information to determine what’s up and whether or not there is a real problem.
Lastly, there are COVID scams. The following advice comes from the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
- Know the difference between a legitimate contact tracer and a scammer. Scammers will probably ask for money or your financial situation. Real contact tracers are only checking health information.
- Do not respond to emails, texts, or calls related to checks supposedly from the government. Check out this website to get information related to relief checks.
- Do not trust phone calls offering special deals on vaccinations or miracle cures.
- Hang up on RoboCalls—those computer-generated phone calls focused on one topic. Their offers are never to be trusted.
- Never wire money.
- Ignore emails supposedly from the CDC or WHO. Rely on these websites: https://www.coronavirus.gov/ and https://www.usa.gov/coronavirus.
Here is what you can do!
It is disturbing just how many internet scams there are. One could easily become paranoid every time a call or text comes in or an email message appears. However, the key to living sanely and safely in our high-tech world is to summon one’s inner skeptic and put into use one’s internet research skills. But we know that some of our friends and family members might not be as tech-savvy as ourselves, so it makes sense to have conversations about scams and internet scams regularly.
Share stories to alert family and friends of possible scams. “You are not going to believe what came in as an email message today! It wanted me to call a number to reschedule my court case. Well, I am not involved in a court case so I ‘googled’ court case scam, and lo and behold, it’s all a scam.” Hopefully, these types of stories will alert our loved ones to possible nefarious schemes that just might be targeting them.
Listed below are two websites that discuss even more internet scams!
BoomerTECH Adventures provides expert guidance and resources to help Boomers and older adults develop competence and confidence using their Apple devices. Boomers themselves, BoomerTECH Adventures rely on their skills as educators to create experiences that meet individual needs through videos, Zoom presentations, tech tips, and timely blog posts.