The next post in the safe internet topics I want to focus on scams. Scams are tricky to detect but most are based off common formulas and styles. Identifying the red flags will help you sniff out a majority of scams out there and save yourself possible identity theft and financial loss. Unfortunately the scams work and work very well, especially with those that are under-educated or naive to the world around them. I have a personal interest in this because my mid-80’s grandmother fell to a telephone scam where he wired money to someone that said was me and I was in trouble in Mexico and could get back home. Here’s a Google search that will show how rampant and successful this simple scam is.
She voluntarily sent over $10,000 to this person via Western Union because she was overrun with emotion from the story the caller used on her. Had she asked a few simple questions up front the scammer would have been caught and moved on to their next victim, but she didn’t and made an assumption, like many other victims do, and acted on it. The scammer never once used any names of any family member, only generalized and my grandma filled in the rest of the details and they played off of it.
This is one type of scam but they all are executed in the same manner both on the phone and over email. The scammer talks fast, generalizes, gets the victim to get emotional and assume who they are talking to is the real person. The scammer then keeps calling back over and over as long as the money gets wired. They stop and move on when they are busted. Because of how Western Union operates it’s nearly impossible to track who picks up the money on the other end. Think about it, if they can get 10 people to wire them $10,000 each over a week, you can quickly see why the risk is worth the reward for them.
However, there are very simple things we can all do and tell our naive loved ones to do to stop this from happening:
- First and foremost, trust no one that calls you asking for money. Even if it’s a loved one, stop and think.
- If anyone claims to be someone you know, stop and ask them an identifying question. My grandmother said that her scammer said he was her grandson. How did they know? Answer, they didn’t. They guessed and got it right. Most likely they scanned the phone book looking for older names that are generally not used anymore and call them. Chances are that they have grandchildren. The victim fills in the rest because they are excited to get a call from them. Had she asked for his name or his father’s name (her son), the scammer would probably hang up and move on.
- Question, question, question. Ask questions and if you are not getting answers you expect, hang up.
- Call other relatives to verify. Better yet, call the grandchild directly. If they are in so much trouble to call you over their parents or spouses that should be an immediate flag. Hang up and call other family members to verify. If they are truly in a police station somewhere they aren’t going anywhere.
- If someone asks you to use Western Union for ANYTHING, hang up. Think about it, if they are in a police station or locked up somewhere, how can they get to an office to get the money? If you do transfer, don’t follow their instructions, you make sure the name is on it and ID is required for pickup. If you do just a transfer number, anyone can get it anonymously.
- Did I mention to trust no one that calls you asking for money?
Emotions make this scam and others like is successful and the scammers know this and play off of it.
- A utility company claiming you owe money and to wire money or your gas/water will be shut off
- A company claims you over paid and send you a check, bogus, you cash it and send the money back. Check bounces and you are stuck, scammers get the cash.
- Lottery win scam.
- Employment scam.
- The lists go on…
However, the pattern emerging is the scammers get the money through a wire transfer which is instant regardless what the scammer claims. NEVER use a wire transfer to anything overseas on a surprise call or email. EVER!!! That’s the biggest red flag.
On the flip side if you are traveling internationally, reach out to your family and get the word out that you are actually doing it. Then outside of those trips if anyone calls the vulnerable are equipped with information to add to the sniff test of scams.
In the world of instant information we communicate less to our circles. Sad but true. Back in the old days of face to face interaction no one would succeed at this, but for some reason our ability to detect deception has dwindled.
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Binary Blogger has spent 20 years in the Information Security space currently providing security solutions and evangelism to clients. From early web application programming, system administration, senior management to enterprise consulting I provide practical security analysis and solutions to help companies and individuals figure out HOW to be secure every day.