Scammers, despite the vast array of scams out there, really use only one method to perpetrate their evil deeds. They lie. They lie by simply misrepresenting themselves, their products, or so-called “services” as something which they are not. There are many ways these criminals contact and ensnare their victims, but the common thread of misrepresentation runs through every scam. Thus, a multivitamin or sugar pill might be sold as a cure for any number of diseases. The criminals may pose as government, bank, or law enforcement employees, which, of course, they aren’t. And then they swear by that lie in order to make you believe them. The problem for ordinary people is that we’re at least somewhat hardwired to trust others. It’s what makes families and societies work. And when that trust is gone, things tend to fall apart. Thus, honest people are at a distinct disadvantage when faced with a scammer. Nor does it help that scammers–at least the successful ones–are often very good at their illicit trade. To add insult to injury, they generally don’t have a conscience, either.
To put it simply, scammers try to put their victims in a heightened emotional state–which is often refered to as being “under the ether”, in order to persuade victims to comply with their demands. That heightened emotional state may take the form of fear, excitement, feeling romantically fulfilled, sympathy/empathy/wanting to help, etc. Any highly charged emotional state qualifies, as these tend to override our rational and logical thought processes. They also know when an intended victim’s attention is likely to be diverted. It’s not coincidental that scams tend to increase around the holidays, simply because people are crazy busy, in a hurry, and just trying to get things done quickly. It’s also why the guys who perpetrated the Zelle scam on my family and me called at 5:00 pm–right at suppertime, a time when folks are hungry and most if not all efforts are focused on preparing and eating the evening meal.
Another ploy scammers may use is to confront their victims with an unfamiliar situation. People don’t function as well when they’re faced with unfamiliarity–they’re not certain what’s required of them, and they feel a bit “at sea.” Thus, seniors are prime targets of Zelle scams and others similar to them, simply because their often not facile with how the technology works and can thus be easily manipulated.
Another method scammers use is to spoof the available technology so that victims believe the scammers are who they say they are. Caller ID’s can be spoofed, displaying the names and numbers of real organizations, despite the fact the organization is not actually calling the victim. When I was involved in a Zelle scam, the bad actor said he was calling from Bank of America, and the caller ID concurred. The problem, of course, was that he wasn’t.
The from: header of an email field is ridiculously easy to forge, so that the criminals can say their email is from anyone. The email address often won’t agree, but many victims don’t take the time to look at it. In this way, the criminals persuade people to click on a link or attachment because they think it’s from someone they know.
Scammers often study their victims before perpetrating a scam. Thus, they may find information about the victim from social media or other online sources, including sites that contain people’s information and public records on the web. They may also get information about people over the “dark web”, where records obtained from data breeches are bought and sold. Additionally, if someone has been previously victimized by a scammer, their information may be placed on what scammers call a “suckers’ list”. Scammers might revictimize the person under the guise of another scam, ie, “we can help you get your money back,” or they may sell these lists to other scammers.
Scammers often request that funds be paid in ways that make them hard to trace and recover. Examples include wire transfers, cashier’s checks, gift cards, peer-to-peer app payments like Zelle, Venmo, or Cash App, and crypto.
They may also ask you to accept or send money on behalf of another person. Typically the victim will be sent a check, which they will deposit. Often, if sufficient funds are available in the victim’s bank account, the funds show up as being available even though the check hasn’t yet cleared. When it inevitably doesn’t, the victim is liable for the bad check, any fees associated with it, and has also lost the money that they supposedly sent on behalf of the scammer.
Although the vast majority of scams will ultimately result in some sort of request for money, personal information is a highly desired commodity as well. Therefore, scammers will try to trick people into giving them important pieces of personal information. They often do this by going on a “fishing” expedition, ie, throwing their line out there to see who’ll bite. Such expeditions are generally carried out by means of phishing”, “vishing”, and “smishing”, which simply means that the victim is being contacted by email, phone (voice), or text message (SMS), respectively. These often purportedly come from businesses with which the victim is already acquainted, ie, Amazon, Microsoft, apple, etc, or they may come from an online business the scammers have set up for this purpose. If supposedly coming from a well-known business, they will usually ask the recipient of their message to click a link they’ve provided, which takes the person to a look-alike log-in site, where the victim enters their information. The address may look similar, ie, paypa1.com instead of paypal.com, for example, and the images, etc, are often scraped from the actual site, so that at first glance it looks very similar to the real thing. Once the victim presses the “Submit” button, however, they’ve provided the crooks with their login credentials.
As I said, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of variations on all these themes, and the field is very much a moving target, with scams falling in and out of favor, depending on a variety of factors, but the common thread is that the situation is not as it appears to be.
This listing is obviusly by no means exhaustive, but it should form a good framework for the discussion of how to keep from being victimized, Which appears next.
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