News Briefs
November 30, 2016

Experts explain the why, how and psychology of fraud

Tips to heed to stay safe

By Karen D. Lorentz

“Computers are commodity items. They are inexpensive and it’s easy to use them to commit cyber fraud,” noted Elliott Greenblott, Vermont’s AARP Fraud Coordinator and Volunteer at a recent presentation in Rutland.

What makes cyber fraud work so well, he explained, is that “most computer users are naïve,” and he stressed that includes all ages, estimating 99 percent of users don’t really understand how they work.

“People use computers to shop, do email, do some browsing, do some work that uses a program like word processing but most don’t learn how a computer operates, they just use some applications,” he said, explaining computer operation is something he understands because he has worked with them since the main-frame era.

That “lack of knowledge” may help to explain why we don’t realize how accessible our personal information is to anyone who wants to commit fraud and scam us.

Noting that you don’t even have to own a computer, Greenblott warned that all the info needed to defraud someone is out there in cyber land and that “it is easily accessible. Everything is known about a person from demographics — age, race, gender, address — to personal data like a license. Even the color of your hair or eyes can be known since people post photos on social media,” he stated.

Psychology of fraud works on emotions, excitement, fear

Drawing laughter from a large crowd who enjoyed a marvelous free lunch during the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Scam Jam presentations, Greenblott said that “greed and phantom riches” are part of what makes people vulnerable to “the chance to make some money” or the offer of free lunches or the promise of gift cards. People will even send a fee to receive some “winnings.”

The free lunch and gift card can be rewards used to get more information about you. An offer of a gift card like a $500 WalMart card (fine print discloses the offer is not affiliated with WalMart) can be used to build a profile of you. That info may then be used by the company making the offer or sold to another company, he noted.

“People are too trusting,” he added, stressing that trust adds to their aforementioned vulnerability as well as to becoming a victim of other scams like the imposter.

In the Grandchild scam, an imposter who may have gained a grandchild’s name off social media as well as other info about you, emails you that they are in some kind of bind and need money wired or sent via a check, money order, cash, or a prepaid card. Imposters can also pretend to be friends, relatives or a romantic interest —online dating sites provide scammers an opportunity to build trust and then scam an emotionally vulnerable person for money, Greenblott said.

Scammers also will use fear and threats to get you into an emotional state, which can lead to your making a mistake and giving out information that they should not have access to. “Ignore personal threats,” he advised.

Don’t respond to personal alerts. If you get one from a credit card company and it looks like their site, just call — their customer service number is on the back of your credit card — but don’t respond to the message or number given in the alert.

If you get a call or email from the IRS with a number, “remember when you call the IRS the first time, you get a recording, not a person,” Greenblott said, drawing appreciative laughter! If a person answers, hang up.

Avoid cyber scams

Greenblott offered many suggestions on how to avoid being scammed.

If it’s too good to be true, it is. Do you really think someone left you money and all you have to do is send a fee to claim it?

Watch spelling and grammar. This is often a tip-off.

Look for an unrelated “reply to” or unknown URL.

Watch for “evil twin” sites that look like the real thing but aren’t.

Be aware that scammers troll neighborhoods looking for open Wi-Fi networks where they can gain access to your device. If using Wi-Fi in a public area, your computer/tablet/phone needs to be locked and the use of two passwords is recommended, Greenblott said, adding, “Turn off Wi-Fi if not using it.”

Don’t conduct financial business at public venues. Public Wi-Fi is never private!

Don’t open fraudulent email. Get rid of it.

Don’t open attachments or click on links from someone you don’t know.

Do utilize “block” features for emails.

Be aware of scams in the guise of charities at all times!

Validate before you donate. Check Charity Navigator or Charity Watch or call an organization and ask them to send you a subscriber/donation card in the mail.

Continue your education and stay alert to scams.

Check out UVM.EDU/scams to learn about the most popular scams.

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