On October 11, 2023

Fraud, scams, con artists: a risk to your computer, phone

By Karen D. Lorentz

Editor’s note: This is Part 3 of recognizing and preventing scams from happening. 

“I’m too smart to be scammed,” many believe. 

But the truth is that “Education puts you at risk and higher income makes you a target,” warned Elliott Greenblott, noting that Steven Spielberg got scammed by Bernie Madoff. 

For the most part, scammers target the 25-to-45 year-olds because they have 40 years to work on them. However, seniors lose more money to fraud, Greenblott said at a recent AARP Scam Jam. 

All ages are potential victims and computers and phones make great tools for con artists to use. 

The rationale for computer fraud is that they are “commodity items, not luxuries, and they are easy and inexpensive to acquire,” Greenblott, a volunteer coordinator of the Vermont Fraud Watch Network, noted. 

Greenblott explained that con artists use “social engineering to get you to do something that you wouldn’t do under normal circumstances,” using the emotions of fear, anxiety, social consensus, authority/credibility, scarcity, and excitement (generated by phantom riches). It’s important to not respond immediately, to stop and think, he stressed.

If you win the lottery, they come to your door to publicize the event, they don’t contact you by email or text you, Greenblott said.

Financial schemes are rampant via email, but never give out your info and don’t fall for “you won money in a lottery or sweepstakes and just need to pay the taxes or fees to claim the big winnings.” (I recently got an email from “someone in Sweden” who would split $10 million dollars with me if I would be the American needed to pay the fee. I deleted.)

Greenblott warned that the information used to defraud someone is readily available thanks to entire lives being shared on the internet through social media, photos, and comments that give additional information. The scammer’s familiarity with one’s life leads the potential victim to trust the schemer.

This makes phishing schemes easy for con artists. Phishing uses email to trick you into sharing personal information.

One common phishing email purports to be about a package delivery for something you never ordered. Delete the email. Don’t give information.

Another very popular computer scam arrives in your inbox or via a pop-up message noting a problem with your computer. This tech scam is so convincing that many people turn over their credit card numbers to pay for unnecessary repairs, or worse, they let the swindler have access to their computer, which enables them to install malware that steals data so they can hack accounts. Turn off your computer and restart, and if there’s a problem call the appropriate company’s customer service.

Smish and spoof

With most people using cell phones today, there are additional ways for swindlers to defraud people and new ones come along frequently.

One common ploy is “smishing,” the use of texting to get your personal information. 

If you respond to a text, the scammer will know your number is viable and may contact you to get more sensitive personal information. If you click on a link in the text directly, the scammer may be able to install malware that can collect your personal information like passwords or credit cards.

Scam calls to phones are prevalent and dangerous because the scammer uses a number to make it look real or like the number of someone you know. This “number spoofing” can also appear to be from a bank, government agency, or other important source which catches people off guard and can lead to sharing personal information or a credit card number. 

When calling the familiar looking or friend’s number, the caller finds out that the person had not called or the number doesn’t exist. 

To protect yourself, don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t absolutely know even if they look vaguely familiar—like your area code and the first few numbers of your town. If it was legitimate and important, they’ll leave a voicemail.

Warnings to heed

Greenblott also warned about emails that appear to be from legitimate websites but aren’t. Clues include bad grammar, misspellings, and addresses/URLS. For example, it’s IRS.gov not IRS@gmail or IRS.com and the IRS won’t contact you by email or text, so delete, he said.

Don’t click on links in an email unless you know and trust the person sending them to you. Don’t believe endorsements from pop-ups that appear on your computer, Greenblott said, showing how one woman had made 42 recommendations to get free stuff. 

Other common advice includes: Never give out your social security number, date of birth, or mother’s maiden name to anyone you don’t know. If they’re sending you something free, you are the product, Greenblott stressed. 

Don’t click on “unsubscribe” because it confirms your existence. Just delete! Don’t tell all on social media; send your news to your email list of friends and family. 

“Back up, back up, back up and use a password manager, and never use the same password.”

Any data you send over free public wi-fi (like when you stay in a hotel or go to a coffee shop) is vulnerable, so avoid online banking, checking emails, making credit card purchases or even posting on social media on public wi-fi. If you find you use public wi-fi regularly, play it safe and sign up for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that keeps your data secure, Greenblott advised.

For more information visit:  aarp.org/fraud. Also the AARP Fraud Watch Network,TM is a free resource for all. Call 877-908-3360 or visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

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