By Tara Benson
Imagine picking up the phone and the panicked voice of your grandchild is on the other end.
They sound scared and confused because there is an emergency, and they are in trouble. The line is scratchy and noisy leading to unclear voices and you aren’t quite sure what exactly they are saying, but you are scared for your grandchild.
A few seconds later a law enforcement officer gets on the line and says your grandchild must immediately pay fines or they will go to jail. You are their only hope, so you scramble to give them your account numbers because if you wait there is nothing more the officer can do and your grandchild will be lost in the system.
After providing the numbers the call cuts off and you start calling around to family members only to find out the grandchild in question is fine and living their best life, but your bank account is now empty and the harsh reality hits you. You have been scammed.
You are not alone. Thousands of Americans fall victim to various types of scams every year.
Shockingly, Americans lost over $25 billion to scammers last year, with a third of those being scammed TWICE!
Getting scammed doesn’t mean someone is stupid, it means they are human. Scammers have very sophisticated scripts and methods that can trip up even the most skeptical of people.
In this digital age, we often have to trust that people are who they say they are, so with a little information we can avoid scams and keep our money where it belongs.
Here’s a list of the most common types of scams:
Tech Support Scams
Scammers will contact a victim through phone call or a pop-up window on the computer screen indicating there is a serious problem with the victim’s computer and to call the phone number on the screen. After calling, the scammer will take remote control of the victim’s computer to “fix” the problem. Once they have control, they are downloading all your personal information such as bank accounts, contacts, passwords, etc. They will request payment for their “services” through wire transfer, gift cards, and money transfer apps.
This ruse comes through a phone call, email, or pop-up window on your computer from a reputable company such as Amazon or Google indicating a purchase was made fraudulently on your account and you are due a refund. After calling the provided number and getting remote access to the victim’s computer, the scammer then has the victim log in to their Amazon account to show them the refund they are due (a fake screenshot) and then have the victim sign into their bank account to verify the refund was received. Through slight of hand and hidden screens the scammer pretends to make a mistake and over refund the account such as turning $2,500 into $25,000. The scammer then acts panicked they made a mistake, and they need to get the credit back or they will lose their job. The fake credit cannot be corrected in the system and the victim will need to purchase gift cards to give the money back. The victim then goes to the store, purchases the gift cards as requested and then provides the redemption codes to the scammer. Not only does the scammer have the money from the gift cards but they have the log in information for the victim’s bank account, Amazon account, and any other information they retrieved from the victim’s computer.
The Grandparent Scam
This is the scam from the introduction of this article that often targets seniors because they are often not fully aware of their grandchild’s activities and will do anything to help them. The scammer in this case plays on the victim’s emotions and creates an urgent situation, not giving the victim time to process what is really going on.
Advance Fee Scam
This scam involves a promise to the victim of a large prize, shares of stock, vacation or something else of significant value, but only if a smaller fee is paid in advance.
This type of scam usually comes through an email from what appears to be a reputable company such as Amazon, Apple, Google, and Bank of America. The email claims to need some type of personal information to reset a password, verify an account, etc.
In addition to those listed above, there are numerous other types of scams and variants of the scams. But with the tips provided below you can help protect yourself and your loved ones from a scammer.
Many scams rely on the emotionally charged elements of the scam to get people to act quickly before the scam is discovered. There is no legitimate company or government agency that moves so quickly you cannot take the time to verify the information with your bank or family members.
They Contact You
Legitimate companies understand that scammers are rampant and would not reach out to you requesting personal information, account numbers, passwords, or other important information. They will wait for you to contact them and if you do, use the phone number on your card or statement (some scammers post fake websites to get people to call). If you did not initiate the contact, hang up.
Don’t Let Anyone Remotely Access Your Computer
Again, legitimate companies do not have to remotely access your computer and you should not allow anyone to do that. That gives them free reign to anything that is on your computer including account numbers, photographs, social media accounts, bank accounts, etc.
Don’t Make Payments with Gift Cards or Wire Transfers
These payment methods offer the least amount of protection to the victim and once initiated cannot be undone, so scammers love these. No legitimate company will want payment with gift cards. In fact, this has become so pervasive that store clerks at places such as Dollar General, Walgreen’s, etc. are trained to be on the look out for people (especially seniors) buying large amounts of gift cards and to either not allow the sale or try and explain they are being scammed.
Let Unknown Numbers Go to Voicemail
Scammers will be persistent and will call and call. If you don’t know a number or it comes up as scam likely on the caller ID, ignore it! Have important numbers such as your bank, doctor, etc. and relatives programmed into your phone, so they are identified when received.
Be Selective When Giving Out Your Phone Number and Email
Many companies sell their customer contact information and those lists often end up in the hands of scammers. You can reduce this possibility by not giving out your information to online retailers such as giving your email to get the “10 Best Christmas Cookie Recipes” or get 10% off by giving the company your email and phone number. Both things that I have done myself and within days noticed an uptick in the scam phone calls. Many companies claim they do not sell your information, but frankly I don’t believe them. So, protect that information.
Interestingly, in addition to law enforcement there are numerous citizens out there working to stop scammers. They do this by calling them and staying on the line with them for hours keeping them them from contacting other victims and there are some “hackers” that will use their skills to infiltrate the computers of the scammers deleting files and getting evidence that can be provided to the FBI or law enforcement agencies in the scammer’s home country. Scammer Payback is my favorite hacker YouTube channel if you want to check that out. I have no affiliation with it, it’s just fun to watch scammers get a taste of their own medicine as well as see first-hand how the scams work.
Remember, you can protect yourself and your loved ones with the above tips and a healthy dose of skepticism.
Editor’s note: Tara Benson is the owner and lead investigator at Armour Investigations in Syracuse.