Elders, as well as youngsters, have embraced the internet as a socializing tool. They like to share messages and texts, create social networking profiles, update personal statuses, and enjoy interacting with strangers. Generally, these activities are considered fun and beneficial. This is true to some extent for the majority of young people, who, when online, make the right choices and are not at risk. But, regrettably, some of these people may fall prey to cyber predators who know how to find personal information for all sorts of devious purposes.
In the same context, there are a number of scams targeting people of all ages. Some scams are widespread and have become so frequent that they’re now considered “the easiest and safest crimes of the 21st century.”
Here arises a big question. Why? Well, it’s because the cyber world has become the easiest place to befriend others, fool people, and find personal information that can be used to wipe out entire bank accounts.
Common scams used to find personal information
Here’s a short list of online scams that fraudsters use to find personal information to defraud your family:
- E-Mail Scams: These scams are mainly operated on e-mails that deceptively claim to be an established, legitimate business or organization. These e-mails persuade the recipient to share their personal information like passwords, social security numbers, bank account numbers, medical insurance registry numbers, driver’s license and credit card numbers. Worse yet, scammers might send out email blasts using bank letterhead to warn recipients of “account problems” and ask for password and account information updates.
Just like predators, scammers use e-mails as bait: most people will ignore it, but some will bite. Rogue Internet pharmacies are often used as an online front for phishing scams.
- Internet Pharmacies: There are many apparent benefits of purchasing pharmaceuticals online, including lower prices and greater convenience. But beware! There might be real health risks associated with prescriptions sold through internet pharmacies don’t require valid prescriptions for prescription-only medications. Such websites might provide a convincing platform that purports to sell a range of lifestyle drugs; however, after placing an order the scammers take the buyer’s money and credit card details without ever sending anything.
- Fake charities: One of the most disgraceful forms of scams are fraudsters who pretend to represent charitable organizations. For this reason, before making a donation, even genuine fundraisers should be asked for identification to ensure that your money is going to serve its purpose.
This scam begins with a call from a so-called charity claiming to support cancer patients or a reputable organization. In reality, these fraudsters are not authorized to fundraise for said cancer patients or organization. In some cases, as little as 3 percent will go to that organization, 97 percent may stay in the scammer’s pocket.
- Sweepstakes: Sometimes people receive an official-looking check. The account number will be fake, but the routing number will be correct. The bank takes it as a valid check. The “sweepstakes rep” will tell the victim to “cash the check and send $3,000 to us for processing.” Victims will find out a few days later that the check bounces and will lose $3,000. Some professional scammers even disguise themselves as IRS officials and use the message: “It’s your check, but you need to pay the late fees.”
- Health-care Scams: In today’s age, health care scams have become a growing “industry”. There are scammers who may phish for a database of diabetic seniors, call them and say, “We need to confirm your Medicare card number so that we can courier your medical supplies.” They will offer false medical services for seniors at mobile clinics then make use of the personal information provided by victims to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
- Online Auctions: Online auction websites promise buyers high quality goods at lower prices from all around the world. Unfortunately, some sellers fail to deliver what they promised and stay with your money. Additionally, some scammers find personal information from legitimate websites to trap buyers into a fake transactions, like, requesting payment from the seller, but never delivering the goods or request unusual payment methods like money transfers or e-money (a digital equivalent of cash).
- Antivirus Scam: In this particular scam, you may get an uninvited call from someone claiming to be the representative of Microsoft or Windows support desk. They will also claim that viruses have been detected on your personal computer. Afterwards, they will ask you to save your data, immediately open a certain website and follow its instructions. A window that shows a fake scan that picks up viruses may appear on your computer, but actually a malware is being installed that allows the scammer to steal your usernames and passwords. When they find personal information on your computer, it can be used to access your bank accounts or even use a webcam to spy on you.
- Social Security Scam: This scam unfolds with receiving calls from scammers posing to be from the Social Security Administration. When they call, they claim that they would like to verify your social security number. They might start off by asking for less information such as the first three digits of your social security number. Once the victims cooperates and confirms the first three digits, the scammer then indulges in a friendly conversation and in doing so, prompts the victim to provide the remaining numbers. Once the scammer gets the information, the victim is at financial risk.
How to Avoid the Scams
There are no hard and fast rules, but here are some measures that you and your family can follow to avoid being defrauded:
- Make it a habit to get the statements online and remember the frequency with which account statements are sent via email
- Make use of a second set of eyes to go through bill payments and mail.
- Don’t share personal information like, social security, driver’s license, bank and credit card account numbers, phone numbers or home address via e-mail with unknown individuals.
- Never ever respond to a sweepstakes mail by sending a check in order to claim a prize.
- Cautiously analyze monthly accounts for any unauthorized charges or payments.
- Send donation checks to only those charities with which you are familiar and which are cleared through the Better Business Bureau.
- Buy from authenticated online stores and, if you order a product and it doesn’t arrive or isn’t what you ordered, immediately contact the company.
- Never respond to fake requests to send a deposit for work-at-home “opportunities” or pyramid marketing schemes.
- If a product arrives COD (cash on delivery) but you have not ordered, do not open it, just send it back.
- Make use of a locking mailbox or set up a P.O. Box to secure personal mail and information.
- If you’re receiving unwanted e-mails, contact the sender and unsubscribe from such mailing lists.
- Keep in mind that all new technology has a learning curve. Educate your family and loved ones about e-mail and phishing tactics.
- Keep a check on individuals who are befriending your loved ones. Lonely or isolated youngsters and seniors are vulnerable to criminals.
A word of caution: if you can’t be available for your family, find reliable and responsible people who can serve as eyes and ears for them by screening door-to-door scammers and others who like to exploit by telephone or computer. These trustworthy people may be relatives, neighbors, friends, faith community members or professional caregivers.