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Marge, a 68-year-old veteran, and grandmother didn't make it to the phone on time. The caller ID showed the call was from the Social Security Administration. She pressed play on her voice messages and heard the following message, "Your social has been used in a crime. To clear, please call this number (123) 456-7890 right away or face arrest. Serious crime been committed using your social. Call this number or get arrested. (123) 456-7890"
Marge had heard of identity theft and was immediately worried. She had seen the number for her local SSA office. She immediately called the number left on her voice mail.
"Hello? Social Administration" answered the voice in heavily accented English.
Marge explained she had received a message about her social security number being used in a crime. "What can I do?" she pleaded.
The man on the other end sounded bored as he directed her to give him her social number so they could look up the case.
Marge paused. She thought they already had her name and social security number. Something didn't feel right. Without another word she hung up and called her local office. She explained her situation and was assured by the operator that she had done the right thing.
"These are scammers!" the operator explained. "We never, ever call you without first sending a letter."
The operator directed Marge to the appropriate number for the United States Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Marge called and left detailed messages regarding the attempted scam.
*story fabricated based on statistics and real phone calls received by the author*
This story is all too common in the U.S. and around the world today. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been scammed from unsuspecting people, usually older people, but young people can be just as susceptible to scammers.
There are several common scams that I will discuss below, including cryptocurrency scams.
Frauds aimed at older and gullible people change with the times and are becoming more creative. Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at AARP says, "Scammers stay on top of whatever is new, such as the popularity of Zoom, Covid 19 vaccines, and online shopping."
Here are a few scams happening widely right now and solutions to defend against them.
Covid-19 Vaccine Cards
The scam: During the pandemic, once vaccines became widely available, people proudly proclaimed themselves vaccinated on social media. Many people would take a selfie with their brand spanking new vaccine card. Scammers immediately went to work using the valuable data presented on these cards including full name, date of birth, and location of the vaccine for identity theft, finding and breaking into bank accounts, and even opening credit cards under the name of the person posting.
The solution: Never post legible information online. You can black out your name, address, and birthdate using photo edits or pieces of paper over the card. Better yet, use a generic "I got my vaccine" sticker or "I voted" sticker. You wouldn't post your driver's license or voter registration card online. Don't post anything with identifying data. Not even a license plate on your car. Scammers are smart! Review your social media security settings to choose who can see your posts.
Lonely hearts club
The scam: Predators and con artists aren't just lurking around dating sites waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting. They are hanging out in online book clubs, prayer groups, and social gaming sites like Words With Friends or Yahtzee. Any social group people are turning to during pandemic isolation is up for grabs. Scammers start a conversation with compliments and then lure their romance mark off of sites that might be monitored and onto sites where no one is watching like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, or Google Hangouts where they continue private flirting and eventually ask for money.
The solution: Never send money to someone you haven't met in person or someone who is a recent acquaintance. Don't send gift cards or money transfers that can't be easily traced like Western Union. Say NO to requests for suggestive selfies. They can be used later to blackmail you. It is super flattering to be flirted with and told you are attractive. Stay cautious because it can be used against you.
P2P Cash Transfer Apps
The scam: We all love the convenience of our smartphones and tools like PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, and Zelle. But the ease and convenience of transferring funds have led to a range of frauds. The most popular being the "Oops, I accidentally deposited money to your account." The scammer will use a stolen credit or debit card to transfer hundreds of dollars into your account. They will send you a message claiming it was an accident and ask for the money back. The scammer gets the returned money and the stolen card money is eventually removed from your account.
The solution: Scrutinize every money request before accepting the money. PayPal allows you to see the email of the sender. Double-check the sender is someone you are familiar with. You can also disable or block requests for incoming money and use your app only to send money. If you receive a notice of accidental deposit contact the app's support team to resolve the dispute.
Lottery Winner/Celebrity giveaway
The scam: During the pandemic, Celebrities made headlines for holding social media money giveaways. News stories about lottery winners donating cash to charities are always coming out. Scammers have jumped on this particular bandwagon. In an attempt to get your private information, they will send you a direct message, private note, text, or email posing as a celebrity or a lottery winner. The message will tell you you've been chosen to receive winnings or donations. All you need to do is verify your account and send in a small deposit upfront.
The solution: If you haven't entered a lottery or contest, you are unlikely to have won. If you really have won a lottery or a drawing, you will not be asked for cash upfront. Don't open those messages and if you do, do not click any links. The links can take you to websites designed to get your personal data. They could be phishing for information. Just don't click on any unfamiliar links! Believe your email bot when they alert you to dangerous links. DON'T CLICK!
Spoofed phone numbers/robocalls
The scam: As demonstrated in the story about Marge (the story was completely made up, but based on actual calls I have personally received from a number appearing to be the Social Security Administration) spammers are using spoofed phone numbers to look like they are calling from some government agency. They are also making robocalls pretending to be debt collectors or from a local police department, sheriff's office, or U.S. Marshall's office. With spoofed numbers, the callers appear to be legitimate and credible. The robocalls sound very conversational. They are recordings dialed by a robot. But older people or non-native English speakers might not be able to tell the difference.
The solution: In the United States, government agencies NEVER initiate contact by phone. Ever. They send letters. If you receive a phone call or message identified as from a government agency, hang up. Don't engage. Don't call the number they leave. Call your local agency. Ask if the message is real. If you do happen to answer the call, always insist on them putting their request in writing and send it through the mail. Scammers will refuse to do this. The mail is traceable. Committing fraud through the U.S. Postal Service is a felony crime.
You can easily determine whether the robocall is from a legitimate debt collector. They, too send letters. If you happen to answer a call, always insist they send a letter. Law enforcement or process servers NEVER call ahead or give you a courtesy call before serving papers. If they did, people would just leave to avoid being served. They also NEVER ask for money. That is the job of a judge in a legal court setting. Another dead giveaway is the use of language. In the example above, based on an actual call I received, the guy on the other end did not correctly state the name of the agency, did not use proper terminology. "There is a problem with your social." Ask yourself, "My social what? Social distancing? Social studies class?" If you are speaking to a live person or listening to a recording and they do not get the terminology correct, you will know it is a scam.
Previously cryptocurrency exchanges were the main sources of crypto wealth for hackers. Now hackers have directed their attention to other places, such as online crypto wallets, as well. One of the biggest such hacks occurred in June 2020, when hackers stole 1 million customer email addresses by breaching the email and marketing databases for Ledger, a France-based crypto wallet company. They also stole personal details for 9,500 customers and published 242,000 of the customer email addresses on a website for hacked databases. At the end of 2019, cryptocurrency exchange Poloniex suffered a similar breach and had to email its customers asking them to reset their passwords.
Social media has become a potent and powerful force in mainstream society. Its rise has paralleled Bitcoin’s increased visibility in media conversations. And so, it is not surprising that hackers are using social media's reach to target Bitcoin holders. They have taken to creating fake social media accounts to solicit Bitcoin from followers or directly hacking popular Twitter accounts.
Perhaps the most famous instance of this occurred in July 2020 when Twitter accounts belonging to famous individuals and companies were hacked. Some of the accounts that were compromised were those belonging to tech entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Bill Gates, investor Warren Buffett, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., and companies like Apple and Uber.
Hackers gained access to Twitter’s administrative console and posted tweets from these accounts, asking their followers to send money to the specified blockchain address. They promised that user funds would be doubled and sent back as a charitable gesture. According to reports, 320 transactions occurred within minutes of the tweets being posted.
Twitter is not the only social media platform afflicted with Bitcoin scams. Video sharing platform YouTube has a similar problem. In July 2020, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak filed a lawsuit against Google because his conversations regarding Bitcoin were being featured in cryptocurrency giveaway scam videos. Such videos also promised to double crypto amounts for users who promised to send their coins to a blockchain address mentioned in the video. Seventeen other individuals have also filed a lawsuit against YouTube because they were duped by cryptocurrency giveaway videos.
Social engineering scams are scams in which hackers use psychological manipulation and deceit to gain control of vital information relating to user accounts. Phishing is widely used in social engineering scams. In phishing, hackers send an email to targets with fraudulent links to a website specially created to solicit important details, such as bank account information and personal details, from their targets."
This email allegedly came from Western Union.
But, notice the tells that it is a scam. The first giveaway is the improper grammar used.
The second giveaway is their request for your personal details.
The third giveaway is the contact information at the bottom.
In addition, if you hover your cursor over the sender of the email you will see the email address from which the letter is being sent. If it is from the agency allegedly contacting you, it will say so in the address.
In a happy coincidence, as I was researching and outlining this article I came across an article by @MintDice detailing ransomware scams. The article covers this topic very well so I will let you read it rather than re-hashing it here. Bitcoin Ransomware Attacks: News & Protection
If you have older people in your life or anyone you think might be susceptible to scams of any kind, please share these articles with them. Please be careful and use common sense before calling or clicking. Don't volunteer your personal data and always double-check the source of the request. Report phishing and spam phone calls/emails/direct messages. Don't let the spammers win!
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