Scams, Parasites, and How to Identify Them

A not-so-fun topic for today. Sorry in advance.

An older woman that I know is getting scammed. Really badly. Not just because she's confused, but because she's far gone enough mentally that she believes her family is trying to steal from her and the "nice man on the phone" is really trying to help her acquire her sweepstakes winnings. It started out as a generic, "You've won! But we need $5 to process your winnings." Sounds familiar, right?

Turns out, when you keep sending in the $5, the amount progresses up to $25, $100, and higher. The latest development is the involvement of the "IRS" who need $100,000 in "taxes" before she can "receive her winnings."

And she believes them! And nothing her family says or does seems to change her mind that these people are not "the bad people" and that her family really is trying to help her.

It is incredibly sad to watch this unfold, and it is incredibly frustrating that there are human beings out there who are so unscrupulous and so fucking lazy that they would rather take money from old people, the money those older folksneed to survive, than have to put in some actual effort and work a real job like the rest of us.

Who are these people? How did they get like that?

I can almost understand when you steal from a store, or a company. It's a larger, impersonal entity. And the public opinion of corporations in general is pretty low. That doesn't make it right, but it doesn't feel the same as harming individuals.
But to steal money from old people, who have so little, and who are without the capacity to understand or fight back? That is so fucking low. I can't even wrap my head around how someone can justify that to themselves.
It bewilders me, and it hurts, and it's not what I want to be thinking about at this time of year, but it's happening anyway. And while I can't do anything about this particular incident, maybe I can at least provide some useful information for someone else.

It's Probably a Scam if...

1. Your credit card company calls YOU and then asks you to enter your credit information.

If there's a problem with your account, you should receive an automated call (or message)that lets you know and asks you to call them. They don't handle your account information unless you have called them.

What To Do: If this ever happens, tell them you'll call them back. Call the OFFICIAL NUMBER for your credit card companyand verify that there's a problem. Most likely there isn't.

2. Microsoft (or any other software/computer/IT company) calls to say you have a virus.

Once you purchase all the stuff for your computer, there's no one monitoring it, and no one who will know if you get a virus. They might ask you to follow troubleshooting steps, which is a way for them to infect your computer so they can sell you the fix for it, or they might just try to get your credit card information in exchange for virus protection you don't need.

What To Do: Hang up. You probably don't have a virus and that's not Microsoft. If you're worried about it, feel free to hire someone like the Geek Squad from Best Buy, but don't listen to someone unless you have solicited their services.

3. You've Won! (anything)

Did you sign up for it? No? Then you didn't win. You cannot win a contest you didn't enter, and anything that requires money for you to receive your prize IS NOT REAL.

What To Do: Ignore it. Everyone gets this type of email and phone call. It's one of the more popular scams and it can't hurt you if you don't provide personal information or send money.

4. Someone you know has sent you an "interesting" link.

Is there any personal information? Is it strangely generic without the use of your name, the sender's name, or what the link is? It's probably not from your friend/family member/contact.

What To Do: Double check the sender email - my AOL account frequently tells me emails are from one of my contacts but the email address itself is something totally random. If it really is your friend, check with them to make sure they sent it. If they did, you can open it. If they didn't, their email has been compromised and they should change their password. If it's not their email address, don't open the email and
DON'T click the link. It could be anything from click bait to a virus.

5. An email asking you to reset your password.

Quite possibly legitimate, but also possibly a scam.

What To Do: Only ever change your passwords by going directly to the website. Do NOT use the link provided in the email.

6. Someone from another country needs to transfer funds and would reward you greatly for allowing them to use your bank account.

NO!!! There is no such thing as easy money, money for nothing, or something that seems "too good to be true."

What To Do: Hopefully your email filter is catching this kind of stuff, but if not, mark it as spam and delete it.

7. A loved one has misplaced their password/bank account #/personal info and needs you to text it to them.

It's probably your loved one, but it could also be a scam artist who has picked up a lost or stolen phone.

What To Do: Only provide this type of information over the phone where you can verify your loved one's voice. Yes, a text would be easier, but it's definitely not safer.

8. Someone is selling ___ but needs the money before you can see it.

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

What To Do: Steer clear and find a seller who is more forthcoming. Never give someone money without some kind of guarantee or documentation of the transaction. This also applies to someone who creates difficulties about payment type, or changes the terms of the agreement frequently. Also, establish a level of trust before accepting checks as payment.
Those are a few examples, but there are probably more scams out therethan you or I could even conceive of. And sometimes something will be new to you and catch you off guard, or will seem honest when it's not, and there's not always a whole lot we can do about it. Here's a few tips that will hopefully help.

General Guidelines

1. Be stingy with your personal information

If someone asks for your bank account, social security number, or credit card information, make sure they have a valid reason for "needing" it.

2. Do your research

Family, friends, or even Google are all great resources to double check something that seems fishy. And checking reviews for products or sellers is a great way to make sure the product you're buying online is legitimate.

3. Be alert

The sad fact is we do have a significant number of predators in our society. These people would rather take from you than have to earn for themselves. The only way you can protect yourself is to try to stay educated, and be on the lookout for things that seem suspicious, especially with your email and anything having to do with your finances.
For a more comprehensive list of current scams and ways to deal with them, check out the FBI's list of Common Fraud Schemes. Another good resource is The National Council on Aging with Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors.

Hopefully this helps someone, although I realize that a lot of the elderly who are being targeted aren't mentally acute enough to ward off the world's parasites, and, frankly, it terrifies me to think about one day being older with new scams I don't know about and won't have the tech savvy or knowhow to fend off.

What scams have your or your acquaintances experienced? What tips would you include that I don't have up here?
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