Ken's Korner Newsletter Logo September 2019
How to avoid the scammers.

It is an “inconvenient truth” but there is at least a scam a minute going on these days. And the Internet is like the wild west making many of these scammers rich at your expense.

Many of these scams originate in foreign countries that are hostile to the United States. Prosecuting the perpetrators is about impossible. They are local heroes and their country isn't going to hand them over to the US. It is more likely that Vladimir, (alternatively Xi, Kim or Hassan) will give them an apartment in Moscow and their own brand of vodka. Alternatively an apartment in Beijing, Pyongyang or Tehran with their own brand of baijiu, soju or just a room full of virgins.

Even for the scams that originate here in the US prosecution is difficult at best. And if they do catch the cyber criminal your chance of any kind of restitution is about zero. If you are the victim of a scam report it. While you may not be able to get your money back you might help prevent the next person on their list from getting scammed too.

So what can you do to protect yourself in a connected world?

The first and most important thing is to be aware that these scams exist. When dealing with uninvited contacts from people or businesses, whether it is over the phone, by mail, by e-mail, on a social networking website or in person, always consider the possibility that this could be a scam. The old adage that, “if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true” is good advice to follow

It's a Scam! Know who you're dealing with. If you have never met the other party in person or are unsure of the legitimacy of a business a bit of research might be in order. Do a Google image search on photos or search the Internet for others who have dealings with them. If a message ostensibly comes from a friend but it seems unusual or out of character contact them directly to see if the message was really sent by them.

Don't respond to phone calls about your computer asking for remote access. Just hang up on them, even if they mention a well known company or threaten you with some dire consequence for your inaction. Scammers who want you to turn on your computer so they can fix some problem are actually just trying to get personal information from your computer.

Keep your personal detail secure. Lock your mailbox and shred your bills and other important documents before you toss them in the trash. Keep your passwords and PIN numbers in a safe place. Be wary of how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or target you with a scam.

Phony phone calls are a common scam, especially targeting seniors. Calls that start with “Hello grandma” (or grandpa) are designed to play on your emotions. If you can't bring yourself to just hang up on them then try a little detective work. Don't volunteer the name of a relative, instead ask, “Who is this?” and see if they hang-up right away. Since most people who have grandchildren usually have more than one, maybe lots more and it can be hard to identify people over the phone this is not an illegitimate response.

Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments from emails. Just delete them! If you are unsure of the validity of the message verify the identity through an independent source like a phone book or on-line search. Don't use the contact information provided in the message.

Keep your mobile devices and computers secure. Always use password or PIN protection and don't share access with others either directly or remotely. Keep your software updated and backup content just in case. Avoid using public computers or public Wi-Fi networks to access on-line banking or provide personal information. If you do a lot of traveling at home or overseas you might consider getting a VPN to keep your data secure.

Choose your passwords carefully. It has been shown that complex passwords aren't really any more secure than simple passwords. The real key is the length of the password, longer is better! If possible use a pass phrase and if the system you are using will permit blank spaces use them. Another trick is using “camel text”, (ThisIsAnExampleOfCamelText) or “snake text”, (this_is_an_example_of_snake_text) in your password. Don't use things like your birthday, anniversary, spouses name or pets name and stay away from obvious passwords like “password”, “mypassword” or “12345678”.

Be suspicious of any requests for your details or money. Never send money, give credit card details, on-line account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don't know and trust. Don't agree to transfer money or goods for someone else because money laundering is a criminal act and you could be liable.

Don't deposit a check from someone and then send them the cash. Banks are required to make the funds available within a few days but it can take weeks to find out that the check was a fake, forged, counterfeit of just written on an account that had been closed. You will be liable to pay the money back to the bank if that turns out to be the case.

Be apprehensive about unusual payment requests. Scammers will try to get you to use an unusual payment method like preloaded debit cards, iTunes cards, gift cards or digital currency like Bitcoin. While legitimate credit card companies offer fraud protection these other payment methods do not and there is little chance you could ever get your money back.

Be wary of unusual delivery methods too. Requests to ship goods to foreign countries, particularly when the situation in those countries is unstable should raise a big red flag. For example many of the major credit card companies will not accept purchases from China because of a long history of difficulty dealing with the banks in that country.

Be very careful when shopping on line. Beware of offers that seem too good to be true. Use a shopping service that you can trust. Think twice about using a digital currency like Bitcoin since it is nearly impossible to get your money back once you send it. If possible use a separate card that you have to load funds on to and keep a very low balance on that account. Many banks now offer cards like BBVA's Clearspend for just that reason.

Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust like, a government official, family member or charity. Don't give out personal information or send money in response to an unexpected request.

Do on-line searches. Type a company or product name into any major search engine with words like “scam” or “complaint” You can also search for a phone number or phrase like “IRS called me” and see if anyone else has reported them and what kind of reviews they have.

Hang up on Robocalls! If you answer the phone and hear a recoded sales pitch hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal and the goods and/or services are usually bogus. Don't press one to talk to a person or be taken off a list. This most likely will just lead to even more robocalls.

Don't believe your caller ID. The technology exists to fake caller ID information so the name and number you see may not be the true identity of the caller. If there is a chance that the caller might be legit, (like maybe your bank) hang up and call them back with a number you know is genuine.

Be skeptical of free trial offers. It may be free at first but then turn into another monthly expense that could be huge and for a service that you may decide you don't want. Before you agree to a free trial research the company and review their cancellation policy.

Don't pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for something like debit relief, mortgage assistance or a job. Another common scam is to say that you have won a prize but you have to pay taxes or shipping first. If you do pay upfront they will probably just take the money and disappear.

Stop, wait and think about this for a while. Con artist want you to make a decision in a hurry before you realize what they are up to. They may even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do some research. A legitimate sales operation will understand in fact most sales don't happen until after about the third call. What's the hurry?

Internet Dating Scam!

Online Dating Scams

There are basically two types of online dating scams:
  1. Money requests!
    Romance scammers who use sweet talk to steal money from their victims are so common that this is usually the first thing that comes to mind when people think of the pitfalls of online dating.
  2. Extortion!
    This usually doesn't happen until after the talk, shared photographs and webcam chats turn intimate. Then the scammer lets the cat out of the bag and demands money in exchange for not sharing the content with the rest of the world.

These scams can occur on many of the social media sites, not just the online dating sites. So you could become a victim even if you're not a member of the online dating scene.

Some tips to protect you from online dating scams.

Stick to the website! Don't take the conversation to a platform outside the dating website, at least not until you have adequate reasons to trust this person. The dating site should have safeguards in place to delete the accounts of users who don't follow the rules of the site.

Hold on to your money! Never give money or other property to anyone you meet online. It doesn't matter how long you've been chatting. If the other “person” needs money and doesn't have any “real life: means of getting it that should be a red flag alert. Is this really someone you should be associating with?

Watch out for tricks! Some of the most common tactics include claims that the other person has an out-of-town job to explain why they can't communicate with you regularly. What the scammer is really saying is that they have to divide their time among the other people they are trying to scam. It is also a lead up to a request for money such as being deployed and unable to access their bank account.

Beware of fast forward! Flattery, pet names and promises of lifelong romance that come far to soon in a relationship should be suspect. In real life you probably run as fast as you could from someone who started talking marriage on your second date. There is even more reason to be cautious of someone who is too quick to latch onto you over the Internet.

Do some research! Use your favorite search engine to search for the potential lover online. Does the information such as city, state and education match? You can also do a picture search and see if this is really a picture of the other person. Many devices like cell phones take pictures that include data as to the time and location where the picture was taken. If the picture is of a young person but the bio information you find online is for a middle aged person this might be a sign of trouble. Deception like that might make you reconsider if you want to continue the relationship.

Take time to think! Trust your friends and family. If the people around you are worried about your online affair that doesn't mean that you should stop. But it does indicate that you might be a little too blinded by romance to see what they are seeing. Look over your past messages to each other and proceed with caution

Language skills that don't match the background can be another clue. If the person is supposedly a high school English teacher in Kansas but the language skills don't seem up to that level this could be a sign of a scammer. English might not be the language of the country they are actually operating from.

Falling in love can be a wonderful thing. But before you let someone steal your heart online make sure they're not just after your bank account or identity.

Here are some other guidelines to help you avoid the scammers

Tips for spotting a fake document or email:

  • A generic rather than a personal greeting.
  • Names of organizations that don't exist
  • Mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling
  • Poor quality presentation
  • Overly official or forced language.

Documents such as flight itineraries and bank statements usually have simple, uncomplicated layouts even when they are legitimate so that customers can easily print online statements. However this means that scammer can easily create fake documents by using information available online such as company logos and graphics from websites.

Scammers tend to take advantage of you when you're feeling vulnerable and try to extract more money from you through a follow up scam. Some common follow up scams could be:
  • Offers ostensibly from a law enforcement agency to investigate your scam and retrieve your money for a fee. Law enforcement agencies do not charge for their services.
  • A doctor calling to alert you that the scammer urgently needs to have medical bills paid or they might die.
  • A woman contacts you explaining that she is the scammer's wife and wants to leave him but needs money to do so.
These are just a few of the follow up schemes that scammers might use to try and get even more money from you figuring that if you could be scammed in the first case you are a now known commodity. New approaches could be very different from the original scam and could come right on the heels of the first scam or much later. Scammers may have passed information about you to other scammers who use entirely different methods so the follow up may seem totally unrelated to the original scam.

If you have been scammed change all of your passwords immediately. And even if you feel like a real dupe for having been scammed report it to the appropriate authorities like the bank, online shopping site, online dating site, IRS or whatever organization the scammers claimed to be from. The more information law enforcement has the better the chances are that they catch the scammers. It is also necessary to minimize the damage to yourself and your financial future.



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