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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Oh, the scammers online are frightful


Oh, the scammers online are frightful, and the deals they offer seem delightful. No matter what you think you know, let it go, let it go, let it go (to the tune of 1945’s Let it Snow by Vaughn Monroe with the Norton Sisters).

‘Tis the season to find ourselves awash in good tidings and, well, consumerism. While it’s only partly tongue in cheek, we must be honest with ourselves. We spend a lot of money online. Often, we find ourselves leaving things to the last minute and hope that the delivery folks can make the magic happen and send us all the widgets and grapple grommets while we surf the Internet from the safety of our sofas with coffee in hand.

But, not every deal is what it appears to be. Scammers are always lurking in the void of the Internet waiting for a chance to fleece the unexpecting from their hard-earned money. This can manifest itself to the unsuspecting in many ways. There are shipping frauds, gift card giveaways and vishing (phone-based scams).

Scams tend to rely on generating a false sense of urgency. The shipping scam emails often show up in our inboxes as a warning about a missed or delayed package that will be sent back to the point of origin if we don’t answer quickly. Of course, this requires a payment to receive the fictitious package.

These types of shipping scam emails are quite effective this time of year when more often than naught many people have enough orders coming to their house to make a fort with the empty boxes.

The other kinds of attacks are the gift card scams and vishing. The first of which taps into the sense of excitement that a person might receive something for free. “Fill out this form with your credit card information for a chance to win a $200 gift card.” Sadly, this attack works well for older generations  for which giveaways were more common and they aren’t as accustomed to spotting digital swindlers.

The last scam that we will tackle here is often labeled as vishing or voice phishing. This is a method whereby the attackers call a victim and attempt to convince their target that they need to do something which will lead to the exposure of financial information while pressuring the victim to think if they don’t act quickly that they will miss an opportunity for personal gain.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned scams really bring in a lot of return for the criminal element. In 2021, over 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion. This represents a 74 percent increase in losses over losses reported in 2020.

One additional scam that plays on the heart strings is the romance scams. A lot of single people find themselves lonely during the holidays and can be manipulated into thinking that they’ve found a romantic match. But this can drain the bank accounts as well.

In 2021, the IC3 received reports from 7,658 victims who experienced over $432 million in losses to Confidence Fraud/Romance scams. This type of fraud accounts for the highest losses reported by victims over the age of 60.

All these attacks prey on people’s emotional responses. So, how do we prepare ourselves? We need to make knowledge a capability and arm ourselves with information that will help us avoid being taken advantage of by criminals.

Passwords are a significant exposure. They are the digital equivalent of a house key. A password will work for anyone that has access to it. We need to utilize technologies such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) on websites where it is possible to do so. So even if bad actors have our password, the victim still needs to approve the login.

If we don’t have the option to use MFA it would be an excellent idea to make use of a password manager. This is a way to safely store passwords and not fall into the trap of reusing passwords on multiple sites. Attackers bank on human nature and if we use the same credentials on multiple sites there is a high possibility that the criminals could gain access to other sites if they compromise just one.

I’m usually one to eschew the practice of New Year’s resolutions but I’ll make an exception. Keep a keen sense about yourselves whenever you receive an email or SMS that you were not expecting. If a deal is too good to be true then, well, it most likely is a scam. If you’re in doubt, try to look up the phone number, email address, person or “organization” offering the “deal.” More often than not, you’ll find lots of people reporting that it’s a scam.

Rather than being visited by the three ghosts of holiday scams, make sure you and your loved ones are prepared for a happy holiday and a prosperous New Year.


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