It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money
– Comedian W. C. Fields
Mary W. described the incident this way. She was at work when a sobbing girl called. All she could understand was “in a parking lot at Walmart.” Then a male voice took the phone, told Mary he “had her daughter,” and would release her only if Mary paid thousands of dollars in cash she was to withdrew from her bank account.
The good news is that all of this time, Mary’s daughter was safe at home. But the bad news is that Mary didn’t know that, and in the terrifying moments that followed she complied with the instructions.
Mary W. was a victim of what has come to be known as the “Virtual Kidnapping Scam,” an experience so horrible that it would alarm anyone. Unfortunately, this scheme usually works, and has become all too common.
Coming For You
They are hiding in plain sight – not noticeable, but make no mistake: They are out there and determined to get you, me, and anyone else they can.
We’re talking about scammers, of course, some of the most despicable excuses for human beings out there. Even so, you probably wouldn’t recognize one even if you bumped into him or her. Years ago, even thieves had a degree of honor; but these days everything goes.
Although there’s no way to measure exactly how much money innocent people lose to their deceit each year, the sum reaches well into the billions.
Early in 2022, the Federal Trade Commission data put this number at more than $5.8 billion, an increase of more than 70 percent over the previous year; other estimates put this amount even higher. The median loss victims suffered was $3,000, but in cases of identity theft, the amounts involved sometimes are dramatically higher.
But even these numbers don’t tell the whole story, because very often there also are legal bills, damage to credit rating, time lost from work, and related issues. And there are additional issues that can’t be measured in dollars, such as the many hours of anxiety and damaged reputations.
Identity theft is not the only scam; there are many others. Consumers reported nearly 2.9 million incidents of non-identity theft in 2021, but most likely there were many more. People do not always report that they have been scammed because they are embarrassed by having been suckered, afraid of possible retaliation, or are just eager to close the door on a very unpleasant experience as quickly as possible.
How do scammers get away with it? The answer is they look, talk, and act just like everyone else, which means there is no reason to be suspicious of them. And sometimes they have obtained personal information about a victim, adding credibility to their pitch. Add to this that they are ruthless and likely have fine-tuned their skills through previous scams.
Everyone A Potential Victim
Anyone who has the impression that only seniors or naive people are victims is greatly mistaken. Statistics make very clear that people of all ages and regions can be a target, and in fact many are.
Individuals aged 21-30 made up 28% of victims scammed while making purchases, compared with only 4% who are aged 61-70, and just 2% who are over 70, according to Yahoo.Finance.UK.
On average, one in ten adults in the US is a victim of a scam or fraud every year. Even children are targeted, and 1.3 million of them have their identities stolen every year.
Going forward, scammers will likely stick with the same kinds of schemes that have worked for them in the past, such as making online purchases, or offering romance or jackpot prizes.
However, they are often updated with a new twist. They may focus on issues that are currently in the news like cryptocurrencies or student loan forgiveness programs.
According to experian.com, “Scammers’ goals—to get your personal information and money—remain the same year in and year out, but their strategies constantly change with the times.
“Fraudsters know people are most vulnerable when they’re desperate or scared, and they may use crises and pressure tactics to prey on their victims.” And they’re expert at doing that.
For example, student loan forgiveness scammers sometimes create phony application sites in order to steal the victim’s Social Security number or bank account information. Or they may pressure victims with messages urging them to apply for debt forgiveness before an imminent deadline; in the ensuing rush, the victim may let his or her guard down. There also may be a very substantial application fee – also part of the scam.
Cryptocurrency scams may try to impersonate popular personalities or pretend to be a widely-followed crypto website in an attempt to trick victims into sending money or personal information.
The technology that makes these very convincing is readily available and very inexpensive. Even when a caller ID identifies a phone call as coming from an official government agency or bank, or when an email has a “.gov” or other trusted address, it could still be a fake.
Adam Levin, co-host of What The Hack, said that the following scams are among the most popular now:
*LinkedIn phishing scam: Hackers impersonate someone’s boss to get the user to wire money to someone outside the company. There is a sense of urgency, implying that if it’s not done immediately, a contract could be lost or a relationship ruined;
*Subscription renewal scam: This one tells the intended target that he or she owes money to a computer or anti-virus company that must be paid immediately or service will be interrupted; and
*Amazon Prime scam: The caller offers unusually low prices in exchange for personal information supplied over the phone.
There are no foolproof ways of safeguarding oneself from being scammed, but the next best thing is always to be on one’s guard. “The rule is ‘Never trust, always question, always verify,’” says Levin.
For people like Mary W. and countless others who were scammed, truer words were never said. Let’s all learn from their mistakes.
Sources: aarp.org; experian.com; ftc.gov; legaljobs.io; ndis.gov.au; uk.finance.yahoo.com