Beware of Sophisticated Phone and Internet Scams

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

Internet scams, fake, fraud, rip-offThe internet has expanded into every aspect of our lives and, as technology advances, so does the sophistication of internet scamming. It preys on the human emotions of fear, greed and sympathy.

Each year over five million Americans fall victim to scammers, and the annual cost of scams in the United States exceeds $10 billion.  Exploitation of the elderly is rampant, and losses approach $37 billion a year.

Perpetrators count on the ignorance and naiveté—and even the shame—of being scammed. For every reported case of fraud, 50 go unreported.

I am not that gullible and when it comes to detecting an scam, I’m as smart as the next person. Until I was the next person, and came face to face with the reality of sophisticated internet scams.

Fake Delivery Scam

We belong to an on-line neighborhood community. It provides an easy way of reporting lost pets, asking for recommendations and services and—our newest addition—scam alerts.

fake delivery, deliveryman, delivery scamWe are all on guard for the fake delivery scam making the rounds. It begins with a stolen credit card, used to place an expensive electronics order like a laptop or smart phone, from a reputable merchant. It arrives on your doorstep but you didn’t order it.

Within minutes a delivery person shows up apologizing for the incorrect delivery, fake return label in hand, and takes the package back. If you go to the trouble of opening the package and calling customer service or visiting the web site shown on the invoice those are also fake and part of the scam.

Counterfeit and Non-existent Merchandise

When it sounds too good to be true it is. Scammers count on human nature and our desire to score a bargain. A classic con is the fake pet purchase or adoption; web sites offering animals at prices far below market value, complete with photos and authentication papers.The animals don’t exist, never arrive, and you are out the wire transfer or MoneyGram payment the seller insisted on. This Buyer Beware lesson is a harsh one to learn.


Phishing never gets old. It’s designed to trick the user into handing over their passwords, often through professional-looking emails claiming to be trustworthy businesses. The endgame is acquisition of personal information, like credit card and Social Security numbers.

Familiarity fraud is a common online tactic aimed at people who are active on social media. Photos, friends, and personal details of your life are up for grabs to a determined hacker and you help them get it each time you take an online quiz.

The Phone Text Scam

I was in Barcelona on business and received a text from my boss. I was in a taxi, heading back to my hotel, when he asked me to purchase ten Google Play Store Gift Cards for $100 each. He was with a customer who needed them for incentives.  My first instinct was to agree. This is a person I know well and trust.

scammer calling, internet scams, phone scams, fraudHe asked me to buy the cards and provide the activation code on the back by photographing and texting them to him. It was almost 9 p.m. so I said I would do it first thing in the morning. He asked me to do it immediately.

I tried calling him and got no answer, then received a text saying he was in a meeting.  I replied, saying I would purchase the cards as soon as we talked. That’s when things got interesting. He demanded (not his style) that I go to Walmart or Target immediately and buy the cards. We were in Spain and suddenly I knew.

The scammer could not know where I was, but had I been in the U.S. it might have ended badly.

Another popular scam happens when you answer the phone and the caller asks, “Can you hear me?”  When you respond, your voice is recorded to create a voice signature that will be used to authorize fraudulent charges over the phone. Don’t answer unfamiliar numbers.

Malware and Virus Scams

Most people, including me, lack the technical skills to find malware and viruses and this type of fraud is popular for that reason.

Scammers contact potential victims by identifying themselves as a technician from a well-established company like Microsoft. They claim they’ve detected a problem with your computer software and will fix it at no charge but need access to the system.  Once in, they infect the system and copy personal data.

The IRS and Social Security

The pretend IRS agent, calling from an offshore call center and barely able to speak English, is all too real. The sheriff is coming, he knows where I live or work, and I have a short window to pay what I owe and stop my arrest. It’s funny until you realize someone somewhere fell for it.

IRS phone scam, telephone fraud, scam alertPhone scammers also call individuals and tell them their Social Security number is compromised. They claim the number is deactivated for their protection and offer to reactivate it when you provide the full number to confirm your identity. Some scammers threaten victims who refuse to cooperate.

Legitimate government employees will never ask for full Social Security numbers over the phone.

Scammers will pose as collection agencies, threatening lawsuits, imminent arrest, and wage garnishing. The only way out is immediate payment (no checks or money orders) with an Apple iPay or similar type card. They know your credit and payment history, making this a clever and convincing scam.

Internet Scams: Fool Me Once…

Today’s scammers are organized criminals with a long reach. Be wary of anyone asking for personal information or any transactions involving wire transfers, gift cards or other unconventional payment method. It’s impossible to know them all but knowledge and a suspicious mind are still the best deterrents.

Here is an excellent summary of primary and secondary internet scams. The target is always money and it is important to understand the techniques scammers use to access and exploit private information and financial data. Be informed. Stay safe.