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Scammers and how to thwart them

Beware of scammers: cybercriminals are rife and will dig into every online source they can to access your information

Scammers are pure evil and absolutely brilliant, a devastating combination. They can mimic any person, service, website, phone caller, regional accent, technical support anywhere, any time. They target the elderly and other deemed technically illiterate communities.

Scenario one

A peaceful morning. She is working on her computer, answering e-mails, and checking some investment activity. Suddenly, her computer screen flashes red, orange, green and then freezes. Perhaps just a malfunction – tried rebooting – no effect.

“I’m being hacked,” she thought, “what do I do now?” Within ten minutes, the phone rings. On the line is a knowledgeable-sounding gentleman who says, “I’m with Microsoft Support Service. I see you are having problems with your computer, and you might have just been hacked.”

Wow, what amazing service! She is so happy she does not have to start from scratch.

Then, the litany begins, verify name, age, date of birth, kind of computer, serial number, password, what happened, and on and on, the Microsoft person sorting and trying various things – all of which are fake, and of course, don’t return the computer to normal status as yet.

Then, comes the fee discussion – for a reasonable $200, we can repair this on the spot. We’ll simply deduct the amount directly from your bank / investment account without you having to leave your desk since you can give us direct access to your banking information.

By the way, the individual does not have more than one screen open, so has no way of knowing that the fake Microsoft team has actually accessed her bank account.

Here comes the real play.

He says: “It appears that your account has overpaid us by $2,000. Can you just verify your bank account number and your password, so that we can refund the overbalance to you.” She provides the information.

Zippo!

And $2,000-plus empties her account.

Appalling how sophisticated this hacker operation is:

They know her phone number, address, age, home ownership, mortgage, vehicles, price of home and taxes, population demographic, banks nearby, citizenship, state and country and more. All of these from public sources and readers disclosing all sorts of casual conversation facts on social media platforms.

It’s easy pickings.

Scenario two

The phone call arrived while he was driving. “Amazon calling, we found an old invoice that you never paid, yet such and such equipment was shipped to your home.

The $800 bill needs to be paid immediately or your account is cancelled.

At this time, Amazon is having difficulty processing credit card payments, so please purchase 4 gift cards for $200 each, then call us back at XXXXXX phone number and give us the serial access codes of the gift cards.”

He is so taken aback, that it never occurs to him to go to Amazon’s website to confirm the overdue invoice on his account. He drives immediately to a convenience store, purchases the gift cards. Once home, just before he calls the scammers back, happens to see a warning on a TV programme about scammers’ methodology. He accesses his Amazon account – there is no such overdue invoice.

For every individual and household compromised by scammer or hacker, there follows at least two weeks of remedial work, such as:

• Close all accounts

• Open new ones with new passwords and account numbers

• Cancel standing order payments – for everyday expenses

• Cancel credit/debit cards

• Computer hard drive wiped clean

• Phone number changed – unlisted

• All passwords changed

• Uneasily, having to walk around with large amounts of cash until all new accounts opened and cleared for use.

What seems to happen to normal, logically thinking people when an event occurs – logic goes out the window as uncertainty, panic sets in.

In hindsight, individuals realise that they felt the calls were not legitimate, but the “Microsoft technician” was so persuasive, sympathetic and knowledgeable.

They feel ashamed they were duped so easily, at the same time as feeling tremendous gratitude that it wasn’t worse.

Who are the biggest targets?

• The elderly, who are not compos mentis

• Anyone isolated from news, contacts, community

• Any adult, who is disabled, or ill

• Anyone who has not kept up with recent smart phone/computer/digital developments

• Individuals who are not practising careful, consistent digital security protection

• And astonishingly, young people

Security protection suggestions

• Upgrade your knowledge and be aware of global occurrences

• Take advantage of online free classes all over the internet on good digital processes and cybersecurity

• Secure your passwords. How many still using 12345678 for a password, or your birthday, or anniversary date?

• Control the amount of personal information that you post on social media, you do not have to pour your heart out at every posting.

Biggest warning of them all

Do not open the e-mail that mimics someone you know, or an account you have.

Do not reply, do not respond to any, let me repeat that, any e-mail that tells you to just click here to your bank account, Facebook / other social media posting, an order, say from Amazon, monthly statements, IRS, social security / social insurance account, magazine subscription, credit card problem, vehicle repair service, and more.

Always ignore those e-mails.

Go directly to your bank, Amazon, investment provider’s website, login and review your account to verify any information. Call your phone company and internet provider directly – using the legitimate phone number on your monthly record of invoices.

Then, if you have not deleted these e-mails, forward them to your internet provider labelled as scam.

Similarly for anyone contacting you asking to use your account to store money, or an inheritance that you know nothing about.

Do not get chatty with a pretend US IRS person or “taking a survey” phone calls, asking for your social security number, telling you there is a credit card fraud problem, etc. Hang up immediately.

And never, ever send money, charge a credit card or gift card to people who appear to represent a legitimate account, or a fabulous investment pushed by a well-dressed, but no-credentials salesperson, or a pretend relative in severe financial distress.

Notify Bermuda’s Department of Consumer Affairs. And read their online advice on scams here, https://www.gov.bm/how-avoid-and-report-scams. It’s a comprehensive section – they are aware.

Be vigilant, be aware, protect your assets. Do not feel badly. These scammers are relentless.

According to the US Federal Trade Commission, there are 4. 8 million different scams, hacks happening every day – with annual losses in the billions.

References

“What 4.8 million scams look like”, by Minh-Anh Nguyen, Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2021-us-scams-junk-texts-bitcoin-schemes/?srnd=premium&sref=70aFFrqe

Martha Harris Myron, CPA JSM, a native Bermudian, is the author of The Bermuda Islander Financial Planning Primers, international financial consultant to the Olderhood Group International, and financial columnist to The Royal Gazette. All proceeds from these articles are donated by The Royal Gazette to the Salvation Army, Bermuda. Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com

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Published July 10, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated July 12, 2021 at 8:05 am)

Scammers and how to thwart them

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