Are you aware of the terms identity theft, scammers or phishing?
I guess since we live in 2021 we all should be more or less aware of these terms even though we might not know exactly what they mean.
Let me start this post by giving the explanations of these terms.
According to Cambridge dictionary a scammer is a person who commits fraud or participates in a dishonest scheme.
Phishing, on the other hand, is a type of social engineering attack often used to steal user data, including login credentials and credit card numbers. It occurs when an attacker, masquerading as a trusted entity, dupes a victim into opening an email, instant message, or text message (https://www.imperva.com/learn/application-security/phishing-attack-scam/).
Identity (ID) theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud. The identity thief may use your information to apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name (https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft).
As some of you may know, I have studied informatics and worked in IT companies for several years, so I consider myself a bit more aware of the many faces of scamming than most people are. However, it has happened to me also and all I have to say is that only one moment of less attention is enough.
Let me share some personal scammer experiences.
The Credit / Debit Card Scammer Websites
This must have happened more than 10 years ago. I was so eager to buy a specific and old limited edition of a book that I just couldn’t wait. I had searched about it in every bookstore online and managed to find it in only one which I had never visited before. Everything seemed ok and there was nothing that could make me suspect that something was wrong.
When something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
The first mistake I made was that I wanted to have that book as soon as possible, so I did not take time to do any research regarding the credibility of the specific online bookstore. I proceeded and made the purchase using my debit card.
When I pushed the button to pay it seemed like I had a problem loading the page. I got no confirmation that the payment was completed nor that it was not. I suspected that something was wrong so I did not repeat the process to buy the book again, but I took no further action, just closed my browser and forgot about it. The damage was done.
The scammers had already collected my debit card info. Smart thing on their behalf is that they did no transaction using my card for more than a month. I even forgot that something out of the ordinary ever happened.
Back then I used to check on my bank account transactions on specific days every month and paid attention only to transactions that were over 50 euros. This is why I missed what they were doing for more than a year.
Check your transactions regularely.
They would collect 20 euros out of my account every month and within the period I would probably not check my account. When I realized what was happening I had already lost the total amount of 300 euros.
I know you might say that 20 euro is not such a great amount. But what if they do it to hundreds or thousands of people at the same time?
When I found out what was happening I checked all my transactions to check how back would that go and realized that it was happening every month (not on specific date) for more than a year. I contacted my bank and canceled my card, also sent them a report of all these transactions that were not done by me. The bank refunded me with the lost amount and it ended there.
The Family Emergency Scam
Last week some lady called my mother crying and impersonating me while she was telling her that I was involved in a car accident and I would lose my leg if I don’t get surgery right away. For the surgery to take place money was needed and to make it easy for her somebody would go to her house to collect the money.
I had informed my mother about this type of fraud and since I live away she suspected them. She just let her finish what she had to say, wished her luck and hung up the phone. She then called my mobile to say good morning and when made sure that I was fine she told me what had happened and we informed the police.
Contact the person in need yourself through the contact information you have.
The same day my aunt, which is over 90 years old with lots of medical issues, had a similar call. She totally believed it and almost collapsed out of her fear. They were asking for money and she had none since she had not received her pension for the month yet. She was in awful condition because she felt that she could not help her daughter.
When the scammers were convinced my aunt really had no money they could steal they hung up. She immediately called her son to inform him about the accident and ask him for money. He suspected the fraud. Her daughter was fine of course but my aunt was terrified for days afterwards.
The PayPal Scam Email
Few days ago a friend of mine, who was selling a piece of furniture through a really credible site, was contacted by someone who wanted to purchase it. The contact was through email but was really normal. Nothing strange that could make you suspect. They talked a bit about the price and when they both agreed she asked my friend for a PayPal account where she could deposit the amount and she would take it through a shipping agency.
Especially this part of the PayPal account made my friend feel even more confident that it was ok. The “buyer” even asked my friend for her Viber account to contact her when the deposit would be completed so that she won’t miss it. When the deposit order was given she told her that she would receive an email and had to reply that she accepts the deposit in her PayPal account.
My friend had not used PayPal again for money exchange between 2 individuals so she was not aware of the process. But it did not seem strange to request permission for a transaction when money is involved.
What should seem suspicious is that the email asking for permission went to Junk emails and not normal Inbox as the rest of PayPal emails. However, she was eager to complete the process and continue whatever else she was doing. After all she was just going to accept money to be deposited in her account. Nothing more. And we are talking about PayPal accounts. What is the worst thing that could happen?
The email she received was using PayPal logos and formal language convincing enough that it was what it was supposed to be. She replied that she accepted the transaction and minutes afterwards she received another email from “PayPal” stating that her acceptance was binding and what she had accepted was a deposit of a much larger amount in her account which also included the fees of the shipping agency that was supposed to transfer the furniture.
Verify the validity of each request involves money transactions by contacting directly the sender through official contact information, not the contact information that exists in the email that looks suspicious.
In order for the full amount to be released and end up in my friend’s account she should first deposit the amount to the shipping agency on its web site using her card. Of course my friend did not visit any hyperlink nor did she even think of paying anything. She decided to keep the furniture and search for another buyer.
However, having in mind that the communication was with PayPal, she replied to this second email that she denies the transaction. This second email was full of disclaimers about the PayPal policy on online transactions and all the laws that protect peoples’ money.
After the denial email was sent, her Viber did not stop…The “buyer” kept on calling her to increase the pressure on her. My friend did not answer the calls and then messages kept coming saying in a few words that “You stole my money! You will get in trouble and get arrested”.
At the same time another email arrived again from PayPal stating that her denial to accept the transaction she had already accepted was illegal and that she should face the law if she did not complete the requested payment within 3 hours.
Scammers try to evoke fear and make you believe that you are in danger.
My friend, terrified forwarded me the emails asking for my advice and updated me about the full story. I advised her to continue not answering the calls or messages. To contact her bank and PayPal to report what happened and afterwards to contact the police.
Of course it was not PayPal behind this. My friend’s bank and PayPal account were not in danger since she did not proceed with giving away her card information.
How To Protect Yourself From Scams
1. Stay Alerted For Scammers As Much As Possible.
It would be nice if everyone was honest and legal but scammers do exist. Be extra careful with your personal information. Potentially any new contact could be a scammer.
2. Try To Be Aware Of Who You Are Contacting.
Either we talk about a person or about a business, like an online store, try to do your research and find out more, use google search or check if you know somebody else who has met them or shopped from there. If a friend of yours or just somebody of your contacts sends you a message that you find strange, try to contact him / her directly to confirm that the message was sent by them.
3. Be Extra Careful With e-Mail Attachments And Hyperlinks
When you receive emails that for some reason seem suspicious do not open attachments or click on hyperlinks. If the contact is let’s say your bank or PayPal asking for your action verify the validity of the request by contacting directly to the sender through contact information you get from another source, eg. Google search. Do not use the contact information that exists in the suspicious email.
4. Be Careful While Doing Online Transactions
Do not share your bank cards info unless you are absolutely sure that the specific site is trustworthy and secure. While doing an online transaction if something out of the ordinary happens, you should better leave the transaction for later. Try to contact someone to report the incident, either the e-shop or your bank. If it is not possible, check your account regularly for strange transactions.
5. Make Sure All Your Personal Information Are Secured
Share sensitive information carefully and only with people you trust. Do not share too much of your personal information on Social Media. Make sure you review your social media account security settings. When you identify something suspicious in social media make sure you report it.
6. Make Good Use Of Passwords
Secure all your accounts, computers, mobile devices and Wi-Fi network with passwords. Try to memorize all of them and don’t have them written anywhere. If that is not possible make sure that you keep them somewhere where they are secured. Make sure you choose secure and complicated passwords that you change them regularly. Do not use the same password everywhere.
7. Be Extra Careful With Unfamiliar Payment Methods
When you are asked to use a payment method which you have not used before you should better avoid it. If you have reasons to believe that this new method is safe, try to do your research and / or ask a friend of yours whom you know that is familiar with it to make sure about all relevant details. Avoid using visual currencies eg. Bitcoin as these transaction methods are not as protected as other transaction methods. This means that once you send your money you won’t get them back.
I used to receive those emails about the lottery ticket I won or the heritage that a rich lost relative had left for me for which I should pay a small amount of money for the legal issues to have the foul amount and I was thinking that these scammers are looking out for fools.
Yes, some of the methods scammers use are absolutely ridiculous for somebody who is even the least suspicious. But nowadays they evolve their methods and become more sophisticated. They try to become as believable as possible. The more suspicious people get the more sophisticated the scammers become.
Scammers want to take advantage of your even one minute of not paying enough attention. They use human feelings to their benefit. They want to cause you fear and frustration in order to make you not think clearly.
Scammers target everyone and we all might be vulnerable to scammers from time to time. Protect yourself and stay safe!
Did you have any similar experience?
More information you may find at the following links:
- ID Theft – Informative video by Strathfield Council