FedEx Notification: Your package was picked up by a courier. Call this number to prevent additional charges.
Apple is giving away 50 FREE Apple iPads this morning…
Your iCloud account has been hacked. Go to this website…
There is a problem with your Social Security account. It may have been compromised…

All of these messages came in via a text message, email, or a landline. All are scams! But they seem so reasonable, you may think. That’s why these scammers are successful; the message seems plausible. Often, they threaten legal action which can be a bit unnerving. The scammers are trying to get you to send money or reveal personal information that can be sold or used in identity theft.

Why are scams growing at a fast rate? The answer is straightforward–they are highly profitable for the scammers. Over $20 billion was bilked out of unsuspecting Americans in 2020. That’s up from 8.6 billion in 2014. Many of the scams are perpetrated via the telephone, email, texting apps, and social media.

They are successful because they are highly skilled in the art of persuasion or even intimidation. Also, they mask their efforts by appearing to be from a legitimate business or organization–Netflix, eBay, Norton, Yahoo, the IRS, the Post Office, and so on.

Here are some examples of current scams:

I received a text saying my Netflix account was going to be canceled because of a problem with my credit card. At first, I was taken aback wondering about my credit card account. I immediately opened Netflix on my iPad — no problem. Then I checked my Netflix account on their website — no problem. Obviously, this text was a scam so I quickly deleted the message.

Another attempt at scamming happened to a friend. This time, a phone call informed her that it was time to renew her Norton account. Norton’s is a reliable and well-respected company that specializes in anti-virus protection for digital devices. Therefore, the call seemed very legitimate, except…she didn’t have an account with them. The man on the phone insisted that she did and continued to try to persuade her to give him her credit card information until she hung up on him.

Online dating is another lucrative platform for scammers. They often use reputable online dating sites and are very wily as they build trust with a target. The scammer will declare him/herself interested in the same hobbies or activities. They are sympathetic and charming.

Preying on a target’s desire for companionship and loneliness, they create a sense of closeness. Then they might mention in passing some financial difficulties they are experiencing in hope the target will offer to send them money.

Often, they will press for money directly, citing a family emergency or a desire to meet the target. Any mention of money is an immediate red flag, and participants should withdraw from the online connection.

Unfortunately, many folks have become so invested in this online relationship they suspend common sense and send money.

Even if you are not involved in online dating, it’s important to understand this type of scam. You may have family members or friends who are vulnerable because they are lonely. They need you to be the voice of reason.

Another profitable scam is online shopping. If you are a Facebook user, every day flashy posts appear in your newsfeed selling a product that reflects your interests. Remember, social media sites make their money by selling data about their users’ online behaviors to merchandisers. That’s why if you click on a cute video about puppies, you begin to see posts selling products for dogs.

Before you buy something online from a company you have never heard of, do some research. Go to their website and check it out. But that one step is not enough because scam companies can easily put up a sophisticated site for very little money. Check for reviews! Simply search the name of the company plus the word “reviews,” and information will appear. You should be able to discern whether or not the company is reputable. You can also check them out at the Better Business Bureau.

These days all sorts of appeals for money are made online. After every disaster, sites pop up telling people how they can be of help. Many folks are generous when others are in need, and money often rolls in. Unfortunately, contributions sometimes do not find their way to an agency helping in a disaster area or to a research facility working on a deadly disease.

Once again, do your research before typing in your credit card number. Google the charity, search for reviews, and see if you can discover how much of your contribution goes directly to the relief effort or research facility. Some organizations take a large proportion of the donations for administrative costs.

Check how charities meet the standards for giving at the Better Business Bureau, plus there is a website called Charity Navigator that will give you pertinent information.

Similar to charity scams, there are other types of scams that want to relieve you of your hard-earned money. Often, they are in the guise of retirement advice, investments with big returns, debt relief, and lottery winnings. Red flags indicating that a site is a scam include requests for bank account numbers and money paid upfront. Reputable companies do not make such requests.

So…once again, you must be a skeptic and a researcher. Check with your local consumer protection agency, look for reviews of the company online, and call your state attorney’s office to see if there are any existing complaints.

Phishing expeditions—these scams demonstrate a high level of tech skills. Phishing is the process of sending fraudulent emails from recognized companies in search of passwords and credit card numbers.

Let me share a personal story that still embarrasses me ten years later. I opened my Yahoo mail message alerting me to a security problem. Everything about the email looked legitimate—the graphics, the information they had, and so on. The message requested my password so they could fix the security problem. I used every bit of tech skill I possessed to check out the veracity of the email and could find no problem. Yet even as I typed my password into the reply, the little voice in the back of my head was saying, “Don’t do this!” I ignored it and clicked on send. Not five minutes later I started receiving emails asking me if I was really in London, sick, and in need of money. It was a prime example of a phishing expedition.

Never, never give anyone a password, credit card number, or bank account number through an email message, even if it looks legitimate.

The good news is that there are ways to protect yourself from these criminals!

Be a skeptic and wary of any unsolicited message you receive from a business, organization, government agency, or person. Remember, the IRS and other government agencies never communicate via email or text.

Immediately delete any suspect communication and slam the phone down on robocalls.

Any request for money is a red flag, even from relatives. Their accounts may have been hacked. Double-check!

Go online and check for specific scams. I once received an email that my court case was delayed. I wasn’t involved in any legal proceedings, and when I Googled “scam + courts,” I found many references to scams.

Set up your own Social security account at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/. This way you can check on any activity with your SS account.

Become the grammar police. Mistakes in grammar, spelling, and syntax in either the message or the URL window are a huge clue you are not dealing with a legitimate site.

Talk about scams with friends and relatives that are not as tech-savvy as you are. Point out the clues they need to be on the lookout for.

It is disturbing just how many internet scams there are. One could easily become paranoid every time a call or text comes in or an email message appears. However, the key to living sanely and safely in our high-tech world is to summon one’s inner skeptic and put into use one’s internet research skills. But we know that some of our friends and family members might not be as tech-savvy as ourselves, so it makes sense to have conversations about scams and internet scams regularly.

Share stories to alert family and friends of possible scams. “You are not going to believe what came in as an email message today! It wanted me to call a number to reschedule my court case. Well, I am not involved in a court case so I Googled court case scam, and lo and behold, it’s all a scam.” Hopefully, these types of stories will alert our loved ones to possible nefarious schemes that just might be targeting them.

BoomerTECH Adventures (boomertechadventures.com) provides expert guidance and resources to help Boomers and older adults develop competence and confidence using their Apple devices. Boomers themselves, BoomerTECH Adventures guides Jill Spencer, Ed Brazee and Chris Toy rely on their experience as educators to create experiences that meet individual needs through videos, Zoom presentations, tech tips, online courses and timely blog posts.

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