A Scammer Scans for the Vulnerable
A scammer found my elderly sister-in-law one night when she checked her email. Up popped up a warning that said her computer had multiple viruses and she needed IMMEDIATE help.
She believed that she did. The problem seemed more urgent than waiting to make a call to Geek Squad, a service she already had. She did not call them. She didn’t call her family. She did not tell anyone – just like the scammer said.
She didn’t know why she trusted him.
I say elderly sister-in-law, but she a bit younger than I am, she could be your age. She lives alone, doesn’t earn very much, and saves every penny she can. She clicked a pop-up window on her computer, and somehow she began a relationship with an abusive scammer. He emailed her that could fix her computer for $300.
She loves her computer. It opens the world of distant friends and relatives on Facebook.
She decided to fix the computer.
She watched the cursor move. The scammer had control. But wait, he could help her establish online banking, too. So she trusted him. She did not have credit – anywhere. He began calling her, giving her instructions. The phone would ring at night when she was tired after working all day. She responded like it was another chore on her growing list of things that she had to do.
The scammer began calling her, giving her instructions.
“No, I don’t have credit.”
“You need to go to the nearest store and get a gift card from iTunes to pay for this.”
So she did.
“OK, now just email me the code. OH NO! It was blocked. You’ll have to do it again.”
So she did.
“Don’t go to that store, it did not work. Get it from this store instead. Here I’m going to help you. I’ll put $1,500 into your account. You can pay me back later with the card you’re going to get from this other store.”
So she did – again. The bank called her and asked if she authorized the charge at the store. She told them that she did. She owed money for the work on the computer.
“It’s still not working. Go to Walmart this time. No, that’s ok, I’m checking your account online. The payment does not seem to be going through. No, you don’t talk to the bank. I’ll take care of this. Trust me or you won’t ever get your computer back.”
So she did not.
“Do you know much about computers? Wouldn’t you love to have online banking? Then you don’t have to go into the bank to check on your account. I’m going to set you up with online banking. I’ll send you the password. Here I can take a selfie of you. Get your driver’s license. Hold it next to your face. Perfect. Now just the driver’s license.”
But he did not send the password. In fact, he started yelling at my sister-in-law when he called her late at night.
Why is he yelling at me? He doesn’t have the right to yell at me, she thought. Yelling makes me mad.
“You took my money,” my sister-in-law accused him.
“No worries, it did not go through.”
Even after she accused him, the scammer left voice messages on her phone and sent her emails.
She went to the bank. The bank told her that all her charges processed. Since she charged the items, she was liable. She immediately went to the police station. She called Experian.
She has a lot of work to do to get out of this. Thursday she has an appointment with DMV. Most likely she will have to get a new driver’s license.
More Important Than Money
“This is more than about the money. I feel so dumb. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I finally trusted a counselor and she sent me right to the bank.The bank sent me right to the police station. I feel like I’ve been trapped.”
We Hear About Scammers and Think We Won’t Be Touched
Years ago I trusted a superintendent in California. I knew him. I just didn’t know he wasn’t himself on Facebook. A scammer got me. Fortunately, I lived with someone who wasn’t in the grips of the scammer at the moment. I didn’t want to tell my husband. I’m smart, well-educated and an independent. Here was a man to whom I looked up and respected, a superintendent telling me that he thought he saw my name on a list, and I was going to win $200,000 just like he did. I questioned the scammer a lot, I almost believed him!
However, I did tell my husband and asked him what he thought.
“Are you sure it’s him?” Vince asked.
“Of course, we talked about all kinds of things first.”
“Just call him.”
“Why? I’m chatting with him.”
“Check to see if he is online.”
I was embarrassed to call the superintendent. Of course, he was online. We were chatting. But I listened to my husband. I called the administrator and asked if he was online.
“No,” he replied.
“You’ve been hacked, then,” I told him.
I reported the scammer, and never heard back from him.
A Scammer Keeps Calling Until the Victim Takes Action or Has Nothing Left
This scammer man called my sister-in-law several times over a month’s time. He asked her to do things, and she did it unquestioningly thinking the problem would go away. The scammer became verbally abusive and continued to raise havoc with her credit score. She finally got mad at him, told someone else. She took action to protect herself even though it was humiliating.
What Can We Do?
We don’t have to sit back and be victims or let someone we love be a victim.
Check up on family and friends frequently if they have had a loss or trauma in their lives. Maybe they are fragile. My mother-in-law paid someone to mow her grass one time. He came back four times and collected a total of $1,200. His line:
“You forgot to pay me. It’s $300.”
My husband’s aunt was there the last time he came. She threatened him and said she was calling the police. We knew my husband’s mom was a little forgetful, but being out of state and visiting only a few times a year, we did not realize that she had worsening dementia until an aunt called us and told us what happened.
We had to take legal action on her behalf. The bank limited her ability to write checks over $100. She wouldn’t leave her home, but we kept tabs on her after that through the aunt and an attorney. We gave the aunt the right to make decisions on her behalf so she could stay in her home for a while longer.
Don’t be afraid to ask loved ones if they have had suspicious email or online requests from strangers. It’s hard to admit that we could fall for a scammer. My husband thought, “How could my sister do that?” His sister wondered the same thing about herself. It’s like being in an alternate reality. If I hadn’t almost fallen for something similar, I would have felt the same thing. But it can happen to anyone, especially at a vulnerable time.
Be rude. If you practice the kind of etiquette our grandparents taught us as children, a scammer will use it against us. It goes against the grain to be rude. Scammers count on our politeness.
Instead, hang up on calls you suspect might be spammers or scammers. I wait for a second after I answer the phone and say hello. If no one responds immediately, I hang up. If they try to sell me something I tell them no thank you and hang up without waiting for a reply.
Vince’s sister said “I always try to be nice to people. I am nice to people, but he made me mad! I told him he took my money. He admitted that he did.”
Communicate with others to protect yourself.
We have to take responsibility for ourselves and for others around us who are not able to care for themselves.
- Cover the cam recorder on your computer until you want to use it. My camera now has a Post-it on top of it. A scammer can hack in and see what you are doing. You don’t want to pose for selfie’ as my sister-in-law did. The scammer knows her address and date of birth.
- Individually we need to communicate with loved ones, people proven to care about us. We cannot live isolated from others. We must have people who care about us in real time, on location. A scammer looks for individuals who are lonely and seem not to have someone else who cares about them.
- We must not be embarrassed or too proud to admit we might get scammed. If we think it can’t happen to us, we are pridefully wrong. Senior adults do forget and get confused more often than middle-aged adults. So retirement-aged adults need to be aware of scams.
- There is legislation in place to protect consumers from scammers, but the law is not enough to stop evil and greedy people from trying to steal from us. A scammer works at scamming. They think of it as their jobs. In fact, some of them may be working a 9-5 job scamming for a salary or commission. If you are strong and convinced they are scamming you, urge them to walk away from the job of scamming. Help them to feel guilty about what they are doing. Remind them of how it would feel if someone did what they are doing to their wife, child or mother.
- Be aware of exorbitant prices for services. Do not pay more than an items costs new to repair it. My sister-in-law paid more than six times what her computer cost. Even the original charge was nearly the cost of a new computer.
- NEVER take orders from a scammer over the internet! You do not have to go to the bank to withdraw money. You do not have to buy iTunes gift cards. You do not have to give them the code for the gift card, or your bank account. It’s ok to hang up and not do what they order you to do!
- NEVER make instant decisions on the internet.
- Tell your friends if you notice a new friend request from an old friend on Facebook. Hackers or scammers send friend requests. If you are always friends with someone, don’t friend them again. Check if you don’t remember. Report the fraud to the friend and Facebook.
- Don’t open suspicious emails or emails from strangers.
How Do We Combat a Scammer AFTER We a Scammer Swindles Us?
After the fact, we must act quickly and take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
- Report the fraud to our bank.
- Report the crime to the police.
- Report the fraud to one of the Credit Reporting Companies Equifax 1‑800‑525‑6285 Experian 1‑888‑397‑3742 TransUnion 1‑800‑680‑7289
The most helpful and complete set of steps I found to follow up on identity theft is from the Federal Trade Commission. The booklet tells how to fix the problem.
Can We Eliminate Scammers Through the Legal System?
Nothing I found suggests that we can eliminate the scammer problem.
We must report all fraud and scams to the FTC. The Commission can bring the kinds of cases that shut down the scammers. However, scamming is an international problem, not only a national one. There’s another place to report international scams: econsumer.gov. “The site is run by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) and is a partnership of 34 consumer protection agencies around the world. Starting today, an updated version of the site is available – it’s mobile-friendly, has a user-friendly complaint form, and you can get consumer information and file claims in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish, and Turkish.”
The internet brings us instant information, freedom of doing something from home that used to take hours or was even impossible. Remember needing to get to the bank before it closed at 3:00 pm if you needed some cash for your weekend trip? We can’t go back to the sixties and before, and don’t want to. Legislation helps protect us as consumers, but it is not the only answer. The laws didn’t stop bank robbers from robbing a bank. Instead, changes in technology made it harder to physically rob banks.
As a society in 2017, we are at risk from people who know how to hack into our banking systems, our government, our way of life using the internet. But we can take steps to keep from becoming victims. And we have recourses to take if we a scammer tries to ruin our lives. We might not get our money back, but we can get our lives back.
Maybe you have more ideas. Feel free to share them in the comment box.
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