A friend of a friend, let’s call him Clyde, has taken up the profession of scamming. At 3:30a.m. on October 13, 2017 residents of Hampton, Virginia, slept peacefully while Clyde crept through the streets of Hampton looking for an easy score. He decided that the local Wells Fargo was the perfect scam. At the ATM he slouches over the key pad, slides in a card, and types in the pin number using the hood of his jacket to conceal his face from the security camera. The loud beep signaled that the ATM unlocked, he takes out the maximum amount, three thousand dollars, from the account. The ATM spits out the cash in an assortment of 50’s and 20’s. The name Chelsea Connor is embossed on the front of the card. A few hours later Chelsea awakes to a bank notification of an overdraft on her account. Confused, she calls her bank thinking it was a mistake, still unaware that she has become a victim of scamming.
Over the last thirty years technology users have become savvy to scammers. Most email users are familiar with a certain Nigerian prince saying he could double your money if you provide a small down payment, or are weary of calls to make a donation to a charity stationed in Africa We need sponsors like you. Many of these scams preyed on non-tech savvy elderly users. In recent years the scams have evolved, and the age of those snookered has dropped. Forbes magazine reported in March 2018 that millennials were more likely to fall for a scam. Forty percent of the individuals aged 20-29 who reported losing money stated it was because of fraud. On the other hand, only eighteen percent of seniors age 70 or older reported fraud.
While scrolling down her Twitter feed Natalie Vaye, a twenty-year-old college student, received a notification. It was a new direct message from Speed Demon Energy Drink, a company based out of Virginia. The DM asked her one simple question, “Do you want to make some money?”
The mysterious message piqued her curiosity, so she did what any other millennial would do, she sent back the looking eyes emoji to show her interest. An hour later, after an in-depth conversation through Twitter direct messages with a marketing employee from the company, Natalie understood how she could make some money.
“The small energy drink advertising business [was] in Norfolk, Virginia. I was told that I would be getting paid to advertise their logo on my car for period of time,” Vaye said.
Two weeks later she received a check for $2,500 dollars with specific instructions to deposit it into her account and then send back the printing fee, shipping fee, and membership fee and then she would receive the advertising merchandise.
“I didn’t think a lot into it really, I heard about people paying for advertising and even seen cars in my neighborhood with logos and stuff on them, so I thought it was legit.”
The report Facts + Statistics: Identity Theft and Cybercrime from The Insurance Information Institute found that between the years 2014 and 2017 there were approximately 16.7 million victims of identity fraud. Criminals have conjured complex schemes to scam money from unsuspecting victims. In 2017 Connecticut residents issued 4,078 fraud complaints, the thirteenth highest in the nation.
However, after Nataile Vaye explained the job to her dad, 40-year-old Manny Vaye, he expressed concern and suggested she wait until the check cleared. If it cleared she could send the money back. A couple days after the check was deposited, it bounced.
Today, we are constantly warned about possible scams. We’re told to change passwords, be careful with personal information, don’t click on random links, and stay away from weird emails.
In her piece, An Old Scam With a New Twist, New York Times technology reporter J.D. Biersdorfer explores a common scam. Scammers claim that they hacked into your computer’s web cam and have compromising videos of you. The hackers force you to pay up or they’ll release the video on the internet. What makes the scam realistic is that the scammer has an old email or computer password. The majority of the time the claim is false and there is not any video of you and your computer was not hacked. Still users wonder how did the scammer get my personal information?
According to Biersdorfer, major sites and services such as Yahoo, Google, eBay, Sony, PlayStation, the Marriott Hotel (which was hacked in September), and many other companies that store personal information obtained from its consumers have been breached over the years. We hear about a major breach every other month. As a result of this, all of our personal information like credit card numbers, addresses, and emails can wind up going over to the black market. For those who have not changed their password in many years, the scam can seem convincing, possibly resulting in users sending money.
How are you expected to keep your information safe with so many people trying to trick you and take your money? Wells Fargo Bank suggests the best way to protect against cyber threats is to use secure websites for transactions and shopping with merchants you trust. To see if the website is secure look in the hyperlink for a pad lock symbol. While using your personal computer or work computer make sure that it is installed with security blocks and anti-virus software. Avoid over sharing on social media, information such as your birthday, mother’s name or last name, pets name, or high school are common security question for accounts. Lastly, when presented with anonymous, or unusual, emails do not click on links within them.
Since her run in with the art of scamming, Nataile Vaye has become hip to the dangers of instant messages offering fast cash. Her father has even taken extra precautions, like installing advanced theft protection on her credit and debit cards, as well as, advising her to take all her social media accounts off public to ensure that mysterious accounts like the advertising company cannot reach her right away. Now, as she scrolls down her Twitter feed and sees tweets from people who say they’ve been scammed by shady accounts; she is thankful for her dad who saved her from being another statistic in the scamming realm.
*For privacy purposes the individual’s names have been changed.
Headline photo courtesy of Max Pixel.