HomeAnnouncementFeature: Scams—Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Feature: Scams—Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Scams and Fraud Thrive in 2022. Be Aware and Know How to Spot Them

By Jess Szabo | Arts Writer 

Although the weather is still cold, March is the month we begin to think about refreshing and renewing everything from our homes to our goals to our finances and routines. But as you make your spring and summer plans, scammers are refreshing their efforts too. They’re counting on you being distracted by other things and letting your guard down. Here are just a few of the most common scams circulating today. 

The Grandparents Scam

This scam starts with a phone call. The caller introduces themselves as the target’s grandchild, son, daughter, or other family member. They tell the target they are in some type of trouble, and the target needs to help them by sending money right away. 

Those who are unaware of the scam are especially susceptible because the scammer has several details about the victim’s life. They may know that the person they’ve called has a grandson, or that a cousin they’re particularly close to is a woman, or that the family often travels to California. This is because scammers do their research by studying and taking notes from the victim’s social media pages. 

Most grandparents scammers have ready answers for the things that don’t add up. They may claim their voice sounds different because they’re sick or in trouble and scared, or that they’re calling from an unfamiliar number because they lost their phone and had to borrow one. 

Anyone who receives any type of distress call from a loved one can fight against this scam by immediately hanging up and contacting the person the scammer is claiming to be at a known phone number or social media account. If the situation turned out to be real and a true emergency, they will confirm that it was them calling before. Never send money, gift cards, or anything else before double checking and confirming it was your friend or family member contacting you. 

Free Gift Card Scams

Most of us can use a little boost these days. Finding a job we can actually take and keep to pay our bills is growing more and more difficult. The price of the most basic grocery items keeps rising. Getting a free gift card might help out with one or two of these expenses, and at the very least would be a nice uplifting treat. 

Scammers know this. They create web pages, social media accounts, and email accounts that appear to belong to major corporations. T-Mobile appears to be a commonly copied company, but scammers may choose anything of value. These fake accounts are then used to contact their targets. All you have to do, the message claims, is click on this link and provide some basic information, and a free service, item, or some cash on a gift card is yours. 

Never click on these links, even if you are fully aware this is a scam and are just curious about where the link might take you. This is a classic spoofing scam. The act of clicking on the link alone will give the scammer the ability to install malware or spyware on your computer. This malware or spyware allows the scammer access to your banking and other financial information, all without you having any idea it even exists, until you begin to see strange withdrawals from bank accounts and charges on credit cards.  

Pet Adoption Scams

The search for a new pet often ends when we see the dog or cat that is meant to join our family and fall in love with them. We just know that particular one is for us. Scammers play on this by stealing cute photos of pets and writing phony adoption posts in online groups for pet seekers, general classified ads, or enthusiasts of a certain breed. Sometimes the scammer pretends to be a breeder, posting photos of a litter of Yorkies or Pugs or Chihuahuas their dog allegedly gave birth to eight weeks ago. 

Once targets began catching on to this most basic form of the scam, the scammers added an extra tug to the heartstrings by posting photos of pets they insisted were about to be euthanized, had been rescued from an abusive situation, or needed a new home due to a tragedy in their current owner’s life. 

Either way, the scam plays out in the same way. The target contacts the person running the ad, expressing interest in the pet or pets. The scammer plays the part of the careful breeder, distraught rescuer or owner, or the person’s friend, and makes arrangements to transfer ownership of the pet just as soon as the rehoming fee is sent. 

The scam target/victim eagerly pays the fee, prepares the home for the new pet, and arrives at the agreed-upon place and time to bring their new bundle of fur home. Nobody shows up to meet them. When they reach out to the person, both person and pet have either disappeared, or there is some excuse as to why the pet is not yet ready. It typically involves the need for more money to be sent. But no matter how much money the potential pet parent sends, the pet never joins their family. 

The Internet is great for many uses, but adopting a pet is not one of them. Always meet the person offering the pet, and the pet itself offline and in person before any fees are paid. And Zoom meetings do not count. The scammer could be pretending to rehome their own pet, or the pet of a friend or pet sitting client. 

Munchausen Syndrome by Internet

Munchausen Syndrome is a mental disorder in which a person induces, fakes, or exaggerates disability or illness in order to gain the sympathy, attention, and care afforded to those in the “patient,” “disability warrior,” or “victim” roles in society. Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy occurs when a caretaker, typically a parent, induces, fakes, or exaggerates illness or disability in someone else in order to gain the attention, sympathy, and admiration given to those who care for sick or disabled people. 

Those manipulated into believing the false narratives in either form of this disorder are already scammed, especially if they have participated in fundraisers, given money or gifts, or given of their time and talents to support someone through a disability or illness that does not actually exist. But the easy accessibility of the internet has made scamming people in this manner alarmingly easy. 

The scammer only has to do a bit of online research into the illness or disability of their choice, find an online group, and create posts that make it appear that they grapple with the issue. 

The term Munchausen Syndrome by Internet was coined by Munchausen expert Dr. Marc Feldman, who lists several warning signs on his website, Munchausen dot com. Among the signs that someone is using the internet to fake illness or disability are posts that match too perfectly with textbook descriptions or other posts about the issue, fantastic or easily disproved claims about the disability or illness, and a pattern of crisis followed by remission or recovery. However, many perpetrators of all forms of this pattern are quite skilled at deception, and it may be nearly impossible to tell a real case from a Munchausen case, especially online. 

Hesitation will be your best protection against this type of scam. Take a moment to read over the person’s posts, ask others for their input when appropriate, and talk to the person if possible. Never give money, gift cards, or other gifts to anyone whose online behavior raises any red flags for you. 

It may be tempting to believe we would never fall for these or any other scams, but remember that scammers do not play on our intellect, they play on our emotions. Stepping back, looking at the details of the situation, and making a careful decision about your time, energy, talents, and money will always be your best defense. 

Mark Ziobro
Mark Ziobrohttps://uticaphoenixnet.wpcomstaging.com
Mark is the current Managing Editor for The Utica Phoenix, and a Central New York Native.
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