HomeAnnouncementWhen scammers exploit the best in us

When scammers exploit the best in us

Whether they are from across the world or across the street, out for money or just out to manipulate people for their own enjoyment, all scammers have two things in common. They have little to no regard for anyone but themselves….and they place no limits on their own behavior. They will exploit everything from our desire to protect ourselves and our families from illness to our efforts to give someone a nice Christmas, to our desire for a good deal. They will even exploit the best in us, those times when we do all we can to serve others. 

The proud parent of an autistic son

You’re having your morning coffee, tea, or special nutrient shake before heading off to work, taking some time to relax by scrolling through Facebook. As you pass by your hometown groups, you see a compelling post among the usual announcements for bake sales and craft fairs and people selling unwanted items.  

“My son is autistic,” the post reads. “He learned graphic design and made this shirt. I was the first person to buy from him.” The proud parent then includes a photo and a link, so that you too can support this young man who manages his autism by turning his focus on graphic design into a business. 

You really don’t need to add a hometown pride tee shirt to your wardrobe. And honestly, the young man is not that creative. You have seen tee shirts that look identical to this in several shops around town.  But you figure, he’s new to this. He will improve with practice, and could really use the community support. And maybe some of your out of town friends or relatives might like one of these.. You click on the link, place your order, and….you were just scammed. 

There is no proud parent of an autistic son who just learned graphic design, created a tee shirt, and is now using his new skills to earn a living. Those tee shirts look remarkably like the ones you see everywhere from the corner gift shop to the neighborhood drugstore to legitimate “town pride” merchandise websites because they are the same shirts. Graphics displayed on these posts are stolen from legitimate merchandise websites, or from the photo albums  of people wearing the item.  The money goes in the pocket of the scammer who posted the link. 

If you are planning to purchase hometown themed merchandise, purchase the items from local gift shops or other stores. To support those with autism, find a nonprofit in and around the Utica area to support. While people who don’t live in our hometown are just as important as those who do, focusing on charities near your area is the best way to ensure that your money is going to a legitimate organization. You can easily find and check a phone number to a local organization. You can ask people you already know and trust about the place. You can even walk or drive there to verify that the place exists if all else fails. 

Spoofed charities

While local charities may be the easiest to verify, sometimes the Holy Spirit calls us to support a larger organization. Do what you feel called to do that helps anyone you feel called to help. Just remember that scammers have an easier time online. 

Continued practice and working on our art or other skill set  makes us better at what we do. Unfortunately, this is also true for scammers. They know we can see through tactics like amateurish websites, silly names, and high pressure tactics. This is why so many modern scammers take the time to practice “spoofing” when they want to steal money intended for a charity. 

“Spoofing” occurs when the scammer makes an exact, or nearly exact, duplicate of the web page of a legitimate charity. They can copy the real website’s logos, graphics, photos, and written content. And they can almost copy, or copy and add on to, the real site’s URL, or online address. 

If there is a real charity called “Help Out Utica,” and the website address is the name of the charity dot com, a scammer could easily set up “Help Out Utica dot net” or “Help Out Utica dot net slash New Hartford” to run their scams. Most users would just assume the dot net address costs a little less, or that a new branch of the charity had opened up. 

Avoid this scam by taking an extra step when you donate online. Never click on links you see on social media to donate, or do a search for a charity, and then automatically donate money on the first site that appears. Read a bit about the charity first. Read over anything that appears to be their official webpage. If you are still unsure, take extra steps. Talk to trusted friends and family members or your pastor about the organization. Have someone else look over the page. Find the official website of the organization, call the number, and make sure you are sending your donation through the channel that will reach them. 

Low self-esteem/won’t get any likes

We have all seen those sad, lonely posts on Facebook and other social media sites. Sometimes the photo is of a child, a puppy, a kitten, or a sick or disabled adult. The caption announces that they think they won’t get one like, one birthday wish, or anyone to talk to them. 

Of course you want to help uplift the spirits of someone who is suffering by being one of the people who does talk to them, or to their pet. You click on the comment section and type, “Happy Birthday, Sweetie,” or “You have a beautiful kitten,” or even “I’ll say ‘Hello’ to you.”

But there is no child feeling sad that he or she, or their pet, did not get any likes. No child is out there posting pictures in the hopes that someone out there will offer birthday wishes or congratulations on finishing school. These photos are stolen, altered using photoshop, and posted by scammers. 

Once the scammer has a collection of well wishes for the nonexistent child or pet, they can then alter the image to embed malware. This malware can then infect the computer or phone of anyone who has interacted with it. 

The best way to avoid this scam while still serving others with kind words is to close that laptop and put your phone down. Instead of scrolling Facebook looking for random fake strangers to post kind words for, have a pleasant, loving conversation with somebody in your life. 

Finding it difficult to resist the urge to be kind is a good thing. Never let scammers make you bitter. Just make sure your efforts to serve others are not being intercepted by those who have the opposite intentions at heart. 

Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staffhttp://www.uticaphoenix.net
The Utica Phoenix is a publication of For The Good, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) in Utica, NY. The Phoenix is an independent newsmagazine covering local news, state news, community events, and more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and also check out Utica Phoenix Radio at 95.5 FM/1550 AM, complete with Urban hits, morning talk shows, live DJs, and more.
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